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. This week, poets had trouble sleeping and trouble waking up, trouble celebrating and trouble mourning, trouble writing and trouble not writing, while all around us flowers unfurled and swelled into fruit.
I’m writing this post while sitting on a bench by the side of the canal in Bradford-on-Avon. I’m writing in a small sparkly notebook and I’ll type up these notes later when I return home. It’s nearly 3pm on Friday, 3rd July, 2020. I left home just after 2pm to catch the train here, just one stop from where I live. The journey took six minutes. It was the first time I’ve used public transport since the lockdown started in March. I wore a face mask and I sanitised my hands with gel once I’d got off at my stop. These are items that I always carry now, in the small rucksack bag I wear on my back. Most other passengers were also wearing masks, but not everyone. My carriage was about one third full. I bought my ticket from the machine at the start of my journey using contactless payment – I tried to book online using my phone but those tickets were unavailable on my app. There were no staff on board the train checking tickets or face mask-wearing.
Today I feel I’m rejoining the world again, in my own way. Using public transport is important to me although I realise it’s riskier than driving a car, in terms of being exposed to Covid-19 and other germs. But I’d started to make a concerted effort to reduce my carbon footprint before lockdown, and I want to return to that lifestyle. I also felt an urge to get out of the house and to be alone.
My household’s lockdown began with all four of us watching The Tiger King on Netflix. It’s coming to an end with each of us involved with a BBC iPlayer series I May Destroy You: Andrew and I watching together on the telly in the front room; our daughter watching in her own time somewhere in the house on her laptop; our son not yet watching but listening in to conversations about the series when we meet in our kitchen. Perhaps we survived this enforced time together without major arguments because we’ve circulated around each other in our lives, giving each other space. Some of us would probably appreciate more space than others.Josephine Corcoran, With lockdown hair and a face mask, I rejoin the world
A hot night, no sleep
to cool down thoughts and doubts.
Then the light, the birds,
a cup of coffee,
as one must declare defeat.
A win is this dawn,
yellow and rosy,
the earth, a sweet funfair candy.
Fine, I’ll stay awake,
dream of lilac dawns*.
*dusksMagda Kapa, Isolation Time – Throwback June
ruby is my birthstone the gem of July Ruby was my grandmother’s name this moon is a jack moon a jack knife moon a Jack and the Beanstalk moon a jackoff moon a high noon moon a Jack Torrance moon a screw you moon a moaning moon a moon of betrayal and butter knives this moon leaves suicide notes in cookbooks then makes dinner this moon shoots a gun on black and white television this moon dangles over the Aurora Bridge in the middle of the day but it’s a strong swimmer this moon shakes up history this moon is a tourist a sham a mark a shill a Shaklee salesman needing a drink of water a used car salesman with a cigarRebecca Loudon, 100% full
In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn’t sleep. I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn’t quiet my brain and go back to sleep. I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.
I ended this way, “So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?”
I did some sorting. My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated. All I wanted was a place to put my books! Books that have been packed away for 2 years now. Insert a heavy sigh here.
I came across some map fragments.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future
I made this box for you
I filled it with fragments, beachcombed
sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.
I wanted you to know
the random loveliness of being alive,
to know it in your bones and blood.
I put in :
snow, to remember draughts
and rooms with cold corners;
a black handled knife, sharp as silk,
in a grey-vaulted market, the scent
of cut flowers to show that fathers
give like the gods; a bicycle stammering
through stems of barley, willowherb,
to understand that gravity may be defied;
the humped glass of a brown river,
black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;
these bundled letters in different handsJohn Foggin, Our David’s Birthday
and inks to show how words fall short of love.
The language of illness is, as Woolf puts it, “primitive, subtle, sensual, obscene.” It is urgent, terrifying, and sacred. These are qualities found in poetry.
Later in the same essay, Woolf writes, “There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.”
The part about “the cautious respectability of health” implies that when we are ill, we can blurt out truths we wouldn’t dream of when well.
This is the time for honesty and fresh, raw language. This is the time for poetry.Erica Goss, Plague Poetry
In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”
Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.
I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.
I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.
I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.
I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.
“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.
It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life.Rita Ott Ramstad, A day in the life
The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.
By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.Laura Grace Weldon, Compassion By Design
America,Luisa A. Igloria, America
we can shine and scrub your floors
without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch
holes in the bottoms of fruit
cocktail cans so we can grow bird
chillies and tomatoes on the veranda.
We let a dentist in our old hometown pull
out all our teeth so you wouldn’t get
the chance to do it and charge us
triple. There is a fish we like to eat
whose belly is soft and sweet and full
of fat; but every bone in its body
is a tree that bristles with more than
a dozen spears. Like you, America—
if we’re not careful, we could choke
on even the smallest mouthful.
The Unafraid is deeply moving in parts, as it portrays quite well not just the multi-generational struggle to create a better future in America, especially but not only in the Deep South, but also what forces those with no money, no education, and no papers to leave their countries for the United States. The sacrifices made are tremendous, and what it means for families to risk everything to come here is wholly unappreciated by policymakers who would rather erect walls than uphold the values this country is supposed to represent. Our cluelessness robs human beings no different from ourselves of so much, from the most basic rights and services we born here take for granted, to the opportunities to realize better lives for our children, opportunities slow in coming, if at all, to the undocumented.In addition to showing us the truths about forced migration and its life-changing consequences, the documentary also sharply reveals the racism endemic throughout this country. To be brown means having a life that doesn’t matter, if you want to go to college, if you want to make a living that lifts you out of poverty. To be brown means not having the right to believe in the “American dream”. To be brown means, in the argot of the film, to be “very afraid” until you become one of “the unafraid” who finds the strength to risk opening a closed door. That any one of us might watch this film and not see the wrongs we perpetuate in our government and socioeconomic and cultural policies, as well as through our myth-making, is to be deliberately obtuse and tragically indifferent to the riches that immigrants, undocumented people, asylees, refugees, and DACA recipients offer us.Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXXI
Independence Day (or Interdependence Day, as I’ve heard it called): The country has been thrust back on me. I’d left it countless times, then straddled between two countries, then made a life of motion. But circumstances being what they are, I am simply facing it, America…
posthumous, finished, junked, done — or part of the process of rising and passing that covid-19 has made us so aware of? A “Finale for America” as clever wits have referred to rogue fireworks that have been exploding nightly? In recent weeks and months I have agreed. But the 4th gave me — what — freedom of stuckness. I looked kindly on things; it wasn’t forced, it just happened.
I thought about the Declaration of Independence and read, along with many, Frederick Douglass’ bracing famous 4th of July address: “You may rejoice. I must mourn.” The polyvocalism of these declarations of values – that we are living in the polyvocalism – unstuck me from singularity. The truth and reconciliation process we’ve so long needed might be here. I listened to the very best of American song — the sinuous pairing of elegant contrast, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets. In a flight from nihilism, there are ways to combine the large and small.
Look how beautiful the day after – peony petals against a pile of oyster shells. They are dissociated from their meaning — yet in this time of appreciating passage, the wisdom songs of covid as well as garbage day, here they are. The flowers had been flush and full, the oysters a marvel. The energy of passage keeps us from getting stuck. The poet Alice Oswald talks about this in her new Oxford lecture, “An Interview with Water.” Poetry, dance, rhythm and water all keep us moving. Then there’s the leaping between odd things – country, trash and renewal – that keeps the mind buzzing.Jill Pearlman, Of Oysters, the 4th and the Surreality of it all
& awaken cranium of geraniums, awakeness will make your thought gardens grow brighter.
& awaken all relatives of relativity, awakeness will travel you at the speed of light.
& awaken evil-faced clocks snuffing out lives with every tick, awakeness will allow you to more carefully consider each moment of every day.
& awaken those whose blues are blacker and bluer than the blues, awakeness can allow you to sing above the pain.Rich Ferguson, & awaken
Despite saying I probably needed a certain amount of distance to write about the current state of events, and in fact a 2-3 month span of being unable to write at ALL really, I find myself mid-project on a series called BLOOM–named so because of the ways illness (actual, metaphorical) blooms in the body, in society, in the world. Also the way nature this spring, despite humans and their stupid diseases, continued to bloom while we were still dying. While people were being killed by the virus, by the government, by the police. But even still, I usually need more distance, and who knows how much time there is for any of us.Kristy Bowen, bloom
On my walk home from Launcherley yesterday I made a note of the wildflowers I saw: Sweet Woodruff, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Camomile, Pineapple weed, Yarrow (both white and pink varieties), Creeping Cinquefoil, Yellow Trefoil, Spear Thistle, Hawkweed, Common Mallow, Field Convolvulus (both the white and the pink-and-white varieties), White Deadnettle, Sowthistle, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Willowherb, Ragwort, various docks and sorrels, Water Hemlock, Spurge, Redleg, Fat Hen, Wild White Clover, Field Scabious, Burdock, Teasel, Marjoram, Hedge-mustard, and a Mullein when I was almost home. […]
My family moved from London to an isolated cottage in a rural part of Surrey when I was ten. It was the beginning of the summer holidays and, not knowing anyone locally, I spent my days happily wandering alone looking for wild flowers. My aunt in the Isle of Skye, a keen amateur botanist, sent me Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, newly-published, far too big and heavy for any normal pocket, but just what I needed. I learnt a lot of names that summer.Ama Bolton, As I was out walking, part 2
Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach from my tree and ate it right there. The fine and soft part of a morning in summer. Not far off, the sounds of birds.James Lee Jobe, Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach
So I’m contemplating memento mori with all my soul of late. Maybe if we all contemplated the theme memento mori we’d be a little kinder, a little more mindful. We’re here so briefly, so beautifully. And self-portraiture, I know it might get confused with the influencer culture when posted on Instagram, but they are two different things. Though interestingly, and I adore this, when I posted a picture there, I had a lot of comments on my sunglasses. (Which are from Simon’s btw — not a paid product placement, but interesting that that’s where we go in our minds, and I’m no different).
The thing about posting photos of yourself through time, is that you really begin seeing yourself, and seeing yourself differently. You see angles, you get to know your best side, your wrinkly neck, your flaws and your beauty, and your ridiculousness. One does begin to accept certain aspects of oneself. And also, because it’s not just one session per year or every second year for an author photo or work photo, it’s less important. There will be another moment.
The best thing though, is that you don’t seem to change as much, it’s much more about the slow process of living, aging, being. It’s all okay. Yes, I’m still picky and I’m choosing how I’m presented, portrayed, touched up in Lightroom, but that’s part of the art of it. I’m sure these photos say things about me that I’m completely unaware of.Shawna Lemay, Contemplating My Themes
I have never considered myself a person who had any power; and yet I now recognize that just as I have privilege I never earned, I have power I never earned–and that I have indeed been using that power (as I have unwittingly benefited from privilege) and can do more with it. For educators possess power.
So do poets.
The past three months, as spring has bloomed into summer, poems of protest and poems that inform society have likewise bloomed. Poets of color, marginalized poets, poets who are disabled or queer or immigrant or for other reasons yearning to be heard are all over social media–which is not unusual in itself (the voices, the poems, have been online for decades)–but the difference lately comes through retweets and viral videos and shared posts at a higher rate than previously. These poems, and the prose and interviews that often accompany them, create discourse. Badly needed discussions. Confrontations that cannot be shoved away as easily as they were. I’ve been reading and observing, hoping a change is gonna come.Ann E. Michael, Top ten, discourse, power
I’ve been advised enough times not to do it, you’d think I’d stop trying. But here we are again. The royal “we,” I mean, possibly, or the group of us who do such a thing, as opposed, I guess to the “they” who do not; that is: use the first person plural pronoun (we) in poems. Why do I keep trying to make it work?
It interests me to write poems from the perspective of this identity: a member of the human species. From this perspective I can think about the so-called “human experience,” not as “in opposition to the nonhuman,” but as a part of a, let’s face it, pretty significant force on the planet, and as a representative of a species that is able to think about itself and go “Hmm…really?” A member of a species that is aware of, possibly obsessed with, death, and, therefore?, a bit obsessed with life and its meaning.
But the use of “we,” or MY use of “we,” shall I say, has caused people to become argumentative (“you do not speak for me,” they say, or sometimes just “oh yeah?”) or to be otherwise put off by the lack of immediacy and intimacy (“hm, what are you distancing yourself from,” they ask). I don’t know, though. Do I not have the — what: right? capacity of imagination? proper hubris? — to speak out of that human stance?Marilyn McCabe, We shall be released; or, On the First Person Plural in Poems
have you ever wanted to be that man
the one with the stick
you know – the one with the metal pole
who listens to your stopcock
out in the road
with his ear to the shiny wooden cup
at the end of his decision
or the man with his hands on the handles
of the surging tube that goes up and down
up and splurging down in the storm drain
that keeps the kids enthralled
or the man with the shiny wooden poleJim Young, have you ever wanted to be
with the pig’s tail hook that darns
the coupling links between the trucks
with such deft luck that barely at moment
between the buffers shine bouncing the
chains tight in a juddering offwego
Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:
in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:
Big books packaged
from Japan –
I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.
It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:
out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick
Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.Julie Mellor, Lockdown reading
Rob Taylor: In “Talking with Ancestors After the Show” you write “if there is a moment this is it / know better than to beg a minute’s sojourn // reminder to the artist: this is it.” I can imagine so vividly that line being delivered in a spoken word performance, and how it might resonate differently (and, in some ways, similarly) in that context. That Venn diagram between the “stage” moment and the “page” moment — their audiences, their performative spaces, their “voices,” their ephemerality.
As a writer whose background is in spoken word, how have you found the experience of putting your words, often first meant for public performance, onto the page? What have you been able to bring over with you, and what have you had to leave behind? What new opportunities has writing for the page granted you?
Jillian Christmas: I love that you frame them as opportunities. When I first approached the challenge it seemed to present itself as a fear of what would be lost, what eye contact or small facial expression would be missed and what emotional information would go with it. But your framing is absolutely correct, somewhere along the process, I discovered that it was in fact a great joy, almost a game, to figure out what choices I could make on the page that uplift the poem to a similar effect as I would have on the stage. In some places I learned that the voice of the page poem would be different, more concerned with shape, spacing, or a leaning, possibly tumbling word. In some places a more direct translation would occur, a long slender diving presentation, where my voice might have dipped or swayed (as in “But Have You Tried”). In the end I decided that there were no limits to my choices, allowing each poem to have as many lives as it needs, perhaps one for the page, a longer more lyrical or repetitive version for the stage reading, perhaps a third snappy edit for tucking inside the nest of the perfect song. A multitude of mechanisms to coax every bit of connective tissue from any given piece.Rob Taylor, Playfulness and Gravitas: An Interview with Jillian Christmas
Mr Hoyes was no ordinary English teacher. He’d already had an extremely youthful Matthew Sweeney as his Poet in Residence at the College for a year, while numerous workshops with Ian McMillan were still in the future. I suppose I fell between those two stools, but I didn’t have an inkling of that at the time. Instead, all I knew was homework turned into writing stuff of my own accord, turned into staying behind after class to show it to him, turned into him gifting me copies of literary magazines such as Iron, where Peter Mortimer had published his short stories.
This sharing of his own work, treating me as an equal, was just one example of Mr Hoyes’ generosity, as was his gentle prodding of me in new creative directions. His support meant that I suddenly stopped feeling alone and different from everyone else. As such, he was crucial in my becoming the poet I am today.
However, things developed even further once I left for university. On my first trip back, I visited all my old teachers at the college and showed him some of my more recent poetry. He suggested looking at it together over a pint at the Hop Blossom the following Friday. Thus, Mr Hoyes became Richard, and our friendship began, involving London Prides over more than two decades, all combined with swapping our latest work. He’d bring short stories, articles he’d written for the TES and extracts from his regular column in the local paper, and I’d contribute my drafts of poems.Matthew Stewart, A tribute to Richard Hoyes
I suppose I want to believe there is always
a way out and a way through. Because
what else can I do? Collapse into whatever
strangeness and fear I encounter and weep?
How quickly the cat shifts from panic
to acceptance. Look at her rolling
in the dusty earth, as if this placeLynne Rees, Poem: No Through Road
is what she has always known it to be.
Death is an
All the wind
is wild. The
sun is risen
and we move
on, chasing.Tom Montag, DEATH IS
Some day we
will catch it.