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 24

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

It was easy to feel a little gaslit this week by politicians and an increasing percentage of the public acting like the need for social distancing and other safety measures is over; in the US and the UK, at any rate, the covid infection rate shows little sign of slowing. Many in the poetry blogging community shared this unease, as well as cautious optimism on social justice issues. Writing continued to be elusive for some and a lifeline for others. Mostly, I was just pleased to find so many like-minded souls. La lucha continua!


I said to some friends: it is like playing Monopoly. You pick up a Chance card which tells you to go to Mayfair. (At which moment, you may win or lose the game.) ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’

You have to go straight there. You cannot delay. You cannot take anything with you. There is no time to say goodbye.

You have to leave right that second.

There is no time for sitting with the trauma and the loss and the grief of the moment because what is needed right now is a solution for how we are going to [insert your own thing in here] and plan for [insert] and cope with [insert].

There is no time.

No time for grieving. No time for sitting with it, for preparing to bleed.

Anthony Wilson, Do not pass go, do not collect £200

Fool if you expected silence,
or thought that the trees would be empty.

But the contrails have gone and the big roads
are all but deserted. I don’t hear the kids
with their acrobat bikes and clattering skateboards.
And no Mr. Singh (“Call me Ajay”) with his deep,
deep voice over the parcels and stamps. All the buses
are empty when they stop at the curbs.
Are they discharging ghosts?

Dick Jones, LOCKDOWN

One of my daily chalkboard poems was about masks. So was another, one I chose not to put up, as it seemed too harsh and might upset the mail carrier. But you can probably handle it:

Unmasked

If you don’t wear a mask         
you reveal who you are

in more ways than one.

It is a little mean and glib. (And, oddly, it reminds me of a line from one of the Batman movies.) But, really, that’s what’s going on around here, out there, many people not wearing masks, thinking it’s all over, we’re all OK. Friends and co-workers are experiencing it out in the world and are worried. My parents decided not to go to an outdoor restaurant with friends when they saw how crowded it was, how few people were wearing masks, how some were sitting indoors… I’ve only seen my parents four times since March 13, in their back yard or their huge great room, six feet apart. A friend from Chicago came to town, and I visited with him outdoors and at the proper distance, no hugging. […]

Sigh… Yes, constant chalk revisions of our very lives. Chalk circles now on park greens to designate areas to sit in the sun. But don’t be fooled, the virus hasn’t been erased.

Kathleen Kirk, Chalk Revisions

I seem to be having lots of conversations about how the world is changing as we emerge from lockdown, about how our lives will never be the same and yet at the same time we are supposed to carry on as ‘normal’. Of course, many people are still isolated, cut off from friends and family, the wider community. My experience of lockdown has been much easier. In fact, now I’m back at work I’m missing all the free time I had.

Then there are those conversations I only have with other writers, about what poetry can and can’t do, about how we should respond to current events. In terms of creativity, I tend to try and carry on regardless. The world is a fascinating place, even in times of hardship, even in times of great trauma. It will always provoke a creative response in me, although the form of that response is ever-changing. I have a second draft of a novel that still needs more work, I have a short story that I know I must go back to, if only to satisfy myself that it can be finished, and a file of haiku of which a handful are probably good enough to send out. Oh, I also have a few sketches that are embarrassingly bad and are unlikely to ever see the light of day! What I’m getting round to is that being creative has helped me through lockdown. It’s given me a purpose. I like to be active, to be doing something. Writing is a great way of ‘doing’ because it doesn’t require much space or many resources. A pen and a piece of paper and you’re away. It’s affordable and portable. It does, however, make demands on your time. You have to commit. And there’s no guarantee of success. Time. Commitment. Failure and rejection. Small moments of success. These are constants.

We are living in a very unsettling period. There’s a general feeling of apprehension. And yet the impulse to write is still there. And for that, I’m grateful.

Julie Mellor, A changing world

–It’s very strange to have spent the months of March, April, and May reading about disease in general, COVID-19 in specifics, and some general apocalyptic works of fiction, and then to see states re-open and people gather with and without masks, with seemingly no care in the world. I’m still asking myself if any gathering is worth the risk. Grocery stores–yes. Spin class–still feels dangerous to me, since my spin class is held in a gym that’s in a hospital. Protest marches–much too dangerous, all the chanting and yelling in close proximity. Of course, that’s all from an epidemiology point of view–there are other points of view, like the need to demand social justice, the need to be with humans, the need to restock, the need to take care of oneself.

–I am also struck by how our students are responding. Everyone complies with the rule that masks must be worn, but many of them can’t seem to keep them on properly. And then there are a few students who have not only a mask but a face shield and gloves.

–NASCAR has banned Confederate flags and imagery. This moment seems like a real turning point somehow, even as I realize it won’t be a teaching moment for many NASCAR fans (either because they already understand the importance of it, or they will never understand).

–These types of shifts on race make my head spin. The polls that show a huge shift in attitudes towards racism and policing–it’s a shift that seems similar to the shift towards approval of gay marriage almost a decade ago. It feels like it happens overnight, but I know it’s because of years and decades and centuries of hard work, shifting those attitudes one by one.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Cognitive Dissonance

Beyond where I live, two (invisible) pandemics become visible. Daily, I am distraught by what is happening. I wish for a cure, and know that a cure comes about when we care for each other.

I listen to the news, like three doses a day. In between, I am outside working in our three gardens, or preparing reports, or courses, or writing to keep me centered and calm, because I feel overwhelmed by the hardships people are facing daily, in cities and small towns, across our country. Reports are saying the death toll from Covid-19 will reach 170,000 by October, 2020. That number is staggering and frightening, knowing the cruel way this virus work. Equally, moving into 18th day of protest in some cities means “Enough is enough.” Things have to change. Things are changing.

I had no idea, (truly) no idea, that the Army bases in the United States were named after Confederate Generals. I was stunned by that revelation this week. Why would the Army honor the Confederate Generals? It’s a strange contradiction, seemingly supporting a Confederate mindset; and, it’s been an “under-telling” narrative for years.

M.J. Iuppa, Vistations and Dreams, June 12, 2020

No baseball has been played. I filled my gas tank once, I watch thousands of protesters on TV. I saw too many fires and broken windows. I watched too many incidents of police swinging clubs at people, pushing to the ground, spraying chemicals at protesters, I grieved for people hurt and those killed. I grieved for families that lost loved ones. I wrote most nights. Failed to get enough walking in, thought about yoga but did none. Grilled BBQ stake. Had a root bear float at work. Wore mask up in public, washed and rewashed my hands too many fucking times. All this and more since my last confession a week ago.

I confess that I do not know what day of the Covid-19 pandemic it is, I just know we are no where near the end. Last I saw there were 786 related deaths in Missouri. Nationwide deaths exceed 114,000. I saw today that there are flair ups in Texas and Mexico. People aren’t exercising social distancing very well and I totally expect that we will have to go through another shut down.

Baseball is my go-to to pull me out of the winder doldrums and into the spring then summer and it just makes life remind me of poetry and brings comfort. I confess I am struggling for this comfort.

I’m awaiting some poetry books and I’m really bad at waiting for books to arrive. Amazon has spoiled me, but. I do order elsewhere and I still want them yesterday. Is this impatience a sign of a character flaw?

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Spontaneous Combustion Edition

I was initially afraid that we were all just shouting booklists at each other, but it turns out books related to BLM are selling out. That’s reassuring.

I keep thinking of this Tweet by Charles Blow: “Anti-racism is so hip right now. Yay! But, don’t let it be a fad; make it forever.” It should be just the basic level of what being a human is but we know that IRL it’s otherwise.

Of course, if as a white person you’re finding all of this wildly stressful, then you are feeling only a tiny fraction of what BIPOC feel all the time. So I keep thinking, let us not tire, let us not let up, and let us pledge to be in this for the long haul.

I was pretty exhausted by the Covid-19 situation. And I’m not any less so now. But I’m trying to keep alert, too. I think if we just each quietly did something positive, whether that’s buying a book and learning more about anti-racism, to donating money, even a small amount to a good cause, this can be something. If you live in Edmonton and want to support an Indigenous organization, I’m very fond of the Edmonton Native Healing Center and here is their donation page.

Thanks for reading, and looking at the photos from my backyard (which have nothing whatsoever to do with this post!), but where I’m spending a fair bit of time thinking things through these days.

Shawna Lemay, Let Us Not Tire

In these lengthening days
it’s easy to feel that we
are past any danger. The idea
of crowded hospital beds
and makeshift isolation tents inside
stadiums sounds like a bad fairy tale,
until the angel of sickness walks
across your threshold and sets down
his luggage. When he hangs up a towel,
sets a worn toothbrush on the sink.
you know he’s there to stay
a little while longer.
Even so, he is not the enemy.
Without any special malice,
he is only doing what’s in his nature.
But the enemy took ships across the water
and returned with shackled bodies
loaded in the hold. The enemy
cracked a whip across the fields
where our people bent over beds
of garlic and strawberries.
The enemy is a bullet
that will take out your eye
or stop your heart even when you’ve
knelt on the ground as instructed.
The enemy is a god unto himself.
It shows no mercy but fears
every dusky body running
and playing in sunlight,
numbers of them walking now
with a single purpose across the land.

Luisa A. Igloria, Enemy

erect a statue 
to the statue topplers
and topple it

Jim Young [no title]

You may or may not, if you live somewhere far away from Seattle, have been getting reports – mostly false – of chaos and crime and uproar in Seattle. But for the most part, we are all fine here. Hearing that Fox News doctored photos from Capital Hill’s protest zone (See: WA Post’s story here) didn’t surprise me, but I had to reassure people who don’t live here that things were mostly operating as normal, that I had friends going to the protest zone where people were sharing food and doing poetry readings, you know, truly revolutionary behaviors. Artists drew a beautiful mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on the street. Ah! Chaos! So you don’t need to worry about us here, and you definitely shouldn’t support sending in the military. As Han Solo said, “Everything’s fine, we’re all fine here. How are you?” […]

I’ve been talking about the defunding the police all week, and this made me think about other corrupt systems, and how we correct them, and if necessary, dismantle them. Does this make me a revolutionary? I think few people would consider me a radical, but the corruption and bias of the police is a big problem, and I don’t think “reform” is enough. At least it hasn’t been enough over the last, oh, I don’t know, 100 years. Besides racism and sexism (talk to me about how the police handle rape and domestic violence cases, in case you want some horror stories), corruption of power, problematic protections by a corrupt police union, the militarization against citizenry, and questionable immunity status…how do you reform the system of policing? Judges, sheriffs, mayors…we vote for them all. Are we holding the people we vote for accountable enough?

And there were aftershocks even in the poetry community. The Poetry Foundation had two resignations. Outrage against editors and publishers bloomed all over social media for offenses minor and major. The discussion of how much writers get paid was also a hot topic – of course, for poets, all mostly a theoretical discussion, getting paid, but interesting to see the disparities nonetheless. Do we hold non-profits and groups who support the arts to the same standards we hold, say, corporations or government entities? Is the literary publishing world as messed up as, say, the educational system (which many would say also needs a little dismantling at this point for its inequities)? Who are we holding accountable, and why? How do we build a better world, the world we say we want? A world that treats people equally regardless of race or gender or (dis)ability? How does that begin? The status quo does not seem to be working for the vast majority.

I often feel like an outsider here in America. After all, I’m disabled and chronically ill (which numerous Americans lately have been indicating makes my life worthless, in the face of the coronavirus) and a woman. I’m white, but I’ve witnessed enough racism to believe that yeah, it’s still a problem that did not magically get erased somehow in the last fifty years. Then there’s the issue of social and economic disparities that appear to be getting worse, not better. So how do we make America better, fairer, a place where everyone can actually have a chance at the American dream even without being born a healthy white heterosexual male?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The 13th of Juneuary, Seattle is Probably More Peaceful Than You Think, Being Sick and Considering the Dismantling of Corrupt Systems

It’s useful to remember that when people like me call for the abolition of the police, our proposal is not “leave the world exactly as it is except without the police.” The idea of police abolition goes hand in hand with the idea of communities taking care of the basic needs of their people. No baby is born to a life of crime. Instead, babies are born into a world without adequate shelter, food, education, leisure time, arts, communal structures, play, and all the other things that make life worth living or even possible in terms other than mere existence. As long as we continue to allow our society to work at the whim of corporations and the wealthy and the powerful, there will always be a need for an armed force to enforce those whims. When I say “get rid of cops,” I also mean “take the money we use on cops – whether here inside our borders or via our armed forces – and use it to build a better world.”

Jason Crane, What I Mean When I Say “Get Rid Of Cops”

When I decided to go quiet,
was the time I should have been speaking out.
When the screens started going dark,
black voices said to offer lifelines.
When I wanted to write,
I knew my voice wasn’t one that needed to be heard.
I couldn’t watch the violence any more,
but can’t turn away any longer.

Gerry Stewart, Apologies for My Lack of Response to Current Events

It’s easy to understand why people would want to avoid the topics of privilege and of systemic racism. We are taught to be polite; one of the social contracts I was urged to respect was to keep conversation friendly, to avoid religion, politics, and other hot topics in order to get along with my neighbors and coworkers–to maintain friendships with people whose perspectives are different from my own. This approach does work, to a degree. Politeness, though, is not the same as compassionate interest and doesn’t always encourage listening and reflecting.

So it stops the conversation just when the conversation might be getting interesting. Or difficult. I have seen this play out in the course I teach time and again. Some students try to mediate as soon as a disagreement starts. Some tune out; some get embarrassed; some shut it down. Some talk to me after class, individually. Only a few times are my freshmen confident and mature enough to speak up assertively but in a way that admits of, and permits, other points of view.

That behavior is what I try to teach and to encourage. We need to admit of other perspectives rather than keep comparing this with that or bring up side arguments or shut people down with ad hominem attacks. That means ideologically “liberal” people also have to listen and to allow opposition, by the way. I teach in a fairly conservative university; and as a rather unconventional thinker in that environment, it can be a challenge for me to let students express views with which I disagree. But that’s the point: to listen and try to understand, and then to show where the argument goes awry–if it does–and acknowledge the validity of the stance, as there often is some.

Ann E. Michael, Just speak

I’ve been extraordinary fortunate with [dancing girl press] in that, with such a large number of submissions, I have a healthy number of manuscripts coming across the desk–a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, gender/sexual orientations, subject matter, experiences. Others come to me through recommendations of other writers or happenstance. I can usually find a decent percentage of writers of color whose work I want to publish, but of course, there is always more work to be done if you truly want to reflect the breadth of work and decenter the glaring whiteness of the publishing world. And these are what I’ve been thinking about in the past couple weeks as this is on everyone’s mind and publishers are examining how to do things better in the future–how to welcome more writers of color, particularly BIPOC into publications and presses. How to find those authors, because they are out there, and how to bring them to the forefront of publishing efforts as an industry (which includes the biggest of the large publishers down to the tiniest of the indies). And specifically, how I can make those things manifest through dgp, where while we do get to publish a somewhat diverse list, it seems like there is still more work to be done to have a chapbook series that truly reflects population percentages in general. I’d like to do a bit more soliciting and maybe pushing POC authors to the front of queue and making them a priority this summer. In the meantime, also championing and promoting the work of writers we have published is a useful thing as well. More soon on this as I mull it around…

Kristy Bowen, decentering and publishing in the era of #blacklivesmatter

protest hate / love peace—

this battle waged on bloodied american soil / countless bodies converging in cities all across the country / human spirit refusing to become collateral damage amidst systemic brutality and oppression / see the courageous display what happens to equality long-deferred / it doesn’t go quietly to the back of the bus / it explodes out onto the streets / enduring bullets, brawls & pepper-spray halos to get its message heard

do not / protest love / hate peace

Rich Ferguson, It’s All in the Way the Words are Arranged

I’ve never had much talent for hope, and what hope I’ve managed to summon tends to get squashed. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to distrust. Yet widespread public outrage at police assaults to Black lives and dignity: it springs from that four-letter-word. Protests and anger, imply at least some tiny spark of faith that the world can change.

I’ve been trying to write more poetry from and about hope during the past couple of years, and one of those pieces, “We Could Be,” appeared recently in About Place: Practices of Hope. I’ll be reading it–and listening to some of the other fabulous contributors–in a group reading today, Friday 6/12, at 7pm EST on YouTube Live (details above). I find poems of joy, hope, gratitude, and love hard to generate. For me, poems grow more readily from complex, often negative, emotions and situations: conflict often powers the turn or volta that makes a poem surprising; ambivalence and ambiguity somehow sharpen the language (I’m not sure how that last process works, but I certainly feel it). “Unsonnet,” a poem of mine recently published by Ecotone and reprinted by Verse Daily, operates in the latter mode of darkness and uncertainty. It comes from grief about my son growing up and getting ready to leave for college, and it ends not with optimism but denial and a wish to turn back the clock. I like the vivid language of “Unsonnet,” a poem that came relatively easily last spring; I started “We Could Be” four years ago and revising it was monstrously difficult. I don’t know if one is aesthetically better than the other. But the way the latter poem puts hope out there does seem ethically better. (Those are fighting words, I know, that poetry can have an ethics, but I think it can. It’s just slippery, as language itself is.)

Lesley Wheeler, Practicing Hope

For the last two days I’ve been reading Koon Woon‘s Water Chasing Water (Kaya Press, 2013) and feeling my own heart swell upwards as if on a rising tide. Other reviewers have described him as a “writer of solitudes,” but I love the community Koon Woon invokes in almost every poem. I love his poems for his father, poems about sleeping under bridges, about the Chinese waiter reading Nietzsche and dreaming a writing life into being. In this time of madness and isolation, he gives me hope.

Bethany Reid, A Poem and a Writing Prompt

You might hear them before
you see them, the sign says
but we still look up

a little like the way we hear
the voice of our own conscience
or our fears, and look around

for a sign that might convince us
to take that first step forward.

Lynne Rees, Skylarks ~ a poem

I had a lovely phone conversation yesterday with my long-time writing mentor. We mostly communicate via e-mail, so it was great to connect over the phone. We chatted about a lot of things, but a great deal of it was about literature, which was a treat for me. This person is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and the conversation transported me back to feeling like I was in college again and listening to a professor wax poetic about the beauty of language. I realized that I just don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. I haven’t in years, and it’s really a shame. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for it. I don’t have anyone in my day-to-day life to talk to literature about on that level. And my reading habits have gotten very lazy. Reading for me has become just a way to unwind before bed, rather than an experience of delving deep into a rich work of art. I’ve read a few heavy novels here and there, but it’s mostly been literary junk food. I made a semi-resolution on this very blog several years ago to read one classic a month, and I never followed through. I think it’s time to dust that resolution off and give it an honest try this time.

Kristen McHenry, Poor Soup Outcome, Literary Hunger, Plug-and-Play Genius

I’ve made a poem collage for  the Begin Afresh Campaign for Poets for the Planet  following their open call for poems which reads as follows:

Poets for the Planet warmly invite you to join us in writing poems on the theme of ‘beginning afresh’.

We are calling for poems that respond to the need for change. How must the world change as we come out of lockdown? Is there anything we’ve gained from lockdown that we should hang onto? What do we need to let go of? We’d love you to share your poems of no going back, starting again, turning over a new leaf, letting go.

My contribution includes daisies, buttercups, common knapweed and yellow hawkweed – wildflowers which have grown in our back garden since we stopped mowing it.  The #NoMowMay and #NoMowJune campaigns encourage people to leave their lawns alone, so encouraging weeds to flower and provide a greater source of pollen for bees and other pollinators, and habitats for more insects and other garden wildlife. This is one small change I’ve made with my family  – not just in the lockdown because we also did this last year, influenced by this article by Alys Fowler in The Guardian – but the lockdown has made me even more aware of my desire to do more to care for our planet.  Not mowing the lawn is my very small gesture of starting afresh.

Josephine Corcoran, We found the O My! in No Mow May

I played her the song on the way home and then promptly forgot about it..until earlier today when I heard it coming from her room. I was pleased, checked my dad privilege and then got on with enjoying it as a moment. As is often the wont, that’s a poem, I thought. There’s an idea there, however shite, it’s an idea, but how to get anywhere near writing down the history of how we got to that moment (especially without referring to Beckenham Tescos) and without making it sound like I’d made her listen to it. It felt like a tall order (even once I’d navigated the internal monologue about whether it was a shit idea). And to be honest with you, I’ve got this far into this post without really knowing what my point is other than thinking that I see lots of posts about the poems we have written, the poems we didn’t write, how to write the poem we didn’t know we wanted to write (via prompts), how to edit the poem we have written (for example this great one from today by Natalie), but I can’t recall seeing one that talks about something from the moment of conception, how it got that far and whether it should then carry on.

To be fair this isn’t that post either, but it’s potentially a marker in the sand (another Pearl Jam song, as it happens) for the future. If I get beyond my internal wrangling about how to even start it and if I should start it I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I’ve linked to a few great songs on the way.

Mat Riches, Is Whilst

The farm-cabin is not for everyone–the closest any kind of restaurant is 20 minutes of driving through fields, there’s only phone /internet signal if you sit on the porch at the right time of day, and the view is fields and more fields. But for us this is perfect–we’ll only be a couple of hours away from our girls (and my generous mother who will be caring for them) so we could get home in a hurry if need-be, we’re not too far away from the hospital if I went into surprise early labor, and we actually enjoy quiet isolation and have our own writing projects that we’ve been slogging away on inch by inch. […]

I wonder too how with the state of the world if it is the right time for either of my areas of interest in my manuscripts–what do poetry readers need and want to read right now? The oppression of nuns and the mourning of a baby? I don’t know. I suppose I can’t help but write what feels important and alive to me. Perhaps these are questions to ask myself during the weekend at the cabin.

Renee Emerson, Preparing for a DIY Writing Retreat

I grieve for my finished unfinished manuscript. Ten years worth of research and scrawl that feels stillborn now even though it is still alive still kicking dust from the molding with its tiny shoes in the office of a publisher. I feel guilty for my grief for giving into it in such a powerful historic moment decade.

I stack my unread copies of the Paris Review in numerical order on the child sized roll top desk from which I used to teach pretend school as a small girl believing that one day I would actually be a true student. I’m afraid of opening them. The smell of fresh ink makes me high. Mimeograph ink was my first drug. I would shake when I held the damp slick test paper gentian letters swimming into my malleable brain.

Since the plague I’ve been afraid to turn on my pc where my manuscript lives. I tell myself the boxy computer is going to be dead or the monitor ultra bright wavy constant updates whirling away the white mesmerizing circle on the blue field Word won’t allow me access my pages will come up as Read Only and I won’t know how to fix it my story will be broken even though I have four copies maybe more in my email. It feels like sickness.

Rebecca Loudon,  Sarah Manguso wrote in the Paris Review “ How far along are you? people will ask of your book

Here I am, showing up, doing the thing I’ve assigned myself to do.

I feel a little hollow, scraped out. Writer’s block is when you have the words but can’t release them. They’re trapped behind a wall. I think I’ve got writer’s drought. Lots of arid sky in my head, dendrites dry as August dirt.

Tears came easily this week. Thursday, I had a panting, sweaty meltdown: droplets spattered everywhere. I thought some physical work would make me feel better, but instead of dissipating a persistent ennui it activated a wet rage. (At least my garage and yard look better.)

I have nothing worth saying today. Feel as if I have been swimming and swimming in everyone’s torrent of words for weeks now, and all I want to do is lie still on some shore and dry out a bit.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Showing up

In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child. This virus filled the sky as if it were smoke from a tremendous fire, a fire that burned for a thousand years. It flowed with swift rivers and filled the oceans. Entire oceans of COVID-19. We are simple people. We touch the virus, we breathe the virus, we wear the virus like a suit of the finest silk, perfectly cut to fit. And so now we embrace COVID-19. We embrace death. We are Little Red Ridinghood embracing the wolf at last. Come. Let me hold you. Die with me tonight.

James Lee Jobe, In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child.

We get to wholeness and peace both by pursuing justice with all that we are, and by surrendering to everything we can’t know about how we’re going to get there from here. It’s not an either/or: it’s a both/and. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never act at all, and, if we imagine we know all the answers we’re guaranteed to be wrong. We need humility and chutzpah.

“Not by might and not by power, but by spirit.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” here, ruach, can also be translated as breath. I find a message in that for our current moment too. We reach wholeness not through pursuing power, but through ensuring that everyone can breathe freely. When all of God’s children can breathe, that’s wholeness and peace. 

Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Racism, like coronavirus, steals the breath. Just this morning we sang nishmat kol chai — “Breath of Life, the breath of all that lives praises Your name.” We name God as the Breath of Life. When a human breath is diminished, it’s as though God were diminished. 

We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when justice will roll like thunder and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24) We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when the pandemic will end and it will be safe to return to the world again. We only know that right now, we’re in the cloud. It’s hard to see how we get there from here. But that doesn’t exempt us from trying.

Our task is to protect ourselves and each other during these pandemic times. To end racism in all its forms. To cultivate the chutzpah of believing we can make the world a better place alongside the humility of knowing that we don’t have all the answers. When the cloud lifts, we move forward. When the cloud doesn’t lift, we do what we can to build justice right here where we are.

Rachel Barenblat, In the cloud

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week felt possibly pivotal in American politics; time will tell. Some poetry bloggers did write about other things, but most of those posts sat uneasily with the uprising- and COVID-related content, and in the end I took them out. I do want to acknowledge two extraordinary texts emerging this week that are (sadly) not blog posts but Google docs: the Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners and, a few hours ago, Phillip B. Williams’ Letter of Apology from a Ruth Lilly Fellow. Both were sparked by the Poetry Foundation’s “A Message to Our Community & Contributors“—just the sort of vapid, substance-free message of support for #BlackLivesMatter that Maureen Doallas calls out below.

News broke as I was assembling this digest that a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to disband its police department, just over a week after protesters burned down a precinct building there. So be careful before you join the mob… of comfortable liberals and conservatives whitesplaining protest tactics to the oppressed.


When people murmur in a mildly moralising way about peaceful protest, maybe they should stop and think about Emily Wilding Davison.

A militant suffragette, she was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for breaking windows, setting fire to mail boxes, and on one occasion for attempting to horsewhip a clergyman who she mistook for Lloyd George.

She undertook repeated hunger strikes in prison, was forcibly fed 49 times, and attempted to kill herself in Holloway by leaping off a landing. She said after that she thought that her death might cause people to pay attention to the cause of women’s suffrage. On June 4 2013, Emily Wilding Davison travelled to Epsom, went to the racecourse on Derby Day, waited behind the railings at the bend to the final straight, and as the horses came round the bend, ducked under the rail, and walked in front of the king’s horse. On and off for 30 years I tried to find a way to write about it.

I think about images that have, one way or another, changed how we see the world, and maybe changed the world itself. The terrified villagers of My Lai in Vietnam, and the small girl stripped naked by napalm, her mouth a silent scream; a Buddhist monk in flames; a student holding up his arm against a tank. A white policeman kneeling on the neck of a black man until he dies.

I was staggered when I learned that the death of Emily Davison was filmed live by a Pathe news camera, and duly appeared in British cinemas. I had thought the stills I had seen were remarkably in-focus single camera shots. I could not understand their clarity.

John Foggin, A grating roar

tomorrow my son is going to photograph a protest in Snohomish a small town no one had heard of until it became patient zero for the corona virus Snohomish where I attend the county fair every summer Snohomish where a handful of peaceful protesters were greeted by a sidewalk full of white american proudboys standing with spread legs holding automatic weapons snickering among themselves not only their stances but their faces threatening and ugly

the american president’s boys with a long tradition of  hate

my son quoted Shakespeare to me this morning

The blood of the citizens of Verona makes the hands of the citizens both bloody and uncivilized; that is, not polite, and possibly murderous.

then he quoted some of the lyrics to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and he said that George Floyd was lynched I think so too deliberately horribly and in the open

my son believes we’re at the beginning of true worldwide revolution that the protests are not going to stop that they have just begun that the citizens of the world have been oppressed long enough they are rising up as one body to demand change and they will not stop until change is brought forth he tells me he sees children in the street some high school age young people finally finding their voices their rallying cry

Rebecca Loudon, What our sons say

What could be more dispiriting than a biological enemy, an invisible enemy, an enemy that has turned the morality schema upside down?  Yesterday’s bad guys — alienation and isolation  — are today’s heroes of good health.  Those heroes of isolation are also conditions for authoritarianism, which makes them still count as bad guys.  No wonder we’ve felt so lost and confused.

No wonder the police murder of George Floyd has changed the moral landscape.  In its horror and shame, in its immorality, it prompted the massive outpouring of public grief and collective protest.  It has a clear-cut narrative, with victims and perpetrators.  The unequivocal police brutality has no moral ambiguity. It liberated us from our own cells. Our listless selves had been told that this narrow narcissistic world was heroic – perhaps with limited horizons, we didn’t trust it. 

Walking on a summer afternoon to the RI State House, I refound my “we.” We were some 10,000. To hear the roar of thousands who respond in unity to the call of a leader – to feel the vibration in our bones, as my daughter said – began to restore a self in relation to others.  Collective, actively scooping up a sense of purpose. Rebellious. Called to look into our selves where moral ambiguities will most obviously arise. That has to be part of the pact. We can still do that while dissenting injustice, abuse of cops and our homegrown tyrant crossing new red lines at every turn.   This is not bad news wrapped in a protein. 

Coronavirus is still a threat, as we’ll always remark when we look at photos, in the future, of protesters in masks in photos.  As a young friend said, “History looks back at the past.  We’re in the middle of history.  But we don’t know what it looks like — we’re living it.”  He wasn’t comfortable with not knowing.  He shrugged: he knows he doesn’t have a choice.

Jill Pearlman, The Protests: Sprung from Moral Uncertainty

Since the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I have read and viewed countless news articles, op-eds, solidarity statements, video webinars, social media posts, tweets, and photo albums related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the Pacific Islands and our diaspora. 

The first thing to note is that there is widespread support for BLM amongst Pacific Islanders (PI). There have been numerous solidarity events in Hawaiʻi (where I currently live), Aotearoa, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Australia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and my homeland of Guåhan (Guam). There have also been Pacific-organized events in California, Washington, and Utah, and I have seen PI participate in protests from Kentucky to New York to where it all began: Minnesota. At least one PI was arrested/detained, and there are perhaps more. BLM solidarity in the Pacific is not new (many events that occurred in after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) but it is definitely more expansive today. […]

The most wonderful part of all this is that so many PI have interpreted this history to mean that we have a “debt” to the Black community because of all they have done to empower us, directly and indirectly. In Pacific cultures, “debt” is not a capitalist phenomenon. It is much deeper and refers to ideas about gift-giving, social reciprocity, interdependence, kinship, obligation, support, and mutual aid. Chamorros call this “chenchule’” and it is one of our most cherished values and practices.  […]

Within U.S. settler colonialism in Guam and Hawaiʻi, I have noticed that there are some politicians and individuals (who are White, Asian, or POC) who are vocal in their support of BLM and even for police abolition. However, I have seen these same people stand AGAINST Chamorro and Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination. This to me points to how some settlers in the Pacific support liberal and progressive reforms, but they don’t support decolonization, which would completely unsettle their power here. This also speaks to a divide between civil rights and indigenous rights.  

Craig Santos Perez, Black Lives Matter in the Pacific, 2020

These days, I put an ear to America’s chest to make sure democracy’s heart is still beating.

I share my breath with others ‘cause the air is so choked with tear gas and political propaganda.

I rearrange our collective spirit into a beatbox offering solid, uplifting rhythms as we witness secret police wandering the streets, bashing bruise tattoos into the flesh of peaceful protestors.

In my higher conscience, I’ve started an Etsy store selling necklaces made from the words and songs of Gandhi, MLK, and Billie Holiday.

I’ve created see-through face masks where we can witness one another’s lips as we speak words like, “Peace,” “Love,” and “ Dream.”

Rich Ferguson, Beating, Not Beating

Official Wear Orange Day was Friday, June 5. June 5 is also Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She was killed by guns in a terrible police mistake. But Wear Orange Day was created by friends of Hadiya Pendleton, dead at 15 by gun violence, back in 2013. My poem for that is hard, quick, and blunt. You understand why. 

Today I Wear Orange

to honor the dead girl
killed by a gun. Orange
like a hunting vest,
meant to say:
I’m not prey.

Hadiya had just been in the parade for President Obama’s second inauguration and was dead a week later. […]

I don’t like to jump on any bandwagons, but I do wish to stand in solidarity with all our nonviolent protestors today. At a distance, masked, I attended our local NAACP/Not In My Town rally to see, feel, and be part of the local support. I came late and left early, not wanting to mingle with any crowds. Couldn’t hear or see the presenters, but felt the solidarity. My peripheral vision made me turn at the right time to see potential danger, a young white man wearing a bandana on his forehead riding a motorcycle on Front Street. My gut said, Trouble. Later, he drove through the crowd and injured people; he’s been arrested. I listen to my gut now, having ignored it sometimes in the past. After seeing him, I scanned the crowd, as well. I was looking at the young white guys, I have to confess. There’s my current bias and tendency to profile. I apologize for the past, the present, and the future. I’ll do what I can, which doesn’t seem like much, but I do vote and help get out the vote, via a tiny elected office.

And my tiny poems will continue, at least through June. If I can remember what day it is. And who I am.

Kathleen Kirk, Wearing Orange

Small bamboo stakes with tiny flags on them were placed six feet apart, all along the north side of route two, from First Congregational Church to Thompson Memorial Chapel.

We gathered with our signs, each person or household to a flag. Most of the signs were homemade, made on posterboard or on cardboard recycled from boxes.

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Stop systemic racism.”

“Covid + racism = mourning in America.”

“Lord have mercy.”

“Seeking justice.”

“Black lives matter.”

“We stand with you.”

The church bells tolled. When they were done, a bagpiper stood on the steps of First Congregational and played somber songs.

As cars drove by, from one side or the other, we turned so our signs would face them, like sunflowers moving with the sun.

Most cars honked in support as they drove by. A few big rigs drove by and honked as they passed us. One bicyclist pedaled slowly by, reading each sign in turn.

A light rain fell. We stood in quiet solidarity with the victims of SARS-CoV-2 and the victims of systemic racism around our nation. When the clock tower rang for 5:30, we quietly went home with our grief.

Rachel Barenblat, Vigil

I marched at the parade with my daughter, surrounded by people her age. I thought about the world I thought I was bringing her into–what I thought I was giving her–and I wondered what the parents of all the others there had thought they were giving their children. I want to tell you how it broke my heart a little, to see these people taking action to try to make the world be more like the one I (wrongly) thought we once had, to see their anger and frustration and courage and hope. But my broken heart is not the important thing here, and my tiny heartbreak is nothing in comparison to those of the parents who have lost their children at the hands (or knees or bullets) of police, or those who worry that they will.

Last week a journalist claimed that America is a tinderbox. Last night, in a peaceful protest in a town known for its liberalism, I could feel it–people brittle as leaves and sticks on the forest floor after a summer of drought. Our youth–all of our youth, not just those privileged by social class and race–need real hope for something like the kind of future I took for granted when I was their age, and they need it in the form of action, not empty words and gestures without substance. They need more than police taking a knee one minute and then rising up to throw teargas and shoot rubber bullets the next. They need relief from corrupt leaders, inept government, gross income inequality, a trashed economy, crushing debt, racist systems, and a dying planet.

We all need that for them, too. As activist Lilla Watson once said,

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

A lit fire can be hard to contain, and people who feel they have little or nothing to lose are going to be quick to reach for matches.

We all have more to lose than we realize, I think.

Rita Ott Ramstad, No justice, no peace

June—not even rounding the cusp of summer; yet heat
pours out as if from a cauldron on every surface.

And the heat of bodies building as a fire
in every city, refusing to be staunched.

These last few months, we raised our windows
at sundown to salute those among us whose work

takes them closest to the edge of the fire.
Each night we hear the distant sound of choppers

circling overhead, and see the arcs thrown by
their beams. Only in the fitful pause of sleep

does the day’s sadness distill into a sort of quiet
blue egg. Every wing in it, every breakable bone.

Luisa A. Igloria, Domus

It’s been a week. You can tell because a giant Russian oil spill and asteroid hurtling towards earth didn’t even make the top five news headlines. Coronavirus, levels of which are still rising in the US, has been knocked out of people’s minds by gigantic protests and riots across the country – and even across the world – about police violence against unarmed, innocent African Americans. Police violence isn’t a new problem in the US, and it’s been remarkably persistent, so we need to think about how reform can makes things better, from sending in social workers and therapists to de-escalate with domestic violence and mental illness and wellness checks instead of police to eliminating the budget for police altogether. It’s clear that what we’ve done before hasn’t gotten rid of police corruption, racism, and abuse, so we need to look at new ways to address the issue.

This is a really important time to register to vote, because not only do we vote (hopefully, out) our president in November – which seems crucial to fixing some of America’s problems – but local elections like sheriffs and mayors are coming up. We the people have more power in voting than we think, and I hope we use it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Turmoil, A Poem and Photo in 805 Lit + Art, and reading at the St. Martin Bookfair Saturday Night

My email has filled and refilled with messages from various publications, nonprofits, and other organizations and companies, all stating, in white type against black background, that  they stand with protesters to demand justice and are donating money, sometimes huge sums of money, to various race-related causes or foundations because #Black Lives Matter.

Although these actions can be regarded as good things to do, are they meaningful? Because I want to ask, What else? […]

What does the word “justice” mean to you? “Freedom”? How do you define “fair treatment” and “equal opportunity”? Or are those just sound-good words for your public relations announcements?

What specific actions do you pledge to take when your white CEO commits an EEO violation? Or your HR director turns a cheek to managers’ failure to meet diversity objectives? 

What are you going to do in the communities where you’re based to ensure the history we teach our children includes the true stories of our crimes and African Americans’ many accomplishments? Will you send your children to the same public schools that black children attend? 

Which of you in fact will “stand with” Black Americans and link arms and march the next time a black man out for a run is stalked, beaten up, or killed by white supremacists? What are you going to do to help ensure every Black American has the right to vote? Or prevent a political party from killing legislation to right our wrongs against? Or help rid this nation of food and housing insecurity? Are you going to stop supporting political campaigns that keep in office white men and women who take an oath to uphold our Constitution but are owned by lobbyists and do their bidding, no matter that bidding wrongly discriminates? 

Will you invite your African American neighbors to dinner, or allow your child to have a playdate with his or her black peers?

Whose story are you willing to listen to and defend if one is black and the other white?

Will you support and engage in a national, state, or local race-reconciliation initiative to acknowledge publicly our racism so that all of together can begin to heal and transform our society and culture?

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXVI

–Yesterday, my niece, who goes to grad school in South Florida, asked if any of us had any information about protests or marches. I was a bit abashed to realize that I didn’t. In grad school, I was connected to all sorts of peace and justice groups, both local and national. I was much more plugged in, even though we didn’t have e-mail or social media, or we had a different kind of social media.

But I did know some folks who knew some information, so that’s a plus.

–I have become the kind of person I despised when I was 19, the middle aged person who does support work of social justice by writing out a check. But let me remember the pastor of the inner city Lutheran church in Washington D.C. who educated me by telling me that suburban people and their checkbooks were what made the inner city ministry possible. He did it in the kindest way possible, and I will be forever grateful to know that the work of social justice takes many forms.

–I have always assumed that I was the kind of person who would be the first shipped to the radioactive Colonies in an Atwood dystopia. But I’m thinking I may have flattered myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Marching and Writing Checks for Justice

So much has happened since you wrote to me. There are little fires burning everywhere. I don’t think any of us were made to take in all this hurt. I feel the edge of apathy tempting me like a daemon hovering off the edge of a cliff, while beasts and bleeding bodies are rushing toward me in a nightmare. Well, not toward me, but toward us all. I am coincidental.

Are all individuals coincidental?

What can I do but sit on the ground where I am, and breathe? I am irrelevant in the bigger picture of things. And yet integral to all of it.

I am not on the front lines of anything, as you say. I’m not tending to the ill, not protesting in the streets of my homeland. I don’t speak for the suffering, or the dead.

There has to be a way to accept the fact of one’s own helplessness- or uselessness -and not give into likegyldighet. I’m drawn toward the word in my second language because the unfamiliarity seems to put the word’s meaning in relief. The literal translation of the word: the same-validity. Two equally legitimate realities. Facts. It is not a matter of “alternate facts”, but conflicting facts. True phenomenon that coexist necessarily in a state of conflict.

Facts. Disconnected from desires. Desires are interpretations, and there is nothing solid about them.

The fact is we are human. The fact is humans desire. The fact is little good comes from automatic writing.

You are on a font line, Richard. Your day job. It is tending to the vulnerable. It is working towards a kind of justice.

Ren Powell, The Front Line

In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air and prayed for death. We touched our eyes and waited for death or a ventilator, whichever came first. We counted the number of deaths but not the names of those who died.

The names of the dead were written somewhere with invisible ink, but no one knows where. If someone does have that knowledge, they have never admitted to it, and who could read invisible ink anyway?

In truth, a few people prayed for life, but we also failed to record their names, and there was no god to answer such prayers. Death was everywhere.

In the time of COVID the televisions worked just fine, and computers streamed concerts and videos. You could get anything delivered to your home except cheer. We ate pizza and cut our own hair and stared at social media until it invaded our dreams.

Many of us now distrust social media as much as we distrust the spittle for its infection, as much as we distrust the fools who lead us. Indeed, is there any leader worthy of trust? Spit for me and I will wash my hands again.

In the time of COVID we shaved off our body hair and covered ourselves with oil. Naked, we rubbed against each other until we screamed and our house pets screamed along with us, not understanding.

Or perhaps I am wrong, and house pets understand more than they let on. Perhaps they find the sounds of human orgasm to be funny.

In the time of COVID the police continued to murder Blacks until riots overtook our cities and dumpster fires lit the night, the sound of police sirens was a symphony of horror, a symphony of fear.

Even now we can hear the music starting all over again. Even now it is the time of COVID.

James Lee Jobe, In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air

I’ve spent a good portion of the weekend watching the Epstein docuseries on Netflix (of which I think the web of corruption is only the very tip of the iceberg among powerful men) , and last night & finishing later, the Hunger Games movies, of which I have only seen the first two.  (I love the books, but I just never have gotten the chance to get to the two final ones.) They are a strangely appropriate thing to be watching at this very moment and I was hoping they didn’t just spike my anxiety higher, but so far I think I’m okay.  I am back to focusing no further than the end of the day. Especially as my anxieties & fear about going back to work are beginning to creep up on me.  There is so much we don’t know and so much I feel people are paying attention to  (notably that we are not expecting a second wave, and only that the first wave is still very much still happening, only that the news, understandably, is focusing on other things. )  I feel no safer out there than I did in late March. I feel esp. helpless about the decreased seriousness of people out there who seem to either be misinformed or just defiant that they need to wear masks and be careful. I actually feel like the mass protests actually look pretty safe and masked up, but the people in bars and on beaches not so much.

Inside, I am better able to focus on writing-related things than I was a few weeks ago. I have a new book, after all, and want to figure out ways to celebrate and promote it as much as I can. There are also a couple new series–one devoted to Weekly World News headlines and another that just might tangentially be  about the virus, but also about intimacy and connection.  Also just the notion of “viral” and things hi-jacking the body from a scientific standpoint. I feel like I need to tread carefully…I’m not particularly keen on most current events type writing since I think it tends to fall into cliche and hyperbole very easily.  The lit journals are filled with mediocre coronapoems right now. I think I, myself, need a little more distance. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things : June 7, 2020

there’s massive evil going on
and I study the grasses
oh god I’ve retired

I lit a fire
it was like putting down a pet
I cried

Ama Bolton, ABCD: June 2020

This intense week, I’m featuring a new collection by activist-editor-poet Sonia Greenfield (check out Rise Up Review sometime, too, for brilliant poems of resistance).

Letdown consists of 64 numbered prose poems about pregnancy, birth, raising a special needs child, miscarriage, grief, and recovery. No poems can be assembled into tidy chronologies–they slip and blur, associate and meditate–but the book has a strong emotional arc, through an underworld of pain, to emergence into love and compassion. I love that the book ends in empathy for other parents, but that’s enabled by Greenfield’s own difficult rebirth: “Though I am better now, sometimes I can feel a kite string tied inside cut through me when what I want yanks.”

Maggie Smith gets it right, too, when she calls Greenfield “a master of the prose poem.” Each has a boiled-down lyric intensity. Many investigate the meanings of words, putting the lie to the literary-critical truism that pain short-circuits expression. Poems about diagnostic language, the tone-deaf consolations and blame friends offer, and her sons words are very powerful. Her son is on the autism spectrum and the recurrent description of his “weird energy” could describe the book, too. This collection channels a strong charge of loss and love. As she says, “It takes a while to strip expectations away, to peel off the layers until we’re holding our child’s happiness in the palm of our hand, as pure as the simplest silicate mineral, and say it is enough.” This is a testament to celebrate.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #13 with Sonia Greenfield

“The apocalypse…is not when the world ends; it’s when one single person is killed. The entire universe becomes deformed when one single person is tortured.”

—Raúl Zurita, trans. Borzutzky

“The death toll is always one, plus one, plus one. The death toll is always one” —Teju Cole

…we are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business: we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

—Gwendolyn Brooks

Beauty will be here for us, but this time, this time. We have to be here for it. We have to end this. Because one unnecessary death is intolerable. Evil is intolerable. Racism is intolerable. Inequality is intolerable. Hatred is intolerable. The disparities are intolerable. Violence against Black people, and Indigenous people and all BIPOC is intolerable.

I’m honestly just a gutted horrible mess over this. I haven’t cried over Covid-19. I’ve cried over this. I read Twitter most of the day, various news sites. And then we had a family Zoom call and that was lovely. What a privilege to know that all your loved ones are safe. And then a big cocktail while listening to Jason Isbell’s song, Be Afraid, repeatedly. Most of us don’t even know what real fear is. I know I don’t.

The line by Teju Cole just keeps repeating in my head, the death toll is always one. It guts me.

Shawna Lemay, Try to Say Something; Also: Shut-Up

Imagine as fully as possible that a crowd of desperate people are at your door. Their eyes and lungs are burning, they are afraid, angry, out of options. You have seconds to decide. Imagine you open the door and now your home is filled with these strangers, every available space taken up. They need food, water, aid. Can you do it?

Now imagine this. You are on the other side of a stranger’s door. You’re the one in pain, afraid and desperate. Will the door open for you?

Laura Grace Weldon, Hospitality To Strangers

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

The poetry blogosphere was relatively quiet this week; I think U.S. poets are worn out or simply stunned by what’s unfolding on the streets. Today, as Erica Goss reminds us, was Walt Whitman’s birthday. Come back, Walt, we need you! Oh well, I guess we’ll have to look for him under our combat boot-soles…


The dark threw its patches down upon me also, Walt Whitman wrote in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Nearly as often as he reflects on his own tingling senses, Whitman, it turns out, writes about distance and solitude, sometimes expressing pain about it and reaching for touch across impossible gaps. “It avails not, time nor place–distance avails not,” he insists. We can be together, apart. This violent week has proven again that in my country, unity is a fiction. Some U.S. citizens are protected by police; in overlapping territory, other U.S. citizens are murdered by police. I admire Whitman’s desire to heal damage and division, but I can’t love my country the way he did.

Yet the fellowship of writers in other places, even other times, helps my heart. I wrote last week about feeling rested by the kind intelligence of Ned Balbo’s new book The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, and before that the pleasure of revisiting Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist.

Lesley Wheeler, It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall

I struggle to find words right now.

The virus has stolen life and breath from so many. Systemic racism has stolen life and breath from so many more.

What words could be equal to the murder of George Floyd? To the unthinkable horror of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck until the life leaves him?

And we know that the pandemic disproportionately kills people of color because of the same systemic racism that causes police to arrest, and to kill, people of color in disproportionate numbers. It’s injustice heaped on injustice.

Rachel Barenblat, I don’t have words.

Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
to nonsense.
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.

But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.

Laura Grace Weldon, Now, Reality Is Surreal

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing a post I’m not going to share.

Writing is my way of processing what’s happening, and it served that purpose, but even I am just not all that interested in my perspective on what’s happening in my country–so I’m not going to share it here.

I am weary of so many people I know pontificating on social media when, frankly, they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. And, sorry(notsorry), their opinions (and mine) just aren’t as important as those of others who know more than we do. I’m thinking I don’t need to join the cacophany of white noise any more than I already have.

I think the best thing I can do as a white person is shut the hell up and listen.

Here are a few voices that need amplification far more than mine:

A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed-Up’-rising (from The Root)

George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show (Trevor Noah)

Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us (Roxanne Gay)

Rita Ott Ramstad, The best thing I can do

If he’s been working hard,
his skin glints
as if lacquered with gold
and if you’re lucky enough
to behold it, my nephew’s
contagious smile
will lighten your burdens
for a while,
despite his dark skin.

So when you ask me why
I’m outraged
ask yourself why
to white policemen
&
to white supremacists
&
to whites who say they
don’t see color,
my nephew’s skin
is the color of fear,
the color of hatred,
the color of oppression,
the color of lynching
in broad, bright daylight.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, The Color of Racism

Here in Canada, I’ve observed the Truth and Reconciliation process with the indigenous community. Although America has perpetrated even more injustices, including genocide, against its native people, this did not feel like “my” issue when I moved here; because of the time when I grew up, I was more concerned, more familiar, and more invested in the struggles for civil rights, women’s rights, peace and nuclear disarmament, gender equality, and the rights of immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities — all of which had been major issues in the United States during my lifetime.  But I have seen the painful steps toward truth-telling and reconciliation here, as well as in South Africa, and I believe that this is the ONLY way to begin to redress the wrongs that have been done, and to bring a society into greater understanding.

Yet in Canada, in spite of believing that we’re better than our neighbors to the south, we have our share of racism and hatred, especially directed against Muslims and Jews. Just this week, in one of the worst attacks in recent memory, a synagogue here in Montreal was violently ransacked, its religious objects desecrated — a Torah had been cut up and stuffed into a toilet — the floors covered in red paint, and the walls with antisemitic graffiti.

Meanwhile, the poor, and people of color and of ethnic minorities are dying at higher rates of COVID-19, while they fill a greater number of poorly-paid service and health care jobs. The same Quebec government which recently threw out three years of immigrant applications just had the gall to start a new fast-track program for immigrants who are willing to come here and work in the deplorable care homes for the elderly, where the virus has spread like wildfire, resulting in 80% of the deaths in the province. The message is clear: we didn’t want you before, but now we need you to take care of us, so we’ll make you a deal.

We white people of conscience have no choice: we have to stand for justice and against racism in all of its forms, against violence, against oppression, and for equality for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. And you know what? It is not the job of black people, or Muslims, or Jewish people, Asians, Arabs, or any other minority group, to educate us about why their lives matter, and what needs to be done. It’s our job, and we had damn well better get on with it.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 27: A Summer Already Ablaze

This week, we hit a different grim milestone:  100,000 dead in the U.S. of COVID-19.  It’s a number that’s hard for me to get my head around, so earlier this week I looked up #s of deaths in past wars.  The number that we heard this week is that we now have more COVID-19 dead than in all the wars since Korea.  Daily we lose the number of U.S. citizens that we did on September 11, 2001. […]

In this week of deaths of all sorts, I was sobered by the loss of AIDS activist Larry Kramer, especially since I had just seen archival footage of him in How to Survive a Plague, footage that reminded me of how powerful and effective (and irritating) he was.  But Robb Forman Dew also died.  This obituary in The Washington Post noted that she emerged at the same time as Louise Erdrich and Ann Tyler, and that’s how I remember her, as part of a group of important women writers who came a generation before me.  Barbara Sher also died this week–in the mid-90’s, I read all her books, and I particularly remember Wishcraft as the type of book that told us to train our brains to think about what we wanted to achieve, not on our fears.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Milestones and Hinges

Benjamin and Kathryn, husband and wife, died three days apart.

Anne Mae, 82, known for sweet potato pies, and daughter Connie, 64
days after her mother.

Jaimala, 65, designer of saris and tapestries.

Dianne, Stella, and Maria, the three sisters, dying within a month of
each other.

Mike, over 60, called a “heart survivor.”

“Miss Minnie,” no symptoms.

Motoko, 92, the last of the surviving “Monuments Women.”

Newborn Baby Girl, no chance to be named.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXII

The events of the world
enter my house via cable lines
and satellite.

Family fabric frays,
children fledge. I free a robin
tangled in fence wire,

harvest spinach,
prepare a meal no one
stays home to eat.

Ann E. Michael, Events in the world

The manic dust of my friends is with me at all times, a different kind of grief and yet part of it, a grief I need to answer to, one I only answer with my own.

As I roam through the wreckage I am overcome by a new thing, is it anger, this man who did what, who said what, who dares to go on living without knowing about my grief?

The next chapter in my book of transformations is already here. What shall I call it? Shall I go back to my life and live it, even as I grieve?

Anthony Wilson, Living in the layers

I have a strange desire to lug something heavy on my back so that I can put it down at the end of the day. I want to see something besides the yard and the same 4 kilometre stretch of trail along the lake.

Until then – until the grades have been logged and the students sent off –  I’m starting a garden. When I say “I”, I mean E. is sawing down the overgrown thuja to make room for the tiny greenhouses.  I’ll try to grow chilies and tomatoes.

Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro.

There is a space he is clearing along the southern side of the house where I’m going to plant raspberry bushes and apple trees.

It upsets me a little to consider that the trees might not take root.

I have a desire to do something that matters. Like growing things. I have a fear that even on this tiny scale, I won’t be able to do it right.

So I am procrastinating and blaming the weather. I’m blaming the weather for the melancholy, too.

For some reason I keep thinking about the Italians – months ago now – who spontaneously sang together from their balconies. Not for each other, but with each other.

Is there a really good word for this feeling it brings up in me? I know other people felt it. Because they tried so hard to repeat it.

This is a kind of grasping, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, Clearing the Way for Summer

Days of letdowns, feeling unseen vs. those getting on up, getting back on the scene.

Days of walking crowded or well-distanced streets, forging the depths of fake news vs. real news.

Undercounting death tolls and high-stakes elections. Encountering those politically unmasked vs. others respectfully protected.

Unrest, unemployment, and racism thrive while too many black men die.

Days when innocence seems rarer than cynicism, when the clock turns slowly and Minneapolis burns,

when the only thing we seem to have in common is what keeps us awake at night.

Rich Ferguson, What Diseases Whisper to Us While We Sleep?

I met Lucille Clifton the first time, I think, in 1991 when she came to the University of Washington to read for our Watermark series. Her larger-than-life personality and her brash honesty about being black, about being female, swept me away. I was in the MFA program and I thought I had something to say. But I was too young, too sheltered, too inexperienced to have written the poems she had written: “homage to my hips,” or “lumpectomy eve,” or “in the meantime” (“the Lord of loaves and fishes / frowns as the children of / Haiti Somalia Bosnia Rwanda Everyhere / float onto the boats of their bellies / and die”). There seemed no subject that was so controversial she wouldn’t take a crack at it, and I was in awe of her.

At the reception after the reading, another young poet started telling Clifton all about herself. I knew it was nerves, but it was still a little stunning to see her binge-talk through the entire conversation. When she walked away, Clifton said, laughing, “Does she ever listen? How does she ever learn anything?”

As a member of the Watermark committee I was gifted with the opportunity to drive her to the airport the next morning. She said, “Oh, drop me at the curb,” but I refused. Over breakfast, I told her a little about the “verse-writing” class that had recently been assigned to me. My professor and long-time mentor, Colleen McElroy, had advised that I teach them “one thing,” a thing that she would not divulge. I asked Lucille Clifton what she emphasized in her classes, and she began expounding. Listening and learning–not just from teachers, from everything–was the general theme. “And never stop,” she said.

Bethany Reid, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

This labor is simple: Pull.
Your back is a pinion of flames. Pull
Through the strain of this toil. Pull.
The waters are heaving. Pull.
You will rise on this swell. Pull
In your staggering grief. Pull
In this fevered forgetting. Pull
Withthe will of the holy. Pull
For this scaffold of sinew. Pull
With your castle of bone.

Kristen McHenry, Still Life with Rowing Machine

Spring is really just starting where I live, and the birdsong is wild, the frogs are loud, and the traffic sounds from the nearby highway are quieter. I feel as though we’re forgetting how to talk to people, and we’re becoming a bit subdued. I worry a lot about my daughter, alone in her apartment across the country. I know she’s fine, but I love her so I worry. We’re all missing a lot of things and trying not to dwell. It does no good to miss the idea of going to Rome, or missing the dog we haven’t had for years. We have to all just go on trusting in our hearts and pausing for those delicately made things, for those shocks of surprising beauty. Might we use them as stepping stones to get over this river?

There are so many bruising and devastating moments which I know you’ve all read about or watched the video just this week (you know the one I’m talking about I’m sure) and the horrible thing is we know there will be more ugliness ahead. That’s a given. I wish it weren’t. And I can’t look away. I can minimize my exposure but I’m not going to ignore these inhuman acts.

I’m a broken record for beauty. I’m a broken record for the open heart. If we keep these with us, they’ll help steer us. As much as we’re learning about what and who is inhumane, we’re also learning about who is beautiful, who understands what is good and delicate and true.

If we’re going to record what’s happening in our ordinary lives, along with the view from where we sit on the ills of the world, and I think we ought to be, we have to remember, too, to get down the moments of pure joy, the moments of respite, solace, and when things are so beautiful they make us break down and cry.

Shawna Lemay, Ordinary Life, Continued

Today has been a grey, rainy day. Seattle is not only under coronavirus-related lockdown but roads have been shut down and a 5 PM curfew has been announced. Trains and ferries have been stopped. The news is full of ugly images.

This morning I attended a two hour online master class from A Public Space on editing creative-non-fiction and fiction. As you probably know if you’re here, I’m mainly a poet, but I occasionally experiment with other forms, and I’d never rule out a short story or a memoir someday, so it’s good to learn about the tools. Check out A Public Space which is also offering free online book clubs.

I then fell asleep for two hours. Zoom still wears me out. I’m not sure if this is an MS thing or what. Does this happen to you guys, or is because of my damaged neurology? Or could it be the massive unrest across the country, the accumulated anxiety of months of lockdown coming to an uneasy end, that makes it hard to have energy for appreciating the good things, like this towhee and orange roses?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in the Atlanta Review, Trying to Say Something about America Right Now, and a Grey End of May

yesterday we had such a huge thunderstorm that it shook the bones of my house and I was scared for the first time ever in a thunderstorm it lasted for one or two hours after I scouted for split trees but found none

my son drove me to town to find Maria Sanchez who runs the little Lopez Family Farm fruit stand on the corner next to the sad furniture store I was so excited and happy to see her that I bought an entire flat of strawberries thinking about ruby red jam I washed the berries then put them in the fridge I truly don’t know if I have the energy to make jam right now I am exhausted with frustration and anger and worry I’ll probably make a small batch of no pectin jam today then freeze the rest for smoothies and try again later

I argued with my son last night which made me sad he wanted to go to Seattle to photograph the mayhem which after all is his life’s work but I told him if he went he would have to stay there at his girlfriend’s house for two weeks to make sure he doesn’t pick up the virus from being in a huge body of people when the plague is still alive and well and waking back up as cities begin to ease restrictions maybe you think I’m being unreasonable it is clear my son thought so but my self preservation instinct is very strong I have not survived abuse and and addiction and poverty and mental illness and 40 years of back breaking factory work to be brought down by a virus fuck that noise as we used to say back in the day fuck. that. noise.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Oh how good we feel on those straight lines, so sure of our path, running parallel to the turning world, convinced of our own deservingness, the justice of it all, we are so right, righteous even, and able to see where everyone else is going wrong, what they should be saying, doing, who they should be doing it for.

And what about the crooks and fissures in the road behind us when we stamped and grumbled, the times we ran back from fear and not toward, the fences we kicked in, the gates we refused to walk through when someone opened them for us, when we refused to move on and blamed the road we had made and chosen?

Here they come again, more clefts and fractures, and that bend ahead just willing us to refuse it.

forgiveness
someone else’s footsteps
hardened in the dry earth

Lynne Rees, straight lines ~ a haibun

so i ran with the hare, and soared with the lark,
hill-high and be-blued above the heather.
those alone moments with a rod or a gun
and the neighbour’s dog. bonzo.
i remember bonzo, i do. he was a fun dog,
a company across the fields sort of dog.
a marsh harrier of rats in the rubbish tips
long-walked upon the marsh.

these marble memories rattle now, around and
around they rattle my brain – as that song said.
where shall i lay them, and when is the time?
here upon a few lines of ink think? or shall i
take them to the graveside of childhood and
knock the door and run away? but, hey,
they are homing dreams, like the pigeons in baskets
at release of somewhere, somewhere.

look, i’ll put them just here. OK?
Look after them for me;
i won’t be long.

Jim Young, i’ll put them just here

He was going
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,
spit with effort: all movements slower now
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning,
at noon, and again at night for the faltering
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked,
the future would lose no time unseating us from
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

Some poets evolve by venturing into new subjects, new narratives, new locations. Others, meanwhile, burrow further and further into their core concerns, casting different perspectives on similar themes, grappling with them in fresh ways, layering them, building their nuances and ramifications.

Abegail Morley’s recent development, from her previous collection, The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016) to her new book, The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), shows that she clearly belongs to the latter group. Her focus on loss, already a pivotal element, has now expanded its reach, its depth and its power to move the reader.

One clear example occurs in the opening pages to The Unmapped Woman, in the first lines of a poem titled Gravid. They can, of course, be read as the portrayal of a moment, of an incident. However, they can also be read as a declaration of poetic intent for the collection as a whole. They announce an exploration of the relationship between language and loss:

Not until after the front door slams shut
and absence sucks air from its cheeks,
do the words in her head, packed tight
as if on postcards, unhook their ink…

Matthew Stewart, Absence that disorientates, Abegail Morley’s The Unmapped Woman

I love when I’m reading someone else’s poem and find it’s inspired me such that I have to put it down and run over to my own notebook to write something. Usually when I go back to the triggering poem by the other poet, I can’t for the life of me figure out how I got to what their poem said to what I felt compelled to run to write down. But hooray for the whole enterprise. So I turned with relish to the pile of books of poetry that has been growing at my elbow, and will today share some of the choice lines from them.

So thanks to some trade deals, I have three wonderful little handsewn books from Ethel Zine & Micro Press:

– From Joanna Penn Cooper’s When We Were Fearsome, from “The Keening”:   “…That scene in The Shining that terrifies/a child, the beautiful woman falling old./Now when I see it I think, It’s just a woman./His whole big horror was just embracing/the woman’s changing body.”

And this from her “Existential Kink”: “…My whole life has been one long/creative exercise, a Life Prompt, if you will. Try it. Go/from something kind of funny to something kind of sad/and back again. Repeat. Keep repeating….”

– From Annmarie O’Connell’s Hellraiser, from “Tonight I’m sitting in the front room”: “Im telling you/that a story can remember me/hunt me down/and sooner or later/knock me dead into the past/with its invisible/arms.”

And this from “This is a road.”: “Suddenly inside we are better people/miraculous/with the undertow of failing.”

– From Barbara Ungar’s Edge, from “Madascan Moon Moth”: “To distract bats, he spins his extravagant/and expendable long red tail./They aim for that/and miss him as he burns through the dark,/improbably and fleeting, the Comet Moth.”

And from “April Journal, 2018”: “Though living in the end days/with thirteen kinds of crazy/still the birds return one by one.”

Marilyn McCabe, Prepare ye the way; or, On Poetry I’m Reading, and Possibly Stealing From

Risa Denenberg: Your books incorporate the term “survivor.” How has your identity as an AIDS survivor impacted your vision as a poet? Have you written about your journey as an AIDS survivor? How did you incorporate that impact on the person who walks through the woods and oceans and seasons in these poems?

Marjorie Moorhead: Being a survivor of AIDS (from a time when there was no viable treatment) has shaped my vision as a poet because I learned, during many, many hours and years “alone” with myself, traveling through grief to self-discovery, to SEE things, “in the moment”. If you travel around with death in your lap, ready to take over at any moment, each moment seems indeed a gift and full of rich detail. Each breath becomes a full and wonder-full moment; the in, and then the out. I spent at least five years learning to meditate, and practice tai chi ch’uan. My goal in those years (as, of course it should be for everybody all the time…but gets lost so easily once Life is “easy”), was to live in a state of Grace in each moment. I had to figure out what that meant for myself. It’s a very personal interpretation of the word “Grace,” as I was not brought up with religious practice or dogma except for very general overlying morality (which I am grateful for!). So, the person walking through woods, oceans, seasons in these poems is one who is noticing, processing, and feeling a part of where she is. […]

RD: Finally, I hope you are safe and well. Can you talk a bit about how you are faring during the pandemic?

MM: At the start of this pandemic, I was very aware of the link back in time to the AIDS epidemic. I started writing “Coronavirus Diary” poems (to date, I think there are 12 of them!), and also responded, in April, to the call from Indolent Books’ HIV Here & Now “Na(HIV)PoWriMo” project for poems about HIV/AIDS.  I have since moved on to writing a series of poems inspired by the Bluejays who built a nest outside within view of our window. Watching their daily journey, while in “lockdown”, has been a way to expand out into the world and I’ve attempted writing a few poems where the “I” is a nesting bird. I also try to get out for a daily walk, just breathing and moving and noticing what’s around me…same as I have been doing for thirty years or more.

Risa Denenberg, Survival in Two Volumes

Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises, and these flowers bless our lives. I reject the abuses of my mother and my father just as I reject all flags and leaders. The earth and the flowers, the irises, are my family. There is no value to the memory of abuse, and there is no value in a flag. Life is for passion, love, kindness, and the beauty of things growing on the earth. Damn every last leader anywhere.

James Lee Jobe, Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises

Thinking of our lives as art or as prayer reminds us that we are the raw material from which art arises, whatever the outcome, whether painting, sculpture, music, or literature. Each person is a moving, breathing, work of art, one that is ever-changing; to paraphrase Whitman, we all contain that beautiful truth.

Early in Leaves of Grass, he writes:

            There was never any more inception than there is now,

            Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

            And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

            Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

In this time when our environments have shrunk, when we are doing everything from home, we need big thinkers like Walt Whitman, who reminds us that no matter where we are, no matter our age, ability, or belief system, we are individual works of art.

Sunday, May 31st is Walt Whitman’s 201st birthday. If you’re able, go outdoors, and, as he advises,

            Loafe with me on the grass…loose the stop from your throat.

Erica Goss, You Are a Work of Art

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 20

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: music, work, hiatuses, journaling, healing, grieving, raising children, embracing entropy, and more.


the spring wind sings
around the log pile
old and new griefs

Matthew Paul, Hampton Court haiku

Saturday pandemic drive
grey and improvised
over empty interstate lanes.

Miles fades in and out
signal stretched
across low clouds, near mist.

Momentary lockdown lift
this piece has no melody, just modes
a gist of Spain in the linger.

Collin Kelley, Poem for the pandemic: ‘Flamenco Sketches (Demo)’

Musicians, sheltering
at home, risk the noise

complaints to practice,
knowing no one can tell

them when intermission
will end, when each will

rise from a hard-back seat
and nod encores to the end

of spring’s sullen silence.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XVIII

The hardest thing I have done is to attempt to follow the advice of Franz Kafka, who said: ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ I tried it the other day, with the help of a track I had tended to skip over, Peter Gabriel’s A Quiet Moment (from the album New Blood). […]

Now, I absolutely love New Blood. But the more I listen to it, the more I find myself looking forward to A Quiet Moment above everything else. Which has really surprised me. It is not as if there is a great deal there: 4 minutes and 48 seconds of nothing. Except it’s not nothing. There is the wind blowing. A skylark. Some distant traffic, followed by a plane. Some more wind. And then what sounds like a combine harvester. That skylark again. And that is it. It isn’t much.

But in a way, it has been everything to me on this lockdown. That someone climbed up a (Solsbury?) hill with some recording equipment and sat there long enough to capture it. (One day I had it on repeat. I think I began to detect different movements within it…It turns out Kafka was right after all.) Gradually and sometimes painfully, sitting in silence is teaching me to shed my activist-self for something much quieter and more present. I don’t always like what I see there. Somehow I am learning that this is all necessary.

Anthony Wilson, A quiet moment

In this strange period we’re experiencing, time itself seems to have changed. The indistinguishable days go by in a blur, without the structure of our former schedules. Some of us are out of work; others are adapting to working in completely different ways; suddenly we’re faced with tasks we’ve avoided for years, or spending huge amounts of time getting food and cooking it. Ironically, although we all supposedly have “more time,” it’s often hard to feel like we’re getting much done. It’s harder to focus, harder to stick to a routine, harder to make decisions and work effectively. Sometimes it’s even hard to sleep, or get out of bed in the morning…and there seems to be no end to this in sight.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 25: Work

Things are hard right now and sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is to give yourself a break. It’s okay.

One of the things I do is to intentionally give myself permission to take a time off — to the extent that I will literally say to myself (either in my head or out loud), “I give myself permission to not write today” or this week or even this month.

I do this for a very specific reason — it’s a way to battle the shoulds, which come with an associated feeling of guilt. I can think back to any number of times when I’ve been reading a book, playing a video game, or taking a walk and my brain chimes in with , What do you think you’re doing? You should be writing, right now.

Guilt about not writing is insidious. It can compound all those feelings of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that led to the feeling of being blocked in the first place.

Giving myself explicit permission to do something other than writing shuts down those shoulds, providing a clear space to really enjoy whatever I’m doing. That way, I’m able to really recharge and, when I’m ready, I can come back to the writing refreshed.

Andrea Blythe, Tools for When You’re Feeling Creatively Blocked

the descent into hell
no work no money
the empty room

a sadness all the time
I’ve forgotten how to speak
here comes the cat

Ama Bolton,. ABCD: May 2020

At the start of the year I began a reading journal, in which I aimed only to write about books I was reading. It was meant as a record, though I invited myself to make remarks or point out passages, etc. It went well for a while, also because I was spending chunks of time unplugged on airplanes, where distractions from reading and writing are few.

But in March the coronavirus hit Europe and I stopped flying. It was mid-April before I thought it might be worth keeping a record of life at this time. I didn’t want to explore my feelings or dissect the news or criticize the government, at least not necessarily. I set out to observe and take notes.

Of course now I’ve got two journals going, or three if you count the collage journal I rarely tend to. Plus this sometimes-blog. It seems I’m burdening myself with commitments. Like, hey, how about this journal, or this one, or this? So I’m pursuing the most traditional of the non-digital three, i.e. life in these times.

My father has always been a faithful journal keeper and he says when he goes back to peruse old journals it isn’t thoughts or feelings that interest him. He’s more engaged by what he had for lunch or if a stranger told him his fly was open or if he visited a friend. So I’m sticking with the quotidian.

Sarah J Sloat, Overcommitted

This is a Blue Monday in the blog, even though it’s Friday. Some weeks, it feels like Monday all the way to Wednesday, when it starts feeling like the Friday that will never come. There are things I am saying to myself these days, in words in my head that I’m not writing down—not here, not in my private diary, not in poems. They are ongoing. They come while I am walking or working, they interrupt my reading. They are mixed—like life. They have hope and fear and despair, darkness and light. I don’t know if I will ever write them down.

Kathleen Kirk, Words I’m Not Writing Down

What I learned was this:
we cannot even explain snow in terms of snow,
nor light in terms of light. Then this:
snow stops being here, and light fades. But love goes on,
and elsewhere snow clouds gather, and elsewhere the sun rises.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Leaving Basel’

Right now, I’m the dishwasher, 1/2 the cook, laundry coordinator, and etc.

Although I don’t particularly enjoy these tasks, they fill some unknowable need – stability. The dishes in particular provide a rhythm to the day. After every meal comes the cleanup. I rely on that rhythm to mark the day.

My wife has taken to doing a morning calendar routine with the small ones. Things like what day it is, what month, what season, what the weather is like. It only takes five minutes, but I think it grounds all of us in the present day. Rather than what could become dangerously out of control numbness.

Today I took the trash and recycling down to the curb. Because it’s Sunday evening and the trucks come by Monday mornings.

What unnoticed, unappreciated rhythm these mundanities give us.

Eric M. R. Webb, On Mundane Tasks

Doesn’t a charm of goldfinches seem magical, like a sign of luck or good fortune? I took this picture one rainy morning this week, I think I’d just had a virtual doctor appointment and gotten a poetry rejection, neither very auspicious. I had a dream last night about Prince, who in my dream, was about to give a concert on my birthday, and came over and introduced himself and told me my work meant a lot to him. I don’t know what that means, but it also seems auspicious.

I keep hoping to wake up and read good news on the news feed instead of more and more terrible news, more death counts, more tragedy. I read the covid research papers every day, hoping one of them will uncover something that will change how we deal with this virus.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Pink Typewriters, a Charm of Hummingbirds, and Why Ina Garten is Helpful in a Pandemic

Put the flowers in a different vase, you know? If you’re writing poems, try an essay. If you’re writing a long essay, try shorter ones. Invent a new form! These times are new and I think demand a new way of writing, a new vessel, a new form….something that blends genres, challenges traditions, surprise and vexes….ideas?

We are trying to find ways to say things about this time, but will the old forms work?

Shawna Lemay, Style is a Simple Matter, or, 5 Tips to Get Writing in Trying Times

Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University have brought together poets from around the world to write new poems about the recent days past and the weeks ahead. The poets were invited to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Great to be part of this project. Click here to view the poems.

I submitted a selection of  what I loosely term haiku, which you can access here. Rereading them, they somehow seem quite remote from the crisis. There again, that’s probably a reflection of my response: to walk, to distance myself, to meditate.

Another online project that has been a joy to be part of is John Foggin’s ‘When All This is Over’ anthology. It began as an invitation to respond to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem Swineherd and snowballed from there. It’s currently up to day 8, which covers letters K and L. My poem is the Phrenologist so, as they’re being presented in alphabetical order, I’ll have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems the brief has generated, and the way they’re being presented (as an illuminated manuscript).

I know how much time it takes to collate and process writing online, so many thanks to everyone who is making these projects happen. I value, more than ever, the sense of community they engender.

Julie Mellor, Write where we are now

I chose three headlines rather than three lines for the body of my haiku.  Seifu’s haiku suggests the contrast between the abundance of nature and the cold truth of death.  Alan Cummings writes that the haiku was written when there was widespread famine in Japan.  This resonated with me as spring is particularly beautiful this year and yet there are terrible headlines every day as Covid-19 spreads. I wanted to put this contrast into my collage.

I thought about placing Boris Johnson’s body and Donald Trump’s body actually lying down in the collage but decided instead to cut off their heads (skulls) and lie them down.  I’m playing with the double meaning, in English, of “lying”.  “Lying happily” seems appropriate for these two heads of state.  I put the words ‘care’ ‘homes’ down near their heads because the truth about what is going on in care homes, the number of deaths, the lack of PPE, has been brushed under the carpet.

Alan Cummings writes that in Japanese poetry dokuro literally means a skull, but in poetry it is sometimes used to mean the whole skeleton, particularly one that is found by the side of the road. There is a Japanese poetic tradition of poems inspired by dead bodies, he says.  There are so many ways that this poem written 200 years ago speaks to me today. 

Josephine Corcoran, Spring is unfolding before my eyes

two ambulances two sheriffs
and a fire engine scream down
the street our neighbors
shoo their children inside
draw their curtains
no one talks no one knows
what happened on the anniversary
of my sister’s death I fold down
my Snow White sheet
place her nightie
in my body’s shallow smooth
it with my hands then I lie
beside her and whisper all the secrets
of the known and unknown world
into her blond blond ear

Rebecca Loudon, corona 19.

We lose
our bodies over and over, or watch
from the sidelines as they take on
one impossible form after another:
a man with blue fingers, a fish
with accordion lungs; a tree
in whose nets of complicated leaves
pale lanterns float, each with the face
of children or dead lovers.

Luisa A. Igloria, My dream life has changed

As corona virus hit, the metaphor has me trembling, so to speak, the metaphor has become all too real. I’m even more off-balance than ever. The metaphor keeps cutting through thicket, getting more and more personal.  All the borders are being invaded, irreality becomes a part of reality, up is down.  My metaphor has invaded my very cell structure. 

I’m suffering from physically real, medically verifiable vertigo.  My head is wobbly, the ground is shifting a lot of the time.  I have to negotiate steps on that tightrope from one point to another, delicately, with feet that are tender and with an appreciation for the emptiness below.  The care that is required, though, is epic. In the reclaiming of values that float to the surface and assert themselves as essential, I’m putting “tender” and “care.”  The tender tending of things which may or may not affect you. Or be you.

All the work I’d done to prepare myself for shaky ungrounded reality not enough. Maybe words and images have led me to a point: into the real. 

Jill Pearlman, Vertigo, How Real You Are

What if the “work of healing” is nothing more than willful creativity? This is the material you are given: a bit of mud, a bit of coal, a fleck of fool’s gold. Make something of it that is yours.

It’s our nature to be altered by phenomenon.

Just like the trees that grow around the fence posts, that layer their bark each season – callouses that look like faces, faces that read like stories. Nothing healed. And nothing gained. Just part of the great forest.

Ren Powell, Healing as Praxis

A poet, scholar, and teacher, I thought I’d passed the forking path to novel-writing a long ways back. Chris is a cheerleader, though, and–this is crucial–author of a couple of published novels and many short stories, so he’s a great person to talk to about small, vague story ideas. I’d been fantasizing about another tale I never expected to write: a changeling professor, Dr. Perfect Poet, visits on a faculty exchange program and makes literary triumph look like a breeze. I’d drafted a bad poem about her, in a fit of frustration about my own messy life. (The closest thing I had to a superpower was yelling, Flame on! during a hot flash). As we walked and talked, I realized these two plots could interlock. Chris and I started spinning it out–who this main character might be, with her irritating and uncanny new colleague, and how she might react when weird things started happening.

Lesley Wheeler, Becoming Unbecoming

This has been a strange week-end, as so many week-ends/week days/weeks have been strange. It’s been a mix of unexpected wonderfulness, crushing moments of grief, a tingling current of rage, sadness leaking out at various seams and hemlines that I didn’t even see before the pandemic swept across the planet. […]

Here is a memory that I don’t want to slip away. On Saturday evening, my spouse was looking at a text for his Logic class adoption. It includes Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” My spouse read one line, and I said the next from memory. We went on this way, an interesting call and response. My spouse was amazed and impressed that I could say so much of it from memory, word for word. I’ve taught that poem for years, saying it out loud several times a term, several terms a year. Clearly it has sunk in.

I miss teaching poetry that way, in front of a room of students, reading the poem out loud. It’s a sadness to realize that we shouldn’t be teaching poetry that way for awhile.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Just Another Normal Pandemic Week-end

I’ve recently had sight of Abegail Morley’s new collection The Unmapped Woman. To read it is to be drawn into a mystery of dream-like sadness and the minutest, extraordinary detail of the processes around loss and grieving. ‘We all start in water’ begins the poem ‘Expected’, and whether that’s amniotic fluid, rockpools or ‘slippers of meltwater’, water seeps its way through the whole collection, as if it couldn’t be stopped. This is emotionally draining material conveyed with great skill and beauty.

The reader has a sense of being ‘on hold’ throughout – waiting is a recurrent theme: sometimes with anticipation, sometimes in desperation, finely balanced, a jangle of nerves, things just holding together.

‘ You’re waiting / for liberation, foetus shaping in liquid until you / come adrift on a crib-shaped island with the map / of life crumpled in the tiniest palm I can imagine’ (‘Imminent’)

‘I wait for melancholy to wake,/snared like a hack of crow/ at the back of my throat. / I wait to weight its grief at daybreak.’ (‘Not Being’).

I found this collection very moving and I think my favourite of Abegail’s books so far. You can order it here at Nine Arches Press. I believe there’s an online launch planned. What a shame that so many good poetry books are having to make do with virtual launches for now.

Robin Houghton, Abegail Morley’s ‘The Unmapped Woman’

Every 20 years or so, my region gets a truly late freeze.

This is one of those years. It seems strange when snow flurries alight upon dogwood blossoms, but this period has been strange in many respects. What’s one more weirdness? We can adapt. It just requires employing strategies we haven’t used before.

Which brings me, today, to Marilyn McCabe’s chapbook Being Many Seeds, just released by Grayson Books…like my own chapbook, a publication somewhat muted by the coronavirus. Make note, though, that you and I can still purchase books online. It just may take a little longer to receive the text. And isn’t anticipation fun?

Her chapbook has a lovely cover. [Readers may know I’m a fan of milkweed.] And the poems fascinate as they unravel–almost literally–on the page, in a form of erasure poetry followed by brief prose that is not so much interpretation as deepening. McCabe tries strategies with her poems as words and also as meanings. If that makes any sense. Want to know more? McCabe posted about the evolution of this collection on her own blog (which I suggest you follow) here.

Ann E. Michael, Flurries

It could be said that the repetition does serve as an emphasis on that particular passage, perhaps the most central passage of the essay. The shift of poem does add a slightly different coloration on each segment. That in itself is sort of interesting. Yeah, that’s it. I meant to do it that way.

Still, I feel very foolish, as it is such an incredibly obvious error. And I’m a professional proofreader! But, that said, my publisher didn’t find it either. Anyway. What is the lesson here?

Happily, my first response when I found it was to laugh. My second was to shrug. Oh well. Shit, as they say, happens.

I do know that after spending much time with a piece of work, especially a whole manuscript, a veil seems to lower over the thing. I can’t see the trees, can barely make out the forest. It seems a blur of what it has been, what it has become, what it might have been, what I perhaps had intended but since have forgotten. I can’t even answer questions about work after the veil has fallen. People ask me what I meant by things and I just make stuff up on the spot. At some point the work becomes no longer mine but something that has escaped into the world.

That’s why we need copyeditors and proofreaders. Long may they reign. Or rein, as the case may be, as in “in.” Sometimes rain, as in “on the parade.”

But how freeing it is not be upset by a mistake. I mean, I didn’t back over the neighbor’s cat. Nothing was injured or killed in the making of this mistake. This is less a mistake, in some perspective, as an imperfection. The stakes are not particularly high, here. I don’t think the Pulitzer Prize committee will even notice. This is not one of those errors that will haunt me in some 4:00 a.m. self-hatred session.  And believe me, I have made some of those kinds of mistakes. To be able to look at an error and think, well, look at you, being human, is a very nice thing. Mistakes are made. The book as a whole I think is interesting, diverting, creative. Not to mention the gorgeous cover. So. What’s a little imperfection among friends?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve made a few; or, On Imperfection and Finding Mistakes Too Late in a Manuscript; or, Oops

A family? Yes. I have one. One son is dead, another is somewhat less than sane. (Something whispers in my ear that I failed them both.) There is a daughter, sober, who also has a daughter; the little one is a delight and commands more magic than the rest of us put together. And my wife still puts up with me. Can you imagine? Married to the most minor of poets! Poor dear. 

Family, come and bring the mops! I will pour the soapy water on the floor, the same old floor as always, and together we shall begin to mop.

James Lee Jobe, A family? Yes. I have one.

the future is this bunch of kids‬
‪what they do not know
now‬
‪is that one day they will not know
how‬
‪time flew away the way it did‬
‪the way it did the way it did
and stole their innocence‬
‪and bestowed it on a bunch of kids‬

Jim Young, a bunch of kids

We can never know for sure, something I wish I’d understood when I was standing where she is now. At 22, I thought of life as being something like a novel, a cohesive narrative that could be broken into chapters, each one leading inevitably to the next. That is why it felt so important, especially then, to make the right authorial choices: each would create and eliminate a host of others. Choose wrong, and some beautiful plot lines (about love, children, work, home) would never be written.

Now I can see that if life is like a book, it is more a collection of linked short stories than a novel or an epic poem. It is filled with endings and beginnings, full stops and new starts and long pauses, episodes of living complete unto themselves. Some characters appear only once, while others drift in and out of the larger and looser narrative, sometimes at the center of the action and sometimes only at its periphery. The white space between one story’s ending the the next’s beginning is not empty: It is full of breath, rest, possibility, and actions so small or insignificant they aren’t worth noting–unless, suddenly, they are, at which point a new story begins.

My girl who hated change and clung to family and once charted her options in kaleidoscopic color-coded spreadsheets–a hedge against missed opportunities and lesser choices–has grown into an independent woman who still makes plans but no longer fits them into tiny digital boxes. I’m watching her lean into this moment in the world that is intersecting with this moment of her life and blown the boxes to bits in ways that are both terrifying and freeing, creating a horizon full of nothing certain but uncertainty and change.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Commence again

We can keep this all going,
the simple goodnesses,
the heightened senses,
even without threat of virus,
without sacrifice.
All that is necessary—
a shift in attitude from
being among the condemned—
to a gratitude for what is,
for the absurdity of uncertainty’s
boundless lessons and blessings.

Lana Ayers, Lessons from Lockdown

I wish I believed that God hurls lightning bolts
     like Zeus on his mountain striking evil down.
I want to smash what keeps us in thrall
     to petty kings who feel no empathy
who set their children one against another
     fighting for supplies in a zero-sum game.

My child asks why God doesn’t answer our prayers.
     Grief stoppers my throat. What can I say?

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic Psalm 2

The past few days feels maybe like a door opened, or maybe a window or maybe a wound.  Some release of pressure and a flowing of something that wasn’t here a couple weeks ago. Maybe it just takes time, or maybe just numbness to what goes on around me.  I feel less paralyzed–with fear? with dread? Nothing has changed and yet maybe something has changed.  And while I don’t know if it’s permanent, I’m gonna go with it and see what happens. The world out there is still crazy and toxic and possibly contagious, but in here, I am feeling more like myself at times.

I’ve been puttering a way on The Shining series, trying out titles, and have at least a chapbook length segment of them, and at least a half dozen more still coming maybe.  They are not bad, even the ones I wrote robotically and less-than-inspired at the beginning of April. The project as a whole is beginning to have a shape–a voice–that I am liking.  I’ve been working on it a bit daily first thing over breakfast, before the scrolling through social media poisons my brain for the day. Write the poem, then check facebook, because inevitably, you will find things to be at best, annoyed about, at worst panicky or livid. Things that make it harder to write, to concentrate, to care.

Kristy Bowen, egress

It’s like how some can have everything and yet have nothing. Or how some can have nothing and yet have everything.

It’s like how certain hearts are dark as an x-ray of a bullet. Or how heaven is written into the fine print of certain people’s laugh lines.

It’s like how we can say the most profound things with our eyes while our lips are hidden behind face masks.

Rich Ferguson, Quarantine Simile

Speak, earth,
of comfort

as all things
come apart

around us.
Let us

fly into
entropy

as into
heaven.

Tom Montag, SPEAK, EARTH

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week was for many our 8th under quarantine, which prompted reflections, as did Mother’s Day—in a darker vein than usual—as well as mounting death tolls, incompetent leaders, and other recurring themes of life in a pandemic. But also there were appreciations of new books, memories of libraries, writing experiments, and as always, newly birthed poems in all their rough, raw beauty.


There is a lot of grief in the world right now.

For you.

For me.

I hope your grief is not unbearable.

Despite all of it, I have gratitude as well. I don’t exactly like that word, “gratitude.” It has religious connotations to my ear. But, well, it works.

I am lucky that I can work from home. My company has been fantastic, and actually quite surprisingly agile.

All of my loved ones are still with me. We have had to be in the hospital with unrelated illnesses, and yet we are safe.

Since the last time I wrote on here two years ago, the new baby has grown. He’s two and a half now. […]

You would think there’s all kinds of extra time to do things like productive writing, yard work, etc. But no.

There is no time. There is even less time than when I was commuting two hours a day.

What a strange world.

What strangeness it is to see profit opportunity instead of humanitarian opportunities. What grotesque macabre times we live through.

Inane cruelty. Stupid selfishness.

What protest can we mount while physically distancing?

Find a way. Write. Put it out there.

Vote.

Eric M. R. Webb, Grief and Isolation

I started baking for porch drop-offs in my small rural township over a month ago. I figured I had a good stockpile of flour, butter, and sugar. I had way too many eggs from our chickens. And I had to do something with my despair. […]

Although we’ve lived in this township for nearly 23 years, we simply haven’t gotten to know many people. Perhaps it’s because the houses are farther apart than in our previous neighborhoods. Perhaps because we homeschooled. Perhaps because of other encounters in our first few months here that made us wary, starting with a veiled death threat.  But as the baking donation weeks have gone by I’ve started to feel closer to my community.

And also, as I’ve baked muffins and loaves and cookies, my mood has leveled off. I’m starting to catch up on work. I’m back to writing and reading and happily tending seedlings nearly ready for the garden.

I’ve also gotten some perspective on despair after talking with my friend Maureen. She told me she’s been inert and ineffectual, retreating into herself. She also said she was feeling on a deeper level all the loss she’s been through in the past few years while at the same time feeling guilty about her grief because so many people are going through far worse.

I realized I’d been feeling the same way, not depression at all but some kind of collective mourning. All that our species is going through can’t help but ask us to more intensely feel our own losses. Perhaps feeling our own grief more fully — seeing it, naming it, letting it walk with us –may help us on a collective level.

Maybe the different ways we react rise from wise inner promptings, helping to heal what has felt unbalanced in our lives while, on some level, we process the world’s larger fear, loss, and terrifying uncertainty.

As I pack up today’s Hermit Bars, I am grateful that offering homemade sweetness to strangers restores sweetness to my life. And I choose to believe everyone who claps for healthcare workers, or shops for neighbors, or sends cards to nursing home residents, or donates food, or adopts shelter animals, or plays music from balconies, or supports local businesses, or abides by social distancing to keep others safe is remaking a more connected and compassionate future for us all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Hermit Bars, Despair, and Collective Renewal

Alex Trebek is a fit fitter
coal mine canary
if contestants don’t know
an answer I shout it to them
through the blue water screen
in Poplar diphtheria sweeps
the town and every single
person gets tested all I do
is stand in the forest and stab
the dirt with a shovel
as ivy widdershins
up two hemlocks I have named
The Sisters if I tell you
I pray it’s a lie god
does not live in my ear
god bless or goddamn let’s finish it
the american president wants us
to illuminate our guts
with poison The Sisters
are guards and looming gates
history drowns itself
let me lick your Kevlar vest
let me drink your mask
there is still so much to do here
in the sorrow church I look up
just in time to see Ed Harris tumble
through an open window
bang bang how dare the world
mirror itself back to me

Rebecca Loudon, corona 18.

The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams and ask you to remember them, to remember their names, their lives. Morning comes to you, and these dreams are forgotten. You awaken each day to a feeling of sadness, a dull emptiness. Nights come and go, and you are, in time, full of these forgotten dreams, forgotten names, and everyday the number of COVID-19 deaths grows. Everyday.

James Lee Jobe, The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams

I try to document the change of seasons, the flowers, the birds. With quarantine I’ve become a better documentarian of local birds; I notice species I could swear I’ve never seen before. I glimpse an osprey overhead with a fish, a red house finch lands briefly on my balcony while I water flowers. I see my first ever black-headed grosbeak. Paying attention to something, taking your time, staying quiet, that’s birdwatching, and gardening, paying attention to something outside yourself. It is surprisingly rewarding. This seems like a metaphor, doesn’t it? If we just stay quiet, and still, we can much better observe the world around us, in all its surprise and beauty. Woodpecker and hummingbird were there the whole time; we just don’t usually notice them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flower Supermoons, the Art and Science of Birdwatching, and Mother’s Day with Social Distancing

In a time of pandemic, I sustain my sanity the usual ways. Garden. Poetry. Walks. Family. Reading. Tai chi. Going, most of all, for balance and observation. On the lookout for the things that delight me, though those things may seem “small” or easily overlooked.

Which brings me to the book I’ve been savoring, Ross Gay‘s The Book of Delights.

Nicole Rudick, in The New York Review of Books, has already composed a wonderful write-up about The Book of Delights–so I don’t need to. (Do read it: here). But, back to last month’s posts about responses to poetry collections, Gay’s latest–not-poetry, mini-prose, essayettes–evoked from me the response I suppose the author sought from his readers: delight. Delights, plural. Gay’s close observations and slightly goofy sense of what is funny (fallible, silly, skewed but not skewered) feel kin to my own, though my perspective differs from his due to how we are differently embodied and differently socialized, or non-conformist as to said socialization. For any human being, perspective’s inherently lodged in the body; and other people’s perspectives about us, or assumptions about us, are socially based upon the bodies in which we dwell.

Which is to say that he is a Black man in his 40s and I am a White woman in her 60s; yet Ross Gay and I have overlapping backgrounds and interests. Hoosierism and Philadelphia-dwelling, for a time. Poetry. Students, whom we love. Gardening. Passion for figs, awareness of pawpaw fruit and hickory trees. Observers, the sort of people who want to learn more about animal scat and bee species. “Jenky” gardeners. [My term is jury-rigged, but it means about the same thing, without the urban/ghetto connotations: adapting to one’s immediate need without overmuch consumerism…which is to say, making do with a crappy substitute. I learned that from my folks, too.]

And the urge to recognize, and celebrate, delights.

Ann E. Michael, Delights

As we’ve been transitioning from spring to summer and finishing up the last of this year’s curriculum, I can feel our house fall into new rhythms. We don’t follow a strict daily schedule, but sort of an “ish” one–we start school at 8ish, have lunch at 11ish, nap around 1ish, etc.

I’ve finally managed to start waking up before the children; there are seasons where this works for me, and seasons where it doesn’t. I know as I get more pregnant, I’ll not be able to do it anymore, and of course when the new baby comes this August he or she will bring his or her own schedule along with.

Waking up before the kids has been good for me though. During the day and even after B gets home from work, I have very little time where I can sit quietly and think–and consequently, very little time for grief. It is hard to fully feel my emotions and really give my grief space when I’m reading a picture book to D, doing the dishes or helping Z with math. […]

I’ve been keeping up my daily writing practice–usually about 15 minutes during “quiet rest time” in the afternoon–I’ve been a little more strict about this time actually happening, since I’ve been getting more tired and needing the time to actually get off my feet and rest. […]

I know when Quarantine finally lifts we’ll shift again, but this is a pretty pleasant season actually–with all our natural space from each other being taken away from us by forced shelter-in-place, I’ve had to be more purposeful about making space for myself (hard to want to do) and learning how necessary that space is (hard to want to do until you find you have to do it).

My prayer is that I can continue to meet each new season with gratitude and hope.

Renee Emerson, Spring-to-Summer Rhythms

You have such potential, I tell the small oak tree that Tony found sprouting in a damp corner of the lawn, dropped there by a bird, I guess, or perhaps, now I think about it, from one of the oaks the railway men cut down some years ago, to clear the track, then brought the logs up to our barn, the thought not entering anyone’s head that this was not an end, only a beginning.

I draw the line at showing it the photo I took this morning of a great oak sweeping its low branches across sunlit bluebells and resist the weaving and unravelling of any stories of its possible future, after all none of us want our paths mapped out for us by others.

But look how the light on those young leaves illuminates the pulse of chlorophyll. Sometimes it’s the science that breaks open our hearts with gratitude.

Lynne Rees, Sometimes it’s the science…

How many times have I thought that I needed to go back and study medicine? Become a gardener, a carpenter – someone to be stuck on a desert island with.

And here we are, now: socially distanced. Each of us feeling a bit like an island. And each of us looking at what we valued in the work done by the people in our communities.

The nurses, yes. But the people who wash our desks, drive our buses, put the fresh fruit in the bins.

No one is banging on my door to hear me recite an original epic poem. But I find myself answering a phone call from a student on a Saturday afternoon. Because I want to. Because it is what I do.

Nine times out of ten I say the wrong thing. But I talk a lot, so there is that one time when I say what is needed.

And I know I threw out numbers, but I’m not keeping a tally: “You win some, you lose some.” 

I’ve stopped questioning motives. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a character in a play. (An unexpected advantage to having aged-out of Hollywood storylines.)

Something has shifted in me. Somewhere along these last years I have lost a lot of need, and desire has flooded into that space. And I hadn’t even noticed.

Maybe every kind of truth, told or achieved, must be approached obliquely?

Tell all the truth but tell it slant  – Emily Dickinson

What do you fill your life with? What do you dare to take?

I do believe I am getting old: It’s not that I’ve lost ambition. I’ve lost fear. And it is wonderful.

I have a round life
and it keeps expanding, like
dough rising for bread.

Ren Powell, What We Do With Our Lives

There’s so much I want to say about the beauty of libraries. I’m not yet mourning or grieving the closure of the library. I guess I’m busy looking to the future of libraries. And let me say also, that I have no idea what they’ll be like. That’s not even really my job. I’m lucky that I work where I have perfect confidence in our library system and executive to guide us through this (I’m just gonna use the word however tired we are of it) unprecedented time. The one thing I do feel convinced of is that libraries will persist, they will lead, and they will find a way to do the important things that libraries have always done: libraries share knowledge, they help us to learn and grow, and they will find unique ways to do it.

Do I sound like a library infomercial? I mean, it’s fine if I do. I find hope in libraries, in my library, and I hope you do too. I’ve been criticized in the past for making libraries sound like simply happy cozy places, but I know about the layers; I have lived the layers. I have dived deeply into those layers. In my branch we have a lot of at-risk customers and difficult conversations and tricky behaviours, a lot of really difficult and rewarding and emotionally intense moments every single day. But we are instrumental in guiding and helping and referring people or just being there for them. In fact, that’s what I miss the most. I’ve had conversations with some of my co-workers about this — that this is what we miss most. Helping people. Being there. Listening. Making whatever small difference we’re able to. […]

There are so many things to say about libraries. But I think right now it’s okay just to love them. One of my favourite writers (C.D. Wright) once said about the trees in the Ozarks, “the trees true me.” I would amend that to, “libraries true me.” Wright said of poetry that “the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation, in an ongoing interrogation with what Roberto Juarroz called the poet’s one untranslatable song.” What libraries do is what poetry does: they engage in a radical and ongoing interrogation with the untranslatable song of the universe. They live with doubts, they are interested in the human condition, they are never indifferent spectators.

Shawna Lemay, Are You Missing the Library?

I find myself missing my mom, even though she’s still alive, and I can call her later today. My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways, but the one that was perhaps most important to me was that she kept me supplied in books. Before I could drive myself to the library, she drove me and checked out as many books as I wanted (the Montgomery Alabama public library only allowed children to check out 5 books at a time–5 books??!!–I could read that amount in a lazy afternoon!). And when our family only had one car, we biked to the library. She was supportive in any number of my future endeavors too, like writing and drama and choosing a college and writing a dissertation and oh, the list is so long–but all those quests are rooted in my early reading. It was those books that showed me all the possible lives that humans could have. And it was my mom that made it possible for me to have books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, “Necessity of Moisture”: A Poem for Mother’s Day

I knew only
my mother’s laugh,
her head thrown back,

my father’s tread
on the rising stairs,
and your silence.

Yet, even then,
its bending edge
cast light enough to read by.

Dick Jones, AIW – 2007

I don’t understand her terrible,
insatiable hunger. How she calls
through the day and night
to be fed,
           though she has eaten;
though the day is a conjugation of meals
that will pass through her as if
it is her ghost
                whose mouth closes around
the spoon and gums rice or bread
into pieces that can be swallowed.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem in Which the Woman I Knew Only as my Mother is Never Appeased

There have been many moments in the past two months when I was again thankful about not having my own children. About the choices I’ve made. Not just the more practical reasons of wanting time for myself, now more than ever, when I see others struggling with work and homeschooling and children that really don’t want to be inside and are going stir-crazy. That would be another life, of course, but I’m not sure I’d be as content in it as I am in my current one. Those desires could probably be called selfish by some , and maybe they are, but it’s a kind of selfish I think is okay. Women shouldn’t have to not be selfish if they don’t want to (and men don’t feel that sort of pressure at all, nor are they burdened with as much of the child-rearing.) But also, the whole other thing– the worry of having children in this world, whether they’re locked in the house, or worse out in the world. How I’m not sure my heart could handle that sort of strain, so endless hats off to all the mothers who manage it without their hearts utterly breaking in half.

Kristy Bowen, mothers and the worry monster

I have never been a mother
to any but four-legged creatures.
Suddenly I have this lethal urge
to hug this young man—
Coronavirus be damned—
tell him he is wonderful
and loved and the world is
better for his presence in it.

I do neither.
I don’t know him.
But I do wish him well
and thank him
for his heroism in this time.
I hope the world will be
the kind of mother
he needs most.

As for me,
today is as good a last day
on earth as any.
Though I’d rather rain
than this balmy sun.
I’ve had a mere five decades to
practice my humanity,
still very much a work in progress.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Mother’s Day Gift in the Pandemic

When I think of all the things my son is losing this year, I grieve. I tell myself that he’ll be okay, that he’s resilient, that he is learning good tools.

Time becomes fluid. The two months (so far) of sheltering in place and social distancing feel simultaneously shorter and longer than they measurably are.

And of course this is a journey of unknown duration. It’s easier if we know when a thing will end. There is absolutely no knowing when this will end.

And yet life goes on. I make coffee. I cook meals. My son does math problems, plays Minecraft, re-reads a favorite book. It’s like normalcy… almost.

I know how fortunate we are to have something like normalcy. I try not to think about how precarious that is. How easily these comforts could fall away.

Rachel Barenblat, Almost normalcy

In a phone conversation I try to tell my son, the Marine I don’t know when I’ll see again, how the world felt to me when I was growing up in my working class home. Although some definitely had more than others of us, I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with worrying about food or living in cars or surfing for sofas to sleep on, the way so many do now. In my memory, almost everyone looked down upon racists and fascists and censorship and monopolies and religious zealots, and it was socially taboo to openly express that some of us were lesser than others of us–because we all knew such a belief was wrong. The people I knew respected science and education. We knew there were problems (racism, sexism, all the -isms), but there was such surety in our elders’ belief that we were forever on a march forward, that each generation would do better and have it better than the ones that came before it, their belief felt like fact.

No one I know feels that way now. “I’m worried for our kids,” we say to each other, not in large groups, but privately. Guiltily–not only for not passing on the same prospects, but for having had them when others did not. For not understanding, earlier, that not everyone had them and that others were working to strip them from many of us who did. For wondering what else we might not be seeing now, because having been profoundly blind once, we can surely be as blind again.

My son and I catalog all the ways in which his grandparents and I had it better than any other generations of Americans (including his), which, perhaps, makes us supremely unprepared for this time. “I feel soft,” I admit to him.

“I don’t want to go back in time,” I tell him. I don’t want to go back to an incomplete understanding of my country, or to a time in which so many people like me didn’t understand that only people who looked like us had the kind of security we took for granted. Still, I want my children–everyone’s children–to have what I had, and in profound ways they don’t. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” I say. “We could make so many things better for everyone.” I wonder if my belief is naive, as little tied to evidence as any faith.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s left

On Zoom today, I told about how wonderful it was to talk to my mom on the phone when I was young and alone and homesick on my own in the big city. Sometimes I’d call up and say, “I’m sad, sad, sad,” and she would help me remember the beauty of the world. Today on Zoom, my daughter began to tell how I helped her learn to breathe…to handle pain…and then she cried, and I cried, and the Zoom went on, and we had our quiet tears and quiet recovery, and here we are again.

Kathleen Kirk, Mother’s Day, Again

One of the first phrases I underlined in Ruth Dickey’s debut collection, Mud Blooms, occurs on page 5 in “Four-twenty-one,” a poem about a beloved calf Dickey’s parents wouldn’t let her name. It’s the last line: “my brother and me leaning on the fence, stretching our hands through.” The first poem, “Somoto, Nicaragua, #3,” tells you Mud Blooms will be about hunger, but by page 5 you see the book also concerns a longing for connection with the human and more-than-human world, past all the barriers thrown up by difference. Dickey expresses humility about these efforts, especially in her deeply moving poems about working at Miriam’s Kitchen in DC. She orders apples people can’t eat before she knows that “almost everyone who is homeless has dental problems”; “my stupidity galls me,” she adds in an intermittent, abecedarian prose poem sequence called “Alphabet Soup Kitchen.” Sometimes, too, Dickey doubts the worth of her own efforts, because homelessness and hunger are such huge, seemingly intractable problems. There’s so much loss and suffering here, but what impresses you most about the book is its big-heartedness and radical openness. I love this collection and the spirit that shines through it.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #10 with Ruth Dickey

A while back, I read an article about the lost art of memorizing poems, and I was intrigued. I resolved to build up a catalog of memorized poems, but I never followed through. Recently, this came up for me again and I decided to actually do it, starting with a beloved favorite, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. It’s short and has beats that make it easy to commit to memory, so I figured it was a good one to start with. I only started memorizing it a day or two ago so I don’t have it completely “in there” yet, but the process of memorizing it has given me an even deeper appreciation for the genius of this seemingly simple poem, which is not simple at all. It’s quite the musical feat, actually. I’m excited about this new plan of mine. I can already sense that this process will deepen my appreciation of poetry and help my own poetry improve. But more importantly, if we ever have gatherings again, it will be a great party trick to pull out.

Kristen McHenry, Warrior Mindset Meets Crushing Blow, Bright Spot, Literary Party Trick

I’ve finished Nan Shepherd’s A Living Mountain. I love her sweeping language, totally caught up in her place. As a sweet coincidence, my copy of A Scots Dictionary of Nature by Amanda Thomson has arrived. I knew the author as an artist before I left Scotland, so I was surprised to see there’s not a lot of illustrations in the book and they seem to be photographs. But I’m looking forward to rummaging through the book with ideas for writing. I don’t write in Scots often, but I love the feel of the words I do use. I mean, curl-doddy for a pine cone just screams ‘write a poem about me,’ doesn’t it?

I also ordered Moder Dy/ Mother Wave, a poetry collection by the Shetland writer Roseanne Watt. The poems flit between English and Shetlandic, sometimes as translations, sometimes within the same stanza. I can’t wait to have a look tonight when the craziness of home-schooling and kids has passed. I just had to interrupt writing this to help a child understand his math lesson and because another dropped a laptop on her lip?! But even the first poem pulls me in…

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Eight: Distracted

When I picked up Madwoman [by Shara McCallum] in my hands, noting what appears to be a scribble and a line drawn in crayon line and also noting its size (slightly larger than standard), I had the sense that I was about to embark on the kind of journey one enters when reading a child’s storybook out loud. And so I began with that feeling, best described, perhaps, at least for me, as a kind of tumbling. Remember rolling down hills as a kid? Anticipated dizziness. Invigoration. Fear. Speed and rocks as questions. The halt at the end both a relief and the realization of wanting more. Except for how the book felt in my hands, I am [not] entirely sure why I settled into reading the book to myself this way (the way we read to children), but I did. In a voice that wasn’t quite mine. In a rhythm that took over and propelled me (like that tumbling). In wide-eyed greeting of characters and struggles and triumphs. Whatever the impetus, I have to say that it worked. I don’t mean to imply that the verse is sing-song. It isn’t. I don’t mean to convey that its themes are simplistic. They are not. But there was something to feigning a kind of innocence in the beginning — and ultimately, of course, watching that innocence unwind itself — that really worked. […]

I can’t stop thinking about this pair of lines: “Stories wake in us what is inconsolable, / begin in us again our animal mewling.” It’s one reason I turn to poetry: to validate my thirst/hunger, which feels — regardless of what I’m craving — absolutely primal. Anyone else?

Carolee Bennett, “the sun / is a mound of butter”

If the mind were a bullet, perhaps it would never stop screaming. But I am not screaming. I am speaking to you in a whisper. I am saying my heart feels vast and bright, like an oasis of spilled ink when writing your name across the sky. I am saying there are bruises that leave the body when sung home by angels. That sometimes the breath calls the voice collect. Inside that breath and voice—light. Torn lives mended. Mended lives torn into the bright confetti for love’s parade. Perhaps I am not phrasing any of this in the right way. What I am trying to say is: we will all reach one another when the time is right.

Rich Ferguson, If the Mind Were a Bullet

Spring is only
this sauntering.

Its leaf-green
offering is

only a tug at
our wanting more

every day than
the grey memory

of winter’s
bitterness.

Tom Montag, SPRING IS ONLY

I had begun to envision this as a digital object, something you could watch while the erased words disappeared before your eyes, and the essay text appeared down the side of the virtual page. But I didn’t know how to do this, nor did I know how to contact an organization or person that did, nor did I know how I would get such a thing out into the world. So I created a paper-based version, at first having the essay text running sideways on each page, so you’d actually physically have to turn the page around. But some beta readers questioned this, so I ran the text across the bottom.

But the idea of a visual version haunted me, so I began experimenting with what software I did know how to use to try to approximate my vision. This was arduous and had several dead ends, but I finally figured out how to make it all happen in iMovie, and created some music/sound and manipulated some of my own photos.

So more than any other collection of poems, this one came together through a series of “lemme try thises” and “maybe I’ll try thats.” I felt through much of the process that I was moving through a combination of instinct and blunder, like walking around a familiar room but in the total dark. I was never entirely comfortable. It was a really stimulating process, and fun, in the end, if a bit bumbly in the middle.

So I encourage you to get uncomfortable. Turn out the lights, get up and wander around. Let something catch your eye and turn toward it, try it. Don’t think too much. Have a little fear, but not too much. Whether my book or video appeal to you or not, you will have a very interesting experience, I can promise you that.

Marilyn McCabe, I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

This is third haiku/lockdown post I’ve done and I’m beginning to realise I need to hang on to some poems, otherwise I won’t have anything to send out to magazines!

Still, I love the video poem format, no matter how cack-handed I am at it. Poem plus visual image gives such a neat little hit. Also, it’s made me focus on my surroundings and re-instilled a sense of place into my writing. Of course, the lockdown has done this too. I’ve had to stay local and I’ve had to stay in the moment. Form and content have come together in a way I hadn’t thought of as being my sort of thing. I tend to worry if I sit down to write (whether at home or in one of the excellent online workshops the Poetry Business have been running) and don’t produce a sizeable wordcount. Haiku force all that to one side. I’m tempted to sum it up as quality over quantity, except to put a ‘quality’ judgement on work that’s so recent is probably unfair, and not really in the spirit of the endeavour, which is simply this: to remain creative in these strange and difficult times.

I understand that many people’s lockdown experiences will be far more difficult and claustrophobic than mine, so I hope my focus on creativity doesn’t come across as shallow or selfish. It’s just my way of coping, and maybe it’s yours too.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown #3

Little Richard’s
obituary on radio
I spill my soup

Jim Young [no title]

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

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found poets reading, writing, not writing, reviewing, gardening, walking, thinking, playing video games, teaching, dreaming, sheltering in place. “These are the quarantine cuts…”


These are the quarantine cuts
we gave each other,

 scissors to hair to floor.
We’ve grown so close,

 like face to mask
and hand to rubber glove.

 I’m your crazy, 
one legged shadow…

Claudia Serea, After so much time together, we finally got matching haircuts

Sometimes at night my kid is scared, can’t sleep
and loss piles up on loss like banks of snow.
Count to twenty while I scrub each hand.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.

Loss piles up on loss. The banks of snow…?
When I wasn’t looking, spring arrived.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.
Outside, bright daffodils lift up their heads.

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic pantoum

The world is changing, reaching out, but when the entertainment venues are open, the ability to meet up returns, will anyone remember that there are still those of us who can’t take a weekend off to go to a conference or have the money to get public transport into a bigger city for an event, who physically can’t travel to do a 9-5 job?

I hope this new online, distance-friendly, open culture will continues after the dust from the Corona Virus settles. That my kids can still pop into a friend’s birthday in Australia, even if it’s only to watch him blow out the candles. That I will be able to ‘attend’ an AGM or conference via Zoom. That I will be able to read my work at a magazine launch, even if it’s only on their website afterwards. 

I hope that we remember that ways exist to include those isolated in our worlds and that we are allowed to continue to use technology to build an even wider community, as inclusive as possible. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Five: Isolation After Isolation

We are all living in the multiple registers, processing all the different realities, simultaneously. Obviously, I’m on a computer writing this, at home, safe, with my wifi, so that means that I’m in the privileged class, even if I have lost my job and am living with uncertainty. I can also be hopeful, which is a privilege, too, I don’t lose sight of that. By the end of this we will all have suffered loss of one sort or another. And yet, there will also be pockets of happiness, and we will learn to love life in all sorts of new ways, too. We won’t neglect our sorrows and we shouldn’t neglect our duty to happiness, either.

Probably you’ve read by now Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights? I won’t quote at length from it, but remind you of the chapter where he talks about how we might join our sorrows, and in doing so, he asks, “What if that is joy?” What if we were to knit our sorrows together now, our worries, our waiting, our hopes and our fears? What garment would we make?

What if you could extend your quiet outward? Though we hardly move we are close to the door to the temple….

Shawna Lemay, The Quest of an Inner Quiet

The next photo is of Stonehenge, also taken in the hot summer of 2018. We live in West Wiltshire but often travel past Stonehenge, in the north of the county, on the A303 – which is where I took this photo from the passenger seat of our car, on our way to visit family in London.

There is, of course, something magical and special about this ancient site, and it always strikes me as extraordinary, however many times I’ve seen it,  that it suddenly appears by the side of the road, without fanfare.  I remember a time when the whole site was open to the public to visit, no barriers, no financial charge.  I don’t visit it these days (even before lockdown) as I hate queues and crowds of people so I don’t like visiting tourist sites in general.  My son has been to the summer solstice at Stonehenge several times and says it’s wonderful.

I like the sense of travel in this photo, a sense of escape.  I’m looking forward to being able to go places again, on a whim, without planning, just taking off somewhere.  What must those stones make of what’s happening to the world at the moment? Have they seen it all before?

Josephine Corcoran, Three photos from my camera roll

I woke up at 3:00 am thinking about bees (it’s one day before my 60th birthday, and I still can’t sleep through the night). The day before, my son and I were sitting in the garden when a swarm of bees flew over our heads and settled in a tree across the street. The sound of a bee swarm is alarming, but bees are at their least dangerous when swarming. They have no home to defend; they’re following the queen, who, for reasons known only to her, has decided it’s time to leave the hive and move somewhere new.

In Oregon, we’re in Week 7 of the coronavirus stay-at-home order. Like many of us, I’m having trouble sleeping, but I’m used to that. When I can’t sleep, sometimes I recite poetry in my head. After I thought of yesterday’s bee swarm, these lines from W.B. Yeats’s immortal poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” popped into my brain:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

I’ve fallen in love with a lot of poems, memorized them, idolized them, and, once the glamour wore off, seen them for what they really were: a pile of words containing all the flaws of their creators. But “Innisfree” has never lost its appeal, no matter how many times I read it. Deep in the night, I soothed myself with the lines

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

Erica Goss, Bee-loud Brains

With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over. Sheltering at home for the duration of the pandemic gives our roots time to set and grow. We can see that life is more about how we are, much more than where we might grow. Relax and breathe. Dig deep. 

James Lee Jobe, With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over.

Although it has been allowed here – all along – to gather in groups of 5 or less (keeping a responsible physical distance), I have not been around other people for social reasons for 43 days. Yesterday, I showed up for a friend. To be with friends.

I made a decision yesterday to remain diligent and responsible, but to let go of fear.

I know that fear is a useful emotion. But it is not a useful state-of-being. When E. and I hiked across the Hardanger plateau on our honeymoon, we had to ford some powerful rivers, and scramble along some steep screes, with 25 kilos on my back. I took note of the fear, and regarded it as an important signpost to heed, but not as something I needed to slip into my pack and carry with me.  I knew that would put my health at risk.

Yesterday I witnessed a work in progress – a site-specific performance that was beautiful for so many reasons. The performer was wearing a bright orange suit, and at one point danced her way down a long stretch of a pedestrian path. The sky was blue, the birds were calling, and I could hear water gurgling through a drain somewhere in the field.

It was a celebration of life. But watching her shrink in the distance as the path narrowed, it was impossible not to contemplate the fact that our lives encompass deaths.

Ren Powell, Circles of Awareness

Flat and metallic, my tongue  
like disinfected aluminum.  The scent 
conveyed from nose to throat,
a sympathetic gag almost. 
Vapors wave before my eyes.
Clorox, ghost of scents past,
seemingly obsolete, you’ve come back.

You were banned, like death,
things we thought we’d conquered.
The stink of fear, soured dispositions,
army hospitals of World War I.

Jill Pearlman, Olfactory

Here’s what’s more sobering:  now all of my undergraduate English professors are dead.  I realized I wasn’t sure about one of them, but the miracles of the Internet supplied the information.  My Shakespeare professor, Dr. Steen Spove, died in 2008 of pancreatic cancer. 

When my favorite English professor, Dr. Gayle Swanson died in 2014, I blogged about it here and here.  Much of what I wrote about her applies to the whole English department of Newberry College when I attended.

I learned to love literature in a variety of ways through the teaching of all of those faculty members in the English department.  I learned to love a variety of works of literature.  Granted, the reading lists were traditional, but they gave me a solid grounding.

And when I wanted to explore more, to examine the women that had been left out of our beloved Norton anthologies, not one professor discouraged me–no, that would come later in graduate school.  My undergraduate professors were interested to see what I would come up with, and they let me loose on the margins of the canon.

They also nurtured my writing skills and talents–of course, you’d expect English majors to be nurtured this way, but after shepherding students for decades, I’m more in awe of this now than I was then.

When I look back, I am astounded at how open our professors were, how they had us over to their houses (and their second houses).  I’m amazed at how many cultural opportunities they made possible, both by inviting authors to come to us and by taking us on field trips to see authors and other intellectuals.

Part of me will always want that kind of teaching life for myself, the joys of a small, liberal arts college.  Part of me has this sobering realization that many of those types of schools may not survive this time of pandemic, when this old-fashioned kind of teaching, learning, and living in close proximity may not be feasible.  I know that many of the small, liberal arts colleges weren’t doing well before the pandemic, and they may not have the dexterity to survive into what will be the new reality.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last English Professor

I started reading this book [Oculus by Sally Wen Mao] in mid-January and created the bones for these reading notes at that same time. I didn’t get very far. The anxious mood I’d been combating proved to be more formidable than I’d hoped, and so I walked away from my reading/writing goals without even realizing I’d done so. I was fortunate to get back into therapy, which has been a great comfort, but the descent into lock down/quarantine (#socialdistancing to fight the pandemic) happened at roughly the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work from the safety of my home and be paid, but it’s been difficult in its own way. All of that is a story for another post, and I do hope to explore it at some point, but I return to this book in the context of all of that. Deep into all of that. Weeks and weeks deep. Layers and layers deep.

Oculus starts with these three lines: “Forgive me if the wind stole / the howl from my mouth and whipped / it against your windowpanes.” This COVID-19 quarantine seems to be making everything hurt just a little — or even a lot — more. My initial notes about “Ghost Story,” the collection’s opening poem, captured only these lines: “We relied on our plasma television / to pull us back to the world again.” In light of the pandemic, I seem to be reading much more into it now. For example, “the curtains parted, exposing / us to the wolves above.” And “we built new barricades / between ourselves.” And “that was the last time I trusted a body that touched me.” And “a heart broken / joins another chorus. Can you hear / the chorus speak? Can you bear / it?” Has the pandemic changed all the meanings? I don’t want to imply that the poem is now “about” the global crisis. It isn’t. It’s still about the loneliness that exists inside a relationship when it isn’t working. However, what I am wondering is whether or not being gutted by what’s going on in the world has heightened our senses. Are we more attuned to the pain of others? Are we any more likely to feel the suffering of others in our own bodies? As poets, we’ve been like this all along to a degree. It’s our superpower (and our struggle). But I do believe there’s something incredibly powerful emerging from the collective compassion and unrest.

Another way to look at all that is just to say that poetry meets us where we are. It’s as much what we bring to it as it is what the poet painstakingly sculpts. As a poet that’s freeing. It’s exhilarating. It’s also god damned infuriating.

Carolee Bennett, “if this doesn’t comfort you”

Not only is his name essentially a pun—“patient” as both noun and adjective—and not only does the name “Patient” efface a “wrong name” that is never revealed, but we are divided further in our understanding of Patient through consideration of just what it means, medically, to be a patient. A patient’s subjectivity is one which may be experienced more as subjection; moreover, that subjection is itself split between the doctor whose care he is in and the disease itself. Thus, a patient can be seen as a site of radically fractured subjectivity: he is a site of deferral (“patience,” again) between self and other, sickness and cure.

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

Spilt Milk was one of several books, also including Susan Wicks’s Singing Underwater and Thom Gunn’s Collected, which, after a few years’ absence, coaxed me back into writing poetry in the late 1990s. I remember reading it by a pool c.1998 and thinking it was the ideal holiday poetry collection, because it’s suffused with what became Sarah Maguire’s perennial themes: heat, sultriness, sensuality, sex, food, gardens, a tangible sense of place – her native West London, Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East – and Irishness, of her birth-mother and adoptive parents. Each poem seems so well-made and moves around through time and space.

But, like The Pomegranates of Kandahar, Maguire’s last collection published while she was alive, it also has a sharp political sense: of the uncertain times just before, and then after, the fall of the Berlin Wall; of women’s rights; of respect and support for migrants; and much else besides, but without seeming forced or didactic. I think that’s a very difficult balance to achieve. (Maguire went on, of course, to found the deeply important Poetry Translation Centre.)

Matthew Paul, On Sarah Maguire’s Spilt Milk

There’s also an acute sense of the absurd, as when, in the care home, the poet turns his father’s watch back an hour. It’s an act of love for a man who has forgotten where he is: ‘By night, he gets half-dressed for going out: “To interrogate a Russian spy” ‘. Paul retains a sense of humour here that could so easily be lost. When we get to the prose poem ‘D Word’, we learn that, ‘Dad’s been disturbing other patients by yelling out’. Placed in a side room, he barks ‘Come on’. Paul carefully handles the possibilities of what this actually means: perhaps his father is calling to him and his brother, or the cat. But who could have imagined that final interpretation, that he’s calling to ‘death itself’. It’s a brave last line, short and powerful, stopping the reader in their tracks.

In the final poem, ‘Queen Queenie’, the ‘you’ is presumably Paul’s mother after his father’s death. Rather than seeing hope in nature, she hears it in the late blackberries, ‘still singing lustily on their bush’. Those singing blackberries are such an uplifting, life-affirming image and absolutely the right note to end on.

This is a very coherent collection. The blurb indicates that the poems have been written over a span of 30 years. I like that. It indicates a willingness to wait, to be attentive, to let the poems come to you. Perhaps this accounts for the variety of characters and situations Paul is able to relay, and the scope of the book. All in all, it’s a very satisfying read.

Julie Mellor, A Review of Matthew Paul’s ‘The Evening Entertainment’

HUNTER MNEMONICS, Deborah WoodardHemel Press, 2008, illustrated by Heide Hinrichs, $6 paper, http://www.4h-club.org/hemel.html.

It seemed like cheating to include  this slim chapbook of only 5 prose poems in my month-long read-a-thon, so I read it twice. The images are dream-like, or they are like images drawn from a fairy tale you heard as a child and have never since been able to find. It casts a spell. Certain motifs repeat and repeat, poem to poem, like stones you might step on to cross a creek. It immerses you in something, but when you emerge, you’re not quite sure what it was.

I heard Woodard read these, and afterwards I couldn’t get them out of my head, so I contacted her and she gave me a copy. Does it depict a walk in the woods as a child, to a town that no longer exists? Or is it a walk in imagination?

Bethany Reid, Deborah Woodard

Marianne Chan’s brilliant debut collection [All Heathens] engages a wide array of topics with insight, wit, and brio: not only religion but colonization, copulation, space exploration, and family relations (her mother is a funny and wonderful recurring character). I fell hard for Chan’s work in the process of selecting pieces she had submitted to Shenandoah, and All Heathens expands on the pleasures of those pieces in a satisfying way. As I take notes for these micro-reviews I make notes in the back of each book about zingy lines and titles, and there are too many here to list. One of the most hilariously wicked poems is a retort to “When the Man at the Party Told Me He Wanted to Own a Filipino,” and there are so many great metaphors, too (“the sun was hot yellow tea in a saucer”). A few lines near the beginning of All Heathens crystallize something about the book for me: “my mother keeps telling me/ that I should move my hips when I dance, because I am as stiff/ as a Methodist church in the suburbs…” I’ve never met this author and can’t tell you how she would boogie if this virtual salon ended in a dance party, but her poems are full of oscillations and surprising turns that could constitute poetry’s answer to her mother’s instruction. Words can move, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #8 with Marianne Chan

During this crisis I’ve been pulling one book at a time from my poetry shelves and delving into it over a period of days. Searching might be a better word — for kindred spirits, and expressions of emotion and lived experience that feel resonant with my own. There aren’t going to be literal parallels because this particular crisis is unprecedented, and that’s not what I’m looking for. It’s more a search for people who also walked in some sort of darkness but faced it squarely, and found meaning in it, or in spite of it.

That’s different than looking for naive hope, or painting pretty pictures as a distraction. I’m grateful for all the beauty and hopefulness I see or am able to create, don’t get me wrong. As a writer and thinker, I just don’t seem to be able to avoid talking or writing or reading about the ignorance, cruelty, heartlessness, and sheer evil that are going on, especially in America; or the risks and sacrifices of the largely anonymous and often poorly paid people providing critical services; or the immense sadness that comes from this massive worldwide loss of life — life in every sense of the word.

I wish it were different, but I’m not particularly optimistic about the future; we humans don’t learn very well from history or our own mistakes, and most of us are primarily selfish and focused on the short-term. Nevertheless, love is always present, and where there’s love, we can also find light and hope. Naive liberalism will get us nowhere; the forces arrayed against it are too great, and too entrenched in most of our societies and governments. I think it’s actually more hopeful to avoid wishful thinking and instead see things as they actually are — and find ourselves and our way forward centered within that reality. As Thomas Merton wrote, we need to cultivate the capacity to hold the darkness and the light together, simultaneously, because that is the way the world actually is. Certain poetry does that, and music, and some people also do it — usually very quietly — in the way they live their lives.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 19: A Spade

No grief is foreign to us
anymore: the grief of birds
stranded between seasons,
the fruit on the tree
still green as a stone with no
way to hasten its sugar. New
strains invisibly misting
each bench in the park, yellow
Xs of tape marking off space
on one side.

Luisa A. Igloria, Can the ordinary be foreign as the death of a cloud?

Once we are set free

from this quarantine,

I will search beneath your bed to ensure there are no more monsters—

monsters bearing the odor of heartbreak; monsters bearing smiles whose teeth are chipped tombstones; monsters stealing wonder and leaving only wounds.

Rich Ferguson, In Praise of Beastless Beds

Life could be worse, than to pass the night while reclined.
Still, this is a hard place to be. Harsh lights erode
any sense of mystery, while puzzles remain
formulaic and vague, shrinking into shadows
at the edges of the room. Throw beauty a bone
with a framed department store poster, flowering
like bruises under her skin. Her mind wandering,
wired-down arms puddle on the mattress (gravity
dense), while x-rays steam open the chest cavity.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Reclining

on a scale of one to ten describe your wristlet your shrunken paps your crushed toe your shredded pancreas your questionable meds have you ever been in a psychiatric ward do not do not answer yes do not cry or laugh or move your mouth or eyes the pain tractate here is a chart with cartoon faces from pale to fire ant red and growl point to the cartoon pain picture on the scale of one to ten that matches your experience inside the hospital machinery excuse me excuse me eat the contents of this paper cup is it not the communion of the body of Christ point to the cartoon face that matches your face equally is this not the face of Christ describe the contents of your purse point to the cartoon face on the pain scale that matches the contents of your purse pain equally take this cup in remembrance of me take this cup let this cup pass from me today is the last day of lent Spy Wednesday commemorating the day Judas sealed the fate of Jesus with his spittle point to the cartoon face of Jesus on the pain scale that most closely matches Judas’s sorrow and inability to make and keep friends

Rebecca Loudon, corona 16.

we can’t see you yet
it just goes round and round
turn on the audio

only one right answer
make do and mending
using up scraps

thrushes wake me
we are locked in
serves us right

dragons emerge
and there are bitterns
the names are disappearing

Ama Bolton, ABCD: April 2020

Sometime last spring I blogged about a line of Sherwood Anderson that Raymond Carver was fond of and used for the epigram for Harley’s Swans, one of his poems from In a Marine Light.

I’m trying again. A man has to begin over and over – to try to think and feel only in a very limited field, the house on the street, the man at the corner drug store.

Sherwood Anderson, from a letter

I thought about it again this weekend googling the work of my new favourite Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling. It puts me in mind of what I am trying to reach for most often at the moment, a very small locus of attention that will bear the weight of my witness as well as help me endure the weight of the things I am myself carrying. It is a tall order, I know. I used to read Carver in this way (I say used to read: I haven’t read him for a while), and also Jaan Kaplinski. Now, more than ever, it is James Schuyler. A cat. A blade of grass. Shadows. Just sitting at the table of good friends.

The kind of thing I am talking about is summed up nicely by Graham Clarke, from a book called The Carver Chronotype. The kind of writing I am looking for just now (and which I think the above all excel at) is ‘a self-consciously limited area of attention in order to achieve as particular a realization as possible of individual marks and spaces’.

Anthony Wilson, We have to have great meals

lockdown
painting the fence again
woodland green

Jim Young [no title]

Remember when I used to write about poetry? About reading poetry? About *writing* poetry? Yeah, me too. Good times.

Actually, I’ve been reading in small, stolen minutes Aziza Barnes’ I Be But I Ain’t. I began that book years ago when visiting Poet’s House in NYC — I found it on the shelves and began reading it while I waited to attend some reading downtown. I loved it, felt disappointed I had to put it back on the shelves and leave it there — and so, a couple of weeks later, or maybe months, bought a copy — and then didn’t pick it back up again until just now. No idea why. It’s so very good.

I’ve had to do a lot of rereading, too, for the classes I’m teaching, so I’m also reading things that are not poetry. […]

[M]y novel class is reading The Corrections, which I pair with The Sound and the Fury, and is normally a very apt and instructive pairing. BUT GOOD GOD. Assigning a book that actively works to make you loathe the characters, from which you’d very much like to *escape* the characters, just doesn’t sit well with the close quarters of quarantine. I have no idea how the students in that class will take it. What a note on which to end the semester! (Because it’s 500 plus pages, we’re going to be reading it as our last complete work of the course).

I’m writing small, weird pieces in the mornings this week. And then moving on to emails, class prep, my kids’ distance learning, etc. Eventually I’d like to play with these morning sketches and see if they can be turned into actual poems, but that *eventually* seems like a very long way off.

Still, writing *something* makes me feel a little more like my usual self. My Quarantine Self is not exactly a chick I want to be good friends with. The sooner she can move on, the better.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, 2020 Quarantine/Social Isolation Report That Again, No One Asked For

This morning I woke in the former world,
the world before the virus, or so I believed.
The sun had the same kiss of brass to it
as it does in this post Covid 19 morning.
The scent of spring was similarly buoyant
on the morning breeze, daffodils and the early
hyacinths. The same black-mohawked Steller’s Jay
perched on the edge of the roof, staring down
at the morning coastline below our hillside,
sea dark and serene, swells horizonward with
white crests like bobbing gulls.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Another World, a pandemic poem

In response to the prompt, I freewrote a bit about my fascination with apples. In my grandmother’s village, I could pick an apple off the tree, wipe it on my shirt, and bite into it right there, while standing next to the tree that had just given me one of its children to eat. Terrible, I know. Borderline cannibalistic. Those weren’t pretty apples, by the way. Not the garden of Eden type. But they tasted heavenly. Ah, the kind of imaginary conversations one can have with an apple tree, thanking it for its gifts, apologizing for eating its children, asking the tree to adopt me instead, promising to spread apple seeds far and wide. I took out most of this half-remembered and slightly unhinged conversation. Once the poem got going, there didn’t seem to be room for it anymore.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 24

A couple of weeks ago I had the thought of writing to friends, to ask how they are and tell them what’s going on in our little world-bubble. But I confess my handwriting is poor, and after 20 years of RSI it hurts to write longhand. Then I remembered how much I’d enjoyed making ‘Foot Wear’, my little A6 sized pamphlet, and thought I would revive the quaint art of the ‘notelet’ – a sort of cross between a card and a letter. I have a large stock of good quality A5 paper, so I started painting sheets of them, just random background paint, the more sloshed-on the better. When they were dry, I flattened them between the pages of my OED, then set about trimming and pamphlet-binding two sheets together into little A6 booklets. But what to put in them? I decided on a kind of mini-magazine – there was space for one poem (something I liked and/or felt was appropriate, but not one of mine), one ‘topical’ prose extract or flash fiction, a recipe and a knot instructional (I’m big into knots at the moment). It seemed a bit dry, so I got out my copy of the fascinating British Poetry Magazines 1914 – 2000 and photocopied a few of the poetry magazine covers from times past. And added a postcard. The notelets were all slightly different – I tried to choose the elements according to the person I was sending to.

When it came to writing in the notelets and sending them out, I wondered if I’d gone a bit crazy. I could picture some of the recipients opening and thinking ‘oh no, Robin’s lost it’. But in a good way I hoped! In actual fact I’ve had some really lovely responses, including a handwritten card and letter, and no-one seems to have been weirded-out. One friend said, ‘it’s fascinating to see what people get up to during a lockdown!’ I’ll take that!

Robin Houghton, Just a notelet…

Lalalalala, nothing is happening. We are not in the middle of a permanently life-altering pandemic and I know this because in my world, the world of House Flipper, everything is going swimmingly. I recently entered my first gardening contest and I scored full points! This means that I sold my house for fifty percent more than it would normally go for, bringing my total net worth to a cool 2 mil. See? It’s all great. 

In preparing for my big win, I read up on the ins and outs of the garden contest, and I found it very revealing in regards to what Europeans think of Americans. (I believe the game is made in Poland.) There are four garden categories: English, Crop, Modern and American. There are certain elements required for each one, and for the American garden, (which I did because this is ‘Merica), it must include, bizarrely, a pizza oven, a barbecue grill, a picnic table and chairs, and a hammock. “Interesting,” I thought. “Someone thinks Americans are food-obsessed sloths.” But then I read further and saw that it must also include at least three pieces of “outdoor” gym equipment and a swimming pool. So which is it, Europe? Are we lazy slobs or fitness-obsessed narcissists? The other odd thing is their ideas about conifers. To win, your American Garden must be chock full of conifers. Conifers, conifers, conifers. Can’t have enough of them, apparently. I wanted to shout the whole time I was adding more and more conifers, conifers do not grow in every state in the U.S.! But ultimately, I won, so the joke’s on them.

Kristen McHenry, Too Many Conifers, Puffy Ginger vs Ripped Adonis, Hospital Update

I was talking to a friend yesterday about reading during the quarantine. We were talking about how much we hated The Road, and I commented that Cormac was projecting his own inner bleakness onto his apocalypse. I brought up Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John; one imagines a heroine who rescues the world with her creative force, and the other imagines a post-pandemic world welcoming a traveling tour of Shakespeare performers, a world of grief and terror, sure, but with room for art and artists.  These two books, I think, find the hope in the apocalypse. I like to think Field Guide to the End of the World was my attempt to imagine all the apocalypse scenarios, from Twilight Zone to 2012, with an eye towards the hope and humor of those scenarios. It is intensely difficult to keep your sense of humor and hope right now, I know. It’s scary. I’m having nightmares almost every night.

Tell me how you are coping. Do you have more reading suggestions?  (I also recommended Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell, a hopeful version of disaster history in the United States.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthdays During Quarantine, First Pink Dogwood and Goldfinch, Finding Hope In the Apocalypse

It is primarily instinctive, but it has been clearly shown that birds that build intricate nests…learn and become better nest builders over time.

Look at what it is that makes a nest: Layers. Strands of this and snippets of that: hair, grass, needle, leaf. And, too: Tenacity, instinct, skill. How many wingbeats must it take? How many miles does a bird traverse back and forth, back and forth, to make its shelter, to attract and secure its mate?

It’s a delicate business, the weaving in of new material to create the nest cup. 

Think of what it is that makes a cup and what it’s for: Curves, walls, a space in which to keep things–water, keys, buttons, change. What is an egg’s shell but a cup full of change? And a nest but a cup full of shells?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Shelter in place

Like many poets in April, National Poetry Month, I’ve been writing a poem a day. I provided prompts for an online writing workshop I attend and adapted those prompts for the public library, where they are posted weekly on social media, so patrons and poets in the community can write along. I had hoped to offer and to write on a variety of topics, not to be preoccupied with quarantine, lockdown, worry, or disease, but worry often creeps in—to my own poems and those of my fellow poets.

Here’s one, for example, that began as the heart’s response to the sound of the train, just before it was leaving town headed north. I used to ride that train often, back and forth to Chicago, and would tell my husband to listen for the train horn and head for the station to pick me up. Then an ordinance was passed, establishing a Quiet Zone in town, and hearing the train now is rare.

Overground Railroad

Leaving town, the train moans once
on the cold air, unwelcome April snow
coming down like rain on silent lawns,
into silent fields. It might be a new
crew, unaware of the ordinance against
the train sounding its horn in town.
Who’s riding the train now? Is it mostly
empty, one living being for every six ghostly
passengers? By now, the train has passed
the ghost house three stories high, a stop
on the Underground Railroad, or rumored
to be. By now, the train can sound its horn
at crossings if it wants, can moan and groan,
can wail and keen, lament to heart’s content.

Kathleen Kirk, April Poem-a-Day

In my NaPoWriMo World – nothing. It’s apparent I’m not going to be able to participate this year so I’ve given myself permission to be ok with it. My days seem to fly by and, honestly, I seem to have lost interest – for now, anyway – in writing poetry. I find myself more drawn to flash fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I took a week-end intensive flash cnf class with the wonderful Kathy Fish and thoroughly enjoyed it. I produced nine flash pieces that I can build on and received lots of support from Kathy and the other class participants. I’m taking a Hermit Crab class in May from another wonderful flash writer, Cheryl Pappas, and looking forward to it! I haven’t been submitting much at all but I do have a poem coming out in MORIA and a flash fiction coming out in Flash Frontier soon. In other writing news, I’ve joined the new Fractured Lit magazine as a reader so be on the lookout for our first issue. Right now I’m doing more reading than writing and that seems to fit into my life better. I’m sure the writing will return but I’m not going to worry about it. These days of social distancing and sheltering at home present a good opportunity to do some reading. Go for it!

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Happening

Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr points out that we cannot know the deepest meaning of love unless and until we “allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way.” It is through great suffering, he says, that we find great love.

So to whom do we look when we look past ourselves and our own fears, anxiety, and suffering?

Let’s begin with every person who is unlike us: the Guatemalan mother separated from her two-year-old at the U.S.-Mexico border. The teenager sent alone across the desert to make a new life in America but caught and deported after months in a crowded ICE facility. The men and women whose addictions keep them on the streets, whose fragile minds prevent them from accepting shelter. The food-deprived. The drug-addicted. Prisoners in Rikers Island jail. The men digging the trench graves on New York City’s Hart Island. The women forced to share space with their domestic abusers. The children given up for adoption. Single, working mothers with no childcare. Syrian and Iraqi and Afghani refugees and interpreters. Rohingya refugees. Anyone seeking asylum in the United States.

Let us add: funeral home staff. Priests and other clergy. Police and firefighters.

Let us add: our emergency medical technicians, nurses, and doctors working their relentless shifts with too little equipment and no time to save the sick who arrive too late at our hospitals’ doors.

Let us add: The scientists warned not to speak out. The whistleblowers fired because they spoke out. The artists and poets who are censored. The writers who refuse to stop writing.

Let us add: the now-unemployed and all deemed “essential”. The small business owners gone under.

Let us add: the immuno-compromised. Those with disabilities. Those in group homes. Our friends with cancer. Our mothers and fathers in nursing facilities and assisted-living homes. Our seniors who live alone. Every person in the U.S lacking health insurance. 

Let us add: the farmers. The delivery drivers. Our grocery store employees. Our servers.

Let us add: those who give us their false moral equations and false life choices.

Think what it means to say, “We’re all in this together.” “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XV

Send my ashes
to some rocky

sharpness on Mars.
I haven’t done

enough for this
earth to want me.

Tom Montag, BURIAL PLANS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 16

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.

In this time of global crisis, who better to parse the strangeness than poets? Defamiliarization is our stock in trade. But poetry bloggers are also still enthusing about poems and collections we love. We’re just a little stunned that non-poets lately seem to be joining us in this. What took y’all so long? Should we be pleased or alarmed that it apparently required an apocalypse to remind some people that poetry exists?

One more note before we get to the digest, a CALL FOR POETS: Jason Crane, whose poems sometimes appear in this digest, is a long-time podcaster (The Jazz Session) and radio guy whose newest podcast is called A Brief Chat. The show has just started Poetry Fridays. Each Friday Jason features a poet reading 8-9 minutes of their own work. If you’re interested in contributing poems for an episode, email him at jason@abriefchat.com.


I went to a place of rewilding this morning thinking I would beat the sun and I was shocked at the desolation I felt the sudden dark sky the sad abandoned doll it mirrored my mood I took two of my books to John the Carpenter and left them on top of his goat house in a blue sparkly Christmas bag I have been fighting depression which makes its own rules outside the day to day survival grab I crave anything from a restaurant that I don’t have to cook last night I dreamed someone cleaved an axe straight into my head dreams and more dreams every night dreaming into the new world webbing of dreams so many of us are dreaming it is Saturday but it feels like Sunday as the days smash one into another

Rebecca Loudon, Day 45

One of my favorite pieces of music is Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings. Today, I listened to it on a loop, which I tend to do with most of the music I love, much to the dismay of my husband, children, and dog. That second movement in Dvořák’s Serenade melts me into a puddle no matter how many times I hear it. I hope that today’s poem conveys a smidgen of the ecstatic experience I have when listening to this piece.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 15

After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

Recorded during the 2020 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood and Belair, South Australia, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations. [Click through to watch the videopoem.]

Ian Gibbins, ISOLATION PROCEDURES

An afternoon walk. Bugle and white bugle in the meadow above Tor Wood, and bluebells, white dead-nettle, primroses and ramsons on the way to King Castle Wood.

King Castle Wood covers the remains of an iron-age fortified hilltop enclosure and is rich in native trees and wild flowers. Today it was all bluebells and birdsong and ferns unfurling. Guelder Rose and Hawthorn were just coming into flower.

In a lovely meadow called The Lyatt, on the far side of the wood, I saw a scattering of Early Purple orchids, once a common plant of chalk or limestone meadows and ancient woodland. […]

I got home in time for tea and cake before a Zoom recording of ten poets responding to “Rise: from one island to another”, a beautiful and disturbing work; you can see it here.

Ama Bolton, Week 5 of distancing

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

I would say I am horribly sad and that some days I cannot even bear it. I would say writing a book of poems about the precarity of our lives in this brutal era only to have the era be too precarious for the poems has been staggering. I would say that beauty and song have a nagging way of sneaking up on me despite my rage and grief. I would say: I am waking up at midnight and keeping a raw insomniac’s journal. I would say I feel unkempt and also deeply alive. I would say “thank you so much for asking.”

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon with Tess Taylor

I’ve been watching a hell of a lot of apocalypse movies.  While the pandemic ones are a little too much right now, I do take some weird sort of comfort from other threats–zombies, aliens, global warming, weather disasters, volcanoes, earthquakes, meteors, giant reptiles.   While I wouldn’t say I’ve been bingeing things as I might on weekends previously, I still have more late-night movie watching time than when I’m working late and usually go to sleep as soon as I hit the blankets. Some of them are bad.  Some of them decent . Some of them not at all what I expected.

Kristy Bowen, disaster dreams

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
If she’s silent, how can I know
when she is there and when she is not?
She blends in so nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

Do not fear
the pain you know.

It already wears you
like an old coat.

Tom Montag, DO NOT FEAR

Habits are powerful things. That’s why it’s so hard to kick the bad ones. But knowing a habit is power, you can cultivate the habit. Starting with twenty minutes. Who can’t sit in front of their screen for that long? Even if you write just one word, you’ve done your job.

Like singing or dancing, you can increase your writing endurance with practice. It, too, is a muscle — just a mental one.

Surviving a pandemic while writing is like surviving my brother’s death through writing. That’s when I began this daily practice. It was my escape from the pain. It’s become my joy through whatever else is going on in life, whether it’s tedium, stress, crazy-busy work times, anxiety, or sheltering in my home. At least I’m lucky enough to have food, a roof, and a laptop. And time and my imagination. The basics for a writer.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Through a Pandemic

Every few
rows there’s a stand with a large bottle
of hand sanitizer, but it’s heartbreaking to see
they still keep lobsters in tanks, their large
crusher claws bound close to their heads
with broad rubber bands, their walking legs
weakly paddling water. Who of us will be spared,
will pare away the extra letters to get to
the spar, which the dictionary describes as
the main longitudinal beam of an airplane wing?
Sticks of celery are green as grasshopper
bodies. Every now and then a person jumps
when someone is about to come too close.
In their baskets, loaves of bread are breathing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Day 39

Our parish priest holds twice weekly gatherings on Zoom for anyone who wants to check-in, say hello, hear another’s voice boom through the quiet of isolation or quarantine. This week a participant remarked on a fleeting but nonetheless present sense that faith wasn’t holding, wasn’t enough sometimes to carry her through the day. I wanted to give her a hug. In this pandemic, the only thing we can control is how we choose to spend the day we wake to, and even waking is a miracle. I think the crisis has been hard on those who are used to filling a day with noise and movement, who haven’t practiced finding respite by being deeply silent. In the many early hours when others are sleeping and I’m not, I’ve focused my attention on the silence, been surprised by the chitter of birds in bushes outside my window, listened to how rain sounds the closer it gets to ground, how wind sweeps through a roof space, how steps on a sidewalk come to a stop. Faith holds when you unshackle yourself from time and doing, allow yourself to be curious, to believe such things go on, though you’d swear you were just dreaming.

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

I have always found it comforting when people of great faith admit to doubt. Then I know they are living in the same world I live in. I was going to write that these people are “honest with themselves”, but that is a judgment.

Perhaps there are people in the world who experience the world as having footholds, certainties. Me assuming otherwise is a projection of my own perspective as the correct perspective. And has a consequence of condescension at best, of accusation at worst.

Best – worst. Yeah, they are both unproductive at any rate. And neither is a form of compassion.

Judgement doesn’t have an antonym in my dictionary. Maybe it is compassion? With compassion, one can explain consequences, but one can never sit in judgement. Maybe we should do away with judges and replace them all with arbitrators.

I’ve been walking these moors for more than twenty years now, and still I can be uncertain of the ground. I can find myself suddenly ankle-deep in water, tossed by a stone tipping on a hidden fulcrum.

But isn’t that exactly why we choose to walk these trails? Isn’t that – the uncertainty – the source of the surprising joy that keeps us from being jaded with the world?

Ren Powell, Walking the Walk

the light is the same, it is‬
‪we who have lost our innocence;‬
‪hit in the solar plexus‬
‪while the sun still shines.‬
‪breathless we contemplate ‬
‪darkness ‬
‪breathless we count‬
‪our blessings‬

Jim Young, covid dawn

So I felt, “These are hard to read.” Because it can be uncomfortable to stay, purposely, in such ambiguous moments. I found the poems [in pray me stay eager by Ellen Doré Watson] puzzling for awhile until I stuck with the reading and settled into the poet’s sound and methods. And then, response, reward: ideas and experiences that struck chords, places evoked, sentences that capture the way human beings think and process their circumstances. Revelations, even.

Maybe I was just in the wrong mood for reading when I started this book…there are times when I want an “easy read,” a comforting novel with a happy ending for example. Such texts, though, seldom teach me or show me anything new, whereas pray me stay eager has made me think about the mechanics of a line of poetry as well as sound, and touched me deeply as the poet writes of her aged father and the deaths of friends and her keen appreciation of the world and the word.

Ann E. Michael, Reading, eagerly

To my mind, this is an undeniably singular and astonishing form of writing. For many like me, the relentless power and originality of this style will be all one needs to be persuaded. For despite, or in addition to, the extreme technicality of some diction (osteocyte, telomere, rhotic-to-sibilant, etc), there is a deeper movement going on here, a process of unfolding, that does not require us to grasp the precise denotative meaning of each element (though there is nothing stopping one from trying). And so instead of asking, “What exactly does this mean?” the more relevant question is, What is this doing? How is it working? What is the operation it is performing and how can I follow its maneuvers? And how might I lose myself in them more knowingly?

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

To say that [Ian] House’s poetry embraces ekphrasis does not do justice to what has clearly been a life’s project for him. His work, I think, transcends the very idea of ekphrastic poetry and finds instead an expression of the symbiosis of life and art. Yes, he describes visual works of art, as traditional ekphrasis would, and he does so beautifully, as in his central sequence of seven poems based on the paintings of Paul Nash ‘It Must Change’: e.g. “blazing yellows and oranges / intenser than all imagining / fierce as a fusion reactor / self-unsparing self-consuming / the sunflower hurtles downhill” from the sixth poem in the sequence (‘It Must Burn’). But many of his poems are not descriptions as much as contemplations and digressions, as in ‘Now You See It’, inspired by Ai Weiwei’s 1995 triptych ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ in which House recreates the heartbreaking descent towards the ground of a priceless work of art before questioning our reaction as viewers (“Couldn’t you admire the man / who had the balls…?”) and then proposing a way of understanding the problems surrounding Weiwei’s paradoxically iconoclastic artwork (“We… / wanted someone to tell us / … / that we share no genes with the millions / who’ve shattered statues, burned books.”).

Chris Edgoose, A Glimpse of What Hovers: Just a Moment by Ian House

In Octavia Cades’ brilliant collection of poetry Mary Shelley Makes a Monster, the famous author of Frankenstein crafts a creature out of ink, mirrors, and the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Abandoned and alone after Shelley’s death, the monster searches for a mother to fill her place. Its journey carries it across continents and time, visiting other female authors throughout the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. Pulling from the biographical accounts of these amazing authors, these poems beautifully examine the nature of art and creation, reading and consumption, and how monsters are really reflections of ourselves.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Mary Shelly Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade

I met Joanna Thomas two years ago at Litfuse. She does this really arty, fun stuff with erasure poems and visuals and — because I generally don’t do those sorts of poem — I almost skipped her workshop.

I am SO GLAD I went. More than the keynotes or anyone else I encountered that year, Thomas’s work burned a hole through my imagination all the way down to my bootsoles. She is a wonder. If you can’t get your hands on any of her limited edition books (exquisite little gems you’ll want to keep and give to friends), then you should invite her to give a workshop for you. (Adults and our delights aside, I think these would inspire some pretty wicked home school lessons.) To read more, visit Thomas’s very visual blog:  https://www.joannathomas.xyz/.

Because the poems [in Rabbit: An Erasure Poem] don’t run down the left hand margin, my blog space will just make a botch of it; hence, the photograph. In short, Thomas has erased  Webster’s Elementary Dictionary: A Dictionary for Boys & Girls (New York: American Book Company, 1941), and she shares the image from the dictionary, then duplicates the poem (and its peculiar layout) on the facing page.

Bethany Reid, Joanna Thomas

I have always loved this poem by the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski. It felt like only a matter of time before I turned to him during the lockdown.  I love his poems’ barehandedness, his apparent lack of artistry, the evenness of his tone when describing joy and trauma alike. And yet, as he says in ‘This morning was cold’, he has ‘no counsel to offer’, merely a presentation of the facts as he sees them. He inhabits a space in my imagination that is somewhere between a university seminar room, a log cabin and picking up a toy car from underneath his kitchen table. Or walking for a day through a forest without encountering another soul. The perfect companion for a stretch of self-isolation, you might think. A couple of winters ago I half-read Unforced Flourishing: Understanding Jaan Kaplinski, which documents his wholly social life, as filled with readings and lectures and conferences as with the ordinary concerns of a dutiful parent and grandparent. That’s what I love most about his work, the sense that while all of these noble and urgent things may be going on in the background, he gives his attention fully to what is in front of him, and thus to his reader, at any one moment.

Anthony Wilson, The wonder is

Like that final weight pallbearers carry to the grave.

Yet say the correct password, and the moon will allow you into its secret room behind the shine.

That’s where good luck wears the scent of new laundry behind its ears. Where our brightest essence illuminates dark waters.

Often, these days seem like one long, weird dream.

The clock tells me when it claps its hands, I can open my eyes. It’s then I’ll be older than I remember and younger than I care to forget.

Should you see me holding something to the light, it’s a letter I meant to send you before all these troubles left their shadows at our door.

Rich Ferguson, Certain Days Feel So Heavy

Even the stubborn hydrangea outside my porch
gate has come into full leaf, buds at the ready.
But my heart will not settle into steady rhythm.
My breath is shallow. Later, I must make my weekly
excursion into town for food—masked, gloved,
hatted, scarfed—looking like a nineteenth century
immigrant just off the boat from Poland,
wearing all of the clothes she owned at once,
frightened of the unknown new territory where
communication and comfort appeared impossible.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Welcome to the New World, a pandemic poem

She swerves into the day,

the new day, with a breath
between her and thunder,

between her and thunder
is a breath that says rest

is coming, the slow rain
is come, and says, just stay,

just wait inside. Just hide.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Lights the Candles with Lightning

I miss people.  As a self-declared introvert, I’m surprised, pleasantly – I miss people badly.  The list of what I miss is endless.  I miss their clean smells, their dirty smells, their mop of hair, their prickly beards. The irony of their eyebrows.  Their slack lids, their twitch.  Their sniffles and complaints about their sniffles.  The bass timbre of their voices. The cloud of their breath, their own personal barometer.  I miss their living quality.  (And that’s just the face.)

I miss things of the senses.  My senses gather confirmation of all kinds regarding external existence.  They are the yes to my no or yes to my yes.  They are charged fields that activate me, as plants churn sun with chlorophyll for energy.  People and their vibe – they are the other to my I.  The talk to my talk back.  

I am a skeptic of the virtual.  The compilation of pixels will never convince me, viscerally, of life. And yet, do I have a choice? 

Jill Pearlman, On Missing People

I’m intrigued with the idea of “virtual,” as most of us are meaning it these days: using technology to bring us together while we stay apart. There’s the older meaning of virtual, which often has a whiff of dismissal–something virtual is not quite as good as.

I’m thinking of the virtual community I discovered when I started blogging. And then, as people stopped long-form blogging, I felt I had lost that community–and once, that community felt almost as close as the communities I was part of in the face-to-face world, and in some cases, more so. And then, poof, it seemed to be gone.

And now, I’m seeing some of those elements returned. This morning, I thought about how tough this quarantine would be without that technology. If we had had this kind of pandemic that drove us all apart from each other in the early 80’s, when long distance phone calls were so expensive and it took much longer to get information out, it would be tougher in some aspects, and perhaps easier in others. Maybe there would have been less wrong information disseminated. But we’d have certainly been more isolated.

I’ve found it very comforting to check in with people virtually to compare notes. I’ve found it all marvelous at how we’ve all managed to move so much to online environments. I do worry about people who don’t have the technology at home.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, How We Live Virtually Now

You’ve made dinner. I tell you
about my divorce, but
don’t mention the pandemic:
why intrude on your afterlife
with something so terrible?

I wake to more headlines
(the world is dust and ashes) but
for a moment I almost felt
that loss isn’t forever, that
the world was created for me.

Rachel Barenblat, For me

I’ve been sending out work tentatively, as it feels hard to believe that poetry can be important in such a time of crisis. On the other hand, I’ve been buying books from local bookstores to keep them in business, subscribing to lit mags even with the post office being threatened by the President and his bullying GOP with shutdown. (Write to your congressperson to protest this lack of funding for the Post office, the lack of which would make us effectively a third-world country, and would prevent voting by mail.) So many things are uncertain: when will we be able to get out of lockdown? When will we have a treatment, much less a vaccine? When will the death tolls start to dwindle? How will this hurt people’s mental health and the economy? Uncertainty is difficult for human beings to sustain for long amounts of time. Poetry and music seem to offer some comfort for me as they resist certainty, and encourage us to dwell in possibility.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Easter During a Pandemic; Life as a Writer During Lockdown, and Pink Supermoon with April Flowers

I started writing poems about the pandemic back in March, before NaPoWriMo began, because the emergency was beginning to hit us locally and hard. And I decided early on to post a lot of them on Instagram (@amymillerpoet). I’ve been dabbling with Instagram poetry the past few months; I like the mixture of text and images, the block of art. The whole thing about how the poem is now published because I went and blabbed it on Instagram is just another interesting thing; I’m not sure what to do with that. But suddenly it felt like a time to let the poems walk out the door, since I literally couldn’t. We are truly all in this together, and I had a strong compulsion to get poems out in the world where all sorts of people could read them, not just the ones who subscribe to literary journals. And, I don’t know, maybe I just needed a gigantic distraction. The discipline and techie geekiness of making those Instagram poems was like a lifeline I was following through some very dark water.

Amy Miller, NaPoWriMo, Plague Year Edition

The only thing that feels sure to me is a future that is different from the past. Not in every way–but also, in every way. If I think of my life as a set of systems–work, home, health, money, relationships–the foundations remain the same (at least for now), but each of them is also so changed that it feels as if there can be no true going back to what they once were. Can’t step into the same river twice and all that.

This is not, at this point, an original thought about the future. But it might be an important one for thinking about how to regard and live through the present.

Late last week, a friend referred to the time we’ve been living in isolation as “lost” and talked about a “return to real life.”

“No,” I said, pushing back. “This is real life. These days are our life, too. We haven’t lost them.”

In the past week I’ve felt myself resisting the idea that this is some time apart, some blip, some brief interruption to our regular programming, in part because the only thing that’s become clear to me in the past week is that our experience with this virus is going to be a long haul, and I don’t want to, in any sense, give away such a big chunk of time by thinking of it as unreal or somehow apart from the whole of my life.

But also, because the life I’m living now is beginning to feel normal.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of real life and new normals

Words and images will speak to each other through time. This doesn’t perhaps mean much other than that you were paying attention. You were feeling things. You were allowing sparks to fly. You were allowing the universe in.

I was going to write a post that more directly addresses the surreal world we’re currently living in. And I’m sure I’ll be doing more of that, though others are doing a good job of digging into the nuances of it and how this is affecting some of us differently than others, and what that’s going to look like afterwards. Whatever we write now, is going to say something about the time. I was thinking about why I was drawn to this particular image right now. And maybe it is just that I’ve been mulling over the before and afters of where we are right now. The unknowns. Which is the same with the Irving Penn photograph. It says so much, and leaves us not knowing anything for certain.

Someone walks into a room, dines, wipes their mouth, leaves.

There’s a whole life around that moment, an entire long story. A mystery.

Shawna Lemay, The Empty Plate

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 15

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.

One thing I’ll say about the current crisis: it’s certainly made organizing this digest a breeze, since most blog posts these days don’t stray far from a single, inevitable concern. And for many of us who write, I suspect, almost every poem eventually morphs into a pandemic poem, as Jeannine Hall Gailey observes – “The coronavirus has saturated the view.” But views are of course as varied as the eyes that see them; I’m finding the diversity of responses to the crisis really fascinating and inspiring.

One small change to the digest: starting this week, I’m adding Luisa Igloria’s poems here at Via Negativa to the mix, since stats suggest that most digest readers don’t visit the blog much the rest of the week. (I still won’t be linking to my own posts, though, don’t worry. This will never become an exercise in self-promotion.)


In Ptolemy’s
model, where the earth stands still at

the center of the universe, all heavenly
bodies should trace a perfect circle around

the earth. But they also wobble, slowing down
as they move farther away and speeding up

as they come closer again. Secluded now
for weeks in our homes, not going to work or

school or church, not eating out or seeing any-
one except whoever is sheltering in place with us,

it’s as if we share that same eccentricity of
movement: and our bodies quicken at the sight

of other bodies just out walking, trying but
not always able to keep to their own path.

Luisa Igloria, On the Orbit of Socially Distanced Bodies

The man with broad-brimmed hat and bird-mask waits
a moment before entering. His scent
wafts by you, Highness, as presentiment
of what must follow. Watch how he operates

in his full gown. Observe how he inspects
the body, turning it here and there at distance
with his cane, meeting no resistance.
Note how he prods it. He’s the bird that pecks

at corruption. He sees the patient’s hands
are black with the usual buboes. This is all
by the script. It’s the very reason for his call.
The plague is spreading. It makes strict demands.

We watch familiar birds hovering in the air.
They will not ring the bell. Nor are we there.

George Szirtes, FIVE  BAROQUE PLAGUE SONNETS

B is for Brothers. I think of them every day. B is for Boys – my two sons: brilliant, bold, kind, funny, optimistic. B is for the Buns I am baking for breakfast (it’s Good Friday, so they’re Hot Cross, not Belgian) – kneading dough when there’s no particular rush. B is for bulbs, for the hyacinths and daffodils blooming in two window boxes which Mike installed for me. I have compost with which I can work and plan, seeds germinating and growing on. B is for Board Games. B is for Bathroom and my new blue tiles. B is for Book – of course. For the one I’m working on, and the ones I’m reading. B is for Banoffee pie. For Beethoven. And B is for Bob, and Bill, blue tits I have anthropomorphised, who might also be Bert and Brian on some days. They visit my bird feeder, and if I sit in my blue chair, and am very still, I can watch them cracking seeds on the side of the feeder’s perches. B is for Best Friend, a London GP and isolating with the virus. She has described all the symptoms, they include annoyance. B is for brave. B is for better. B is for fit and well, hale and hearty, in the pink, tip top, fine fettle. B is for the camping we will be doing later this year, for risotto, Trangia stoves, Sauvignon Blanc, swims, and our Bicycles. B is for Boudicca, and for Cleopatra.

Liz Lefroy, I Count to B

before breakfast
I walk for miles
hungry, sated

I’ve found writing haiku a really satisfying way of working over the last couple of weeks. The brevity and focus appeal to me at a time when I’m finding it hard to concentrate on bigger projects. I’m not dismissing the magnitude of the current situation, far from it, but it’s important for us to continue to create. Haiku are all about capturing the moment. It’s surprising the things that come to your attention when you force yourself to be still for a while. And the economy of language in these poems makes them seem quite experimental, which is something I’m always interested in.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Here’s my second post on what new or new-ish or new-to-me books of poetry I am reading during 2020 National Poetry Month. This time, newly-released from Tinderbox Editions, Lesley Wheeler‘s collection The State She’s In. […]

Wheeler’s use of haibun forms to explore state’s-rights racism or workplace harassment is something I found startling. I keep returning to these and other poems to appreciate, on each subsequent reading, the surprises in the craft as well as the barely-contained frenzy expressed, and also the keen observations of the world that act to calm the speaker down. A tough balance, that.

On the whole, The State She’s In feels like a fierce call to pay attention, not just to the reader but to the speaker in these poems–she’s finding her route toward sagacity but kicking away at what we take for granted, not wanting to find personal equanimity if it means hiding what she knows to be true. These poems oppose ignorance in all its forms, including the privilege of choosing not to learn (or not to act, or not to act fairly and justly) that gets practiced at the highest levels of the academy, the government, and in any form of society. Wow!

Ann E. Michael, More reading, more poems

An ability to play with the multiple meanings of words is also present in the collection’s title, The Aftermath. Initial readings might offer up religious connotations of life after death. In fact, Wilson is referring to a second life that comes after having faced your own death, a second life in which everything has changed forever.

This theme runs through the collection and marks a step forward in the poet’s thematic concerns. In dealing with his second life, Wilson works to find reconciliation between his inner and outer worlds, as in the opening lines of There are Days…

There are days I lose to knowing
it has come back.

An ache in my back, a run of night sweats.
Then nothing.

I am me again, climbing out of bed
to make the tea…


Physical acts are here portrayed alongside emotional torment, routine seen as a necessary counterpoint to the loss of former certainties.

The Aftermath is far from being a depressing or morbid read. Instead, its poems celebrate life with greater intensity thanks to their acknowledgement of our frailty, encouraging us to seize our days too. I thoroughly recommend it.

Matthew Stewart, Inner and outer worlds, Anthony Wilson’s The Afterlife

We can still celebrate National Poetry Month during a pandemic, despite the lack of the usual book launch parties and poetry readings. There are still books to buy (support your local bookstore if you can) and there is time to spend on poetry, and even some hope to be found. People are doing readings on Facebook Live (I’ve been enjoying talks on Japanese fairy tales by Rebecca Solnit) and offering readings on YouTube and podcasts instead of in-person. I’ve been writing too many pandemic poems. It seems almost impossible to write a poem about one thing and not have it turn into a pandemic poem, in fact. The coronavirus has saturated the view.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, April Hours, National Poetry Month, and Four More Weeks of Quarantine: How Are You Holding Up?

The question these mornings of birdsong
to wear a mask or not
working from home:
intimacy inside out
like a glove
after this- will we all go back
without pretending
there’s no life back home
the commute as space travel
the atmosphere of the real left behind
no crying children, no flushing toilets,
no hammering next door

Ernesto Priego, Face Masks

I’ve been making masks this week. The sewing machine and ironing board took over the living room and dining table, along with bags of fabric, spools of wire, and thread, and elastic. Sewing is almost always a pleasure for me, and I tried to make it so this time, but I’ve never sewn something for such an ominous purpose. Underneath the cheerful bright fabrics lurked the searing images we’ve received this week from New York City, the UK, Europe, Africa, India. Images of human beings trying to protect themselves and others, often with the flimsiest of barriers between the invisible but potentially deadly: my breath, your breath.

This is also Holy Week, the solemn culmination of the reflective, penitential season of Lent. A season that got blindsided by a worldwide pandemic that seems nothing if not Biblical, forcing the religious and non-religious alike to give at least a passing thought to the questions, “What is going on? Why now? Why us?” The past two months have presented all of us with images and descriptions of suffering we will never, ever forget, if in fact we are fortunate enough to survive. One iconic image of this pandemic will certainly be the mask, and, if we are willing to look closer, at the eyes above it, filled with fear, exhaustion, and too much knowing.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 15: Masking and Unmasking – Holy Week 2020

Always – this time of year – I feel the lack of sunshine as physical pain. No. It’s not the lack of sunshine, it’s a lack of warmth.

The sky is blue, and the flowers are blooming in bright blues and yellows and purples, but we are still on the edge of freezing. The wind still pushing snow flurries under my collar.

I need a run, but I’m still taking account of a swollen lymph node. So I settle for another cup of coffee.

Out the window I can see the man left alone in his chair now. Wrapped in a blanket, his face tilted up toward the sun.

Ren Powell, All the Blues

Having cancelled an anticipated spring trip, and maintaining the recommended isolation, I’m experiencing the wakening of wanderlust, as friends south of me post pictures of croci and daffodils but all around me is the bleak of northern early spring.

But isolation is forcing us to roam very locally, trespassing here and there, following logging roads or ATV trails currently quiet. With leaves not yet out the land remains revealed in all its lumps and wrinkles, and we course through it, following streams or the lines of topography, discovering a neighbor’s old apple orchards, a rocky and windy hilltop that seems elf-haunted.

In Boundless, Katherine Winter wrote this: “What if we were to stay in one place, get to know it, and listen? What might happen if we were not always on our way somewhere else?”

Marilyn McCabe, Of Rich and Royal Hue; or, On Writing and Paying Attention

An owl crosses
over, watching the limbs dangling fruit, then headfirst
flies back on wings made of mute, that shed sound as the wet
rejects oil. There is an enormous sound still unheard,
an enormous sorrow set on pause, ready to tilt
and cascade into the frantic arms trying to blur
the moments between gasp and guttering, cold and clasp.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Stands at the Border

For some of us, this particular Easter may feel more like the tomb than like resurrection.  We are still waiting.  We don’t know what the outcome will be:  will this new virus mutate and become worse?  Will our favorite schools, businesses, social institutions survive?  What will the new normal look like?  Can we bring some of our favorite aspects of the old normal with us to the new normal?

In many ways, these questions are the essential Easter questions.  Life changes, and often faster than we can process the information.  We’re left struggling, grasping for meaning, refusing to believe the good news that’s embodied right before our eyes.  We don’t recognize the answer to our prayers, our desperate longings, even when it’s right before our eyes.  We’re stuck grieving in the pre-dawn dark.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Easter in a Time of Plague

What interests me so much more than
those pages of scripture foxed with turning
is his choosing of a blue gown over a white;

his weighing of two stones in either hand, the one
mottled like a perfect moon, the other pale and blind
as a sleeper’s face

Dick Jones, TWO EASTER POEMS

While digging in the dirt, I thought about the stock market crash of 1929, and what it meant to those who were my age when that life-changing event happened. It was followed by the Depression, and then WWII. A person who was 55 in 1929 would have been 72 by 1946, the beginning of a return to life not being lived through prolonged, world-wide crisis.

I realized then that ever since the pandemic reached our continent, I’ve been living on hold, feeling as if these days are some time outside of my real life, a time apart. But the pandemic’s effects and what they have revealed about us aren’t going to to be over in a few weeks or even months. After decades of daily, relentless erosion to the institutions and systems that, in real ways, gave me a kind of security that allowed me to live without developing life skills and dispositions that might now become essential, here we are. We are in the thick of the weeds, and I can no longer ignore them and focus on the pretty parts of the yard. I need to learn how to survive–maybe even thrive?–while living within them. Because they have grown so, so tall, and it will take a long time to eradicate them.

If a person my age at the time of that earlier crash lived “on hold” until the crises ended and things felt like some good kind of normal, they would, in important ways, miss most of the last years of their life. And I don’t want to do that. Out in the garden, I resolved to stop living through my days as if they are, somehow, lesser days than any others I’ve had. I don’t know that it will be years until we feel as if we out from under this, but I do know I don’t have enough left to me to wait for some normal to start really living again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #5: Of dirt, weeds, digging, and optimism

While I’m busy not going anywhere, below my feet, down on the ground, there there are insects journeying through the weedy jungle of our garden, in and among the weeds sprouting up on the patio.

What I call ‘weeds’ are really wildflowers, pollen-givers, insect-enablers. Last year, we left our lawn unmowed until August and loved the havoc of wildflowers plaited inside the tall grass.

Daisies grew bigger and bolder, reinventing themselves as they were left unchecked.

Josephine Corcoran, Look Down

As I passed the truck, I realized I was walking through a fine mist. I put my head down, held my breath, and walked until I was clear of the mist, then turned around.

I saw that the mist was coming from an air vent at the top of the truck. The mist had now turned to a spray, and the spray was turning dark gray, almost black, in color. It was blasting against a traffic sign, a yellow diamond warning trucks about the height of the train bridge just ahead, and the sign had turned almost completely black.

It was then I realized I had just walked through a cloud of aerosolized sewage. A literal shitstorm. […]

After getting a new truck and cleaning up the gutter properly, the men washed off the neighbor’s car and hosed down our porch (twice). And while I was nervous for a few days, it seems clear I didn’t get sick from the sewage, nor did any of our family members. It’s possible, if it contained coronavirus, that I could still be incubating it. But the black water was from older sludge on the bottom of the sewer line, not fresh sewage, so I think my odds are pretty good.

Still, walking through a literal shitstorm is not what you want to be doing during a pandemic.

Your Zen teachers will have a field day with that story about the shit mist, my friend Susan said, reminding me of the story about Unmon and the shit stick.

I suppose this is a chance to cultivate equanimity. It’s not easy. But in the meantime, it makes for a good story.

Ordinary mind, Buddha mind. Shit stick, shit mist. What’s the difference?

Can you see the Buddha in a cloud of shit? In the middle of a pandemic?

Buddha mind ::
the doctor holds up a nasal swab

Dylan Tweney, Walking through a shitstorm.

finished with clocks my time stopped morning shook its gold fist at my sloth ticktock Rebecca now the parable of Night Nurse and Bitter Angel crawls sideways across the blue carpet howl yes make your god blasted noise at gravity’s sweet lack ticktock Rebecca where are your steady shoes opaque yellow stockings run now run Rebecca calla lily collided her thick rhizome through your mouth into your lung as you slept rise now now drink from the trumpet spathe the basal leaf cleaved against your whelpy heart now is your time run Rebecca run across the sea salt meadow through the bullfrog palace the blown cattail the blackberry thicket the blackbird’s bright underwing wake up Rebecca wake up run against the world’s cold brass mouthpiece run against the world’s last frozen spring

Rebecca Loudon, corona 13.

In the last rites of most Hindu people, a close family member of the deceased has to take a bamboo stave and break the skull of the dead body already burning in the funeral pyre. It is called Kapala Kriya. What burns before you is nothing but body and so you must destroy it with your own hands.

At the end of puja, the worshipped idols made of clay (that took months to be sculpted) must be immersed into water. They must dissolve into nothing.

There are no graves, no epigraphs, no cemeteries to be visited years after the death. The dead cannot take space from the living. The dead must be forgotten.

The gods’ task doesn’t end with creation alone. What gods created, gods must destroy.

Even the ashes of the burnt body cannot be kept in urns. They, too, must be immersed into water. Your bones will not be found centuries later.

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown Diary / Fragmented notes from the 21st or 22nd day?

The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”

The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.

During Roman times, Pan increased in importance, becoming “known as the All, a sort of universal god, which was a play on the other meaning of the word pan.

Christine Swint, Pandemic, Pandemonium, Panic, and Poetry

the tomb closes again
god has changed its mind
the thorny corona
of dried blood
on the road to
don’t make us
again
the pain
is just too great

Jim Young, easter hard reset

I don’t think you need to have an especially religious frame of mind to find the notion of wanting to be saved quite appealing, rational even, in the current situation. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel that wide of the mark to attach such a framework to Roo Borson’s incantatory prayer of deliverance from a modern way of life which is already starting to look antiquated, as far off, say, as those bearded, corseted Edwardians, their world about to explode in the First World War. Part of me wants to take the poem by the scruff of the neck and shout it has no idea what is about to happen to the world it describes. But what we wouldn’t now give to drive down a ‘bleak open highway’ and turn into an ’all-night cafe’ and consume ’ghoulish slices of pie’ just because we can.

In truth, having lost track of the days, I chose this poem to fall on Easter Day a whole week before I knew what I had committed to doing: talking about being saved, from a position of privilege and luxury compared to most of the planet.

Whether you are enduring ‘another measureless day’ or rather enjoying the company of your own solitude, perhaps with loved ones or re-reading Dickens or what Thomas Lux calls ‘painting tulips exclusively’, I hope you will join with me today in envisioning a future, after this is all over, whenever that may be, of increased empathy and of public figures who express that as a matter of course, with humility and transparency, of taking time to relish the tiny overlooked things of everyday life, of family and friends, the weird luxury of sitting at a table and staring into space, rather than at a screen, conjuring a future that has no place for ’insomnia’ or ’nightmares’.

Anthony Wilson, Save Us From

Death is blurrier than people realize. I sometimes think of the moment she had her stroke as the moment she died, since so much of her died in that moment–and all hope for her died then, though it took us (and the doctors) a little while to verify that. None of us wanted that to be true.

I had to tell a neighbor who didn’t know the other day, tell her what happened. She said she thought Kit was inside, being sick (she knew she was fragile) and the weather cold this winter. She had wondered.

I’ve become pretty good at telling the story in a concise way that hits enough of the highlights for someone to understand but doesn’t go deep enough for me to cry. Not everyone wants the whole story, and I don’t want to tell the whole story to everyone. It’s impossible to live like that, so very raw and open.

I am not entirely ungrateful for this Quarantine, this time of isolation. Even though He did not heal Kit in the way I hoped and wanted, I still trust God as the ultimate healer, and I’ve been interested to see, in a sort of passive, observing way, how He plans to heal me after this horrible thing. Now what do you plan to do about this, huh? I pray sometimes.

Renee Emerson, 5 months

The more freedom, the more we struggle
to know what it means. The truth of Exodus
is on trial, in crisis. Salt waters crest
to our chins. Awestruck, we know nothing
can be said though we testify and babble
in quivering attempt. We want to want more keenly.
On high, the Lover is never quite satisfied;
He sees our desire raw, though not raw enough.

Jill Pearlman, A Sonnet for Seder during Lockdown

Each day, new blessings—

like how the bombs haven’t yet gone off, zombies haven’t taken over our streets, the four horsemen are still socially distancing themselves from the apocalypse.

Manson’s ghost hasn’t carved X’s into the foreheads of our best intentions. The machines of sorrow having completely broken down into inconsolable fits of tears.

The wonderful drug they call love hasn’t completely failed in clinical trials.

New blessings amidst these crazy-making days. The tightly wound clocks of us,

still keeping time.

Rich Ferguson, The Bright Spot Behind the Tombstone

Things at the hospital continue to be in a state of preparedness coupled with constant change. It’s not chaos—I don’t want to alarm anyone. We are very prepared. But it is a stressful environment for everyone right now and information changes and evolves by the hour, so we are in constant reactive mode. My well-ordered world is gone, the familiar rhythms of my regular job have been obliterated, and I continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in an environment where fear is palpable. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know what is to be on the other side of this. The Word of the Day is “adaptability.”

Kristen McHenry, Defining Confidence, Word of the Day: Adaptability

– In the span of a month or so of sheltering at home my wife has gone from not knowing how to play rummy to being a card shark. A rummy hustler

– My wife’s ankle is messed up; she has to wear one of those immobilizing boots, so I am the cook, the laundryman, the guy who goes out for supplies, whatever. And it’s cool, I am OK with that.

– Though I was rather stupid, I did know enough not to tell a strange woman that I intended to marry her. I introduced myself and asked her to dance. If she had said no this would have been far duller life.

– My only real fear of the virus is what will happen to my wife if I get it. Who will get her groceries? How would she stand long enough to cook? And those cookies she loves; would she just have to do without them? That last one might seem hinky to you, cookies, but after the 5th week, I broke down and cried one day getting the cookies down for her. My god, she’s spent her life with me! She deserves a cookie! 

– I know that real change comes from within, that you have to want that change for yourself, not for someone else, but it was wanting to be a better man for her that got me started. I realized it was actually time to grow up. 

– We lost a (grown) child three years ago. The grief is still there. If I now fall during this pandemic, her pain will be horrible. That scares me more than the thought of being dead. That she would suffer like that again, I can’t bear that.

– As I write this list, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. It is also the third anniversary of the day son, William, died. I am not sure how we will face that odd combination while the two of us are locked away from the world. 

James Lee Jobe, Ten Things during COVID-19/Shelter-at-home

I’m having a hard time writing. Even morning pages are flat. Few poems, little journaling of any kind. I know I’m not alone in this. 

I’m exhausted. Of course, that’s my diagnosis: chronic fatigue. But this is different, more than that. My mind, my heart, my heart-mind is exhausted. 

And I’m outraged, and tired of being outraged. I’ve been outraged too long. I look at my Facebook page and it’s just one rage-inducing post after another, nearly all shared from others, who share my outrage. It’s tiring. It begins to seem pointless. 

I feel so helpless, powerless, old and ill and unable to make a difference. Writing seems beside the point. Others do it better, more clearly, with more passion. 

And I am aware of my privilege. I am housed in a beautiful little house, with someone I love, who takes excellent care of me. I am fed and surrounded by art and books and constant entertainment, should I make use of it. Instead I feed my anger – and fear – with too much television news. I fear for the lives of my friends and of my country. 

I fear being separated from my love as one or the other or both of us are dying. I fear for my young friends, one has “underlying conditions” and others are on the front lines. And what country will the survivors enter into, later? 

Sharon Brogan, Outrage

I was not fully prepared for answering quite so many emails. I don’t know why — it makes sense — and yet it means that I haven’t been able to grade quite so much. I participate in the discussion boards, but if the students don’t respond to my comments I have no idea whether or not they are reading those comments, and those comments are the only supplement I have right now for lecturing and classroom discussion.

Additionally, quite a few of my students haven’t participated at all in the classroom activities. They haven’t answered emails. I’ve pushed back deadlines to give them time — I know that quite a few don’t have regular access to technology, because they are sharing computers with family members or they have spotty WiFi or they are continuing to work through the pandemic, because they are employed by grocery and convenience stores or restaurants that offer take-out or delivery. Some of them have sick family members. Some of them went through surgery just before the pandemic and are in a kind of fraught recovery — their risk of infection is so much greater, and their ability to protect themselves has become so diminished. I’m trying not to lose them, in a figurative sense as well as, unfortunately, a literal one.

And some of them are using email to ask for clarification about assignments, to get feedback for papers, and this is really great. I’m “talking” with those students perhaps more than I would have in a regular semester, and that’s kind of lovely. It’s one of the aspects of community college that I really value — the mentoring, where I can see actual growth and results from my facilitation in their learning, my guidance.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Rage, Responsibility, and Resilience

I don’t think there’s a person not wondering how to live in a worthwhile way at this time. How to live and not just wait. How to live and not just worry. I don’t think you can not not wait and you can not not worry. But you can do other things too. You can doodle. You can practice your handwriting. You can tell the truth. I read something the other day that said even five minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. So I exercise.

I’m doing my best to wring another found poem out of Sleepless Night but it is hard going. I’ve also been trying to put together a collage or embroidery for a poem I have finished from Sleepless Night, but the poem is a sensitive thing.

Sarah J. Sloat, From the isolation files

I’ve been keeping a ‘lockdown’ journal, just for my own interest and to remind myself (hopefully in years to come!) how we (hopefully!) got through it. Reading other people’s blogs I get the feeling the initial euphoria of it all has flattened out to more a sense of restlessness or powerlessness, even sadness. I know ‘euphoria’ sounds wrong, but I mean that initial excitement in terms of ‘it’s really happening’ and ‘no-one in the world knows how this is going to go’ and ‘we’re all (kind of) in it together’, plus getting used to all the changes and rising to the occasion. As Mat Riches says in his recent post, “apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls” – but for many people it’s enough to get through the day and not worry about the family they’re not seeing or the business they’re losing.

Robin Houghton, Tending seedlings & taking comfort from ‘wee granny’

My daily updates on the coronatine have dwindled, dear reader, mostly because one day bleeds into the next. I find myself washing the dishes or emptying the cat boxes and thing “Didn’t I just do this?” and yes, dear reader, I just did. Perhaps the strangest thing about nothing to break up the days is how nothing is delineated by place or event. Normally, the things that happen in 24 hours are split up. I get up. I ride the bus. I go to work. I come home. The day is split into defined times. These are all one thing, now, where I roll out of bed at some point, eat breakfast, do some work, eat lunch, do some more different work. Then dinner, then streaming movies, then sleep. Maybe some cleaning in between or a trip to the lobby for packages, taking the trash to the dumpster. I try to vary it by showering when I first get up or right before I go to bed, but it hardly matters much, since I don’t really get ready to go anywhere. I am not one to complain, mostly since I really like being home and not having to go out, but it takes some getting used to, this new way of experiencing time. […]

I am still having a bit of trouble caring about things I used to quite as fiercely in this world, but I suppose this is to be expected. I promised myself I would keep producing, even if some things sparkle less than they did before. I’m somewhat motivated to work on library things, mostly because justifying my paycheck depends on it, so I’ve been busy working on programming, lib guides, grant applications and such that can be done away from the physical collection. Poetry and art are a trickier matter. I’ve been hammering away on the NAPOWRIMO pieces, but they feel a little bit like doing sit ups or laps around the block. I do it, and it’s done, but it doesn’t spark the way it used to. I’m digging into new layouts and cover designs for the press nevertheless, so hopefully I can fake it til I make it. It occurs to me I would normally be opening for submissions in May, but since this year is out of whack, I might wait til June and hope by then I’ve regained some of my passion for poetry things and will be a much kinder reader.

Kristy Bowen, one month in

Easter Sunday.

On the phone, my son’s excited voice: number 20 is just hatching before my eyes! Loud cheeping in the background. I am almost as excited about my tomato seedlings that have come up overnight. I salvaged the seeds from a rotten tomato only a week ago and sowed them in a seed-tray with scant hope that they would germinate. And the chickpeas that showed no more than bent white necks last week are six inches high.

Ama Bolton, Week 4 of distancing

I know beyond our thin atmosphere
we’re cradled in the vastness of space.
Even when I feel stuck in my skin

in the seclusion of social distancing
cloaked in mask and gloves
unable to touch

the maple and I are breathing together
(you and I are breathing together)
even when I feel apart.

Rachel Barenblat, A part