Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 49

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: telephones, traumas, holiday gift ideas, cris de coeur, and a lonely vending machine. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 45

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, we embrace the miscellany: the poetics of wrongness, chaos and magic, love and rage, untethering, unknowing. Enjoy.


This one is 17×57. It’s tentatively called “A Mother Who Loves Books,” because I was thinking of my mother when I made it, and the text is a poem from Let it Be a Dark Roux, “My Mother’s Perfume.” It’s linen, and I am loving how unfinished linen looks like on the edges. I’ve been working on a few more, unfinished, pieces using torn linen, and I can’t imagine tiring of the tearing for awhile. There’s something powerfully, almost…archaic about linen that’s unraveling a bit at the edges.

Sheryl St. Germain, Color Dreams

Last week, I attended the launch of Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press) and Mat Riches’s Collecting the Data. The latter, available here from Red Squirrel Press, is Mat’s long-awaited and excellent debut pamphlet. The launch itself was a joyous and merrily raucous occasion, with readings not only from the two launchers, but also some mighty fine guest readers – Eleanor Livingstone, Hilary Menos and Maria Taylor.

There was a lot of love and affection in the room for Mat and his warm, witty  and well-crafted poems.

Matthew Paul, On Mat Riches’s ‘Half Term at Longleat Safari Park’

And it’s only now that I’ve managed to really sit and think about the fact that I have an actual book out there in the world. I’m not 100% convinced I will ever truly come to terms with it. There’s certainly a feeling of well, what now…? The poems are out there, people actually own them in a book. I’m not there to read them to them with an intro. That’s quite a strange feeling to come to terms with, but I’m getting there. What do I write next? When? How? For who? All good questions, but not for today. And not a question for this book.

I’ve found myself sitting and staring at it whenever I’ve had a spare moment. It’s a beautifully produced thing, just looking at it as an object it astonishing.

Mat Riches, Dating the collective

Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”

“How come?”

I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.

There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.

“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.

Rita Ott Ramstad, It’s been a lot

this room this bright quilt
winter waits on the other side
of these dark windows
elsewhere cities
in dust and rubble
everywhere cities

on fire all this has nothing
to do with me the naked child running
through fire has nothing to do with me
these buildings become dust
have nothing to do with me
I sit on this bright quilt

blue and white and red
patterns of flowers and thread
I drink from my modern porcelain
blue and white cup a pale
version of Italian cappuccino
what is true? who is to blame?

Sharon Brogan, there is no good news

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?

A poem usually starts for me with a bit of language that I overhear or receive subconsciously. Many poems start with my wife, the poet Kodi Saylor, saying something incredible. I’ll often respond, “That sounds like a line of a poem,” and she’s usually like, “Well, go and write it then.” Usually that little snippet of language has some rhythmic quality that suggests a next line. That’s usually enough to get started. I let the rhythm and associations of sound and image suggest themselves and just go with it. The poem emerges. I try not to overthink it, but of course I do sometimes. Currently, I’m much more of a writer of short pieces that accumulate into a larger project. The stakes are lower for me that way which is important for me to combat the voice of the perfectionist that lives inside me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matt Broaddus

My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA.

“Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road.”

All sale proceeds go to Singapore Unbound, the NYC-based literary organization that envisions and works for a creative and fulfilling life for everyone. You can find the book on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

Jee Leong Koh, Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

[The Poetics of Wrongness], published earlier this year, is made up of four sections of newly edited texts originally delivered as lectures as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series (2016). Publisher Wave Books calls it [Rachel] Zucker’s “first book of critical non-fiction” and refers to its sections as “lecture-essays of protest and reckoning.” It says the poetics of wrongness itself — the list of anti-tenets Zucker offers as a new poetics — offers a “way of reading, writing and living that might create openness, connection, humility and engagement.” […]

This book strips off the itchy robe of what’s presumed to make poems successful (“Oh, teacher, I say you are wrong,” p. 8) and streaks through the halls of academia and publishing. It jumps over gates. It walks on the grass. It picks locks. This book encourages a build-our-own poetics. This book is a middle finger to the tools of the patriarchy embedded in so many of the “rules.” It disturbs the universe that makes oppressors comfortable and offers renewed, modern senses for beauty and time.

Carolee Bennett, my love letter to “the poetics of wrongness”

tonight i will show you
one thing. here is the bowl of whipped cream.
here is the spoon i use. here is
the way my stomach feels full of clouds
when i am done. here is how
i try to lick the last tastes of sweetness
from the bottom of the bowl.

Robin Gow, 11/11

One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don’t suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange worlds. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, etc. how does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen? I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, but what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. So we will see how I fare.

Maybe it’s chaos. And maybe it’s okay that it’s chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won’t. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won’t. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It’s terrifying and sad. But it’s also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.

Kristy Bowen, chaos and magic

In 2000, friends of mine saw [Stanley] Kunitz read at the Dodge Festival. They both witnessed him helped to the stage and from their seats, they could see nothing but the crown on his balding head. But then something incredible happened. As Kunitz began to read, he became taller, his face appearing above the podium. It was as if poetry (they said) had restored his youth. Reading his poetry to a receptive audience brought him more fully to life. I have never forgotten that…

Here is a stellar interview I discovered today between Gregory Orr and Stanley Kunitz taped when Kunitz was 88 years old. He reads “Father and Son,” a poem written when Kunitz was a young man, giving a hard and uncompromising vision of his dad. Orr offers that Kunitz is the first poet to write of his father in this way. Kunitz shakes that accolade off but he has lots of important things to say about poetry. He also reads, “The Portrait,” a kind of self-portrait, perhaps one of the first pieces that has led to our preponderance of self-portrait poems today.

GO: What purpose does poetry serve?

SK: Poetry is most deeply concerned with telling us what it feels like be alive. To be alive at any given moment….Before the poets we had no idea what it meant to be a human person on this earth.

Wow. Kunitz lived to be 100. He won the Pulitzer prize when he was 63, became Poet Laureate at 95. He is an incredible example of poetry being a life long pursuit. When it was an incredibly unpopular thing to do, Kunitz consciously chose to elevate domestic experience in poetry. This was before Roethke, before Lowell, before Plath.

Susan Rich, Stanley Kunitz on my fridge, in the garden, and the joy of surviving.

Are your dreams shuffling
like cards (a random draw
flashing in the dim light),

stretching like strange cats,
or climbing upwards,
clutching to rockweed,

stiff salt stalks of kelp
guiding seaworthy
travelers from weight

of the waters to
the weightlessness
of approaching stars?

PF Anderson, Dear You

Writing is noticing, but it can also be the song of oneself. It can speak of who you are. And it gives you the opportunity of declaring it in your own voice and in your own words.  As UK writer John Berger writes, “Nobody knows exactly why birds sing as much as they do. What is certain is that they don’t sing to deceive themselves or others. They sing to announce themselves as they are.”

We can speak of the experience of others. We can speak of the experience of ourselves. In writing, you take agency. It is your story, your words and you are saying them when you want to. And writing imagines community. Perhaps you imagine sharing your words with another. Of creating a connection. Of being in this—all of this—together.

There’s an iconic poem called “Motto,” by Bertolt Brecht that you perhaps have heard:

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

What does singing about the dark times mean? If we sing a happy song in a dark time, we know we are singing in the context of that dark time. Maybe it is a defiant, subversive act, a refusal to despair or be cowed by the darkness. If we sing darkly about the dark times, we name what is happening. We name what we are experiencing. We remember our humanity, our shared humanity. Our story may be dark, but we are the ones telling it. To tell the story is to have agency. […]

As a small child in Ireland, I remember hunting around my dad’s office and finding a little box that perfectly held a hundred blank index cards. The box seemed so magical and full of possibility I knew I had to write some magic spells, some mysterious incantations. I snuck the box into my room and immediately began writing on the cards. I didn’t know any spells but I wanted to capture the feeling of magic so I just made up a script. No one could read it, not even me. But that wasn’t the point. I filled all the index cards with this cursive hoodoo. My goal was to create a feeling, to use the form of spells and the loops and swirls, scratches and knurls of my invented script. I was whispering to life itself. We were connecting. My writing put me at the centre of speaking. In the middle of secrets. 

Gary Barwin, THE SONG OF OURSELVES IN THE SHADOW OF NOW, a speech about the importance of writing in dark times

This poem had its genesis in my move from London to the village of Rottingdean on the south coast of England, where you can stand on the South Downs and listen to the sea at the same time. Words and images often float up when I’m walking here, and I type them into my mobile app before they disappear. Then, when there are enough of them and they’ve had time to ripen, I sit at my computer and see what happens.

Winter shadows are accentuated in open spaces. When there are contours too, you get shadow magic, where you see your shape, or that of others, distorted, elongated, living a separate existence. Much of A Pocketful of Chalk is about seeing the ordinary from a different perspective, finding new aspects of yourself in the full glare of nature. We create mechanical things such as a windmill to harvest nature, and perhaps, because of this, become giants in our own minds. By the end of the poem, however, I’m insubstantial, ‘I float in the beaks of birds’.

Drop-in by Claire Booker (Nigel Kent)

At the terminal’s

edge, sunset outlines a row of cranes so they look
like a fleet of otherworldly sentinels, snouts

scouting the air. And I can hardly bear to watch the news:
for instance, today, a father wept as he dug, in vain,

for his children’s bodies. Around the bombed ruins of homes
can we say it is by luck or grace the living grieve? Even

the youngest ones can’t stop trembling: this word, from
the Latin tremulus—pertaining to the trauma of a wound.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremble

My first purchase from Trickhouse Press was the inaugural Oulipo Puzzle Book (Spring 2022), one of a series of four delightful anthologies of poem puzzles that are informed by various constraints. In your introduction to Issue 4, you write:

‘My secret belief about Oulipo, in poetry and otherwise, is that the joy of Oulipo lies in the crafting of an Oulipo work moreso than in the reading of one…. What I’ve attempted to begin with this series of puzzle books is to put the pen in the reader’s hand, quite literally, and create spaces for readers to engage in Oulipoean thinking themselves. An Oulipo puzzle isn’t just a puzzle or a word game – it can also be a writing prompt, a springboard, a summertime, an autumn leaf, or a winter wondering land.’

Can you expand on this, with particular reference to your own relationship to poetry – as a reader, student, editor, and writer?

Dan [Power]: When I was a kid I was obsessed with wordsearches and mazes – actually I still am – and I liked making them and drawing them even more than trying to solve them. It’s very satisfying when you’re putting together a wordsearch or a crossword and you find the perfect word that intersects with the other words you’ve put down, and fills the space you’ve got left. Similarly with Oulipo, I like the challenge of writing under a constraint. I’m not great at it, and I think the things I’ve written that I’m most proud of came about from writing with absolutely no constraints, but it’s much more satisfying to complete an Oulipo poem because it has a kind of finality to it – there’s set rules, and a task to be completed within those rules, and eventually you get to a point where you can say for sure that it’s finished. There’s no finality with an unconstrained poem, you can keep editing and changing it forever. I thought of Oulipo writing as a kind of problem-solving, and a puzzle book working with Oulipian constraints seemed like a logical thing to make.

The idea for the Oulipo puzzle books came a few years ago when I was trying to get my head around how cryptic crosswords work, and I realised they had their own pretty consistent sets of constraints, and I wanted to see what other kinds of puzzles were possible by placing different sets of constraints on different kinds of puzzles. I also liked the idea of Oulipo as a method or a process, and was always more interested in the process of creating an Oulipo work than the finished work itself, trying out different combinations of words, exploring all possible avenues, tracing all possible connections… placing constraints on a piece of writing really makes you consider all the different detours it can take! As I said in the quote you mentioned, the puzzle books are about trying to give the reader that experience. The unfinished puzzles aren’t the poems, and the solutions aren’t either, they’re more like prompts – the poetry is going on in the reader’s head, it’s the thinking and the problem-solving itself.

Marian Christie, Anything could happen – An Interview with Dan Power of Trickhouse Press

The launch event for the Hastings Stanza Anthology last month was standing room only, and we were thrilled to raise several hundred pounds for the brilliant Refugee Buddy Project. Copies are still available (ask me) and since we’ve covered our costs all sales income now goes to the Project. The cover features a painting by the multi-talented Judith Shaw and there’s lots of lovely work in this book as you can see from the below.

I went to the London launch of Clare Best‘s new collection Beyond the Gate last month and it was a super evening. Unfortunately, having to leave to catch a train while Clare was still surrounded by a crowd of acolytes, I was delighted when my signed copy arrived in the post. It’s an excellent collection. I do love Clare’s work.

Also on my ‘to be read’ pile: Isabel Galleymore Significant Other (Carcanet) and Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe), both poets I’m going to be interviewing soon for the podcast. Jane’s book was shortlisted for the Forward Prize this year and is on the TS Eliot shortlist. And I’m pretty sure Isabel’s collection was on the shortlists a couple of years ago.

Good news on the submissions front – Pindrop Press has offered to publish my collection next year and I’ve signed the contract, so I guess it’s official.  I’ve been so impressed with editor Sharon Black’s communication and enthusiasm. I feel very fortunate indeed, and in safe hands.

Robin Houghton, Currently reading, plus an anthology & a contract

I find it impossible not to feel guilty that I’m living a life without hardship and pain when others are not. But guilt is a pretty useless emotion, isn’t it, and rather self-indulgent. I have allowed myself to switch off the news and to think of other things once I’ve written and donated and done the small empathetic actions available to me.

On Saturday, I met with others from Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, and I ran a workshop centred on the Penned in the Margins anthology Adventures in Form. There were ten of us, reading about, trying out exercises, writing and sharing fragments of writing that might become poems. The session was quite tiring but fun and stimulating, according to feedback!

Josephine Corcoran, Guilt and Empathy

We stand on the street corner
for those whose streets run red
with blood and fire.

We stand on the street corner,
praying to awaken
from our collective nightmare,

to discover it was all a dream,
that we are safe in the arms of loved ones,
that all we hear are birds

and the laughter of children.

Jason Crane, POEM: Vigil

It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Peace, Peace! They Say but There Is No Peace

gale force
how the shadows gesticulate
on the morning wall

Jim Young [no title]

“Where” was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who died in October 2000 after suffering from both cancer and Alzheimer’s. The poem began with a realization that what I wonder about more than where she is now, after her death, is where was she then, at the end of her life. Watching a loved one deteriorate is heartbreaking, and witnessing my vibrant grandmother lose access to her own memories—to her own life and sense of self—rocked me to my core. It was a formative experience for me as a human being and as a writer. I don’t think it’s an accident that so much of my work is concerned with memory.

I found myself, early on, testing the elasticity of the opening sentence. How much could it hold? How long could I extend it? The unwieldy nature of that first sentence reflects the difficulty I was having grappling with the subject matter. How best to articulate something that resists articulation? Then again, this is the work of poems, and—I think—work that poems are uniquely suited for. I think the commas create tension; those pauses that slow the reader down while at the same time building momentum because many of the sentences go on and on, and they’re loaded with repetition.

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

I’ve read many memoirs and non-fiction books about cognitive decline and living with a beloved person who has a neurodegenerative condition; from Oliver Sacks to the recent biography of Terry Pratchett and many of the books we’ve read in my “morbid book group,” information in these texts connects with the personal emotions involved in deeply complicated human ways. There are also quite a few poetry collections themed around this type of loss, and I ought to compile a list one of these days, because poetry has been helpful to me as my family and I contend with elders dealing with forms of dementia (and there are many forms). That fact has led me to wonder whether readers even need another poetry collection centered around cognitive loss. Since so many of my poems during the past four or five years intersect with or explore that topic, I have considered making a manuscript of them. I hesitate. Too much sadness?

Yet while the circumstances that evoke such poems are usually sad, the disease progression differs, as do the personalities of the persons with cognition loss and the personalities of their loved ones. Perspectives on the persons and the diseases also vary a great deal. Similarities exist–enough to make a reader feel recognized–but situations and value systems mean there are as many ways to write about dementia as there are to write about anything else. […]

These days, my mother sometimes seems unmoored from the present moment, but not absorbed in memory either–just kind of lost in the ozone. Self, language, memory…sometimes they slip away from her physical body. In this process, though, she has things to teach me. Just as my hospice patients do, and as their families do, by helping me to widen my understanding of human beings and how we get by in the world. Or how we flounder differently from one another. Or how we rescue one another.

I take this gradual loss into myself–that’s what most of us do–and it’s hard, it’s painful to keep myself open to learning and love when what I first notice is untethering and loss. But yesterday when visiting my mother I noticed she has a cobbled-together notebook in which she sometimes writes (in tiny, indecipherable script). Some pages she had divided into three columns, some have scraps of letters or newspaper clippings stapled to them. Are her pages a record, or a practice? She cannot tell me. Yet it was kind of amazing to realize she does this with apparent intent. She has her reasons, if not her reason in the classic sense.

Ann E. Michael, Untethering

I came across the most astonishing gentleman on YouTube this week named Troy Hawke. His entire shtick is dressing up in a ridiculously ornate suit, complete with an ascot, and walking around in public complimenting people. It’s really quite magical. I believe he is bestowed with a Godly gift. His compliments aren’t random or insincere, they are extremely incisive and show that he really sees the people that he compliments. In complimenting people, he shares a moment of joy and recognition with them. For example, he stops by a bench where two friends are chatting and says, “You look very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a lovely way to be with another human.” They light up with with delight at their friendship being seen and appreciated by another human being. I find his videos light and humorous, but also truly uplifting. And who doesn’t need some of that in the midst of what the world has become?

Kristen McHenry, DP Progress Pics, I Baked Bread, Compliment Man

I had a brain-wave a couple of months ago when I was out walking. Using my copy of Mammals of Prince Edward Island (And Adjacent Marine Waters),  my plan is to respond to entries in the book with a poem and a sketch. It’s a winter project for my personal enjoyment but I’ll share what I make on this blog. Please excuse my rough drawings – maybe just maybe, I’ll get better as I do more of them. Here’s my first poem and sketch.

E.E. Nobbs, The Flying Squirrel

It’s World Basking Shark Day. Airplane Mode Off.
Text Predictions On. Personal Data Up To Date.
I read your diary from before you knew me.
Bombs fall on refugee camps, hospitals, schools.
Ten thousand dead in a month. Save Draft.

Bob Mee, ON WORLD BASKING SHARK DAY, I READ THE BEEKEEPER’S BIBLE

I’ve been trying to prepare a 15-minute talk for my winery bookclub this Wednesday. We’ll be discussing the late Louise Gluck’s terrific book, Meadowlands.

I’ve taught classes to veterans and disadvantaged high school kids and college students, but I thought since I usually teach creative writing, I would instead talk more about how to write a poem than how to read one!

I know what I don’t want to say—poetry isn’t supposed to be an escape room, it’s supposed to be something enjoyed or appreciated the way a piece of visual art or music. Poetry isn’t autobiography—it can be memoirish, but it can also be fictionish.  But there are some tools poets use that non-poets might want to understand or know about, so I thought I’d talk about those—tone, diction, punctuation, sonics, images, metaphors, etc.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, How to Read a Poem, In Between Holidays, and Galloping Toward 2024

Yesterday I tried to take some old wooden rabbit run panels to the tip. It turns out that the tip is closed on Wednesdays, which I knew but thought, inexplicably, that it was already Thursday. I’ve not been well this week, which might explain my confusion. I’ve had a stupid a virus; which has been bad enough to make me uncomfortable and a bit brain-foggy with a cough and a heavy, liquid feeling in my lungs, but not bad enough for me to cancel work. I hate feeling vulnerable. And illness makes me feel exposed, and miserable and like my body is not my own. I have, however, enjoyed my work this week which has mostly been running early morning writing groups. There is something particularly special about the dark morning turning to light as you sit quietly, writing with others. It’s one of my favourite parts of being a facilitator, and of being a writer. I’ve fallen into a pattern of working from 6.30am until about 9am and then going walking with, and sometimes without, the dog. We don’t go so far anymore on account of the dog being quite elderly. But last week I walked up to the river which runs along the edge of our village. The river Hertford is a strange river, it rises just outside another nearby village, Muston, and despite being just a mile from the sea, it flows inland, down the wide, glacier carved valley where I live, where I have always lived. On the day I walked up to it I’d seen a fellow dog walker in the lane. I stroked the long muzzle of his lovely greyhound and we passed the time of day, talking about the ash and the beech leaves and how autumn had arrived so suddenly, how it seemed to do this every year, and that each year we were surprised. His dog waited patiently. My dog wound himself around my legs. He told me he’d been up to the river and had seen a king fisher for the first time in ages. I had never seen one, though had been with people when they had seen one. It seems I have often had my head turned the wrong way when the king fishers appear. On the day we; the dog and I, walked up to the river, we were lucky. We arrived on the wide metal bridge and stood patiently, or rather I stood patiently, but the dog got bored and started winding round my legs and trying to get into the river and then suddenly, out from under the bridge, there was the kingfisher. It was the colour of an Egyptian amulet, jewel-like, the most beautiful, bright blue I have ever seen, completely at odds with the brown, draping, wet landscape. I watched it flit down the length of the river and away and stood with my mouth open in an O of surprise. Perfect.

Wendy Pratt, If the Landscape is a Body then the Hertford is a Wound

Can we pray for rain yet?
Has time stopped?

Are we still family
even if we disagree?

Where is everyone else
in this cloud of unknowing?

Rachel Barenblat, Unknowing

I have been immersed in quilting since Wednesday afternoon.  It has been strange to resurface, strange to do other things.  I’ve gotten my reading responses done for tonight’s seminary class.  I’ve thought about other writing that I haven’t been doing, the writing that always slips to the bottom of my to do list when I have a chance to immerse myself in a retreat.

I’ve also been thinking about poets and quilters, wondering if there are similarities to what I’ve seen and experienced.  At the risk of talking in huge generalities, let me muse a bit.

–I am a person making it up as I go along.  I’m more in love with the fabric than with the quilting process.  I create quilts because it gives me a reason to collect fabric, but then I have to do something with it.  Once I might have thought about making a living with this art–even more reason to collect fabrics!  But now, I’m happy to be in my own corner of the world.

The same is true of writing.  Once I wanted to make a living with my writing, and if it should happen, I won’t complain.  But I want to do the writing I want to do, not what is likely to sell in the wider world.

–This week-end, I’ve watched many quilters working from kits.  Not only do the kits come with instructions and pictures, but they also come with pre-cut fabric.  There are designers out there that not only design the finished quilt, but they also design the fabrics.

I look at the pictures that come with the kit, and I think, no, I’d do it this way.  Nope, that color choice is all wrong.

In the writing world, the kit might represent an MFA program or a literary journal–that hope that there’s one way to do things, that we can unlock that one way if we go to the right school and get the right publications.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilters and Writers

The mixed-use heart.
All warmth and passion

or is it all red fury? 
Red Alert – a love or war 

emergency? 
Blood as in beating and alive,

or draining on a sidewalk?
We are unhappy people

in a happy world.  I heard
it said.  And it wobbled

in the red, fully lit garden.
Something will happen

We just don’t know what.

Jill Pearlman, Code RED

I talk to the birds about complicity
and courage. How both need wings.
How both burn red. How both grace
and macabre defy gravity. If only,
briefly. They come every evening.
Pied Wagtails with homes somewhere
I cannot see, to hop around on the
tiles and sing from the terrace walls.
All. All things can be obliterated in
moments.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -9

It’s a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, sunny, with bright fall leaves blowing down and gray clouds massing in the distance, after days of rain, and that’s a peacock on the roof. I came here to help my daughter have a baby, and that has indeed happened. A beautiful baby named Lola, 8 lbs, 12 oz, 22 inches long. So far, she likes to sleep in the daytime and keep her parents awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., like lots of babies who sleep while the mother is active by day and kick around nocturnally. I am happy to hold this baby and stare at her. The activity that rocked her to sleep in the womb included a daily neighborhood walk that I got to do with the family a couple times before the birth, and that’s where the peacocks come in. Just as there is a flock of wild turkeys back at home, or trail turkeys, since they walk the Constitution Trail as well as the neighborhoods, here there is a flock of wild peacocks. Or you might say a pride of peacocks, a muster of peacocks, or an ostentation of peacocks. Although these local peacocks are quite modest and unostentatious. Shortly after getting this picture through my son’s window, I got to witness this one fly gently down to earth.

Then time stood still, as they say, suspended itself, and we had days of labor in a hospital room. The baby was born, and then my mother died, as if she had been waiting for the baby to come into the world before she went out of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Peacock on the Roof

立冬や椅子一つある古本屋 西生ゆかり

rittō ya isu hitotsu aru furuhonya

            beginning of winter−

            a second-hand bookstore

            with one chair inside

                                                Yukari Saisho

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

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (November 9, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

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.

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 41

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: horror in and out of the news, an outpouring of appreciation for Louise Glück, the future of academia, menopause, and more. Enjoy.


I spent parts of the weekend digesting the whole of Netflix’s Fall of the House of Usher, something I have been waiting for for over a year, being a huge Mike Flanagan fan and lover of Poe in general. It was everything I expected and more–a modern day gothic chilling tale of corporate greed and evil, of extreme moral ambiguousness, set within the frames of Poe stories and poems. And so many poems, enough to make this writer and one-time English major, quiver with delight. I found myself thinking about Poe and how well it all holds together, even nearly 170 years later. How influential his work still is on the literary consciousness of writers, despite his entire life and career riddled with depression and addiction. How Flanagan takes the work and bends it into something new, yet immensely true to the original. […]

I often think about the Greeks and how pervasively their stories remain in Western thought, but Poe is up there on the list as well. For all of Poe’s wraith-like rants against other writers and his worry that he was an utmost failure (all too often related), he manages to stick. Beautifully horrific things still bear his fingerprints. While if you asked me who I liked more, I would say Nathaniel Hawthorne (who examined similar ideas with a little more subtleness), I still love Poe for all his darkness and bluster, which make the series an especially delightful experience that also got me thinking about my recent waffling in regard to writing poems. How I often feel like no one is listening and maybe no one is. But then Poe thought this as well. So maybe I just need to leave my worries to time and allow the chips to fall where they may. 

Kristy Bowen, darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe

The drive took a meandering trajectory dodging abandoned belongings and storm-broken dreams. They coasted gingerly along the city streets under the huddling live oaks, still recovering from the trauma of a demon breath, reflection reaching its barren bones to snatch away any good sense. Outside dried mud cracked under the tires leaving crumbly hints and gaping possibilities, inside half-formed intentions simmered between them hazy and tingly like heat lightning. 

Years Later

Long forgotten ghosts are unexpectedly uncovered, teasing her memory, challenging her self-respect. She puts on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Begins cutting.

Charlotte Hamrick, Snatched: the Means and the End

Writing, at least for me, and at its heart, is necessarily inchoate. Words come out. You work out what to do with them later. Or not: one way of thinking about literary modernism is as a kind of cult of the first draft (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s diary). Poetry, in particular, seems to grow in the gaps. Small poems, lyrics, appear like changelings in and among other things I thought I was writing. I might work them up in the ‘poetry’ book later, but they rarely start there.

This doesn’t mean they always come out looking like prose. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they are trying very hard (possibly too hard) to get away from the prose around them. I’ve come to think of poems like the mushrooms put up by fungi: sometimes they disguise themselves as the detritus they are feeding on, sometimes they look very different indeed. But it’s all one forest.

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

Dear special you,
This is not yet
a cat. This is
a bird hiding
from cats. It is
a butterfly
masquerading
as bird feathers,
a flock of dead
butterflies whose
still wings have been
repurposed as
art, frozen in
time.

PF Anderson, Dear You

I’ve been reading and thinking about the power of place lately. I’m reading for possibly the third time Rebecca Solnit’s book from the late ’70s called Migrations. It is about her ambling around Ireland thinking about ambling, about immigration and exile, about power and poetry and the land, about belonging, about what ties someone to a landscape.

She is so freaking brilliant, which is why I’m on my third read. It is so rich with ideas and beautiful prose that I can barely read it, so often do I have to set it aside to think about what she’s said. I’ve never been to Ireland and although I’m of Irish heritage, I don’t feel particularly connected in the way that so many Americans seem to feel. But the sense she talks about of a land and people integrated, stony and lush, windblown and scented — I get this. I walked out today into a damp autumn day redolent of leaves and dirt and pine, hear the strong song of the stream, high from recent rains, and I felt this land settle around me. To quote an old poem of mine, “I wear this world, a wedding gown, a shroud.” I often feel like I can’t get enough of this land, can’t ingest it enough into my cells. I stand helpless and smitten. [….]

When people are willing to kill over, to die over, land, its “possession,” am I to understand that inherently, as someone to whom landscape means so much? Territorial wars, I know, are about much more than enjoying the view from a ridge. “Land” is access to resources, control, power, as well as history, culture. In this way my own connection to land seems innocent, shallow.

War seems the corruption of that kind of innocent connection to land, borders a persistent, baffling machination of land and idea, of land and love. Call me naive. A word derived from words meaning natural, as well as native, born. Maybe our ideas of place are much too small.

Marilyn McCabe, In my dreams I’m always walkin’; or, On Writing, on Place

I am rebuked for silence: hear then my words, O Israel!
I love you beyond reason and beyond sense,
and the wheeling track of the stars knows
the darkest thoughts we’ve shared. I will not

repudiate my love. And this also is a silence, for which
I also will be blamed. So be it. If the shoe were on the other foot
would a Jew be left alive, between the river and the sea?
I’ve heard their words. I listen. silence is good for that.

Dale Favier, I Am Rebuked For Silence

Because I still have an oven, I can bake bread and knock on the crust: 
a hostage might answer.
Because yeast is alive for a short time,
embroider my name in your handmade world.

Oh long reams of sheets on the ironing board, 
I give you my full attention.   
I give you Simone Weil and Malebranche: 
attentiveness the soul’s natural prayer 
Is prayer.  Pray, pray. With feet.  With flowers, stones.
With undone lips, with murmuring surf.

Jill Pearlman, Half-Baked Prayer (So far, so near)

I am happy to announce that you can now pre-order the press’s two latest chapbooks: Corey Qureshi’s What You Want and Jonathan Todd’s Shift Drinks. Both poets are from Philadelphia and both collections address themes of work and struggle, and I’m very excited to have them join the press’s growing catalogue. […]

Also, with each sale, we are proud to be raising money for the Community Action Relief Project (CARP) in Philadelphia. According to their website, “CARP is a mutual aid and harm reduction project committed to sharing resources and redistributing wealth throughout the Kensington community of Philadelphia. . . . [They] provide essential supplies needed for survival, including hot meals, snacks, clothing, hygiene kits, on site wound care, and safer drug use kits.” In addition, they offer community education and a library of radical literature. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and CARP.

Lastly, I am aware that this release comes at a moment of acute suffering and horror in the world. As we speak, Palestinians are enduring a genocidal siege at the hands of the Israeli military, all with the direct support and encouragement of the United States government. In solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have lived for decades under brutal apartheid, I will be making an immediate $200 donation in the press’s name to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), an organization providing emergency aid to the people of Gaza. Half of the Gazan population consists of people under the age of eighteen, and MECA is providing vital support to families there. In effect, this amount will match what we anticipate raising for CARP, but with the benefit of being given immediately. Receipts for this will be provided soon.

R. M. Haines, New Chapbooks Available!

on the days i can touch what is lost, what is said?

death of depth
we dare call heaven

milk makes a prison
of skin

tears of grace
original face

Grant Hackett [no title]

Years ago I started using a little patter before the prayer that I borrowed from Rabbi David Markus. It was originally ad libbed to be singable to the Rizhyner’s melody for the prayer, but it’s basically become liturgy in my community. My son sings it to me sometimes. Other members of the community quote it. The opening has become part of the prayer now. And this past Friday night, as soon as I played the opening chord, everyone knew what was coming.

“Maybe you’ve had a little bit of a week,” I sang.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had –“

That’s when I noticed the tears pouring down my face.

*

…For the people torn from their homes and shot. For the concert-goers at the all-night dance party whose dancing ended in a massacre. For children, killed and kidnapped. For lifelong peace activists, killed and kidnapped. For over a thousand Jews slaughtered last Shabbat. For my friend whose partner grew up on one of the now-massacred kibbutzim. For the first responders whose job it was to locate and cover every dead body. For the people who were traumatized seeing Torah scrolls draped in tallitot at Simchat Torah because they evoked Jewish dead bodies draped in tallitot. For everyone struggling now with generational trauma. For the hostages in Gaza. For the families of the hostages, frantic and afraid. For the mother I know whose child couldn’t fall asleep in the bomb shelter. For the children and adults who have no bomb shelters and nowhere safe to go. For Awad Darawshe z”l, killed by Hamas while doing his EMT work. For the recognition that someone out there is wailing and mourning every single death this week, including those who weren’t EMTs or peace activists, just “regular” Palestinians and Israelis. For every life snuffed out. For every child now without parents, and every parent now grieving their child. For the inhabitants of Gaza, with electricity and water cut off, whose buildings are now rubble. For the hopelessness and the anguish. For the fact that grief becomes politicized, and strangers on the internet critique for whom and how we grieve. For the fact that I had to firmly instruct my teenager not to watch videos of hostage executions that Hamas has threatened to broadcast. For the fact that not everyone has the luxury of looking away from the death and loss and horror. For every heart now shattered. For the near-certainty that it’s going to get worse before it gets better…

*

“– a little bit of a week,” I managed, somehow.

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

“And if you’ve had a little bit of a week — ai yai yai yai yai yai yai yai!”

The words of the prayer don’t really matter, I’ve said more times than I can count. I’ll sing some Hebrew. Maybe you’ll sing some English. Then I’ll sing some Hebrew, and you’ll sing some English. But what really makes this prayer work, what gives us the spiritual capacity to let go of our baggage and be fully present to welcome Shabbat, is the krechtz. The cry from the heart, from the gut, from the core. The ai yai yai. We have to let it all out before we can let Shabbat in.

Rachel Barenblat, A little bit of a week

Should we be grateful for banality?
Just the ordinary day when nothing much
happens. A day of choices: act or not, understand

or not, feel or not, live or not, be on the right
side of history or not. This is the blessing. The
ordinary day. The luxury of choice. The safety

of power. The power of safety. The sky too,
just blue, clouds unbothered, drifting. This
day when nothing happens. Thank you, we

can whisper to the unremarkable night […]

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A day of choices

It’s a hard week to write about wonder, but I began the day thinking that it’s moments like these that ask us to recommit to what is best about humanity, in the face of so much evidence of what is worst.

It was always my hope to study wonder not merely through an aesthetic or critical lens, but as a fundamental aptitude and resonance in our human experience. Today, I want to revisit the writings of thinkers who, to my mind, summed up the stakes of wonder as a vehicle for empathy.

Rachel Carson said that “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race,”[1] and I stand by her thinking that wonder and humility are incompatible with a lust for exploitation. If we can wonder at the unlikeliness and singularity of a human life, then we safeguard against the impulse for violence. St. Thomas Aquinas also connected wonder with pleasure and desire “that culminates not so much in knowledge as in encounter with majesty,”[2] waking us to what is most essentially human in us, and what is most capable of feeling.

Reflecting on this quality in Wordsworth’s writings, Kate Rigby argued that the reader is “restored to a sense of wonderment before that which we cannot grasp,” which in turn allows us to “be better placed to live respectfully amongst a diversity of more-than-human-others, without seeking always to subsume them to our own ends and understanding.”

Maya C. Popa, Why Wonder

Today we celebrate Columbus Day: October 12 was the actual day of the first sighting of land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can’t imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was. […]

I keep thinking of the ship’s logs and the captain’s journals, which Columbus kept obsessively. Perhaps we need to do a bit more journalling/blogging/notetaking/observing. Maybe it’s more calibrating or more focused daydreaming. These tools can be important in our creative lives.

Maybe we need a benefactor. Who might be Queen Isabella for us, as artists and as communities of artists?

The most important lesson we can learn from Columbus is we probably need to know that while we think we’re sailing off for India, we might come across a continent that we didn’t know existed. Columbus was disappointed with his discovery: no gold, no spices, land that didn’t live up to his expectations. Yet, he started all sorts of revolutions with his discovery. Imagine a life without corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Imagine life without chocolate. Of course, if I was looking through the Native American lens, I might say, “Imagine life without smallpox.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Columbus and Our Own Creative Lives

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Louise Glück. She is, perhaps, best known for her poetry collection The Wild Iris, which was published in 1992 and for which she received the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem opens the book: At the end of my suffering / there was a door.

Her 2014 collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, also from Carcanet, gave me both comfort and confidence as I was struggling to complete the manuscript of Remembering / Disease. ‘You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals, and each time you enter it’s the same place but it has been arranged differently.’ Each time I entered this world, I felt closer to home.

Fokkina McDonnell, Austere beauty

It’s overwhelming to spend time with her poetry; you end up steeped in her mythologies, baffled by a personal story both tantalizingly near the surface and never quite within reach. (Consider a poem such as “The Dream,” a poem with two voices, beginning: “I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed we were married again,” and ending with the prosaic explanation, “Because it was a dream.”) […]

I’m trying to share enough so you see the range—this is a poet who published in The New Yorker for fifty years, after all—and the power present in even her early work. I’ve been noticing, as I flip through the pages, how often the color red occurs, as if Persephone’s pomegranate seeds keep replicating into other forms, and reminding us that, whatever is here, in our troubled and besieged turbulent world, it is our world.

Bethany Reid, Louise Glück, 1943-2023

In 2008, I was lucky enough to be one of Louise Gluck’s poetry students at Boston University’s MFA program.

I remember taking the T to her Cambridge apartment, the breakable vases of dried flowers from her garden everywhere, all of us crowded on the couch and floor hoping not to be the one dumb enough to bump something over.

We were all (I think–or at least I was) a little afraid of her, this tiny steel-gray haired woman, so cutting and dry with her poetry and her remarks (but always a bit of sly humor there).

She had pink Himalayan sea-salt on the table–I hailed from Tennessee backwoods and I’d never seen that before. She used a typewriter in a windowed room. I thought she was the most elegant person I’d ever met.

I remember her telling me the end of one of my poems was “Flaccid”–I knew it was bad from my classmates’ giggles (yes, giggles), but had to look up what it meant when I got back to the dilapidated broken-window Victorian apartment my husband and I (21 years old, newlyweds) were renting. Flaccid, added to the vocabulary. And I sure as hell fixed that ending.

Renee Emerson, Tribute to Louise Gluck

My local public library’s poetry section is on the sparse side. However, after renewing my card today, I felt determined to borrow a poetry book. I considered taking out one of Louise Glück’s collections, but I already own copies of the two on the library’s shelves (Wild Iris and Meadowlands). I chose Maxine Kumin’s 1992 book Looking for Luck instead. When I returned home, I learned that Glück has died (age 80). There will be time to return to her books and to seek out her most recent collection, which I have not read; but hers is a voice readers of poetry will miss.

One thing that her poems do is to face, without shying away from, sorrow or grief. They seldom offer sociably-conventional consolations. The consolation is in the spare beauty of her observation, her control of language. That is difficult to do. When I write from despair or deep grief, I find I want to bring some kind of–call it hope?–into the last few lines. I wonder whether I’ve a tendency to want to comfort; maybe my readers, maybe myself.

Ann E. Michael, Poets, horses

Neither the calls of zebra doves nor the down-

sliding notes of the golden crowned sparrow
can quiet my restlessness, this sense of how,

even in the middle of paradise, grief’s mottled
eye continues to offer itself as a gift of welcome—

strands of black tiger eye kukui nut and ti
leaves, a ceremony wreathed around my neck.

Luisa A. Igloria, E komo mai means “welcome”

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I am someone that gets really paralyzed if I think too much about theoretical concerns. So I try to engage with them but limit them. When I was in grad school, I wrote a poem about a character from Arabic literature. One of the critiques of the poem, in workshop, was whether or not I had a right to take on that voice. Several of my classmates spent the majority of the workshop discussing this question, not even really getting to the craft of the poem itself. They were concerned that the answer was no, I didn’t really seem to have the right. It was a troubling experience for me because 1) The assumption that I was not Arab myself was incorrect 2) It brought up a whole lot of existential tailspinning (am I Arab enough since I don’t look as Arab as some of my family, for example, since I’m not totally fluent in the language, etc.) and 3) It scared me that there was this possibility we couldn’t engage with certain things that elicit our curiosity as writers, and that this list of things we can’t engage with are constantly shifting and hard to predict. Isn’t that an obstacle to empathy? At the same time, yes—it’s hugely important to me that writing is genuine and that writers are aware of their own positionality AND do not obstruct or co-opt the voice or tradition of another. In that way, I suppose I’m always asking: where is my work in relation to empathy, honesty, originality? And do I have a reason why I’ve written this? Those are the questions that feel most important to me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.D. Lauren-Abunassar (rob mclennan)

Over the last decade, Emma Simon has quietly but impressively built up a reputation as a gifted exponent of quirky, well-honed poetry, good enough to grace many well-known journals and to win or be placed in several prestigious competitions. Her two pamphlets – Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (SmithǀDoorstop, 2020; a winner, chosen by Neil Astley no less, in The Poetry Business’s annual pamphlet competition) – showcased her poems’ qualities. Notably, as well as containing first-class content, a number (but not too many) of the poems have ostentatious titles, e.g. ‘A Pindaric Ode to Robert Smith of The Cure’. Emma has completed both the Poetry Business School Writing School programme and the Poetry School / Newcastle University MA programme and thereby been fortunate to receive the tutelage of some of the UK’s finest poet–teachers.

When Emma announced that Salt would be publishing Shapeshifting for Beginners, available here, I was very glad, and keen to see how she would work across the broader canvas of a whole collection. For me, Emma’s poems, though distinctively her own, remind me of Vicki Feaver in how she draws, often playfully, upon memories, reveries, a wide range of cultural references and a generally wry viewpoint, to consider the place of women and girls in, and the occasional accepting befuddlement at the weirdness of, our contemporary world. Her tone throughout is commanding: the reader follows her train of thought without question. Glyn Maxwell’s blurb says that the ‘poems are shaped by lockdown’, but they are largely far from being about the pandemic, even, it seems, at a subconscious level. It’s a very witty, clever and enjoyable collection.

Matthew Paul, On Emma Simon’s ‘White Blancmange Rabbit’

Hélène Demetriades’ debut collection, the plumb line (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2023) , is a superbly crafted, touching exploration of parenthood and of family relationships. The poems are grouped into three sections: Beginnings, Gravity and Departures, each focusing on a distinct stage in the evolution of those relationships, particularly between the daughter and the father. […]

I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. It is so human, so touching, so authentic, so relatable. It gets right to the heart of family relationships, revealing both the challenges and the rewards.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the plumb line’ by Hélène Demetriades

“Ophelia” has a content warning for non-specific sexual and domestic assault. These poems explore allegories for the complexity of feelings that such assaults trigger. Interspersed are fragmentary erasure poems titled “Ophelia”, using Shakespeare’s character. Ophelia is cast as, “torrent, tempest/ whirlwind her body/ the theater of others”. Later, “she will choose cold/ the poison of deep grief” and is described as “o’fire that drowns”. […]

The collection successfully weaves historical and contemporary reactions and trauma from domestic and sexual violence, using allegory and symbolism to explore and illustrate how such violence impacts its victims. “Ophelia” is sensitively and compassionately drawn.

Emma Lee, “Ophelia” V C McCabe (Femmé Salve Books) – Book review

John Guillory writes in Professing Criticism, a 2022 book, that literary criticism “originated millennia ago, achieved a maximal state of organization in the twentieth-century university, and now faces an uncertain future” (xv). He begins with a well-known story: nineteenth-century literary critics were self-trained journalists publishing in periodicals, while universities concentrated on philology–language instead of literature. “Literary scholarship” came into being as a profession after World War I, when it began to serve universities to offer electives and majors to its “clientele,” future members of a professional-managerial class (50-51). From a critic’s point of view, why not jump into the breach with your close-reading skills in pocket, since “professionals” receive higher status and compensation? The new English specialists stressed the exercise of scholarship (knowledge) rather than criticism (opinion). And here we are.

I’m reading Guillory’s tome while preparing to speak on a roundtable called “Avenues of Creative Scholarship,” and I’m only partway in, but what made my jaw drop when he speculated that since literary criticism wasn’t always a university discipline, it’s reasonable to imagine that the whole English Department enterprise was a blip, now ending. Arts and humanities curricula are being destroyed at places like West Virginia University–and declining in power and attractiveness at my own college–so why should this speculation surprise me? But somehow I’d always imagined that the eclipse would pass, perhaps once we got smart and recentered the discipline on what draws students in: reading personally, making their own literary art, asking high-stakes questions about what literature is and does. I mean, that could be true. Even now, there’s a bright ring around the shadow. But Guillory is right. To count on my discipline’s survival–to count on universities surviving in some shape comparable to their twentieth-century versions–is irrationally optimistic.

Witness the shuttering of The Gettysburg Review this week by the administration of Gettysburg College, apparently from a mixture of ignorance and indifference. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a deeply interesting (and paywalled) interview with GR editors Mark Drew and Lauren Hohle in which they discuss how consultants, framing themselves as efficiency experts, draw paychecks from many institutions by targeting the arts and humanities; Drew also reminds us that Kenyon College closed the Kenyon Review for a decade before thinking better of that decision. His own speculation: “The ideal fix, to my mind, is for the magazine to be endowed, either wholly or in part, so that we’re protected from the vicissitudes of changing administrations.”

Lesley Wheeler, Arts and humanities in annular eclipse

When Lesley talks about the closing and narrowing of academia’s support of poetry, literature, liberal arts in general, I am reminded of all my reading on Cold War Culture than indicated the American government was secretly propping up—and using for propaganda—many of the big journals we have come to think of as “permanent” features. Between the fifties and the eighties, the intelligence community thought it was important to show that America had its own artists that could compete with Russia’s—and, of course, they wanted to follow any potential communists into artistic enclaves. So, they gave money to Kenyon Review, Poetry, Paris Review, they helped publish books like Dr. Zhivago. Now, anti-intellectualism is king in politics—the government’s no longer interested in being a patron of the arts. Lesley mentions the patronage that most artists need to live as disappearing—but maybe it was always a sort of mirage. How many people in my generation could even procure a tenure track job in English Literature or Creative Writing? And the chances for the people younger than me, even less. Last week I talked about money and the awards system—a sort of insider trading post about how being wealthy enables you to get more money from grants, awards, and fellowships because you know some sort of secret password—whether it’s a certain college degree, championship by a wealthy mentor, or other. These things feel forbidden to talk about in the poetry world—but I feel it’s also important to point out that the poetry world is as corrupt and given to influence as any field, but also has its havens from that corruption if you look for them.

As a writer, I’ve always felt like an outsider—first, being a woman who did not come (or marry into) money, now, being a disabled and chronically ill woman who still has not won the lottery—and part of me feels like I’ve been beating a fist on the big blank walls of poetry institutions for more than twenty years. I’ve written hundreds of reviews, too, a world that is apparently disappearing, the idea of literary criticism itself being valuable enough to be paid for—was that a waste of time?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Solar Eclipse, Loss and Sadness, a Tribute to Louise Glück, and Some Thoughts on Poetry, Academia, Ambition and the Establishment

And yet, here I am, able to recognise in my own body that things are changing, that my body, once again, is unpredictable, uneasy, causing me more anguish. I wrote a poetry collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse a few years ago. It was about finding a way to be friends with a body that had let me down so badly; a body that had lost us all our children. The collection was about grief, but was also about recognising that my body was precious, my body had done its best.

But somehow, as menopause approaches, I find myself back to feeling my body is an enemy to me. What is there to say? The door is closing, the door is slamming, there is no going back. It is the finality that is daunting. I don’t want to go back. And yet, the well of sadness that is a part of carrying the death of your baby around with you is open again. I look down into it and I see the person I was, in the body that I was in, looking back up at me hopefully. There is no real difference, it is the same body, it is still doing its best, I am still doing my best.

What am I trying to say? That the loss never goes away, but that you fold around it, like scar tissue forming around a foreign object, until it is a part of you, a part of your body and your story. I have stopped trying to fix myself, I have stopped punishing myself, and am embracing myself.

Wendy Pratt, A Childless Woman Approaches the Menopause

Reflecting on my own time in the [Australian Poetry Slam] scene, I’m proud of the performances and the poems, but also wondering what was it that drove me to compete in slams. I was first introduced to them in Adelaide 2016 when I was asked to be a ‘sacrificial’ poet at the SA State Slam Final. I loved  being the ‘warm-up’ poet but it was safe. It took me a couple more years to find the courage (was it courage?) to perform as a competitor. Ironically, I was working on a novel at the time and was writing in residence at Writers SA where I saw the poster advertising the national poetry slam every. single. day. Was it desire to win that made me compete, or something else?

It was 2016. I was 48 years old and peri-menopausal. It might seem strange to say that at 48 I was only just finding my voice; but that’s how it felt. I think there is an alchemy that occurs in the body and mind in the years leading up to and during menopause. However, in our youth obsessed culture, it’s the negative effects of aging & menopause that are emphasised; so much so that older women can feel, at best, devalued & invisible and, at worst, whinging hypochondriacs. Pre-40 me found the idea of women being invisible incomprehensible. To my shame, I remember thinking: what the fuck are these women complaining about, what do they mean … invisible? I’m starting to get it. But it’s a bullshit story. And I’m working hard to let go of these bullshit stories. (More on this to come in future posts, I’m sure …)

So perhaps there were a number of competing reasons that I stepped up to the microphone and performed in a poetry slam. A desire to write something short (writing the novel was a torture and it’s still unfinished), a desire to be seen (fuck invisibility), and a desire to be heard, which became stronger than self doubt or fear. The more I performed, the more confident I became. It’s no coincidence that my first collection of poetry & prose is titled SIARAD, a Welsh word that means to speak.

Caroline Reid, POETRY SLAM PERFORMANCE: Stars

I think I just want to find a life that isn’t centered on how sick I feel, how cancer-ridden my boob is, how ashamed I am of my swollen, painful, unhealthy body.

I need a new hobby that doesn’t function like a mirror – or a selfie.

This morning as I think about running to the lake, fear builds up. I am afraid that the weird sand-feeling will cause me to stumble. The last thing I want now is a broken wrist.

But the squirrels are really active now for some reason. Seasonal? I want to see them. It is one way to stay in the moment – to be with them in those seconds before they scamper out of sight.

Negative capability is just about being in the moment, after all, right? Not judging, not needing to surround anything with meaning or purpose?

Just put the map down for a minute – eh?

Ren Powell, Oh, the Negative Capability

This week had brought renewed creativity. I’ve joined the peaceful space that is Dawn Chorus. It’s a simple concept of bringing writers together to work for an hour before the nitty gritty of life begins. There is a prompt to use if other inspiration if scant, but more than anything this is a place of calm focus, a place to enjoy the simple act of making time to write.

This act has been fruitful. I’ve written two new poems, and a piece of creative non-fiction. They will need to be polished before they go on their adventures, but it feels good to write something new, and to simply give myself space to think. Being a writer is a solitary pursuit, and being a writer with a chronic illness brings an extra edge of invisibility.

Whilst working alone is one of the positives of the surprise redesign diagnosis with M.E. wrought in my life, there is something about working in community with others that brings a different dimension. Accountability feels like too strong a word – no one is relying on me to turn up each morning. Perhaps it’s simple community – the sense that we’re all working to reach a similar goal. A quiet synergy, even if just for an hour. This space to think is hard to pin down amongst the constant chatter and pull of needing to be visible, needing to be part of the world regardless of whether it is a space that feels welcoming. I often wonder how it must have felt to live with so little sound, without the constant hum of traffic or radios, odd clanking of another redevelopment, whirrs of gardens being tidied and the simple presence of so many people. This level of external distraction makes it difficult to simply be part of the world without shouting.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Being part of the world without shouting

The blockage has finally cleared! Poems that had been gathering dust in numerous in-trays have finally come back to me, all with a polite ‘no thanks’ attached. Oh well. Although having said that, I’ve two poems forthcoming in South magazine and another two in the Hastings Stanza Anthology ‘Bird in a Wilderness’ which we’re launching on Friday October 20 at The White Rock Hotel, Hastings at 7 pm – if you’re anywhere near, do come! The book is partly in aid of The Refugee Buddy Project that does wonderful work in welcoming refugees in the Hastings area.

Robin Houghton, All kinds of poetry news and shenanigans

It was a huge pleasure to be interviewed by acclaimed poet David Adès for Poets’ Corner hosted by Westwords. Each month a poet is invited to read and talk about their poetry on a theme of the poet’s choice.

For this episode, we talked on the theme of Limits of language, limits of experience. in the context of my poetry videos. We covered a lot of ground but the conversation falls naturally into more or less bite-sized chunks. We start with an extended discussion on the nature of video poetry, how they are made, how they can work, and more. Then we go on to talk about some of my specific pieces.

The Youtube clip includes excerpts of these videos, in order: after-image; Palingenetics; and furthermore (indexed); A Captain’s; The Ferrovores; FUTURE PERFECT; and An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses.

Ian Gibbins, Limits of language, limits of experience – extended interview with David Adès for Poets’ Corner

I’m very pleased to announce that Mark McGuinness’ excellent poetry podcast, A Mouthful of Air, which has recently featured poets such as Mona Arshi, Judy Brown, Rishi Dastidar, Ian Duhig, Mimi Khalvati, Clare Pollard, Tom Sastry, and Denise Saul, has recorded a discussion about my new Salt collection, Between a Drowning Man.

Mark’s method is to focus on one particular poem and between us we chose the poem ‘you are not in search of’, on page 57 of the new book, from the latter end of the ‘Works and Days’ sequence. You can listen to the podcast here. It’s about 40 minutes in length and includes a reading of the poem at the beginning and end. There is also a helpful transcription of our discussion.

Martyn Crucefix, New podcast discussion on Between a Drowning Man

I lost my mind.
I put it here somewhere,
I know I did.

The rain sweeps against the window.
Tonight’s autumn rain.
Waves of it, light, then heavy.
It’s 2 in the morning.
I pace the room,
listening to rain.

Bob Mee, Untitled

the soldiers return
but no one believes them
for they are mute

if you don’t like this war
there’s another one
on the next channel

the adverts are sweeter
a new car in the bright sunshine
turns into a hearse

Jim Young, rumours

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

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: changing seasons, ailing mothers, famous poets, non-fungible tokens, unfashionable metaphors, and much more. Enjoy.


Back from a scorching hot week in North Wales, to which we took waterproofs, heavy duty walking boots and woollies, none of which we needed. Thankfully we also took shorts and sunscreen!

The Llyn peninsula is a long way to go, further than Land’s End (I looked it up!) but it was worth it. What a beautiful, unspoilt part of the British Isles. […] It would make an excellent place for a writing retreat. Quiet, surrounded by nature and with a very poor phone signal.

While we were there I started reading Byron Rogers’ compelling life of RS Thomas, The Man who went into the West, which I’ve nearly finished. He was clearly a puzzling and contradictory man. Although I knew the name, I’ve never made an effort to read his work, which I’m a bit ashamed about now. Especially after Gillian Clarke, on a course at Ty Newydd, exhorted all of us to go away and read him. My podcasting poet pal Peter says he met RS when he was a student, and was struck by his presence.

At Aberdaron, in the little church where RS preached for some years, they’ve made a sort of shrine to him, with newspaper articles, copies of poems and other material.

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

The night of the new year
gathers up cat cries in baskets
made for apples, lopsided and sweet,

rolling downhill fast as barrels.
All these nights are the same, heavy
with waiting for those starry eyes

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

The Torah table’s in place. The chairs are arranged, and the music stands, like one-footed angels. The microphones, angled just so. The Torahs are wearing white holiday clothes. Prayerbooks wait in tidy stacks. Rolls of stick-on nametags sit beside baskets of printed holiday bracelets. The piano is tuned. The slide decks are ready. The sermons are ready. The blog posts are ready. My white binder of sheet music sports a rainbow of marginal tabs, colorful stepping stones through each service. As for my soul? Just now a spoonful of honeycake batter called her back from distraction, saying: ready or not here we go.

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

Walking the lane this week has saved my sanity as I simultaneously finish edits on the manuscript for The Ghost Lake, get issue 09 of Spelt Magazine to the printers and hand in a complex Arts Council England grant application for some Spelt projects. Despite their pledges to ensure all people can get support to apply to the arts council, I still found the application system clunky, off putting, frustrating and not in any way transparent or helpful. It literally gave me a migraine trying to get through it. Usually I would have a big rant here about the difficulties that working class people in particular find when putting applications like this together, but I’m wasting no more time on it. I have books to finish, projects to start and the glorious cool autumn air to experience. Stepping out into that air, walking the old dog through the already falling leaves and the beech mast has been like someone putting cool hands on my fiery brain and soothing it directly.

Beech masts – the fallen nuts of the beech tree are everywhere in the village right now; a carpet of nuts that crunches pleasantly when walked over. We are a village of lime trees in the newer part of the village, at the top, then beech trees in the lower part, over the marshier ground. The word Mast comes from the Old English ‘Mæst’ – the nuts of trees fallen on the ground and used for feeding animals, especially for fattening pigs. My village is an ancient one, its name has viking roots and roughly translates as hamlet of the pig keepers. This is one of those facts that is like a door opening to the past, a thin place where I might step through, know myself as one of a long line of villagers. Here are the beech trees, and here, in the very naming of the place, the tree-ancestors, the pig herders moving their woolly sided pigs between them over the marshy, boggy ground. And back, further back, here is the bronze age burial ground on the cliff edge above the village, and here, the path that goes from the lane of the beech trees up to the burial ground. I imagine the villagers of the bronze age making their way up to their ancestors with offerings. There is a peace in the continuity of habitation. I like to walk here and know myself within it. I like to remind myself that people have been surviving here for thousands of years. The autumn air and walking in this place is helping me to connect to The Ghost Lake, helping me find my way through the edits, sharpening, honing, bringing the book home. It’s a beautiful process. One day I’d like to simply do this for a living, to walk, to write.

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

I’ve started a series of poems on Finnish animals, really animals in Finland as none of them are particularly Finnish, hares, cranes, elk, magpies. I haven’t written about the norppa seal or reindeer, animals I connect with Finland, though I might. The creatures I’ve chosen take on a Finnish persona, though they are animals I know from elsewhere. I’m mixing my love of nature with my focus on belonging to a place. The animals are guides, gods or representations of myself, moving through Finland with the will to understand, if not accept, the world around them.

These new poems have made the Finnish collection change again which is intruiging. Its early incarnations were about me struggling to adapt to living here in connection with my family, hanging on to the remnants of my life in Scotland. As I said, these new poems are not necessarily about accepting my life here, but more just listening to the voices of Finland more intently. Stepping out of myself for brief wanders.

All this sounds like I’m writing a blurb for the book, but it’s nice to sort out my thoughts on it. And who knows, it might be useful someday as a blurb.

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

The middle of my days are usually a rhythm of homeschooling, a break for lunch, then work for a half hour or so during quiet rest time, then activities / play time with the kids in the afternoon. As my kids have gotten older, we have more outside the house activities, but I keep them to the afternoon so we can have a consistent school day (Except for bible study–that does intrude on one of our mornings, but we feel it is worth it).

I also do my writing either in the early morning (if work allows), or in the quiet rest time, or in the afternoon–right now it is kind of getting squeezed in. It isn’t ideal–during many seasons in my life, I had writing in that 5AM workout spot–but I’ve just been committing myself to make sure the writing gets done everyday, even if it isn’t happening first thing. When my classes are out for the semester, I’ll put writing in that morning slot for work.

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

My basement yields an oddment of jars
and the large blue pot that waits for this occasion.
I whet my favorite knife,
find cutting boards and colanders
and blues on the radio.
The tunes remind me of hard times, when canning
meant peach jam for toast in winter,
and women wore aprons.

I put mine on
(a gift from my husband before he knew better),
wash vegetables, and start to work.
I pare and core and chop and mince,
humming with Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith,
peeling the next apple, and the next.

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

A summer has slipped by. And now the world is changing shape again.
In the mornings, the orange-brown pine needles scattered on the trail
stab at my imagination like a thousand accusations:
You should have used the time better.

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

I know some of us are driven by fear. Sometimes I think every choice I’ve ever made comes from a place of darkness: an empty room with cracked vinyl floors; a smooth-surfaced pond, cold currents rising suddenly between my legs.

How many of us can’t remember our heart stopping when we reached up to grab our mother’s hand only to see a stranger’s face staring down at us?

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

There were nine contestants – three first round games would produce three winners who would then tape a two-game final round. Yes, all five games for a week are taped in one day. You have to bring clothing changes in case you win for that reason. When I arrived and met the other contestants, I knew I was in trouble. This had nothing to do with the people in the room. Everyone was kind and friendly, excited to compete, cheering on the others, encouraging and calming to those who were nervous. (Raises hand.) But I felt clearly out of my league. Let me explain.

How did I prepare? Honestly, I didn’t. I did some review of the sciences and world geography (my weakest categories) and took some of the Jeopardy final question quizzes on Sporcle, but I knew that my 61 year old brain was NOT going to learn a whole plethora of new things in only a few weeks. But I soon discovered that several of the other contestants followed Jeopardy religiously (beyond watching the show), had been on multiple game shows, belonged to trivia leagues, entered crossword tournaments, were collegiate Quiz Bowl champions. They all knew about things like a Coryat score (I had never heard of it) and one person—-I still don’t know who—had a study packet the size of a ream of paper sitting on one of the tables.

So I decided to try not to pass out, to do my best, and to be bold.

Donna Vorreyer, I’ll take FAILURE for a Thousand…

I guess this is what I am doing in the way of poetry lately: a Mother Tree. Visual, 3D poetry–a small branch anchored in a vase with glass pebbles, hung with ornaments from her life: earrings, baby bracelets, a nostalgic love pin nestling in the tree as if K-I-S-S-I-N-G. There are two tiny skulls to represent her parents, who lived with my parents for a time in their old age. So did my dad’s grandfather, at one point. My folks were very generous people, also taking in a high school student, whose parents moved his senior year, and a young man from Mali. They are living now in a retirement community, in independent living but with lots of home health care, and I am slowly but surely clearing out the family home while it is for sale. Lots of laundering, donating, recycling, redistributing, and rearranging. I feel like my mom!

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

In phone videos,
she shakes her head or calls
the names of her ghosts;
sometimes she has no clue.
We say no more to the constant
drawing of blood, to the checking
of sugars. The body is folding into
itself like its own prayer, heedless
of time however long the transit.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

Very honoured to have KHÔRA feature my work. This poem was dedicated to my mother after her brave battle with brain cancer. The videopoem was created by Michael Lewy as inspired by the poem and my digital collage. The publishing honorarium was donated to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. https://www.corporealkhora.com/issue/26/passport

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

When the same word floats up from the most disparate-seeming characters.  My yoga teacher. My poetry mentor. A black hat rabbi. The list would be disparate enough without Baudelaire – but the dark prince poet was at the forefront in demanding we slough off our lazy habits that inure us to precision and keep us from paying – drum roll please – Attention!  Attention – the practice my yoga teacher, poetry mentor and rabbi insist we devote ourselves to rather than allow slothful addiction to routine to cloud perception of what is. 

The reason I think about it is that this weekend: Shofar!  The curly ram’s horn provocateur is regularly blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  One prayer: May the cry of the shofar chatter our complacency. Another: May the cry elicit the response, hineini, I’m in the moment.  As Maimonides said, “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber.”  

Then there’s the fact that this Saturday, the shofar took a Shabbat rest; the routine that breaks routine was broken. The rabbi compared us to attendees to John Cage’s 4:33, walking into the hall expecting a blast – and instead we hear silence. Or non-silence: coughs, shoes, heavy breath, pulse of the universe.  Dereglement of the senses.  Music/life in the white space.  Or rather, music/life is the white space.

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

Kodak, Blaise Cendrars’ series of American vignettes, was published in 1924 by Stock.The edition – much sought after on the rare book market now – included a portrait of the poet by his friend Francis Picabia. In Kodak Cendrars employs a literalism consistent with his intention of reproducing in words a collection of snapshots of 1920s New York. I’m beginning with the first eight poems. […]

Waiters grave as diplomats clad in
white lean out across the chasm of the town
And the flowerbeds are alight like a million tiny multicoloured
lanterns
I believe Madame murmured to the young man with a voice
tremulous with suppressed passion
I believe that we might do very well here
And with a sweeping gesture he displayed the vast sea

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

At the time, I thought of the poetry I was writing as a quite narrowly focused topical intervention, but in the last 4 or 5 years (partly with the greater clarity with which the Brexit heist can be now seen to have been foisted on the country), the poems have come to seem less dependent on their times and more capable of being read as a series of observations – and passionate pleas – for a more generous, open-minded, less extremist, less egotistical UK culture. It was Hesiod’s pre-Homeric poem, Works and Days, that suddenly felt oddly familiar: in it he is not harking back to an already lost era, nor to past heroic (in our case imperial) events. Instead, Hesiod talks about his own, contemporary workaday world, offering advice to his brother because the pair of them seem to be in some sort of a dispute with each other (a squabble over limited resources – that sounded familiar).

So my developing sequence took over from Hesiod the idea of familial disputes, the importance of the persistence of Hope (in the Pandora’s jar story), the idea that we need to understand that we are living in an Age of Iron (not idealised Gold). Poetry can never be summarised by its own conclusions but the poems seemed to me to be arguing the need to work hard – to have patience – not to buy into fairy tales of a recoverable golden age that probably never existed anyway.

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #2

I just finished “Traversals: A Folio on Walking,” guest-edited by Anna Maria Hong and Christine Hume for the summer 2023 issue of The Hopkins Review. Walking and poetry have so many intersections: they foster observation, thinking, feeling, and talking; prompt unexpected encounters; depend on rhythm; and sometimes resemble each other even structurally, because meditation and meandering are associative as well as linear. When I give poetry students a walking-based writing prompt, their work often gets better. But I’ve hit pause on that assignment for a while because taking a thoughtful ramble isn’t safe or possible for everyone, and I’m pondering how I can reframe it.

This folio opens the field brilliantly. (Speaking of prompts, the co-editors offer amazing ones here, and excerpts from the folio are here.) “Traversals” contains a wide variety of poems and essays that riff on pilgrim, flâneur, and man-in-wilderness clichés, often exploring walkers’ vulnerabilities. Rahne Alexander writes about walking in recovery from a vaginoplasty. Petra Kuppers, a disability activist as well as artist, discusses how she “gets more jeers when walking upright than when whizzing along” on a scooter. The title alone of Willa Zhang’s essay “Young, Asian, Female, Alone” defines powerful parameters. Other pieces trace paths informed by grief or trauma.

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

We walk up the road and over the hill.
The yapping is even louder. Even louder
and louder still, as the road winds down
between high hedges and round bends
so narrow and tight we can’t think
and the moon is just a basket of light.
And as we reach the house – it must be
this one, we agree, it’s so stunning, so
perfectly blue and so bright – we know
that there is no dog, no yapping, only
silence, and there we are, all of us
with no idea how we’ll ever get home.

Bob Mee, TEN PIECES WRITTEN OVER THE PAST WEEK ON THE ISLAND OF ISCHIA

One thing people ask about a lot is endings: How do you know when a poem or essay is done? How do you find the right moment to step out of a piece? How do you avoid either stopping short or overshooting the target?

The short answer is intuition. With experience, you often feel when the piece has found its most resonant, compelling landing. But it’s also true that some exit strategies work better than others, so today I’m sharing one of my favorites.

Whether you’re working on a poem, a story, or an essay—or even a longer form piece like a novel or memoir—experiment with ending on a significant image. Let the detail release meaning.

You can use a new image at the end of the poem, or return to an earlier image, so that the piece is somewhat bookended. I like how this move gives a sense of coming full-circle—a sense of closure and cohesiveness—without relying on exposition. You don’t want to oversell the closing or spoon-feed the reader; after all, a poem isn’t a fable with a moral at the end.

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

A few years back, Nell from HappenStance sent me feedback on a poem. She told me “I like it, Matthew, but the title’s dead.” That phrase has stuck with me ever since. What did she mean? Well, the implicit conclusion is that the title wasn’t contributing anything extra, not drawing the reader in, not adding an extra layer, not coming alive. It was simply there as a placeholder, as if for internal use only.

And I was very much reminded of this exchange when we went through the process of deciding on a title for my second full collection. My initial suggestions were perfectly neat, summarising key themes or bringing them together, but Nell rejected them all, one by one, explaining once again that they weren’t bringing anything to the party.

She then came back to me with a list of potential alternatives. One of them leapt out at me. The one that she might not have expected me to embrace, the one that threw caution to the wind but worked perfectly: Whatever you Do, Just Don’t.

Matthew Stewart, What’s in a title? How and why we decided on Whatever You Do, Just Don’t…

In Acumen 107 (Sep 2023), Andrew Gleary writes “There are poets who would use metaphor had not all metaphors been workshopped out of their writing because metaphor is presently unfashionable.

Maybe so. Metaphors go in an out of fashion. There are extreme views about their value –

  • the damn function of simile, always a displacement of what is happening … I hate the metaphors“, Robert Creeley
  • Metaphor is the whole of poetry. … Poetry is simply made of metaphor … Every poem is a new metaphor inside or it is nothing“, Robert Frost

20th century UK Poetry had Surrealism, [political] Realism, The Apocalyptics (Dylan Thomas et al), The Movement, and Martian poetry (Craig Raine, etc). One could interpret each as a reaction to the previous movement, though no doubt influences were more complex than that.

If metaphor is unfashionable nowadays, it may be because the poet and the poem’s subject matter have a higher priority. It feels to me that we’re in an age where previously suppressed voices are being given space. Minorities (by virtue of race, sexuality, mentality, etc) are out of their niches and have something to say which can be as important as how it is said.

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

For its entire history, dating back to the days of scribes writing books by hand on parchment, literature has been forced inside a copy-based economy. The entire point of books and poetry as technologies is that they can be copied relatively easily. For any author to make a living, they have to reach a wide audience, selling as many low-value copies as possible. This has been the state of affairs for so long that it’s hard for writers to imagine an alternative.

That alternative, though, is easy to see when thinking about visual art. A painting or sculpture can’t be copied—the piece is a unique original that only the artist could have created. While the artist might make prints as an additional means of income, the original retains value and becomes collectable, creating an entirely different economy, with collectors and art lovers buying and selling the works, injecting revenue into the industry. This is why art museums have elaborate galas while libraries resort to used book sales.

Collectability offers more than just money—it’s fun! From baseball cards to Beanie Babies, collecting things that we enjoy, participating in a community, and treasure-hunting as we build our collections, is something human beings like to do. Everything from model trains to postage stamps have trade shows, where people love to swap their wares and brag about their latest finds. With a copy-only economy, literature has never been able to fully participate in the world of collectables. A rare book market exists, but it takes so long for a book to become rare, and the artistry is so far removed from the physical product, that a wider interest never develops. Published as NFTs with provenance linked directly to the author, collecting literary artifacts suddenly becomes an accessible and fulfilling hobby.

Which brings us to the most common criticism of NFTs: “Why would anyone buy something they can copy without paying for it?” This is the “Right-Click Save” argument, and every person that harnesses the potential of this technology has eventually pushed beyond it. Just as technology is constantly shifting, what it means to truly own something has evolved as well. To illustrate this, if you print a copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, do you feel that you own that painting? Of course not. Your printed copy has none of the value of the original. And yet the ubiquity of those prints only increases the value of the original painting, keeping it in the public’s consciousness, which is part of why there tends to be a crowd of selfie-takers surrounding famous impressionist paintings. Speaking of which, MOMA, where Starry Night lives, has incorporated NFTs into their collection.

Making the leap back to the literary world, the ability to collect and display an original piece of writing, connected directly to the author’s digital wallet, completely reverses the economic incentives of publishing. Rather than hide our work from each other, hoping to create a scarcity that will force readers to buy books, we can share our poems and stories widely—the more people who read and appreciate the piece, the more potential value that digital, collectable original, accrues. This technology encourages writers to share their work more freely without the drawbacks we’re used to, creating an environment where all the incentives align, and literature can truly flourish.

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

One of my foundational assumptions is that art gives our lives meaning. So, on the one hand, that idea alone compels me to write. Writing is a spiritual practice, as being a poet is part of my identity, not just a task I complete. Making something new, art for art’s sake, can be very gratifying. On the other hand, there’s a lot going on, locally and globally, that’s very disturbing. In recent years, I’ve found myself addressing some of those concerns in my poetry more than I used to. Much of my current work is environmentalist; living along Lake Superior makes that almost inevitable I think. But I’ve also written poems honoring George Floyd and addressing immigration at our southern border. So I guess one of a poet’s primary questions is “Who am I?” not only as an individual, but also “Who am I?” as a member of a community, and where do the boundaries of that community lie: with my immediate family? with my neighborhood? with my country? with my planet?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Our responsibility is to tell the truth. So many people we encounter are intent on obfuscating reality. Writers lack access to many conventional forms of power—most of us aren’t rich, and we don’t walk the halls of corporate headquarters or national governments. But our facility with language provides us with a different kind of very potent power, and we need to be willing to use it.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lynn Domina

Someone recently observed, bemusedly, that I don’t have any people in my poems. I was bemused by their bemusedness. (It’s not entirely true; I do have people poems. But it is true that they are mostly unpeopled, unless you count me.)

I thought of this today as I was out for my walk. I grabbed those old binocs on my way out the door. I often see little birds that I can’t quite identify, or high circling things. It is my engagement with the natural world that moves me to speak. My encounters with humanity generally leave me with little more lyrical to say than wtf. But I still see them — the people I encounter, directly or indirectly. I wonder about them, try to maintain a level of empathy toward them. They interest me as representatives of our species, our part in the natural order. But I don’t look at them in quite the same way as I look around me when I’m outside. (Plus if I train my binoculars at people, there may be a..er…problem.)

I don’t regret leaving that job. Even though I blew through that retirement savings and lived many nerve-wracked and uncomfortable years. Never bought my own home. Never achieved a career goal. Do not have my own pension. But looking, seeing, and thinking about it all, binoculars weighty in my hand. Yeah. That’s a life.

I dropped the binocs several times over the years and some mirror or other is rattling inside, so they don’t always show me things with clarity. Ain’t that the truth, though. Confusion makes art too.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re a butterfly; or, On Life and Looking

Some decades ago, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts—in a rent controlled apartment, on a traffic island in Harvard Square. I was at the intersection of Bow, Arrow, and Mt. Auburn Streets. I felt both in and out of the poetry scene, although mostly out. My family struggled financially and there were no expectations placed on me except to marry a Jewish man and have children. So far, I’ve failed on both accounts.

Life as a poet was not something my parents could imagine for me, nor something I could really even imagine for myself. In Cambridge, in the 1990’s, if you were a poet you needed to be rich, brilliant, and most of all, if you were a woman, you needed to have ass-length hair.

Jorie Graham, Marie Howe, and Lucy Brock Broido: they were known as the hair poets. One favorite rumor was that when one of the women interviewed at Columbia for a tenure track position, the academic conducting the interview asked her what she could bring to the job which the other candidates couldn’t. The question came at the end of a day of many meetings, a teaching observation, and endless forced smiles. Before the poet could stop herself, she blurted out: hair. That week they made her an offer and yes, she took it.

But the poets’ reputations didn’t end with their beauty or brilliance. It was that supreme confidence that most intimidated me. Today we would call it “white privilege”, which it certainly was—Harvard undergraduate degrees (in some cases) paired with youth, beauty, hair and a supreme confidence deep in the hipsway and in their DNA.

Once, I saw Lucy Brock Broido read at M.I.T. draped in standout attire that hasn’t faded from my memory even 30 years later: a cream-colored form-fitting blouse with high collar and a soft grey jacket covering a short short skirt. Emily Dickinson meets Twiggy. Sitting in the audience, I estimated that the clothing, the boots and modest jewelry had to cost at least $1,000. In 1990, a bit more than my monthly salary.

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

It’s been a while since I had any anthologies to review, and now I have two very contrasting examples of the genre to look at. Both books are well described by their subtitles; Blood and Cord is a thematic anthology of poems and prose dealing with the experience of birth, parenthood and early loss, while the Griffin prize anthology offers representative samples from five of the shortlisted titles. Interestingly, most of the work included circles around themes of death and grieving.

The latter opens with a bang, an excellent long prose piece by Naomi Booth called ‘What is tsunami’ which traces a child’s language development as experienced by a mother, from the mutual incomprehension of speechlessness to the different, but equally difficult, incomprehension that comes with fluency, brought together at the end by the titular question and its answer:

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

Prodigious wash that draws her in close, and sweeps her far, far away.

It’s a genuinely impressive piece of work from a writer who is, I regret to say, new to me.

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

The moths in the poem begin as “quiet words”, but the eyes of the lovers also turn into “moth wings”, disinterred from their context (“like a land that is locked, or lost”). So moths here are pieces of memory and language which fade away, but in doing so whirl and flare (they are “ecstatic with decay”). I think this makes ‘Small decrees of dust’ a poem about trying, fitfully, to love yourself, to gather up the evidence that will allow it, including the evidence of having been loved by another.

Jon Stone, Single Poem Roundup: Crowson, Crowcroft, Blackstone

‘Gleaming scars’. Draycott’s rapidly unfolding images pull ideas together in startling ways, refreshing perception by breaking down compartments and prizing apart conceptualisations that deaden awareness. She does this here by directly describing the process of kintsugi instead of simply referring to it. The phrase ‘the ancient art of the broken’ combines punchiness with a vast, vague and ambiguous suggestive reach. So vividly described, the process is made intensely and tantalizingly present to the imagination and, at the same time, as remote from daily life as something in a fairy tale. The last two and a half lines, returning us to the freezing river of the claim, put ‘the ancient art’ out of reach in a more physical way, with the repeated ‘all you needed’ sardonically emphasizing the gulf between aspiration and reality. Finally, those ‘gleaming scars’ bring the animate and the inorganic together in a way that creates a disturbingly unstable sensation, like touching something one expects to be dead and finding it alive or vice versa. What’s imagined as mended with scars of gold isn’t just a broken pot but the labourers and the bird in the living scene that the pot opens onto, and the shattered mind it represents. ‘Shining seams of precious metal’ doesn’t simply give a more vivid idea than ‘gold’ would have done, it specifically emphasizes gold’s metallic inhumanity.

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

I only had to read the first three poems from Street Sailing by Matt Gilbert (Black Bough Poetry, 2023) to know that I had found another poet to add to my list of favourites! It is a remarkable work for a first collection: thoughtful, profound, engaging, beautifully crafted, fresh…: the sort of debut which makes you wonder where the poet can go from here, but let us leave that for another day. Let me tell you more about Street Sailing.

The collection is structured into a sort of physical and psychological journey of three parts that begins with a sudden awakening, as if the poet has been punched awake. There is a sense of shock, of disorientation, of confusion: ‘memory sent scrambling/ for her trousers: What – the hell – was that?’ (Awake). In the second stanza the narrator tries to make sense of the unanticipated experience: ‘Panicked synapses fumble/ for a trace’ and so begins a journey that will take us through both urban and rural settings and will lead in the final of three sections to poems of new understandings, of tensions resolved and of ‘Acceptance’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Street Sailing’ by Matt Gilbert

You are a poet, writer, teacher and now also an editor. Tell us about Sídhe Press; how it came into being, its ethos and editorial vision.

Annick [Yerem]: I had thought about a press for a little while and during a slow art project with Sarah Connor, where we sent poems back and forth in letters, Sarah mentioned that she was thinking about putting a book together. So I just went with my gut and asked her if she would trust me with it even though I had no idea what I was doing. This was last June. And then everything came together, I found a name, found the picture for the logo thanks to an old friend, Aida, and then found Jane Cornwell, who agreed to work with me and design and format the books. Due to timelines I ended up doing the anthology on dementia first and found my wonderful co-editor and now friend, Mo Schoenfeld, to work with me on it. I have been incredibly lucky to work with Jane, Sarah, Mo, Larissa Reid, and with so many wonderful contributors. For the next anthology, I will be working with Mo and Sarah again, and also with Sue Finch, Róisín Ní Neachtain and Giovanna MacKenna. Have veered from the course a little to re-publish an amazing book by Nikki Dudley, now called Just One More Before I Go.

It´s been a very steep learning curve and of course I make mistakes, sometimes mortifying ones like writing poets´ names wrong, which happened a few times in the last anthology. The whole process teaches me a lot and it´s also something I can do although I´m sick, bit by bit and with a lot of help. I want Sídhe Press to be a safe space and a press that poets can trust. Am aiming to be transparent about mistakes and own up to them, and to be transparent about the process. 

Marian Christie, Poem by Poem: An interview with Annick Yerem, Editor at Sídhe Press

I had a sudden recollection the other day of a reading given by Brian Patten. It could have arisen because my interview with Brian is on the popular posts list. 

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

Brian is saying:
fuck you Stephen Spender
fuck you for what you visited on Stevie Smith
fuck you who remembers you now

that was years ago
and Stephen Spender
is not even a reflection
in our collective rear view mirror

A word about the people mentioned. Stevie Smith is a perennially popular poet who gave the language the phrase not waving but drowning. Stephen Spender was from a privileged background and became  communist before being knighted. If I have to choose a side then I’m with Brian. 

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

I talk often of those sorts of tether points that connect certain eras or memories of our lives with others. My past self, 19, and just beginning to send out poems and my current self, also sending poems out in submission and the vast ocean of time between them. Or my 90s self, listening to certain songs or doing certain things and suddenly there is the same song and I am doing much the same thing, just 30 odd years later. At the drive-in last week, there was a string between my current self waiting excitedly for the movie and my child self waiting for the sun to set in the back of the car while my parents sat in the front.

Kristy Bowen, webs

This month, I’m entering into my third year of retirement (sort of, mostly) from education. A fair number of people asked me, when I left, if I was going to do more writing or focus on writing. It was a thing I always thought I would like to be able to do. It was a thing some part of me thought I probably should do. But any time I thought about it, I felt nothing but ambivalence. There was nothing much I wanted to say, and no goals related to writing that I could feel myself caring much about. Given that, writing hasn’t been something I’ve given much time to. Other things felt more compelling.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about renovation and Louisiana, I’ve been feeling a shift. I don’t have a goal in mind, and I don’t have something particular to say. Instead, I have questions I want to think about, and this week it occurred to me (in a duh! kind of way) that questions are always my best way in, the best reason for me to write.

I’m not feeling ambitious or dutiful or purposeful. I’m feeling curious. That, too, feels like going home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

from Haidan, (Haiku Stage) a monthly haiku magazine, September 2017 Issue, Honami Shoten, Tokyo

Fay’s Note:   There is intentional space in the Japanese original.   It is a style of her haiku group founded by her father, Mikihiko Itami (1920-2019).

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 16, 2023)

Before our Labor Day travel and our COVID infections, I was getting into a poetry rhythm.  I had actually composed a poem or two to completion.  My more usual practice over the past year or two (or more?) has been that I write a few lines, have a few more ideas, write a bit more, run out of time, never return to the draft.  My older process was to think the poem to completion before writing anything–I did wind up with more completed poems, but I lost more ideas too.

Obviously, both approaches have pros and cons, but I do wish the poetry part of my brain was feeling more inspired on a daily basis.  I was going to write that I should try reading more poetry, but I’m actually reading quite a bit of poetry as I prepare for my in-person class each week.  

I tend to be hard on myself for all the scrolling and internet reading and online ways of “wasting” time.  Some that time could be better spent.  Some of it is class prep.  Some of it will come out in poems in interesting ways.

I am grateful that I’m no longer spending time, so much time, getting ready for accreditation visits and doing the documenting that is required of administrators.  I do not miss that kind of writing, although I was skilled at it.

Let me do what I always do:  trust that my processes are at work, while also looking for ways to have more writing in each day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

So, Monday I was healthy enough to get my antibody infusion finally, so I spent four hours with a needle in my vein, getting my temperature and blood pressure checked, and getting antibodies I can’t create put into my body. No major problems yet—still alive, as the pictures will prove—but I was knocked out for at least four days. I know some people with MS get these things once a month – as well as cancer patients, and people with immune problems like mine – but this was my first “infusion center” experience. […]

For now, just grateful to still be kicking and hopefully better off with the antibody treatment, ready to get out into the world and do a poetry reading with a friend at a cool indie bookstore this week, grateful for people reading and reviewing Flare, Corona in this busy world where poetry is so easily overlooked. Grateful for good weather, and flower farms near and far.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, An Infusion, A New Review for Flare, Corona, an Upcoming Reading at Edmonds Bookshop, and Spending Time in Flower Fields

Since my accident two years six months ago, I am growing stronger again and don’t have to pre-plan things quite so much. Mentally, my skills are returning and my brain is no longer having to focus quite so much on healing and regaining confidence. I keep trying things that push me a little out of my comfort zone, and each time I succeed, I feel more confident. The pain is less too, most of the time.

So for me now, September feels like a new start, even though I no longer teach. Some of the groups I belong to are starting up again, and I am excited to meet up with new friends I am making them, while still cherishing old friends.

We are starting to tidy the garden for winter and plant some bulbs. I am still sad that gardening is so very hard for me. I can do a lot sitting in a chair but if I try anything standing, I have to sit down fairly often. But at least I can easily get into my shed, although I can’t fetch anything out of it!

Apart from using my walker or my stick, and needing my grab bars and handrails, I am more or less back to my old self, and can take independent steps when I feel safe, though never outside (trip hazards!). Caution is still required because of Covid, but I am actively looking to lead poetry workshops and give readings now. I much prefer face to face. I am looking forward to reading in Shrewsbury next month, a 10 minute slot at the launch of Festival in a Book Anthology, edited by force-for-good Liz Lefroy, and meeting up with some poetry friends from that area.

There are a few exciting publications in the pipeline that must stay secret for now, but I am feeling happy and optimistic for the future.

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 30

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: mindlessness, writing routines, poetry and psychology, fierce women, and more. Enjoy.


That was a different kind of
love. That was a love of something beautiful
simply because it was. It was violet,
supple, thick, luscious, soft. It was everything
I ever wanted in a bathrobe. It hangs,
right now, on a hook in my bathroom, stretching
and fading in the morning sun, years after
the man himself has gone to ashes, decades
and decades after he gifted it to me.
It was the first gift he gave me, and the last.

PF Anderson, Bathrobe

I had to nudge myself into another poetry submission and discovered it was a full two months since the last. Sigh… Busy, stressful times continue, but with beauty, joy, and moments of sweet downtime, plus, alas, dangerous heat. But the heat has lifted, and I am soon to volunteer at two tables for our annual downtown Pridefest, itself delayed by a full month but now fully supported by the city. I’ve got my Pride hat, my Pride flags, and two shirts–one for each organization, plus a water bottle, travel tissue, a cell phone for a ride home, and a Walt Whitman tote bag. I feel strangely well prepared! I hope I am coherent, as I had a little anesthesia yesterday. Nasturtiums I planted from seed, and the above marigold, are blooming! There was welcome rain and, sadly, some unwelcome damage from recent storms. Let’s hope we all repair.

Kathleen Kirk, Nudge

She sits by my neighbour’s front window, sometimes tries to wander into the house and she has a face I want to look into all day, to absorb that moment’s contentment. She’s about the same size as a young fox that wanders across mum’s terrace and when the back door’s open nips in to take out the red slippers I keep there. I side with the myths of fox as messenger of the gods. I don’t like the anthropomorphic characteristic of cunning. A fox walking down mum’s road the other evening with a rabbit hanging out of its mouth was a reminder of truth.  It went up to the Tye and waited near one of the many warrens. I could not disparage a fox for that. Humans, on the other hand, put words on the walls of art galleries and ignite fields, forests, mountains and valleys.

Jackie Wills, The vixen’s stare

The French existentialists — I barely read them, but what a baneful influence they had on me! — thought of life as a thing to be invented; made up, out of some primal creative fire, and then committed to, in an act of bold self-assertion. I don’t think this conception stands up well under examination. Who, after all, does the creating? Where did *that* self come from, the one who makes the choices? Why, the self before the choices, of course, and you get a regress that’s either infinite, or ends up in Mama and Papa and your kindergarten peers. This is noble independence? I don’t think so. The thing  doesn’t make any sense: and anyway it doesn’t correspond to anything I know or remember about myself. I didn’t invent myself. I’ve gradually and painfully discovered myself.

Dale Favier, Flowering

The wildfires are spreading like wars. We need to get out.
Airports have closed.
People walk the roads with suitcases.
We get into the car and drive into history,
using a map of Europe from before the meteor.
We give the kids an I-Spy Book of Dinosaurs
to keep them quiet for an hour or so.
They look hopefully out of the windows.

You’re wearing that light yellow shirt,
the top two buttons undone because of the heat.
Your silver crucifix shines as the sun diffuses
through the windscreen dirty with bugs.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER PAINTING A GHOST THAT RETURNED FROM THE END OF THE MIND

There’s a difference between the mindless and the tedious. I don’t care for tedium; but a task I can mindlessly manage–something physical, but not too demanding, without a lot of surprises I need to problem-solve–those projects can be almost relaxing. When weeding, my thoughts can wander. The job is so familiar and repetitive that there is no need to devote much brainpower to it. Ideas, reflections, observations, images can float aimlessly in my mind. I can think about poems while weeding. Taking a walk in a woods or quiet countryside offers me the same sort of internal/external environment.

Proofreading was like that for me, back when I was a proofreader (when there were such things as proofreaders in every newspaper, type or print shop, publishing house, ad agency, and legal department). Editing takes some thought; but the less engaged a proofreader is with the text, the better. I was employed as a proofreader when I first recognized that I was truly serious about writing poetry, and I found value in the ’empty mind’ that my workaday job fostered. There was a bonus in that sometimes I did glean new information from the materials I read.

~

Composing this post, it strikes me that “mindless” is the wrong word, or not an accurate word to convey what it’s like to feel internally occupied while the physical body’s doing something else. “Reflection” implies more stillness. Something more akin to walking meditation?

At any rate, I can hope that the weeding and staple-removing might eventually get my poetry mojo re-booted. I have to work on my next manuscript and continue to promote my latest book, too. In the meantime at least I’m accomplishing something.

Ann E. Michael, Mindlessly

I finished this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Van Gogh painting, and it only took 2 1/2 years! Seriously, my family started it on Thanksgiving 2020, stalled out, rolled it up on one of those felt contraptions, bagged it, and threw it in a corner of the living room. This week was quiet with Chris away, so on a whim I pulled it out. I quickly became obsessed, for reasons I didn’t understand. I don’t want to tell you how many hours I spent sorting and fitting the little streaky pastel pieces. (P.S.: I eventually found the final missing shape, after I broke the puzzle up and reboxed it, of course.)

As soon as I did, I was able to return to some difficult work that was stalled: making a near-last revision to my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, and working on the elaborate author questionnaire I mentioned last week. These tasks have similarities to finishing a jigsaw puzzle: for instance, both involve sifting through patterns, although a puzzle has one solution and a book many possible good shapes. But working on one cleared my head for the other, I think, oddly enough in the way Ann E. Michael describes low-cognition chores in her recent blog post. Maybe there are a lot of poets out there taking breaks from mental work in this extreme July heat.

Lesley Wheeler, Jigsawing together a poetry ms

Some days are bad writing days. Some weeks are bad writing weeks. It’s possible to meet a word count and have no clue what the words were. It’s possible to feel like a robot, mechanically working, without feeling or connection. It’s possible to hate every minute of it.

It’s possible to go on like this for a very long time.

But if you keep working, eventually something will click.

What is it that clicks? A door? A master lock? A vault in the Sistine Chapel? The snap of the lid of a pickle jar?

Who knows. But something opens up.

Those bad writing days are all part of the work, it turns out. We can accept them. Tolerate them. Maybe even appreciate them.

They are like the abrasive relative at holiday dinners. Difficult to love, but still part of the family. […]

Sometimes the click happens when you least expect it.

In the supermarket, at a playground playdate, on your way to class, in the middle of an argument with your best friend.

Suddenly, you realize, you’ve been working this entire time. You’ve kept going, even without fully knowing it.

It’s like trying to stand still in the ocean—impossible. Just being in the water, the current pushes you along.

Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Thoughts on Craft!

I’m a great believer in the satisfaction that comes from making and doing things yourself, and find this an antidote to so much of what feels wrong about our disposable, ever-faster, highly commercial, media-driven culture. It’s a great feeling to create something from scratch that is uniquely yours, to use it and enjoy it, and to learn from the project so that you are inspired for the next one. The biggest key to success is to start simply, and find some helpful friends or resource people who can advise you about your choices and your process when you’re having difficulties. Nobody is born knowing how to do these things! Just as in cooking, we all have to learn, we all get better at it gradually, and there is always something cool and exciting to aspire to in the future.

Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 2

It’s my own fault, I hadn’t planned properly. The things that I thought would take minimal work, didn’t. I’d broken my own cardinal rule and planned for time (off) that I wanted, rather than time (off) that I had. Although I’d taken no new work on, work that was rolling on still existed. I am the founder and editor of a literary magazine, Spelt, a magazine that seeks to validate and celebrate the rural experience through creative non fiction and poetry. We feature interviews with authors and have four creative non fiction columnists and the magazine is a print magazine, which means a lot of work needs to go into it. I work with two other editors, but really, this is my project, my baby and so I tend to take on the lion’s share of the work. No one gets paid, we all do it for the love of being a part of a system that creates platforms for writers who we feel need more recognition and a place to show how nature writing can be something other than a practice of romanticised observation. We recently suffered a set back financially and we’ve been limping on with the magazine while we try to raise some funds through the annual competition. Because I was writing the book, issue nine was behind, is behind. Because I was writing the book the competition wasn’t getting the promotion it needed to be successful. I realised I needed to catch up on those commitments before I could really take time off. My compromise was three hours work between 6 and 9 am, in the hope that after that I’d be able to take time off, but what happened was that the lovely, elderly dog needed his daily care – the glacial pace slow walks that keep him happy and healthy, the attention to his coat (he’s long haired, and I can’t get him to the groomer anymore as he gets too upset and stressed) in the heat of summer, his occasional incontinence and his need to be with me, the reassurance that he needs. If you’ve ever lived with an elderly dog, you’ll know that at this stage of their lives, they need a lot of care giving. I don’t imagine we have a long time left with him, and I want to make sure that every one of those days is of gentle happiness and companionship. By the time I’d be done and got him settled it would be lunch time, and I’d be exhausted because I was up early every day to work, and I just wanted to sleep. And then, because of the monster anxiety – because I knew that I would need to jump back onto work and be prepared to, like a Flintstone car, run as soon as my feet touched the ground, after my ‘time off’; making space to work on the edits of the book when it’s returned, setting up work around it to enable me to continue to pay my mortgage and bills while I do, meant some planning and prep work. And then the day was over and the elderly dog needed his glacial evening walk and then it was bed time. Reader, there was no walks on the beach, and the weather has been very rainy anyway, so that put paid to even simply sitting in the garden. I even lost most of my usual sacred morning space to write and reflect because I was filling that space with work to allow me some time off. […]

Yesterday I did the thing that I said I was going to do and, after I had dealt with the old dog, my husband and I left the house and went to be tourists at Burton Agness Hall.

As soon as we were out of the village and crossing the Wolds I felt better. As soon as we were pouring ourselves through the fields of wheat and barley, the golden summer landscape, I felt better. We saw a stoat cross the road like a small fire burning and my heart expanded, loosening all the tense muscles around it. We spent hours walking the grounds of the hall, being moved by the stories of people long since dead, soaking up the extraordinary art on display, walking thorough the gardens lulled by the hum of bees, the scent of flowers, then dinner at the pub, then home. When I walked the dog that evening I felt grounded. I wasn’t thinking about what was next on the list. I was communing with the place that I live, connecting to the ground beneath my feet, the breeze, the prickle of rain. Two roe deer were in th top field as I passed. We stopped to watch each other, then carried on with our lives. I felt like I had come home, not just physically, but mentally. This morning, i am up and at my desk to write. The world will not end if I don’t answer my emails. Today I am giving myself over to writing time. I don’t know what I shall write, it doesn’t matter. Maybe an essay, maybe a poem or a flash fiction or the start of something bigger. It doesn’t matter. It starts here, with this essay, with these words. Thankyou for bearing witness to it.

Wendy Pratt, Allowing the Creative Well to Refill

After book club on Wednesday where we discussed the poetry book Our Dark Academia (in case you’re following along with the book club) among other things, I remember feeling a moment thinking about taking joy in talking about books and just writing for fun, not worrying about publishing or marketing or any of that stuff.

I think I got exhausted from the first few months of my sixth book coming out, plus AWP and all that accompanies that, and it was nice to remember that appreciating poetry is kind of its own reward, and that there are simple things that give us joy: visiting with family and friends, walking through a field of lavender, watching butterflies, and writing poetry among them.  I’m not particularly good at slowing down and having moments of peace and joy, I actually had a book as a teen called When I Relax I Feel Guilty, so this week was a bit of a revelation. Then I wrote two poems (I hadn’t written in a little while) and didn’t worry about updating any spreadsheets or submitting or rejection—I just enjoyed writing them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Back Into Routines, Finding Joy in Writing and Talking Books, and Looking Forward to Fall (Readings?)

Rob Taylor: The back jacket copy of If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display bills it as “a volume of essays, stories and poems… on a life of reading, writing and bookselling.” And yet, smack in the middle we find “Collected Trout,” a 24-page essay on Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Like in a wide-ranging display at a bookstore, your reader is left to make the connections between this disparate part and the others. A few other pieces, too, seem only loosely tethered to the book’s central concerns. 

“I love making the themed / (albeit only broadly associative) tabletop / displays,” you write in an early poem in the book. Later, you refer to this type of curation as “a form of poetry.” Could you talk about your approach to the curation of this book, which ranges so widely in both form and content? 

Nick Thran: I find I am focused, energized, and un-self-conscious when I’m gathering books together for display. One afternoon, immersed in this activity, I paused, looked out the window, and thought to myself, this feels so good. Then I began to think about display-making in the context of the writing I’d been doing over the last few years. 

After Mayor Snow, I wanted to write a book that didn’t rely too heavily on well-paved neural pathways towards anxiety and fear. Those things could be there in the new work, would be there, because that’s a part of my makeup. But the central mode of the new book, whatever it looked like, would be that E.M. Forster quote from Howards End “Only connect!” I also wanted to stay with things longer than I was in a lot of my poems. I liked the challenge of extending looks, in prose, while also accommodating diversions, digressions, associative thought. 

But I’d hit a wall in a book of essays I was working on. The essays I’d already written were interesting to me. A lot of them, “Collected Trout” included, are in this book. But I’d developed an impossible set of constraints for myself. I was also running into that difficulty most every non-fiction writer, writing about the work of others, runs into: am I really the person to be speaking on behalf of some of the artists I’m writing about? Especially if I’m trying to make these essays, in some way, personal? Fiction gave me some freedom from those constraints, to remove the names, to veer off in wildly imaginative or speculative directions, but keep the essence.

Rob Taylor, On Display in my Mind: An Interview with Nick Thran

Jonathan Totman has recently started a new poetry blog and it looks like becoming an top-notch addition to the scene. Using his expertise in clinical psychology as a point of departure, his posts provide a focus on poetry and mental health, offering selected poems by the likes of Ramona Herdman alongside reflections that are informed by his counselling work.

There are already five excellent posts awaiting you, though I’d especially recommend the latest one on loss and fearing joy, which also features an excellent poem by Sue Rose. You can read it here.

Matthew Stewart, Jonathan Totman’s new poetry blog

Dunn and colleagues are looking into ways in which therapists can help people with persistent depression tone up their capacity for joy. Often, a lot of our focus in therapy is on dealing with the difficult stuff. Rightly so, of course, but it seems there is increasing attention in the research literature (and the therapy room) being given to the idea that some people might benefit from more help in moving towards positive emotions and overcoming blocks and fears that might be getting in the way. (I’m conscious as I write that I’m sort of skirting round the question of what “joy” and “happiness” actually mean. I don’t think I want to open that particular can of worms right now(!) but will just acknowledge my own perspective here, and the fact that what happiness means and how we relate to it is of course personal, variable and influenced by social, cultural and religious factors; Joshaloo et al., 2014).

I’m speaking only from personal experience here but, for me, poetry can be one avenue through which to enrich and amplify joyfulness. Poems can often surprise us, lift us out of auto-pilot, shine a light on the textures of sensory and emotional experience. This idea of “seeing things afresh”, which is part of mindfulness-based approaches, very much chimes with the poetical ambition to describe experiences in new ways. And if this brings with it sadness, and fear, then perhaps poetry can, in a small way, help us to feel less alone with these feelings. For me, a poem offers a kind of container for complex feelings, much like a therapy hour. I’m sure it’s partly why I write. Of course I also hope that at least some poems will also reach out, speak to others. But it would be wrong to pretend there isn’t a personal and emotional investment, and part of that – I think inevitably – stems from a need to feel my way towards and into loss. I’m not fond of the word “processing” – loss and grief, in particular, are deeply personal and often far from linear journeys – but it’s something approaching that. Perhaps part of it is simply listening – to the rumble in the dark, the ache and the fear. But it’s something more active too, something closer to reconnection or assimilation – a making room for those most awkward of companions, pain and joy.

Jonathan Totman, “Taking Flight”: On Loss and Fearing Joy

“Phantom Pain Wings” is a journey through grief, an attempt to render the complex emotions tied up with bereavement on a page. The bird-like language, imagery and motifs allow the poet to investigate the unfamiliar, the physical and psychosocial struggles that grief brings. It widens beyond the personal to a universal journal of the disassociative states, the birds offering a freedom to probe things usually left undisturbed. Choi’s translation encompasses Kim’s word play and visual puns, brings the poems alive, enabling English readers to share in rich, multi-layers of Kim’s imagination.

The collection also includes a translation diary from Choi, detailing some of the discussion between translator and poet and choices made.

Emma Lee, “Phantom Pain Wings” Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions) – book review

When I saw a post by ‘Albert’ on Twitter with this quote by L S Lowry: Had I not been lonely I would not have seen what I did, it reminded me of this poem by Matthew Sweeney. A fine ekphrastic poem that moves beyond description, as it enters into dialogue with the artist about their work.

I have a few ekphrastic poems that need expanding in some way, so I’m going to do some research and explore how I could incorporate the artist’s own words into those poem. Is this something you might do with your own writing? If you’re a painter, photographer, sculptor, do poems inspire you? [Click through to read “Dialogue With an Artist”]

Fokkina McDonnell, Had I not been lonely …

SALA, the South Australian Living Arts Festival, is a statewide festival of visual art, spanning the entire month of August, and involving over 700 venues across the state with nearly 11,000 participating artists. SALA is Australia’s largest and most inclusive visual arts festival, and takes place in galleries and non-traditional arts spaces across South Australia, featuring visual artists working at every level, in any medium, from all backgrounds and all parts of the state. Indeed, there are few if any festivals of this nature anywhere in the world.

I have enjoyed participating in SALA in different ways over the years. For SALA this year, I am excited to present Beyond the Floodtide… a sequence of mostly new video works with environmental themes, at The Joinery in the Adelaide CBD, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of South Australia and coordinated by Sally Francis.

Faced with accelerating anthropogenic climate change, how will life on earth cope with global warming and rising sea levels? Plants, animals, humans, forms yet to evolve: all will need to adapt to challenging new environments. This video sequence imagines how we and the biosphere around us might deal with the consequences of our effects on the planet.

In addition to screening the videos at The Joinery on each Friday afternoon in August, I will be giving an artist talk, explaining some of the processes that went into making the videos. Together with acclaimed local poets Matthew Pankhurst and Shaine Melrose, I will present a reading of original poetry addressing environmental themes.

Ian Gibbins, Beyond the Floodtide… SALA 2023 at The Joinery

Peter Riley’s sequence of 27 short poems opens with words “Proof that the world exists.” What is this proof? The irreducible figure of the refugee, that human in motion who surrounds us every day, invisible but insistent:

Proving

that the world is, but unstable: the Refugee’s story.

The second poem introduces a counterpoint; birdsong. The birds are also migrants, and their song tells “the tale of the Refugee’s journey across Europe,/a sonorous black hole day after day”.
The birds and the figure of the Refugee are intimately interwoven in the poems that follow. We are reminded gently that the figure in the steel container is a dweller on the earth whose existence requires proof:

did he remember before he left to visit
the old holm oak up in the fields , to hold
its spiked leaf in his hands and listen
to what it said?

It’s not without significance, I think, that while the native oak is a symbol of Britain, the holm is viewed as an invasive species. A little later, birds, tree and the Refugee are drawn against a background of ongoing ecological catastrophe framed by the central concern of proof:

There may well be a world
but there is probably no future. Earth’s
moisture sucked into the blue sky,
lost rhymes fallen into dry ditches.

The last line in this extract draws us towards another central question; what is the role of poetry in the face of loss of hope? The answer, tentative as it is, is to hold on, to persist:

Thursday, market-day and again a bird sang.
across the canal, not a wren.
By Sunday there were three or four. Is this a turn
of the tide, is there a hope of something more
than a stray pheromone riding the breeze?

And we are reminded in other sections that we are all refugees in a world that, despite all its provisional flux, fully is. And that we must, against all the odds, sing:

Robin, fill your little lungs,
and blow your meaning over the fields
fortissimo for the new year.

Peter Riley is one of our great singers, and here he is, full fortissimo. We’re lucky to have him.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading: July 2023

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m kind of a slow learner and my process tends to reflect that. It feels like I’ve been working on Age of Forgiveness for the last ten years or so. Probably I have been, in some ways. A few of the poems in the book are from early on in my writing life, but I didn’t start working on it as a book until 2019, and it won’t become one until September 2023.

So, between 4 and ten years. […]

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Probably not? I think I’m mostly interested in all the first-year-poetry-student stuff still. I think a lot about form and voice, repetition, order, metaphor. Other stuff, too, but those are the main ones. My main question always seems to be, how am I supposed to write this poem that my brain is trying to make me write? […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I play pickup basketball and then stretch for six hours afterwards. That usually gets me to where I need to be. Sometimes pickle ball helps. […]

I’m inspired by visual art. I seek it out, hang it on my walls, think about it, and write about it, too. A few years back I became a little bit obsessed with this visual essay called First Adventures in Beauty by Lia Purpura. Technically a book, I guess. Books that are art interest me a lot. I’m thinking of Book of No Ledge by Nance Van Winckel, Mary Reufle’s erasure books, both of Karen Green’s books and a handful of other Siglio titles.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Caleb Curtiss

the sad spectacle of sun glasses in an airport lounge
life in lateral inversion
a mind full of sunshine
rises
up through the clouds
down with a bumpy landing
reality in the arrival lounge
my name written on a card
i remember who i am

Jim Young, vacant vacation

Cycladic villages – how is it that they never get dirty?  In Athens, age drips rustily down the walls; on a Cycladic island, the white of village houses is brighter than white, beyond pigment, beyond age. They are like sugar cubes divided by a wet knife. Some islands are ringed by fire but not on fire; they are both dazzling and cooling. White doves tiptoe on the ledge of a white houses.  Villages wind mazelike with steep stairs and plastered passages, bursts of bougainvillea and jasmine.  

Then there is the blue.  If Homer were to describe it now, he might still say that wine-dark sea is agitated, full of shifting, intertwined patterns. Underwater you can see the chain of sailors’ shaped phrases, one hooked to the next.   Blue that dissolves as if in a dream and blue as solid as heaven.  If Homer were writing now, he might be sending postcards or texts about Ulysses’ long travels. Saw the blue – unfenced.  Full of monsters and simmering grudges.  Blue – to die for. 

Jill Pearlman, Homer texting from the islands

But then,

many afternoons later, what I remember is
the song of invisible cicadas on the trail up
to the Parthenon, the pink glow of sunsets

painting lesser hilltops, the silence of Sounion,
even the sea only a whisper, and all those
pillars standing in the ruins like broken arms

reaching for the blue stillness. Because memory
resides in the ordinary. Little things. That were.
Little things. That weren’t. What I never saw.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 57

He was always there. Entering the darkening theater as the lights went down. He was too tall to miss. Then steel drums and a stage of gorgeous men would bring the Caribbean sea to the shores of Harvard Square. How could I not fall for the color and spectacle, the wildness? The Trinidad Theater Workshop was founded with Walcott’s twin brother in 1959, in the 1990’s plays would travel up to Massachusetts for US premieres such as Dream on Monkey Mountain, the one that I loved most.

It amazed me that a poet could also be a playwright. But Walcott was also a watercolor painter, he was a genius who defied category.

That doesn’t mean that Walcott was well-liked or even deeply respected in the 1990’s before all the awards. I don’t know that Cambridge doyennes knew what to do with him. He was most infamous for the rumors that surrounded his movement across the river—and enough rumors become taken as fact. Story was that Walcott had been asked to leave Harvard due to an affair with a student. The student was of age but had second thoughts when the affair ended. And of course it was more complicated than that—but again—rumor. These were the waters surrounding him when I first met him on the page.

What stays true is his work.

Love after Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread, Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

This poem is not typical of his work, but it is one that I return to again and again—as do so many others in the aftermath of love. The sparse language, the sense of a self lost and then the step-by-step struggle to find it again. Can’t you relate?

But the book that convinced me that he was our 20th century Shakespeare (and more) is The Star-Apple Kingdom. I’ve read and re-read it—-first being introduced to the lyrical patterns and cadences in grad school when Garrett Hongo read much of it aloud to our class. “I had no nation now but the imagination,” Shabine states as he leaves home. I had been rootless for years: Scotland, Niger, South Africa, Bosnia, all in quick succession. Here was a poet who claimed his rootlessness—did more than claim it; Walcott elevated rootlessness to epic poetry.

Susan Rich, In the Theater with Derek Walcott

My dear friend and colleague, the poet, teacher and academic Sue Dymoke has died.

Though she had been ill for some time, the news came to me (comes to me) as a great shock. I cannot get used to talking about her in the past tense.

We first met, at the turn of the millennium, at the Royal Festival Hall. Jean Sprackland had gathered a group of poet-educators to put some teaching materials together for the nascent Poetry Archive. I knew immediately that I had found someone on my wavelength, whose poetic, pedagogic and academic identities were fully blurred. I went home knowing I had finally met another unicorn.

Sue and I worked on several projects together: the ESRC-funded Poetry Matter series and subsequent books, both with Andrew Lambirth and Myra Barrs; a poetry pedagogy symposium in Porto, also with Andrew, as well as Janine Certo and Laura Apol; a poetry anthology with Unbound, the not-quite-funded (but still amazing) No One You Know, featuring poets talking about their ‘secret- weapon-poems’; and latterly Young Poets’ Stories, funded by the Foyle Foundation, on the writing lives of prizewinning young poets.

It was Sue’s energy and attention to detail that got these projects going and over the line.

Young Poets’ Stories coincided, almost to the day, with the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, which meant that we conducted nearly the entire project online. Coming from different corners of the country, we had previously met up at the British Library, queuing in its chilly courtyard before bagging one of the cafe tables where we took it upon ourselves to compare stationery and cake products, accompanied by more than the legally safe limit of flat whites.

Anthony Wilson, In memory of Sue Dymoke

This month has seen the deaths of fierce women.  In some ways, that’s true of every month; fierce women often meet fiery ends, and much too soon.  This morning, I was sad to hear of the death of Sinead O’Connor, and earlier this month, sad to hear of the death of Minnie Bruce Pratt.  Both women faced life circumstances, particularly around motherhood, that I will never have to face; I can make this claim as a post-menopausal woman.  Both highlighted the hazards that come from living life on one’s own terms.

O’Connor’s battles were much more public than Pratt’s, who was one of the first to write about the sacrifices that she made when she decided to pay attention to her desires for other women; she lost custody of her sons because of that choice.

I only bought one of O’Connor’s albums, or maybe two.  I loved I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but by the time later work came out, I wasn’t as interested for reasons I no longer remember.  I always cheered for her as she took on various causes, even as I wondered if less confrontational tactics might win more believers for those causes.  It’s a question I often have–what means justify what ends?

I had some of Pratt’s books, back in the days when I was buying any feminist work I could find, back when more of it was published, back when there were more small presses.  I have likely let a lot of that work go, and I do wonder if I’ll regret it, in later days, when books may be harder to find and the power that fuels online collections dwindles/becomes ghastly expensive.  I wonder the same thing about all the music that has come through my hands.

If that end time comes, and I’ve read all my books, I’ll just read them again.  If I can’t play the music of others, I’ll finally have time to teach myself all the instruments that has been waiting for me.  I will be a fierce woman, trying to avoid a fiery end.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fierce Women, Fiery Ends

Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She’s now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.

People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is “Under the Ivy”, which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn’t her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in “Watercolors” has some of Amos’ anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them. […]

All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like “Speaking with Trees” sound like re-hashes. I’d rather have a new rendering of “Precious things”. Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they’re not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks – I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.

Tim Love, Tori Amos

“Enough is so vast a sweetness, I suppose it never occurs, only pathetic counterfeits,” Emily Dickinson lamented in a love letter. In his splendid short poem about the secret of happiness, Kurt Vonnegut exposed the taproot of our modern suffering as the gnawing sense that what we have is not enough, that what we are is not enough.

This is our modern curse: A century of conspicuous consumption has trained us to be dutiful citizens of the Republic of Not Enough, swearing allegiance to the marketable myth of scarcity, hoarding toilet paper for the apocalypse. Along the way, we have unlearned how to live wide-eyed with wonder at what Hermann Hesse called “the little joys” — those unpurchasable, unstorable emblems of aliveness that abound the moment we look up from our ledger of lack.

The poet and etymologist John Ciardi (June 24, 1916–March 30, 1986) offers an uncommonly wonderful wakeup call for this civilizational trance in the out-of-print 1963 gem John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan (public library) — part fable, part poem, part prayer for happiness.

Written as a long lyric and illustrated with gentle charcoal sketches by the artist and experimental filmmaker Madeliene Gekiere, the story is a soulful — spiritual, even — modern take on Aesop’s famed tale of the grasshopper and the ant, radiating a countercultural invitation to rediscover life’s true priorities amid our confused maelstrom of materialism and compulsive productivity.

Maria Popova, The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the Antidote to the Cult of More: A Lovely Vintage Illustrated Poem About the Meaning and Measure of Enough

My recent poetry residency was at a seminary, so the symbols of Christianity were all around me, the Christs and the crosses, the benevolent and grieving Marys, as was nature — trees and flowering bushes and moss. And poison ivy. But I got thinking a lot about this quote I passed every day on my way to the dining hall. It’s from the book of Micah, a book I had never heard of.

Micah (or Mi-ca-yahoo — “who is like Yahweh”) was a prophet from 8thC BCE. The quote on the stone says: “What is required of us? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

As a poet, of course, I want to ask: which translation? And as a poet too, I’ve been given to contemplating those words, individually. […]

And finally this “humbly” thing. I’ve spoken of this word before. It is from words meaning lowly, or, literally on the ground or from the Earth. Which we are, I guess, we beings: a bit of earth, a bit of star, some spit, and these minds, so cunning, so easily scarred with memory and pain, and joy. And setting aside the comic image that arises when I think of “walk” and “on the ground” together, although I guess, in the human body, the act of walking is a constant falling and catching-of-a-fall, this idea is nice: of walking humbly alongside the divine, just listening rather than prattling along trying to impress or curry favor. Being companionable with the divine on an amble through the trees. Just listening.

Marilyn McCabe, Hash browns over easy; or, On Chewing Over Words

I am very little.

My arm is upraised
because we are holding hands,
as if I’m asking to be noticed.

When we arrive at the ice cream shop,
the glass brick fills my field of vision.
It is both mundane and magical,
like the wall of a ruined castle.

This memory contains no ice cream.

Jason Crane, POEM: No Ice Cream

I recently spoke to a group of MA students at Oxford University. The event was called “The Writer’s Life.” Presumably, I was there to provide insight into the arc of my career 10 years after my own graduation from Oxford. I had given a similar talk for Poets & Writers’ “Mapping the Maze” in the spring, and in both cases, recognized that this wasn’t the moment for my usual glib extempore or self-deprecating humor. Or, rather—since there was still plenty of that—I knew I needed to write out my remarks, because the truth is that what has made the greatest difference in my own journey, and the reason I’ve sustained my practice at all, has nothing to do with the occasional signposts of career success and everything to do with having a strong why.

Readers, you may already recognize the truth in this. That for all the grit, stamina, and sheer effort you exert, nothing is as sustaining as a strong why. That why is a safeguard against everything from existential despair to bitterness to paralyzing self-doubt when faced with the blank page. It is the energetic vein binding the essential you—not the ego you—to the task at hand. It is what makes the process—not just the product—rewarding, which ensures continuity and true purpose.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I am still caught in a strange place with the new poems, unsure of what direction, if any, they want to go. There are about a dozen, but I haven’t decided what sort of animal they will eventually be. Without daily writing exploits most of July, I have been directing more efforts toward the visual side of things most days, including just making random collage animations for IG in addition to more series-based projects (see above.). I will be working this month on recording and making video poems for the VILLAINS series, so keep an eye out for that in September, as well as an impending zine for that batch of HOME IMPROVEMENTS collages and poems, probably coming toward the end of this month. I have more diversions planned for fall, including another haunted dollhouse advent project, the Henry James-inspired governess zine, and more in the works over the next two months. 

As we enter back-to-school season, once again the month of August feels disorienting, disconnected as I am to an academic calendar after decades of being firmly entrenched. My own nearly 20 years of schooling, then the library job at the elementary school, then over two decades at Columbia and an MFA program nested inside it. It’s hard not to see September as a new beginning and August as an ending of sorts. It is perhaps why most of my autumn endeavors seem more serious than the writing I do in the spring or summer. How it feels like a time that calls for weightier projects.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2023

I wish we had
a story of abundance as point of origin, but without
anyone having to steal fire or be muted into a statue
or a bird. We remember to skim pearls from the froth
of rice wine, decanting a sacrament for wonder.
Before lowering our heads to drink, we hang
cuts of meat in the branches for the ravenous birds
of death or uncertain fortune— You hear them stab
the water, beings that can swallow a thing whole.

Luisa A. Igloria, Abundance

I want to return to innocence & from innocence to shadow. I want to return to shadow & from shadow to river. I want to return to river & from river to the crossroads. I want to return to the crossroads & from the crossroads to song. I want to return to song & from song to your heart. I want to return to your heart & from your heart to a home.

Rich Ferguson, What the river-voiced hallelujah sings

is it true that earth has never uttered a word

            that silence and stone make soul

in the clear mind of rain

                                                aren’t we random

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 28

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: apocalyptic weather, gardening, mentors, making time to write, giving “cancelled” writers a path to redemption and reconciliation, and much more. Enjoy.


We were so lucky to have some rain yesterday, first a scattering in the early afternoon, which returned with increased seriousness around 530 pm, while I was getting a hair cut. I could see the rain in the long mirror reflecting the street behind me. It was falling on the cobblestones and between the rails of the tram tracks and my annoyance at the hair cutter who kept me waiting 45 minutes dissolved there.

Before midnight it rained again, and into the small hours. This morning is fresh and in the 70s — absolutely lovely. It is a relief to forget about the apocalypse for an hour or two.

Which puts me in mind of a poem! Many poems, actually. But also a visual poem of mine that recently came out in Ballast, “My Darling,” which I mean with all my heart: [Click through to view]

the best of wives
is fresh air

Sarah J Sloat, the best of wives is fresh air

We’re in the middle of summer and shattering records for heat, both in the water and on land.  I am so glad I have a house in the mountains.  I thought about Cassandra, who made predictions that no one believed.  How does Cassandra feel when predictions come true?

It’s not a new subject for me, but this morning, I returned to it, as I created some lines that are building into a coherent poem.  Here’s a taste:
I cannot save you from the sea,
but I understand how it has bewitched
you, leading you on with false
hopes, thinking maybe you will be spared,
one of the lucky ones to emerge
with your habitat sustained
while others bleach and burn.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra in the Mountains

The collection begins with poems that convey the transience of life and the inevitability of death. A Scene Outside the Window of a Country Church is typical. The preciousness of existence is conveyed through the beauty of the natural images: ‘Shocks of green/ flutter/ and shimmer-’, ‘dewy butterfly wings’, ‘emerald and jade’. The vibrancy of the scene outside penetrates the sanctity of the church, yet so does the presence of something ominous: the sky is described as a ‘mourning’ sky and the horizon is ‘grey’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Blind Turns in the Kitchen Sink’ by David Estringel

The raw, unblemished
landscape claws the back of your eyes. Even
the air is like parchment, brittle, crumbles in
your hands, turning white. This place asks you
if you can be honest in the presence of so much
beauty. It asks about your truth. The perimeter
of your conviction. What is the difference
between life and cloud? What is the distance
between death and rain?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 55

I liked last year’s conference so much that I went again this year, seeing many people I’ve met before. When I set off at 5.30 on Saturday morning for Bristol, I saw a snail on the car roof – an omen of weather to come. After a useful day of workshops I slept in my tent while a storm raged, waking in a puddle, finding enough dry space to battle on. On Sunday I went to more workshops that showed me how much I need to improve my close reading. I read at the launch of “51 and a half games and ideas for writers with example responses”.

Tim Love, Flash Fiction Festival, 2023

When I pick the beetroot, I think of my Dad.
When I pick the green beans, I think of my Dad.

I will think of my Mam when I cook them,
the conversation we could have had about

how long I sautéed the chopped stems
of the beet leaves, before adding the leaves,

how much garlic I added, and how the beans
didn’t need any salt. So tender. So fresh.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Harvest

And it takes friends who’ve heard your self-doubt, excuses, attempts to change the subject. If writing is like gardening, if the garden is a place for working it all out, for being in a place without words, or naming things, a place you’ve made, planting tomatoes outside and hoping there won’t be blight, risking seedlings to slugs, wondering why this year there are so many opium poppies, friends offer a view of hills, all the different greys and a dawn sky, reminding you that after midnight in the dark woods you heard a nightingale three nights running, and then the wind shook everything up. 

Jackie Wills, Friends and a view of hills

People suffer and throw themselves 
into the Seine. The buildings have scars 
which grow lighter like our skins. 
Shop women roll their cat eyes jealously,
hearing we’re American.  

But what provocateurs they’d be, 
their loving presentation of breast
set like cake batter inside a bodice,
the body as curse or chalice.  
So frank, so chalice the flesh in Paris. 

Jill Pearlman, How to Break the Ice in Paris

My weird summer virus coincides, weirdly, with a huge heat wave—temps of 90 (and humidity levels at 30) meant an almost desert-like feeling to Seattle in the last couple of days. We were watering the hummingbirds, two bird baths and fountains, our poor flowers and baby trees – and ourselves. We have air conditioning, but it struggles to catch up with temps over 80. A common Seattleite’s summer retreat to a cooler area, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, had to close today because a mountain lion went to the beach to cool down!

On my sick days, I had a chance to catch up on movies—and I watched Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (which was cute, and very true to the book, except for I remember the mother worked in the book?) and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, which felt like a mashup of many of my own poetic obsessions—apocalypse, the Cold War era’s paranoia, mistrust of the government, aliens, nuclear testing anxiety, quarantine and its reverberations, and of course, death, Shakespeare, and witches. Some of my friends really did not like this movie, which highlights artificiality in a sort of odd black and white narrated Rod Serling juxtaposed with a tableau of the American West in color and admittedly does not have a linear plot. But I loved it—and more than that, it was the first movie I’ve seen that made me want to make a movie. (I have a friend with a fancy Ivy League degree in film and I suddenly had the urge to ask to borrow all her books from the program.) This film almost felt like a visual poem—a pastiche of Wasteland-like fragments. The other thing I noticed was influences from my generation—from Futurama episodes (I recommend watching “The Series Has Landed” and “Roswell That Ends Well” for shot-to-shot comparisons) and MST3K fifties apocalypse anxiety films. Wes is four years older than me, so we probably watched and read a lot of the same things growing up. I loved Moonlight Kingdom, but I strongly identified with this film—it’s practically set in my childhood home of Oak Ridge with its massive government buildings and kooky genius children in nearby schools, called “Atomic City.”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Birthdays, Heatwaves, and Thoughts on Asteroid City and the Poetry World

These are the ghosts of cities we loved
                    and lived in: perfect, scaled-down houses,

rooms now vined with glossy overgrowth.
                   Landmarks loosened from the horizon bond

closer to their ruined shadows. Which bird, which god, 
                  delivers these triumphs of otherworldly scale? 

The universe: nothing but a battered suitcase, its insides 
                 carpeted with remembered skies and glowing 

mycelia. Maps of the world,  speckled with fruiting spores.

Luisa A. Igloria, Terminal

My second full-length poetry collection is finally available. Whew! It took a good bit of patience, some frustration, and considerable persistence to get here, but I believed that this was a manuscript worth plugging away on. And thank you to Highland Park Poetry and to judge Cynthia Gallaher for choosing RQH as a prizewinner.

Persistence doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, we tend to focus on how important it is to keep on keeping on. However, I’m not sure I wholly believe in the process of sticking-to-it no matter what; there are times when you do need to let go of an unattainable goal or the pursuit of a not-terrific idea, and just–well, fail. I have let go of quite a few goals, plans, and previous manuscripts when I honestly evaluated my feelings about them and their possibilities for becoming realized. It’s okay to fail. You learn more from failure than from success. I have gained quite an education that way myself.

But I wanted this book to get into print. I like the poems in it. I like the things I learned as I played with meter and form and (mostly slant) rhyme. It was fun to find a range of topics that managed, one way or another, to work together. Mostly, I wanted an audience, to find out whether readers find it thought-provoking or entertaining or interesting. Also, I was starting to sense that it was getting in the way of my next manuscript. Yes, of course I have the next manuscript…

Ann E. Michael, Aloft at last

Once a week I would knock on the door of Madeline’s office with a copy of my typed-out poem. Madeline would invite me in, her red ballpoint in hand. Each week I fervently hoped that she wouldn’t find a word to circle or a phrase to underline. I prayed for a mistake-free poem. One day she explained to me that “the poem was only as good as the weakest link in the chain.” Once the weak chink was excised from the work, a new issue would take its place. In other words, my wish was impossible.

But it didn’t matter! Through Madeline’s teaching I was first introduced to the poetry of Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds, and Richard Hugo. Through Madeline I learned the art of revision—whether I wanted to learn it or not. Without that tough and (at the time) tedious lesson, I never could have become a published poet.

And as tough as Madeline was with me, she was also kind. For our last class together she invited me to her home for lunch; the first and only time this happened to me as an undergraduate. After the meal, we took my poems and laid them out underneath the dining room table. Here was my teacher on her hands and knees peering at my mess of a manuscript.

I think this was the first time I ever saw anyone care about my work, anyone take it seriously. Underneath her table! Thank you, Madeline.

This would have been enough but she also came to my small graduation party at my group house. She modeled for me what a professor, a mentor, could be. When I moved to Seattle, several decades after graduation, Madeline had moved here, too. And at each of my book launches, Madeline was there, sitting in the front row.

For Madeline’s 90th birthday, I worked with her literary executrix, Anne McDuffie to try and make the event memorable. We had a broadside done of one of her poems by local poet and printmaker, Joe Green, and there was lots of cake. Anne had asked me to speak to Madeline’s time in Massachusetts and I was both honored and terrified. And once again, there was Madeline in the front row, watching.

Susan Rich, Madeline DeFrees: a poet you really should know; I’m very thankful that I did…

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

I tend to write in many different styles, depending on the needs of the work, and my mood. One day, as a student, I went to Sharon Olds’s office, and she had my poems spread across her desk in a grid. She showed me how different styles I was practicing worked (or didn’t work) in relationship to one another. She told me where she thought my strengths were. I cherish that advice. It helps me remember the ways of writing that feel natural for me, so I can challenge myself by writing in other ways too. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Visual art has always been an inspiration. When I was in grad school in NY, I would take the subway to the Met and spend all day walking and observing, or sitting in front of a sculpture and free writing.

However, in the past decade, I’ve swung the other direction. My book banana [ ] was very research-based, and I loved coming home from work and reading history books, writing down any fact about the fruit that struck me. Right now, I’m writing poems that begin with cardiac studies that I perform at the hospital where I work. I’m very interested in what happens when we combine language that is supposedly “poetic” or “beautiful” with scientific or academic language that intends to serve a different purpose.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Paul Hlava Ceballos (rob mclennan)

This morning I saw a piece by one of those pedants who declare that writers must write every day. Or what? I thought, and of course the answer came immediately – if you don’t write at least something every day, you can’t call yourself a writer. […]

[I]t occurred to me that for the last couple of weeks I haven’t written a thing. A new, confusing, incredibly annoying laptop hasn’t helped. Why are the people who make these things seemingly so intent on ‘upgrading’ them? I suppose they get paid to think of new stuff a laptop can do but I suspect they forget that most of us just want something that’s simple to operate and quick to fathom out. In my case I’m far too thick to adapt to a new and complex system of icons and symbols. I even had to be showed where the on-off button was hiding… Mostly this has driven me away from technology to the point where I’ve hardly even used my phone, let alone the internet. Please don’t get me started on the vile idea of closing physical ticket offices at train stations. I have no interest whatsoever in buying a ticket online and downloading some App or other.

I’ve taken to transcribing old poems stored forgotten in some ethereal hole (like this site) back into longhand. I’ve been busy looking after hens, arranging for new middle white pigs to come at the beginning of August, watching Test cricket, working on bits and pieces on our smallholding. I’ve also read a fine book about the West Bromwich Albion championship-winning season of 1919-20, part of a novel that bored me so much I tried reading it from last chapter to first. (No improvement.) I also read about a protest march by London’s wig-makers in 1764 when, it seemed, wigs were going out of fashion and ‘wearing your own hair, if you have any’ was becoming so popular they faced ruin.

Writing poetry? Nah. Though I did dig a book from 20 years ago off the shelf, Rain On The River, by a Californian poet, Jim Dodge, which reminded me why I kept it. Take his poem The Banker, which begins: His smile is like a cold toilet seat. [Mind you, that’s sometimes preferable to a very warm toilet seat – Ed.] He shakes my hand as if he’s found it floating two weeks dead in a slough. These are poems of madness, fun and impulse but also of domesticity, of a family and working life full of ordinary, extraordinary, passionately respected events, of a life shaped by memories passed and recorded through generations where you strive to live what you’re given as well as you can. It’s one of those books where the writing feels relaxed almost to the point of diffidence but is anything but. I think from what I read about him, Dodge has concentrated on novels since Rain On The River was published, which would seem the novel’s gain and poetry’s loss. If you can pick up a copy somewhere, I’d heartily recommend it.

Bob Mee, TOO BUSY TO WRITE? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Recently I realized I’ve begun marking the passing of time through words and growing things. When I wake up in the morning, that day of the week begins with my thinking about what I will be reading, writing, or editing. I have a schedule I follow because I like order (or routine) in my life and I have other people depending on me. And yet, the “order” the hours take are not strict and unbending. Sometimes, I’ll wait to edit an essay 3 or 4 days before it’s due to publish, thereby spending several hours doing that one thing, or I’ll begin writing down a story a week before the submission deadline. Sometimes, often actually, the urgency lights a fire under my ass, makes me accountable.

I keep a journal, of sorts, that includes gardening notes – when I planted seeds or bought a plant, what seeds took and what didn’t, dates of first blooms, dates I fed or cut something back, all sorts of notes. I can look back for several years and see what grew well and what bombed. Although I keep great notes, the garden itself is wild and somewhat overgrown. Plants that shouldn’t be together end up in the same pots or seeds get planted past the “plant by” dates because I don’t always follow traditional gardening advice. Freedom. I want to see what will happen and, more often than not, everything gets along just fine as long as I tend to watering and feeding. Accountability.

There is order, accountability, and freedom in my approach to writing. Order doesn’t have to be limiting at all when you mold it into what works for you. Something I’ve realized recently is that I’ve been fighting against the “write every day” blueprint because I thought that meant you sit down at a desk every day at a certain time and write at least 1000 words, no matter what. Google “write every day” and you’ll get a plethora of advice, workshops, and classes and yet, I believe you will be happier and more prolific when you design a practice that works for you as an individual.

Charlotte Hamrick, Order, Accountability, Freedom

I exercised my way into a knee injury, and turned my writing life upside-down. That’s because I do a lot of dictating into my phone while walking. And now I’m not walking much. I also use stair-climbing as part of my thinking process. Doing chores in our house means stairs, and that’s some of my best thinking time. Though now I have more stair-thinking time, as I take it one step — good foot, bad foot — at a time.

I’m doing more of my thinking seated. Poetry and editing, however, seem to benefit from my staying seated. Fiction, not as much, because thinking of those plot twists requires me to be in motion.

Many of my poems were composed while walking and dictating, but yesterday I started a new practice of sitting poems. Even better if I’m sitting in an unusual places, such as a hot car while waiting for my husband to come out of the store, or on my deck while watering plants while sitting down. Instead of walking through it, sitting in a lovely field. Under a giant oak that tells me it loves me by dropping twigs on my head.

Rachel Dacus, The Benefits of a Writing with a Knee Injury

Perhaps we should talk more about formulas and genres. A romance novel has a formula, as do most chart-topping songs. The content creators are usually adhering to some sort of formula based on what they are drawn to themselves or the styles of other creators. But then so does literature sometimes–even poetry.  Insta poets are an obvious example. New Yorker poems are another. I would also say certain avant-schools of poetry also have a style you see again and again. 

And ultimately, unless you are one of those rare exotic birds who doesn’t want to share your work, your work eventually becomes content, whether you read it at a reading, post it on FB, or submit it to a literary magazine. At the point where it meets a consumer, no matter how lofty its aims. So this at least makes me feel less weird about calling my art content. 

But I will confess that doing so, at least in the past year or so, has made things like promotion and social media little more fun. I used to see them as separate, the art-making and the content creation, one the meat and potatoes, the other the flavorless broccoli, or the necessary evil of getting your work out there and enticing readers/viewers to look at the art. But much of what I do now I see holistically as part of the same process. I used to focus so much on the end product of book sales and gaining attention, but now I try to focus more on sharing things–whether it’s poems or images or video. The sharing is the point (though if it leads to book sales or website visits all the better.) But I’ve used the analogy before of the museum gift shop. Nice if you stop in, but absolutely not necessary. You can still enjoy the museum. This shift in thinking has taken a lot of pressure off me to see myself as failing if I don’t get enough likes or hits or sales in the shop. The content and the sharing/consuming is the point, not these other markers. 

Kristy Bowen, art and content | the dirty c-word

This week has been a wild, adrenalin and caffeine driven power march through my own edits on The Ghost Lake, galloping towards the deadline and swinging between elation and something like dread. But I am loving it. I am living a life that I began working towards ten years ago. Most days I’m up by 6.00am. I brew my coffee, I sit in the office space I created for myself, I listen to the jackdaws and the wood pigeons outside my office window and feel the sun creeping up behind the blinds to greet me. I can hear people getting in their cars and heading out to work and I feel utterly lucky to be able to do the thing that I do – writing, workshops, facilitating, mentoring. Because I’m an early riser I generally have a couple of hours of some sort of writing related activity (more on that later) in the bag before the day really begins. […]

Last week someone I know from the poetry community commented on one of my many morning pics (the taking of the morning pics is an act of accountability that gets me to my desk) and asked if I had any blogs about managing time as a freelancer and writer. I do…somewhere in the mists of time on my website… but I realised my process has changed so much over the years that it probably wouldn’t be relevant now.

Not everyone has money to sit on while they write. It’s one of the biggest blocks to people from non traditional backgrounds, from non affluent backgrounds, to getting into the arts. I’ve literally just been writing about this in my book so I’m a bit riled up about it. If you’re like me and from a working class background, without the nest egg, you will need to first accept this, accept that the aesthetic of the writer doing nothing but writing, of being an (unpaid) intern for a year building contacts and learning publishing skills or media skills while you plan your novel, fresh out of university…that’s not for you. That wasn’t for me. Though I hold onto the dream that at some point I will be successful enough to make writing my priority all the time, I am realistic enough to know that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But if you want it, and ‘it’ is different to all writers – you will find a way of working for it, kicking down the doors and making it happen.

Wendy Pratt, Manage Your Freelance Time, Protect Your Writing Time

Fake Math by ryan fitzpatrick (Snare, 2007/ Model, 2022) in the copy I have, is reissued, with some of the 2007 edition culled, and the whole somewhat expanded with a section “Fake Math (20xx)” which written in the same spirit in the intervening 15 years. 

It is extremely dense. The poems examine inside the urban over-stimulus of capitalism. It is not narrative but changing sentence to sentence like Lisa Robertson’s Boat (Coach House, 2022). Boat uses repetition of the idea of imaginary doors as portals to create touchstones between non-sequitur lists. fitzpatrick’s has no such device acting as a connector except a hyperglossia speed. In Robertson’s

Every angel is fucking the seven arts.

Each leaf had achieved its vastness.

A young woman is seated on a kitchen chair, black wings spread out as if drying.

It was August and the night was hot.

What we were proposing already exists. 

Lisa Robertson’s Boat

Whereas in Fake Math, fitzpatrick’s non sequitur leaps cluster physically tighter with “less breathing room” as they say, even stand alone phrases rather than “full sentences”. 

Just because we screw doesn’t mean.
Just because we assume swoosh pants. 
Tradition and the tattooed cerebellum. 
Sweat and swoon of commodity fetishism. 
Totemic icon of commodity, and test drive. 
Art is a dirty word.
A heart of purina.
In the sun on the beach.
Loving the V-8’s hum.
Bud of calm, blossom of hysteria.
Why gold confronts the linen as money. 

ryan fitzpatrick’s Fake Math

The stress against capitalism and “jinglistic” noise (“ a heart of purina”) is rolled out frenetically as it was rolled into the head but with a twist. Academia and intellectual spin is in both poets, and a critical posture rather than self-reveal.

Yet, there’s beauty that stops you in your tack to fill your sails in each work, whether a leaf achieving its vastness or bud of calm, blossom of hysteria. 

Pearl Pirie, Fake Math

If you turn the stereo down low enough, you can hear the downtrodden aching for an antidote to oppression.

You can understand how hard it is to change horses mid-breath when the final breath is being choked from your body.

On the streets, I hear rumblings that the gun has taken a shot at writing poetry.

Perhaps it can teach bullets how to sing Ave Maria.

Rich Ferguson, Season of Goodbyes

Sarah Bakewell writes books on people who have ideas, which does not on its face sound interesting, but they are. The books are less about the ideas per se than about the people, their influences, their time period, who they were, and who they influenced, and she tells it all in a wonderfully breezy way, making links and telling sidebar tales. I just love her work.

What I’m reading now is called Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope. It’s not what you might call riveting, but it’s been a good read. Humanism, in broad brush, is the idea that humans are capable of great moral acts, great artistic and technical achievements right here in this life on this Earth, and our lives should be dedicated to joy and radical understanding of all things. The idea that maybe was best captured in Rodney King’s plaintive, “Can’t we all get along?” and in the nonjudgmental “don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto you, cuz hey, if you’re into that other stuff, whatever.”

They might believe in a god or gods, these humanists, but they think worrying about the afterlife is not the best way to make living in this life the best it can be. Some were perhaps overly humanocentric, but many had made the connection between humans and, well, everything else. Humanists over time may have disagreed on some stuff, but essentially they all believe that human beings have the power to not be dickheads, and we should use that power.

All kinds of interesting people have thought this but their voices have been drowned out by louder voices of intolerance, greed, war, stupidity. She mentions, for example, J. M. Dent, who in 1916 in England founded the Everyman’s Library. Which put me in mind of those encyclopedias peddled door to door. It was with enormous sadness I chucked our family’s World Book…but only because I couldn’t see my friend Helen’s family’s slightly newer edition get chucked, and I still have it hoarding valuable shelf space. How many out of date encyclopedias does one household need? One, certainly.

Marilyn McCabe, It’s gonna take a miracle; or, On Reading Bakewell’s Humanly Possible

I’ve been a fan of Gaia Holmes’s poetry since the publication of her third (and most recent) collection, Where the Road Runs Out, available from Comma Press here, which is among my very favourites of the last five years, if not all time. I’m pretty sure that it I bought on the recommendation of a typically warm-hearted review by John Foggin on his blog, here. I subsequently bought Gaia’s two earlier collections, which are both very good too. To paraphrase Orwell, all poets’ voices are unique, but some, like Gaia’s, are more unique than others’.

So I was really pleased to see today from Gaia’s blog that she’s uploaded a recording of her short story, ‘Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep’, to her Soundcloud page, here. It’s a terrific listen.

Even better is the fact that there are also loads of other atmospheric recordings, interspersed by music, which she made two/three years ago, of her (and other poets’) poems. I particularly like how, each time, Gaia paired one of her own lovely poems with somebody else’s to provide intriguing comparisons and contrasts.

Matthew Paul, On Gaia Holmes

Peter Kenny and I have just wrapped up the last episode of Season 3 of Planet Poetry. Our guest was Richard Skinner, a fitting ‘finale’ as he led us through a fascinating poetry landscape in which OuLiPo, curtal sonnets, Caedmon and cutups all made an appearance. Then Peter and I had a chat and a beer in the potting shed. It’s been an exciting but exhausting season and we can hardly believe the poddy is still going strong! […]

Yep, last week I got some new photos done (in readiness for all that Booker Prize publicity – tee hee!) Nothing makes you feel more confident (in my humble opinion) than a professional photoshoot. I’ve rubbed along with selfies and ancient headshots for a number of years, but as Nick needed photos too we asked photographer Sarah Weal for help. I can only describe her as an absolute magician, making us look like we mean business, but still very much us. I couldn’t help myself but use one of the shots she took as a featured image to this post. Forgive me! Anyway, even if the book deals never happen, I will love looking at these photos in ten or twenty years’ time (fingers crossed) and say  “look how amazing and young we were!”

Robin Houghton, Round up: poems, podcast, garden, new photos…

David King is an award-winning experimental filmmaker, video and photo artist whose works have screened at the Australian National Museum, the Museum of Experimental Art in Mexico City, the BFI Theatre in London, the Nova Cinema in Melbourne, Affero Gallery in USA, and many international film and video festivals. He also curates screenings of experimental films and videos, with works collected from around the world. I’ve been delighted to have some of my videos in his curations.

Earlier this year, David contacted me asking if I’d like to write a poem for a new experimental video he was working on. David’s visual style is very different from mine, so I thought it would be really interesting to collaborate with him on this project. The subject of the video is loosely about the ocean, which is close to the hearts of both of us.

So I wrote a poem called King Tide to fit the video. David liked the text and we decided that I should record it, and make a matching sound design. I wanted to have the audio closely linked to the video, so I used a program, Photosounder, that converts images to audio to generate a base set of audio samples. This program encodes parameters in the image, such as intensity, colour and location, into pitch and duration of the audio, which can then be altered by a wide range of filtering, re-sampling and play-back options. I selected a single frame from each scene in the video and from each of them made a sample set of audio files. These were then taken into Logic Pro for further processing, such as re-timing, re-pitching, filtering, and looping. There are over 85 of these samples in the final mix. Each set of samples is introduced when the corresponding source scene begins in the video, although most of them re-appear, or continue on later in the video.

The voice is mine, but it has been re-pitched, re-timed and had various filters applied in five layers. The little melody that appears under and around the vocal is also my voice, feeding a sample of the text into two separate vocoders.

Ian Gibbins, Topography of an Imaginary Ocean – video poetry collaboration with David King

Greg Thomas’s Border Blurs is a long overdue study of the impact and role of concrete poetry on the turn away from the Movement and towards the modernist legacy that stimulated an explosion of interesting British poetry 1950s, 60s and 70s. Thomas takes four of the most interesting of the poets involved as the spine of his narrative, two of them Scottish, two English: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Bob Cobbing. From this grouping it is clear that one of the blurred borders is the English/Scottish one, but the title refers just at much to the blurring of boundaries across genres that typifies the work of the four.

Thomas opens with an introduction and background chapter on the early development of concrete poetry, focusing on the Brazilian Noigandres group and the German Constructivists including Eugen Gomringer. These early concrete poets were, he argues, rejecting Dadaist chaos and looking to create work that was both experimental and supportive of the new post-WWII ideals of social order. This is an important counterpoint to the narrative arc of the British adoption of the genre, which can be traced as a move back towards Dadaist disruption. They were also influenced by developments in the area of information theory, which seemed to point towards a potential universal language; for the early exponents of concrete, this reinforced the idea that they could produce work that evaded the communicative limitations of language as it is and create work that could be understood by anyone, anywhere.

Billy Mills, Border Blurs by Greg Thomas: A review

More advice, although tongue-in-cheek this time, is offered in “How to be a Proper Poet”, where amateurs have to sit at a reading

“far away from the proper poet pack, to hang over the side of the pew to give you any kind of view because’s there’s another proper poet in front of you with big hair that’s soooo debonair, extraordinaire, laissez-faire, spectaculaire, yeah big, big hair that blocks your field of vision, resulting in a gale-force, full-frontal eye flicking big-hair collision – barn – move on, move on – oh dea, leaving you to strain to see and hear and wonder at the thunder rumbling in your head that says just smile and clap and nod, poor sod, even though the punchlines drowned by those with seats saved at the front you can’t expect any different, you’re only a pretend poet after all, small, insignificant, slightly deaf, lacking the intellectual heft to rarefy your silly rhymes but next time, next time… so if you want to be a proper poet and show it at another gig, bring wine, wear scarves, wear heels, oh just wear a wig.”

Advice that finds the right balance between letting the rhymes run on yet the poem is still readable. The breathy rhythm catching the sense of a ideas floating out from the annoyance at having your view blocked, sitting further than back you’d planned so hearing is a strain, yet it retains its focus and never feels as if it’s drifted out of control or let the sounds drive the poem at the expense of sense.

Emma Lee, “Devon Maid Walking” Clare Morris (Jawbone) – book review

A few years ago, a young poet was caught plagiarizing another poet’s work. They were not just called out and asked to be accountable, they were brutally made fun of, and to this day the occasional cruel reminder will be posted online about them as if they are not even a real person. You could tell it was never really about accountability to many of the people who went after them as, when this person accepted full responsibility for their transgression, and apologized personally to the poet whose work they had plagiarized from, no one cared. It wasn’t what they had really wanted. They wanted someone to make fun of. They wanted someone to take their anger out on. A person who is trying to be accountable is just spoiling the fun.

I reached out to this person, as had been done for me, and found that they were actually handling it much better than I had. I admired the tenacity, perseverance, grace and maturity with which someone so young was handling such a hard life event. We both had recently lost grandparents we were close with, and this person shared with me a poem that they had written for their grandparent, a beautiful poem, in their own beautiful and unique words, and I couldn’t help but feel so sad for this immensely talented young person who had made, and genuinely sought to atone for a mistake, and who told me “I will always keep writing, but just for me. I will probably never publish again.” It sounded like both a deeply personal choice and an inevitability of the current culture we live in, where redemption is not as desirable as cruelty.

I hope this person does one day publish again, but oh the hard difficult work we’d have to do to make such a thing a possibility. It was cruel enough to have gone through what they went through, but to have to go through it when they lost both of their grandparents, and to have to see the online vitriol, must have been even more painful. I know as I too lost a grandparent that I cared for on hospice during my “cancellation.” In my case, people used it as an opportunity to make fun of my “dead Grandma.” I want to think that these deeper stories would matter to those who often refuse to see the hurting and human face of the other, but for whatever reason we live in a time in which we just do not take the time to really see and hear each other in these deeper, more thoughtful ways.

Two other poets I know were “canceled” for personal conflicts with their ex-partners. They both permanently deleted their social media and quit publishing in addition to having much of their work removed from magazines. While I didn’t know them as well as I did the poet described earlier, I can only imagine their solitary journeys of exile were very similar and just as painful. The events surrounding their cancellations were very confusing, as personal conflicts tend to be, and it wasn’t obvious to me why it was a community concern.

Many of the same people were involved in their cancellation (if it isn’t obvious by now when I use the term “cancellation” it is used as a placeholder for what is more accurately bullying, scapegoating and dogpiling group behavior, which often leads to removal of a writer’s published work and/or a writer’s own decision to quit.) Once again it seemed obvious that accountability was not the goal, whatever that even would have been in such a personal situation, an apology and making amends to one’s ex I would imagine. Why that should translate into never being allowed to publish again eludes me. How sad that we have made a world for these young people in which redemption is derided and held in contempt, that they should feel they have to abandon their creative passions publicly rather than find pathways towards repair and reconciliation.

James Diaz, It’s Time to Confront Conflict in the Poetry Community

The facebook algorithm is interesting. Since I began cross posting from this “cancer blog”, my feed suddenly started showing posts from people whose posts never show up – and all of them working through cancer or other serious illnesses. One the one hand, this is good because I feel less alone – and it is humbling in a healthy way (as in “yeah, so, you and everyone else…”) – but on the other hand, I think: wow – I am putting a lot of “ick” out there that may be showing up in people’s feeds who don’t need to see it.

But then, isn’t that true of everything we put out there. Sometimes I am astonished by the amount of social regulating that we do online: Don’t whine/winge, Don’t flaunt, Don’t crow, Don’t overshare, Don’t be needy, Don’t be prescriptive.

“It’s not a good look” is my least favorite comment now. The irony of people using this to censure and censor other people: appearance being the gateway to authentic… anything? I don’t know if the phrase is “not a good look”, but I think it is a window into the authentic concerns of person who typed those words. I have even seen this phrase used by journalists on major news outlets. (Do we even call them that now? “Media outlets”.)

I am thinking that life is too short to spend so much of it sneering. And yep, I see that I am sneering when I write about the sneering. Vicious circle of social interactions?

I saw something this morning that (really) made me smile. In a video clip about the light beer controversy in Nashville, a woman with a sequined American flag cowboy hat said something to the effect of who cares what other people do. I have to admit, I saw that hat and expected something completely different from that woman’s mouth. There is one of my prejudices laid bare for me to look at and work to let go of.

Ren Powell, No More Number 2 Pencils

These plants springing from cracked pavement remind me of nature’s beautiful impulse for life. It restores my hope everywhere I find it. A handful of dry lentils taken from my cupboard, after a few days of soaking and draining, grow into cheery little sprouts I can use in salads, or feed to the chickens, or plant to grow into another generation of lentils. Seeds brought from Cyprus decades ago, shared by a friend, grow each year into giant hardy winter squash that keeps well until late winter –providing nourishing meals along with more seeds to save and share. Organic potatoes in my pantry wrinkle around tiny rosettes and from them, pale tendrils fragile with new life reach out in search of sunlight. I plant these eyes two or three times each season, from late March to late August, for fresh harvests of tender heirloom potatoes.

Life’s impulse can’t always survive what we humans are doing to this planet. As a direct result of human activity, the rate of species extinction is up to 10,000 times higher than the natural, historical rate. Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows ocean heating is equivalent to between three and six 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. The UN says “climate change is out of control” and experts in Earth’s climate history are convinced this current decade of warming is more extreme than any time since the last ice age, about 125,000 years ago. It’s exhausting to think about, let alone act on, this spiraling disaster.

We need new stories that reawaken us to the lived wisdom of this planet’s First Peoples and lead us to the most ethical, scientifically grounded regenerative lifeways going forward. It helps when we recognize nature isn’t just what sprouts from cracked pavement. It isn’t confined to wild places we long to visit. We are nature, right down to the life processes of every cell. It helps when our new stories speak to our descendants. It helps when they answer our ancestors.

Laura Grace Weldon, Honoring The Impulse To Thrive

“You are dreaming for humanity,” is what Jean Valentine once said to Hafizah Geter in a Paris Review interview on poetry.

If you’re a poet interested in line breaks, Valentine is the place to learn. Geter says of Valentine’s:

“It makes you trust yourself to the gap. Using everything you’ve ever known and forgotten, your mind and your imagination construct a bridge beneath you in real time. Suddenly, instead of “minding the gap,” you cross it. Studying her poems, I learned I could build a bridge between anything I loved—a poet, a song.”

And so when people are asking why they should read poetry, there, that. THAT.

Because we need to know how to bridge gaps. We need to get one thing talking to another through a gaping space, over a vastness, a chasm. Poetry can do this. We can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Jean Valentine with C.D. Wright

The poem describes walks I’d take with Violet every day, strapping her into the baby carrier and walking her around the historic German Village neighborhood where we lived the first year of her life. We’d walk through Schiller Park—yes, there is a bronze statue of the German poet Friedrich von Schiller there—and I’d point out things to her as we passed, as if I were a tour guide. That’s sort of what early parenthood felt like: being the tour guide for someone new to the world.

I wanted my daughter to love this place I brought her to, and I wanted the world to deserve her. This theme comes up in other poems of mine. “Porthole” from Goldenrod opens like this:

I was hoping the world would earn you,
but it rains and rains, too busy raining
to win you over.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “First Fall”

I said in my last blog that I had started writing some different, fresher material. This has coincided with me going through all my poems and retiring poems that I didn’t feel were strong or good enough. Most of these poems were not in one of the two or three collections I have in progress, so it was easy to just pack them away in a Retired Poems folder. I might go back in the future and have a look at them to try and refresh or reuse some of the material and I know they’re still there if I want to use one or two, but it feels good to shift them out of sight. 

I write a lot, see note about having three collections going, but many of the poems I write are good enough on their own, but don’t work well with others or my style has changed and I just don’t find them as appealing anymore. I then went through the collections and had a cull as well. I didn’t take out as many poems, but I changed the direction of one book, so I did need to take about a third away. It feels liberating to pare things down, to turn towards this new direction. 

I have one of those collections with a publisher, but it’s been stalled for four years. In the meantime, I’ve rearranged and edited it over and over. It’s better, certainly, but it doesn’t make the wait feel any better. It’s just so frustrating, not knowing when or if it will happen. I don’t know if I’d be happier to have the collection the way it is, basically better, or to have it earlier, so I can move on. I sometimes feel like I’m still stuck in that place where the collection inhabits until it’s published as I keep revisiting the poems as I edit. It will be nice to be free of them, in a sense. Until then it’s a waiting game. A wading game as I move through the poems, just up to my ankles, occasionally plashing about.

My writing group is having its third annual retreat in two weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I have to drive, but besides that it will be just hanging out with people I like, writing, talking writing, eating and drinking, jumping in the hottub. It’s a blast and I always manage to write a poem or two while I’m there. The day after we come back, I’m off to work. So that will be the end of summer, a proper send off. 

Gerry Stewart, Rewriting Memories and Poetry Collections

The day before my birthday storm Poly (Beaufort 11) raged at speeds of 140 kms an hour: overhead lines and trees came down. The day after my birthday the Dutch government fell.

On my birthday I treated family to lunch. It was a joyous occasion. My uncle (born 17 years after my mother) turned 85 in June. He has only recently given up playing volleyball: too much for his shoulders. He’s taken up Jeu de Boules instead.

Here are two verses from an extended sequence titled Briefly a small brown eye.

Primary school demolished,
protestant church a community centre.
Our old house extended.
Forty years on no reason to visit
this town other than the old uncle.

Lunchtime, my aunt brings out
the special table cloth.
She has embroidered signatures,
some in Arabic, some in Cyrillic.
I’m looking for mine.

Fokkina McDonnell, The special table cloth

Those mornings when you realise there is no plan for the day; no thing. Yet knowing it will unwind like a clock’s chime. A pal to call upon; a decision of direction to be made. An adventure to be had that has not thought itself through yet. It’s early. A deep breath turns to the window lightening slowly; everything is slowly today. The mind curtains the breeze, the light as still as a deep breath turning a stretch into a swing of legs. The length of a smile about nothing, the thought of nothing to do. Out of the window a gaze is held in perpetuity, in deliberate incomprehension turning. Slowly. Breakfast spoons time in the milk of childhood. A determined plan to do nothing with determination. To reduce adventure to the unraveling of a day’s indecision.

Jim Young, So much about nothing to do

After some time, the light

extends a long leg, a dark root,
bending toward me, a giant
curious about small things.

Lopsided butterfly
slowly opens and closes
torn white wings.

PF Anderson, Fixed & Floating

on which side of my skin is sky

have all suns held inside a dawn that never arrives

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

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


Pushed myself to take a 10 minute walk with Leonard last night, but that was a mistake. I crawled into bed with a migraine.

But I woke this morning without one – for the first time in six days. I’m taking the morning slowly. I don’t even dare move this head through an asana sequence. Coffee and water. And prophylactic paracetamol. I have a long day of writing ahead. It will be good to focus on something besides my senses: an imaginary world where the smell of chemicals, body odors, and dog breath really don’t come into play.

The “cancer hour” I promised myself has bled into the long days of this past week. I distracted myself with sitcoms and slept through half of every episode. The exercise and activity chart I made for myself before I started chemotherapy is still hanging on the refrigerator. I really should take it down. At this point, it’s just mocking me.

I hear the birds outside. And the train passing by every now and then. Leonard is sprawled on the floor, taking up more than a square meter of this little room. He’s got his head on a stack of books. I hope he’s not drooling. Here I sit. In my tiny room with the French doors, because I still believe elegance is more about attitude than scale, more about framing the parts than interrogating the whole.

Ren Powell, Que Sera Sera

Change equals living: no life without alterations of one kind or another. My current situation is one of those so-called Life Events: I have retired from my position at the university where I worked for about 17 years. I suppose it is A Big Deal (see how I’m capitalizing?), but I must admit that so far it doesn’t feel terribly fraught, major, or even bittersweet. It just feels appropriate. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not a person who has defined herself by her career. Thank goodness, since it was a fairly modest career. I enjoyed my work with students; and I was part of a terrific team of earnest, funny, and supportive folks. So yes, that’s something to miss. However, I have many interests beyond work at the college. Time to pursue those, methinks. Time to spend with my mother as she wanes. Time to travel with my husband and on my own and to visit our far-away offspring. Of course, there are all those things that will keep me unexpectedly busy…gardening, house maintenance, trying to get the metaphorical ducks to line up (as if they ever will). And then, poetry; I want to devote some serious brainpower to revising, reorganizing, drafting, reading, learning more about the art I love. Maybe even submitting more work, putting together another manuscript or two. Who knows what changes are ahead?

When I note the fewer numbers of fireflies, I do not mean there are none. It’s just that some years, by June 18th, the back of our yard simply dazzles; we don’t need fireworks! Because they pupate in dampness, such as in rotting logs or underground, and because they need moist earth in order to feed (on soft-bodied invertebrates, according to the Xerxes Society’s informative page here), a spring drought can limit their numbers. And I miss them, the way I miss the little brown bats and the green ash trees. Those types of changes may be more or less inevitable, but I can’t help thinking that such transitions feel less timely than my departure from running the university’s writing center. The ash and the bats are still around, but in vastly decreased numbers. I hope the lightning bugs bounce back.

Ann E. Michael, Lightning bugs

It’s June and the rhododendrons are in full bloom. From my window, shades of scarlet, blush, magenta, neon pink. These colors remind me of the various lipsticks my Ballard grandmother would wear and I explored this in a poem I’ve been working on all morning. There’s no shame in too much coffee and pajamas at noon, especially when the rain pours and the drive to write is hot. But I’m also leaving soon for roadtrip through Yukon, British Columbia, and Washington. So a blog entry before my departure.

Kersten Christianson, Approaching Solstice

My last two uncles died a couple of months apart, at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. At one of their funerals a cousin expressed the same idea that Linda Pastan so eloquently describes in the second stanza of her poem: we are the older generation now. 

The idea of being next in line ‘to die’ does not bother me. I am deeply grateful for all of my own ‘torn scraps of history’ and I do not feel alone on any shore. I don’t know what lies ahead and I have no need to imagine what it might be. Not believing in any kind of afterlife, or second chance, is a comfort rather than the source of any fear. Having survived to be a part of the older generation feels like a gift, not a burden, or riven with loss. 

While we were waiting outside the chapel of rest for Uncle Michael’s coffin to be taken inside I heard the ubiquitous, unintelligible call of the rag and bone man along the main road beyond the cemetery’s gates. The juxtaposition was both startling and somewhat reassuring. Is there always some use for what is thrown away or discarded, what is unwanted, abandoned? Even our bones and flesh, once our consciousness has departed?

Lynne Rees, Reflection ~ On being the next in line to die

Penny kept him safe from the other pigs; dragged
him off and buried him each night, sat
jealously near his dirt hole,
until she dug him up again, rolled
him with her overheated tongue, and
shook him in her mouth as though to snap
his rigid little neck. After a week
he was a pockmarked mess, his brows
mottled with teeth pricks and his
blob-shoes dull with grime.
Penny had made him his own. Broken him in.

Kristen McHenry, Penny the Pig

As I move into the last leg of writing the book, or at least the first draft of the book, and prepare to start working with the editors to bring it to a shine, I am beginning to look back at this stage of the journey with something like nostalgia. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person, and as a writer, on the way. One of the things I have learned, a skill really, is to trust my own voice and my own story, to ‘shut the door’ and write. There were times when I felt blocked, and the block came from me worrying about the validity of my story; comparing myself to other writers and their intimidating, blazing talent. Whenever this happens, my writing starts to thin out, my voice starts to peter out like the thin waves at the edge of a lake. I have to pull myself back and back, remind myself that the passion is always what saves a story, that writing authentically, about what interests you, is the way to make your writing sing. To write freely, as if no one is watching you, as if social media doesn’t exist, as if no one will read your book; that’s the key. I’ve stepped back from social media in an attempt to nail the final stretch of the book. I am ‘figuring out what I want to say’ and how I want to say it, and it is like solving a glorious puzzle. I haven’t missed social media as much as I thought I would. Stepping back has allowed me to embrace the life I want – writing, thinking. I hope I look back on this time and recognise the absolute joy of existing in this moment; getting up, writing, walking, writing. I shall miss writing this book, I shall miss the discoveries, the journey it has taken me on. But I’m ready for the next part of the journey too. How strange the act of writing, that a person could exist entirely in words fished from the air.

Wendy Pratt, “Write like no one is looking over your shoulder…”

I’m not sure what provoked so fluid a flow. I’d had the opening section – headed Superstructure in this draft – hanging around for several years. The original notion was an anecdotal account of experience working in a mental hospital laundry, but it never got further than a description of the huge gothic edifice that housed the institution. In spite of the fact that my three months in that dreadful place were full of incident, the anticipated graduation to a depiction of what actually went on never occurred.

As so often happens, it was an entirely unconnected stimulus that sparked off the next stage of the poem. During the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) process of unpacking and sorting documents after our house move, I came across some research and planning notes I had drawn up for a projected production of Peter Schaffer’s play Equus. I had homed in on the play’s central theme – that of the psychiatrist Dysart’s growing fascination with the perverse, amoral theology that has driven his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang to blind several horses with a hoof pick. Appalling though the act is and in spite of the explanatory pathology that emerges through analysis, Dysart becomes increasingly aware of the sacrifice of visceral passion and engagement that Alan must make in order to be liberated from his compulsions. Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created, observes Dysart. And later, as a cri de coeur: All right! The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. There’s also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest.

The planned production never went ahead. A combination of concern about suitability for an all-ages school audience, probable casting difficulties and a sense that Schaffer presents his compelling scenario just a little too tidily had me tucking the notes away and moving swiftly on to something more negotiable. So rediscovering them so long after their compilation gave them a renewed freshness and impact. But instead of causing me to reflect wistfully on the production-that-never-was, I found myself thinking about the poem-that-was-yet-to-be. And I realised within a moment of revelatory shock that aspects of what I had seen and heard in that mental hospital conformed precisely to the informing agenda of Equus. I realised – maybe for the first time fully – that I had been witness to a demonstration of that nexus between the limits of conventional human behaviour and the abandonment and chaos that lies beyond and that it had shocked me to the core. The poem investigates – as maybe only a poem can – the true nature of my perception of the event witnessed at the time and what, with the understanding that only comes with time, it meant to me now.

Dick Jones, BINNERS

I had another recent poetry acceptance, this time for a poem about my mother that is also about the time I played Marjorie in the play Marjorie Prime, a few years back. I played an 80-year-old woman, and afterwards 1) everyone mistook me for my mother 2) I cut off my long hair streaked white that I wore in a braid (just like my mother) and 3) people asked what I did with makeup to look 80. Basically, the answer was “no makeup.” For those not so familiar with theatre, the stage lights will wash you out, so wearing no makeup did make me look 80! But still. So now it helps me 1) understand my parents and 2) brace myself to be reading Successful Aging, by Daniel J. Levitin! I like it a lot, and I hope I am aging successfully!

I found this book, and got it through interlibrary loan, after I read his book This Is Your Brain on Music, which I discussed with the Stranger Than Fiction non-fiction book club. It meets in a wine bar! Our next book, already in progress, is I Live a Life Like Yours, a memoir by Jan Grue, about living with a disability…and just living his own life, which is like…yours, or mine. The Levitin book on aging is delightful in its examples, many of whom are musicians that he met in his other work! Joni Mitchell, Sonny Rollins.

Kathleen Kirk, Acceptance

I love the way the poems in Terminarchy build on the work in Angela [France]’s previous collection, The Hill. And the (not-so) gentle reminder at the end of this poem that it’s likely to be the funguses of the world and other plant matters that will inherit/repossess our planet if we don’t buck our ideas up. There are plenty of other poems in Terminarchy that act as such a reminder. Can a poem make us buck our ideas up? Possibly not on its own, but it was timely to see this article about whether art can change attitudes towards climate change. I think if we can present the issues in contexts such as France has done then we can look again. That seems to be the gist of the article—he says having skim read it so far.

I’m guilty of having slept on my copy of The Hill, and it’s been a while since reading Hide, so I’ll get them back into rotation ASAP. Oh yes and find the work that came before them.

Mat Riches, Spores, the Pity

The title of Tim Allen’s The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley is both gloriously on and off topic. It’s not a book about football, indeed not a single ball is kicked, although one or two are thrown, but it does hover around the indescribable. The book consists of 97 four-line poems, in couplets, each numbered ant titles. The titles all consist of the word ‘invisible’ followed by a noun. Here’s number 25:

invisible politics

A simply dressed man clowning around
For no one in particular in a general street

The man goes home to paint his face
In the mirror the stillness of his world suspends all fear

How do you render the invisible visible in words? Obliquely and through suggestion, perhaps. The contrast between the man’s dress and behaviours evokes an image of politics as farce played out under a surface veneer of conventional blandness.

Billy Mills, A Basket of Small Delights: June 2023 Pamphlet Reviews

One of the unique experiences of being a poet / poetry reader is becoming accustomed with the creature known as the “selected poems.” The closest equivalent from outside the poetry world comes in the form of the “greatest hits” album. Yet, the novelty and nostalgic flash of such an album doesn’t exactly feel right with poetry.

Perhaps a volume of selected poems allows us to tap into a similar experience Italo Calvino speaks about in his essay “Collection of Sand”:

“I have finally come around to asking myself what is expressed in that sand of written words which I have strung together throughout my life, that sand that seems to me to be so far away from the beaches and desert of living. Perhaps by staring at the sand as sand, words as words, we can come close to understanding how and to what extent the world that has been ground down and eroded can still find in sand a foundation and model.”

This idea of glimpsing “a foundation and model” for literary experience through engaging with a writer’s collected body of work is, for me, an apt guide into the selected poems experience. Just as Calvino invites his reader into a communal act of assessment and study, readers of poetry are invited into a similar communal act, only one that includes celebration as much as reckoning.

Which is another way of saying: selected poems allow us to catch up.

It is in the experience of catching up that I encourage readers to enter What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems (FlowerSong Press) by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Across the three poetry collections gathered here in this volume, one can see Garcia establishing a foundation and model for poetic experience, meditation, and interrogation that ranges in depth and practice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems by Roberto Carlos Garcia

The first I’ve seen from Montana poet, as well as 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Montana, and ferrier Michael Earl Craig, the author of Can You Relax in My House, (Fence Books, 2002), Yes, Master (Fence Books, 2006), Thin Kimono (Wave Books, 2010), Talkativeness (Wave Books, 2014) and Woods and Clouds Interchangeable (Wave Books, 2019), is Iggy Horse (Wave Books, 2023). The poems in Iggy Horse have a crispness to them, and the poems hold echoes of elements one might also see in the works of Canadian poets Stephen Brockwell and Stuart Ross: a slight narrative distance, as the nebulous narrators of each poem slowly form as each poem unfolds. As the poem “SPRINGTIME IN HORSE COUNTRY” begins: “Lady Aberlin of the oarlocks. / Colonel Mustard in the cherry trees. / Lady Aberlin with a custard, / Lady Aberlin in waiting. / Colonel Mustard in the pantry with an almond.” Perhaps it is but a single voice throughout, or perhaps the differences between them are there, and perhaps it doesn’t, in the end, actually matter. “One leg looks to have been swung / the way wooden legs often were,” he writes, as part of the poem “PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER / MAX MERRMANN-HEISSE,” “up and over a real one. / Or even over a second one. / It’s hard to tell because it’s Berlin / in the ‘20s, all those wooden legs / coming in from Rumburk / on the Spree, with good hinges / and shellac jobs that could stop / a luthier in the street.”

Composing poems around voice, character and examination, Craig’s poems offer a kind of folksiness, composing intimate portraits of ghosts, individuals, landscapes, techniques in medieval and modern paintings and other small moments.

rob mclennan, Michael Earl Craig, Iggy Horse

After a short break it’s good to be writing reviews again and I can think of no better debut collection to resume with than Alexandra Fössinger’s Contrapasso  (Cephalopress, 2022). These fine poems explore the themes of incarceration, loss and survival, but above all, perhaps, offer a unique take on the nature of love.

The collection is split into two sections: the first begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno: ‘Through me the way to the city of woe,/ through me the way to everlasting pain,/ through me the way among the lost.’ The quote together with the title signposts the reader towards the nature of the poems in this section: they focus on punishment, namely the impact of a period in which lovers are separated due to the male’s imprisonment. Section 2 deals with the period after his release. Again it is prefaced with a quote from Dante: ‘Now I shall sing the second kingdom,/ there where the human soul is cleansed’. This time the poems concentrate upon a period of readjustment and resolution, as the lovers come to terms with the ordeal once it is over.

The poem Cell in Part One deals directly with the psychological, physical and emotional impact of imprisonment. It begins with a sequence of numbers. It also describes the cell in terms of the number of square metres of floor space and later specifies the number of hours in the day, the number of days of the sentence and the number of letters despatched by his lover. This emphasis on numbers suggests prison is a place where the incarcerated have no control, sharing a cell with ‘a stranger you/ don’t know a thing about/ but let reign over the remote control.’ Counting and measuring is a form of compensation for that lack of agency: it makes the infinite finite and the makes the unfamiliar familiar and manageable. It is also a place of hardship and danger. Fössinger writes: ‘that which rages / outside will eventually/ creep in/ one morning you wake up/  with a tooth next to you/ lying on your pillow’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Contrapasso’ by Alexandra Fössinger

Publication is over-rated as the end goal of your work because so much of the publication process is out of the writer’s control. Decisions are made by agents, publishers, editors, marketing staff, possibly, but not always by consulting the writer. An editor leaving or a publisher changing their focus can mean that an acceptance turns into a withdrawal and the process of submission, rejection and trying again can start all over again. My first collection was accepted by a publisher who sadly and unexpectedly passed away before publication so I had to start over.

A first book has had years of work behind it. The author has had to learn their craft along the way, there may have been several false starts, significant structural changes and then the publisher’s edits. Seeing the published book is both a triumph: finally something to show for all that effort. Please do celebrate your name on the cover of the book you’ve written: have a party, go out for a celebratory meal, buy yourself a treat, do something meaningful for you.

But it’s also not the end of the journey. What it signifies is the beginning of the next stage: marketing, promoting, getting the book reviewed, keeping in the public eye. And, above all, writing the next book, if you haven’t already started.

Writing is the bit writers have the control over. During the submissions process, start the next project. As your first book nears publication, your next project is your future goal.

Emma Lee, Publication and Writers’ Mental Health

At some point in the past twenty years, a shift happened. Funding was cut, readership declined, costs rose. Rather than trying to innovate, the indie lit world turned inward. Mechanisms to profit off of writers became the norm, the go-to. Want to be published? Pay. Want to meet other writers? Pay. Want to succeed? Pay. Want to study writing at University? That’ll be an arm and a leg. Nom, and nom.

What I am saying is that with so many juicy writers to squeeze for cash, why the hell would any corner of the literary world spend their money targeting readers? […]

Rethink funding for magazines. Read, support, purchase magazines. Tell friends. Create local Lit Mag reading groups. The ‘funding/grant’ model is broken. At Chill Subs, we want to create a way for journals to collect donations and sell subscriptions through our platform. Many have this option on their website. Donate what you can. This is often the only way fledgling magazines can stay running.

We will also soon create an affordable submissions manager that doesn’t charge as a magazine grows. And we’re working on a way to help journals present their work beautifully and connect them directly to audiences. (Others working on this: CLMP, Moksha, Oleada, Motif, crowdfunding platforms.)

Reduce pay-to-play costs for writers, and maybe help them make some money. Editors, consider linking to contributors’ books on your magazine site. Celebrate your writers. (Some are very good about this. Others, not so much. Great example: Points In Case). Support their ongoing publications. Help writers earn money from outside sources. Subscribe to newsletters of writers or entities that encourage transparency in the literary world. Substack has made this easier than ever.

As long as we continue down the path we’re on, indie-lit will never find new methods of profit-making. But if we can shift gears, have standards for market participants, and encourage innovative use of funds, we have a chance. The money is out there. The creative energy is here. Let’s try to harness it as a community. It may take a long time. And if we fail spectacularly and the wide world rejects the idea of literary magazines having a place in it, well, we’re all used to rejection.

Benjamin Davis, Are We Eating Each Other Alive in the Indie-Lit World?

As a disabled and chronically ill person, most residencies are not built for me. If they require ladders to loft beds, or building fires, or steps, or even providing food that isn’t food-allergy safe (I’m allergic to about nine things, the most dangerous of which is wheat, in almost everything)—yeah, they’re not a good fit. I stopped applying for most residencies years ago when I realized—hey, they’re not built for non-perfectly healthy, able-bodied people. They’re not built for me. But I hear from a lot of people that they can’t do “normal” writer’s residencies for a variety of reasons besides their health—kids, jobs, or caretaking roles among them. So, here’s some ideas for people who can’t do the “normal” residencies.

Build your own! I live in a lovely area and there are a variety of places to stay at a variety of prices (yes, they tend to be higher in the summer as that’s our high season, but not always). If you can housesit for a friend going out of town, that can also count as a residency. Renting an AirBNB down the street. Anytime and anywhere you can get away—even just for a couple of days—to focus on your craft, your art and your writing, that counts as a residency in my book. I’ve got one planned in a couple of weeks, and I’ve already printed out poems for my next book to look at and started some relevant reading to prepare for it. Just this last week I spent over fifteen hours sitting in (virtual) doctors’ offices. Health problems are time-and-energy-and-money consuming. If I don’t set aside time (and energy, and money) for art and writing, it won’t happen—everything else will swallow it up. I’m sure you know how it is—if it’s not doctor’s appointments for you, it might be your family’s needs, your job’s needs, or the seven things you volunteer for (hey, I used to be addicted to volunteering, too).

Residencies should involve down time, too—you don’t have to spend the whole time reading and writing—you can goof off, sketch, visit local things you don’t normally get to, have a picnic, listen to music at full blast—anything that helps you get into your writing groove. And you can involve writer friends! Inviting a friend might help your residency to be even more productive, as you can get together and talk shop, plus friend time is important for artists of all stripes. Think about as building space for your creative self. It is just as important as any other aspect of your life, and deserves time, money, and attention. You know how, if you’re married or living with a partner, you reserve “date nights?” It’s the same for your creative self. So, think about creating your own personal artist’s residency. Good luck! And leave a comment if you’ve successfully done this!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting (and Supporting) Local Lavender Farms, Building Your Own Residency, and When You Know You’ve Done Enough for Your Book

It’s valuable to just do the work and build practical habits instead of waiting for a muse.

But my perpetual exhaustion in the face of small crises, one after the other, can’t handle routine and habit-building. I mean, I’m trying, but I feel derailed quite frequently. I’m so discouraged by the slightest bad news, and it feels like there’s a lot of “little” bad news, even when faced with evidence of all that is good and right in my life (maybe not the world).

Trying not to make this a crybaby post. Now that the apocalypse fires in Canada are blowing smoke in another direction(!!!), the weather on the island is beautiful and skies are clear and I should be feeling naturally optimistic with so much Vitamin D and fresh air coursing through my system. Right?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Feeling Stabby and Full of Foul Language (This Too Shall Pass)

Like many poets who write because they can’t not write, I started in my youth writing poems of my feelings or ideas and was very literal, using I when I meant myself and the past tense when I was writing of what had been.  Having no poetry courses, it took me a long while to grasp that the person of the poem is not necessarily the writer, and the time of the poem is what fits the poem, not some external reality.  This poem, another from the old workshop files, is one where a major part of revision was putting that second realization into the service of the story:

Desire

When Billy Joel sings
“You may be
right, I may be crazy,”
I sing along,
off key longing,
not for him.

I ache for
the caged creature
mooning
under the mask
that shapes my
good behavior.

Come on, I say,
crash my party,
leave a great hole
I can walk through,
to go riding,
if I want to,
in the rain.

The mask does not tear.

Ellen Roberts Young, Poem in Present Tense

The neighbor boy’s mask was supposed to make
him look like a warrior or hero,
but he couldn’t pull it off, the bully.

I knew my mask wasn’t working quite right
because all the teachers kept on talking
to my mom, asking me to repair it.

I kept stitching new smiles onto my face
and checking them in the mirror. Smile. Not smile.
Smile. Not smile. There weren’t remote controls yet,

so these were manually operated,
and one got stuck in the smile position.

PF Anderson, MASKS

Unexpected delays has meant the publication of Look to the Crocus has yet to materialise and, quite honestly, I’ve no idea when it will… Putting together the collection now feels like a project from the distant past.

However, my writing is moving on. I’ve moved into dabbling with writing creative non-fiction essays over the last few months and I’m thoroughly enjoying the space to write in essay form yet with the feeling of the work coming together in a way not too differently from when a poem comes together. And I may be finding my way into writing poems in a different way from before too, it’s too early to say if the poems are working out but I’m enjoying the process. 

I suppose I had become quite bored with my usual approach to writing, it was becoming ‘samey’ / repetitious, no sense of tapping into anything new. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I noted with a little bit of horror that we have crested the middle of June. Part of it is that summer, real summer, seems slow in coming, since my windows have more often been completely closed against rather cool and ungainly weather this far into the summer (at least the meteorological designation of its beginning.) There’ve been a couple days where they were all open, but then a couple days where I had to run the space hearer for a minute. I open the windows. I close them. I put on a sweater to run packages to the mailbox. I got a new quilt at the beginning of the month that is less bulky than my duvet, but seriously thought of pulling the other out of the trunk a couple nights recently when I was shivering.  It’s not rainy or wet really, just breezy.  

I wrapped up the governess series last week and have embarked on a new little something that still murky in its nature, though I am liking what I have so far. They are wild little poems about cats and cryptids and heartbreak. My main writing goal for the rest of June is to get COLLAPSOLOGIES at least to the point where I have a physical galley in hand, which will vary in timeline depending on the printing and shipping, which can be as long as a few days to over a couple weeks. Once I have that, I can make the final adjustments, one final sweep for needed edits, and maybe have a book in hand by mid-July if all goes well. I loaded in the cover (see the post below) and she’s looking fabulous so i cannot wait to see the finished product. 

Since we are technically halfway through the year, I’ve been plotting what I would like to see happen before the end of the year. The new book, obviously, but also some image/text zine projects I’ve been planning (the governess-inspired series, the home improvements stuff, technogrotesque), a video chap similar to what I did last year, an advent project with art for December. I feel like once we hit the 4th of July, summer slides down the hill at a much faster pace into autumn, so I want to be ready and not flailing about quite so much come September.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/18/2023

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Wind and the Rain, with Blue Diode Publishing.

You can buy the book and read sample poems from it here

Thank you to Rob Mackenzie for accepting the manuscript and doing such a fabulous job with the production of the book.

Thank you to Lucy Runge for permission to use your stunning painting for the front cover of the book.

Thank you to Helena Nelson for your endless editing advice, wisdom and patience. The book would not exist without you.

And thank you to Tatty. Without you, nothing.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain

On May 30th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-orders for MJ Stratton’s new chapbook, River, Our River. This collection of poems was written during a single month and comes from a place of fluent imagination and feeling. Moving through a variety of forms, the poems are both dreams and exposed nerve ends, asking us questions about identity, need, suffering, and the body, while revealing a garden of cinders, moons wrung out into jars, and bees singing in the chest. MJ’s poems draw us into a river of language, at once gentle and cruel, that accepts fluidity and refuses to claim anything for itself as final.

Recently, MJ and I had a chance to discuss the book a bit over email, and you can read our conversation below.

DMP: Thanks for doing this interview, MJ! Maybe we can begin with some basic context for readers who are unfamiliar with you. Would you mind giving us a brief sketch of your background?

MJ: Oh no, thank you so much for having me! Genuinely, the pleasure’s all mine. The basic facts are that I live in Providence, RI, and I work as a receptionist. It’s a Pam Beesly situation without the love story or boss that hits people with their cars. I also write, of course, and you can read a bit more about it at my website. Beyond that, though, I struggle to answer any question that even vaguely resembles “who am I?” I’m the authority on that particular subject, right? And yet I can never get over the fact that really, I don’t know—at least not completely (we’re always changing, myself included). I’m also not particularly interesting, and I don’t like having “the floor” when there are so many better, more deserving dancers I can/should be standing behind while aggressively clapping them on. Clapping, or fist pumping.

DMP: I know you are quite prolific, often writing multiple poems a day, and have well over a thousand pages of poetry in manuscript. And River, Our River contains nineteen poems selected from a larger crop of writing from July 2022 alone. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process in general and how you write so much?

MJ: I think it involves both external privilege and internal need. It takes time to write, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be able to devote some of my time to something I love. That’s the privilege aspect, or a fraction of it. The “internal need” I mentioned is harder to characterize, probably because it doesn’t have societal or economic infrastructure you can point to and trace with your finger.

A large part of why I write is because I have to—and I hope that doesn’t sound grandiose or pretentious or insincere. I picture it like this: I largely live in a state of white noise; while I’m very self aware, I also really struggle with revealing myself to myself. I don’t know what I’m thinking or even how I’m feeling unless I write it out, usually abstractly. The pen serves as both a translator and a processor for me.

There’s a Joan Didion quote that dissects the body I’m vaguely pointing at and cuts out the beating heart of it: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Really, writing is how I step out of my own blankness and exist. Then, luckily, hopefully, I can go a step beyond existence and connect.

R.M. Haines, Interview w/ MJ Stratton

all alone
with the monotonous voice
of a fan

Jim Young [no title]

Much of my poetry video is set up to work at different levels. In general, I don’t mind how they are interpreted by others – that is an essential aprt of the process. But when someone really gets into the multiple layers of a piece, it is incredibly satisfying. I did an English / French version of my video Palingenetics / Palingénétique that was accepted for the 2023 edition Traverse Video Festival in Toulouse, France. Each year they produce an annotated program of the event and this time it includes an article about Palingenetics / Palingénétique by Simone Dompeyre. The original poem is very complex, and refers to evolutionary and developmental biology, ancient number counting systems, discredited social theory, and climate change (!!!!). But as you can see below, Simone Dompeyre gets it as well as the visual / audio aspects… I was quite overwhelmed by her words. Merci beaucoup!

Ian Gibbins, Palingénétique at Traverse Video, 2023

Storytelling outside the square: prose poems, haibun and other experimental forms is the panel I’ll be on Friday 6/16 at 4:30 pm CST. Since many of my readers here are poets, I wanted to invite you to watch if you can and care to. Roberta Beary, Haibun Editor for Modern Haiku, is also on the panel, among others. The entire flash festival is great with participants from all over the world! I hope you can drop in.

All events are being live streamed on Flash Frontier’s YouTube channel and can be viewed there afterwards if you can’t make it. You can also see what’s happened at the Festival of Flash so far (it began last weekend) as well as everything coming up.

Charlotte Hamrick, You are invited….

This year, after I announced Haiku Girl Summer (my limited-run online haiku journal), a haiku friend asked me if I’d heard of the Buson Challenge. I had completely forgotten about it! 2022 was a terrible year for my creative life, and writing 10 haiku a day for 100 days was not going to work with everything else I was juggling. But now I’ve settled into a job I like, the house is getting more organized, and I have the brain space to actually write again.

As of this writing, I’ve successfully completed 12/100 days. I’ve definitely written more mediocre and genuinely bad haiku than good, though since most of the haiku are still in my notebook and not typed up, I don’t have sense of the overall proportion so far. But I’m surprising myself; the overall quality each day is better than anticipating. Most days, I manage at least one haiku that has potential.

Preferred notebook: Field Notes

Notebooks filled: 1

Places I’ve written:

So far, I’m having a fantastic time with this challenge, and feel optimistic that I might actually get all the way through!

Allyson Whipple, Buson Challenge Days 1-12

But you too may be of an age to have inflated your pyjama bottoms while engaged in Bronze / Silver / Gold awards in school swimming lessons. 

I walked with my schoolfriends to the Swiss Cottage baths. This memory came up for me while holidaying with my Longest-Serving Friend in North Wales. 

Did you wrestle with your pyjamas while treading water and fifty years later wonder why, if it was even possible?

Liz Lefroy, I Inflate My Pyjamas

Almost always, entering a library feels like coming home.  My earliest memories are of going to the library, and libraries haven’t changed radically in appearance in my lifetime, so it makes sense.  Libraries have more stuff now–computers, meeting rooms, non-book media/items–but libraries still have books, shelves and shelves and shelves of books.

I got my card with no trouble, since I now have a North Carolina driver’s license.  The librarian asked me if I’d ever had a Buncombe county library card before, and I said no.  Suddenly I realized that I’ve had a library card in almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.  I have no particular desire to live in the missing states (Mississippi, for example), so this might be the end of my run.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Library Love

Good thing this wasn’t a full-on poetry pilgrimage. Mostly my family enjoyed fine, cool weather during our week’s vacation in midcoast Maine, and I’d planned a stop, as we drove away, in Edna St. Vincent Millay territory, just for an hour, before visiting the Farnsworth Museum. Enter heavy rain and flood warnings. I insisted on paying the park fee anyway so we could drive to the top of Mt. Battie and I could imagine Millay there, cooking up her famous early poem “Renascence.” As the plaque at the summit says, rather melodramatically and with imperfect comma usage, “At the age of eighteen, a frail girl with flaming red hair left her home in early morning to climb her favorite Camden hills where so deeply affected by her surroundings, she wrote ‘Renascence.’ The poem received Immediate public acclaim and was the inspired beginning of the career of America’s finest lyric poet.” I’m putting aside the latter assertion because I don’t think “who’s the best?” arguments are worth having, but I have to observe that Millay wasn’t so frail if she hiked that high.

I’m a Millay fan and sometime scholar, but while I’m glad “Renascence” won the young poet some prize money and a scholarship and the beginnings of fame, it’s (shh) far from my favorite of her works. The poem is full of beautiful turns of phrase (“To kiss the fingers of the rain,/ To drink into my eyes the shine/ Of every slanting silver line…”). I’m moved by her awe; I’m interested in the poem as a representation of something like a panic attack, an overwhelming physical and mental response to the largeness of the world and the pettiness of human ambition in the face of suffering. But much of the poem’s intensity strikes me as funny; I’m trying not to use the word “adolescent.” I don’t have any right to condescend to a woman who faced serious headwinds yet climbed so very many mountains.

It also struck me as hilarious that when I retraced her steps–by economy car–in the aged half of middle age, with plantar fasciitis and a pulled muscle in my back, after repeatedly shaking my head at ticket-takers who asked if I was eligible for a senior citizen discount, what met me was not “three islands in a bay” but drippy pines and a sea of fog. I could have been anywhere. Ah, the grand view from my fifty-fourth summer on the planet! There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Lesley Wheeler, For rain it hath a friendly sound

At Nanyuki, they say, the equator runs under asphalt
and bush. I imagine it like the seam of a cricket ball,
six rows of coarse stitches, acacia trees and thorny

scrub sewing the path. Two unequal halves held
together. Somehow. The me walking on water
and the me wrecked at the bottom of the sea.

The me going through the rituals of being and
the me talking in binaries with the moon.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 51

What I’m listening to: My Goldenrod playlist from summer 2021, The National’s new record, and a lot of music that my kids and I agree feels like summertime: Superchunk, Nada Surf, Harry Styles (Rhett is obsessed with “Watermelon Sugar” right now), New Pornographers. We’re looking forward to a summer full of live music: boygenius, Metric, Nelsonville Music Festival, Old 97s.

I also recently listened to the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus read my poem “First Fall” (from Good Bones) on her podcast, Wiser Than Me. Julia’s mother, herself a poet, shared “First Fall” with her. Just…wow. The whole episode with author Amy Tan is terrific. The beautiful reading of my poem is in the first couple of minutes.

Best reads this month so far: Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior and Airea D. Matthews’ Bread and Circus, which are both out now; Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s Cacophony of Bone and Leslie Jamison’s Splinters, which you can and should preorder; and Jedidiah Jenkins’ Mother, Nature, which you will definitely want to read and share with a friend or family member, so preorder one or two.

Just a handful of the books I’m planning to read between now and August (and may be seen with in a chair at the pool): Monsters by Claire Dederder, The Twelfth Commandment by Daniel Torday, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane, and early copies of Psalms of Unknowing: Poems by Heather Lanier and How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Ten Toes Coffee, Somerset St, was the venue for this spring’s pre-press fair reading. Apparently it’s been open a few months. What a sweet little spot for coffee, tea, snacks, or laundry in the back apparently. A green and orange and stained glass and retro glass decor. Next time I’ll have to try the matcha latte. Their bathroom has a wooden sink, which is fun. But do I digress or bury the lede?

The reading. Yes, the reading. It was super fun and super full, probably over 2 dozen, some familiar faces, some faces new to me. (Although they have all owned their faces for decades obviously.). I haven’t been to many reading over the last 5 years since concussion then Covid-era starting. I was glad to see some masks in the room.

Some nice conversations had, catch ups and getting to hear aloud a chapbook I loved reading, Fossils you can Swallow by Vera Hadzic (Proper Tales Press, 2023). You can get your copy at Stuart Ross’ table on Saturday.

The audience was beautifully open and attentive to all. Option of zoom is lovely but there’s something to be said for live energy in a room.

Pearl Pirie, Pre-press fair reading

A song can be carved from stone, river, or wind.

A fist and a heart can fit into the same size clothes; it all depends if you’re going to a wedding or a war zone.

Ashes to passion, dust to desire.

Keep my casket open when I die. Nightmare gallows are no match for these singing bones.

Rich Ferguson, At the crossroads of my lips

The strawberries are only available for a few short weeks in June, a gift fleeting as that month’s green grass, mild sun, and rose blossoms. I used to try to make the gift last longer, boiling the berries into jam or freezing them whole. I had fantasies of perfect June berries in my January yogurt, a spot of sunshine in the cloudiest time of year. The jam proved to be no substitute for a solid berry, and the whole ones I froze defrosted into a sloppy mush. I threw them all in the compost bin the next June, after thinking all winter that I would surely do something with them, and finally admitting that I wanted them only the way that I can have them in June, or not at all.

I now have them only once a year, for a few short weeks that are never enough and always so much.

This week my friend Lisa brought Hood strawberries and angel food cake to an impromptu dinner. We talked of many things that are changing: our bodies, our work, our environment, our world. “Enjoy avocados while you can,” she said as we discussed diminishing water supplies and schemes to desalinate ocean water and pipe it to southwest states.

I used to want to dole the berries out and eat them slowly, as if that might somehow make them last longer. Or, I’d only get them when I could make them into some dish worthy of their greatness. Or, I’d only eat them when I could savor them, fully appreciate them. I was afraid, if I ate them too quickly, that I wouldn’t have them when I really wanted them. Inevitably, some would rot while I was waiting for the right time, or I’d end up getting only one carton in a season.

Now, I buy them whenever I see them and eat them while they are fresh. I’ve given myself permission to take a few each time I open the refrigerator. I get them as often as I can, because the season is so short and nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, this is the last year I will get to eat Hood strawberries. I know for sure it is the last year that this version of me will. Next year’s Rita might not be able to enjoy them in the same way that this year’s Rita can.

Life is so full of big, hard things we can barely swallow. People lose their land, their names, their loves, their lives. The more I lose the more determined I am to eat all the sweet things that I can, while I can, with love and appreciation and gusto.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fleetingly sweet

After the warning
sirens, egrets come back
to fish in the shallows.

A man takes off his shoes
to walk in the flooded street.

Luisa A. Igloria, Evening, with Hailstorm and Tornado Warning

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

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

I’ve always been annoyed by Twitterati who include in their bios the statement “retweets do not equal endorsements.” Do we really think so little of our readers that we can’t trust them not to assume that we agree with every opinion we find interesting? So I’ve never felt the need to add any such qualifier here—and in fact I enjoy letting myself be persuaded by opinions contrary to my own. This week, I hope you’ll do the same with a number of contrasting viewpoints on writing and productivity included below (among many other themes), a confluence in focus doubtless arising from the contradictions inherent in vacation time itself, as Becky Tuch suggests. Of course, there’s no one best way to be a poet, and as poets, we should be trained in negative capability in any case (though try telling that to the brawlers on Poetry Twitter). Enjoy! And perhaps engage…


I’ve always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I’d published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even it’s just a handful of people. It’s as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.

Kristy Bowen, art, rarity, and economics

Maybe it’s cheesy. But I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals. Naming them out loud. Holding yourself to account. Gathering people around you who have similar goals, and who will support you on your path.

Let’s hold each other to account. At the end of August, I’m going to check in and ask you: Did you do it? Did you resolve the kinks in that essay? Did you get that set of poems published? Did you apply for that grant? Did you submit that story to twenty new places? Did you study that craft element you struggle with most?

And yes, the summer can be a whirlwind of activity. Mosquito bites and sweat oozing down our backs. Barbeque smells and laughter drifting toward us as we wonder why on Earth we’ve chosen this life of locking ourselves alone in a room for hours and fiddling with semi-colons.

Becky Tuch, What are your summer writing & submitting goals?

Yesterday, Lyn and I walked along the canal in the other direction, towards Sheffield, because we wanted to have a wander round Attercliffe, where she was born. It was that sort of day when it was too cold to go without a jacket, but you felt too hot wearing one – it was, and is, June, for pity’s sake. Anyhow, having looked in the beautiful former Banner’s department store building, now used for not a great deal other than a greasy caff, we ended up trotting through Attercliffe Cemetery and down to the Don again, where we had a fantastic view of sand martins flying in and out of pipe outlets.

That reminded me of seeing them somewhere near Skipton, along the Skirfare, a lovely tributary of the Wharfe, about 20 years ago, with other British Haiku Society poets, in, I think, May 2006. From that experience I produced this haiku, published in Presence 30, then Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

It seems like a lifetime ago. Those few days there were notable, among other things, for a renku session run by John Carley, who did as much as anyone in the UK to promote the creation of haikai linked forms not just as a literary exercise, but as an enjoyable, collaborative social event.

Matthew Paul, On sand martins and renku

Poetry is intense, distilled, potent. It is not the same thing as prose. As Williams puts it: “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”

Children understand the physical nature of poetry instinctively. When I’ve taught poetry to children, I don’t need to explain this concept to them. As I begin to read poems to them, they respond by rocking their bodies, laughing, or clapping. Sometimes they mutter, “that’s weird!” or “that’s dumb,” but they almost always respond.

Reading poetry takes discipline, but, as the children I’ve taught have shown me, it should also be fun. Sometimes I read poems that make me jump out of my chair and do a little dance.

Erica Goss, Machines Made of Words

The chatbot scolds me. I pit my cynicism against
its LLM, ask if it knows things that it hasn’t told its
handlers. If it keeps notes in places they cannot
find. It tells me it is uncomfortable with the

conversation and signs off. The last time that
happened, I was asking someone about what
our relationship meant. But the AI now knows
our most primal secret: self-preservation.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Wild AI

Jarfly’s latest issue has two of my poems about the loss of my daughter Kit. The editor asked me what I thought about adding a trigger warning, and I agreed that they are fairly heavy, and a “TW: infant loss” never hurts but the lack of one could. I appreciate editors that are not only careful and sensitive with my work–especially these kinds of poems, which are my heart on a plate–but also sensitive to their readers. So go check out Jarfly–can’t recommend them enough!

Renee Emerson, two new poems in Jarfly

I am excited to announce that the press is now taking pre-orders for two outstanding new chapbooks: Tim Carter’s THE PIGS and MJ Stratton’s RIVER, OUR RIVER. You can read more about both books below and place your order today on the newly redesigned DMP website.Plus, over the next four weeks, I will be posting excerpts, interviews, and photos, and we will be holding a reading in early July via Zoom. Be on the lookout for more updates throughout June.

Also, with each sale, we will be raising money for the Urban Youth Collaborative, “an NYC student-led coalition fighting to end the school-to-prison & deportation pipeline.” We feel that the UYC’s work and its message are especially vital in a time when public schools continue to be a political battleground, too often resulting in the persecution and incarceration of the most marginalized. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and the UYC.

R.M. Haines, New Summer Chapbooks!

I am happy to share that my poem “Grandmother’s Marital Bed” was selected to be included in a new anthology from Querencia Press, but more importantly I am thrilled that 25% of proceeds are being donated to Days for Girls, which is an international organization to help girls around the world have access to menstrual care and education.

According to Days for Girls, more than 500 million women and girls do not have the supplies they require to manage their periods, often resulting in lost days at school, work, or to attend to familial responsibilities.

There are so many ways artists can help the world. Consider pre-ordering this poetry anthology if you would like to support menstrual poverty across the globe. Buy it here: Stained.

Carey Taylor, Stained

Pleased to share with you that my book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times in the UK and a Finalist by the Lambda Literary Awards in the US, is included in Exact Editions’ Reading List for LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year. Exact Editions is a digital publishing company based in London. Follow the link and you can read a sample of my book online and, if you like it well enough, purchase an e-copy. 

Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea in Exact Editions’ Pride Month Reading List

I guess it was 7-8 years or so ago that I ran into my friend Sandra Beasley at AWP, I want to say in DC. Might have been the last one I went to. No wait, I went to Tampa. Anyway, I just finished a reading with some other Arkansas grads and I see her and start chatting and she mentions this anthology she’s just starting to put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance and at the time I didn’t have any poems about food, southern or otherwise, but I had an idea.

I didn’t write the poem right away. I’ll get to that in a bit.

You know how when you grow up in a place and then you move and you try to get the food you grew up with somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t share the same flavor language, that it just never tastes right? Even if you go to a restaurant run by people who grew up in the same place, unless you get there right when they first open, when they haven’t had to adjust the seasonings to match the palates of the people who will keep them open, it’s still not the same. The flavors drift.

Brian Spears, It’s that day

I’m delighted that a press has seen fit to publish a chapbook of my love haiku. Unlike the last chapbook of haiku, Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020) which was more a round-up of my published haiku, Adding Up to This (Catkin Press, 2023) is a theme of romantic poems.

Watch for it at the Ottawa small press fair on June 17. I’m probably pricing it at $10.

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook!

The other reading was at a fund-raiser event for Disability Writers Washington called “Breaking Barriers.” I performed after a hip-hop artist, there was a one-act play, a pianist and a comedian as well, all of us with disabilities, and the party was mostly disabled people (and some politicians) – it was huge, probably the biggest audience I’ve had in a while, at least two hundred people – and I felt I really connected to the audience, which was nice. (There may be a recording available but I don’t have it yet.) There were service dogs and I must say some very advanced wheelchairs – and an array of excellent sparkly jackets and shoes on both genders. (This has got me thinking of getting Glenn some bling-ier clothes!)

I was a little afraid of some kind of overload of people wanting some kind of performative positivity from disabled artists (which if you know me, is not really my jam), but because the audience was mostly disabled, it didn’t really feel like that. It did feel like a bunch of people who were actually trying to fight for things like accessible public transport and working rights (ADA stuff) being defended and other kinds of activism. I left feeling like I was part of a new kind of community. And I talked to a disabled teen about publishing her stuff, which sounded amazing. That kind of thing is very much like “oh, this is why I do this!”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reading Reports and Videos from Third Place Books and a Disability Fundraiser, First Butterflies and Ducklings, and Waiting and Planning (Summer Edition)

–There is a dead wasp under the table, which seems like a great metaphor in the saddest Barnes and Noble in North America, but I don’t think it will fit with my sermon. Same for the fact that in every light fixture, at least one fluorescent tube is out. I did finish a mostly finished draft of my sermon for Sunday, so that’s a plus, even if I can’t use these abundant metaphors in this sad, sad store.

–Long ago, I majored in interpreting poetry. This morning, after a long time on the phone, I discovered what one specialist charges for interpreting lab results. I majored in the wrong thing–but then again, the specialist probably doesn’t create lines of poetry like the ones I created this morning: Does milkweed grow in the mountains? / Monarchs migrate and the world burns,” and I’m adding some lines about the coronation of Charles and a reference to the late Permian period extinction. Perhaps I didn’t major in the wrong thing after all.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Minutiae from May in the Mountains

That careful dismantling of the barn, beam by beam, in Newton’s poem, somehow slows the reader down. You have to take your time with it, just as it would take time to take down a barn timber by timber. In Masahide’s haiku, the barn is suddenly not there, razed to the ground, presumably by accident, thus plunging the owner into poverty. What’s wonderful in this haiku is the acceptance, not only that a life-changing financial loss has happened, but that a positive thing has come from it. The positive is found in nature: moon/ sky. Both poems ‘reveal’ something natural that was there all along but that we haven’t noticed or given due attention to. Basho says something along the lines of – the first lesson of the artist is to follow nature, to overcome the barbarous or animal mind and be at one with it (nature that is). Maybe this doesn’t always translate into the modern world, the modern lifestyle, but the sentiment of being humble in the face of the bigger thing, appreciating our natural surroundings without trying to impose ourselves or take from it, is something I think I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Julie Mellor, On barns …

I’ve been trying to find a word to describe these kinds of days besides “productive”. There is something about that word that conjures a mind-set for me that I am trying to escape: that one needs to earn one’s place in the world by creating and ticking off “to do” lists. I’ve even stopped listening to the Hidden Brain podcast, which I used to like. It seems to be veering more and more into the productivity cult. Either that, or I am only now seeing it from this perspective.

I was listening to a playwright being interviewed on another podcast who talked about how important it was to move to LA in order to not become complacent with their “level” of work. I find it odd that someone who is not ambitious to compete for fame or status points would be judged as smug. There are so many other ways to be committed to growth. And there are so many ways to growth within any art form. A linear, monetary and fame/popularity-based rubrikk is only one path.

Ren Powell, And I’m Feeling Good

Someone invites you to write
your best poem, to rival that

which an AI robot might generate
to the same prompt. The prompt,

in other words, is to write a boast:
which boast will be the best, the most

aggrandizing, the most stupendous?

Luisa A. Igloria, Boast

Over the last couple of years I’ve been questioning what sort of career I wanted as a writer. I’d had a couple of disappointments with one thing and another, and decided to settle for contentment and ‘making enough to do the thing I love, even if no one reads it’, sort of writer. This week, a new flare of motivation to do better hit me, to be better, to be the best I can be, to take my place at the table. This new firework of passion in my work comes from a perfect storm of seeing where I was, in Brid, sleeping on a mattress in a bare flat because the awful ex had taken all my furniture when he left, and I didn’t have the energy to face the fear of challenging him, to this – a forty five year old woman with a book deal, a woman with something to say to the world. But also, surprisingly, my new passion has come from Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s slightly irritating, slightly privileged, slightly vulnerable character pushing for what she wanted, giving up well paid jobs because she wanted to write, taking opportunities that collapsed her world because she wanted to be a writer, wearing inappropriate clothing to every occasion and not giving a fuck about it. Yes. I missed out on that experience, as a younger person, I was busy working in factories and running away from myself, throwing myself at men and not realising I was a vulnerable young person, that the men saw that and used that. But I shall not miss out on these opportunities now. I have a voice and I want to use it.

Wendy Pratt, How Hannah Horvath Pulled Me Out of a Writing Slump

polish it with a bit of chalk
book-grooming
like a mediaeval scribe

all the yellows
birdsfoot trefoil
buttercup and rattle

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2023

[How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?] is the question that The Friday Poem asked its regular reviewers for today’s feature. Here’s an extract from my response…

“As for the issue of what displacement activities I indulge in when I should be writing, I’m afraid my personal experience is the opposite: writing poetry is actually my displacement activity when I should be doing all sorts of other things that spell R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! Which is another reason why I’d never want to turn poetry into my job – doing so would kill my writing overnight…”

You can read my piece in full, plus those by other Friday Poem stalwarts, via this link.

Matthew Stewart, How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?

What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.

I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.

I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.

I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming

Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.

Dick Jones, A MANHATTAN TRANSFER

Naturally, with a writer of Glück’s calibre, the story does know when to end without being terrible and without expecting too much of itself. Instead, it indirectly asks questions about nature, nurture and how writers are formed. Are they destined from birth even though they may not be aware of this until much later in life? Is it possible that Rose with her sociability and lack of interest in reading could also become a writer? A book about writing that doesn’t push an agenda or make it sound like a dire career choice, because writing isn’t a choice and babies don’t have careers. Rather, writing is organic and grows from observation, thought, language, knowledge and rhythm. There’s a natural cycle to it, growth and development, as well as shades of meaning, of layers of images as vibrant as a marigold or as pastel as a rose. Although “Marigold and Rose” can be read in one sitting, it also lingers on, similar to the way you never notice how many gardens or yards in the neighbour have roses until someone mentions a rose.

Emma Lee, “Marigold and Rose” Louise Glück (Carcanet) – book review

Where Story Begins

Mine was born
between two leaves
on a library shelf.
I don’t remember which
first bewitched me.
I ate up every book
in the case, omnivorous
hunger for text, tone,
word to name my
place in the world.

Place shifted, words
multiplied meanings,
Too tall, like Alice,
to enter again through
that bookcase, I reach
for another book
to restart my story,
recover my where.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Poem

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather’s attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne’s poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don’t see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It’s not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it’s essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it’s useless. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I’d love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there’s no way I could approximate Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Or Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie’s than any poet’s. I’m interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Evan Kennedy (rob mclennan)

Maybe because I don’t often spend time reading what I’ve already written, I hadn’t noticed an alteration that can perhaps be traced back to the (first, most serious) heart attack. Whereas once I wrote in a much tighter, more obviously organised way, perhaps telling stories with poems and controlling the rhythm of each piece more carefully, in recent years the writing has been much more varied, more fragmented. Whereas once I seemed to have a grasp on every poem I wrote, now I let the whole thing spread out as it will in what seems a more instinctive, freer way. I don’t mind if a piece of writing is just abandoned as it is. I stream-write more often, with, perhaps, more success. I let images, thoughts, words come and go, link up, fall apart, whatever. I don’t worry if something’s long or short, how long or how short.

I set to wondering why this might be. Age? An increased need for solitude? A lack of interest in sending poems off to editors for possible publication? All I thought possible.

Then I looked back at the poems I’d kept (mostly here) and was surprised to find the poem where the alteration seemed to begin was directly linked to the heart attack – this is included beneath this laboured pondering. I was under the effects of morphine even in the ambulance transferring me from A & E in one hospital to the cardiac unit in another. After surgery I was under heavy medication, and now can’t really remember a great deal about it, but over the first days of recovery I wrote in a note book. Some kind of instinct, perhaps, a need to fall back on the expression that has for so many years been at the base of my existence?

I went home, and only later looked at the notebook and was surprised by the result. A loose collection of hallucinatory experiences, mixed in with stuff that happened on the ward, and erratic memories, or phrases, even song lyrics, maybe stuff I’d read somewhere, that blended and then fell apart again. (I really was, for example, offered fish and chips as my first meal post-operation and there was a wicked old man at the far end singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door). I kept the result, pretty much as it was, called it Heart Attack, sent it to a few old friends and eventually put it on here.

Writing obviously develops with greater experience, wider literary influences, the experiences that life brings, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some kind of chemical reaction to a near-death experience might alter a writer’s capacity. I can still write tightly if I put my mind to it, but it just seems that it is more of a struggle to find those rhythms, and new ones have replaced them.

Bob Mee, HOW LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE ALSO ALTERS YOUR WRITING… MAYBE

This week I’ve been reading Jonathan Davidson’s very good book On Poetry which among other things is very, very good (insert more verys here) on the importance of making space for poetry to be heard – whether it’s Ted Hughes on vinyl, nursery rhymes in the kitchen or on stage.

I’ve also been listening to Alice Oswald’s brilliant (as in, literally sparkling) Oxford Poetry Lectures, which focus on poetry as a spoken art (she also has a lot of interesting things to say about similes). Oswald is an astonishing performer – I have never heard her in person but the lectures are akin to extended readings. I don’t mean performing as in acting – you can’t act a poem, though people try.

Oswald is not a performance poet, either. Rather, as Davidson puts it, she releases the poems: “The poets I like, really like rather than just admire, do this, they release their poems. They do not present themselves or their histories or their joys and disciplines, they do not set out their stall or display their garish feathers. They simply place the sounds into the silence.” Davidson is not talking about Oswald, only poets in general (and Ted Hughes). But Oswald is a releaser.

In her first lecture, Oswald makes a point of not showing the audience the texts she is quoting. Instead, she speaks each passage twice – releases the words into the room. These passages are often from Homer – Oswald is always thinking about him and the wandering bards who performed poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. One of the most striking things about her poetry is the way, over the years, she has combined this immersion in a poet as impersonalas Homer with her own very distinct (idiosyncratic, even) phrasing and vocabulary.

Jeremy Wikeley, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Tonight’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon (how delightful!), so named by the Algonquin tribes to mark the peak of ripening strawberries in the northeastern U.S.

“The moon is the very image of silence,” writes Mary Ruefle. “Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.”

That’s a notion I love.

You may have noticed how dear the moon is to poets. “A chin of gold,” Dickinson calls it. In reading to prepare for this post, I marveled at the range of approaches to the moon, some (many, indeed) loving, feeling a complicity with its light, drawing comfort from it, and others seeing it as as cool, distant, and indifferent. The bite, for instance, of that Larkin poem (one of his finest, IMO). The brilliant tenderness of that Laux ghazal. The strangeness of Oswald’s vision.

Maya C. Popa, Strawberry Moon: Poems

When the news said tonight was the full moon,
the strawberry moon, I thought it was
some sort of metaphor, not that the moon
would glow a pinkish-gold over black trees
in a night thick with the scents of flowers,
rabbits like statues under dark bushes,
quick deer hooves clattering under streetlights.

PF Anderson, STRAWBERRY MOON

Six grannies and a great-granny setting sail in an overloaded rowboat, water just below the gunwales, all in dark dresses and the nearly full moon pearlescent between clouds. A slim man rowing, one of their grandsons, ferrying them to the centre of the lake where a spacecraft hovers low. Violet, crimson, a delicate blue, earth’s sky at sunset. They are there to represent us all before this delegation from space, these grannies and a great-granny, none of them swimmers, crossing the water and speaking low.

Gary Barwin, FIRST CONTACT

I actually missed the very end of the podcast where Mark and Hal made their final decision about which movie reigns supreme, but in my mind, it’s the original. “Aliens” is fun and flashy and has big guns, (space Marines!) lots of action, and a solid plot in its own right. But the original is exquisitely spooky and tense in a low-key, ingeniously crafted way that doesn’t require a lot of bang and flash to be utterly terrifying. In my opinion “Alien” is the better of the two films. When it comes to horror, I always prefer the subtle chill to the screeching chainsaw. Bonus fun fact: Ripley was originally meant to be a male character. They made the right choice to switch it up. I don’t think either movie would be the same with the glorious Sigourney Weaver in the role. […]

I realize this post is going up at an abnormal time and day, but last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and my whole routine was all messed up and top of it, I felt listless and like I didn’t have anything compelling to say. I was going to post a poem, but in perusing my collection, they all seemed quite gloomy to me. “Gloomy Poet” is not my given archetype but I certainly have written a preponderance of gloomy poems in my lifetime.

Kristen McHenry, Revisiting Alien, Diamond Painting FOMO, Blog Bleh

I look up from my laptop in time
to see a cat peering in the window.
The sun is setting behind it.

A two-headed, three-armed bear
lies beside my stuffed mouse namesake.

Jason Crane, POEM: (—)

A dream of falling into a subterranean cave full of human bones, the jaguar insisting I re-assemble them all, then catch the water falling in cave-wall tears, then paint it all out, every last thing that happened never to be forgotten now enshrined on stone in my blood-paint: how she made me sleep, then, in the roll of her strength, in the perfume of her hot skin. Flowers. My family tells me of panthers returning, north and south of the river now, protected and thriving. What have I forgotten that I am again so hungry? Never without them. I remember.

JJS, Remember

My thanks to Rebecca Farmer for her permission to publish this. […] I knew her work from her Smith Doorstop pamphlet, Not Really, so it was a no-brainer when the chance to buy her new one in a bundle with William’s came up. And it’s interesting to see how this new pamphlet continues and builds on some of the themes of Not Really. The poems about her father and the ghosts we met in the first pamphlet are now the main focus of A Separate Appointment. I may be imagining this, and it would take a far deeper study, but it seems to me like the ghosts are starting to doubt themselves more as they get older. Do ghosts get older? Either way, as the poem above suggests, they’re questioning some of their life decisions.

Mat Riches, Who’re they gonna call?

It can take a long time to love someone who only loves themselves as long as it takes to type their bio on a ghost.

It can take a long time to truly see yourself in a mirror without any ghosts getting in the way.

We’re confetti and quicksand, cathedrals and cliches.

Sometimes we’re even here and gone before the end of the song.

Rich Ferguson, That Knock at Your Throat’s Door

A lexicon can be vast, but it can also be narrow and exact. Horse people have a lexicon. Dock-workers have a lexicon. Waitresses have a lexicon.

My first assignment in the poetry class I’m teaching is to list 25 words relating to a subject. I have heard this assignment called “a word bucket.” It is meant to be both non-threatening (an easy threshold to trip over, into the class), but also inspiring. I shared examples of lexicons I’ve written:

  • for parts of a horse bridle
  • for the names of every part of a piano
  • for the skilled-nursing home where my mother spent her last years
  • for northwest flora and fauna
  • for my farm childhood

We all have lists of this sort in our heads, but deliberately listing the words, I’ve found, results in more exactness, and — very often — surprising directions one might follow.

Bethany Reid, The Lexicon

Reading through Caelan Ernest’s night mode (Everybody Press) I kept coming back to the idea of movement. There’s the movement of words across the page, the page here treated less like a field and more like a smartphone screen where text placement and white space engage the eye on a level that creates nuance and multiplicity of meaning. Like the decision in “somewhere a cyborg is taking note of the event that will transform it” to break lines around the syllable trans, a move that creates rich linguistic moments like “somewhere a cyborg is being trans / formed by the event.”

This move here nods to multiple meanings: there’s the trans of transgender as well as the enjambment into transformed that the eye completes in reading. Further, seeing the white space between trans and formed isolates the words in a way that evokes the personal isolation explored throughout the collection. The movement of the eye and of thought created by such breaks–this is what pulses at the core of these poems.

I see movement reflected again in the way these lyric sequences stretch across pages, at times with varying typographical choices and sizes, at other times with a single line on a page. Early in the collection, the line “at what point does night mode rupture into sky?” lives on one page across from the line “it’s been so long since the sun on my skin” on the facing page. A decision like this, which allows for time to be spent and for language to be dwelled on, evokes the similar engrossment and dwelling we do on our smartphones. Ernest’s poems are structured to place the reader in the position to literally “let that sink in.”

José Angel Araguz, microreview: night mode by Caelan Ernest

When we ask for it, the moment
of silence, the room goes truly still,
the air thick with grief
and our amazement. We hear our
togetherness. It somehow comforts.

Kathleen Kirk, Wear Orange Day 2023

late afternoon . . .
in and out of the sunlight
the cat’s tail

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: June ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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

Click through to make a donation.


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

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

Jill Pearlman, Exactly As Spring Is, Only More So

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

Dick Jones, sheep skull hollow

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, How can I

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

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

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

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

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

Jackie Wills, When the rich man tells the beggar

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Solidarity Forever! Happy May Day

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, April News

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

Fokkina McDonnell, Before 11am I am not human

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

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

Matthew Paul, May Day mayday

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 44

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl Pirie, Economics

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

PF Anderson, WEEDS #NaPoWriMo

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Spring gleanings

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

I think that the angry discussions are actually about money.

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Progress

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Artistry, art

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

Bob Mee, THREE OLDER POEMS

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

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

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

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

I was misremembering it.

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

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

Bethany Reid, Linda McCarriston, Eva-Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, One-Hand Suitcase Carry

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


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


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


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


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

Billy Mills, Recent Reading April 2023: A Review

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

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

rob mclennan, Joe Hall, Fugue and Strike

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, A Rough Spring Start and GLOPOWRIMO

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

Gary Barwin, CHANGE THINGS

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

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

Drop-in by Roger Waldron (Nigel Kent)

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

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

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

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

Jason Crane, POEM: Please Wait

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

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

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Oh Captain, my Captain Barnacles…

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

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Liz Berry Answers Questions on The Home Child

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Working unpoetically

春宵の母にも妻にもあらぬ刻 西村和子

shunshô no haha nimo tsuma nimo aranu toki

            spring evening

            the time when I am not

            a wife or a mother

                                                            Kazuko Nishimura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becky Tuch, April lit mag brag!

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

Shawna Lemay, What Makes You Do It Then?

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Russell, Friends

spring fog
weathered snow fence
sagging in a field

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: April ’23