Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 46

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This (late) edition continues the sombre tone from last week, albeit with some joyful news as well. The season of death is upon us. But late autumn and winter is also a time for deeper thinking, and we have some of that as well.

Note that I will continue to share links to these posts on Twitter for as long as a significant portion of us still maintain accounts there, but in general, like many folks, I’m using the opportunity to move most of my microblogging over to the Fediverse, which as an open-source project was always a much better fit with my values. I hope you’ll join me there. (I’m on a medium-sized Mastodon server, here.)


Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices […]

Jill Pearlman, The Early Bird and other Myths

An interesting week. The tory clowns have come up with a forecast of a £60 billion black hole in the national finances. It’s their latest wheeze to make the poor pay more than the rich. JK Galbraith once said that “economic forecasting is there to make astrology look good.” But this has not stopped them from delivering one punitive budget after another. […]

there is a second
when the mop bucket’s contents
after being slung into the air
seems to just hang ignorant of gravity

in that moment you could mould the water
into any fantastic shape you pleased
if only you were quick enough

Paul Tobin, THE MOLECULES SIGH

As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world:  build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog.  Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).

And if we’re being honest, in many ways, I’m glad I’m not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills.  I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me.  And statistically, it’s hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills.  Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers.  I’m glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change

What do you remember about the earth?

I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live
with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus-
mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth
from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play
with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns
putting Necco wafers in each other’s mouths while intoning
“The body of Christ.” We are careful not to bite down
so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then
we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard
pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted
and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink.

Luisa A. Igloria, Six Questions

A commissioned poem is always a leap of faith in the dark. You get a phonecall with a request to write about a particular topic or idea, and you must decide whether you can do it, whether you want to do it, but most importantly, whether you can do it in the time available.

For this commission, and for many commissions for radio, there was a very tight turnaround. I think I got a phonecall on Friday evening from the producer of Woman’s Hour, Clare Walker. She wanted a poem that celebrated the different sounds that women have heard over 100 years. the poem would be two minutes long, but the whole thing would be about eight minutes becuase they were going to weave through the poem lots of archive recordings. “Brilliant!’ I replied – thinking this was a really interesting commission, and an enjoyable one.  I briefly envisaged some peaceful weeks trawling through archive recordings of suffragettes and the sond of the first washing machine.

“There’s just one snag” Clare said. “We’re on a bit of a tight deadline, so it has to be finished and recorded by Wednesday”.  “Ah” I said.  I thought about my looming deadline for a book of hybrid essays (more news to follow on that!) which was due just a few days later.  I thought about the five days I had available to write the poem, and how for at least two of those, I wouldn’t be writing, or in fact even thinking because I have no childcare at the weekend.

“That will be fine!” I replied recklessly. “Let’s do it!”.  What kind of person would turn down a commission from Woman’s Hour, I asked myself, even with a book deadline, and just five days to write it (well really three).

Kim Moore, The Commissioned Poem: A Leap of Faith

Tough, in its various meanings, and tender are the poems in Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby. Painful, in parts, as it recalls my own mother’s failings of memory, but funny too, as such things can be, in the right moment, with a good spirit, and with nothing left to lose.

From “Snow Moon & the Dementia Unit”:

Dad called again to see how his daughter Kathy’s doing,
and when I tell him I’m doing fine, he asks,

So you’ve talked to her recently? What did she say?
and really, what could I say then…

Through these poems we glimpse the inner and outer life of the speaker, especially the presence of her parents, real or ghostly. From “Animal Prudence”:

…Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.

The author is unsparing and unsentimental in her observations. Here she regards her own self through a sight of a hawk and its squirrel prey in “Cooper’s Hawk”:

… My tolerance for ‘Nature, red in tooth
and claw’ rose as my estrogen fell. The wish
to die died with my hormones, and with all that
powering down, I could finally hear myself
not think.

The wry wit, the dry eye, and the imagination that instills these poems made this hard book a pleasure to read.

Marilyn McCabe, Hello goodbye hello; or, On Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby

“Naming the Ghost” is a gentle, sensitive journey through bereavement and acceptance. It is not just the loss of the narrator’s father, but also that the newborn daughter will never know her grandfather, which exacerbates the sense of loss. However, the narrator acknowledges that she cannot let her daughter’s sole experience be a grief for someone she did not know. On her journey, she learns to adjust to looking to the future, informed by the past. These are poems that linger and haunt rather than grab the reader.

Emma Lee, “Naming the Ghost” Emily Hockaday (Cornerstone Press) – book review

What I was going to say is that I have reached an age where my peers all seem to be facing cancer. Illnesses like Parkinson’s. Bones that break all too easily. Unexpectedly. Everything hurts. Everyone hurts. And we are still comparing ourselves to one another.

Some of us move through the days thinking: but that won’t happen to me. I’ll be one of the shining septuagenarians on Instagram snatching more than their own bodyweight. Some of us hold on to the moments.

Some of us. Maybe only me. Have given up on narratives and justifications.

Here is my beginner’s mind. I pause in stillness. Then inhale and rise along the gentle slope of a polished pearl. Then exhale into stillness. One rich movement at a time, like gusts of wind slamming the body.

I read once that the ghazal was a series of discrete couplets, connected like pearls on a string.

Ren Powell, Life as a Ghazal

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Dale Favier, Inventing the Wheel

Readers accustomed to Fokkina [McDonnell]’s poems will know that she has a great gift for sudden shifts of thought and emphasis which wrong-foot and surprise the reader. Many years’ practice as a psychotherapist must have informed Fokkina’s acute sensitivity to how the brain and heart interact. Her poems implicitly ask questions but usually stop short of providing answers – as with effective haiku, the reader is invited to do some work, in effect to complete the poems. There’s a lightness or playfulness among the trauma which sporadically surfaces; a sense which I can only really explain fully by using the Japanese haiku concept of karumi, which Michael Dylan Welch explores so well in an essay available here. And where Fokkina does apparently provide answers, the reader has to wonder if they are the answers of an unreliable narrator of sorts.

Matthew Paul, On Fokkina McDonnell’s ‘Safe House’

What are you working on?

After a two-year hiatus in writing (due to parenting a 3yo and 1yo without childcare during the pandemic), I have just begun to write again while my baby naps and my 3yo attends preschool. My question the past few weeks has been what I can effectively work on given time constraints. Before my children were born I was working on a volume of Norse verse translations. The unpredictability of baby naps has made it nearly impossible to return to this. What surprised me was having inspiration for a fantasy novel and actually being able to write chapter drafts. Holding scenes and characters in my mind until I can work on them again has proven easier than holding the intricately-woven webs that are skaldic poems, with all their linguistic and historical threads. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part three

More poets and songbirds. Shopaholics at the mall of mercy.

A Congress that engages in friendly congress.

For the homeless to become homeful. Wildfires to take a chill pill.

Gun muzzles to nuzzle love.

Rich Ferguson, What the world needs now

I’ve noticed in recent years, on social media since that is where I see discussions of poetry, is a criticism of poetry reviews. First the criticisms were about the reviews not being published in mainstream newspapers any more or, if they were, the tiny wordcount afforded to them. Then the criticism shifted to the reviews themselves, their “lack of critical engagement,” that they are “puff pieces”, concerning themselves with the poet and the “poet’s identity” rather than the actual poems, the craft and technique. All of these criticisms are valid, and perhaps the reviews under discussion seem ubiquitous because of the proliferation of online platforms like Goodreads, online journals and blogs, as well as in some poetry magazines. Also, there has been a trend to simply photograph a book or poem and share on social media without also offering any kind of considered review. Perhaps this has also offended people seeking detailed critiques. Unfortunately, in my view, the criticisms risk silencing a group of people who might want to review, or even to express that they like a book or poem, but who now won’t, for fear of being on the end of such criticism. I think it’s far to say that some of the criticisms I’ve observed are from poets who are also academics, used to the rigor of academic principles, and critical of work that strays from from, or seems to disregard, this rigor. I think that’s a shame. The poetry world has room for a rigorous, intellectually challenging approach to appraising and analysing poetry as well as a different kind of response, perhaps personal to the reviewer, regardless of their academic training and experience.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the nature of social media, particularly Twitter with its limited wordage, these kinds of criticisms can appear aggressive, especially when a lot of people seem to join in. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the current implosion happening at Twitter will be that this kind of ‘pile on’ will become less prominent in poetry (and other) circles.

Josephine Corcoran, On Reviewing

I read somewhere recently that writing poetry reviews (the traditional kind, for poetry mags) is a good discipline as it makes you really read closely and engage with poetry collections. I have to say that interviewing a poet on a podcast takes all that and then some – thinking up relevant questions to ask, talking with the poet about your reading/understanding of their work, suggesting which poems they read and commenting in a way that listeners may find interesting… it’s not easy, and I often curse myself for sounding like an idiot, a sycophant or a ‘womansplainer’, sometimes all three in the same episode. It’s all  good fun though!

Robin Houghton, Self-sabotage, womansplaining and other poetry joys

Winter is more insidious than summer.
The low-angled sun is a dull blade,
sheathed in bitter grey.

In winter I play old music.
The music my grandparents listened to
as they took me to Friendly’s or to

a clarinet lesson in the next town over.
It’s the music of nostalgia and longing
and emptiness. Winter music.

Jason Crane, POEM: A Winter Poem

I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.

I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:

I can make the garden grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain

In August 2019, the last time I saw them, not long before Covid: an afternoon visiting Clare and Bryan on their farm in North Glengarry, a few miles east of the McLennan homestead, as my young ladies admired their two horses, and later accidentally stomped on a hive of bees at the end of the yard. At least we discovered neither young lady allergic, once they both stung. Clare offered them colouring, toys. They played a football game on the porch, and she delighted in them both.

How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.

rob mclennan, Clare Latremouille (July 4, 1964 – November 16, 2022)

My recent video and furthermore (indexed), is getting its first public screening on 23rd November 2022 in the Living With Buildings – IV program in Coventry, UK, as part of their fabulous Disappear Here project, curated by Adam Steiner. This is a quarterly screening that explores human experiences of the urban environment through people, poetry and place.

In Ancient Greece, public notices were engraved in stone on building walls. Now, we find ourselves surrounded by texts: advertising, warnings, directions, graffiti… Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are in town, violence, scandal and political intrigue vie for attention, someone won the football, and we worry about the future for our youth…

The video samples every occasion that the word “and” was used in the “NEWS” pages on one day in the local Adelaide newspaper. The words following each instance of “and” are listed alphabetically and read by Karen, the MacOS Australian female text-to-voice interpreter. In doing so, it creates a snapshot (indexed) of a day in the news of a contemporary city.

Ian Gibbins, and furthermore (indexed)…

In the old days writers would iambize their prose and dangle rhymes on their line-endings to make their words seem more significant, adding poetic words as glitter. As Samuel Johnson said, some people think that anything that doesn’t look like prose must be poetry. Nowadays writers use strange punctuation, deletions, discontinuities and line-breaks instead.

There’s still something about the label “poetry” that writers find tempting. And why not? Poetic license still exists. If you label a piece “poetry”, readers will look for hidden meanings. The meanings will expand to match the readers’ expectations. It saves the writer needing to do so much. A short text (about doing the housework, say) can go far given a big title like “Death”.

But readers might not be so compliant nowadays. They might distrust the label. They might think the shortness is a cop-out.

They’re more alert to tricks of ads, the lure of mistique, aura, etc. They know how the addition of false eyelashes and tan can trick the eye.

Tim Love, Ornamentation and aura

A first thing the poetry business and the wine trade have in common: the best way to end up with a small fortune in both poetry publishing and winemaking is to start off with a large one. In part, this is because winemaking is often a highly personal project, just like poetry publishing, and people thus often do stuff that makes little business sense.

And then there’s the question of personal taste: I don’t like big, oaky wines from Ribera del Duero. I do admire them in technical terms when they’re well crafted, but I can never bring myself to enjoy them. Same goes for certain types of poetry.

Matthew Stewart, A comparison between poetry and wine

I grew up in a valley bordered on the east by the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Nevada desert.  Both landscapes were awesome and terrifying–people died in both.  When we drove across the desert on the way to California, the emptiness was so overwhelming I hid on the car floor.   But the sight of the mountains was central and powerful, and I missed them when I moved east.  When I took the train home I spent the last few hours staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of them.  Westerners are landscape snobs–I needed that scale.  In the east I sneered at the hills people referred to as mountains.  When people said, “Isn’t this landscape beautiful?,” I literally couldn’t see what they were talking about.  If it wasn’t awesome it didn’t even matter.  It took me years of living in it to realize one day, setting out for a hike (walk) with friends: Oh, this landscape is human scale, you can just walk out into it without risking your life.  And for the first time I saw the value in that.

I think the sublime has to do with extremity and intensity, with things larger and deeper than the human scale of things, with situations where one person encounters whatever it is–the void, the abyss, the unfathomable, immeasurable.  I think the sublime is something we can visit but not live in–the intensity would crush us, as Rilke says.  And the solitude.  Most of our lives include relationships with other people.  When it comes to poetry, the awesome/ sublime may be the most powerful, but I think more poems, including many great ones, are written out of our human relationships–that scale, the one with emotions that range from happiness to rage to love to sadness, subtle and nuanced, looked at closely.  I don’t think I’d describe any of Shakespeare’s sonnets as sublime, for example, however beautiful and moving they are.

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Daily Life

The poem is not simply a clever convolution of words but does ‘make sense’ when read carefully. Apart from its description of a time that is gone, it examines and exemplifies the tortured ambivalence between memory and fact. The slippery methodology of examining a personal memory when looking at a visual depiction of that place in that time. Indeed, can memories be altered by the holder of that memory, other than by recognising its inherent subjectivity.

Jim Young, poem with explanatory notes

Number of books read while here: 14 – 8 collections of poetry and 6 novels. (You can see all the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads – follow me if you don’t already!)

Number of manuscripts read for Riot in Your Throat: 22 and counting – the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, is currently open for full length poetry manuscripts. I’m looking for 2-4 collections to publish in 2023 – submissions are open all month so if you haven’t yet submitted there’s still time!

Number of dreams about ex-lovers: 3 – seriously, what is going on in my brain?!

Courtney LeBlanc, VCCA: By the Numbers

A deer drives into a parking lot. It desires nothing. It’s my voice. I’ve been looking for you. Yeah, out on a joyride, now here to buy pants. Later, parking spots turn into breath. My voice full of venison and wheels. Fog and knives. What I desire, the deer says: An on and off switch. My thighs in lake water. But I’m wearing pants. I’m always wearing pants.

Gary Barwin, Pants

Tuesday is my dad’s memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother’s, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I’ve mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/20/2022

clay and paper string
persuaded him not to prosecute
the silent sneeze

even in the cafeteria
her own aeroplane
is made to be burnt

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2022

Word went out Thursday that he was moving to palliative. By now you’ve probably heard of the quick decline of Robert Hogg and our loss of him on Sunday.

I never did the math that he was 80. He was busy in the 60s with that zeitgeist of poetic excitement. He had a young energy. Even cancer’s “trauma age” didn’t impinge as much as on some people.

Death has offended and hurt many again. Its timing is never good. In the last few years, Bob was redoubling his efforts to get more of his work out before people while he could. Love while you can, write while you can and support while you can seemed to be his driver.

He was like electricity, always there at the ready when you reach for him. He had a calm gentle humour, plain spoken and as if amused by life.

It’s funny seeing the tributes coming out from so many and from so far and yet not surprising at the same time. He had the rare gift while talking to you of making you the only person in the room.

Pearl Pirie, Bob Hogg

What can poetry do?  

There have been many who advocate art for art’s sake, or l’art pour l’art, as the slogan was initially rendered in nineteenth century France. 

There have also been many, and indeed there are an ever-increasing number, of artists (in the broadest sense) who see their work as a focus for, or extension of, their activism. 

I feel fortunate to have had poems included in a variety of charity anthologies over the years, raising funds (and awareness) for Macmillan Cancer Support, Welney WWT and the Born Free Foundation, to name but three. 

I am delighted to add another to the list in the form of Voices for the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2022), the new companion volume to For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019), edited by Ronnie Goodyer, Poet-in-Residence at the League Against Cruel Sports. These companion (or stand-alone) volumes have been produced to aid the work of this charity, and not surprisingly some of the selected poems concern animal cruelty. Others focus on habitats and the wonders and complexities of the natural world. 

Caroline Gill, ‘Voices For The Silent’, New Anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing

  1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
  2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
  3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
  4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
  5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

You wait.
That’s what you do,
whether the poems
come, or not,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (94)

First, while the press aims to be sustainable, it is not trying to be profitable. Breaking even is acceptable to me, and I would consider it a victory to be able to break even while 1) putting good poetry into the world and 2) continuing to donate half of all sales. If there are times when I go into deficit by a hundred dollars or so, this too is acceptable to me personally. However, I am rigorously working to avoid this. And again, even without the $500 donation, I’ve still basically broken even on a relatively large ($1000) investment, and I’ve also managed to give away almost $850 — all while getting my poems into the world. So I’m OK with how things are going.

Secondly, the great majority of the money spent so far was “start up” money, and this does not represent ongoing costs. These initial costs include both tools I will not need to replace anytime soon, if ever, as well as a lot of practice materials I won’t ever be buying again (different weights of card stock and paper, in particular). Thus, the longer the press continues to exist, the more it will produce from these initial materials, and the more it will earn from them.

R.M. Haines, DMP Summary and Receipts: 10/17 to 11/14

So, this weekend, I am working on final edits of Flare, Corona for BOA – including updating last-minute acknowledgements, deciding on spelling conventions that I apparently don’t write twice the name way, and keeping an eye out for wayward commas, and I’m also sending out e-galleys of Flare, Corona to people who might be interested in reviewing it. If you are interested in reviewing it, in a Zoom class visit, or book club inclusion, please e-mail me at jeannine dot gailey at gmail dot com and I will send you a copy!

I’m monitoring the somewhat sad situation at Twitter. If I had 44 billion dollars, I think I’d do a better job of managing the product instead of destroying it, but Elon Musk is a really bad manager with a lot of money willing to hurt others in the process of getting his own way (toxic misogyny writ large, I’m afraid) and I’m sad because I’ve built relationships with not just the poetry community but disability Twitter and even fellow cat and flower lovers and I hate that a spoiled billionaire can make everything crumble in a few days that I’ve built for years. On the other hand, it makes you rethink your whole relationship with social media. For writers it’s essential to connect with audiences—and for a long time, Twitter was the place to connect with Millennial friends, writers, and readers.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Sunshine in the Pacific Northwest

Finally, there is this blog, which has endured all sorts of personal, technological, and societal changes since it began in 2003. As a firm believer in owning and controlling one’s own online content, I’ve no intention of letting it go, and instead, have been thinking about how to infuse it with more energy now that I have some time.  Could it be more educational, more helpful? Could it help to launch new projects and bring people together, as it has in the past (quarrtsiluni, Phoenicia Publishing, online groups)? What else is there that I haven’t considered? There’s nothing wrong with social media functioning as a hub where interested people find content and go to it, but as our disillusionment with these social platforms and their capitalist agendas grow, could blogs regain some of their gravitas and a new sense of purpose? I wonder.

It depends somewhat on our expectations. I do know that I don’t care about the number of followers or readers, and we are long since past those heady days where aspiring writers thought they’d become well-known through their blogs — there’s no way that someone steadily writing good but long-form posts would become famous like a seductive Instagram influencer, not in today’s world! But careful and engaged readers and writers still do exist […] Blogs like Language Hat, Velveteen Rabbi, Hoarded Ordinaries, and Whiskey River have kept on quietly, steadily, thoughtfully posting for nearly two decades now, and there are many others. If these are not impressive and worthy bodies of creative work, I don’t know what qualifies.

Beth Adams, Coming Up for Air

The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Pain management

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

Wendy Pratt, Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the good poetry news I’ve received lately, and I’m behind on sharing it here…

At the end of September, my poem “One Way to Use a Deck of Cards” from How to Play was featured on Verse Daily!

Last month, two of my poems were published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” and “What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

Also in October, two of my poems were published in Pirene’s Fountain: “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” and “Choosing a Moon.” This whole issue is fantastic, and you can purchase a copy at this link.

This month, I’ve gotten some happy award news! “After an Older Man from Church…” received the Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice on November 9, and “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize this week! I’m so grateful to these editors who’ve published and affirmed my work and to the folks who encourage me and read my poems.

Katie Manning, Verse Daily & Moon Prize & Pushcart (Oh my!)

Lately I’ve been remembering the dances I’ve already had – the romantic ones with boys/men a long time ago.  I now know that at least three of those boys/men have passed on. That’s something else I’ve considered:  the synonyms for “died”:   passed on,  passed away,  etc.  One of my sisters always says “Gone to God.”   The dogs and cats who have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”  

I still have the image in my head from when my dad died. I visited him on a Wednesday, and on the following Friday I was at a meeting in Buffalo and got a call from the nursing home that he had died in his sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  I envisioned him on a small boat, moving away from the shore of the living on the sea of eternity, quietly moving on, his face toward the horizon.

Anne Higgins, The Dances you’ve already had

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets pondering time changes, book reviewing, work and leisure, and poetry vs. memoir, among other gnarly topics. Enjoy.


Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float [….]

PF Anderson, Untitled

You can tell yourself nothing matters or that everything is related;

events filled with lifeblood allowing each new living moment to flow into the next.

Someone whispers something in a wild horse’s ear.

Someone tames fire long enough to gain wisdom from heat.

Rich Ferguson, What Connection Said To Coincidence While Walking Early Morning L.A. Streets

Carlotta kicks off her slippers, climbs up on the table, and begins to dance. National Geographics get crumpled, the TV Guide lands on the floor. One of the children stands on a chair near a light switch, and flashes the lights. Another turns on the television. Is that an earthquake? A psychic help line? Tina Turner dressed as a priest? Life is Jeopardy she calls out. Life is a Final Jeopardy that never ends. We stand before our friends and family and also before those whom we will never know. The questions are answers. We have answers before the questions.

Gary Barwin, THE LOVELY CARLOTTA, QUEEN OF MEXICO

The whole thing is about playing and experimenting and exploring. To be an active participant (which I think is important, especially given my recent thoughts about the value of creatively playing with others), I have to get over myself and share work that I haven’t had time to perfect. (My writing process requires germination. Even these blog posts are rarely a one-off creation.) Because we get assignments, I feel more freedom to play than I would if I were generating poems on my own, with a goal of publication. I have no big expectations around what I will write; they are just exercises, explorations. (Like my little embroidery houses. Like my doodles on ice.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, This week brought to you by the letter P

As autumn hones our edges,
brightens the leaves, and billows gray above,
the hours dim, shrink, and turn in
on themselves. All I want to do is turn
and go inside, switch on the lamps
and read someone’s hard-won words,
read their lavender memories,
sit inside their teal shadows,
and grow wiser than myself
minute by each minute.

Rachel Dacus, The Department of Lost Hours

After the autumn school holiday, the light and season switch from cool, brisk and bright to dark, wet and cold. The trees are emptied and the leaves lie limp and blackened in my yard. The change feels sudden and ominous, but I knew it was coming. 

Halloween isn’t celebrated here in Finland really. Families don’t have a reference of when to do things like trick-or-treating so kids have  been coming to the door randomly all week. At school we have been studying autumn festivals like Sukkot, Cheosok and Kekri and the kids will take any chance to dress-up. I love that so many autumn holidays are about light and laughter as I feel like we need to store up on both as winter nears. 

I’ve been drawn into my Uni course, trying to focus on that at the weekends, but I managed to write a few poems during the break. I feel like I’ve hit a dry spell, inspiration-wise, so I’m returning to prompts from various sources. I’ve also been trying to write poems disconnected from my life, find a new voice and character that isn’t me. It feels strange like slipping on someone else’s clothes, but I’m hoping it stimulates some new ideas. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nights Have Drawn In

It is a particularly lovely autumn in the region, colorful, clear, dry and mild. This evening at 5 pm: 70 degrees F, crickets and frogs singing. My mood has, however, been unsettled–and I have not been writing much. Indeed, this feels like a good time for a hiatus on a number of fronts and in a number of ways. I recently read Katherine May’s Wintering, which was not terribly memorable but which offers the reader support for, well, resting. Resting one’s bones, mind, endeavors…seasonally apropos.

Mostly I’ve been on a Murakami kick, reading three books that a recently-departed friend had with him in his hospice room. Novels take the place of doing my own creative thinking. I get wrapped up in their worlds and can rest from my own. Thus reading is a form of wintering. (May agrees.)

My poetry output has been minimal recently, and I have hardly sent out any work; mostly, I feel tired and eager for the semester to come to a close (one month or so hence). There are reasons for this it is not necessary to go into. But I miss the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Break-taking

I wrote a whole post earlier this week, and then Typepad went down due to a DDoS attack, and lost it. Now the platform is up again, but it’s impossible to post any images because Typepad is having difficulty migrating to a new server.

The best news is that we finished the studio move on October 30 – the space is swept and empty, and we returned the keys. It’s hard to believe that we’re actually done. It was a good space for us for many, many years and I’m grateful for that.

Meanwhile, the leaves are coming off the trees and winter definitely approaches, even though we haven’t had a major frost yet. We’ve usually had freezing weather by Halloween, but not this year — in fact, it’s supposed to be 68 degrees this weekend.

Beth Adams, The End of Autumn

parking in the shade of a leafless tree

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 November 2022

Dinosaurs weren’t in my plan, nor was green, not that I had a plan. Somewhere in the back of my mind was lodged the thought that I’m not the target market for dinosaurs. Being in the easy company of Ruth, an early years teacher, made all the difference. She was encouraging about dinosaurs – no shape out of bounds – and her enthusiasm released my inner green thunder lizard.

Having started with the dino, representative for me of my elder son, the next choices were easy: musical notes, flowers, a swallow, bees and three cakes; symbols of our family sponged onto a French bowl.

Shawna Lemay, I Decorate A Bowl

I was privileged to meet and work with the late writer and critic Kevin Jackson in 2011. We tutored a school group together at Arvon’s Hurst writing centre in Shropshire.

As Peter Carpenter says in the video below, the range and articulation of his knowledge was truly exceptional. He could segue from the things you knew (or thought you did), pop culture, films and authors you knew a little bit about and may even have been on speaking terms with, to that rarefied branch of opinion (and he had a few) and riffing (ditto) that only a few of us are qualified to attempt, let alone pull off successfully.

I remember his opening workshop, on that horny old chestnut showing not telling, which exemplified this precisely, jumping miraculously from an analysis of a Nicholas Lezard column in the New Statesman to an explification of the opening scences of Lawrence of Arabia. ‘Watch this bit!’ he said. ‘Steven Spielberg calls it the greatest cut in cinema history.’

Anthony Wilson, The Kevin Jackson Award

I have subscribed to Reach Poetry magazine for over twenty years. The magazine is edited by Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing. From time to time Ronnie has issued a particular challenge. The most recent was for a Terza Rima Sonnet, one of my favourite forms. 

I decided to have a go, and submitted my poem, ‘Navigating Knapdale’, which was published in the September 2022 issue. The focus of the narrative was a trip to Knapdale Forest in search of beavers. We failed to spot any; it is rare to do so in the daylight, but sometimes the quest is the thing that counts. Or so Cavafy implied in his well-loved poem, ‘Ithaka‘.

Caroline Gill, Beavers

Perhaps it was in response to – really I mean a way of avoiding – the Tory party leadership campaign over the long hot summer of 2022 (and look how that turned out – and then again turned out…) that Michael Glover and I spent much of our time reading for, researching, inviting and selecting poems for a brand new poetry anthology with a focus on Christmas and the winter solstice. I know this is a bit obvious but – hey! – this might well be the solution to your up-coming Christmas gift buying deliberations – elegant, stimulating, moving, clever and very easy to wrap. That’s this new anthology. What’s not to like? Click here to buy your copies.

In fact, it was Michael’s original, bright idea and I was delighted to be asked to collaborate with him. It is the first anthology I have had a hand in editing and the book, in its final form, has two main sections – his bit and mine.

I found it daunting at first – where do you begin? Well, I don’t think I’m giving away any anthology-making secrets by mentioning that this Christmas collection is not the first on the market. I had a couple on my shelves already and the internet provides ready-made selections of possibilities and then less familiar collections like Enitharmon’s excellent Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, eds. Kevin Crossley-Holland & Lawrence Sail (Enitharmon Press, 2005) and the rich seams of Seren’s Christmas in Wales, ed. Dewi Lewis (Seren Books, 1997) provoked thoughts and – with due acknowledgement – suggested some definite items. It was exciting when other contemporary poets were kind enough to agree to offer as yet unpublished work for the anthology – my thanks to Neil Curry, John Greening, Jeremy Hooker, Denise Saul, Joan Michelson, Penelope Shuttle and Marvin Thompson.

Martyn Crucefix, Buy! New Christmas Poetry Anthology

I have had apocalypse on the brain for many reasons. In part, because it’s the week where we’ve had Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. I’ve seen the faces of collapsed jack-o-lanterns and wilting Halloween decorations. The wind blows many of the remaining leaves off the trees, and the mist obscures the moon.

Our Foundations of Preaching class has moved to preaching from Hebrew Scripture texts, and I chose the Isaiah 2: 1-5 text, beating swords into ploughshares. Of course, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be doing that anytime soon.

Last night, I found myself at various nuclear war sites, and I watched the first chunk of Threads, the scariest nuclear war movie ever. And then I had the best night of sleep that I had all week–what does that mean? Am I just exhausted or is there something about a worst case scenario that lulls me to sleep?

My Church History I class has arrived at the fall of Rome, which was really more of a slow motion collapse than a quick fall. On Thursday night we talked about Augustine, who was alive for much of the end times. Our professor talked about Augustine being able to see what was coming and asked if we had ever thought about what that might be like. I wanted to say, “Every single day.” I feel like we’re at a hinge point of history where things could go terribly wrong, but there’s a slender chance that we might shape a better future. I wonder if Augustine had similar thoughts, a hope that he knew was naïve, but he still wanted to cling to it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, La Nuit de Temps, and Other Types of Apocalypse

It is just ahead, it is coming—
whatever it is you are waiting for

has been waiting for you. Every day,
ten more steps taken; five, four,

three. In previous months,
your hair has been trimmed

as if by lightning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Count the Number of Seconds Between a Flash and the Crack of Thunder and Divide That by Five

Sanita Fejzić is an editor, children’s writer, poet, playwright and point of a whirlwind. She did haiku for a while with KaDo. Way back was a regular at Tree and In/Words (and various things about town). At that tine she gracefully allowed me to publish some vispo in the form of The Union of 6 & 7 in 2014. (Impossibly long ago.)

Desiré in Three Brief Acts from battleaxepress was November 2016. That came with a CD song collaboration with the poems. I don’t know if she’d agree that she’s a polymath but she busts out in all directions of creativity.

PP: What have you creating lately?

SF: This is a busy period. I have been working on the production of a series of four short plays titled “Why Worry About Their Futures?” which foregrounds the kinds of multispecies futures we’re cultivating for our children. It will be directed by Keith Barker, who is one of the three playwrights, including Carol Churchill and me.

On the poetry side, I’m finalizing the edits of a collection, Refugee Mouth, which I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. This has been a labour of love, and for the last push, I’ve been collaborating with Chris Johnson, Arc Poetry Magazine editor and longtime friend (since our In/Words days at Carleton University). He’s been helping me with edits and a structural reorganization of the manuscript. I hope to send it out to publishers by December of this year.

December is also the deadline for me to submit my PhD thesis project to my committee, with the hopes of being a Doctor of Philosophy in Cultural Studies by the Fall of 2023.

In the meantime, I’m wrapping up a past-apocalyptic short animated film that’s grounded in queer, eco-feminist future dreamings. My friend and collaborator Ambivalently Yours did the illustrations and animations, and we’re working on a graphic novel version of the film. Did I say this was a busy period? 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Sanita Fejzić

I’m fortunate to have arrived at a place in my life when I can devote more time to poetry than in the past. In order to get here, however, I spent years working at exhausting, non-creative day jobs that paid the bills while raising my two sons. Like so many of us, I wrote at the margins of my day, staying at my desk to work on a short story instead of going out to lunch with my boss and coworkers. Many days, I was happy to record a few lines in my journal. Just as many days, the pages stayed blank.

Other poets who worked demanding day jobs include Langston Hughes (crewman, busboy), William Carlos Williams (pediatrician), Gwendolyn Brooks (typist), Walt Whitman (office boy, printer), Marianne Moore (librarian), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (publisher, bookstore owner), Amy Clampitt (secretary, librarian), Frank O’Hara (museum curator), Mary Oliver (secretary), Philip Levine (auto factory worker), Denise Levertov (nurse, editor), Robert Frost (farmer), Wendell Berry (farmer).

If poetry is more avocation than bread labor, how do we structure our lives so we can devote as much time to it as possible? How can we balance our lives so that work supports us but doesn’t steal all of our energy?

Erica Goss, Bread Labor: Poetry and the Day Job

INVASION n. (i) invading with an armed force, (ii) incursion into a place or sphere of activity, (iii) unwelcome intrusion

Sometimes
it’s not what
a word means
but how its use
can blunt the heart
or fuel fear
or ignite the cankers
of anger in
the already fearful.

I do not know
what the answer is
only that I have to
try and understand
the stories
of those
who really need us.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Invasion

It’s week 4 of Bill Greenwell’s online workshop and I think I’m just settling in. Everyone there knows one another, and are familiar with the set-up. The first week went well, I jumped in and read everyone’s poems and commented on them all, although there’s no requirement to do so. But I like to be sociable and not appear stand-offish.

But by week 2 I was already feeling overwhelmed – so many poems to read and comment on, and trying to produce a new poem each week was weighing heavy on me. However, I seem to have now set my own pace. I try to read other people’s poems, but not if they’ve already had loads of comments. I sometimes add my comments but I don’t feel bad if I don’t.

Although I could just bring an old unpublished poem for workshopping each week (goodness knows I have a ton) I’ve set myself the task of only bringing new work, as a way of getting myself to write more. Having been away last week, yesterday I allowed myself a bit of leeway and posted an old poem that needs reviving. But overall, the course is proving to be very good for me.

Robin Houghton, A holiday and a vintage submissions spreadsheet

Poets generally like to get reviews of their books, though they don’t always like the reviews they get. They’re far less keen on the writing side, that is to say writing reviews of other poets’ books. A few, however, do take on the review task regularly, uncomplainingly and reliably. They are usually – but not invariably – unpaid. Reviewers are the Cinderellas of poetry. There are no national prizes or shortlists for them (fortunately). Occasionally, of course, a review does draw considerable attention by upsetting people, generally unintentionally.

Since 2005, I’ve been running Sphinx Review: an online publication offering short written responses to poetry pamphlets. I have a co-editor (Charlotte Gann) and a team of 14 – 25 reviewers. Each time a set of reviews is ready, an email newsletter goes out. We have just over 400 subscribers; the ‘open’ rate is about 33% and the click rate 45%. People may also arrive at individual reviews through FaceBook, Twitter, email and word of mouth. Some of them are widely read. Some are copied onto other websites. Some are hardly read at all. But since they’re online, they’re there for as long as the site lasts. They help make a poet googlable.

Running Sphinx Review costs masses of time and a growing sum of money. I’ve been doing it since 2005, with unpaid helpers. It’s getting more difficult to afford, in every sense. Next year, when I’m seventy, I will stop. My bones are creaking.

But why start it in the first place? I thought it was important. I still do. I’m a publisher. I put out books and pamphlets and I want them to be noticed. I want there to be a conversation. And I believe in putting your money, as they say, where your mouth is.

Helena Nelson, WHY WRITE POETRY REVIEWS?

In light of Helena Nelson’s request for views on writing and reading poetry reviews (see this link), here are a few reflections on my own attitude towards reviewing in the current climate.

On the one hand, I write reviews not as blurbs or puff pieces but to promote the poetry I love by engaging with it, explaining just why it enthralls me. I try to get my hands dirty with the inner workings of a collection’s engine, hoping to enlighten the reader and encourage them to buy the book.

And on the other, I read them to find books I might want to buy. Or to find a new perspective on a collection I’ve already read. There are certain reviewers whose taste I trust and respect, from whom I learn loads. One thorny issue I would like to highlight is my growing feeling that social media’s tribal pile-ons are making it more and more uncomfortable to write reviews with a critical element. And then this is combined with the trend of poets who view their book as an extension of themselves, as a means of self-expression. Even mild criticism consequently becomes a personal affront…

Matthew Stewart, A few thoughts on poetry reviewing in the current climate

almost sundown —
The Devil
coming for candy

Bill Waters, Almost sundown

Years ago I went to a workshop where someone read out a first-person piece concerning first love. It sounded Adrian Mole-like to me, and people commented that they were amused by the main character’s naivity – their age unclear, but presumably teenage. Alas, the piece was deadly serious autobiography. Critics should have said it was a sensitive exploration of twentysomething love.

At another workshop, the poet was praised for their ironic use of clichés. After, the poet admitted that they hadn’t realised that the images were clichés.

Suppose a clever whodunnit is packed with middle-aged men who pretty young women keep falling for? Suppose a poem collection has many self-sabotage pieces but the poet’s theme is about fate being unfair? Suppose there’s a load about food in a novel? Suppose the “I” is right in all the poems, though the other characters only realise that later? Suppose the rhyme-scheme goes to pieces whenever the poet has something serious to say?

If the critic dutifully reads the blurb and reports on the intended meanings, quoting the phrases that most emphasise those meanings, the author will be delighted. Maybe that’s the reviewer’s intention.

Tim Love, What the author thinks

This week has given with one hand and taken with the other. A third hand has arrived to cause confusion. I have no idea what that means, so we’ll go back to the two hands for now (on the other hand…)

I have first hand experience of getting a no from Propel Magazine. I sort of expected it and it was disappointing, especially as if it had arrived 24 hours sooner I could have used some of the poems to bolster a different submission, but onwards and sideways.

This particular hand was balanced out by the publishing of a review in London Grip. Mike took, on spec I might add, my review of Hilary MenosFear Of Forks. I was pleased to see so many glowing reviews for this excellent book over at Sphinx Reviews as well, and I’m really pleased to see some focus back on Hilary as a poet and not as the editor at The Friday Poem. In other/further Hilary news, my copy of the latest Under The Radar arrived containing a new Hilary poem. I’ve not read it yet, but it’s got to be good, surely?

So, while not an acceptance of a poem, I’m chuffed that the review is out there, and that Hilary is happy with it too. It was a hard one to get right – not because the book is bad, far from it, but because I wanted to convey how good it is in the best way possible. Although, it’s fair to say it’s hard like that every time I write a review. Perhaps as Hilary is my editor at TFP it carried some extra weight…perhaps.

It does perhaps feed into recent chatter about the cosiness of the reviewing world, and make me second guess myself, but my first forays into reviewing and the TFP guidelines taught me to aim for the positive. To be fair the TFP guidelines do allow for criticism, but I can count on one hand the books I’ve been critical of. Perhaps, I should be harder, but where would it get me? It doesn’t change the poems, it doesn’t stop publication and poets and publishers need the sales, so if we/ I can help drive even one then I’m ok with it.

Mat Riches, Horses and Hand Magazine

Emily Osborne’s poetry, fiction and Old Norse-to-English verse translations have appeared in journals such as Vallum, CV2, Canthius, The Polyglot, The Literary Review of Canada, and Barren Magazine. Her debut book of poetry, Safety Razor, is forthcoming from Gordon Hill Press (Spring 2023). She is the author of the chapbook Biometrical (Anstruther Press) and winner of The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry. Emily has a PhD in Old Norse Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives on Bowen Island, BC, with her husband and two young sons.

How did you first engage with poetry?

My childhood home was filled with poetry books, thanks to my mother who had done graduate degrees in modern American poetry and Sylvia Plath. I remember being six and trying to muddle my way through verse that was totally abstruse and yet which seemed desperately important for me to understand. And yet, the first times I concretely remember writing poetry began in emotional responses to aesthetic experiences that seemed inexplicable in language. How could these feelings be communicated? I think many people first create visual or verbal art because of this instinct that a feeling, thought or experience requires an altered form of language or visualization in which to exist and be given to others, even if this instinct is unconscious. I was also lucky to have early experiences with literary criticism, which came from the late Fred Cogswell, who was a close family friend. I would send my poems to him and he would write back with annotated comments and suggestions. As an adult I look back and think of his phenomenal kindness in doing this, considering how busy he was with The Fiddlehead and teaching and everything else life throws at us. His legacy inspires me. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part one

That patch of clean clear grass will last only as long as I stand there, brown elm leaves
falling around me, and yet I keep raking.  

The sea of leaves will overtake us, as will early darkness. 

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

Clapping the piles to my chest: the only thing I can only believe in is the absurd.

Jill Pearlman, Why Rake

“Face the Strain” is a lyrical exploration of life under patriarchal capitalism as we emerge from the pandemic. Personal actions become political, although individuals are rendered powerless against large conglomerates and politicians in lobbyists’ pockets. Sparkes pulls no punches. The world is looked at through a critical lens, which particularly examines societal attitudes towards the powerless and vulnerable, and the extra loads of caring, parenting and household management that fall on predominately on women. The tone is spare and direct, making the poems’ intents clear and targeted.

Emma Lee, “Face the Strain” Joolz Sparkes (Against the Grain) – book review

I am so excited to finally reveal the cover of the upcoming Flare, Corona officially! Here it is! I am posting this a little earlier in the week than I usually do, but I thought I had enough news to justify it…

Designed by Sandy Knight at BOA Editions, the cover art is meant to suggest both an eclipse, a solar flare with corona, and the neurons that are attacked and inflamed during an MS flare. This was a harder cover than usual to think about in terms of design. There’s a lot of solar weather in there, I wanted the idea of the neurons, I thought about adding other things from the natural world. But in the end, this simple, striking design won out. As you may notice, the web site looks a little different too!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Page for Flare, Corona, a New Poem in The Indianapolis Review, Welcome to the Big Dark: November, Twitter, Voting, Book Club

As if to balance the recent rejection, I had a recent acceptance! Of 4 out of the 5 poems I sent to a magazine I had been meaning to send to for a long time, missing its deadline again and again. Because time keeps getting away from me. This batch was a sad one, but it had a ladder in it, leaning on a peach tree, and that makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog. Because I just read–or possibly re-read?–Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler, a sort of sweet, sad novel about a woman who walks away from her family one day… I could picture myself doing it as she did it, much as I love and would never leave my family, other than that time in Chicago when I walked out the back door and down to the streetlight while my toddler crawled around on the dining room floor at the feet of my husband and father, who were talking about politics and real estate. Really, this was not meant to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. That was years ago. My kids are grown. I’m still married to the same man, and today, early in the morning, I looked all through the house for him and then saw the ladder on the patio, leaning against the house, and found him on the roof, sitting cross-legged at the edge, scooping leaves from the gutter into a plastic bag, during a Wind Advisory. It was a little like the time I was down in the church basement during a tornado, and the rain was horizontal, and the neighbor from across the street had come out to tell my husband, scooping leaves on the roof, that he should go inside. But not as windy, and I was there smiling and talking to him, waiting till he was done before going back inside…

Kathleen Kirk, Ladder of Years

Tim Carter: Howdy. R.M., I’m glad to ask you some questions about your newest book, Interrogation Days. This chapbook is published through Dead Mall Press, which is also your operation. Why don’t you start by telling me about both?

R.M. Haines: Thank you, Tim, for taking time with these poems and offering to do this interview. Interrogation Days is a chapbook about the so-called “War on Terror,” collecting various details and stories from those 20 years, and approaching them as the artifacts of a kind of demented poetic imagination. It was at one time the first section in a book also containing the poems from Dysnomia and Civil Society (my press’s earliest books), and I still think of them as a kind of trilogy. The three books speak to one another – about empire, psyche, capitalism, police, terror, violence — but upon reflection, it really seemed to me too much to put them all together into one reading experience. Each of the books approaches a certain feeling of finality, and it felt like I was forcing things to put them in the same volume. Of the three, Interrogation Days is the longest (28 pages compared to 11 and 10 pages for the others), so it feels like a bigger statement to me.

As for the press, I’d been intently studying how small press publishing works since roughly 2018. I wrote a lot of critical stuff about it, but not until fall 2021 did I think about actually making physical booklets and calling it a “press.” In March 2022, after thinking it all through and preparing some things, I officially launched DMP and put out three small chapbooks of my own. In 2023, I will be transitioning into publishing people other than myself, and that is hugely exciting to me (much more info to come!). Also, with DMP, I want to be as transparent as possible about the nuts-and-bolts of publishing: how much things cost, what the budget is, how much things sell, what I do with the money, etc. I think that concealing the material reality of publishing mystifies it, and this has numerous negative consequences. Against this, DMP aims to be transparent, to be generous and open with writers, to stay small and DIY, and to donate a sizable portion of the earnings to people doing work around social justice, abolition, mutual aid, and other causes. Right now, 50% of all sales is being donated to the Gitmo Survivors Fund, which I write about, in more detail on my blog.

R. M. Haines, A Conversation About INTERROGATION DAYS

The rain became my monster. The rain became
my foe. The rain became the hell I could not conquer. A

drizzle was a deluge. A deluge, the dark of an endless night.
The monsoon, an affliction without remedy. These are tests

I cannot pass. Tests I cannot fail. Always the same result.
Always the same consequence. Happiness is a constant.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 20

On one hand, for all their hope, I am being cautious with mine. My mother was sick in greater or lesser degrees for months, and yet her death shocked me to the core since I really believed she would pull through. The visuals on this one scare me…it looks terrible, this small, frail man hooked to a machine that is currently breathing for him (though the settings according to the nurse s are lower and more just augmenting his own breathing). I have prepared myself for the worst. Well, am trying to while still hoping for the best. A friend said via text today that hope is a tricky thing–difficult to have and difficult not to have.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | all hallows eve

There is such an electricity to the lyric of Lenapehoking/Brooklyn-based poet and performer imogen xtian smith’s full-length debut, stemmy things (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2022). “Poetry both is & is not a luxury.” they write, to open the “author’s note” included at the beginning of the collection. “My intention has been to trouble the worlds in which i move, support, fail, live, struggle, love & continue trans-ing, addressing with rigor the circumstances that continuously shape me.” Through a book-length lyric, smith writes an extended sequence of sharp moments across narrative thought, one deeply engaged with numerous threads, all of which wrap in and around identity, self and gender. “Nothing is ever finished,” they write, as part of the poem “deep ecology,” set near the beginning. “Consequence gives a body / shape, says you cannot build home in a lie.”

One immediately garners a sense of Bernadette Mayer’s influence echoing through these poems (a quote by Mayer is one of two set to open the first section), as well as Eileen Myles, both of whom offer a fierce and even straightforward directness in their own ongoing works. Across the poems of stemmy things, smith unfolds a sequence of diaristic offerings of narrative examination, utilizing the suggestion of biography (whether actual or fictional, or some blend of both) for the sake of exploring and defining truths and discoveries across the length and breadth of becoming who they are meant to become. “By way of explanation,” they write, to open the poem “so the maggots know,” “i am / an unreliable narrator of my body / living gender to gender, marked / at birth yet far flung of phylum / straddling difference / between impossibility & lack—woman / & man—i, neither, though always / with children, a queendom / of eggs to the belly [.]” There is such a confidence to these lyrics, these examinations, reaching across vast distances with clarity and ease. If only a fraction of the rest of us could hold such fearlessness and poise while navigating uncertain terrain. “You need to know a radical touch,” they write, as part of the opening poem, “open letter utopia,” subtitled, “after Audre Lorde,” “that my yes means yes, my no, no, that yes & no / & maybe may shift while we linger, articulate, break / apart as moments ask. Does your blood taste iron?”

rob mclennan, imogen xtian smith, stemmy things

It’s so good to be reading again for me, not for students or class planning. One of the downsides to teaching is that you can neglect your own education and/or intellectual growth sometimes for the sake of the students’ needs. The chance to learn something again — of my choosing, not as dictated by the college and the administration’s fixations or needs — is almost as restorative as rest. Relaxing one part of the brain and letting a different part take over is, well, rejuvenating.

I’m taking stock now of what I’ve accomplished thus far and what I also need to complete in the next three months — I’ve read, taken extensive notes on the reading, drafted more of the play, and written some singular, one-off (not attached to a manuscript) poems. I have a lot more to do on the play — that will be the next 90 days’ primary focus — but I also have some reviews for the New York Journal of Books lined up, which will be good to finish before I return to teaching.

That return is looming, already, and I’m trying not to dread it.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Inspiration & Momentum

What I wanted to call your attention to is this issue of the slippery “I” in poems and the readerly insistence on reading poems as autobiography. Here’s Albert’s take: “I’m not comfortable with the question of what’s ‘true’ or ‘isn’t true.’ I like to say, not just for myself but on behalf of all poets, it’s all true. I mean in the way that a real novel is as true as a piece of nonfiction or memoir, as true about human beings and the human experience. Perhaps even truer than some memoirs, in fact. Memoirs are also fictionalized— by the time it’s a readable, publishable piece of work, it’s all become fictionalized, massaged to some extent.”

He then goes on to say: “I talk with people frequently who are not perplexed to read ‘Call me Ishmael’ even while finding the name Herman Melville on the cover; and yet who are surprised or even offended if I suggest the possibility that Plath might have invented, have shaped events for some of her poems, in the interest of their greatest possible power or her own greatest psychological needs.”

Anyway, just read the thing. It’s all good. Oh, but here’s one more thing:

In the interview he mentions a previous interview with the Georgia Review that he managed to waylay and reframe. He said: “What if all the questions come from other poets’ poems and all of the answers come from poems of mine?” 

I love this idea! Who wants to do a reading with me based on our poems’ questions and answers? I envision a round-robin meander with a handful of poets. Who’s in?

Marilyn McCabe, Five guys named Moe; or, Albert Goldbarth on “Truth” in Poetry

he finally got it
near enough words
poured from his mouth
they’d have to do for now

stopped at the lights
he repeats them
merging with the traffic
he speaks every one

so he finally arrives
writes down his litany
the mouth worn words
offer no point of entry

if he had it
it has gone

Paul Tobin, MUGGED ON DREAM STREET

If you stare at a word long enough it makes no sense. If you think about it long enough “old” becomes “new”. And “new” can take on an entirely new meaning: new as a shift, not a beginning.

I’ve felt these shifts before. Passing a fork in the road and knowing that was that. Poems I memorized as a child take on new significance. Maybe life is a series of ever-more-complex prisms. What seemed singularly beautiful has exploded with possibilities. Smaller, perhaps: like the beauty of a whole world under a microscope: this tiny, present pinch of life, thoroughly examined with an attitude of wonder!

At 16, I wanted to be a famous actress. I wanted to have an apartment in New York, and to wear shoes too fancy for the subway. But at 40-something, I found myself sitting on the hood of a car at the lookout point over Bishkek with strangers. I ate dried fish, learning how to pop out their eyes with my thumbs.

Then I flew home to a tiny duplex in need of renovation, and a job that left me scrambling for dignity every day. I flew home to the two kids I never planned for; my love for them would stun me sometimes. Still does. Continual, unexpected little bursts of joy/fear/gratitude. These bursts, these overwhelming moments that strike – not always pleasant- have defined my emotional life. Home is a constant ambiguous reality, though every detail is fleeting.

What do they say? The only constant is the laundry?

I traveled a lot in my 40s. I took a lot of photos of other people’s laundry. I have hundreds of pictures of t-shirts and towels drying on clotheslines. I am always a bit puzzled that I find something so utterly banal to be so compelling.

Beautiful. It’s like the photos don’t capture a moment in time, but the flow of a lifetime.

Ren Powell, A Celebration of the Banal

You need so much
rain for the flowers,

so much moonlight
on the pines,

the old monk said,
so much silence

in the evening.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (347)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week’s compilation is a bit of a rush job after a busy weekend. I hope it coheres.


morning walk —
the gentle touch
of fog

Bill Waters, Morning walk

– Walking through a cloud—droplets beaded my black wool

– Today, I painted a tropical bird

– I cried in the parking lot, my friend as witness

– A family of deer stepped along a creek bed

– Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared

Christine Swint, Accountability With Writing and Art

Nothing happened, said the
shape-shifting moon. Nothing walked
away from nothing. Nothing became of
nothing. Erasure is the way the world copes
with history. The ease of negation. The
amputation of time. Never. Nothing. No one.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 18

But I found the revelation in the documentary, new to me at least, that Eliot was sent off to Margate with Vivienne to recuperate from a breakdown, lent real weight to the line in The Fire Sermon section, ‘On Margate sands/ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing’. OK, I had picked up the desolation, obviously, but now I can see Eliot’s own desolation as he wrote the lines. And that is no longer making too much of an assumption. It makes the lines clearer. He is with his wife but can connect nothing with nothing.

For once, the documentary also used talking heads that had something to say. Daljit Nagra explained eloquently the impact of the words ‘Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata./ Shantih, Shantih, Shantih’ that close the poem and, in effect, turn it into some kind of a prayer or resolution with which we must confront what is to come. Nagra could remember his grandfather saying Shantih, Shantih, Shantih, in the house in the morning. This lent the poem an increased validity. The words are not just something Eliot read somewhere and used.

The documentary, which as you’ve gathered, I recommend, also contained enough gossipy anecdotes to give light to the shade. I particularly enjoyed knowing that Virginia Woolf found the slow pace at which Eliot spoke too much to bear, so much so that she couldn’t wait for him to finish a sentence – literally. She would sometimes leave the room before he’d got there.

Bob Mee, HOW MUCH DOES BIOGRAPHICAL DETAIL MATTER IN ‘THE WASTE LAND’?

it is enough
to lose count of the pebbles
in the cry of the tide’s mourning
to wait for an eye of rust to blink
or for the ocean to say sorry
and to mean it

Jim Young, sometimes

Heather Trickey was a social research scientist, charity worker, Quaker and poet. In 2020, during the first Covid lockdown, she received a diagnosis of cancer. She died in July 2021, aged 50. In 2020 she published a remarkable book of poems, Sorry About the Mess, with Happenstance Press. I urge you to read it.

Her poems bring to mind the everyday language, directness of tone, and craft shaped by wit rather than irony of great poets like Ann Gray, Myra Schneider, Rose Cook, Ann Sansom, Naomi Jaffa, and Julia Darling.

Next week I will have the privilege of taking her amazing poem ‘Metamorphosis’, told from the perspective of a patient receiving a life-changing diagnosis, into a classroom of medical professionals. I can hardly wait to see what they make of it.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Pobble, by Helen Trickey

My new chapbook, Interrogation Days, is now available for pre-order! This book focuses on the psychic toll of two decades of the US “War on Terror,” and it forms a small trilogy with the press’s previous releases, Dysnomia and Civil Society. Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing a bit more about it, so stay tuned for that. For now, you can read a sample poem and place an order, and the book will be shipped on Nov. 14th.

Also, I will be donating 50% of all sales to The Guantánamo Survivors Reparations fund. This is a joint project between two organizations — Healing and Recovery after Trauma (HeaRT) and the Tea Project — devoted to supporting the victims of the US’s illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. For donation, our specific goal is to sell 40 copies of the book, which will raise $200 for the fund. I hope you will join me in supporting this work.

R. M. Haines, New Release from Dead Mall Press

Rumors, Secrets, & Lies is a collection of narrative poems, prose poems, flash fiction — stories about abortions, unplanned pregnancies and joyous births. 116 writers, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Ellen Bass, and Alicia Ostriker, write from experience. Women, and men, recall how they navigated this always-charged and emotional landscape before and during Roe v. Wade.

This heart-felt collection was inspired by the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. A team of women sent the book to the printer on Aug. 31, just two months later.

Submissions arrived from all over the U.S., but also from as far away as South Korea and Israel.

Cathy Wittmeyer, RUMORS SECRETS & LIES

Struggling to rise again from a fall. Winded. Sick of an old grief,
scolded by regrets of such long standing that they qualify for pensions (go ahead,
retire, please!) and the long low bank of dirty cloud carries particulates 
from sweet mossy forests that were never meant to burn, but are burning now.

What I have to ask myself is, do I feel lucky? And I do not. Lucky all my life
but not today. Dust off the knees of my old-man jeans; straighten the last few inches
that used to come for free. The masks for the pestilence work very well
for fire smoke. Isn’t that convenient!

Dale Favier, Fall 2022

I like having a hobby that has so little to do with any other part of my life, and also I need it. Playing with my “toy” camera, an Instax Square, is that hobby. It brings me joy to just play, and to not worry about product. I have zero creative investment in the outcome, I just enjoy the process. Taking photos along my walks (with both the iPhone and the Instax) has been a release and a yet another necessary reminder about how I should be focusing on process/the journey/etc. (I still like sharing some of the “products,” though.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Some Discoveries This Week

A collection of poems that span a week in the life of the poet and family (not in lockdown; this is not a pandemic collection), friction, delight, a near miss in a car. The idea is that the specific focus can be extrapolated like a trail of cupcake crumbs to build connections and a more complete picture of human interactions and concerns. […]

“One Week, One Span of Human Life” is a week’s journey looking at the wider implications of a series of seemingly-small, regular events. Paul Ings’ writing is sparse, sketching details for the readers to fill in and connect with their own lives.

Emma Lee, “One Week, One Span of Human Life” Paul Ings (Alien Buddha Press) – book review

Last week I spent an enjoyable afternoon walking around the British Art Show 2022 in Plymouth. I know the majority of readers of this blog live in America but as Liz Truss has managed to tank our economy and bring Sterling to an all time low, you may be able to afford to visit. Let’s face it we Brits will all be on our uppers if this insane tory death cult is not replaced…

The Home Secretary has resigned citing her opponents as the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati– hey! She means me! I read said newspaper, I eat tofu and I thoroughly detest this [unelected] government. 

Let’s return to saner topics. At the exhibition one installation that caught my attention was by Oliver Beer and explored the relationship between sound and space. The installation was divided into three parts and represented his grandmother, his mother and his sister. He has taken objects that were significant to them and miked them up to reproduce the notes they produce. The effect is rather similar to an orchestra tuning up. My attention was caught by a golden hare. 

Paul Tobin, THE GOLDEN HARE SINGS

What I remember: the blue sibilance of a sad farewell.

Shadows uttering rosaries in forsaken alleyways.

Pale silences slipping from the bodies of mannequins, painting our lips with all the words we’ve been afraid to share with one another.

Rich Ferguson, The Re-Rememberer

Travis Helms gave a poetry reading at 12:45, but it was unusual. We sat in the front behind the altar in a group of chairs in a u shape. The poet read one poem, discussed it, and read another. Consequently, we only heard about 5 poems–but the discussion was superb. We talked about Jericho Brown’s approach with lines from past poems. It was really cool to hear about another poet’s experiment with this approach. Helms takes stanzas from old rough drafts, and he also keeps track of observations on the Notes feature on his phone which gives him a starting point each writing day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Work Comes Due (in a Good Way)

The full-length debut by Chicago poet Benjamin Niespodziany, following chapbooks through above/ground press and Dark Hour Books, is no farther than the end of the street (Los Angeles CA: Okay Donkey Press, 2022), a collection predominantly constructed out of short, single-stanza prose poems that float the realm between lyric, short story and lullaby. “I wrote you a poem,” he writes, to open the poem “Publicity Stunt,” “called ‘Planet Earth.’ / It’s a ghost / poem or maybe a poem // I ghost wrote. It’s an / X-ray I pass around / the neighborhood.” Holding echoes of myth and fable, Niespodziany’s poems offer a selection of prose openings into whole worlds that might even exist between the curved narratives of Lydia Davis and the surrealisms of Stuart Ross. “You can’t / take my call.” he writes, to open the poem “The Silence That Finds Us,” “You’re busy // making volcanoes / out of swamp products // and ketchup packets.” […]

There is such a delight to these pieces, and there are moments throughout this collection that I almost see echoes of the short stories of Richard Brautigan, offering insights into daily interactions and simply being and living in and moving through the world, tinged with a wistful surrealism simultaneously playful and dark, moving in, out and through focus, from sentence to sentence. there is such a delight, even across such dark foundations of loss, death and distance, as connections are established, demolished or never quite connect. Across eighty-four poems, Niespodziany writes of first dates, first loves, weddings, streetscapes and neighbours, suggesting a lyric set entirely within the focus of a small geography, even one centred on the domestic, with not one poem set beyond a boundary set just down Niespodziany’s imaginary or actual street. One imagines a cul-de-sac, just down from an urban setting of shops and what-have-you; a small tucked-aside corner of residencial space, not far from everything else in the world. One imagines a set of boundaries established to attempt to keep the narrator and his household safe, from whatever dangers might exist beyond.

rob mclennan, Benjamin Niespodziany, no farther than the end of the street

Why do you
grip your pen
so tightly
when you write?

Write lightly,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (337)

I wrote about six new poems in the weeks after I received my funding, using the money to keep me afloat, so that I didn’t need to worry about finding paid work over the summer. I also used some of the bursary to fund writer-in-school training with the National Literacy Trust, which was very helpful. I wrote about that here.

There was no pressure to report back to the bursary funders, although I did send regular updates, and no strict dates to adhere to, or rules about the number of poems I wrote or what I had to do with them. If anyone was measuring my productivity, I think they would have been underwhelmed by my creative output! Nevertheless, the bursary has most definitely enhanced my practice even though it’s taken a while for me to get there. I don’t think I would have written these particular poems at all if I hadn’t been given this small pot of money, since I hadn’t written about place before, or closely observed landscapes or researched the heritage of any area. However, once I began researching and planning for these poems, I became more and more interested in writing about all of these things, particularly in the context of climate change. The money gifted me time and nudged me in a particular direction without imposing restrictive rules.

Josephine Corcoran, The impact of receiving funding on my creative practice: update about a 2018 Local Artist’s Bursary

Today, my proof copy of AUTOMAGIC arrived in the mail, which means I hope to spend the next couple days searching for ever-elusive typos and tweaking margins and getting it ready before I place an order for the first batch.  Every time, I am amazed at how beautiful and nice the quality is for the POD books, which have come a long way from the humble beginnings in the early aughts.  I am probably right when I say that a good number of trad publishers I’ve worked with also use POD instead of printings, thus the quality has improved overall in terms of cover gloss and interior papers.  I opted for cream this time as with ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER though I went with the size I used for FEED, so it’s an inch or so larger and tops out at 100 pages. I need to nudge over my title riding a little far to the right, but otherwise the cover is glorious both front and back. I had initially planned for a hardcover edition, but it does seem unnecessarily expensive per copy (which would raise the sales price higher), so I nixed those plans in favor of paperback. 

I am learning how much I revel each time in the process of bringing a book into the world with each step.  I usually compile the manuscripts a couple years in advance, so AUTOMAGIC has been waiting, mostly finished since the end of 2020, though I added in a new section, the bird artist, that I wrote last year in this longer version, as well as what remained of the unfinished unusual creatures series completed in  2021. The other stuff is older, beginning with work from as early as 2018.  This was prior to writing most of what went into FEED and AVM, but after finishing up SEX & VIOLENCE in late 2017. Unlike a couple of the others I did give BLP first dibs on, I knew I would probably issue this one on my own–it being an idiosyncratic little victorian dream of a book, largely since I had more timely and pressing projects with newer books like COLLAPSOLOGIES.

The past few months I have been picking at bits and pieces and revising some things, but mostly it was intact and only needed the final layout and adjustments and of course, the cover and promo graphics and trailers. The business of launching a book into the world of course being arduous even with a publisher behind you, let alone fending it alone. I’ve been more and less successful with past books depending on how much effort I put into them, with comparable sales to my trad published books so I know better now what works and what does not. Where to sink efforts and what is wasted time. 

Kristy Bowen, automagic coming soon….

Autumn is here and that should mean that I have more time to write. More time to breathe. Summer in Alaska is a time of long days packed with work and garden. For me, autumn heading into winter is a time to turn back to my desk. This year, that means Black Earth Institute and my project on Bridget Cleary.

Earlier this month, I was in Black Earth, Wisconsin meeting with the rest of the Black Earth Institute cohort. It was four days of good talk, amazing presentations, and forming bonds that will help us collaborate on various projects. It was incredible to spend time with such vibrant, intelligent, and diverse people. I am really excited about how the next three years will unfold.

Meanwhile, I am reading and writing about Bridget Cleary. I’m planning a trip to Clonmel in Ireland for February 2023. And of course, I’m working my butt off with Storyknife and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The fire of autumn

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Audre Lorde and her book Sister Outsider changed the way I saw myself and the way I saw poetry. I learned how poetry belonged to Black women because it was something that we could do anywhere. It is an art of economy. It is an art that gives us power. You can write poetry on a napkin and stick it in your pocket. It can carry the weight of the world, and it can fit on the tiniest slip of paper. How amazing is that?

Thomas Whyte, Katerina Canyon : part eight

I can’t help but feel that there is a meta-perspective just beyond my scope, from which my whole life makes sense. And something tells me that I am not supposed to have thoughts like these. They might line a slippery slope to conspiracy theories and religious epiphanies.

Or they might form a poem.

Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote during what was likely a period of manic depression (mixed state): “I cannot write – I ought not.” I have always felt like I understood what she meant. These thoughts, diagramed and articulated, conjure the black dogs that will rip your life apart.

I am a scattering of facts- banal facts. Random.

Who has the power to choose, to bother, to make sense of it – to validate your life’s story? You risk annihilation by writing it. You risk petrification – from a single perspective, even your own. This, too, is still death.

We spent our time becoming fiction based on fact. I am not sure that I really want conscious control of that.

Ren Powell, Today When I Rattle the Bones

What I find most sobering is the plight of artists and craftspeople who still desperately need those large studio spaces, yet are being pushed out of one once-affordable but now-gentrified neighborhood after another. During the moving process, we’ve shared the freight elevator, loading dock and dumpster with many other tenants of this large former factory building, who can no longer afford the rent charged by the new landlords who are upgrading and changing the building into a place for small businesses, high-tech firms, and offices — all of which can afford considerably higher rents. It is a business decision for the owners, and they have a right to do that; the building is much more attractive than when we moved in more than fifteen years ago. But as I’ve talked to others who are leaving, their anxiety and stress are palpable, and there are few good options for them in this city. And while a society without art is unbearable, and the governments everywhere tout their artists as intrinsic to the society’s identity, very few actually give the necessary support. Relentless capitalism always wins.

Beth Adams, Artists, Moving On

The fourth tells of the long, circuitous route to get
away from stethoscope or scalpel, and instead
to brushes and color swatches. Everyone in this town
seems to have a maritime connection, a giant
wooden spoon and fork, a saint in velvet and gold
filigree taking up space on the walls. The youngest
of them wants to write stories and poems about
the in-between, where the light can glance off
surfaces in so many ways and in so many beautiful
directions, none of them merely resembling
brown, none of them merely falling like leaves
to be raked over, season after season.

Luisa A. Igloria, Five compatriots

It’s truly turning—I don’t know if it feels like fall, it feels like we went straight from a hot, smoky summer to winter-time temperatures and rain, which is a shame. Winter means more writing, of course. But less time in the garden with flowers and birds.

So, we’re saying goodbye, finally, to smoke and fire, to over 80° temperatures, and welcoming in the rain and the cold, and occasionally putting on pumpkin sweaters. I’m so excited about some AWP news that I can’t quite share yet, and there’s more news about Flare, Corona coming soon.

And I’m doing a podcast – the “Rattlecast” on Sunday, October 30th, 8pm Eastern Time: Jeannine Hall Gailey I’ll be talking, appropriately enough, about spooky poetry, and reading a few spooky poems from Field Guide to the End of the World and the new book, Flare, Corona. So tune in if you want a sneak listen to my new book’s poems.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Some Good News from AWP, A Quote in Poets & Writers, Blurbs for Flare, Corona, and Visiting with Writer Friends as Smoke Season Turns to Rain Season

It’s been six years since Otoniya J. Okot Bitek published her debut poetry collection 100 Days, which powerfully explored the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide. I was lucky enough to interview Otoniya shortly after the book came out – you can read that interview here. The book went on to be shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay, Pat Lowther and Robert Kroetsch awards, among others. 

I’ve been waiting patiently for Otoniya’s next book – and I need wait no more! Her new book, A Is For Acholi, will officially be published next week. As the titled suggests, this book focuses attention on her people, the Acholi of Northern Uganda. 

A bit of a side note: Song of Lawino, the most famous work by Otoniya’s father, Okot p’Bitek, was originally written in Acholi. p’Bitek opened the English translation of the book with a note that read: “Translated from the Acoli by the author who has thus clipped a bit of the eagle’s wings and rendered the sharp edges of the warrior’s sword rusty and blunt, and has also murdered rhythm and rhyme.” […]

The book ranges more widely than the tight thematic and stylistic focus of 100 Days. Its subject matter includes “exploring diaspora, the marginalization of the Acholi people, the dusty streets of Nairobi and the cold grey of Vancouver.” Formally, the book is wide-ranging as well: lineated poems brush up against prose poems, concrete poems, erasures and – in keeping with Otoniya’s 2019 chapbook Gauntlet – voluminous footnotes. 

Rob Taylor, “A is for Acholi” by Ontoniya J. Okot Bitek

Family Riches are not long back from a trip to Seville. I’m thinking of it as a midweek long weekend as we went from Tuesday to Friday. A lovely time was had by all that attended, we walked, we ate, we walked and ate some more. We visited the Giralda, Real Alcazar De Sevilla, and Plaza de España. I had also hoped to visit Convento de San Leandro to sample some of the nun’s biscuits, but couldn’t due to forgetting that most things shut down between 2 and 5 in Spain. I suspect the nuns were having a well-earned kip.

I’d read about the place on the Atlas Obscura website I linked to above, but I was also aware of the practice through a poem by Matthew Stewart called Bishop’s Hearts. My plan was to get a photo of me receiving said biscuits and then link to Matthew’s excellent poem…

However, this experience has taught me two things.

1. Remember the local knowledge given to you by people. In this case, the aforementioned Matthew Stewart
2. Always remember to capture PDFs/images of your poems when they are published online, lest the site close down.

Bishop’s Hearts was published by the excellent Algebra of Owls site, but that now looks to be out of business/has closed down. I was lucky enough to have a poem published there too, but I don’t have a copy of it. Well, I do, obvs, but not the page and the link is now dead. I’m not sure what happened to the team behind AoO, but I hope they’re ok.

Mat Riches, Having nun of it

How do you know if what you’re revising out of a piece isn’t the very thing that made the piece interesting to someone else? What is the difference between thinking about “the reader” and pandering to “the reader”? How do you know if you’re thinking too much about “the reader” or not enough? What if you never think about “the reader”? Do you risk writing poems that are just you mumbling to yourself? What if there is no “reader”? Ever? Is the thing you made still a poem?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve lived my life like a howling wind; or, On Some Questions

unhurried, the window becomes a mirror

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 October 2022

Reading helped during the stress, a way to step aside, as did doing crossword puzzles in old New Yorkers, passed along to me by my mom, for me to read and recycle. “Watch out,” she said, “you can get hooked.” I did. Going to and from the hospital in Peoria, we had lunch twice, and pie once, at Busy Corner, a popular eating place at, yes, a busy corner. And saw the colors of the changing leaves by the side of the road. A joy to my mom. Less so to my colorblind dad, but his joy was getting out of the hospital!

Reading books with colorful covers, too. Balladz by Sharon Olds and Where Are the Snows by Kathleen Rooney, the latter in my stack of books to review for Escape Into Life. I need to 1) read slowly and repeatedly for a review 2) have a clear mind, ability to focus…so I am behind in this task. But I got the laundry done! Plus, these two books look great on my coffee table.

My own poetry waits patiently for me to get back to it. I have a composition book at hand for bits of inspiration. I flip back through the pages and see lots of actual poems there, awaiting revision and assembly. I have sent out a few things, received a few rejections, and one wonderful acceptance. A nice surprise. 

Kathleen Kirk, 10,000 Steps

There is a ghost in this book, the title, The Most Charming Creatures, because it came from the title of a poem which, in the end, I took out of the book. It was something that I wrote for an eponymous video work by Catherine Heard. The video was published in the Heavy Feather Review, Catherine’s work is so beautiful – both so human and so non-human, both vast and tiny.

The phrase comes from Ernst Haeckel’s Monograph on Radiolarians, published in 1862. He described radiolarians, ancient single-celled organisms with mineral skeletons, as “the most charming creatures.” But look: we’re all the most charming creatures. Who? Us. Letters. Words. We neurons.

Gary Barwin on Form, Social Media, and the “Epistemological Hijinks of Poems”

What I know now, having escaped the toxic relationship and untenable career is that I didn’t need to work harder, change my attitude, have more self-discipline, or stay where I was and count my blessings. What I needed was to get out.

I finally fully have, and I wish more than anything I could share some way for everyone else to get away from whatever is making them not-OK, but the truth I’m seeing now is that there isn’t always a way. I made the moves I was able to make (leaving that marriage, changing to a different job within my industry), and I searched constantly for better alternatives. But I couldn’t leave everything that was damaging AND take care of my people the way I wanted and needed to care for them. I am not looking back and thinking that I should have made different choices. (I don’t regret them, given my givens.) I am looking back and wishing only that our culture had been more honest about the scarcity of good choices for many of us to make.

Think of what I might have done to actually improve my life if I hadn’t wasted energy on blaming myself, on attempting to fix what wasn’t mine to fix, or on “solutions” that were never going to address the source of the problem.

I wish I could change the world so that everyone could have what I now do. I wish there was some formula I could share for how to get it in the world as it is. For myself, it has required some compromise, some luck, some risk, and a lot of years of living in poor health and doing what I had to do to get here. (The promise of that pension kept me in the world of K-12 education, and without it the life I have now would not be possible.) I can’t tell you how to do it, and I want to acknowledge that not everyone can do it, no matter how hard they work, but I’m writing this because if nothing else, I can give an assurance that I wish others had given me. If you’ve worked to heal from and deal with your childhood traumas and have a clear sense of your strengths and challenges and are working hard within the systems you have to live within and are still struggling to be OK, I want you to hear (especially if you’re of my generation and grew up drinking a lot of Kool-Aid) that it’s not just you, no matter the privileges you have. Keep doing what you can for yourself, for sure, but be as clear-eyed as you can about what’s yours to own/do and what is not.

Think of what a different world we might live in if our goal was that everyone in it could be OK.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The pursuit of okayness

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, summer reading season was in full swing (especially since heat waves kept so many indoors). Big life changes were underway for some; for others, it was simply a time to reassess. And to craft plans and write new poems, despite everything.


Flowers blooming, garden growing– summer in full swing. Earlier this week, we had a long soaking rain, from 3 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. This rain has been the necessary elixir– everything benefits from steady gentle rain. Now we are entering our third day of steamy heat. Trying to get outside chores done before it gets too hot. It’s hard to believe that two months have sailed by since the end of the Spring semester. Looking forward, the Fall semester will begin in approximately 5 weeks. So much to do in the next five weeks. I’m still trying to write every day. So far, I have been successful with a fistful of poems and 100-word stories. Earlier this week, I began a working list of prompts that trigger memories for me. I am currently reading Joy Hargo’s memoir Poet Warrior. It’s a gorgeous narrative, braiding poetry and prose. Reading it has made me feel connected to this life. Harjo’s storytelling captured my attention immediately. I literally devoured 100 pages in under three hours. A voice kept telling me to slow down, but I couldn’t. It’s breath-taking.

M. J. Iuppa, Last Days of July

This year a dead zone out at sea: bronze fields like hammered shields
and each dint pried by the sea-sun yields
algae red as spattered blood
algae read as battered mud.
Lift me up
and carry me out to see the sea.

Dale Favier, Closed for the Season

When I went back for a second session she asked me if I had learned anything from our first time in the water, and I said, “Well, I wanted to write about it, but I just didn’t have the energy.”

She asked me if I had seen any spiders recently, and I said, yes, I had found one in the bathtub. She said that writing is the medicine of spiders because they spin webs, and that maybe I should heed the sign. She also told me about Aunt Ninny, the nagging voice inside all of us that holds us back from creating or expressing ourselves.

I saw a spider yesterday on my bed, and I wrapped it in tissue and let it go in the bushes. Aunt Ninny is having her iced tea on the front porch, and I’m on the back porch, writing a wee bit, making my way back to wholeness.

Christine Swint, The Healing Medicine of Water

UXO- Unexploded Ordnance. The way wars from the past still continue to kill and maim. The UXO centre is like a slash of dark reality, away from the busy hub where cafes and temples sit cheek by jowl, where the brown Mekong slithers against the mountains, where the night market opens like a magic box with its bright lights and exotic aromas, where saffron-robed monks walk impervious to curious glances, where you are reminded that it is possible, somehow, to have a parallel reality without ordnance, without unexploded ordnance, without wars that don’t end, without wars, without a little girl picking up one of those deadly bombies in a paddy field.

for the cat
for the pigeon
more than enough sunshine

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What the heart knows

As I look out over the city from this high place, the clouds have risen and thinned, and lights begin to flicker on and shine in the deepening blue distance. I feel my solitude keenly and comfortably tonight, and I know that this is a quality I carry with me wherever I am, along with a natural desire for making connections, and an ease in doing so. There’s relief in recognizing that it doesn’t matter so much where I am, physically, because I’ll always be myself — a child who grew up loving and being consoled by the solitude of nature, books, art, and music, and also learned sociability and a love of people from her father and others in a rural society that valued family, and caring about each other, above everything else.

Those qualities saved me when I left my small town and went off to find my own way in a large university, and I see them now in my father as he navigates the incredibly difficult transition from independence to a nursing home, impaired by deafness and mobility issues that would doom many people to isolation and despair. But several staff people told me how much they liked him, and I could see his efforts to connect with people, to find ways of communicating his identity and his sense of humor in spite of his frustration at his body’s failings, at finding himself stuck in that place, his grief at the loss of his partner, and all the other challenges of extreme old age.

At first I thought, “This is terrible, how difficult this is for him,” but now that I’ve thought through this last visit more deeply, it actually gives me hope that even in extreme circumstances, one’s humanity and love of others can still be expressed, and consolation found in recognized places of solace. “I can’t sing anymore,” my father said to me as he listened to a woman play the guitar and sing familiar songs — but I saw his toe tapping, and watched his hand beat time to the rhythm — and he had found his way to the circle of residents at the appointed time for the musical event that week. Whatever is deepest in us remains, I think, and we must not give up on it — not now, not ever.

Beth Adams, What Lasts, What Sustains

Every Friday night I cup
my hands around twin flames.
Millennia of ancestors stand
behind me. Their hope still burns.
I mean clear-eyed awareness
of just how broken this world is
and refusal to let that be
the last word. Yes, everything’s
shattered, our mystics told us that.
They also knew beneath every shard
is a holy spark nothing can ever quench.

Rachel Barenblat, Not the First

Shadow blessing, shadow curse,
shadow, my dance partner
until the sun’s at rest
and they turn out the light.

Dick Jones, MY DANCE PARTNER

And now that the poetry collection is at the finishing stage, I can spend the next few months immersing myself in the non fiction book. I am looking forward to research, and walking and writing with the window open and listening to the trees in the breeze. I’ve just finished reading Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. I’m surprised I’ve not read it before. It’s been on my reading pile for a while. What a book. What a woman! I felt connected to her through her sense of place. She doesn’t just describe the flora and fauna of the mountain, she describes her place in it, her presence next to the presence of the mountain. My favourite parts were the parts in which she describes wild sleeping. As a child I loved sleeping outside. Odd thing that I was, I would take myself away to a field or some overgrown wasteland and curl up to sleep on the ground. When Nan Shepherd describes the mountain, she is doing it from the viewpoint of someone who has had this place as background to her life, as someone who connects to the small details of this background. When she talks about the mountain she talks in terms of avoiding the desire to conquer nature, and instead embracing the experience of that place. That’s one of the most important parts of my own sense of belonging, and is really what I’m trying to capture in my own book: the experience of being within and exploring a place that you know like the back of your hand and still finding nature that surprises and engages, nature that reflects your own self. It is important to connect to your own nature, and that doesn’t necessarily mean climbing Everest, it could just as easily be about noticing the small details on an early morning walk, smaller still : it could just as easily be noticing and experiencing the nature in your own garden. We are not tourists to nature, we are a part of nature whether we like it or not, whether we see it or not. I find that, for most people, the more they recognise the importance of nature and place as a part of them, the more joy they are able to take in the world, despite the horrors.

Wendy Pratt, Avoiding the Urge to Conquer: Nature as Experience

In the middle of last week, my very last two BRILLIANT poetry students gave their colloquia and graduate readings. I knew it was going to break my heart, but I didn’t know how much. When I say that each student is a gift, it may sound like a platitude, but it isn’t. I learn so much from each of my students, and I know that my heart grows to encompass them. I am filled to the brim with tenderness and pride for Hollis Mickey and Ray Ball. I know that their poetry will make the world a much more interesting and full place. And just as they sail forth with their newly minted Masters of Fine Arts, I feel a great well of sadness that they are the last poets of the program. The last poets that will stand at the podium in Recital Hall, pinned in a pool of light, sharing their words with other students trying to become the best possible writers.

It’s going to take a little time for me to feel at peace with this.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, This end of something. This start of something.

across the yard
a blackbird drags a black fig
into the sunshine

Jim Young [no title]

Let me jump on the Matthew Olzmann bandwagon. I kept reading his name in poetry articles of one sort or another, or seeing it on poetry world social media, and I confess, for some time I confused him with Matthew Dickman. So when I saw his book on the new and notable shelf in the library I shrugged and scooped it up. (I’ll go back and get a Matthew Dickman collection soon, I promise.) (And turns out Olzmann is married to another poet I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Vievee Francis. But my library doesn’t have anything by her. Guess I’ll have to muscle some acquisitions librarians.)(Anyway:) Wow. I’m loving it. Droll and poignant, imaginative and grounded, seriously silly and the other way around. I was moved to almost-tears several times. This book has been genuinely good company for some lazy afternoons.

Marilyn McCabe, You made me leave my happy home; or, On Matthew Olzamnn’s Constellation Route

Katerina Canyon’s poems are hard-hitting and direct. “Surviving Home” explores how a place that’s supposed to be safe can be dangerous. How domestic violence affects not just the immediate victims but the children forced to witness it, no matter how much the parents believe they have hidden it from the children. It also has an impact that lasts beyond childhood. The poems also shift to investigate racism and how it restricts talent and expression. Underneath all the poems is a muscular strengthen, a champion for survivors.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Home” Katerina Canyon (Kelsay Books) – book review

When I first came across Ruth Beddow’s poetry on Wild Court, I was especially struck by the natural flow of its language, a quality that makes her work immediately stand out among her contemporaries (Beddow is still in her twenties). I was thus keen to get hold of a copy of her first pamphlet, The Thought Sits With Me (Nine Pens, 2022), and a close reading confirmed my initial impression, as in the closing stanza to ‘Birmingham Central Library, 1973’:

…and later, a year since I had left the place
for good – a decade after my parents
dismantled our home – the rubble piled high
on Paradise and said, as I stood watching,
there’s a grace in being forgotten.
The above extract demonstrates an acute sense of the delicate, tense relationship between line and sentence, employing enjambment judiciously, harnessing language to musical effect without ever falling into the trap of artificial fireworks. And then there’s Beddow’s ability to root her poems in the everyday as a point of departure before lifting them into their own world far beyond mere anecdote. In this case, that transformation takes off as soon as the reader realises the rubble is speaking.

Moreover, in thematic terms, this poem is a perfect example of Beddow’s deeply felt awareness of the passing of time. Her invocation of changing generations, also referenced in other poems in this pamphlet, implicitly invites us to think about our own personal histories.

Matthew Stewart, Ploughing its own furrow, Ruth Beddow’s The Thought Sits With Me

I’m fascinated by the unfurling prose-lyrics of Florida poet, essayist and memoirist Heather Sellers, having discovered her work only recently, through her latest poetry collection Field Notes from the Flood Zone (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022). I’m even more disappointed that I hadn’t heard of her work before, given how delightful the titles of her three previous poetry collections sound: Drinking Girls and Their Dresses (Ahsahta Press, 2002), The Boys I Borrow (New Issues, 2007) and The Present State of the Garden (Lynx House Press, 2021). There is something of her sentences reminiscent of the poems of Anne Carson, or even Sarah Manguso, offering narrative curls that hold multiple layers beneath. “My editor listed what she liked,” she writes, as part of “Careful, Unfurling,” “what she didn’t understand, what made / her cry at her desk, and I took notes.” Writing of climate and chaos, extreme storms and the pull of an ordinary life, Sellers invokes her Florida landscape of family, childhood, determination and shoreline, all of which collaborate into a kind of lyric photo montage that shimmers in and out of focus, not unlike memory. “When it begins to rain,” she writes, to open the poem “Rain,” “it rains every afternoon, or all day, and some / nights are made more of water than darkness. // Raindrops the size of grapes, the size of asteroids. There is sweet rain, / greasy rain, new rain. Rain pools, settles in: the city is a glittering marsh.” Set in three sections of prose poems, her lines stretch across the length and breadth of a meditative rhythm and diaristic landscape, accomplishing poems that strike with the power and sure force of lightning.

rob mclennan, Heather Sellers, Field Notes from the Flood Zone

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins in earnest ignorance. Or in beauty that overwhelms. Or often in a sense of the texture of time altering, and requiring some elaboration of consciousness. 

Thomas Whyte, Vasiliki Katsarou : part four

These latest offerings from [Paul] Vogel are two self-contained long-ish poems (5-6 pp. each) in chapbook form (from an adjunct of Adjunct Press, Associate Adjunct Press), both in a way of a piece with each other in regard to style and intent.  The first, Ecology Center, opens with lush imagery and the imperatives to “hear” and “smell,” suggesting for a brief moment that this will be a rather standard celebration of oneness with nature, “Let it permeate the skin.”  Vogel’s poetry, most saliently in the earlier stanzas, makes deft use of internal rhyme (“surface inversion,” “observe”), assonance (“quackgrass / inaccessible”), and alliteration.

Very quickly, however, after being lured in by the seemingly straight if gorgeous description of the natural world, we are given to know that not everything is what it seems.  It is an Ecology Center, after all; there are “viewin’ windows,” and the turtles have silly names.  By p. 3, we learn that the point is “to inspire STEM curiosity,” and from there the nightmarish situation of late capitalism becomes inescapable.  Even the “ecoacoustics” are “harmonized,” while the Visitor Center museum features bizarre things like “fossilized labia” and an axe-throwing bar.

Vogel renders the exaggerated artificiality of the place effectively, with curated activities and an ironic reference to UWM faculty poet John Koethe.  The reader is caught in a horrific celebration of “Armed Forces Day” (which is actually a real, official holiday, which makes it all the more conspicuous, i.e. didn’t we already have Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to commemorate the military?) near an “RV Dump Station.”  Finally, the nature images iterated at the beginning of the poem return to engulf all: “A solitary wave over the spine of the peninsula / brings an annulus of spray.”  What peninsula?  Does Lake Michigan have such giant waves?  Yes it does, and, in any case, it is a commentary; the poet wishes all of this could be washed away.  What is “this”?  A situation where even nature is cynically invoked in the project of cognitive, psychological, and political regulation.  It is a cuttingly satirical form of ecopoetics, which Vogel handles strikingly.

He does something similar in Art Museum, where once again the setting is a self-contained institution that purports to give us something beyond capitalist use-value but, as it turns out, is nothing but further exploitation. 

Michael S. Begnal, Paul Vogel, Ecology Center (2021) & Art Museum (2022)

It has been a somewhat quiet period for the press this summer, and this has been perfectly fine with me. Since the pre-order and release of the first three chapbooks on April 4th of this year, the only real development at the press has been the release of digital editions of these three original books. Releasing these during the summer, when people are out enjoying life instead of trapped in the data mines of social media, kept sales relatively slow. However, during this time we still managed to raise $106 for New Leaf New Life, an amount I am matching in a donation to the Hoosier Abortion Fund. […]

In coming months, I plan to release at least one new set of poems (late summer or early fall). I am also working on a variety of other projects and plans for future releases including more poems, translations of public domain poetry (Rilke, Brecht, Rimbaud, and Tzara are on my mind), cut-up poetry, and more essays. I am very excited about these projects!

Additionally, I have been in contact with a handful of other poets about publishing their work, and intend to widen my search in coming months. This is still a learning process, but I’m getting there, and I am confident that the press can fulfill both goals of raising funds as well as paying writers for their work. As mentioned before, the press will offer a 50/50 split on sales with writers, and then the press will only keep 40% of its portion — the rest will be donated. This means others’ books will cost a bit more, but will still be reasonably priced (approx. $12).

R.M. Haines, Dead Mall Press: Update and Receipts (7.19.22)

Crazy storms blew in overnight, most of which I was awake for while watching the new Persuasion, but another burst around dawn had me scrambling to close some windows to stop the deluge from soaking my windowsills.  The cooler air was nice, and I slept the rest of the morning away after a couple fitful overly-warm nights. There are summers that seem rather stormless, but then again, maybe it was storming all along when I was trapped in the library’s depths where I couldn’t see outside. This summer has proven to have quite a few that send the tree in the courtyard between buildings bending sideways.  This same tree that was once just a sapling 6 or 7 feet in the small overgrown garden of the polish couple now tops out at the 4th floor. A few more years and I imagine it will be wide enough to skim my windows. I’ve always wondered how it even grows at all in the north-facing shadow of this mammoth 17-story building, but at certain parts of the day, small slivers of sun hit it between the other buildings and that must be enough. It loses its leaves later in the fall, well into November, and takes a long time to come back in late May, but always does. […]

Creative-wise, there are a slew of new chaps ready to be released after a couple of weeks working solely on author copies and more submissions to read.  For my work, more videopoems, edits on early pieces of granata, and a cover design for the forthcoming book due out October–automagic, my spooky little book full of victorian spiritualism and serial killers. I did give a sneak peek of the design in my latest TinyLetter, so subscribe if you want some early looks at things, including one of the Persephone poems, none of which have seen the light of day just yet. Also, general newsiness all in one place that’s usually scattered across social media and here all tidy, folded, and placed in your inbox.

Other than that, I’ve spent different parts of my week decorating my freelance notebooks like junior high (they all were the same and I got tired of searching out the right one), listening to a lot of 80’s rock, and rewatching both seasons of Emily in Paris, which is totally soapy, but has pretty clothes, hot French men, and endless Parisian views, what more could you want?

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/23/2022

Remember “Q” magazine. There was a time in the 90’s when I couldn’t be without it. And then I couldn’t be bothered with it any more. It was always the ‘next big thing’, the next ne plus ultra. It was all summed up by the page after page of reviews of releases by bands who I’d never heard of, and were all amazing and unmissable. There wasn’t enough time in the world to find if the reviews were true. We were drowning in a plethora of latest things. So I gave up. I couldn’t keep up any more. It’s like reading James Ellroy (American Tabloid et al)..you know that the characters are genuinely interesting, that the plot is pacy and complex, but the prose in all its telegrammatic density is utterly exhausting. It’s like being bludgeoned.  Here’s another parallel. I’ve recently been reading ..or trying to keep up with…Nicholas Crane’s The making of the British landscape. It’s genuinely interesting but it’s also the prose equivalent of timelapse film. Continents slide, icecaps rise and fall like meringues, a huge chunk of Norway slides into the abysmal deeps beyond the shelf and a tsunami takes out Doggerland. Forests multiply like bacteria and shrink as suddenly. You’re conscious of convulsive change but the timescale becomes incomprehensible. It’s all too much.

And, that, gentle reader, is just how the contemporary world of poetry seems to me. It’s a full time job to keep track of it, and for much of the time (as with those groups of the 90s that never went anywhere) it doesn’t feel as though it’s worth the effort. In a dark mood I’m inclined to agree with Clive James’ view that there’s never been a time when there’s been so much Poetry about and so few real poems. Social media is dense with folk announcing that they’re ‘working on their new collection’ five minutes after the last one came out, or folk posting pictures of their recently arrived books fresh from the printer. I should know. I’m one of them. I also know (and I’m not surprised) that my second collection came out in May and vanished without trace. As far as I know, it’s not been reviewed. Why should it be? I’m not getting to poetryt events where it can be heard. There’s a tsunami of new pamphlets and chapbooks and you’re either surfing the wave or you’re overwhelmed. It is what it is. But I really do want to stand back and reconsider where to go next, if at all. I want to clear my head. I want a rest.

John Foggin, Time Out

It’s not so much
listening to yourself

as listening,
this poetry,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (261)

So I’m meeting with a winery person tonight to talk about starting a book club that will meet there on a regular basis – along with a quarterly open mike. (I’m thinking: literary/art-oriented mystery, speculative novel, poetry book, open mike as the rotation.) I have been lamenting the lack of literary culture in Woodinville, so maybe this is at least a part of what I’ve been looking for – and a way to ease into socialization (again, in real life – I never stopped talking to folks on the phone or on Zoom) again.

I had a writer’s group I attended on Bainbridge Island for over a dozen years – which was wonderful for my writing and that feeling of isolation you can get as a writer – and I’ve missed it since it dissolved a few years before the pandemic. I know there must be other book people on the East side – or even beyond – that would enjoy talking about books and trying out writer-and-book themed wines and an occasional open mike reading.

I’m also thinking about looking for work again – I don’t know health-wise how much I can take on, so I’ve been trying some freelance and volunteer projects to gauge how I do with deadlines these days.

You can tell that I’m taking baby steps towards post-pandemic normalcy, though our covid numbers here are high and I’m still hyper-aware of the risks as an immune-suppressed person. (Had my first PCR test in a while right after the poetry reading, just being extra careful.) Just like the hot air balloons that have suddenly started appearing in our skies again, I’m trying out things – poetry readings, the symphony last week, and making in-person dates with friends – that hopefully herald better times ahead. Maybe things are finally looking up?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hugo House Reading Report, Starting a Book Club in Woodinville Wine Country, Inching Towards Normalcy

alone in the park
between rain showers
ants collaborate in the grass

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 July 2022

Okay, I’ve had some setbacks in the area of publishing recently. But–another chapbook is in the works, and here is the cover reveal, a graphic throwback to the early 1980s when photocopied zines were abundant and eccentric, which suits the eccentricity of the collection.

Many thanks to the folks at Moonstone Press in Philadelphia, especially to Larry Robin, who has been the resident angel of poetry events, books, and publishing in Philadelphia for decades (and I do mean decades). I almost referred to him as a poetry maven, but he’s more of a guide and stalwart in many ways. (However, I love this definition from Vocabulary.com’s dictionary: The word maven comes from the Yiddish meyvn, meaning “one who understands.” But to be a maven you have to more than just understand a topic, you have to know its ins and outs… You don’t become a maven overnight. That kind of expertise comes with an accumulation of knowledge over the years.) At any rate, after closing Robin’s Bookstore–an indie-publishing-supportive bookstore he operated for many years–Larry started the Moonstone Poetry reading series, the Moonstone Arts Center, and has been behind many other benefits to the poetry-loving community, including virtual and in-person readings and a press that publishes anthologies and single-author collections.

More about the publication date, where to reserve copies, readings, and about the book’s theme and histories will come later. In the meantime, excitement and gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, Forthcoming

I suspect that this will end up being one of those “before and after” moments in my life, a line of demarcation between one way of being and another. I’ve known for some time that I need to live differently in order to be healthy. I’ve taken steps toward that; I retired (earlier than planned), I began skating (regular exercise), I’ve made some dietary changes. With arthritis (as with migraine and fibromyalgia, two other diagnoses I’ve been given), there is only management, no cure. Stress, sleep, and diet are all factors in managing the condition. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to bump my efforts up exponentially.

As I lay in bed unable to find a pain-free position, unable to roll over without using my hands to support my hips, not knowing what was happening or how long I might be in such a state, I could not stop thinking about how fortunate I am. I have access to healthcare, imperfect as it is. I’m not missing work and don’t have to worry about getting back to work. I don’t have young children I need to care for. I have family who have been able to care for me. (I’ve been told I’m not terribly good at receiving care, but I’m working on it.) Don’t get me wrong: This situation is bad and scary, but in different circumstances, it would be catastrophic. I’m grateful it’s not worse.

I don’t know if I’ve even begun to really process this, but it’s shaken me. It’s challenging my sense of self. It’s humbling. It’s filling me with gratitude and questions. Pain is a beast. I suspect that taming it is going to be my new full-time job.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Wake up call

I am a lesson in deconstructed anatomy:
brain in throat, teeth in the abdomen,
kidneys in the head; ears in the legs,
filaments for taste in the feet. Once,
I grew to a length of almost five feet—
how easy it would have been to be
eater rather than the eaten.

Luisa A. Igloria, Self-Portrait as Lobster in Supermarket Aquarium

It happens to me most obtrusively when writing Flash. It starts when I add call-backs – allusions to earlier in the story. Then I notice emerging themes – old vs young, here vs there, etc – and accentuate them. Before long I have a net of connections and intersecting leit-motifs. Even if the narrative survives the re-writes, the readers’ attention is bound to be distracted, bouncing back and forwards through the text.

Not all the connections are psychologically significant. Some are irrelevant to the plot, working independently of it – gratuitous coincidences, one might say.

Maybe a film equivalent is Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers where, amongst many other patterns and allusions, the integers from 1 to 100 are shown (on the backs of sports shirts, etc) or spoken.

Pointing out to detractors that these come as a bonus doesn’t often help, which is why during rewrites I sometimes remove the patterns that I’ve so carefully constructed. I’ve even deformalized poetry to suit current tastes. But fashions come and go, so I keep old versions.

Tim Love, Narrative or pattern?

PP: What have you read lately that lit you up? Add a why or how for the shoutout.

LAM: Recently, I have poured over these four courageous books.

– Don Mee Choi’s DMZ Colony (Wave Books, 2020) is daring not only for its content but for its complex integration of art/artifacts—some historical, some constructed.

– Sarah Mangold’s Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners drives me to the page: her “wreading” experiments results in stunningly innovative forms.

– Dazzling sonic play in Brandi Katherine Herrera’s Mother Is A Body (Fonograf Editions, 2021) immerses me in word paintings; each section teaches something new about serial work.

– Jane Ann Fuller’s unflinching refusal to fly away from trauma in Half-Life (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2021) harrows me to the bone.

I like reading all these books at once. Today, I begin with “Sky Translation” in DMZ Colony. Chant the “…return … return…return …” refrain as I watch typographical sparrows flock-n-migration across multiple pages. Then, I open Half-Life to hover mid-page “… We wait/ by the window and wait for the first / birds of June to unfasten your wings.” I reread her first line: “When you chose to die, you chose.” Who choses death in the DMZ Colony? I return to that book to listen to Orphan Kim Seong-rye’s: “I saw countless charred bodies. I saw rows and rows of corpses.” I flee. To feel desire again, to move potential, I read the sequence of erasures entitled “Baby” that conclude Mother Is A Body. Flowing in an out of the fullness of these books, I return to Half-Life for “Where solace is cast./ Where you wait at dusk/” in the poem “Where Nothing You Do Needs To Be Explained.” I meditate on it all via the open field in Her Manners Will Be Her Manner: “gesture/ of remembrance/ perishing the keeper/ footless birds/ of paradise.”

What I am trying to say is that I cannot put any of these books down. It as if they were made to weave into each other.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: Lori Anderson Moseman

It’s remarkable how things melt.

Consider the design of a deer.

The world is our gallery.

We’ve made a world of tiny Mona Lisas and our brains are galleries.

Adorno said, “During climate collapse to make a gallery is barbaric.”

Or, we’ve made a world of tiny brains and the world is Mona Lisa.

Climate collapse is a gallery.

No wonder Mona Lisa is smiling.

Consider coral reefs.

It’s not so much Climate Collapse but a sparkling apocalypse.

Every time an iceberg is born, another passerine loses its wings.

I’m beginning to think of our brains as icebergs.

My heart was and always will be a songbird, no matter how broken.

Let me sing a slow goodbye.

Gary Barwin, The Gallery and Tom Thomson Lungs

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 38

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.

This week’s digest comes front-loaded with poetry because I feel there’s been a bit of a deficit of actual poems in recent editions. Of course personal essays are always the bread and butter of this series, along with book reviews or appreciations and the occasional literary criticism, but let’s not lose sight of what we’re all about.

Though as the rest of the digest hopefully demonstrates, poets do tend to be pretty damn good at not losing sight of important things—even (or especially) those things that the culture or the state is heavily invested in us not noticing.


There’s a farmhouse at the edge
of a Romanian village, lonely and thick
with shadows as dusk sets in.
People inside are afraid to turn on the lights.
Once in a while, stones fall
from the sky, dent the roof, chip bits
from the eaves. Stones fall, never bigger
than someone’s fist, never hurled
from great distance to burrow
through the roof and kill.

Romana Iorga, The Meadow Is Filled with Stones

At first I think I hear the binder,
wheels beating, turning at the headrow,
but the fields are bare.
Such a beating, a clattering.
More geese searching for a lake
in this land of furrows? Or
the rector in his Wolesely
come to seek me out?

Dick Jones, FLIGHTPATHS – POEMS ABOUT AEROPLANES

I think of my father,
if I’m meeting him

here. This
night-colored wine
wavers between us,
its taste shaped

by so much waiting.

José Angel Araguz, new poems out in the world!

this morning I was finally able to go outside and breathe I stood on the front porch and inhaled the scent of rain soaked forest then I went out to the deck to take that photo of a sugar maple in my yard I opened all the windows in the house put the screens in then drove to the beach there is some stuff going on with my mental health that I am not ready to write about here and so I am stopped from writing anything at all for now last night I dreamed of a giant cabbage and women with weary intelligent eyes and huge dogs I am okay but not okay I will be okay just checking in here to say hello hello

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’m sick of the coronavirus. Sick of wildfires and hurricanes.

Sick of hate-mongers and a derailed America. I’m sick of Twitter tantrums and conspiracy rants.

Sick of days so bleak, it’s like a chapel of black cats is a safer place to pray.

Sick of flossing with barbed wire and counting the newly bloomed flowers along the boulevard of the bereft.

Sick of watching the walls close in, businesses close down, neighbors move out.

Yet despite it all, I still recall those stories written on your skin. All the stories written on my skin.

I still marvel at our shared storylines, all our mysterious twists and turns.

How they held me, how they held me.

Rich Ferguson, Second Thoughts in the First Person

That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.”  It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.

Laura Grace Weldon, Reframing the Story

It was freezing in the winter. I got those Dickens gloves without fingertips. It was sweltering in the summer. I took off all my clothes. It was at that desk that I made [Once he forced a small miracle…] and [Fluid the promise…] and many others. I was in the apartment in July 2018 when Sarabande offered to publish the book.

After a year I moved to an apartment closer to the sea. It too had a desk, but a small and charmless one. I adopted the dining table. I lived alone. I could. In March I left in a hurry for Germany without giving the future much thought. All my things are still scattered across that table with no one to touch them.

I’ve been back with my family in Germany through the spring and summer. It’s greener here. I speak the language.

I took the day off as a gift to myself for writing a book.

Sarah J. Sloat, Hotel Almighty

I’ve brought the angel wing into the house now that the temperatures have dropped below 15C. The perennials are dying. Or going dormant.

The honeysuckle has twined its way far fast the trellis I put up in May. It’s choking the thuja, but blooming with such a fragrance that I can’t bring myself to cut it back.

I do have hope. There’s the winter to read, and to learn. And there is something to be said for learning one’s place in the making of things.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

INTERPRETIVE TRANSLATION OF TALMUDIC TEXTS. Gratefulness.org

There is a personal grief in private failures, in every missed deadline – every lost hour.

Ren Powell, Cultivating My Mind

She walked until                                 she couldn’t
identify a single species of tree

to learn anew
                                         which one yielded edible berries
if Pandanus bore flowers
in the rosette                               of spiked leaves

Uma Gowrishankar, the flower discovers the poet

They are cutting down the pine tree on the corner. It was maybe 80’ tall and almost three feet in diameter, perfectly healthy, an old tree full of years. And now it’s mostly wood chips. Today, for the first time in weeks, the sky is blue, and there is more of it than before. I walk past, grieving.

air quality index
counting the trees
we have left

Dylan Tweney [no title]

In a time of grief and gravity and gratitude for some wonderfully-lived lives, I happen to find myself reading Mark Doty’s book What Is the Grass? Walt Whitman in My Life.

And I find this paragraph; and for now, I need add nothing more.

The dead are not lost, but in circulation; they are involved in the present, in active participation. Bits of them are streaming through your hand and mine, just as language is circulating through us. Lexicon and materiality forever move onward and outward in the continuous wheeling expansion this world is. This is no mere philosophical proposition on Whitman’s part, not an intellectual understanding but a felt actuality. We are alive forever in the endless circulation of matter. Nothing luckier, stranger, or more beautiful could ever happen. There is no better place.

Ann E. Michael, No better place

What is a love poem in the underworld, in the light, in that worst of all place in between? I orca between them, or crawl. Liminal. What if the beauty is only that.

In my kitchen, a love poem to the vixen by Adrienne Rich. For a human animal to call for help on another animal is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth, she says while I drink my coffee all sharp and soft.

When covid was killing me, I ate oranges two, three at a time. How my body demanded them, sure they would save me: how I scraped their peels with my teeth for even pulp. How I wished I could get them all the way inside my lungs, rub the dying walls with their acid light. Convinced. If I could just—

Corona: a halo of light, hallucinatory and orange. Too late now for arrhythmic heart, a thing that actually happened. Too late for sacred marriage, also a thing that actually happened. What the body remembers is joy: that part was real, and while some is better than none, all is what is required—and so it was immolated. A fever dream, teethmarks in pulp and bone on waking: the body remembers that salmon colored haze is where this all began. In fire, and cilia burned away. If I could just—
Just—
Even corona extinguished, only the carving is left

JJS, Covid-19 and Other Deaths: The Descent

Before Tisha b’Av, I gathered a group of liturgists to collaborate on a project that became Megillat Covid, Lamentations for this time of covid-19.

In recent weeks we’ve gathered again — in slightly different configuration — to build something new for this pandemic season: a set of prayer-poems for Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which we’ve titled Ushpizin. That’s the Aramaic word for guests, usually used to refer to the practice of inviting ancestral / supernal guests like Abraham and Sarah into our Sukkah… though this year, what does it mean to invite Biblical guests when many of us don’t feel safe inviting in-person guests? That’s the question that gave rise to the project.

The prayers / poems that we wrote arose out of that question and more. What does it mean to find safety in a sketch of a dwelling in this pandemic year? With what, or whom, are we “sitting” when we sit in our sukkot this year? What about those of us who can’t build this year at all? And what can our Simchat Torah be if we are sheltering-in-place, or if our shul buildings are closed, or if we are not gathering in person with others? 

Rachel Barenblat, Liturgy for Sukkot in times of covid-19

To the best of my knowledge, Ellen Bass does not identify herself as a religious poet, or as having any personal belief in God. What I love about this poem is the way that she has kept that worldview out of the picture as it were and created a universe in which it is possible to imagine a being (Anne Lamott says if you can’t cope with the word ‘God’, try David Byrne, the name of your favourite pet, or the word Phil) who is sentient, suffers, and therefore goes through grief like the rest of us, its ‘heart huge as a gray whale’. As I enter a new stage of grieving, this is the kind of god/God I want to believe in. That Ellen Bass has outstripped her unbelief and created this space in which it is possible to spend time believing, if only briefly, is something I am grateful for this morning.

Anthony Wilson, God’s Grief

cut out the dead herb growing spirals inside your chest
inside the sour plum, find a seed with the initials of god

see how the mouth hungers for the unwritten century
collect, if you can, the honey left by ants on the road

in the morning, run and unfasten the gate to the sea
keep the first feather that brushes against your throat

Luisa A. Igloria, resetas (1)

It has been a labor of love to walk this one into the world. There are poems gathered here that were composed years ago in sweeter times – and others written through days more heartbreaking and challenging.  Initially, I envisioned this collection to be one of grief and bereavement.  What else could it be after the sudden death of a husband?  In fact, when I first organized the manuscript under that tarp, it was titled Clutter & Scree – the things left behind, the rubble that proves difficult in which to establish firm footing.  The poems then were largely too fresh, too close, too raw, and at a time I simply needed the motion and process of writing as one might need a trekking pole on a hike.

The manuscript as such did not initially get picked up.  So, I pulled it apart, blue-taped the poems on the walls of an empty room at home, and spent a winter subtracting, adding, writing, revising, and organizing what would become Curating the House of Nostalgia.  I aimed for better balance between between the two titles.  The collection shifted from straight sorrow to envelop the beauty that ultimately embraces and occasionally overshadows heartache in one way or another, often in small ways.  With each day comes night.  What else could this manuscript be from a northern woman poet who refuses to claim the word widow?  This shift was especially important as my now 14-year-old daughter and I continue to move forward in ways that are hopefully both spirited and healthy.

Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia

I recently ordered a 2021 calendar–I favor a portable Moleskine number–but, with heavy-handed symbolism, the order keeps being delayed. I’m a planner by temperament and I SO wish I could anticipate my future doings again. Not possible. It’s all clouds.

For the near term, all a calendar-minded person can do is brainstorm short-term ways to mark the passage of time, because around here, the cooling air and spots of yellow at the tops of trees strongly imply that the fall equinox is near. I keep daily work rhythms, even on sabbatical. On Saturdays, we take walks somewhere outside of this small town, hiking in the woods if we can. I’m applying for writing-related opportunities that might bear fruit next spring or summer. Other people are desperately trying to layer multiple workdays on top of each other right now–work, homeschooling, other responsibilities–so feeling lost in blurry weeks means I’m getting off easy, but to a surprising degree, it’s still a stressor.

Here’s a small anniversary: my fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, was published on March 17th, 2020, so if it were a baby, it would be a chubby little person rocking forward onto its hands and trying to figure out locomotion. I bought it flowers and arranged a photo shoot to celebrate the occasion. It actually IS a book about time, among other subjects–the history of my region but also the approach and arrival of my 50th birthday, an event that I could watch descending like Wile E. Coyote awaiting the anvil. Processing age and change, I wrote many poems that reference the dreaded number explicitly (as in “Fifty-Fifty”) or use 50 as a formal constraint: poems of 50 syllables, 50 words, 50 lines, and more. I’m sure much of that formal play is invisible. It worked, though. Attacking a number every which way gave me some control over its meaning. I wonder if I could do some version of that by writing poems about 2021? I refuse to give 2020 that honor.

Lesley Wheeler, 6 month birthday for THE STATE SHE’S IN (time does not exist)

I’ve been trying to take things a little slower lately. Maybe it’s the shortening days, maybe it’s a hangover from lockdown when life slowed almost to a standstill and I was actually able to notice the small things for the first time in ages. As I write this, there’s a wasp crawling up the pane of the patio door. It does this busily, zithering about (zithering, if I remember rightly, is a word I picked up from Jacob Polley’s Jackself – he uses it to describe greyhounds I think, but it suits wasps equally well). Of course, the wasp is trying to find an exit, in order to survive. Everything it needs is out there, beyond the glass, easy to see, hard to reach. If the wasp slowed down a bit, it might realise how close it is to freedom. As it is, it continues to buzz frantically, getting nowhere. Eventually it will burn out and drop to the floor exhausted.

Okay, I’m not the wasp. Not exactly. But I know that feeling of trying too hard to get to something that seems close, tangible, achievable, having to work like fury to get there. Poems that come out of that state of mind generally don’t please me, and neither does the process of creating them. I’m not saying that I now intend to sit about and do nothing in the hope that poems arrive unbidden. Most likely they won’t. But I have promised myself I won’t be so anxious about ‘doing’ things and overloading myself. Hence the photograph above. We spent Sunday picking blackberries to make some wine. I had a hundred other things I needed to do but I gave myself over to picking this humble fruit. It was slow work, but the sun was out and the fruit was ripe and I felt like I was doing something important. The blog didn’t get done on Sunday because of this. It didn’t get done yesterday because I had a heavy day at work. I’m writing it today because I feel like it. This is as it should be.

Julie Mellor, Blackberry moon

I’ve recently took a little inventory of new projects and while this year has been a doozy on all other fronts, and while I was paralyzed a bit when it came to writing and creating through the spring, there is still quite a bit of work to show for the summer months–the overlook poems, the tabloid pieces, the bloom project, and now, my series of plague letters.  While visual art feels a little bit harder to settle in with (mostly due to time constraints) I am enjoying the video projects. On the whole, a productive season as we settle into fall.  I have a few more epistolaries and then I’m not sure where to go next, but we’ll see what I’m in the mood for.  I have a notebook full of projects and ideas that are ripe for the picking.

Today, warmer weather, but it’s supposed to get colder by the end of the week. There has also been strange milky white skies from the smoke in the west way high in the atmosphere.  People are dying and the worlds on fire, so it seems hard to exist sometimes. To person sometimes. I’ve been busy, so less for the doomscrolling now that the semester has started and my days are full with reserves and ILL.  I spent the weekend in Rockford, which at least granted some outdoor campfire s’more activity in a summer that has barely been a summer.  As always, I most like coming home. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/15/2020

This week was so stressful, among other things, I broke a tooth in my sleep. My regular dentist couldn’t get me in because three other patients had done the same thing that day. Hoping to get it fixed on Monday, but of course every dental trip brings anxiety because of Covid risk. […]

The enforced enclosure of the terrible smoke did result in one good thing – I got to catch up on my reading. Besides reading Joan Didion with my mom (this month: The Book of Common Prayer), I finally read the wonderful third book from January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding. (Pictured to the left: Sylvia loved my “fall mood” table so much that she came and put her paws directly on January’s book! She really does love to cuddle a poetry book!)

This book addresses the natural process of rewilding – what happens when we leave a field or a stream alone for a while – and the dissolving and building of bonds between family members during a divorce. January’s language is clear and straightforward, but lovely, in this collection that will move you and make you rethink your own search for your rewilding self.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Field Guide Book Giveaway Winner, a Heck of a Week: Broken Teeth, Birds in Smoke, and Saying Goodbye to RBG, Poetry Reading Corner – Rewilding

A rare glimpse of an owl hunting in the park. I imagine a field mouse running for its life. Watching, I feel so hollow. I am a steel tube. Something is missing inside of me. Empty. What? The owl rises back up from the field, flapping hard. She has something in her claw, but I can’t tell what it is. A slow mouse, perhaps. She lands high up in one the tall pines to eat in privacy.

James Lee Jobe, No, you fool, it’s only the moon.

“And there you are – happened a few minutes ago.” In a sense, this is the retrospective acknowledgement that a subjectivity—you—has been constituted by this text, and that someone is now looking back upon and narrating you’re having happened here. And now, this “voice” is proceeding to weave you into its own material, which is sutured to the cosmic and the violently technological. That is, “you” exist here as subject in a process of analysis, subdivision, transduction, routing and relay, etc. As reader, you are partly subjected: an operation is happening here, and it is not immediately clear what it intends.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part III

why do i re-read this?

is that turned corner stuck in my craw?

are the words vesiculating

in your / my / that heart?

so many question marks that

i have to re-read it again and again 

that turned down corner

stuck in this my crowing

Jim Young, why do i re-read this?

Readers who think they can see what a poem’s “about” (who can paraphrase) have a foundation to help appreciate the poem. It probably means that the poem has some cohesion, which also aids conventional understanding. It may only be a prop to be discarded after use, but there’s no harm offering a helping hand to readers, is there?

If a collection has aboutness (e.g. a theme or two), the themes can provide the narrative for a review, which helps both poet and reviewer. It makes commercial sense for the back cover to say what the collection is “about” even if a minority of the poems match the description. If the poet’s autobiography matches the theme, so much the better.

But “aboutness” isn’t univerally popular. I’ve heard poets say of a poem of theirs that “If I knew what it’s about I wouldn’t have written it.” I rather like trying to discover what a poem is “about”, which is perhaps why I’m not so keen on single-theme autobiographical collections. I like trying to work out how a poem achieves its effect, which leads to psychology and market awareness more than soul-baring. Even if a poem doesn’t work for me, I’m interested in how might it work for others.

Tim Love, Aboutness

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Harecan be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Matthew Stewart, The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery’s First Hare

I was also very pleased to discover the work of Jamie Baxter as a result of Matthew Stewart’s (him, again, FFS!!!) success this week with placing a poem in The Spectator.

I urge you to seek out this poem by Jamie. I am going to dig into his poems as soon as I find some more. I understand he’s not got a pamphlet or book out yet, but I hope this is resolved soon.

And to go and get a copy of The Spectator to see Matthew’s poem. I know there are many things wrong with The Speccie (not least that they continue to give Rod Liddle, T*by Y*ung and James Delingpole opportunities to peddle their racist, shortsighted shite*). However, it does feel like this is a shift into a different world for Matthew’s work. I am sure that Hugo Williams has a very different editorial approach.

The idea of being published in poetry journals and websites, etc is, of course, an absolute dream. He’s been published in a great many of the “biggies” and, still, of course, it’s important to try to get into them. I certainly won’t give up, but when you’re being published in places where the opportunities to be seen and read by folks that may not normally read poetry are increased is a massive achievement, and for that I applaud the lad.

*Please note that I know Matthew does not share the views of that particular bunch of shithouses.

Mat Riches, Echo Location

Lately I’ve been feeling some sadness about the cool classes that I used to teach, about all the classes that I will likely never teach again.  Of course, I’m remembering the fun parts, the actual teaching, not the endless grading.

Part of my sadness is triggered by finding some old teaching materials when I cleaned out some boxes, materials from almost 20 years ago now, back when I was first teaching creative writing.  I cut out all sorts of pictures of humans from magazines, mainly from ads.  Each student took a picture from the envelope–some terms I let them look at the pictures, while in others it was done blind.  Then I asked a series of questions to help people think about the picture as a character.  Then I walked them through the character’s deepest desires in a way to help them think about plot.

I kept the pictures because I thought I might want to do the exercise some day–but I’ve never had any trouble creating characters.  Plus, there was always the chance I might teach creative writing again.

I also had a huge interoffice mail envelope full of words that I used for a sestina exercise.  First we read a sestina and tried to ascertain the pattern.  Then I had them choose six words and put them in the end of each line in the correct order.  Then I gave them some writing time to see what happened.  Did we create brilliant sestinas?  Rarely.  But it was great fun.

I realize that even if I had gotten the kind of teaching job where I used these teaching materials all the time, I still might arrive at a time when I needed to decide whether or not to keep them.  Sandra Beasley has a poignant blog post about the closing of an MFA program, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of lots of program closures of all kinds. 

My grief is not that kind of sharp grief, but more the mid-life kind, the kind where I stumble across an artifact and think about where I thought I was headed and where I am right now.  I realize it’s not where I’ve ended up–that could still change, although many of my options look a bit less bright now than they once did.  But finding those artifacts is like getting a letter from my past self, in a way.  What would my future self observe?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letters as Teaching Ideas, Artifacts as Letters

My devotion might have been particularly acute because I had nowhere else where I taught on a regular basis. Tampa will always be where I developed my workshop style: bright, performative, probably reading- and vocabulary-heavy, hopefully with a lot of laughter to ease the rigor. Tampa is where I developed my first dozen go-to hourlong lectures, which I’ll carry with me for the rest of my teaching career. Tampa is where I discovered what I’m most gifted at (line edits) and what I spend way too much time on (line edits). Tampa is where I had the time to form lasting mentorships with students, often seeded by the solidarity of shared identities or reference points. 

Tampa is where, ironically, I learned these mentorships were not limited by geography. I took student work with me to Cyprus, to Kansas, to Ireland. I conferenced with a student on my wedding day, while someone fussed with the back-closure of my dress. I conferenced with a student while I was hunkered down on the floor of my SW DC apartment with my dying cat. 

Students, you have been so, so kind and patient with me, and you trusted me with such valuable material of life and art. I’ll never forget that. 

On the scale of 2020 losses, this is bearable. I’ve already heard from teachers delighted by the UT transfer students landing in their respective low-res MFA programs. I have every faith that they’ll thrive. I’m fortunate to have a final two talented students, both of whom I taught in earlier semesters, with whom I’ll get the satisfaction of shaping thesis manuscript–one last poetry collection, one last nonfiction work.

That said, I wish we’d gotten a proper send-off. When we met in January of this year, though there was open concern, there was also a resolve to rally and recruit. By February, the program had been shut down via an e-mail. In March, all of our AWP gatherings were cancelled. The June residency moved to Zoom because of COVID-19. I suspect the January 2021 capstone events for our last round of graduates will also be online or, even if there is an in-person component, it will feel risky for our scattered (former) faculty to fly in for the festivities. We deserved one more dance party. 

Sandra Beasley, “The End of an MFA”

Much has been written about meetings by Zoom, Google Meet and the lamentable MS Teams. In general terms, I can only add that online work meetings have been more focused and more courteous, with much less interruption and talking over one another. For poetry, it’s been a boon, of course, enabling launches and readings to be attended from anywhere in the world, and Leicester. Not that I’ve been to that many – work’s been so full-on that frequently the last thing I’ve wanted to do of an evening is continue to stare at a screen. There have been some memorable events, though, chief among them Happenstance readings/webinars involving Alan Buckley and Charlotte Gann, in support of their respective brilliant recent collections. It isn’t the same as being there in person, naturally, because you can’t go and talk to the poets after and get them to sign copies of their books, or natter to other poet friends.

Write Out Loud Woking, hosted by the estimable double act of Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, has seamlessly gravitated from the cafe in The Lightbox to Zoom, enabling guest readers from far afield to join in the fun, welcoming and diverse proceedings. I’ve tried out five or six new poems in those Zoom readings, which has been very helpful for hearing where the poems catch and need tweaking. More to the point, it’s been lovely to see all the regulars, like Karen Izod, Heather Moulson, Ray Pool and Greg and Rodney themselves.

The Red Door Poets have also moved to Zoom and at a time of day more conducive to my occasional attendance. I’ve also attended a few Poetry Business virtual residential weekends and one-off workshops, all of which were as inspiring as if they were in-person.

Heading towards the last session of this current, 2019–2021, Poetry Business Writing School programme, I’ve been grouped with Jim Caruth and Philip Rush, two poets whose distinctively personal poetries are right up my street. So far, we’ve had two very enjoyable Zoom sessions, comparing notes on various poets’ poems and workshopping our own, with another session due soon, shortly before the final Zoom session with Ann and Peter Sansom and the other participants. The plan is still, I think, that, Covid restrictions permitting, there will be an end-of-programme celebration next February or so at the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. I know from last time how exciting a prospect that is.

Matthew Paul, The last six months

I’ve been thinking, as I often do, about how both photography and writing are on many levels about waiting, the discipline of waiting. Someone last week on Twitter wrote that hope is a discipline. And I was thinking about how photography, and writing, but maybe more tangibly, photography is about hope. Photography is about waiting and hoping that the light will be interesting or workable or better yet, magical. Photography is about that hope that our seeing and our skills will converge with a lucky or split second, with a sweet moment of light or an essence or quality of the day that is surprising or at the very least lovely.

A book I’ve been dipping in and out of for months is Blind Spot by Teju Cole. I highly recommend it for those interested in photography, writing, noticing, being alive, alert.

The intro to the book is by another writer I admire, Siri Hustvedt. In it she says, “The camera’s eye is not the human eye. The camera takes in everything inside its frame. We do not. Human beings have poor peripheral vision. Details vanish because we cannot focus on everything at once. Sequences blur.” Because I do a lot of my seeing with a camera, I often see things at least twice. Anyone who processes their photos in Lightroom or another program, is looking at what they’ve shot in a way that is not our usual way of looking. And so that in turn affects future seeing, looking, noticing. Am I any better at seeing the world than anyone else? I doubt it. But the discipline of pursuing an image I’m interested in seeing in a digital form has taught me a few things. Well, obviously, the discipline itself is a thing.

I’ve learned that sometimes we see what we’re not seeing. We know, somehow, that those things at the outside edge of our peripheral vision are there. The camera has trained me to trust in what lies beyond the focal point. Anyway, the book is great because it’s an amazing example of how we process what we see, what’s in the frame, what’s just out of it, and then all those other things we bring to an image, things from way beyond it. We process a lot more than we think we do. But it’s good to sit with things, process how we’re processing, to allow ourselves tangents, peripheral thoughts, precision but also blur, quirkiness and the obvious, not to mention the ordinary and the odd, expansiveness and detail.

Shawna Lemay, Waiting is a Discipline

As news of Ginsberg’s death moved swiftly on Friday, I saw a slew of reactions along lines I’ve come to expect in the aftermath of any perceived political threat: “Of course they can’t fill her seat until we have a new President!” (Yes, they can, if enough Republican senators toe the party line, which they have done unfailingly for the past nearly four years.) “Now we really have to get out the vote!” (Sure, of course, but with respect to the question of the Supreme Court in general and Ginsberg’s seat in particular, that ship really left the dock in 2016.) Inspirational memes about coming back to fight another day. (Without any acknowledgement of how unfair the fight is, or how the unwritten but fundamental rules of engagement have changed, or how losing this fight might make future fights almost impossible to win.)

Initially these responses filled me with frustration because they remind me of 2016 me and because I cannot understand how anyone paying real attention now can think any of those responses are grounded in reality. Later, they filled me with sadness because that is just where a lot of people are, and it’s how they hang onto hope, and I have to accept that reality, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that hope is crucial and that we are truly doomed if we all lose it, but it needs to be a critical hope. Our hope needs to be grounded in what is actually true right now today, not in what used to be true or what we wish or believe to be true–which means facing and feeling our sorrow and fear rather than pushing them away with half-truths that make us feel better. We need to accept the contradictory truths that things are terrible and that hope is reasonable so that we will take actions that might actually make a damn difference in our fight to make a better world, one in which we can all live and work without threat of death and raise children who believe they can make good lives for themselves on the soil from which they sprang.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Testing, testing

The universe is
a pair of angel
wings. I have seen them.

The angel itself
is dark matter, of
course, which I have not
seen. See dark matter?

Don’t be silly.

If you could see dark
matter, you couldn’t
hope to see the wings.

Tom Montag, THE UNIVERSE IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 29

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.

This week I’m in a bit of a rush to get the digest out before the promised storms hit, which will mean disconnecting the wi-fi: on a mountaintop, routers are especially vulnerable to the electricity in the air during a thunderstorm. But my gardens are so parched here, I am praying for all the bad weather we can get. And by praying, I mean reciting Robinson Jeffers: “Come storm, kind storm. August and the days of tired gold and bitter blue are more ruinous…”

Anyway, I apologize for any possible typos below, and for my lack of a concise intro. As some writer or another once quipped, I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for brevity!. But I was pleased to find no shortage of great posts to quote (or in some case, reproduce in their entirety) this week, starting with an ocean swimmer’s essay on the toadfish…


The toadfish sits on the bottom of the sea, singing a song of love.

It is a creature midway between humble and fabulous. It is small enough to fit into a person’s hand, and has a bulbous, grey-green, wet look. It is quite ugly, except for the luminescent dots (photophores) running along the length of its body, which give it a spiffed-up, dance party look, like the buttons of an ensign’s jacket, thus giving the toadfish its other name: the plainfin midshipman.

I have never seen a toadfish, but I have heard them singing.

Ordinarily the toadfish lives in the deep, dark sea. But when it is time to seek a mate, the toadfish swims up to the shallow, intertidal waters of a bay or slough. The male burrows into the mud at the bottom, and begins to sing, hoping by his song to attract a female to his burrow. Vibrating his swim bladder, the toadfish emits a clear, resonant tone — a steady drone, a hum. Other toadfish nearby tune in, and they synchronize their pitch with one another, so the water column fills with a continuous humming note. It can be quite loud, penetrating the hulls of boats and ships, keeping their occupants awake at night. It may even be loud enough to awaken those on land. It is often mistaken for a sound of mechanical origin: A distant ship motor, a generator, or some other machinery operating on the shore. But no: It is a sound the toadfish have been singing for probably millions of years, since long before humans existed.

On a recent swim along Muni Pier, aka Aquatic Park Pier, I heard the toadfish singing, each to each. I did not think they sang for me. But their song sounded, to me and my swim friend Zina, like a chant, really, a steady, clear, “OM” sound, somewhere around low A, and it was a song I felt I could join. The deeper I put my head into the water column, the clearer and stronger the sound became. If I could swim deep enough, I thought, I could enter into the sound completely, but I might never return. So instead, from the surface, I tried matching the note with a sound of my own, floating there with my face in the water, chanting my own OM into the water, bubbles blowing out of my mouth as I chanted along with the toadfish.

When I found the right pitch, my whole torso resonated with the sound. I had joined the chant, the chorus of the toadfish. It felt like the all-encompassing, penetrating tone of pure love. It was the sound of the universe singing to itself.

Dylan Tweney, I have heard the toadfish singing.

Covid exists. Covid-19 exists, summer-20 exists. High noon exists. Heat exists. Water in rivers, in seas, in showers, from fire hydrants exists. Coves exist. Hidden lanes of purple hydrangea exist. Overturned bones of kayaks. Smoothness of stones, stones, pebbles irreducible pebbles exist. Marsh grasses like glissando on a piano. Poison ivy exists. Bodies in hospitals exist. Grief exists. Shadows and data and systems, bindweed and drifting boats, errors and interpretation. Brutality exists. Bridges, from a distance, from other islands. A breeze laying traces of a fishnet on the waves. Wildness, wilderness, wildness exists. Light that has never been the same since the beginning of time exists. A swimmer’s ecstasy exists. A swimmer exists as she swims through that moment’s infinity. Festivity exists only because of the possibility that it might not exist.

Jill Pearlman, covid-19, summer-20

This summer, I’ve been participating in Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly poetry reading in the nation. This series is usually in Arkansas, but its presence online is one is those unexpectedly beautiful things that has come about during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to Kai Coggin for hosting this event and curating this reading in such a welcoming, inclusive, affirming way. This has been a summer highlight for me.

Last night I shared my poem “Nevermore,” a love poem for my Granny from my chapbook 28,065 Nights, which will be published next month by River Glass Books. [Click through to watch.]

Katie Manning, Wednesday Night Poetry

I was feeling rather smug about having a new collection of poems for which I could start gathering rejection letters, until I realized that at least 10 of the poems in the 50 poem collection seem to be the same damn poem over and over again.

Yes, they differ in imagery and rhythm and movement, but they land in the same place, with they same no-duh realization.

I know I often feel like I’m writing the same poem over and over, but to have it so plainly in my face is, well, annoying.

I thought I could get clever and tried to turn one poem on it’s head, so it at least STARTED in the same damn place but ended someplace else, but I wasn’t fooled by my trick.

It’s funny, of course, because I hadn’t realized how obsessed I’d been. But clearly I’ve got issues. Or one issue, anyway.

How many such poems can a collection can get away with having? Two? Three? Four if I hide them throughout and distract the reader with shiny objects?

Marilyn McCabe, It was fascination; or, On Writing the Same Damn Poems Over and Over Again

I’ve read that many writers are stressing about not writing as much right now as they think they should (what with still being mostly constrained from fun distractions, like offices, travel, parties, etc. but still in the middle of a poorly controlled pandemic) but for me, summer is a natural time for revision. I don’t write as many poems in the summer, typically (and it also tends to be my worst season for health – unfortunately, this July has proved no exception – I caught a superbug during my root canal AND just got tested for coronavirus as well, because why have just one thing?) […]

So besides photographing my cat and flowers with my typewriter, I’ve been spending hours looking at the drafty drafts of poems I’ve written since January, looking harder at my two book manuscripts in terms of organization and order. It’s been four years since my last book, and I’m getting a little anxious about getting another book into the world, but I do want them to be the best books possible.

I’ve had a couple of writers take a look at my newest manuscript for feedback (which I recommend if you’re feeling stuck and unable to “see” the manuscript anymore), and I was surprised by a couple of things, including that I’d been writing accidental sonnets. Anyway, I also don’t recommend futzing with two books at a time if you can help it. I think the older manuscript is pretty polished, it’s the newer one that still needs some reshaping, but keeping track of both in the same spreadsheet is eye-crossing. I got an encouraging note from a great publisher, but had to really work to track down which manuscript they were responding to! Not good, Jeannine.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summer is for Revision, Phone Calls to Catch Up with Writer Friends, and Twitter’s #PoetParty Returns

I slid off the rocks pictured above at Willoughby Spit, Virginia, last weekend, cutting my toes and raising a mother of a bruise on the opposite shin. A couple of days before that, I fell off a bike, although that time I managed to throw myself clear onto some relatively cushy grass. The day before that, I got bashed down by Virginia Beach waves a couple of times; the wind was high and getting from the billows to the shore was a challenge.

I’ve always been a klutz, but my muscle tension is higher now, which makes my balance lousy. Paradoxically, I don’t think my fear of falling helps. I watch my 19-year-old leap up and down steep trails, the kind spined with sharp rocks and tree roots; his footing is relaxed and sure because he trusts his body to do what he wants it to. Was I ever that agile?

I still want to move with speed and attain the great view, but if I push even a bit too hard, I end up benching myself. I’ve been thinking about ambition in writing, too–not, this week, ambition for quality of the writing, but craving a little bit more recognition, pushing myself to apply for more opportunities, even knowing that middle aged women hardly ever pull the brass ring. Leaving town for a few days, even though we didn’t go far, allowed me to stop thinking about Unbecomingand The State She’s Inhallelujah! When I got back from the beach last Sunday, though I dropped into a homebound funk, made worse by a sore throat. I immediately thought I was dying from COVID-19, felt sorry for the kids and husband I would leave behind, and did some soul-searching about what work I had left to do in the world (yes, I go apocalyptic quickly and vividly). Then I realized I had stopped taking an allergy medication at the beach, started it again, and felt fine within two days.

That cheered me up, but what cheered me more was a long phone call with Jeannine Hall Gailey ranging over all these subjects–health, career aspirations, politics, literary culture. It helped SO MUCH, and not just because she’s a gifted pep-talker, which she is, or because she gave me good concrete advice, which she did. As she wrote on her own blog earlier today, conversations like that can remind you that we’re not alone in aspiring and feeling frustrated. There’s a difficult balance to walk: for sanity’s sake, you can’t get carried away by po-biz longing, but I also don’t want any of us to underrate ourselves. Others are perfectly ready to ignore or underestimate us–we don’t need to get a jump on them!

Lesley Wheeler, Like water wants to shine

Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I’ve had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven’t felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn’t ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped. 

I’ve had days when I’ve ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I’ve cried at a reader’s harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I’ve despaired that I’d never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it. 

But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn’t compare them to others’ work, didn’t worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough. 

It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I’m blue, but I can’t make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else’s head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it’s not for them, it’s still yours. 

Gerry Stewart, Good Enough?

This weekend, I put the bloom project to bed.  Or perhaps planted it deep in the ground (if the metaphor is more apt.) It’s still a little rough, and I plan to spend the next few weeks smoothing out some edges and see what I’ve got.  Again, it’s hard to write about things without distance, so maybe some time is what these pieces need.  Up next in writing plans is a little fun series on Weekly World News headlines I’ve been batting around in my head that is making me giggle. It might be the perfect antitdote to some darker projects I’ve been immersed in the past few months. (well as shadowy as The Shining and virus poems tend to be.) 

According to my journal/planner, I had all sorts of creative plans for this spring and summer, but now feel like much of them fall to the wayside in the name of just getting through the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at least there are still poems, pretty much daily, first thing I work on over breakfast. I’ve also been devoting one weekend day to writing-related things like submissions and manuscript org, and book promo efforts (this this weekend’s book trailer success.)  which feel like they can get swept away, especially now that I am back to commuting during parts of the week. My relationship with all things poetry is still rocky, and I tend to go from obsessing about writing then back to not caring at all, but it’s still a case of pandemic brain that I hope will pass. It might be one of the things that I still feel I have control of–so perhaps I need it more than ever. […]

My longer projects tend to build as smaller things constellate–and tend to be more over-arching in their themes, but broader in their subject matter.  Maybe it’s just easier to write several small books than one big one, or to somehow trick myself into writing a larger mss. by composing it out of small ones.  Like building a doll house out of wood blocks rather than framing it out and constructing a whole.  

Kristy Bowen, for the love of tiny projects

little spiders 
born in the smallest room
my house is yours

Jim Young [no title]

Thinking about fires in a fireplace, because we have a fire in our summer cottage on cool mornings when I’m writing, I ask myself whether “hearth” refers only to what the fire rests on or the whole fireplace.

I open the dictionary.  It means the stone under the fire.  But my eye catches the word “hearth-tax.”  In seventeenth century England and Wales, I read, a hearth tax of two shillings a year was levied for each hearth.

Now I want to know:  Is this the original form of the property taxes we pay for our houses?  How much did two shillings buy in the 1600s?  Did people complain about what their tax was paying for and how high it was?

Could I use this in a poem?  And how am I supposed to get back to work?

But I couldn’t write without a dictionary.  Mine is a one volume version of the OED.  When I pause to look up a word – usually for its etymology, its base meaning – I feel fully engaged in my language.

Ellen Roberts Young, Delight in Distraction

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Kristen McHenry, Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

I haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

Ren Powell, The Emotion of Textures

[Writing about loss]

is letting the memories come

is sifting them out, writing down what was said, what you saw

is sitting with the sadness, reentering it

is knowing this is the only way to explain it all

is giving the context in each cover letter

is sending her picture in with the poem acceptance

is telling the editors her name

is daydreaming not of the book getting published, but of sending the book to her doctors

is daydreaming of the only poetry reading you’d want to do of it–at her graveside, for her.

Renee Emerson, Writing about loss

5:45 a.m. The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive. The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on. I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I’ve been thinking about the lives lost this week. The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process: of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths–139,266 deaths in the U.S. In an average flu year, we’d have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S. Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week. Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey. When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network–and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe. Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly. Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week. Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis. In some ways, their deaths are good deaths–they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them. John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Morning Reports

Your scythe drags its shadow
over the threshold
like an unwanted child.

The slippery blade curves
under the burden. I recognize my fear

in the throaty croak of a rooster.

Romana Iorga, Sharp Dawn

“Tell us a story.” For my parents’ generation,
a siren was normal. Normal was hiding

beneath ones desk, dreaming a bomb.
On screen, the anchor quotes a dead poet

while our rockets launch. Syria. Beautiful
is a word we still use. Virtue is a word we use.

The interrogator’s textbook says not to look
for symmetry. Not to get attached to a source.

R.M. Haines, New Poem: “Death Prime”

I have been on a Dickens kick since March, reading his novels and travel writings that I had never gotten around to in the past. He was, in many ways, a journalist: a consummate observer of human behavior, appearance, society. It struck me, reading American Notes for General Circulation (1850), how prescient he was about the USA.

In 1841, Dickens was just 30 years old but well-regarded in England and in “America,” where he traveled with his wife for six months. His observations tend not to demonstrate the best about 1840s Americans, though he also reflects on the “good character and general friendliness” of the people here. He remarks at how free education means that almost everyone is literate–every non-enslaved person, that is.

What amazes me is his wrap up, where he concludes his book with a kind of warning to Americans, a warning about our inclination toward doubt in our fellows–our lack of trust, about hyper-partisan political ideology and its poor results, about the ruin slavery will visit on the nation, and about the sad tendency to reward/admire “smart men” over moral, kind, generous, or intelligent ones. He additionally blasts this infant nation for its insistence that trade (and capitalism) matters more than just about everything else except the vaunted concept of personal freedom, which of course is belied by the existence of slavery.

Ann E. Michael, Foretelling

Now, more than ever, America feels like the prom date that’s gotten totally wasted, and is spending the whole party sick in the john, leaving the rest of us by the bandstand, mirror balls spinning above our heads, scattering shards of shattered light across our face masks and crumpled quarantine attire, wondering when the band will, ironically or not, play “Freebird” and light up these purple mountains and amber waves of grain with enough electricity to shred the heaviness from our bones and make us feel light enough to walk on water.

Rich Ferguson, America, the Freebird

We talked before about our meeting in university, but I’m curious about your interest in poetry before that. With the name “Hafiz,” I suspect your parents played a role, but perhaps not? What role do you think poetry has played in getting you to the place in your life where you are now?

Shazia [Hafiz Ramji]: I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into with me! A poet in a poor immigrant family is hellish for all involved.

Hafiz is a popular name in Persian and South Asian and Muslim cultures, as I know you know from the infamy of Hafiz/Hafez the big poet. I was named by my grandparents as “Shazia Hafiz,” which is my full first name actually (but I go by Shazia in conversation). The grampy and grammy must’ve known what was coming more than my parents did! Though, they were initially going to name me “Sasha.” I don’t know why… or I don’t think I’m ready to find out!

My dad used to sing ghazals when I was young – on tape, every day! At the time I really disliked them. To my little kid ears, they sounded so sad and slow. They stopped me from living in my fantasies of becoming an explorer when I grew up. My dad also used to tell me stories at bedtime. We all used to sleep in the same room, because our house was small and because the Gulf War situation scared the crap out of us. I would not be able to sleep if he didn’t tell me a story!

I also remember reading voraciously. My parents would take me to the bookshop and the owner would let me exchange the book for one on the shelf (without ringing it through), because he knew my parents were broke and that we’d be back in no time.

I don’t think I legitimately knew what a poet or a writer was until I was into my teens, but I remember writing constantly when I was young. I would sit in front of the TV and watch snakes and other creatures on National Geographic, and I remember feeling awed by so much beauty! And that’s when I would pick up a notebook and write “a poem,” which was just descriptions of deserts and oceans and cool stuff on National Geographic.

I still watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth to get into the writing zone. Wonder and awe return me to a good place.

Rob Taylor, To Reach Each Other With Love: An Interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Here’s a dorky story that I’ve kept with me my whole life. I was in grade one, I know this because we moved house the following year. I knew that the woman down the street was older and alone and unwell. It snowed a lot one winter and I had a red plastic shovel and when it did snow I sneaked down and cleared her walk. Probably did a terrible job, but there it was. I remember doing this several times but once, she came out her front door and called me over and tried to give me a two dollar bill (which have long been discontinued and which is entirely beside the point — but I can vividly picture that two-spot waving in the wind and her in her floral house dress holding the screen door open and how cold it was). It was super nice of her, I’m sure. But all I can remember feeling was that it was all ruined, that I’d been caught, and it was ruined, the gift was. I wasn’t doing it for money, it was just this secret thing that had been making me feel good. I ran away without the cash and cried and I’m not sure anyone really understood why. Maybe they did.

So anyway, what that taught me was to just be more stealthy, and to do secret good things.

Also, an aside, I remember really loving that dumb little red shovel. The sound of it digging into the snow. You know? Remember when the things we now call work were just plain fun and delightful? I’m still that dorky weird little white haired ghost kid who never hardly spoke a word to anyone outside my family and because of that my mom would always get phone calls saying I should be “tested” since I must not be very smart.

Shawna Lemay, Do Secret Good Things

In February 1992, so long ago, I moved to Germany. I rented a little place temporarily in the old city area of Mainz. It had no heat, or rather, it did — an old coal oven that I was sure I would use improperly and end up suffocating myself. And funny enough I was reading Germinal at the time, about the French coal miners, the poor, who shall inherit the earth. I still remember the passage about the brioche.

After a few weeks I moved to a one-bedroom apartment near the train station where I could catch a bus to my office on the outskirts of the city. Mainz is not a big city. One night soon after I moved in I was asleep in the back bedroom, which looked out over a brothel, when I awoke to a shaking for which I had no explanation. The bed rattled and I looked around and wondered what on earth could this be and I thought it must be the devil come here. All my childhood fears have materialized and here I am engulfed in the devil’s blender!

This couldn’t have lasted long. I got up the next morning with the feeling of having had a bad dream that you’ve forgotten except for the fright of it. I didn’t recall the jolt or ever opening my eyes. But when I got to work one of my colleagues asked if I’d felt the earthquake. It was like someone brought the smelling salts. Immediately I remembered the rumbling and surprised as I was I was also relieved for an explanation. I was also shocked to find out there were earthquakes in Germany.

The trigger for this memory is the book I’m reading, “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell, in which the narrator has a similar experience in Bulgaria, most likely in 2012.

“I was pinned to my bed by an animal fear as the world shifted with a sound I never heard before, a deep grinding thunder and the sound of alarms, all the cars of my neighborhood shrieking their warnings, a bewildering cacophony of patterns and tones.”

The book is beautiful and transcendent and I recommend it, earthquakes and all.

Sarah J Sloat, Tremulous Adventures

I am tired.

Though I write from a place of privilege and of safety, I am tired.

Tired of feeling mentally fried nearly all the time.

Tired of the government -who are not a government, but a campaign team that got out of hand and do not have our interests, least of all our human flourishing, at heart.

I am tired of lockdown-not-lockdown. I am tired of the masks-debate. I am tired of ‘But those statues are our history‘.

I am tired of Donald Trump.

And yet.

And Yet.

And yet….

I pause to be still, I remind myself that I am not alone, I breathe, I practice self-care and notice again that the tiredness I feel is what my South African activist friend Roger calls ‘part of the plan.’ ‘It’s what they want. The trick is to experience it but not give into it.’

So I remind myself that my favourite word in the Psalms is ‘But’. Especially the ones where it doesn’t appear and the reader inserts it for herself. ‘It has all gone to shit’ (which as Anne Lamott reminds us is a theological term): ‘but’. I still have a job. But my kettle still works. But the bakery remained open. And the Common Beaver has opened a courtyard (see above). But I got to see my mother yesterday. But I have a garden. Verily I walk through the shadow of death, but thank the Lord, Shawna Lemay is still blogging. And Karen Walrond. And Josephine Corcoran. And Simon Parke. They are my go-to resting places. My places of clear water (is that a Heaney line?).

There is still so much to be grateful for.

Anthony Wilson, Tired, but

There are so many things I want to write but this much exhausted me Portland is a fire bomb in my heart I have zero plans for July for the first time in maybe ever I have so many friends who are teachers who are deeply concerned about the school year when I taught orchestra in middle school I could not have imagined containing all. those. droplets. I built a plant stand today I have green tomatoes and sugar snap peas and roses and calla lilies in my garden I made cinnamon rolls last week and canned marionberry jam this week

I feel adrift lost at sea I wave from my boat Ahoy! Ahoy!

Rebecca Loudon, Three strange things

I have attempted schedules in which I go to bed with plenty of time for adequate sleep, but there is then little time for anything but work, necessary chores, and sleep. No time for reading, music, creative play, relationship nurturing–the things that make life most worth living. No time to just be. What if Kate is right, and these things are not wants, but needs?

Of course we can live like this. I have for decades. Many, many people in the world live with far less rest than I have. But can we be well?

These might seem like frivolous or tone deaf questions to be asking in the midst of a pandemic, when living is no longer a given for anyone, even the most privileged of us. Perhaps, though, this is the best time to be asking them.

As I contemplate a return to in-person school in the fall, and read articles in which transmission (which will mean death for some) is a given and something “schools will need to prepare for”–because in-person school is increasingly being framed as an intractable necessity rather than as a choice our society is making–I am seeing more clearly all the ways in which what I’m going to be required to do is just an extension of what’s been required for all of my life.

And I can’t tell you, today, what my response to that will be–because the bottom line is that I work to eat–but I can tell you this: I am fucking sick of it and from it, literally and metaphorically. I have zero interest in being a martyr or a hero, nor do I have plans to be either. If I get sick and die from it, it will be tragic, not heroic. And the tragedy will not be the loss of my life, but that the loss was preventable.

We all get what we pay for in a capitalistic society. Hope everyone will remember that as they send their kids back to school this fall.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

Both of my grown-up children (aged 19 and 21, and sent home from university in March at the start of the UK C-19 lockdown) started temporary jobs in local factories this week, packing cosmetics and cheese respectively.  It’s been fascinating to hear their anecdotes of shop-floor life.  Basic hygiene is adhered to rigorously, but social distancing and mask-wearing isn’t, I’ve been told.  They are both on zero-hours contracts so it’s been eye-opening to learn more about current working conditions and about what is expected of temporary factory workers.

In the distant past, I’ve worked in low-paid temporary jobs – although never in a factory.  I did childcare, office work, shop work, door-to-door sales and telesales.  All this before I went to university as a mature student and became a published writer.  In recent years, I’ve become more out-of-touch and I tend now to mix with people who have well-paid, secure jobs, or retired and semi-retired people with a comfortable income.  There is little poetry – that I know of – written about ‘low-skilled’ work.  Can you think of any, other than in the poems of Philip Levine? Who now is writing about factory work, zero-hours contracts, working in a crowded production line in the middle of a pandemic?  Which poets live in this world?  Do you know any?  I don’t.

Josephine Corcoran, What the real world is

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

Ama Bolton, When All This Is Over

Long-awaited has become a tacky term, its soul ripped out by marketing bods who desperately hunt a unique selling point for a poet, only to find it’s ubiquitous and emptied of any meaning. However, there are still certain moments when it really is valid. One such is the publication of Alan Buckley’s first full collection, Touched (HappenStance Press, 2020).

Buckley’s work is riven from experience, both of poetry and life. As a consequence, his verse eschews facile certainties, setting out its stall early on in this book, in the poem Life Lessons, which assumes the format of a Q&A:

…How do I live without being touched?
Your skin will be become stainless steel.

How do I learn to survive in a vacuum?
Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t feel.

Matthew Stewart, Might and maybe, Alan Buckley’s Touched

Why am I a poet? My father’s face was hard and angular, his thin lips seldom smiled, and when he spoke it was not of love. My mother spoke of love quite often, even when she slapped my face or took a belt to me. I noticed the power of the sunrise when I was still a small boy, how the streaks of color blessed the dark sky, and I loved the way the winter air tightened my cheeks. I always knew that birds had a language all their own. And the smiling eyes of girls, I caught that very early as well. Why am I a poet? Because it is the only thing I know how to be.

James Lee Jobe, Why am I a poet?

Wanderer
in the mountains,

monk
of simple joys,

sayer
of what cannot be said,

keeper
of the mysteries,

lighter
of the lamp,

old man
with his hair falling out

thinking
like a flower.

Tom Montag, Wanderer

The idea for my latest novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, came from my love of Plath. In many ways it’s The Hours with Sylvia Plath. It is the story of three women, one a modern day woman dealing with modern day, Plath-like problems (mental illness, a cheating husband), another is Sylvia Plath herself, during the time she moved back to London with her two young children just before her death. The third female storyline is that of Esther Greenwood. It’s a made-up story, but it does stick to the plot-line of the post The Bell Jar stories that Plath herself wrote (that survived) starring Esther. In The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Esther Greenwood is just out of college and living in London. She’s wondering about an old flame while becoming entangled with a guy whose voice is too loud, who drowns her out not only with his large physique but with his overpowering personality (a’la Ted). To research for this novel, I did more than read The Bell Jar many times. There were more than a few biographies and a trip to London to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived with her children just before her suicide. (It is coincidentally the home of the famed poet Willianm Butler Yeats.) But I found while I was writing, after a lot of research, that I really needed to go back to Plath’s poetry.

It seems like a “well duh” moment now but honestly, I hadn’t thought to focus on Plath as a poet when I started writing. I knew Plath was known for her poetry. I knew she thought of herself as a poet beyond any other medium. But I wasn’t a poet and so I didn’t even think to go there. And I will just admit that many novelists are terrified of poetry. Poetry scares us. An economy of language! That’s not for us. We prefer to drone on and on. But I digress. I realized as I was writing about Plath that I needed to study, to really dive into her poetry.

And so I began to read her work. I started with Colossus, since that had been her first collection. After reading Colossus I moved on to Ariel. I blew through both collections and then realized I had to stop, I had to slow down and really take them in. I realized that despite studying English literature and creative writing extensively in college and graduate school, I never really figured out how to read poetry. But as I kept reading Plath’s words, I found myself thinking more and more in poetry. I heard poetry in my head the way I used to get ideas for fiction. And as I kept reading poetry, I wanted to write it.

Balancing ‘The Bell Jar’: How Sylvia Plath Led to a New Appreciation for Poetry – guest blog post by Jessica Stilling [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

To estrange; to take the once-
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours

its brightness one shade cooler. All
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now,

and those years before everything
we touched left a smudge on the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, ILIW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 26

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. This week: posts about the role of art and artists in a broken world, menopause, disability, inequality and pandemic; the fleeting joys of summer, books, gardening, nature, and a new album from the UK poet laureate. Among other things.


It has been over a year since I posted on this blog, a yawning gap that horrifies me. WordPress is suggesting I might like to riff on the keywords ‘toddler, delicious, politics.’ True, my thoughts these days are often split between dinner and Lego. But after a spell consumed by maternity leave and then the ongoing global pandemic, I’m back on the blog to review a really timely, genre-defying album I’ve been listening to, a new project featuring Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, a musical collaboration which foregrounds the spoken word.

Simon Armitage was a big influence on me as a young writer. I remember picking up ‘Zoom’ in an independent bookshop in Chesterfield and hiding away in the corner by the coffee shop to read it from cover to cover, enchanted by the wise-cracking narrators and shrewd observations of life experiences that didn’t seem so alien from my own. His succinct portraits of characters in crisis and his gift for finding surreal but convincing images might seem to make his work well suited for song-writing. But this project isn’t songs exactly, more poetry-meets-melody. […]

‘Call In The Crash Team’ foregrounds Simon Armitage’s words and voice, but there’s a sense of genuine dialogue between music and lyrics, haunting refrains emphasising the narrative of each piece. I found it strangely addictive, tracks instantly sticking in my head, becoming peculiar earworms.

Helen Mort, Call In The Crash Team – album review

“A lot of the lyrics have come about from writing in a time of post-industrialisation, austerity, and the recession,” explains Armitage. “And yet, even through those years and those atmospheres, there’s still been an exuberance around, an exuberance of communication, information, language. I think a lot of the speakers in the pieces are expressing some kind of marginalisation and are doing so as if they’re almost hyperventilating.”

That marginalisation reaches a sort of zenith, if that’s the right word, at the end of Adam’s Apple after a sequence of three songs that end with Waters singing/repeating  “It’s all too much for you” in ‘ the exquisite You Were Never Good With Horses, “move on, move on” in Urban Myth #91 and then “let go, let go” at the end of Adam’s Apple

Each song is written form the point of view of different characters, Never Good With Horses, for example written from the point of view of some dissatisfied with their partner’s discomfort with the natural world. The partner “comfortable with a steering wheel”  and “watching the movie of life layout through the windscreen’s lens”— a nod to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, perhaps, but they “were never good with horses…my dear, always took a step backwards when they came near. Couldn’t bear to look in the dark rock pools of their eyes”. That last line is when you know you’ve got a poet running the lyrical show.

Mat Riches, LYR – Call In The Crash Team

This week I’ve left my phone at home for a few days and enjoyed not being in its company. We spent a beautiful day at the seaside for my daughter’s 21st birthday on Tuesday which was the first day of the most recent heatwave. The roads weren’t busy at all and there was plenty of social distancing on the beach – unlike subsequent days at the same location which you might have seen alarming pictures of in the media – so we were able to relax as a family with our picnic and swim in the sea. I am sort of regretting not taking any photos that I could now scroll through – and share with you – but at the time it was refreshingly calming not to be snapping away, replying to messages and generally falling down the rabbit hole of social media and non-stop news. I swam a bit, walked along the beach a bit, read a lot, talked to the family.

Josephine Corcoran, Once Upon a Lockdown Rose Unfolding

She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan     the foam shores up like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam          In the town without a beach where the land lazily         copulates with the sea        the breeze at the gopura vassal  breathes into the womb  of her memory It is then she hears the machine                    in the depth of the lungs like a hawk rasping

Uma Gowrishankar, Bleached in the beachless town

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

At first these 3 lines don’t seem to go together at all. But as I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been sensing connections.

Clearly, my subconscious is working on various connections that I don’t readily see as I move from task to task.

This morning, I made this Facebook post: “I had my first dream that had me worrying about close proximity and COVID-19 transmission. In my dream, we were packed in a Lutheran church for a high festival day. I was admiring the fabrics in everyone’s stoles and the banners and light streamed through stunning stained glass. And then I realized we were packed into the pews and had been for hours and no one was wearing a mask. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to analyze the anxiety aspect of the dream–but in a church on a high festival day with beautiful fabrics all around me? Really, dreaming brain, really?”

I’ve spent the morning thinking about this dream, thinking about the reasons why I’m having a COVID-19 anxiety dream set in a church, especially when my local church will not be gathering in person until after Labor Day, if then.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Subconscious at Work and at Dreaming

Aubade Without End

Open a window; whistle
in the key of birdsong.

Stick your prayer flags
in the tumble drier.

Hear the kettle bubble
with laughter.

Bid the clock
keep its hands to itself.

Jayne Stanton, Postcards from Malthusia DAY SIXTY-NINE

When I had cancer? People used to say it to me nearly every day. About being brave. How we all had so much courage. Well, no. I didn’t feel it, didn’t have it, still don’t think I did. All we did was follow what we were told. And show up. We kept showing up. But, no. It wasn’t there. Not in my veins with the chemotherapy, and not in the radiation-tiredness several months later. One conversation stands out: when I challenged the radiologist to chat with me a bit more while they positioned me on the slab: that was courage. And another: When Jörn looked me in the eye and told me it might not be working and maybe to start thinking about a different outcome. God: I am telling you this now: I miss him, even though I am better.

And now? As I confront my racism? No. Please. It’s overdue and necessary. But it isn’t courageous. (Please don’t pat me on the back with a nice comment about this.)

Admitting to depression?

Facing my grief? And allowing myself to experience it?

Perhaps.

Maybe.

Those are truths I am learning to stand in. And I have to stand in them, the same as I have to stand and face and confront my racism. So I’m not sure. I am not sure. Perhaps saying I am not sure I don’t know maybe and perhaps are more courageous than I am absolutely right on this one. Perhaps more of us need to live in maybe. I’m not sure.

What about when I started writing poetry, the least profitable writing on the planet? Or this blog? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Still don’t have it. I hit publish. I ship. I never know what is happening. What the showing up will force me into saying. But I am glad I do it. Even though as Shawna says it feels like the void. Well, lucky old void. But I do it anyway.

Anthony Wilson, Courage

Peer into mirrors

and see villages decimated by fire,
valleys from which creatures fled

toward forests of glinting knives.
From smoke, collect precious blood.

We can’t stop until our cities gleam
with the shine of our stolen names.

Luisa A. Igloria, Choropleth

Who could have predicted red excess,
unspeakable clots of denouement?
My mouths are unjammed, endless mess
of me congealing at the bottom of the john.

Ready now to lose the losing: night sweats,
palpitations, insomnia, floods of gore, done.
Dried up, a long fluent speech in crimson.
Dissolved and flushed. Yet the song carries
on, uncorkable pour of me, shameless.

Lesley Wheeler, Why You Should Be Reading About Menopause

Today I’d intended blogging about the books I read during lockdown, but after reading  Lesley Wheeler’s post, ‘Why you should be reading about menopause‘, I decided to post the poem below – first published in Tears in the Fence, issue 70. It’s a poem that uses found text, and I remember editing it a few times, each time condensing it a bit until I arrived at what I wanted, or as near as.
I was over the moon to have this poem accepted, as I’d submitted to Tears in the Fence on a number of occasions and not been successful. Then, oddly, I forgot about it. However, reading Lesley’s post brought it to mind again, so thanks Lesley for sharing your story and your reading list.
I’ll share my lockdown reading next week. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

to the militant, identity is everything
(Susan Sontag)

the older female body is needful of respect/ modes of representation must be consciously transcended/ I formulate this observation as movingly and concisely as I can/ Collette knew the sovereignty of the woman of a certain age/ drawn-out voluptuousness framed by darkness/ so powerful and indelible/ we are expected to perform the commodity we were invented to be/ in novels the older woman imparts etiquette/ the younger falls in love with a sugar beet baron/ grand salons were nothing more than a conceptual image/ depression and gonorrhea were the reality/ these days fulfilment means being obsessed by the question of your own authenticity/ when exactly does a woman achieve the menopause/ when should she stop dying her hair?

Julie Mellor, to the militant, identity is everything

I have not written here because I am wary of writing about my mental illness not only panic attacks in the store but the fact that people are shooting guns nightly loud and close for no reason other than the fact that they have guns and it’s their second amendment right to shoot them and now fireworks on top of that it really wakes up my PTSD that startle instinct is so strong I have not written here because I am tired of writing about my about my damn mental illness and I am still without a psychiatrist

I haven’t written here because my bipolar disorder hasn’t taken a breath even though the whole wolf world is on a break and last night my mentally divergent brain was cycling so rapidly I only slept for three hours

I’ve been working on a poem but my progress with it is glacial much like watching things grow yesterday I realized that my green house is simply a seashell in the world’s terrarium and benign alien beings watch over us with love and grace

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

‪‪you
tell me that we are not doomed‬
‪with words that are littered‬ out
of cars that fill extracted gardens
and the faecal hemispheres
of brains in denial of the
anthropocene such
a nice word that unfortunately
will not fit any tombstone
made from recycled denial
black plastic hate preserving
perfectly the scattering of
eulogies for rational thought
that the herds trample now
you
tell me no
it’s all
OK
isn’t it

Jim Young, you tell me no

The war we’ve been born into where our first crying breath is a bruise that never heals.

Some use their wounds to flower the blood, others carve their pain into stones and go on the attack.

Touch, turmoil, tango: a counter-clockwise dance leading us in and out of love.

Throats offering shelter for song-chakra while also making themselves just the right shape and size for strangling.

The war we’ve been born into where enemies are created by our simply being.

Others stand boldly on the frontlines, scar their lips with light, speak only peace.

Rich Ferguson, The War We’ve Been Born Into

I confess I found The Name of the Rose boring, even after giving it a second chance. I didn’t mind shredding it. But why was Thoreau on the discard pile? It’s true he shouldn’t be but I’ve read most Thoreau and assumed I didn’t need to read him again. He writes wonderfully but always seemed like a narcissist, and the story (myth?) about him living his solitary life on Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry conjures all the snark in my heart.

Nevertheless I was combing the essays for ‘by’ and came up often in some interesting and beautiful phrases. I was distracted by the content of the text. Close an eye to century and circumstance and Thoreau has relevant things to say. He died in 1862 of TB, a few months before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men, placing them at a distance in history or space; but let some significant event like the present occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this distance and this strangeness between us and our nearest neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.

That’s rather how I’ve felt through the past weeks, watching everyone react in different ways to politics and inequality and ideas.

Anyway, I cut Thoreau up and tossed the scraps. But I also felt like I was ingesting the essays. I have since spit some of it back out in various collages.

Sarah J Sloat, By looking in the mirror

When I told a colleague that I’d set up the greenhouses, she said she imagined I had read up in detail on everything to do with gardening. And I see why she’d say that. The odd thing is – I haven’t. I am truly going at it with a beginner’s mind: I put some seeds in the dirt and watered them, and now I have cilantro for the next few months. The strawberry plants have white flowers and funny, green-freckled strawberry-promises. There are wild vines from the sweet potato plants that I have no idea what to do with, but I am excited to see what happens. I’m quite prepared that it may all go to hell.

I’m silently and happily ignoring everyone’s advice. I did however accept a kale plant from H. It seems she planted her bed too tightly.

Running the same old route today, I tried to see it for the first time. It wasn’t difficult. The canopies of the trees have become so lush that the trail is darker than it was just a few weeks ago. The lilypads are budding with little yellow fists everywhere. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes.

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.

I wondered what you made of this quote from Rodin? I don’t know how he was defining “nature”. And I wonder how I define it. This virus is a part of nature. And we are seeing in the news are aspects of human behavior that are undeniably human nature, undeniably ugly.

And then I’m not sure if Rodin was setting out to define an artist by how they see the world, or to describe how an artist sees the world. The cynic in me wonders what he might have been excusing by virtue of “art”. Artists excusing ugly behavior on the basis of their identity as artists is something I still can’t accept. I want to strip all artists of a sense of entitlement and have them focus on obligation.

Ren Powell, Work for Pleasure

Beneath it all there’s a feeling, both with the pandemic and the heightened awareness of Black Lives Matter, which does matter to me a great deal, that making “beautiful” art in this moment is frivolous, superfluous, socially-irrelevant — and, at worst, white, privileged, and clueless. This is a dilemma into which many artists in all fields fall at some time, and I can talk my way through it to some extent: art and beauty are always relevant, but especially at difficult times, because the human spirit needs them, and because art affirms who we are at our best. But, oddly, it’s a lot easier for me to participate in making a virtual choir video than in filling sketchbook pages with color and line and form. It’s not just about me, it’s collective, and even though we’re singing European classical music, I know from comments received that the performances are a comfort that are appreciated by listeners well beyond our own congregation. It also doesn’t feel problematic to write a blog post like this or keep my journal or write letters, where I’m trying to figure things out and to communicate.

As for art, though… I appreciated a line that my friend Teju Cole wrote in a New York Times collection of essays about the pandemic: “In these bruising days, any delicately made thing quickens the heart.”

In a letter of response to him I wrote:

“I worry that all the delicate things are endangered, frivolous, or irrelevant, and that makes me sad, because I feel we need them more than ever when our hearts are so battered. Recently, inadvertently, I saw a set of collaged photographs of the youngest Black person to be executed in the United States — it was a 14-year-old boy who looked like a child, being strapped into the electric chair — I don’t remember the year. His eyes were open, frightened, but somehow uncomprehending; it was the most horrific series of images, and I can’t get them out of my mind. The cruelty of this country has been, and is, limitless.”

Perhaps that is the crux of it: we have all been seeing images and videos that are deeply disturbing, and somehow this affects our visual/mental/emotional processing in general, particularly for those like me who are somewhere on the empath spectrum. I’m able to write about how I feel, I’m able to put my emotions into music, but I’m not willing to make dark, disturbing, or violent art — and “pretty” art feels superficial — so instead, I don’t make much of any at all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 31: Struggling with Art

Today’s poem is a rather poignant one, not in tone but in the circumstances surrounding it. James Aitchison is a poet who lives in Stirling. He was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and has written a number of superb poetry collections over the years including a study of Edwin Muir’s poetry (The Golden Harvester) and the fascinating and ambitious New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi, 2013) which explores the nature of poetic creativity. He’s a poet I discovered when I was starting to write poetry in earnest myself and he’s someone whose work I treasure very highly and return to regularly for guidance.

People who have encountered Aitchison’s poetry before probably know that one of his main themes is the mind itself, an epistemological focus on how it works (or not!), ranging from an awareness of our primeval pre-human consciousness to the very heights of artistic endeavour and how this is achieved. Today’s poem is a playful meditation on the mistakes we make as learners and looks at the eventual decline of the mind.

I began my intro here saying that this poem is a poignant one. This is because last year, shortly after this poem was written, Aitchison had a near-fatal stroke which resulted in some serious neurological and physical impairments. But he remains hopeful for recovery and is looking forward to writing poems and gardening once more. I wish him the very best and I am honoured that he has given me his consent to share this poem with you. His most recent collection is Learning How to Sing (Mica Press, 2018). [Click through to read the poem.]

Ritchie McCaffery, One poem by James Aitchison

This week, I will be back to library tasks from home after a much needed week off, including a hard press on things that won’t be as likely to happen once we’re back. Also new layouts and some author copy orders.  I did get a chance to focus on a lot of writing and revision related things, as well as send off some submissions of the work that was building up from late last year and early this one. I am still plotting ways to support and publicize the new book during the social distancing era and got a bit of a start on a book trailer. I’ve also been musing over what to do with the build up of other, newer, manuscripts –I am seriously considering publishing them through Amazon so they’ll also be available via e-book, which seems more important now than ever.  I love the presses I’ve worked with but also like the autonomy of self-publishing, though the groundwork is a little harder than if you have a press sponsoring a release. Since I am finishing a lot of projects (feed, dark country, soon animal, vegetable, monster)–most of which I am itching to make available in a more timely matter–it gives me a bit more control.   And I have the layout and design skills to make a really nice book  (and if not Amazon, who I have complicated feelings about, another POD publisher.) I’ve also been self-publishing smaller projects for years, and while I initially struggled with the legitimacy goblin and what is “acceptable” in the poetry biz world–especially in this new world where we all may die of covid next week–fuck that shit. Fuck all of it. While I was creatively paralyzed and could barely write at all for a couple months there. I am writing again and want to find the most efficient way to connect with readers and some of the old models are sometimes not the best.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/22/2020

Of the ideas pitched to help revolutionize how we do poetry publishing, one that appears now and again is a kind of “reverse Submittable” (RevSub from here on out): rather than having poets submit repeatedly to numerous journals, this would allow for a one time, one stop posting site for your work which editors could then browse and select. Make the publisher come to the writer, essentially. The idea is appealing for poets in particular because it cuts down on the redundant, tedious task of sending out the same poems and collections over and over (to very, very high rejection rates). This could also lead to better placement for the poet, if say multiple journals all want the same poem, they could choose which would be the best fit for them. If voting and commenting were enabled, this forum in itself could be gratifying and function as a kind of publication in itself, as opposed to the arid wasteland that is a Submittable queue. It could lead to greater transparency, and possibly a more real-time sense of where an dhow ones work stands. Further, it would cut down to some extent on the hidden hierarchy of editorships and the inscrutable processes by which poems are selected and chosen.

R.M. Haines, “Reverse Submittable” and the Dream of Co-Operative Publishing

Flint is built around a central question, one that is at the heart of grief and at the heart of life: “How do we give hope to the dead?” Because we are all, in the end, ‘the dead’, and because we are all strangers to each other (it is only a matter of degree), this extended prose poem is about finding the passages that lead us towards each other, so that we might “commune”, or (to use a noun phrase which carries more specifically religious connotations), so that we might partake of “communion”: a wonderful word, which Díaz Enciso uses in relation to the crowd at a rock concert which later becomes the crowd at a funeral. It is in this communion (which, more than a coming together, is a sharing of intimacies) that hope in the form of Spring is found. Not for nothing does the poet comment at Flint’s funeral “The world is, today, an orchard”. 

I suspect, because of its unusual form and perhaps because of its use of a real-life deceased  individual with relatives and presumably an estate, that this may be a pamphlet which continues to find full publication elusive, but I hope I am wrong because it is a profoundly moving piece of work which deserves a wide readership. Anyone who has a mind open to the creative and generative potential of placing one thing beside and in place of another, should take a look at what this e-pamphlet has on offer. 

Flint – An Elegy and a Book of Dreams is available from Adriana Díaz Enciso’s website, here. 

The poet will donate one third of any proceeds to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and another third to the NHS. 

Chris Edgoose, The Man in the Tunnel: Flint by Adriana Díaz Enciso

So, besides trying to take bird pictures while I was briefly awake every day this week, I tried to distract myself from the pain (I can’t take most pain medications, sadly) with the Apple TV series Dickinson – Emily Dickinson’s imagined life as a rebellious young woman, with a trip-hop soundtrack and a music-video aesthetic, complete with giant bee hallucinations, and caught the film of Virginia Woolf’s speculative novel of time-travel and crossing gender boundaries, Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton, which was beautiful and playful and very well done. I enjoyed Dickinson (especially a guest appearance by John Mulaney as a notoriously unhelpful Thoreau – spoiler alert: I never liked Thoreau) and it drove me to go back to finally finish the slow-and-scholarly book After Emily, a discussion of how Emily’s work eventually got published, by whom, and how it became famous. I’ve been making my way through Woolf’s work in the last year, so watching Orlando fit right into to my reading agenda. Both shows make the point of how difficult it was in each time period to become a woman writer with respect and a following. The more things change…the more they stay the same?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reports from a Root Canal, Dickinson and Orlando, and an Uptick in Coronavirus Cases Across the US

Rob: You mentioned our sudden new era of Zoom brunches. I think a lot of people who have gone through a major event in their personal life, as you have with your concussion and recovery, are finding it surreal to watch everyone collectively deal with the upheaval of the COVID-19 outbreak, having experienced their own upheaval, alone, previously. How are you doing? In what ways do you see overlaps between what you experienced recovering from your concussion and what we are witnessing and experiencing now?

Kyla: Isolation is not new to me. Getting groceries only once a week or once every two weeks is not new to me. Being unable to leave the house or see people and being unable to access basic healthcare is not new to me. I already know how the light falls inside my apartment at all times of days and in all seasons. It’s been three years since my injury, and symptom management is still my primary occupation.

I can see how this might sound bleak, but isolation has been my reality, and I’ve found ways to live within the restrictions my disability imposed, rather than waiting for it to be over so I could go back to “normal.” Right now, I see people questioning normalcy and who the status quo serves more than ever. Crisis can force re-examinings, it can be generative, but the cost can be unbearably high.

If I may, a few pandemic pieces by disabled writers that I’d recommend: this Grazia essay by Mimi Butlin — filed under “Health & Fitness,” because the perspectives of chronically ill folks are now considered relevant instead of fringe; this Vice piece featuring Sharona Franklin, the artist behind one of my favourite disability-related instagram accounts, @hot.crip; and Liz Bowen’s newsletter from New York.

Rob: Yes, of course! Thank you so much for those links, and for bringing in new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Your book does a lot of that, too. In “I’m Not Better I’m Just Less Dead” you write “I have nothing / to offer Literature / or Capitalism / not even a body / just an illness.” Similarly, you write in a subsequent poem “Has illness / made me more / or less human?” All of that struck me, the separating of the body, the self and the illness, each influencing the other but apart from it. It made me think about “me” in a different way. Which of those parts (the body, the self, the illness) do you consider “you” and which feel outside of “you”? From which do you think these poems emerged?

Kyla: I think I was working at the Prose Editor at PRISM international when I wrote that first poem, but I could barely read, and I was hiding the extent of my symptoms because I didn’t want to lose my job. I couldn’t review books, I couldn’t host or attend events, I couldn’t hang out with other writers or read their work. The amount of labour I could do, either intellectually or physically, was really limited. And so much of the messaging we receive, implicitly and explicitly, is that our value is rooted in our productivity, our ability to labour in particular ways and under particular conditions. That’s part of the reasoning used to justify and perpetuate ableism.

When I became disabled, I simultaneously became less useful to capitalism (except insofar as I was spending everything I had on rehabilitation) and some of the people around me, and more useful to myself and the people who understood me. I think the self is the core, but it can’t be cleaved from the body, or the ways illness imposes itself on that body. These poems came from a need to make that imposition visible, and unmistakable.

Rob Taylor, Visible and Unmistakable: An Interview with Kyla Jamieson

But honestly, the problem isn’t within us as individuals (and so we can’t fix our feelings about them entirely through our individual actions), and shouldn’t living feel like a slog right now? The world is way, way too much with us these days. You know that old bumper sticker, the one about how if you’re not pissed off you’re not paying attention, or something along those lines? That. All of which is why one of the things I’ve been grateful for this week is learning that there’s a word for exactly what I’ve been feeling: Weltschmerz.

Isn’t that a grand word? It’s almost onomatopoeic, the way those syllables sort of crash into each other on their way out of your mouth, with that hard stop right in the middle of it and that sort of drunken-sounding raspy sibilant ending. You’ve got all the elements for a party in those letters and sounds–and you can see that–but they don’t arrange themselves into a party. They aren’t in the right order.

If you, too, have been wading through weltschmerz (aka jello, aka existential depression), isn’t it at least a little comforting to know that other people have felt exactly the same way–enough people that we have a word that captures the subtle nuances of this feeling, and of this maybe-apocalypse that we’re living through? (Hey, on top of pandemic, economic meltdown, institutional instability, and massive unrest, don’t forget the climate. It’s still melting.) It’s not boredom or depression or listlessness or ennui or anxiety or angst. It’s weltschmerz, baby. And if ever there was a moment for it, surely it’s now.

You’re not alone and you’re not broken or ungrateful or spoiled. Things are fairly terrible. Don’t let the toxic positivity crowd gaslight you into thinking the problem is you and your attitude. Maybe, instead, your feelings are a sign of your wholeness and your optimism and your hope, and of your positive vision and your love for the world. Maybe it’s all the very things we’ll need to get us through to some better other side.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Weltschmerz to my world

Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all. A hot summer night here on the hard edge of the world. I am a speck on this huge planet, which is itself but a speck in the vastness of the galaxy, and beyond that, the numberless galaxies of the endless universe. Oh my. Just then I felt a bare hint of a breeze. 

James Lee Jobe, Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 25

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week saw poetry bloggers mourning, celebrating, pondering, and agitating — sometimes all in the same post. There’s no sign of a summer slump in blogging, and not too many people seem to be reaching for light summer reads, either. Perhaps that would change if we allowed ourselves to go lie on the beach. But alas (or not), most members of this community are too conscientious for that. And besides, there are monuments to be toppled…


In a revolutionary time, the role of the poet can be exposed in difficult ways. When direct action is in full swing, the indirect, mediated work of language on a page feels almost irrelevant. And commentary on the institutions that surround this work seems even more so. And so I begin here by acknowledging that all I have to say below is rightly eclipsed by the vastly more important fight for Black lives and for the abolition of police and prison; and by the continued calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, James Scurlock, Robert Fuller, Malcolm Harsch, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and so many others. I have been in awe of the protests leading to the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department; to the emergence of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone; and to continued calls for justice and revolution across the world.

If anything, in what follows, I hope to carry some of this revolutionary momentum into the insular world of poetry and its institutions. And I have been encouraged to see that, in recent days, others have already begun this process. For poets, the most significant upheaval has occurred within the Poetry Foundation. In the wake of what was effectively a “poet’s strike” led by the Ruth Lilly Fellows, president Henry Bienen has been pushed out, the board is promising to audit their financial structure, and they have pledged more funds toward supporting Black poets, artists in need, and social justice. Further, in the publishing world more broadly, change is signaled by open discussions online revealing enormous disparities in pay, leading to questions and demands that may acquire greater momentum. The National Books Critics Circle has nearly collapsed. And on a near-daily basis, it seems that new abuses and inequalities are brought to light in writing communities. So I think it is absolutely time for poets and writers to drastically rethink our institutions and practices, and to refocus our energies in light of this historical moment, applying pressure and realizing that—although many of us are barely scraping by—our work does have an economic function that can be leveraged for change.

However, many poets may first need to reconceive how they relate to these institutions and the prestige they confer. Also, it will require some to break free of the consoling illusions of liberal politics. For it is all too common for poets, both inside and outside the literary-academic system, to have a blind-spot about their own virtue and autonomy—one which is reinforced by the liberal humanism that is more or less the norm in creative writing programs. In fact, it was even stated quite recently that poets are not often on the side of power. And I suppose to some this may seem sensible enough. After all, poets are generally sensitive people who simply love language, and they often come across as underdogs in a world that doesn’t much want to connect with their work. However, under such illusions, and especially when aligned with institutions, poets develop serious blind-spots that can help perpetuate real harm. So we badly need to reconceive of how poets relate to power, and we need to be rigorous in critiquing and working to transform or even abolish the institutions that we so often turn to for support. And while anti-racism and anti-sexism are absolutely at the heart of all this, so too is anti-capitalism. We can’t afford to be confused about our economic function any longer. We need to educate and organize ourselves, and this will begin by working in active repudiation of the lures of institutional prestige.

R.M. Haines, On Poetry, Prestige, and Power

I’d had other experiences that helped me begin to learn and intellectually understand the role of race in our country, and my own socialization as a white citizen of it. I’d unpacked my invisible knapsack. More than a decade earlier I’d read Lies My Teacher Told Me and given my own children A Young People’s History of the United States. In the months since August of 2016, I’d read Waking Up White, and Between the World and Me, and The New Jim Crow. I’d absorbed “The Case for Reparations” and watched Rukaiyah Adams’s powerful TED talk on the enduring economic impacts of being Black in America. As part of a year-long equity certificate program for educators, I’d explored the racist history of Portland, Oregon and written my own racial autobiography, a 6,500+ word essay exploring how I’d spent my life largely color-blind, an easy thing to do having never lived anywhere but the Pacific Northwest, home to “sundown towns” and “The Whitest City in America.”

I thought I’d gotten it–and the learnings I’d gleaned from those experiences had been painfully acquired–but my day at the Portrait Gallery, somehow, broke through something in me that my earlier learning hadn’t penetrated. I cannot tell you why or how, but seeing wall after wall after wall of wealthy white men, with just a smattering of white women (many of them wives of said men) and people of color, in the early months of the Trump presidency, in a city of so much power, where there are such stark, visual lines between people of color and people absent of it, brought the truth of our history home to me in a way that nothing else had, and I felt the fairy tale–all the myths about America that I’d been raised on and believed in and loved–shatter. It didn’t just break my ideas about my country; it broke my ideas about myself.

It was the first of three days touring the capitol, and in everything I saw afterward, I saw the white supremacy that permeates my country. It was not simply a thread running through its fabric. It was the frame, the foundation, the underlying structure of every story I’d been told. I didn’t just understand it; I felt it in a way I never had before. I remembered my twentysomething self eschewing the idea of a diamond engagement ring because most diamonds came from South Africa, home to apartheid, which had not yet fallen in the late 1980s. My fiance and I had wondered how whites in that country could live with themselves, could live in that country, benefitting from such injustice and oppression. Thirty years later, I thought maybe I understood them. I wondered if they, somehow, had been as blind to their systems as I had been to ours. The cognitive dissonance I felt was akin to vertigo, and it was beyond disorienting to realize all that I had never seen that had been all around me, for all of my life. It was humbling. It was shameful. And it hurt. Losing Abraham Lincoln hurts.

How had I been so ignorant and unaware? What else might I be missing now? What else wasn’t real?

It was not unlike the awakening and reckoning I’d experienced when emerging from an abusive relationship, when I began to realize truths that had previously been too threatening to see. From that earlier, personal experience, I could see that my education, my culture, and my country had–like my former partner–been gaslighting me for the entirety of my relationship with them. The terrible thing about gaslighting is not only that it messes with your perceptions of reality, but also that it messes with your perceptions of yourself. You learn not to trust yourself, a lesson that rings even more true once you finally start to see all the ways in which you’ve failed to understand things fundamental to your life. You lose whatever sense of yourself you’ve had and have to build a new one.

That is where, collectively, we are now, and it all hurts. That rebuilding is also hard, hard work.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Reckoning

Tonight an eagle flew horizontally at eye level straight through my front yard my heart shivered with the wild beauty of it I ran out to the porch to what? see if I could track its passage? to hear if it left me a message about my dying country? a parcel?

I have been sick a pancreatitis flareup again but it was a short (though painful) bout just a week no doctor I felt today like I might be on the mend I don’t drink and I don’t smoke but I can lie very still on top of a hot water bottle and take ibuprofen I have some Vicodin but I’m saving it for the apocalypse or in case I fall down and break my arms off

I dreamed I was trying to play the clarinet in an orchestra and I couldn’t make my left hand close around the upper joint the conductor was the american president a panic dream and a music anxiety dream all rolled into one I woke up in a slick sheen of sweat probably my fever breaking

that eagle though shot through the green like jesus on a bender

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

display a weapon threaten
to use a weapon remove
a weapon from the holster
brandish and use a weapon
restrain the body the black
body the brown body demand
immediate compliance
disrespectful stance obscene
gesture whose obscene gesture
use of command voice nothing
conversational can transpire
kick hand cuff leg cuff
expletive oleoresin
capsicum takedown blunt
object pressure hold spit
mask carotid hold wrestle
hold control hold
subdue subdue subdue

Luisa Igloria, police continuum of force

As I slide the little box of my tefillin shel yad to nestle beneath the sleeve of my guayabera shirt, I remember the old men in the weekday minyan where we went to pray after my grandmother died. Some wore bolo ties. Some had sportcoats hanging off of one arm, sleeves rolled up. And some wore guayabera shirts like these. Like my grandfather wore on that lonely morning as he began to drift, unmoored, away from us. Mississippi had just ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, finally agreeing to the abolition of slavery in the year 1995. Today pandemic jostles for headline space alongside police killings of Black people. Look how far we haven’t come. My grandfather was a thoracic surgeon. He fled the Nazis in 1939. Dare I hope that he would stand up for the right of every Black human being to walk, play with toys, jog in a park, drive a car, sleep on a sofa, listen to music, drink iced tea, birdwatch, and carry Skittles, without fear of a cop or armed vigilante or garden-variety racist stealing their breath?

Rachel Barenblat, A sign upon my arm

The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones. Given time, water will cut through rock. Rivers gain strength and power, and they rage. And me? I’m just an old man turning on his windshield wipers.

James Lee Jobe, The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones

House Mountain, visible from my desk past telephone wires, is a daily reference point that appears in many of my poems, often as a way to touch base with forces much larger than my own little life. The piece above was in 32 Poems; in the final poem of The State She’s In, now three months old, the same mountain gives me a stern talking to about ambition. This morning House Mountain is invisible behind haze. It doesn’t mind giving me a metaphor for an uncertain, unforecastable future, apparently. Nor does my cat Ursula, who has taken to chasing her tail on a staircase newel. The other day she fell off, busted a lamp, and slid down rump-first behind the upright piano–clearly enacting the state of my brain.

DACA survives, at least for a while: good. A monstrously destructive president slides in the polls: all right. My daughter’s stories of recurring police brutality to Black people in Philadelphia: the record keeps spinning. I’m not writing much these days, but I think the 2020s are going to be another great decade for protest poetry. There were two powerful ones in the New Yorker I flipped through yesterday, by the always amazing Marilyn Nelson and Terrance Hayes. They remind me that I don’t have to be writing; I can just wait out the mists. Being a reader, voter, donator, person at rest: those are all fine, too.

A few good things I’ve been a part of lately: the Practices of Hope reading I participated in a week ago was warm, lovely, inspiring, and pretty much ego-less (recording here, the About Place issue it’s based on here). Verse Daily kindly featured a poem of mine, “Unsonnet,” that recently appeared in Ecotone. I have a gigan about my parents’ pine green Gran Torino in Literary Matters: anybody else old enough to remember those seatbealt-less rides in the “way-back”? Sweet interviewed me here. And I have an essay about teaching in my part of the south in Waxwing (a former colleague calls this place “Confederatelandia”). That one I did write recently–miraculously, really, given how hard this spring was!–but it’s just a 1500-word expansion of comments I would have made on an AWP panel called Teaching in the Confederacy, organized by Chris Gavaler and featuring Lauren K. Alleyne, Tyree Daye, and Gary Dop. Editor Todd Kaneko urged me to keep digging deeper into my own evasions, making it a better piece, but I presume it will be outdated in about five minutes. As I just wrote to a former student, now a professor himself and wondering about how to be a better teacher-scholar during Black Lives Matter, I’m in a constant process of self-renovation these days.

As is necessary. I think about Breonna Taylor every day, and the dreaming she can no longer do.

Lesley Wheeler, Dreaming

She came back eight months later
darker and thinner, with a distant look,

began talking of her body as a tenement
she would soon vacate.

She referred to time as the end of a kalpa
when the waves lashed the walls of Tiruvelikeni kovil.

It was a part of the story she narrated –
the leaf on the water at the moment of dissolution

as the sea bed heaved. If alive today
she would have translated the pandemic as pralaya –

both three syllabled, hers ending with a vowel
the slow exhalation of air when light escapes the sky.

Uma Gowrishankar, Pandemic/Pralaya

Here in King County, where I live, we just hit stage 2 of the re-opening, though Washington State’s numbers, like a lot of the rest of country’s, are turning worse, not better. Yesterday night there was a block party in my neighborhood, older people and children, lots of beer and laughter, nobody with masks on, and I wondered if these people were stupid or suicidal or just oblivious. Do they forget there is still a plague on, one that has no good treatment, that we are still a year away from a vaccine at least, that it can cause permanent organ damage if it doesn’t kill you? At the wineries, drunk people cheek to cheek, no masks, stumbling along through the paths. I know this exact thing is happening in a larger scale all throughout America right now.

I feel so disappointed in people. For one, their refusal to face scientific facts. For two, their inconsideration towards people like me – vulnerable to disease because of immune problems, just “it’s okay for you to die, it’s not going to happen to me.” Selfish at best. Murderous at worst. Their boredom and refusal to acknowledge facts will lead to death and then, even more death. It’s tremendously depressing how predictable it is. I knew America didn’t value poetry. I’ve learned that it also doesn’t value science. Or the lives of me or people like me. It doesn’t value anything that isn’t easy and make it feel good. I feel less and less like an American, and more like an alien here, like I don’t belong here. Tell me, are you feeling this too? […]

Along with my disillusionment with America, I’ve been equally feeling discouraged with the PoetryWorld, which I knew from a young age (well, from the time of my MA in my early twenties) was flawed and full of people who might take advantage of other people, but it still surprises me when it happens. There have been a lot of shifts in power in the PoetryWorld, and maybe something good will come from that.

And what can I say? I’ve been writing and submitting since I was nineteen, taking a dozen years to work in tech, getting too sick to continue working in tech, and turning back to my dream of being a writer. I had hoped at this point I’d have more to show – that I’d have had a little more success by now. That I wouldn’t still be sending out my manuscripts (with endless checks, endless months of waiting) to publishers, still knocking at the doors of bigger presses, still fighting for…more nothing? What am I doing with my life?  I am a fighter, but sometimes even I get tired. And today is one of those days. We try to be good literary citizens, volunteering at literary magazines, serving on boards, donating and writing endless book reviews and…what is the result? Not that you do it for a reward, but…have I been naive, trying to do things the right way, trying to be kind, trying to be scrupulous? Anyway, I know from social media that others are giving up and turning away from poetry right now, which I think is a shame, because now is the time we need poetry. I know I do. I turn to reading poems that moved me back when I was nineteen. I read new books full of passion and intelligence, and they give me hope. Plus, I can’t stop writing poems. I have the start of a third poetry manuscript of my hands now. I just need a publisher to believe in one of them. Those of you who are also discouraged – just remember, the world is turbulent now, turning on its axis, eclipses and planets in retrograde, there are plagues and protests and whispers of war and ruin. We just have to make it through. That is our job now – to survive, to be around to rebuild a better world, and a better PoetryWorld.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Greetings from the Solstice in Seattle, Disappointed with Rising Covid Numbers and Re-openings, Feeling Discouraged with PoetryWorld

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll have read my list of calm things to do and at this time I keep coming back to good ol’ number 16, which is “Share your calmness.” Of course we’re angry right now and with every right to be. I am so angry at the brutality and racism and unfairness. And here I acknowledge my privilege because I know that not everyone can step aside and that living in Canada as a white woman affords me an enormous amount privilege. But is it still possible to be a donor of peace and hope? Is it still possible to attempt to be the calmest person in a room/zoom? Is it possible to let our calm become a contagion?

Anger can be effective, and necessary. Now is the time for anger, I can’t deny that. Even Bruce Springsteen is using the F word these days. Good for him, man. This is not to be taken lightly. When the boss is telling you to put on a fucking mask, this is serious stuff.

But okay, we’re wearing a mask, we’re trying to be calm and let it ripple out so that it can help others become calm and we can try to lower our blood pressure etc.

I keep thinking about all my years at the library, trying to develop and to really have an open-hearted stance. I put my whole body into that stance and my eyes and my facial muscles. It’s hard to do when you’re tired, or wary, and sometimes even a little afraid. But I’ve always found that when you make this effort, when you throw yourself out there with an open heart, the payoff is amazing. It’s really about having trust in humans, faith that if you are your best self, they will bring theirs. I would say that this works almost all the time. But now, if our faces are covered, how is this going to work? Early on when I started working at my current library branch, I got Bell’s Palsy, which I have bored you all with repeatedly, and wrote about in my latest book. Suffice to say, half your face is mud/basically paralyzed, and this usually lasts 3-4 months. Most people recover but I had some depressing thought that I’d be in the whatever percent of those who don’t. Don’t ask me why, I had convinced myself of this, and so went back to work before I strictly needed to. Long story short, I couldn’t use my usual facial expressions to convey those things I wanted to convey. So I had to really rely on the rest of my body, my eyes. The eyebrows were also useless, though I’ve often been asked if I even have any. I do! They’re just very light, haha. What I realized is that what’s more important is just feeling the feelings. Feeling the faith, and actually trusting. That that is enough. It’s felt. Words, also good. But yah, it sounds all fluffy and mystical, but in my small experience, it worked. You send out good, you get good back. You can still do this, emanate the good vibes, the whole heart, wearing a mask. And if it doesn’t work, at least you sent out good. Because for me, how I walk through the world is the thing. This is what living is. This is what being a decent human is. (Yes, sometimes it’s also yelling at people Boss-style). The thing is, none of this is going to go away overnight. How do you want to walk through the world? What is your stance?

Shawna Lemay, Also this

Sometimes all it takes is a placebo of a smile placed askew on my face to get me imagining I could’ve been a Picasso model in another life.

Or perhaps glitter for a second skin, something catching light just right to blind the con-artist politicians and suntanned psychopaths looking to make a killing in the socially distanced outdoors.

Sometimes we gotta break down our inner walls just to lay hands on our own hurts.

Clear away the dirty fingerprints left on unfulfilled thoughts so we can polish them to perfection.

Those lights we witness at the end of the tunnel, maybe they’re not cars careening towards us.

Perhaps they’re the shine of our own eyes as we approach one another, promising we’ll get through this.

Rich Ferguson, Conversations I’ve Had With the Walls on One Too Many Sleepless Nights

[Thomas Merton] had left the academic world of New York in order to seek God and some sort of personal overhaul. He was aiming at authenticity, transparency, honesty, directness, egolessness… and yet he learned how the very act of writing — which he couldn’t help, couldn’t give up completely — became a trap for the ego. He talks about it a lot. This was his huge struggle: the need to say what he saw and felt out of the depths of his contemplative experience, to communicate it to others, and to try to make a difference in a broken world, but how writing can become performance that addictively seeks something else entirely: admiration, praise, fame. Just before his accidental death, Merton wrote this about his vocation: “He struggles with the fact of death, trying to seek something deeper than death, and the office of the monk, or the marginal person, the meditative person or the poet, is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life.”

Merton held up a mirror for many of the struggles I was having in writing and in art and in life, and in that mirror I saw myself, my games, my desires more clearly. The mirror shows the whole room: what we need to throw out, and the bits we should keep, and it’s a process that never ends.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 29: On Journals

Monuments relate to thinking, to memory. We want our thoughts to endure–our society, our “own way of life”–to last forever, because we know we will not last forever.

Monuments have the disturbing quality of often belonging to only one group in a culture, however. The victors, or those who wish they had been victors. The victims, mourned. The powerful, because they have the means to build monuments. Monuments can fade from significance; the culture can change its point of view, making the old statues controversial or useless; new leaders can appear.

I am rethinking what I consider to be cultural and social monuments.

Here’s something I love to hear when my head and heart get too full of complicated histories and emotions: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” sung by Otis Redding. *

~~
* [FYI from Wikipedia: “In 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

Ann E. Michael, Monumental

Rob Taylor: Midway through On/me, in the poem“ On Identity/Silence,” you consider what to say after a colleague makes a racist comment about Indigenous people: “deciding if fighting is enough // deciding if education is possible // knowing that i will forever live here / in this space / of in-between”.

So much of the book is about feeling “in-between,” and I wonder to what extent you think of poetry itself as being in-between in some way – a middle ground between fighting and educating, between the “political” and the “personal,” between Indigenous oral traditions and English Literature, etc. etc. Do you think of writing poetry as part of your in-between-ness?

Francine Cunningham: I realized a long time ago that I live in this in-between place and what I do with my art has to reflect that. Growing up it wasn’t a space that I ever read about or that people talked about. I felt really alone in this space. I felt like the thoughts and feelings I was having were not valid and made me a bad person, a bad Indigenous person. I’ve been working with Indigenous youth for close to fifteen years now and it has shown me that I am not alone in this in-between place. I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak about this space for the youth that I work with.

I write fiction and non-fiction too, but I speak about this primarily in my poetry because poetry is where my heart lives. My poetry isn’t filled with rules. I’m not playing with any of the different forms that exist in poetry, I am just writing my heart. That to me is closer to oral traditions of storytelling. It’s about me talking honestly and plainly. For a long time I didn’t think that I was a poet because I could never remember all the rules and different forms, or because my poems didn’t look like or sound like the poems that I studied in English class. I spent years denying all the poems inside me because of this and focused instead on my fiction. But one day it just became too much to hold in my heart, and I let the poems come. And I loved them. I showed some people and they loved them, too. Then I started to publish them and people I didn’t know contacted me to tell me how much my work meant to them. People who didn’t read poetry because they also felt inferior in not understanding the rules. People who felt like, because they couldn’t understand all the vocabulary, poetry wasn’t for them. But when they read my words, they understood them, they didn’t feel locked out. That meant so much to me. Since the book has come out I have had a lot of people contact me saying this book touched them to tears because for once they could understand what I was saying, even if they were non-Indigenous. Accessibility to the arts is important.

Rob Taylor, This In-Between Place: An Interview with Francine Cunningham

“In recent months I have been intent on seizing happiness.”  So wrote C.D. Wright, my guiding star right now.  If you’re naturally happy, you don’t make declarations to be happy.  You throw out an idea, a wild proposition and follow it passionately to see where it goes. If your arm is strong, you toss that net far and wide to pull in both flowers and monsters. 

I’m sitting at Wright’s feet now to gauge those monsters and flowers, but also to hear how, in her poetry, she navigated extremes. She wrote that she was pulled by extremes, as am I, and her selves swing wildly, as do mine.  Mine has a kind of “pessimistic optimism” or “optimistic pessimism” or “radical realism.” I feel that I’m carrying battling twins around on these humid summer days.  Where can I put them except on a page in form that doesn’t have to be resolved? Their form and spirit overseen by kindred spirits that I’ve pulled from my shelves? How lucky I am to have a way that keeps me human.

Returning to Wright, what follows her opening line in the poem “Crescent” about intending happiness is “to this end I applied various shades of blue.”  She then hauls in all kinds of fierce and ironic material examples. She works up into a fierce lather that seems to reflect a sexual fury, a restless rage.  No one lives in a world of our making.  Yet fury at the “system” is freighted with an unabated wonder.  Her material world crackles with straight-ahead fierce wonder at what is.  As she moves through her world, she softens or careens to a kind of balance that places her outside herself, into selfless love and community.  In her final great phrase, she delivers a profoundly earned mantra of illumination, for the road has been exhausting and exhilarating: “draw nearer my dear: never fear: the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it”

“Crescent,” from Steal Away, Selected and New  Poems (Copper Canyon Press)

Jill Pearlman, Flowers and Monsters

For the last couple of weeks, a single peony has held my attention. I’ve watched it as the bud strained to open, then been amazed by the flower’s sudden unfurling. I was almost late for work one morning as I tried to photograph a raindrop on one of the petals. And then I was saddened as it shed its petals under the weight of rain. It’s a strange experience to try and give your attention to just one thing, when daily life is constantly tugging you in other directions. As for the haiku I’ve written about it (below), well, I’m not sure they come anywhere close to my actual experience of the peony, but I’ve been trying to explore what the form can do and be a little looser in my interpretations. Reading Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (ed. Kacian, J., Rowland, P & Burns, A., Norton, 2016, f.pub 2013) has expanded my understanding of what’s possible within these short poems. It’s a great book, full of little surprises, and it has an enlightening overview of haiku in English by Jim Kacian at the end, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is interested in the development of the form.

Julie Mellor, peonycloudburst

all these haiku‬
‪i keep stepping on them‬
‪tripping over them‬
‪i throw them out but‬
‪they are homing haiku‬
‪flapping around my head‬
‪and in my bed‬
‪and in my tea‬
‪you see‬
‪how much rhyme is missing‬
‪from the haiku‬
‪that also trips me up‬
‪and suffocates me ‬
‪i sneeze‬
‪haiku haiku‬
‪all fall down‬

Jim Young, all these haiku‬

Whichever way you look at it, lockdown is coming to an end in England, and gradually elsewhere in the UK, too. Non-essential shops are open, churches are open for quiet prayer, public transport is running, roads are much, much busier, businesses are opening up although everyone is expected to keep two metres apart and wear a face covering in enclosed indoor spaces. It has been the strangest time I’ve ever lived through and I am still processing what has happened and what is still happening. In the middle of it all, I’ve read books, watched films and TV series, binged on radio drama and audio books, read collections of short stories, poetry and novels. I’ve queued – and I continue to queue – in supermarkets for food and I’ve got used to cooking for four adults again rather than for just Andrew and I. My daughter has finished her degree and is waiting for her results. She is about to turn 21. My son has finished the first year of his degree and is working out how to organise accommodation in London for next year while he is stuck at home in Wiltshire. Andrew has continued to work in his job in software from his office in a shed at the bottom of our garden. I have sometimes desperately missed being alone to write and Andrew has – cleverly and kindly – repaired an old table and moved it into the corner of a shed my son uses for band rehearsals. We are big on sheds in our family – which is a blessing because I love the solitude of my new writing space.

Josephine Corcoran, Once upon a lockdown

My tiny chalkboard poems continue and, apparently, are appreciated by many who read them on social media, as these readers are telling me. I am glad. In addition to sudden chalkboard revisions as I write, I experience ongoing changes in interpretation. I wrote “Last Days” in my back yard, on the patio, gazing in wonder at the beauty of everything around me, and feeling eternity somehow. Inside me was the scary realization that I/we might be living our last days on earth…but, if so, at least they would be remarkably beautiful. And the world could go on without us.

Last Days

Yes, it might be
one of the last days
so breezy and bright,
so beautiful and clear.

The first version ended with two sentence fragments and had three periods. It felt breezier and brighter, therefore, but lacked eternity. Now it is one long sentence, like life. Eternity remains only in the title and at a line break. These may simply be the last days of sheer beauty before rain (needed!) or terrible heat (coming today). Or…these may indeed be my/our last days on earth.

I suspect I’m under the influence of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 but terribly pertinent to now, as it’s about the world after a flu pandemic has drastically reduced population and wiped out civilization as we knew it. No grocery stores now, gasoline has expired, no electricity, no phones, no computers. People are making do in settlements here and there. And there’s a Traveling Symphony for entertainment, because, and this is a quotation from Star Trek: Voyager, “survival is insufficient.”

Kathleen Kirk, Last Days

I’m not sure what it’s taken but I’ve started writing again. Not a great outpouring, but something. Maybe it’s been the eclectic reading I’ve been doing.

As well as Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche (Faber, 2019), I’ve read my way through Jean Sprackland’s Green Noise (Cape, 2018), and am enjoying dipping in and out of Darling (Bloodaxe, 2007), Jackie Kay’s selected. I’ve also been intrigued by Adam Nicolson’s exploration of Wilton and the background to Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’, which then got me onto The Elizabethans by A N Wilson which I’d had on the bookshelf for a while. Much to enjoy here, but the author has some angles (shall we say) and turns of phrase that rankled with me. Although I’m on the last chapter I don’t think I’ll finish it as there are just too many references to how Elizabeth had become ‘old and yellow-toothed’ and so forth. A queen who had achieved so much during her reign, being denigrated for the sin of growing old and thereby losing her looks doesn’t sit well with me. Funny, that!

I’m getting very interested in the ‘Sidney circle’ and the whole pre-Shakespeare Renaissance literary scene. In particular I’m starting to dig out more about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, by all accounts a fine writer, but who tends to be described in terms of a) her more famous brother and b) her generous literary patronage.

Robin Houghton, Getting all Elizabethan, new writing and emerging from the gloom

At the Field Museum in the fall, an audience member inquired whether I thought myself a nature poet, but maybe I am as much as any girl who spent her life growing up in the boonies of both Illinois and Wisconsin, but who was in love with the sea.Who wanted to be a scientist to study those depths. As an artist, I fall again and again to landscapes and botanicals.  Though I am probably more in debt to the supernatural than I am the natural. I feel, as I’ve been working on dark country, that this is at the forefront, but it’s been there all along through the other books I’ve written.  Even sex & violence has its ghosts–my own past relationships, Plath herself, Dali’s little blue dog. 

And in many ways the writing is a sort of exorcism of ghosts, of stories, of the past dusted off and made shiny and new. I’ve been thinking of this as I look at the newest completed manuscript, feed, and how it was a writing out, a bloodletting in the year after I lost my mom. There are so many ghosts there, literal and just my own metaphoricals.  Or maybe less an exorcism and more of a seance–a speaking to and with the dead, either others or the self you left behind at various points of travel. 

Kristy Bowen, poems and ghosts

Christina Sng’s collection of poetry, A Collection of Dreamscapes, blends dark fantasy, science fiction, and horror, examining the many-faceted aspects of women, from their hopeful dreams to their shadow selves. These lyrical poems offer tale of “women who hide behind the taste of poisoned apples, who set themselves on fire, who weep at riverbanks, the taste of freedom too much to swallow, too heavy to bear.”

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2020

Over on his ever-excellent blog, John Foggin has revealed the names of the poets behind the 26 ‘When All This is Over’ poems chosen, out of 80 or so which were submitted, for publication in a Calder Valley Poetry pamphlet. Like many great ideas, this project has a perfect simplicity to it, and it has been a real pleasure to be involved in it. To be one of the 26 in the pamphlet, among some wonderful poets, is a lovely bonus.

I won’t single out any of the amazing poems except to say that the title of Sue Riley’s marvellous ‘The Cats’ Meat Man’ reminds me of a saying of my dad’s – “Quick, quick, cats’ meat!” – the derivation of which I can’t recall him ever explaining. I suppose it was just that if we didn’t hurry up doing whatever it was he was geeing us up to do, we would end up as cats’ meat. Or something like that!

Matthew Paul, John Foggin’s When All This is Over project

–If you came to this page hoping for an analysis of yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions, head over to my theology blog to read this post.  What a pleasant surprise!  I predict that when historians look back on the great Civil Rights decisions, this one will be much higher on the list than the marriage decision from a different June in this decade (2015 to be precise).

–For those of you who are literary minded, you may have come to this page thinking I would write about James Joyce and Bloomsday.  I have done that several times in the past; after all, I wrote my MA thesis on women characters in Joyce.  I plan to tune in to this YouTube channel from the Symphony Space folks to see people reading chunks of Ulysses throughout the day.

–It will be very different from a long ago Bloomsday, when we had recently moved to South Florida, and went down to Books and Books to hear people from the University of Miami read from the book.

–I think even further back to my grad school days, relaxing by my apartment’s pool, reading academic books as I wrote my thesis.  I miss a lot about those days:  my youthful body, my youthful enthusiasm, the luxury of time to read hefty academic works.  But there’s much about my current life that I didn’t have then:  financial resources, self knowledge, confidence in my creative skills, a more mature faith.

–Most of all, I miss the certainty that I had then that my best days were still to come.  I had just finished a year of teaching classes, classes all my own, not just as a teaching assistant.  I knew that I was doing what I was put on earth to do.

–In contrast, yesterday I saw 2 students throw their arms around each other and hug as if a war had kept them separated.  By the time I was about to say, “Please stay 6 feet apart,” the moment was over.  I thought I would spend my working life discussing great works of literature, like Ulysses, but instead I’m the middle school dance chaperone, monitoring physical distance and breath.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days that Bloom

Lines found in my Twitter feed on the summer solstice

this zombie world
see what it looks like
share the urban space

a whole family of dead cats
at least four of them
in a tub of rainwater

who decides?
who’s in control?
there’s nothing for me

I’ve missed you
unless you’re a heron
dreaming of your great escape

a little tree
raindrops in grass
will lead you back home

feeling brave
heading north
thanking the universe for Bob Dylan

Ama Bolton, Summer solstice

My dad’s father, grandfather John, by all accounts, was not an affectionate man. My dad was, but he found it hard to show it, spontaneously. He wasn’t cold, or distant. But something in him was withheld. This is just to say, ‘I love you, Dad’.

What remains

How do you know that this is love? Is it
the moment that draws you in, the saving stitch?
One moment out of all the moments,
out of all the wrong notes, the missteps.

Because I thought he didn’t know the way of love,
didn’t know the tune, the words, 
they were what other people spoke,
they were borrowings, and he wasn’t one
to accept with grace, always on guard. But

he’d go out, not saying where, come back
and give his grandchildren each a Marathon.
He wasn’t a man to pick up a child
so a child could slip into his shape
as cats do. A silent gift of chocolate bars
was him articulating love.

What they remember of him, my children,
what they tell of him, is Marathons.
Remember when our granddad gave us Marathons?
What remains of us might just be love
but the story’s always Marathons.

John Foggin, For my Dad on Fathers’ Day

When I first heard this poem [“Invitation to Brave Space” by Micky Scottbey Jones], I was in brave space. Invited into it, with no map and no plan. It was scary and exciting.

There we were, sitting round the fire, exchanging hopes for the year, the coming season, our dreams.

Forty of us, including children, a long weekend of wild walks, getting soaked, of pub grub, deep listening and intentional turning up to say what was on our hearts: mobile phone addiction; climate grief; post-election anger; mental health.

Of eating together and silly games. The preparation and clearing away of food. The pouring of wine.

Right now is a still silent evening on the longest day of the year. (I resist the thought of the darkness rushing up to meet me.) Back then we were still getting knocked around by February. How we laughed into that wind, that downpour. There were rumours of a virus, but not here, surely, we said.

I was in the brave space. I talked about some deep and hidden things. Very slowly I learned to stand in my truth.

I am trying to stay there, but it is not easy.

Sit down with me a while. The sound you can hear is my breathing. It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything.

Sit with me a while longer. I am not feeling brave, but let’s explore the space together.

Anthony Wilson, Brave space?

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week included some searing posts on death and illness and several thought-provoking posts about the vocation and political economy of writing. Plus many other wonders.


What’s there to fear
of the old men on Rikers

condemned to die —
not for their crimes

but for living long
enough to pick up

the lethal virus from
their concrete beds.

No visitors allowed.
The men on the island

can’t speak of how
spring pushes up

not daisies not miracle
cures but takes away

their little breath left
the crown of the virus

colonizing their lungs
robbing their hearts

of energy enough
to beat bad odds.

Bio-containment rules
rule out the six feet

of physical distancing
but not the six feet

down where the trench-
diggers go, where

the bodies, their own,
come to rest four deep.

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XIX

Everyone who knows me knows this story. How does it become more than just another story of someone losing someone they love? Especially now, when there’s a whole new category of how to lose a loved one? Maybe recognizing cycles and honoring them is a story we all need.

Yesterday morning I had a committee meeting of the land trust board I’m on and I did the Zoom call on my porch. Other people on the call could hear the birds in my yard and there were texts about the birds, asking what they were. I know I have robins, sparrows, chickadees, mourning doves, bluebirds, mockingbirds and bob-o-links in the pastures across the street.

But when I was asked what the song was punctuating the call, I didn’t know. I pay attention to the birds in my yard, but I’m not sure I want to be able to name the ones that mark the descent into illness for Eric.

Grace Mattern, Birdsong Yahrzeit

I know what’s coming. At the same time, I have no idea at all. It will be terrible, it will be beautiful, it will not be what I expected. It will live with me every day. It is already living in me.

As we say, the memories ‘come flooding back’. Whoever first said this has a lot to answer for. Sometimes they drip drip drip away at me, in the dark, not a flood at all. Other days (nights) it is a torrent.

The sound of her laughter. The smell of onions frying. Her lack of solemnity. That time the car broke down on the way back from school, the steam, the searing heat that day.

The sheer look of joy on her face in this photo, unguarded, not posed. That’s a rare thing to encounter in this life. And I am grateful.

But still I want her back. And it hasn’t really started yet. This is just the beginning.

Anthony Wilson, On the Edge

Over the weekend, my body finally succumbed to months of stress and I got sick with some sort of illness that had me deliriously wondering why miscreant elves were appearing in my stomach and stabbing me from the inside at unpredictable intervals. Hence the very late post this week. I’m on the mend now—still a bit weak, shaky and wrung out, but climbing out of it. It wasn’t the ‘Rhona. I know because I got tested, which was a weird experience involving people in space suits at multiple confusing checkpoints and about fifteen seconds of deep unpleasantness while an alien tentacle molested my nostril. The world has become a very strange place.

Kristen McHenry, Down for the Count, I Got Tested, Bitchy Reviews

Does it start with that viral Unseen Photos Of Frida Kahlo at the End of Her Life! photo essay?

COVID means the world reduced to Facebook, to what is viral.

She was softened, later. And toughened, too. The strongest leather thong; her face my jess.

I wrote: fire is a praxis of leave-taking.

[…]

Equivalent, the falsehood, the heart rate, the oxygen, the glue. My spine screams. Hypoxia makes it vague, and impossible:

this body:

a false equivalence

between love

and death.

JJS, to shapeshift impossible leave-taking: an essay in embodied quarantine

I shivered when I took them off,
those masks of forty years —
goodgirlgooddaughtergoodstudentgoodwifegoodmothergoodgoodgood.
I stood naked in a new day.
Who was left?
Could I find her?
Would I love her?
Would anyone?
I set out to build a woman
without masks.

Sarah Russell, Unmasked by Sarah Russell (WEARING A MASK Series)

When we believe fate’s deck is stacked against us. When kindness, science, and common sense play a zero-sum game against the government.

When we carry ourselves like a forlorn flower heading to the gallows. When perpetual anthems of inner rain dull our spirit to rust.

When, during these rootless and ruthless days, our calendar minds are stripped of their pages—

may we call upon instinct’s North Star to guide us home.

May we rely upon muscle memory to recall our most cherished embrace.

To say these things, it is not my wish for us to walk on water. Instead, to rise from it should we feel like we’re drowning.

Rich Ferguson, Humming This Song Until I Discover a Better One

While a wild wind blows
and changes the weather like
a light switch: on, off,

on, off, we listen
to mixed tapes dedicated
to teenagers’ dreams.

We remember those
days in our rooms, in ourselves
well now, as we try

to figure out this.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – May so far

I write smoking a cigarette 
blindfolded extinct among the scribes 
does my spirit without fleshy gravity 
rise or is this then an angel 
in the stupid theory of angels
we ate thanksgiving in May 
it felt like dying a little
I am an angel arm stretched 
to catch a pink star on a pole
that never stops swinging

Rebecca Loudon, corona 20.

The second blackbird to come was bold. He drank five beaks-full, stretching down to fill his lower beak, then tipping his head back to swallow. All this within two metres of me. Well, within two metres of my head. My feet were considerably closer. […]

Over lunch, I chatted to my son about the meaning of social distance. He pointed out that his head is socially distanced from his feet, unless he’s engaged in yoga. A reason to stop doing yoga, if you were looking for one, I said.

This confusion seems to be widespread – why else would some people veer into hedges or oncoming traffic when another person approaches, and others keep doggedly moving forward, passing by, bringing our heads no more than two feet apart.

The blackbird was at just the right distance from me for me to appreciate his bold glory. We both kept safe. He left after his drink to sit on a nearby branch. His song stretched from there to here, causing soundwaves to vibrate my maleus, incus and stapes – reaching right inside of me.

Liz Lefroy, I Socially Distance

Female bees will also burrow
deep inside the shade of a squash
flower: the closer to the source
of nectar, the warmer and more
quilt-like the air. In the cool
hours of morning, look closely
for the slight but tell-tale
trembling in each flower cup:
there, a body dropped mid-flight,
mid-thought. How we all retreat
behind some folded screen as work
or the world presses in too
soon, too close, too much.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts

The kids in Finland went back to school on the 14th for about two weeks before the summer and I started subbing yesterday for 4 of the last 7 days. I’m not going to get into the wisdom of that decision as I’m not sure where I stand on it, but regardless, we’re all looking forward to a break from this new normal.  

On the days I’m not working, I have plenty of things to keep me busy with my course, my writing and other things on my To Do List. They’re opening the libraries to pick up reserved books, so that’s something to look forward to. As I’ve said before I’m used to social isolation, it’s the strain of home-schooling 3 kids on my own that’s been getting to me. 

My focus has changed, so I’ve struggled to keep up with this blog. I’m back on my course work, trying to get my allotment sorted before my birch allergy gets so bad I can’t go outside and I’ve finished painting my stairs, so I can focus on the kitchen cabinets next, if I’m not going back to work. I’m still trying to write my poem a day, but usually late at night, so I barely remember what I wrote in the morning and it feels like a new poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus: Week Nine: Back to Semi-Normal

It’s the end of the third week of May, and while many states are opening up, my area in Washington State is still mostly in lockdown. This really doesn’t change anything for the likes of me, someone who’s high-risk and immune-compromised, honestly, but I can feel others getting impatient. We still don’t have enough: tests, PPEs, viable treatments. If you feel stressed, remember we’re living through something unfamiliar, unprecedented in either ours or our parents’ time. It’s like the Great Depression plus tuberculosis, with a number of dead in such a short time it rivals a fairly big war. People say, “When are we going back to normal?” and I think to myself, the answer is maybe never. Maybe we won’t go back to crowded concerts or lots of packed-in-sardine-can planes, maybe the sky and water will be cleaner, maybe we won’t shake hands anymore or ever dole out casual hugs to people we don’t know well. Maybe more companies will let their employees work from home and voters will decide universal health is maybe kind of important. Maybe hospitals and retirement homes will be redesigned with more privacy, better ventilation, more sunlight. And we went from “normal” to isolated and scared, dealing with scarcity in all kinds of things (thermometers? vitamin C?) in a matter of days and weeks. We lost 100,000 people, just in America, in about three months. Of course you don’t feel normal, of course you feel scared and stressed. It would be remarkable if you did not. Don’t worry. I’ve got bird and flower pictures, as well as recommended reading for grim times, farther down the post.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in Baltimore Review, Field Guide on a Grim Times Reading List, More Pink Typewriters and Birds, and Weathering May Gloom

Has anyone else been struck by how elegant, how almost attractive, some of the images for the coronavirus are on television?

Image Problem

All those flower-like
protrusions as if marketing
designed a logo for it, as if
it were not ugly—and
too small to see.

Are these trumpets signaling
attack, mouths to gobble
the good microbes, suction
cups structured to latch
onto surfaces or cells?

Ellen Roberts Young, Image Problem, In Reverse

There with the native plants, and aggressively overtaking the undergrowth, are amur honeysucke, asiatic rose, barberries, wintercreeper, japanese knotweed, mugwort, ragweed, burdock, thistle, garlic mustard, and whole hosts of plantains and creeper vines. One part of me abhors them. But I admire their tenacity and their ability to adapt to new circumstances. They’ll probably be thriving long after humankind has departed the planet.

As, perhaps, will the whitetail deer–a century ago, become scarce in the wilderness, considered almost “hunted out”–they managed to recover their numbers through adaptation to suburbia, where they are now “pests.” They graze on front lawns, nibble at ornamentals, gobble the leaves and bark of decorative trees, and gather at street-side puddles to drink, leaving heart-shaped prints in the mud and grass. But on my walk yesterday, I observed a doe lying amid the brambles; and she observed me. With the eyes of the wild, darkly liquid, meeting my gaze with her own. I did not move. Nor did she. I made no sound. We watched one another until, with a fluid motion and almost soundlessly, she leapt to her feet, twisted in the air, and fled in an instant. A brief rustle of trampled branches in her wake.

Ann E. Michael, Wild places

It is a rainy Sunday morning, but not the flooding kind of rain. I woke up thinking, is that rain hitting the windows or the tiny feet of a creature in the attic? Hoorah! It was rain.

I spent much of yesterday looking for rain, as threatening clouds came and went and then settled in for the evening. It was sunny early in the day, and we had a great time outside, reading by the pool and then getting in the pool. I hadn’t gone on my walk, so I spent 45 minutes swimming back and forth.

And then, fighter jets appeared out of nowhere, out of the south, flying north. My first thought: I hope they’re ours. My old habits kicked in: listening for explosions, keeping an eye open for a mushroom cloud, wondering if I should go inside to be safe from blast burns or the stuff exploding away from a blast site.

None of that happened, and come to find out, it was an Air Force squadron flying over to say thank you to various hospital workers. I still find it a curious way to say thank you.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, So Normal, So Not

We are defeated. From over the ocean the warplanes return like dragonflies flying over a fishpond. The stars above them hum and whisper in diamond light. The world is a whirlpool of churning thought. We are defeated, indeed, both sides are defeated. No one really wins a war. The graves of the innocent villagers are shallow and hard. The broken arm of the night will not mend, and the soldiers know this. Some of the soldiers sleep in sleek caskets. We should bury them together, two to a grave. One American, one Afghani. They could rest forever in each others arms.

James Lee Jobe, We are defeated.

Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac

under an iron sky
sleek as hematite

and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes

blown past velvet houses
where light recedes

into the settled darkness
beyond the earth’s shoulder

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Breath’

The worst part about the current crisis for me personally, other than intense sadness about the loss of life worldwide, has been the loss of making music with others through singing. Added to that is the growing awareness that, because singing is one of the most dangerous activities, it may be a very long time before we can return to it. I was already fearing that I might be getting toward the end of my time as a choir singer, though I waffle back and forth about that. Now, in my worst moments, I wonder if I will ever return to it, after a lifetime of being in church and cathedral choirs.

However, our choir has just produced their first virtual-choir video, and we’re working on two more which I’ll share with you here when they’re completed. It’s a bizarre and quite self-conscious process, where you  record your own part, solo, while listening to a backing track on headphones. The tracks were then assembled by our music director, Jonathan White, and the resulting video recording sounded remarkably like us — the way our own particular voices blend and sound together. This video was played during the cathedral’s Zoom service last Sunday morning, and a number of parishioners told me they were very moved to hear and see the choir again.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 24: Remembering Patrick Wedd

It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keyboard in service of creative writing. Too long and I don’t really know what to write here. I write for work, and while challenging, and creative in problem solving and working on teams, it doesn’t really provide an outlet for making something new.

I’ve collected some various prompts and images in the last few years. Kids were born, bought a house. Life continued, which should provide plenty of material to generat-icise new poems.

I even have the start to a chapbook that I haven’t looked at in… at least two years.

One line I have written down is

This poem will piss you off.

I think it’s supposed to be in the voice of the president. But I can’t even see through my own anger to start writing it. I have no distance.

I have pictures of various atrocities. But again, I have no distance.

There is a way in which my jaw has not unclenched in almost four years. Longer than that, I guess.

There’s a need to pull it out of the gut like gutting a fish it should be messy and a little gross and inelegant. Righteous hellfire wrath were faith still important. Though it’s all some people have they’ve swallowed the hook. There is not a pretty way to exorcise that barbed point.

Eric M. R. Webb, Need to write

I’ve been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions. The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news articles and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I’ve been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience. Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel. […]

Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community, full of comments and interactions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things. I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me, who still loved long-form content too much to give it up. But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space. You know it’s making music and broadcasting, but aren’t quite sure if it’s reaching anyone’s ears. And maybe it just feels that way because we’re now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart. Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself. You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back. Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar, You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?

Kristy Bowen, space music and paper boats

The other meaning of the word “career” got me thinking about my “career” and my life’s career, and about how much I love double-entendre and the tricksiness of words. So as I careered (derived from horse riding) and careened (derived from ship repair), from one kind of life to another, little remained that looks like a career (derived from wheeled vehicle).

In fact I cleaved from path after path, quitting this, trying and quitting that, cleaving to a desire to be true to myself, whoever she was at any given time.

I buckled up in each trajectory’s car, buckled down to the work, but inevitably buckled from the pressure to sit.

I overlooked clues to what make me satisfied, overly concerned with some imagined authority who overlooked my choices.

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the game too far. But I love that these are known as “Janus words,” that old two-faced bloke. But truly, I have careered, and cannot claim to have had a career, a definition that includes the notion of durability, of a devotion of time.

And the only thing I can say I have been devoted to across time is words. I have also loved silence. And there we have poetry.

Marilyn McCabe, And you always show up late; or, On Words (and Life) That Go Forward and Backward

I’ve been ashamed for twenty-two years now to be a teacher. This was supposed to be a stepping stone to being able to call myself something else. But it is what I have chosen to do to be able to afford the doing.

The price and the prize. Somewhere between them is the doing. I guess I found the price I couldn’t pay to call myself a writer was not the studying, but the salesmanship – networking, presentations. And what I thought as a kid would be the prize: fame, respect – wasn’t really what I was after.  I thought those things would raise me above the trolls in the world. Ha!

I’m fine fighting my trolls in the dark, anonymous corners…

and sometimes I get a quiet notice that someone read my work – not just my bio with an eye toward networking.

I’m not exactly off grid – but looking for a middle way. And I’m beginning to wonder if teaching isn’t really the oldest – and most indispensable – profession any way?

Ren Powell, What  We Do for a Living

Much of my adult life has been shaped by the literary-academic system. I have both an MFA and a PhD, and I could go on about these things at length. But I want to focus on the more recent events leading up to my decision to self-publish my collection of poems, A Dark Address. It first took shape in 2016 as part of my dissertation. Between then and now, it shed its skin multiple times, many new poems were added, and it is mostly unrecognizable from that earlier draft. Also in the intervening years, I submitted the manuscript to book contests and many of its individual poems to journals. However, going through this submission process in a rigorous way for the first time (I made some very clueless efforts with a previous, jettisoned book around 2008), I soon began to question whether or not I wanted my work to reach the world in the way this system makes possible. All along, the process of submitting felt exploitative and increasingly unrewarding. Fees kept adding up. While I could find exceptions for journal fees without much problem (though it cut down my options by about 50%), avoiding book submission fees severely narrowed my possibilities. Too many books are attached to contests, and these very rarely cost less than $25, with a few bucks tacked on to cover Submittable fees. Even open reading periods at many presses run $25 or more. I explored various very small presses, many of whom I greatly admire, but many of these focused on chapbooks or micro-chapbooks, or they simply did not seem like a good fit for my work. I felt stuck.

The thing is, even my successes felt hollow. I managed to land some “prestigious” acceptances of individual poems from the manuscript, but I had no idea if the poems were even being read. It went like this: finish a poem, submit incessantly, receive acceptance after three or more months (amid multiple rejections and some very long waits, and some submissions just falling off the radar, apparently), and then wait six months to a year or more before it appears in the world to little or no notice (except in the very rare case where a journal had a strong social media presence). Sometimes I got paid, sometimes not. In sum, it all felt a bit hollow. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a parade; I know it takes patience and that one can never really know what their work is doing out there in the world, or what it might do years later (and perhaps only for one individual you will never meet). And I also know that, ideally, this is a form of participation in something larger than I am. And yet it seemed less and less like participation in anything, really, besides paying fees and waiting to read form letters from anonymous readers and editors. Increasingly, I realized I was adhering to a process that I intensely disliked — and which cost a lot of money — all in order to perpetuate…what, exactly? Why was I doing this?

R.M. Haines, Poets Should Be Socialists

I have thought a lot about how to be a writer, a woman writer, over the years. I have spent my entire adult life contriving to find time and energy, the energy! to write. I have looked closely at the lives of women’s writers trying to find the secrets to apply to my own life. I have asked, how can I do the work I want to do, the work I’m able to do, and what is the work I am “allowed” to do, what is the work I will be hindered from, the work I will be given credit for and the work I will be erased from having done, what is the work that I will be thwarted from, and who will thwart me? and given all those variables, how will I refuse to be thwarted, and how will I manage to work in spite of, because of, because of. How will I continue, how will I contrive my own particular set of circumstances so I can say what I want to say, however small?

It’s the strangest thing of all about this Covid-isolation. I have been basically given my dream life on a platter, my hermit writing life, and it turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. (Mainly because of the worry….). But that’s fine. Imagine Jane Austen writing, and having all her worries about where she would next be living, who she would be reliant upon, what obligations she need fulfill.

We just want to work. I in my room, you in yours. I don’t want to be in competition with you, but to send my good wishes to you so that you can send yours to me.

This is what I learned from reading Eavan Boland. How to wonder about you, the importance of that wondering, and to remember that you are wondering about me.

The terrible regret I have is that I might have told her, I might have written her, and did not. And now it is too late, and I hate that. I hate that.

Shawna Lemay, The Hour of Change – Thinking About Eavan Boland

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

Julie Mellor, P is for …

Reading Ned Balbo’s sixth collection is a powerful and eerie experience right now because of its mix of isolation and intimacy. The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize and published in December 2019, takes its title from a poem about plants at the Cylburn Arboretum. A companion shows the speaker how leaves recoil at human touch. After they walk away, he wonders about “green fronds unfolding till/ the surface of their sea is calm again”–as if ease can be restored after an interval of shocked separation. Balbo’s title phrase recurs in a poem called “With Magdalene, near Daybreak,” when a resurrected god tells Magdalene, Touch me not. Balbo wonders why Jesus would return only to “order her away” and how she would have felt: “she who’d grieved already,/ shocked, stopped where she stood,/ the world strange, unsteady// though he was radiant…” This book, written well before the novel coronavirus, is about social distance.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #12 with Ned Balbo

Simply put: this is an extraordinary book of leave taking and home coming. 

The lyric poems are collaged into a moving narrative of one family’s journey. And while Bone Road documents the story of Geraldine Mills’ great grandparents leaving the north of Ireland in 1882-84 with assistance of the Tuke Fund, this also can’t help but echo peoples around the globe who are forced to leave home due to famine, war, and poverty. 

The twist in this history is that the family returns to Ireland. The faux gold of New England does not hold the family. They return to Ireland just as impoverished as when they left. What is that pull called home?  Untumble the walls of the house / Uprise its lintel from the overgrowth /…Unbreak the heart. 

Susan Rich, Recommended for Everyone! Bone Road by Geraldine Mills and Asking the Form by Hilary Salick

As a reader and as a writer, I’m fascinated by the way [Rick] Barot pulls together, for example, in “Cascades 501,” an overheard story of heart surgery and the view from the train window of “Punky little woods,” “The bogs that must have been left / by retreating glaciers” (which expands the poem into prehistory), “the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball,” and “the pickup truck / parked askew in the back lot,” noting “Each thing looks new / even when it is old and broken down.” Then the poem moves again, but I’m not going to spoil the ending.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: The Galleons

Raw with shared pain, these are not angry poems. They are cries of hope and compassion, demanding change/not the promise of change/not a panel to study change/not a worthless piece of paper

Full of questions, they do not offer slick answers; how much light asks the poet, does each falling body take with it as it hits the groundhow many days does one have to wake up with less dignity … how many years can you look for the one who is still missing … I want to open every fist they put around your heart/and listen as you tell me again how close liberty is to where you are standing.

Ama Bolton, Letters to Iraq: “listen to the hope and beauty”

it frightens me – sometimes.
how the words seem to come from a spirit
just behind the edge of hindsight,
beyond the dusk at the back of my mind.

is there a hole in space-time leading to where
the poets rail that their words must be heard,
must be still the font of all of their times;
and am i chosen as this conduit?
a vent in the dam of the damned words!

Jim Young, ‘how he wrote the flow of our pouring’

Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.

As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.

Andrea Blythe, The Vibrant Effusive Creative Spark

The earth stretches
into morning mist.

Happiness is not the exact
word, but it’s close.

So says the red-tail hawk.
So says the dove.

Tom Montag, THE EARTH STRETCHES

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

Last week, I told someone who’d just read the digest that there’d been 35 quotes in all and they expressed disbelief — it seemed so short, they said (or words to that effect). This week, there are 36… and I can tell you that the hours I spent gathering them went by much too quickly. If posting slows now with Poetry Month behind us, I’ll be sad. True, some may need to gather their breath. But writers never remain silent for long.


From confessions and digressions, open books of hope and secret diaries of dilemmas. From dead air and stringed silences, forward-thinking dreams and counterclockwise insomnia. From what we cannot remember, what we refuse to forget. From broken bones and broken Spanish, broken homes and broken English. The chains from which we escape and the kindred spirits with which we’re linked. We the weary, we the wounded, we the wizened, we the wondrous—we rise.

Rich Ferguson, All the Bright and Battered Places

We have relied
on the promises of the labyrinth:
one path in, no dead ends,
no false turns, not a maze.

We have trusted
that the path leads
to a center that can hold
us all in all our complexities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, World Labyrinth Day 2020

dog gods tied goose feathers to their ears to sing with wren tongues in the scribbly forest there is always a chance of betrayal there might be a quest monarch butterflies and bees hum straight up through the cloud layer tomato vine perfume on my elegant hands cat on the windowsill taking note animals as protectors animals as rippling safe spaces animals as letters and songs yesterday I found my childhood copy of Charlotte’s Web moth eaten rat chewed from my time in the known world and dog gods tied seaweed to their ears to sing with trout mouths and tomatoes clapped their green hands this morning I rinsed my hair in apple cider vinegar today I’ll scrub the floors and sing today I’ll thank my animal body for crawling out of the fire alive

Rebecca Loudon, corona 17.

I would prefer
America not be
my name but it
is my name &
is the name of
the poem’s market
place & share
holders even its
eventual dead it is
the name of this
lithium ion
battery this soft
ware pharma
ceutical logo
is the name of
the Tower where
I make my cameos
as a face discovered
in a poem’s country

R.M. Haines, Poem After May Day

Sometimes, the numbers on their own speak to us, as they do at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia; at the Field of Empty Chairs Memorial to those killed in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At such places, the abstract is made conceivable, if still unbearable, through representation in artful form. 

What we don’t get is something more fundamental: the stories of the lives behind the numbers that collectively tell us who we are. 

A paragraph in a “Lives Lost” column, a column-inch obituary, a poem, a recitation of names, a tolling of bells: at most, they remind us, offer glimpses.

What does it mean to grieve if we have only numbers, build memorials based on numbers, but fail to learn and keep alive our stories?

And how do we grieve, knowing there exist throughout the country the counted but the unknown? Who grieves for those buried en masse in the trenches on Hart Island in Long Island Sound? With what certainty do we account for the disappeared and unremembered? For the lost stories of joy and hope?

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XVI

People are suffering. I’m very worried for small business owners and deeply saddened by all of the boarded up businesses in my neighborhood. The financial hardships will have devastating consequences for years to come. Families have not been able to be with their loved ones when they pass away. Some people will have permanent physical damage from this virus. So a part of me feels very judgmental and irritated by what I deem to be petty complaints and overly-dramatic teeth-gnashing about “how hard it is” from people who are getting paid to work in the comfort of their own homes. I find myself thinking, We’ve gotten soft. We’ve allowed luxury and abundance to weaken us. People used to be tougher, more self-sacrificing and community-minded, stronger in mind and body. People need to buck up, face reality and get their shit together. Now is the time to stop wallowing, tighten up and get into fighting shape. If you didn’t lose your job or your business, or you didn’t lose a loved one, you have no right to be complaining right now. I don’t care about your visible roots or the fact that you can’t go to a cocktail party or that there’s no basketball.

And yet those losses are real and legitimate. Those are things that signify normalcy and a functioning society. Shared culture experiences such as March Madness matter. Visits to the salon matter. Parties matter. All of the things that we are not able to engage in right now are important to maintaining the integrity of a culture and our identity within it. It’s natural to be sad about their loss.

When I thought about it honestly, I realized that my judgmentalness is a projection. A part of me is angry at myself for the grief I’m carrying about my own losses, because I’ve deemed them to be petty compared to what other people are suffering. Yet they are still my losses, they are real, and they hurt–a lot.

Kristen McHenry, On Grief, Loss, Guilt and Judgment: A Little Light Reading

Most of my work meetings begin with a grounding activity, in which we are given some stimulus to help us center our ensuing conversation in our students and families, the majority of whom are people of color and/or living in poverty. The general theme when we are sharing our responses to the stimulus, since we’ve been closed, is this:

We are so fortunate, to be living in the privilege we do. We need to keep at the forefront our families who are not.

True and true.

Fortune is a relative thing, though, isn’t it? (Seriously, after you finish reading, come back and click on this link.)

In comparison to those who are sick, out of work, working on the front lines (which increasingly feels more literal than metaphorical), and/or targeted by bigots, we white educators who are working are fortunate. As an educator who is not providing direct service to students, I am more fortunate (at least in some ways) than those who are. (More than one I know has shared this teacher’s post this week.)

And yet, as the title of a book a therapist once put in my hands claims, The Body Keeps the Score.

I’m writing these words having woken up, again, in pain: spikes in the head, sharp ache in the back (it’s still with me, though not accute). The dull, medicated fuzz is settling in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whole enough

It’s been nice to have a cool spring, to enjoy the afternoon hikes I’m taking with my dog each day. And to be honest, this cool, overcast weather matches my mood lately.

This spring has been hard for me. Not only has the pandemic cancelled my book launch and all my readings, I’ve also dealt with some blows in my professional and writing life. I didn’t receive a promotion I was hoping for. My phone died unexpectedly and I had to buy a new one (seriously, why are phones so expensive?!), my car went in for work twice in three weeks, costing nearly $1k each time. And then, the worst – I received a wonderful, amazing rejection.

I know that sounds strange, to call a rejection both wonderful and amazing, but it really was. The press said my poetry was “visceral, vivid, and alive” and if they had the capacity to publish more collections of poetry next year mine would “almost certainly make the cut.” I was both elated and crushed. This was a press I felt was a good fit for my work. And they agreed, but they couldn’t add my book to their roster.

Courtney LeBlanc, Sometimes it Rains

I can’t stop thinking about the trend to make bread and Dali’s obsession with bread. For those of you who have followed Rob’s work over the years, you might remember that as part of a series titled, History of Still Life, he did a riff on Dali’s bread. Essays have been written about Dali’s bread.

We usually think of Dali’s melting clocks and surreal imagery but he said of bread that it “has always been one of the oldest fetishistic and obsessive subjects in my work, the one to which I have remained the most faithful.” Bread is a trope throughout Dali’s work — used to comment on consumerism, mass consumption, capitalism, moral hunger, etc. Bread has the ability to hold so many meanings at once and to resonate through time and take on new connotations and historical moments. Bread is always with us. 

When I think of bread I also think of the words of Gaston Bachelard. On bread in poetry and its place in the memories from childhood he says, “In days of happiness, the world is edible.” And “I am taken by the urge to collect all the warm bread to be found in poetry.” And then, “How they would help me give to memory the great odors of the celebration begun again, or a life which one would take up again, swearing gratitude for the original joys.”  

Perhaps it will be the perfume of baking bread at this time that will permeate children’s memories when they are grown. Perhaps, though lonely, they’ll come away with happier memories than we imagine.

Shawna Lemay, Why Still Life Might Speak to You Now

I’ve been keeping a pandemic journal. In many respects, it reflects what I’m posting on Instagram — baking bread (like everyone else), drinking, exercising in my house, etc.

But what the journal is capturing that social media (mostly) doesn’t is my incredible angst about returning to the office and to normal life after this is all done, whatever “done” means.

I’ve been honest about my struggles with anxiety and the grind, and although pandemic stress (even from my current distance to it) is real, social distancing and lock down have created a kind of comfort and stability that I haven’t had in a while. A fair amount of the pressure — which can come from too few hours in a day — is off. I no longer have to commute back and forth to work. I’m no longer driving 30 minutes each way to the gym. School activities are canceled. My frequent trips to the grocery store have been curtailed. I don’t have to maintain a wardrobe for work or social activities. I no longer eat lunch out several days a week. I am still working, but the hours in my day — even those work hours — feel more like they belong to me.

In thinking about what comes next, I can’t imagine returning to normal. That frenzy was poisonous to me.

And it’s poisonous to all of us. I’ll fully admit I’m a sensitive soul, but going 900 mph all day every day to support a household is terrible for nearly all of us. If we have a choice — and I’m not entirely sure we do — why would we choose it?

And how can we go back, really? If we didn’t know it before, our ability to stock up on and maintain “emergency” supplies is based on our privilege. Our ability to stay safe and social distance is also based in privilege. And whether we’re talking about preventing a contagion or limiting our carbon footprints, what will we do with that privilege after this? Will it remain a selfish force or can we stand up for collective survival?

Carolee Bennett, “ocean’s stomach of inevitability”

Over here in Spain, we’ve been in lockdown, or confinamiento, as we term it, since 15th March. The rules have been that nobody is allowed to leave their house unless it’s to work, shop for essentials or go to the doctor. In other words, no exercise has been permitted outside the home.

These rules have been widely accepted, especially as cases have dropped significantly since their implementation. The good news is that as a consequence today we were able to go out to exercise for the first time. Of course, the rules are still far stricter than in the U.K., as we’re not allowed, for instance, to drive anywhere to have a walk. Moreover, we’re also limited to a certain time slot by age group (ours was 6-10 a.m. or 8-11 p.m.).

We decided to have our first walk in the vineyards that begin about two hundred yards beyond our house. It was exciting to see how much the vines have grown over the past six weeks. As you can see in the first photo below, bunches of grapes are now starting to form. As for the views over the rolling hills, deep blue skies set against clay soil, they’re as gorgeous as ever.

Matthew Stewart, Our first walk

Today, I woke to rampant sunshine and the feeling that maybe, after a couple false start days, but not even enough of those, that spring may finally be going to happen out there with or without us. And at least without me for another month or so. But at least, it’s happening.  On the whole, I’m finding I can feel a little more normal when I avoid the news and social media until later in the day and dive into work–whether that be library or press related immediately when I get up, which sometimes is weirdly very early for me (I’m guessing I finally, after more than a month have caught up on sleep deficit) or sometimes after a nap due to that early rising. I find I can concentrate best if I turn something on that I enjoy, but doesn’t need too much of my attention (I’ve been revisiting The Office this past week.) So there has been more web-curation, and blog posts, and some other things in the hopper.  When I do read the news it’s as troubling, at least nationally, as it was before, even though Illinois seems to continue to be wiser and more cautious than the rest of the country.

Kristy Bowen, may

So, our governor has extended Washington State’s lockdown til May 31. Some things are opening: state parks and elective surgery, some construction. I have a lot of health problems and know I’m at high risk so I’m glad they’re being safe rather than sorry. Some states that opened too soon (Georgia, North Carolina) are already experiencing increased cases. I feel terrible for small business owners, for people who can’t run their businesses during the shutdown. Restaurants in particular will be hard hit. Glenn was working from home since February, and probably will until this fall; even Amazon has announced its tech employees can work from home til October. One in five people in Seattle have filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, things break: cell phones, stand mixers, my laptop. We learn to try to cut our own hair.

I will admit I miss some things – book stores, coffee shops, seeing my little brother on the weekend or taking a trip to one of the beautiful areas around Washington State. Walking around without being terrified of other people; remember that? This month I usually visit Skagit Valley’s tulip festival, hike around the waterfall at Ollalie State Park, or take a trip to Port Townsend or Bainbridge Island. This month, of course, we’re staying close to home. This is one of the only months that we can get outside (too much rain the rest of the year, wildfires during midsummer) so I understand that people are restless.

So, we continue to get by with grocery deliveries and walks around our neighborhood (to avoid people, I mostly walk around abandoned office parks and closed wineries, tbh) and spring continues to bloom. This week, lilacs, azaleas, wisteria. Our lilies were eaten by rabbits (or deer maybe?) but we continue to plant things in the garden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s May and Lockdown Continues, Reading Stack During a Pandemic, Celebrating a Melancholy Birthday

Despite Georgia’s moronic governor opening businesses and restaurants and letting the shelter-in-place order expire, I’m still in lockdown mode. Here in Atlanta and Fulton County, we have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to resume their normal lives by completely ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. I’m guessing we’ll see a significant spike in cases in a few weeks, especially after this weekend’s sunny weather and a much ballyhooed flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds brought thousands out to the parks and walking trails. I digress.

In the month since I last posted, I’ve done absolutely zero of my own writing (save for putting some stray words and lines into my iPhone that might eventually become poems), but I’ve written enough about COVID-19 for the magazine to fill a new trilogy of novels. My days have been spent posting updates and covering how the pandemic has affected Atlanta. After sitting in front of my computer all day and half the night, the last thing I want to do is even more writing.

Since April was National Poetry Month, there were plenty of online poetry readings. Maybe too many. Many of my interviews for the magazine and all of our staff meetings have been on Zoom and, honestly, I’m kinda over it. Zoom fatigue is real, y’all.

Collin Kelley, I’m still here…

It’s hard to say yet whether April was the worst month for the pandemic in the US, but I’m still glad it’s over! I tried to kick the poetry-writing part of my brain into gear, attempting to write a poem a day and share drafts with a small group of friends. What I wrote was neither great nor daily, but it felt like a productive practice and a way to feel connected across distances. I also devoted time and energy to getting word out about The State She’s In, although time and energy both seemed to be in short supply. (It’s a book about gender and ambition, among other subjects, which is another reason why I’m finding Whitman interesting to reread.) Maybe I’ve set myself up better for May. April’s unpredictability was getting me down so I organized my May class better: M/W for online discussion forums, T/Th for Zoom discussions, and Fridays and weekends, I hope, for poetry revisions, submissions, and publicity.

Any of you poets trying to submit work have probably noticed, too, the rush of editor verdicts lately. I’ve had some acceptances and some rejections (without wanting to assassinate anybody). It probably helps me stay philosophical that another April task was to reject some damn fine poems submitted to Shenandoah (650 subs for 12-15 spots). There was much hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing on my part, truly, so I now mostly see people who reject me not as nepotistic demon kings but as other stressed-out people making hard calls.

Lesley Wheeler, Hope, ambition, and other tricky green things

If you view a chapbook or book as the destination, you’ll almost invariably be let down on some matter of production value, interaction with the editors, or lack of media recognition. No process is perfect, especially if it’s coming after years of anticipation. 

I use the metaphor of book as passport; online or in person, where can a collection can take you? What conversations will it spark? That said, your publisher is not your travel agent. People are often surprised to realize that W. W. Norton doesn’t arrange or fund my participation in readings, conferences, or festivals. I do it all on my own. And there’s a lot to consider about the privileges and iniquities embedded in an attitude of “you make your own path”–that’s not a tidy end to any conversation. But it’s where we need to begin, in understanding the value of contests that yield an artifact of bound pages and a judge’s citation. What I’ve experienced over and over is that what matters most is not a physical book, but the community it fuels. 

Sandra Beasley, What Breaks Through: Poetry Book Contests

The downside of using competitions as a focusing method is the cost of entering competitions.  At the same time, I’m usually contributing a small amount of money to a worthwhile enterprise, a charity, that gives out a lot in terms of support for writers, writer development and public events.

I switch off my phone, I switch off the internet sometimes – when I need to.  I recognise when scrolling is a distraction.  The timer on my phone is a brilliant tool for helping me to focus in small chunks of time.  Sometimes a small chunk of time is all I need.

Sometimes losing focus is a means of providing inspiration.  Mindless scrolling on the internet turns out to not be mindless at all when it leads to an interesting article that leads me to a new writer; a wonderful image leads me to discover a new artist; a recommendation of a programme leads me to a worthwhile series.

Not adhering to a timetable can produce a conversation with someone I wouldn’t usually have connected with at that time.  In my head, I imagine I would like to be the kind of person who sets themselves a daily target of writing 5,000 words a day and doesn’t leave their seat until the words are written.  But I am not that kind of person.  Also, I spent at least five minutes fiddling around taking photographs of my glasses to try to capture a suitable image for this post.

Josephine Corcoran, Discover Prompts: Focus

Writers as famous as Tartt can go years without producing a book and still be part of the scene – they’re talked about in their absence. Other writers aren’t so lucky. One might think that the situation’s easier for poets than for story writers – they can place single poems in magazines, ticking over – but there aren’t that many opportunities available in good magazines, and lead times can be many months. Meanwhile, new graduates from Creative Writing courses flood the market. Consequently there’s a temptation to manage one’s image. If you stand still you’ll get left behind.

In The Poet Tasters Ben Etherington wrote about the Australian scene, pointing out that “a lingering sense of hobbyism can afflict the vocation. Just about anyone who has decided that poetry is their thing, and who has enough private means and persistence, can be confident of edging their way into a scene like Australia’s. Even long-established poets can be nagged by the feeling that the aesthetic communities from which they gain recognition only reflect back the effort they put in; miss a few readings, take a break from publishing, leave an editorial post and you and your work might disappear.

I can think of a few poets for whom that nagging feeling was confirmed by what happened after their death.

Tim Love, Visibility in the literary scene

Days pass strangely of late. I move through the rooms of my house in all the normal ways — eat food, watch TV, work, read, or clean — and yet there’s an oddness in every peripheral.

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

Nothing is normal — and it’s hard to know how to feel when nothing is normal.

Today, I get to announce the wonderful news that Twelve, my chapbook of prose poems based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” will be published by Interstellar Flight Press later this year.

I’m delighted — of course I’m delighted. Though some small part of me wonders if, considering everything that’s going on in the world, all the stress and doubt and fear, whether I should be subdued in my excitement, more respectful of those who are struggling right now.

But here’s the thing, I think the world needs good news. It needs victories great and small. It needs celebration in whatever small spades that life can offer.

Andrea Blythe, A Bit of Good News

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new collection of poems. “Being Many Seeds” won the Grayson Books Chapbook Contest and has just been released into the world:graysonbooks.com.

The collection is a hybrid thing in that, in addition to the poems, running across the bottom of each page of poetry is a brief essay of some thoughts about the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest and paleontologist. Plus each poem has three parts: the first poem, then another poem I “found” inside it by erasing some of the words, then a third such erasure, with each iteration either distilling, moving away from, or suggesting something different from the original poem. I’d say the theme of the collection is our connection to each other and to the earth.

It is a “chapbook” of poems, which is a common form in the poetry world meaning that it is about half the length of a full-length collection, and tends to be more thematically focused than a full-length, but also, since it is staple-bound rather than having a spine, it is a format often not sold in bookstores, as it has no shelf presence, nor carried by libraries. Buying a copy from the publisher helps this little press keep up its good work of getting poetry into the world.

I also have a stash of copies and will likely keep a box in my car, should we ever see each other again.

But if you are creative in some other realm and commit to trying to use this collection as a leaping off point for a creative work — turn the pages into origami, bake a poem cake, compose a symphony, dance a quadrille while humming the poems, soak the pages into a pulp and make sculpture, knit a poem scarf, whatever — I’ll send you a book for free right now!

Marilyn McCabe, I write the book; or, On My New Book of Poems

I’ve become quietly addicted to these little poems – click here to view the above.

For me, they’re the perfect antidote (or do I mean complement) to both the restrictions of lockdown and the long haul of editing my novel. I have 6 short films on You Tube now. The quality is variable, but given the restrictions of the equipment I’m using, plus my woeful lack of technical expertise, they are the best I can do for the moment. My focus, inevitably, has been on small things, the here and now: sun and rain, blossom and bees. Having said that, by really honing down the writing, and closing in on what I’m observing, other possibilities and meanings seem to open up.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Cat Stevens’ voice breaks
when he sings the word “listen.”
Hummingbird flies off.

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 April 2020

had my death never happened :: who would listen to the rain

Grant Hackett [no title]

She leans over the microscope,
an incandescent eye, radiant
and restrained. Her dragons are shapechangers,
quiescent one moment, knit with stars
the next. They sidestep each question
like a dancer, a duelist,
incomplete but still close,
an invitation
(what will you do,
what won’t you)
with no
way
to say
yes. Or not.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Immortal

One metre fifty
from each other. In the queue
of lost needless things.

Behind a mask, eyes
that do not try hard language,
they’re soft and get it

that you’re vulnerable
too. Then the distance moves on,
fast to someone else,

before one must speak.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (April – Part 2)

Today’s prompt challenges us to “write a poem about something that returns. For, just as the swallows come back to Capistrano each year, NaPoWriMo and GloPoWriMo will ride again!” ~ NaPoWriMo, Day 30

Once again, NaPoWriMo has been a wild, exuberant, insanely rewarding experience! I’m beyond grateful to Maureen Thorson for her delightful prompts and for the community she brings together every year. And I’m grateful to everyone who has been supportive and kind and endlessly enthusiastic about poetry.

I love this last prompt because it ends on a hopeful note. NaPoWriMo will indeed return next year. I know I’ll miss it this May, when my poetry-writing routine suffers from a lack of discipline (self-imposed deadlines don’t seem quite as urgent). And you know what else will return? Birthdays. Here’s a photo of the gluten-free cake my daughter made for me yesterday. And a photo of the meal my husband and son prepared for me in secret–and included some Romanian dishes. And a photo of the cards my kids wrote for me that brought me to my knees. It’s terrible how we forget sometimes how much we’re loved.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 30

In between working and crashing out on the sofa from too much screen time and sadness (are they the same thing? Discuss) the other day a line of a poem I have not read in twenty (?) or so years came to me: ‘I haven’t had time to stand and fart recently’. I first read it in the late and much missed poetry magazine Smiths Knoll, jointly edited at that time by Roy Blackman  Michael Laskey. I am guessing this must have been sometime in the early 1990s, when I was heroically trying to read everything I could get my hands on (a feat which I am very late in the day coming to realise I failed). Still, there was Smiths Knoll and The North and The Rialto  and Tears in the Fence and this thing I took a punt on one wild day called Scratch.

Links were being made. Tentative, pre-internet-and-email friendships, with things we still call paper and envelopes and stamps. Janet Fisher rang me up once about a poem and it was like a visit from Royalty. (I had to lie down then, too.) It turned out Mark Robinson was editor of said Scratch, so his name jumped off the page at me as I read about farting and love and poverty and anger and struggling. It appeared a few years later in one of my all-time favourite collections of poems, his debut with Stride, The Horse Burning Park.

Not remembering anything about the poem except its first line, I took down Mark’s New and Selected (Horse Burning is in my office at work…) yesterday and spent a very happy hour revisiting some (very old) favourites as well as making some startling new acquaintances. His tone, subject matter and political concerns are amazingly consistent. Reading the poem again now I am struck by how prescient it feels to our current moment: ‘spinning on the spot like a mad dog’; ‘Passing / on the street’; ‘I am hurrying, from one tired place / to another’; feeling ‘happier / on less’; and that remarkable couplet about poverty.

Now, in spite of what they told me at school, I am not stupid. This is a poem written nearly thirty years ago. It isn’t ‘about’ coronavirus or the lockdown any more than my left foot is. But what did happen is that it appeared when I needed it to, just like that, and that felt like a good thing in a week in which struggling has been the main thing. Years and years later, another connection, unasked for as Seamus Heaney might say. Another way of feeling and being alive.

Anthony Wilson, Struggling

How many lives will be
claimed when this
pandemic is finally history?
That, and for how long

this enforced isolation will
continue are a fatal mystery.
But you and I are blessed
that while living through

such stressful times, we are
one another’s shelter in place,
each other’s compassionate grace.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Pandemic Wonder, for Andy

– My wife and I are right at 2 months of sheltering at home. At times it is almost blissful; we love each other, our marriage is a good one, we still make each other laugh.

– Sometimes one of us will break down. Maybe it was the latest update of deaths, or maybe the talk of death takes one of us, or both of us, back to the grief of losing our youngest son at age 25, just 3 years ago. Sometimes it just happens. No reason needed.

– We both miss going to church, the movies, the coffee shops and cafes, getting our hair cut. My wife misses shopping; I detest shopping. But my God! My poetry readings! Holy crap.

James Lee Jobe, 29 April 2020 – The COVID-19 List

HOLD FAST, Holly J. Hughes. Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes, Washington 98221, 2020, 115 pages, $16 paper, www.emptybowl.org.

Rereading Hold Fast made my day. Among other superlatives I can offer about this collection, it’s a perfect book to hole up with during a pandemic. I knew this before Claudia Castro Luna, writing for The Seattle Times, closed her editorial (“Sheltering in Place, Our Inner Poet Soars”) with Hughes’s poem, “Holdfast.” (Click on the link to read Castro Luna’s wise words.)

One paradox of these poems is the way Hughes manages a deft and powerful critique of the world, while celebrating it: “all that can’t be said…./ the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down / to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, / the unseen, the unheard, the fragile….” (“If the River”).

Bethany Reid, Holly J. Hughes

Water is not—
at the same time is more than—
two drops fixed by gold wire
and dangling from the earlobe.
Put it to bed in a box flocked
with velvet.
Carry it cupped
in both hands as you walk
through a field that feels
larger than any sense of yourself
that you know. But still tenderly.

Luisa A Igloria, After many years, the river runs into the river

Apparently we’re now all feasting on The Repair Shop and reruns of The Vicar of Dibley. The skies are bluer and quieter than ever, all the better to hear birdsong. Stars are brighter, if you have access to outdoor space at night time. I realise these are terrible times for so many people and I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m not facing financial ruin, I’m ‘locked down’ in the company of my best friend and I have a garden. I’m able to appreciate Spring and watch things grow. Just the word grow makes me slow down. So what if I haven’t written any stonking new poems lately. I have a few ideas, but they need time to grow. SloPo seems to have come into its own. […]

I enjoyed reading an interview with Julia Cameron in the Sunday Times last week, (apologies if this is behind a paywall) on dealing with social isolation (“As westerners, we have a hard time sitting and doing nothing”). I remember reading The Artist’s Way and struggled to follow its advice. There’s something about ‘free writing’ that feels to me like the opposite: I feel restricted, I regress to cliche, old reminiscences, boring language and prosaic nonsense. An advocate might say ‘yes that’s the idea – not to think, just write’. But sadly it doesn’t free me up. I guess I could adapt the daily free writing to something else: word games around a theme or something that at least begins with a structure.

Robin Houghton, SloPo

Again, the violet bows to the lily.
Again, the rose is tearing off her gown!
   ~ Rumi

I am trying to make more sense of Rumi. He seems to transcend all religions, and speak to all people. We could use more of that. Even in our tragic moments when life is challenged and hinges on the edge of tipping one way or the other, we still have people driven and divided by fear and ignorance. The fear is natural. We all experience it at times. But when fear is fed by ignorance, the results are never good.

Just as I believe Rumi has a lot to offer us to better our life, call me a romantic if you wish, but I still believe poetry matters. I believe we can find our tattered and torn self in poetry. I have been reading Like A Bird of a Thousand Wings, by Melissa Studdard. Her words seem to be taking up residence in my soul.

Self is a place
we keep getting sewn back into.
We fly away.
It sews us back. We tear
the fabric, here comes the needle.
 ~ Melissa Studdard – But Who Will Hear You From So Far Across The Sky?
From Like A Bird of A Thousand Wings.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – How Are You?

After I had my strokes in my early 30s, I did a lot of reading and thinking and praying and spiritual direction, trying to come to terms with the mortality they had shown me. I studied the Baal Shem Tov’s writing on equanimity. I journaled endlessly. Eventually I reached the conclusion that yes, I could die at any time. But until that happens, my job is to live as best I can.

The strokes brought home my participation in our common human mortality. In truth, none of us know when our lives will end. I don’t mean that to be depressing or paralyzing: on the contrary! I mean it as a reminder that the only time we have is now. The time to be the person we want to be is now. Because now is what we have. It’s all anyone has. It’s all anyone has ever had.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” wrote Mary Oliver. This, right now, is our wild and precious life. Even in quarantine or lockdown or shelter-in-place. Even in uncertainty. (Especially in uncertainty.) Life isn’t on pause until a hoped-for return to normalcy comes. This is life, right here, right now. Our job is to live it as best we can.

Even with the possibility that we’re already incubating the virus. Because so what if I am? What can I do about it, other than what I’m already doing: wearing a mask in public, keeping my distance to protect others in case I’m an asymptomatic carrier, and meanwhile doing what I can to care for my child, my congregation, my beloveds, in the ways that are open to me?

Rachel Barenblat, With both eyes open

On the virtual Camino today our guide takes us past ruins, which I suppose have a particular resonance in our imagination these days. I love ruins. It’s easy to romanticize when the darker ages become concepts we can wear like heirlooms. Vicarious courage? Maybe a more generous perspective would be a connection to the hopes and fears of previous generations?

It’s funny. This plague. It does not feel like a “dark” age. It feels plastic and slick-yellow.

Ah, but the sky. Yesterday the blues were soothing. Today the grays are varied, dark as stones – and still soothing. A variable constant.

I grabbed the mail at the beginning our walk around the block. Silly, but a book in the mailbox will override common sense. The cardboard of the package soaked through by the time we got home. Leonard shook a cup-full of rain over the walls in the entrance hall while I opened the package. I don’t care. It’s a book written by a friend from long ago, whom I’m grateful to have reconnected with recently.

I have thought about gratitude before on this virtual Camino. How sometimes it doesn’t come honestly to me, and how I choose to open myself to delight instead – and let gratitude come. This, if I find easier. Small delights. Dog-flops and hugs, and the I-don’t-care-if-my-house-needs-vacuuming-come-in moments.

Ren Powell, Letting Go of The Facade

meeting an old friend‬
‪and the pain‬
‪of backing away‬
‪does not go away‬
‪with our smiles‬
‪stretching thinner‬
‪and thinner‬
‪passing by on the other side‬
‪with our thoughts‬

Jim Young, anti-social distancing