Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The equinox is upon us (September 23rd again this year), and for those who like seasons to have official beginnings, this marks the beginning of fall (or spring in the southern hemisphere). In reality, seasons are notional, and most years I feel as if autumn first begins when the crickets and katydids get loud at the end of July, and that summer isn’t fully over until the last heat wave in October. But my friend the Velveteen Rabbi says “The equinox is a hinge, a doorway between seasons.” Which if true makes the autumn equinox the most poetic of days, since so much lyric poetry is concerned with liminality, and since autumn is of course the most bittersweet (and therefore poetic) of seasons. So here are some blog posts of varying degrees of bittersweetness to complete your equinoctial experience.


What is it about certain landscapes that gives them their particular emotional resonance and feeling? G.’s place always feels the same to me, regardless of the weather or time of year: it’s one of the calmest, most quiet and peaceful places I know, and I always feel restored after being there.  Some of that comes from the person who lives there, in an almost monastic lifestyle. It also comes from the way he has laid out the garden, with its stream and ponds, in the middle field, between the house and the distant mountains. Wherever you are, the garden beckons, and it is always present, like a symbolic home to which you can return but which also stays in one’s memory, between the near and the far of our lives. It also contains a number of large standing rocks, and because I am tremendously fond of rocks, I revisit them each year almost like people with remembered individual personalities; I like laying my hand on them and feeling the retained warmth of the sun.

Beth Adams, A Beautiful Ending for the Summer

in the top of this stone
there’s a landscape
a mountain
a corrie
a lake

on my knees in wet grass I dip my head
to sip from the stone’s cup
rainwater soft on the lips
cold on the tongue

tilt my face to the sun
mid-heaven
mid-afternoon
midway between midsummer
and midwinter

let something go
something that’s completed
it’s done
it’s gone
move on

Ama Bolton, When stone talks

Writing prose poems as an act of resistance. Counting and naming clouds as an act of defiance. Telling children to believe their own eyes as an act of opposition to those who rule. Exiting through the entrance as an act of revolution. Choosing a new flag as a way to insult the old flag. Painting the creek in flamboyant colors as an act of artistic freedom. Refusing to accept any rules that are not self-made, self-imposed, and self-nurtured as an act of self-love. Writing prose poems as an act of resistance. Writing prose poems as an act of resistance.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Writing prose poems as an act of resistance.’

I write sonnets more than any other form. They’re perfect little containers, as far as I’m concerned, so when I heard Terrance Hayes talking in interviews about this book when it was forthcoming, I knew I’d grab it up. And as someone disgusted and distraught by the mess behind the desk in the Oval Office, its subject matter appealed to me, as well. None of that appeal — form, topic — prepared me for the brilliance of this book [American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin].

Technically, this front-to-back reading is a revisiting this book for me. When I first got it — and since it’s been on my shelf — I’ve flipped through several times, reading random poems. Between that and encountering the poems in journals, I was familiar with probably about 25% of the work in the book. The cover-to-cover reading — the megapoem, as they say — reveals the collection’s incredible depth and makes clear how the narrator’s experience plays out across time, how the grief and frustration accumulates (past) and how the anticipation of its continuance (future) exhausts.

Like the narrator in Carmen Gimenez-Smith’s Be Recorder, the voice in this book documents a painful past, a painful present and a painfully redundant future. It positions us in this time and in time itself. The repetition of themes/lines throughout appropriately creates echoes that force us to reconcile the following: this isn’t the first we’re hearing of these experiences and yet what has changed? And what will change tomorrow? Anything?

Carolee Bennett, “a box of darkness with a bird in its heart”

I’m 50 today. No, I can’t believe it either.

I actually haven’t had too much time to think about it because the last couple of months have been a blur of activities, vacation, a flesh-eating bacteria scare and, to be quite honest, a bit of end-of-summer malaise.

I’ve always prided myself on keeping this blog updated over the last 16 years, but I fell off the beam in August. I led a wonderful Saturday poetry workshop at the Fayette County Public Library and was thrilled with the work the attendees created and shared during our time together. It spurred me to write, too, so the creation of new poetry continues. Now I just have to get motivated to start submitting again – something I haven’t done all year as I’ve been promoting Midnight in a Perfect World.

Collin Kelly, Self-portrait at 50 and other updates

OK—the dust has settled, the postcards are mailed. The total: 36 poems written in 31 days. That’s a lot for me, a new record.

That’s my final tally for this year’s August Poetry Postcard Fest, a month-long writing marathon that I’ve been doing each August for the past seven years. This is the one where about 300 people from around the U.S. (and a few overseas) write a poem each day on a postcard and mail it to some other participant. This is one of two month-long writing marathons I do each year (the other being NaPoWriMo), and I’ve become dependent on these mini-writing retreats to generate new material and focus on cycles of poems, projects that sometimes only come together in the white-hot forge of a daily writing discipline. I lack that discipline the rest of the year, for all the usual excuses (full-time job, too tired, life…), so I really try to make the most of these 30-day pushes. […]

One of the keys, I think, to how smoothly this year’s Fest went was the fact that I settled onto a theme early: the horses I see every day on my way to work. This was a bit of an indulgence; although horses creep into my writing a lot (I grew up around them), horses are a tricky subject because the poems can often go too soft and sticky, or too hackneyed (horse pun!). In their way, they’re as dangerous as cat poems. But I’d been thinking about those horses by the road a lot—I have the world’s most beautiful commute—so I decided to give myself a challenge: write horse poems that did something I wasn’t expecting, whatever that would turn out to be. I ended up working a lot of mythology and religion into the poems, and found horses often standing in for other aspects of nature vanishing from our world. In the end, about half of the month’s poems were about horses, so that may make a chapbook or something down the road.

Amy Miller, August Poetry Postcard Fest 2019 Wrap-up: Fresh Horses

What advice would you give to poets about finding inspiration and/or prompts for a poem-a-day practice?

[Josh Medsker]: If I can sit down every single day and write a poem, then I’ve performed my earthly duty. But the trick is to just let the poem be what it is. If it’s a piece of crap, so be it. Tomorrow’s poem will be better. You have to have the courage to suck. Hahaha! And I’m not saying this lightly… because like I said earlier, I spent decades, holding myself back in self-consciousness. It’s a killer. That kind of self-sabotage will just make you throw up your hands and say ‘fuck it.’ I just persisted long enough to get over that hump. If the writing just isn’t working, at all, I might take a break and do something else I love but am terrible at—- like guitar or drawing. Then the very next day, start writing again. As far as prompts go, I think grooving with the reference works is fun as hell. I like very rigid constraints. I love Oulipo, Cut-Ups, Erasures, Found Poetry… anything that forces you to reimagine syntax… Lastly, if we are talking inspiration… whatever it is you love to read, read that. If it’s fiction, read that. If it’s drama, read that. To be perfectly honest, fiction often feels like a chore to read— and definitely to write. Once I realized that poetry was my genre, everything just sort of fell into place.

Trish Hopkinson, A poem-a-day practice (what is Medskerpedia?) – Interview with Josh Medsker

I find something really satisfying and almost meditative about putting together a collection, sorting through poems to find ones that fit my theme, figuring out an order, editing and then trying to write a synopsis to bring the whole idea together. I love carrying the rough draft manuscript around, editing each poem and shuffling through the pages. Holding close the warm knowledge that I made this, each word knitted together as a poem and then each poem layered to make a book. Hopefully they build upon each other to create a strong whole. The chance that it will get accepted is slim, but I enjoy the process in a different way to writing. 

Gerry Stewart, Roller Coastering

My upcoming full-length collection due out from Black Lawrence in 2020  has a cover and it is a beauty! Really, what else says my work like a bit of Victorian bdsm, raw meat, and doll parts?  It’s actually a modification of a /slash/ collage, initially created for a dgp cover and I love it so much! The pre-sale page will be up in the next couple months for an April release, so keep an eye out for that.

Work on extinction event continues to go well and I should have lots of material for my reading on October 9th at the Field Museum.  Apparently, I am also getting PAID for said reading and am always incredulous when I do…seriously, I would read for nothing.  And for this one, hell, I would pay to read in such an awesome venue.  I  will be headed back for a couple more visits (and just to also see some unrelated things I missed my first go round.)  I haven’t started submitting any of the work around yet, but it’s pretty good. Weird, but good.

Kristy Bowen, writing & art bits | september edition

I was talking to my little brother about “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” It’s just Jerry Seinfeld driving around with various comedians, and often it is unfunny, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. Comedians are sad by nature. The way they talk about comedy is the way writers talk about writing. Recently Eddie Murphy was featured, and he seemed really melancholy, distant. When I was a teenager he was such a big star. I remember seeing Louis Black on the show and I wrote down this quote: “Importance is the worst thing to put on art…if you think this is important, you’re screwed before you write the first word.” In between gigs, or the highs of careers, comedians are awkward and thoughtful, thinking hard about how to make people laugh, as hard as poets might think about creating their next poem. I have started going to therapy since my cancer and MS diagnoses, and my therapist suggested I should do stand-up. I was like, that’s the only place where I could get paid less and be treated with less respect than poetry. You don’t like being a woman in the poetry world? Try stand up! Also, I’m not sure my jokes about illness would kill with a real-life audience; I have a very specific sense of humor.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sick in September, an Article on CBD Oil, and Stuck in the In-Between

How you touched the keyboard
tentatively with blind fingers,
ten newborn mice, hairless,
vulnerable, eyelids shut tight
against the light of the world.

How you held imaginary apples
in your downturned palms, thinking
of the bright-green orchard you were
kept out of that summer, tart moons
laughing at you from the branches.

Romana Iorga, Piano Lesson

Two of the zinnias
my son planted last spring
have sent up new buds, like
dancers reaching toward heaven

with palms outspread.
They’re trying to bloom
once more before first frost.
I don’t think there’s time,

but who am I to say I know
when death will come?

Rachel Barenblat, First day of fall

My spouse told me of how he once interviewed a woodworking craftsman, renowned for his “perfect” furniture finishes, and asked about his technique. The craftsman advised, “Take care of the edges, and the middle will take care of itself.” […]

Could that be one way to draft or rework a poem? What if I spent my efforts taking care of the poem’s edges–would the middle sort of take care of itself? (And what would be the edges of a poem? Its closing and opening phrases or stanzas? Its end-of-line words? Its beginning-of-line words?)

My gentle readers may recall that fringe landscapes and edges are a major inspiration for me–just type edges into this blog’s search bar, and quite a few past musings will show up. I will try working on my poems’ edges intentionally and see what happens.

Ann E. Michael, Edges & the middle

I’ve shared some odd pictures today, shots of my empty desk. Okay, not completely empty, but much less clutter than a month ago. Yes, there’s The Rialto, still waiting to be read, but the teetering and rather intimidating book pile has gone. While it was there (and those unread books had been accumulating for quite some time) it induced feelings of guilt and panic. Why hadn’t I got round to reading those books? When would I ever find time to read them? I realised I had to get tough with myself. With my current schedule, I had to own up to the fact that I wasn’t going to read them, at least not in the foreseeable future. So, I had to either make space for them on my already crammed bookshelf (out of shot) or I had to give them away to charity and to friends. I did both and it felt right.

Of course, I know I’ll gather more books and the book pile will soon teeter again, but clearing desk space has cleared a little mental space for me too. The first draft of my novel is slowly nearing completion.

Julie Mellor, Empty desk syndrome

My desk is extremely cluttered at the moment (unlike Julie Mellor’s desk!) and perhaps telling you this and even showing you a picture will motivate me to begin to tackle the mess.  Although there is method and order in the muddle, believe me (she said to herself, trying to sound convincing).  I’ve been trawling through my notebooks and collating poems (you might be able to see a pile to the left of my laptop) so the notebooks are handily placed and readily available to read.  There is also an open diary – I use this to note down submission deadlines for competitions and magazines, as well as other appointments I need to keep, readings and festivals I’m attending, for example.  Also, my paper diary is where I keep my ‘To Do’ list, emails to write and reply to, bookings to make.  I use an electronic diary as well, but I find it useful and satisfying to note down my schedule in ink.

Other items you might notice are an empty mug – well of course it’s essential to keep myself regularly caffeinated – and two bottles of perfume – because a spritz of something delicious-smelling can be so uplifting  when you’re struggling to find your way to the end of a line.  I don’t know if you can make them out but there’s also a lipstick there, and a lipgloss, a hair slide (bad hair can ruin a good writing day) and a small Russian Doll (inspiration for something I’m working on).  A pack of post-it notes because they are useful place markers for stray poems in notebooks, as well as markers for poems that have spoken to me recently (Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Someone I Love’ from Tender Spot (Selected Poems published by Bloodaxe) is currently at the top right hand corner of my desk with a yellow post-it note attached).

Josephine Corcoran, Notes from a Cluttered Desk

That evening, bolstered by two substantial glasses of Merlot, I finally called Dr. Zook. She explained that books are nominated by publishers, literary groups, libraries, and other independent sources — self-nominations are not accepted. No list of nominees is released. The choices are narrowed down to eight or fewer books, which the OPD judges then compare individually before voting.

She told me about the history of the award.

Back in 1938, the State of Ohio set the third Friday of every October as Ohio Poetry Day. This was the first poetry day established by a state government in the United States, thanks to Tessa Sweazy Webb who spent thirteen months lobbying the Ohio General Assembly. She argued, ‘For each living reader a living poet, for each living poet a living reader.’

And Dr. Zook told me about her years handling the details of Ohio Poetry Day and its publications, all proudly done without email or internet. She said the annual OPD event takes place the weekend of October 18-19th at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio with workshops, readings, and all OPD awards.  (She mentioned Mary Oliver was Ohio Poet of the Year in 1980!)

All this to say, I was indeed voted Ohio Poet of the Year on the strength of my newest collection, Blackbird.

My impostor syndrome is now in full flare. Vast appreciation for Tessa Sweazy Webb, Ohio Poetry Day board and judges, and my wonderful publisher at Grayson Books, Ginny Connors. Also, vast shock at finding myself in any category that includes luminaries such as these recent Ohio Poet of the Year winners: Susan Glassmeyer, Kathy Fagan, and Maggie Smith. Sometimes good news IS real.

Pinch me when you see me.

“Poetry is more a threshold than a path.” Seamus Heaney

Laura Grace Weldon, Ohio Poet of the Year 2019

September 17 is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century.  For more, see this post on my theology blog.

When the calendar returns to the feast days of amazing medieval women (Hildegard, Brigid, Julian), I fight my feelings of inadequacy.

Long ago, a wise yoga teacher told me, “Don’t look at others.  It won’t help you hold the pose, and it will probably make it harder.”  I think I’ve embroidered her words, but I’ve captured the idea.

I would probably be more gentle with myself if I thought of what future scholars might say when they talked about me: 

She was able to keep writing her poetry, along with surprising works of fiction, as she navigated the demands of various types of day jobs:  teacher, administrator, . . .   .  She did volunteer work, often the unglamorous but necessary type, like counting the offering money after church and depositing it in the bank.  She worked with first generation students, thousands of them, offering the support and encouragement they needed to make their way in the world.  She did similar work with other groups who were at the margins of society, during a time when so many people found themselves being pushed to those margins.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Creative Visioning in the Voice of a Future Scholar

People dogged by hunger, poverty, and ecological malaise squirming to get comfortable in an unupholstered world where time moves too quickly. Poor souls—like a nightmare version of a 21st-century Sisyphus—heaving lifetimes of unfulfilled expectations up a mountain of obsolete computers, faulty mortgages, and forgotten social media posts. Days like these can feel like a tour of duty in the metaphysical French Foreign Legion, or that society made a wrong turn at the crossroads of redemption and ruin. I will breathe for you when the going gets too rough. I will be the heart-shaped cloud crossing the sun, rabid with a rain of flowers.

Rich Ferguson, 21st Century Sisyphus

open
the window

and let that
which wants to come in

come in

and that
which wants to get out

get out

open the window
and let
the dishes dry

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, poem / digt 21.09 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Weeks 36-37

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This edition is based on two week’s worth of posts, since last Sunday I was off on holiday. But since I keep to my rule of no more than one post per blogger, it does an even poorer job than usual of representing the richness and variety of posts in my feed. So if you read something you like, remember there’s likely to be quite a bit more where that came from.


September evening —
a moth flies into
her pocket

Bill Waters, September evening

Suddenly the two stately trees
outside my window are shot through

with sprays of gold. My heart rails
against the turning season

like a child resisting bedtime, but
the trees hear the shofar’s call.

Come alive, flare up, be
who you are: let your light shine!

The katydids and crickets sing
the time is now, the time is now.

Rachel Barenblat, Now

It wasn’t until Thursday I actually had a morning to write. It made the writing I accomplished that day a tiny bit sweeter. I had worked hard, earned a small pay check, earned the time to commit to my calling. Amidst the exhaustion, there was a sense of accomplishment, I can work and single parent and write. Maybe not to the extent I would prefer on all sides, but it is possible, messy, tiring, but possible.

Fittingly, there’s been a trend on Twitter at the moment, maybe it circles around regularly, but I’m a newbie remember, of writers posting about procrastination, how they are not writing. Is it guilt that makes these writers post this type of self-depreciating post, to shame themselves into writing? Or is it to gain commiseration or likes because we all get distracted by research rabbit holes or social twitterings sometimes? Both probably.

Gerry Stewart, Juggling it All

There’s a story told about Lucille Clifton–it may or may not be literally true, but it points to a truth for many of us.  Someone asked why she wrote short poems when she was younger and longer poems as she got older.  I suspect the questioner was expecting an answer that had something to do with wisdom and skill.

Instead, Lucille Clifton talked about the lives of her children shaping the short poems in terms of the amount of time she had to get thoughts on paper.

I, too, tend to write poems that are shorter.  Part of it’s habitual, part of it has to do with how much time I have, and part of it has to do with ideas that run out of steam so the poem is over.  Most of my poems are a little longer than an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with regular lines.

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages.  Will it all be one poem?  I don’t know, but it was an amazing experience.

I had been having a good poetry writing morning, after weeks of feeling dry and drained when it comes to writing and life in general.  Yesterday I had already written one poem and some various lines when I decided to freewrite a bit about harvest moons and harvests and elegies and prophets.  The freewriting didn’t really go anywhere, but all of a sudden whole stanzas popped into my head.  I wrote and wrote–4 pages worth.  Wow.

And then I kept my legal pad nearby.  I’d do something else, and then another stanza popped into my head.  It was great.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Long Page Poetry Morning

I was thinking about how it’s the 15th anniversary of the dancing girl press chapbook series, and realized  that also makes it the 15th birthday of my first chap bloody mary.  

In the spring of 2004, a lot was going on.   I’d been editing wicked alice for a couple years at that point and had a dream of a possible print operation companion.  I was finishing out my first year of grad school getting my MFA and had started sending out my first full-length mss..  I had just won a pretty big Chicago based prize and the 1000 bucks attached to it (and thus had a little wiggle money to devote to poetry). 

The previous year, Moon Journal Press had taken my first chap, The Archaeologists Daughter, but it would still be another year before it was published.  I was doing a lot of readings locally and fending off incredibly flattering inquiries about whether I had a book people could buy.  Also engaging in a flourishing online writing community where everyone was always trading work.   I thought to myself, if this press thing was going to be a go, I might want to start with issue-ing something that, if I botched it or found it horrible, only I would be affected. It actually worked out pretty well–since I was clueless, I taught myself how to layout something that could be manually double sided (something almost comical in these days of duplex booklet printing).  I bought some nice resume parchment paper for a the cover, used the library’s pamphlet stapler, and I had a book.

Kristy Bowen, all sugar, all milk

On August 30, Praxis Magazine Online published the first digital chapbook in the 2019/2020 Poetry Chapbook Series, edited by JK Anowe. If you haven’t seen it already, you don’t want to miss BOOK OF THE MISSING by Heidi Grunebaum.

And here, at the beginning of this series, I am reminiscing a little, and want to share a bit of the history. In 2015, Praxis Magazine‘s publisher Tee Jay Dan (Daniel John Tukura) asked me if I’d be open to coming on as an editor…and I was worried about the time commitment, worried about the amount of emotional and mental investment it takes to be on the team of an online literary and arts journal. I was already (and still am) on staff at Right Hand Pointing, where editor Dale Wisely gave me an opportunity to learn how to BE an editor…with integrity, discretion, and compassion. And I’d already learned that it takes a LOT of hard work, and that many of the people who submit to journals don’t realize how much work goes into it, how much of their own time editorial team members at online journals have to dedicate to bring other people’s works to publication. (I know I certainly didn’t have any concept of the time commitment involved while I was still submitting poems to journals, but not volunteering at a journal myself.)

So I’d declined Tee Jay’s invitation initially, not feeling sure I was prepared to dedicate that kind of time.

Laura M Kaminski, BOOK OF THE MISSING by Heidi Grunebaum…Praxis Magazine Online digital poetry chapbook

I’d been working on a poetry feature at Escape Into Life—of poems with birds in them—when the Audubon Society informed me, via Facebook, that we were coming up on National Wildlife Day, so why not celebrate with birds?! Happy National Wildlife Day! And Poetry Someday here in my blog. And Random Coinciday! (It’s fun to be blogging again!) (Where was I?!)(Oh, yeah.*)

Please enjoy Birds of a Feather: Poetry & Art at Escape Into Life! The flamingo painting you see here is by Ilya Zomb.

*I have been oddly busy in a number of different ways. I told you about walking in the Labor Day Parade, twice, and that was only this past Monday. Over the last few years, I have walked in many local parades and attended various meetings, vigils, rallies, and marches because OMG, I have to do something, right?! Writing poetry and submitting it got a little pushed to one side, but that’s started up again, as has my heart, and creativity pushed on me enough to put me back in a play or two. My body, again, had to do something.

Today I began walking the precinct again, collecting signatures (3) to run again as Democratic Precinct Committeeperson—to help get out the vote on March 17, 2020 and November 3, 2020. Hoping to help turn things around.

Kathleen Kirk, Birds of a Feather

Yes, submission season for poets has started in earnest, and I’ve been revising my two book manuscripts, and writing new poems, and gathering poems into groups for different journals. I’m also ready to start reading for real again – I mean, doesn’t September suggest the reading of serious literature, for things that make you think? What are you reading to get you in the mood for fall?

Thinking hard about where to send book manuscripts and which journals to send new poems. It reminds me of the birds showing their plumage and the flowers showing off their brightest color right before they disappear. We are all trying to get noticed, poets, birds, petals – an evolutionary imperative. I think that the last couple of years have given me more perspective, but also given me the desire to aim a little higher, work a little harder on making the poems and manuscripts the best they can be. When my brain is working, and I have energy, I have to remember to work during those times. With multiple sclerosis, you can’t take emotional or mental energy for granted.

There’s a certain amount of luck, chaos, and sheer force of will involved in sending out your work and getting published. Submitting poems during a thunderstorm seems somehow appropriate.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Writing from Inside the Thunderstorm, Fall Color, and Submission Season

Sometimes we will undoubtedly measure ourselves against others and fall short, but other times, as we see in sports and other competitions it will be inspiring, just the nudge we need to make it across the finish line.

Frankly, making a living from poetry is a rare accomplishment. Still there are professors of literature, song lyricists and even those who write for greeting card companies. it is not impossible, but also, I think, not a true measure of success.

Success in poetry may be far more elusive than in other fields. It is likely that more than half of Americans could not name the current poet laureate. So if fame is your criteria for success then perhaps you could consider being a fiction writer instead… But if one of your poems causes your audience to laugh out loud, or conversely, moves someone to tears, then you have succeeded. And if sitting down with your pen, and a blank page before you, words tumbling out, into stanzas, rhyme, free verse, cadence and chorus, if that excites and satisfies you then you are already a successful poet.

What Constitutes Poetic Success? – guest blog post by Kathy Lundy Derengowski (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’m in this place of doubt — not necessarily doubt about my work, but doubt about my ability to understand what in the work is working. And what isn’t. I know I’ve been here before. I know the mood has passed. I don’t know if I had discovered some way out of this fog, or whether it’s just time, and distraction. I’ve forgotten. I know I come back to two things: that time is the best editor; and that there is something at gut-level that knows things about my work. But when time and gut still says it likes a work that has been getting rejected for years? I know I’ve written in this very space about honing one’s own editorial sense. But can I really believe myself? I dunno.

Rational Self rolls her eyes.

The editing process takes inner calm, perspective, and confidence. This is especially true when it comes to “knowing” that something is ready to send out. My own process is too often to send stuff out too soon, get it back rejected, and suddenly see a new editing angle. But hey, it’s a process. But there are some times in which I just can’t muster up the guts to do good editing on my own work, or see it with a sufficiently cold eye. (And I do think there are some of my works that I’ll just never get perspective on. I’m just going to love their flawed selves and that’s it. I’ll tuck them into a manuscript somehow or incorporate them into a visual project maybe. But I won’t abandon them to my C-level folder! I won’t!)

A friend of mine who breeds and raises dogs talks about puppy panic periods: something a puppy did without fear a day before suddenly turns it into a whites-around-the-eyes, stiff-legged-no-way-I-ain’t-doin’-that trembling mess, and pretty soon pretty much everything freaks it out. The periods generally only last a few days, although the puppy might have another such period some time later in its development. I think I have puppy panic periods throughout my whole life. Different things set me off at different times (there are some things, of course, that set me off EVERY time). (Spider!) I think I must be in one now.

Marilyn McCabe, Down to the Crossroads; or, Confidence and the Editing Process

I’m doing final edits on my forthcoming poetry book, The State She’s In, this week. Hard work, but fun, too.
We have a launch date for the poetry book: March 17th, with prelaunch copies available at AWP!
Awesome! Terrifying!
This poetry book, my fifth full-length collection, feels like a big one.
Everything feels momentous right now. Cusp, limen, hinge.
My cat Ursula isn’t interested. She alternately sits on my neck, so I can’t type this post, and bites my toes, so I can’t type this post.
When my daughter was applying for policy jobs in D.C., she felt anxious about it. Understandable, I thought–what a transition!–but I also admit I felt impatient. What would be the next step in her life, and therefore in mine?
When she started applying for teaching jobs instead, her anxiety shifted to excitement. (Oh, I thought: it wasn’t just anxiety before, but inner struggle over a deeper uncertainty.) This Thursday, exactly one week after submitting her first four teaching applications, everything clicked. She was hired by a progressive preschool, a place that seems like a great fit for her–to start five days later. Double yikes.
Follow the excitement is a pretty good life motto. It’s certainly a good way to write. If a project feels bogged down, I try to pivot, play around, think about what would make it fun again.
Paychecks are important; doing useful work in the world is important. But the biggest question on my mind (besides, um, can I really meet all my obligations this school year?) is: how can I make these sad, hard, exhausting, exciting, whirlwind changes also, somehow, fun?

Lesley Wheeler, Work: 25 notions & reveries

When in crisis, I’m especially thankful for poetry. Writing poetry helps me to sit with my emotions and accept them and mull them over in a way I don’t know that I would without poetry. To set that darkness echoing…

One of the hospital psychologists, on her rounds stopping by patient rooms to make sure the parents aren’t suicidal (I think that is the main goal of the screening), I told her a little bit about my feelings of anxiety, especially at night, my heart beating so fast and the breathlessness, and she reassures me how normal it is, and said that having my children must help me. I had not thought of that but they certainly do–when I’m taking care of my girls, it is just next thing to next thing, no time to sift around in the mucky waters on the edges of the nihilistic abyss I tend to skirt when..well when these hospitalized babies tend to happen.

When I do want to wade a little deeper, I feel like poetry is a good way to do it–sort of a rope around the waist you can use to pull yourself back out. Not that I write any of this to cause anyone to worry about me–if I weren’t writing about it, then that might be cause for worry. But writing about it, for me, is sorting through it, categorizing, turning it over in my hands. And when I do that I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Renee Emerson, writing through it

Tony Harrison wrote that in the silence that surrounds all poetry
articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting’  .
I believe articulation is healing, a way to atonement and to being able to forgive yourself. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Articulation can be confessional, too. You can’t change the past; ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ simply make you spiritually ill. We know this, rationally, consciously, but living by it needs help. Two poets have given me that help. Clare Shaw’s credo “I do not believe in silence” and her unwavering frank gaze at her history of self-harm, and psychological disturbance gave me courage. As did Kim Moore’s decision to use poetry to deal with her experience of domestic abuse. And, finally, one moment in a writing class that Kim was running that somehow unlocked suppressed and unarticulated belief, guilt, knowledge. I remember I wept silently all the time I was writing. It only lasted five minutes, that task. But an insight, an acknowledgement takes only a moment no matter how long the process that leads up to it. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine says Prospero at the end. I think I understand the release he must have felt in that split second.

John Foggin, A loss you can’t imagine: young men and suicide

O Death, I have loved you,
but I have not slept with you.
Were you hiding there,
In the shadows on the landing?

Navy blue sky,
tornado slithering toward her
like a shearing train.

Anne Higgins, Hurricane Coming

The morning after you left I drew
the curtains on the seven-acre field.

Two hares were bowling through the stubble,
wind-blown, skidding like broken wheels.

They danced and sprung apart and danced again
and then were gone, beyond the tidemark

of the tree line.

Dick Jones, THE TIES THAT BIND

A few weeks ago I started to write a post about my resolve not to purchase any more fancy journals, because they were becoming a barrier to my writing for various reasons. Then I thought, “Ms. Typist, get real. Nobody wants to hear your inane fancy-journal theories,” and I scrapped the post. I had bought a plain, lined school notebook some time ago that I’ve been scribbling in, and my no-fancy-journal will power has been strong….up until Friday. Friday destroyed my last shred of resolve. I shall explain: Every quarter, I have an all-day, off-site meeting with my colleagues at the other hospitals who do the same job that I do. There’s only four of us throughout the system, so we have to stick together. We take turns hosting these little shindigs, in which we get together and eat lunch and talk about…business things. And sometimes there is shopping for…business purposes. My colleague who set this one up arranged to have us go to a wholesale art and gift outlet in the depths of the industrial district that the owner agreed to open by appointment just for us. I’m not really a big shop-for-pleasure person, and I didn’t need anything, but I thought it would be fun to look at jewelry and art and pretty things. 

What I did not expect were three huge aisles dedicated entirely to—you guessed it–fancy journals. Beautiful, shiny, sleek, artistic journals, some with gold leafing, and all at wholesale prices. At first I thought I was having a near-death experience and had drifted into a custom-designed heaven. Then I was certain it was a trap. This is how they were going to get me. They would lure me into a fancy-journal paradise and then, while I was too entranced by embossed leather to notice my surroundings, they would put the hood over my head and haul me off. I was stunned. As my colleagues roamed the kitchen-supply and handbag areas, I remained in the fancy-journal section, poring over one gorgeously-designed book after another and fighting down the mild panic that arose from having too many choices. As a warning, I texted Mr. Typist and told him that I could not be held responsible for my actions.

Kristen McHenry, Fancy-Journal Heaven, My Pound of Bacon, 80’s Flashback

I folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat the way my mother did when I was a child. If I made two more folds it would have become a boat, but I stop at the hat, and I place it on my head. Once upon a time, I did this to please my mother, so that she would know that I learned from her. Years later, I wore the hat to make children laugh. Now? My mother is gone and so are the children. In the silence of the house I wear the foolish hat, a hat made of folded newspaper. No one sees, no one laughs. Outside, the sound of a blue jay. It is a lonely sound. 

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘I folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat’

We were children in the years of Sunday drives, burning fossil fuels to tour the countryside and leave the city’s skyline, obscured in puce-yellow, lead-bearing smog, for tree-lined back roads and a picnic lunch. Sometimes over bridge, sometimes under the Hudson. Each crossing tested our bravery: fear of heights, of darkness. We had a song for the bridge which we sang while watching cables’ span. We were too small to see out the windows down to sailboats and barge traffic. The tunnel had no song. We hunched in the backseat, held hands, squeezed shut our eyes, expecting to drown. On the curved ascent in New Jersey my sister chose the house she wanted to live in—many-dormered, stone, with a round tower, it jutted over Weehawken. Once we’d learned to read, we realized it was the town library, which suited her imagined lifestyle. She would choose that even today, retire to a library and work part-time in a bookshop. She imagines I will join here there, perhaps I might.

Ann E. Michael, Prose poem, memoir

The other day, clouds began dripping from the sky. So did golden drops of sunshine and birds in mid-flight. It was like that Dali painting, only more than melting clocks. Condos, markets, and palm trees puddled in the streets. Ditto with the Hollywood sign and Angelyne’s pink Corvette. Drip by drip, drop by drop, I collected up all the slippity slops of my city into nearby buckets. My city was deconstructing quicker than I could reconstruct it. I worked faster; tried putting Echo Park back where Echo Park belonged, Venice where Venice belonged. I worked long into the night, determined to get my city back to the way it looked in my mind.

Rich Ferguson, Dali, California

I’m just back from a few days in Spain with my family.  I felt bad about flying, even though I haven’t flown since I went to Portugal in 2015.  I will try not to fly again for at least a year, maybe longer.  I haven’t signed up for the #flightfree2020 pledge but I am thinking about it.  Generally I’m thinking more and more about climate change and trying to take steps to make my own small contributions.   As Greta Thunberg says “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference.

A turning point, for me, was attending the Ginkgo Prize readings last year at Poetry in Aldeburgh, followed by increased news coverage of our planet’s climate crisis, actions by Greta Thunberg, the Magma‘s Climate Change Issue and Carol Ann Duffy’s selection of poems for our vanishing insect world. Yes, all these small actions have impacted on me.

But apart from the guilt about flying, it was lovely to be with my husband, Andrew, and our two children who are now 20 and 18.  We are rarely together any more.  Our daughter is going into her final year at university this autumn and our son is starting in September.  We will be empty nesters.

I took the latest issue of Under the Radar magazine with me and found it an ideal poolside companion.  The magazine has had a makeover and it’s looking splendid.

Josephine Corcoran, Mid-September Notes

I also read three wonderful poetry collections this month. The first was Deborah L. Davitt’s The Gates of Never, a beautifully accessible collection of poetry that explores and blends history, mythology, and magic with science and science fiction. These poems morph between being moving, irreverent, and erotic — a great collection of work. (I interviewed Davitt for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I’ll be able to share soon.)

little ditch by Melissa Eleftherion and The Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning by Michelle Scalise are two stunning poetry chapbooks. little ditch looks at the intersections between the body and the natural world in order to examine issues surrounding sexual abuse, rape culture, and internalized misogyny. Dragonfly is a beautiful exploration of the horrors of mourning and childhood abuse.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: August 2019

Further to last week’s post in which I mentioned about intending to record a poem for the Belfast Poetry Jukebox, I did indeed record one of my poems. I found the quietest time to make the recording was at midnight and the quietest place was in my walk-in wardrobe with its door closed. The street I live on is perpetually busy so around midnight is the point at which there can be 5 minutes of silence without a car or van driving past.

Then my parents visited this weekend and I asked them to set my combi boiler to do heat as well as hot water. In doing so I scuppered any chance of making a recording with as-close-to-silent level of background noise as possible. Downstairs the freezer has a perpetual hum. Upstairs the combi boiler constantly hums. There is nowhere I can record where one of those hums does not appear on the recording. Applying a noise reduction filter works to a degree, but tends to deaden the vibrancy of the sound.

We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky,
and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye.
(from Stories of the Street by Leonard Cohen on AZ Lyrics)

So I’m going to try taking my recording out onto the street at midnight! I’ll be away from the humming and, if I don’t read too loudly, I shouldn’t wake the neighbours! Of course, Sod’s law says it’ll be raining so that’d scupper a silent background noise, but maybe the circumstances will come together :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry of the street

“Some beetle trilling its midnight utterance.” 

Beetle song opens Denise Levertov’s “Continuum,” a poem of late-summer return.  Returns can be precarious transitions…maybe you’re like me, having come back home with a certain euphoria, having recalibrated by quieting the melancholy news junkie part of self.  I’d been lucky enough to overhear in my own voice too much cynicism and slid off that lid.  In doing so, I unleashed a new creative flow.

Levertov continues:
I recall how each year/returning from voyages, flights/over sundown snowpeaks/cities crouched over darkening lakes/hamlets of wood and smoke, I feel…

Even the feeling part is confusing.  Does your whole self come back?  Does part of self get shut down amidst the weight of “reality?”  Is the conversation with self still audible? 

Using a September metaphor, strands of our reality seem to swing like hammacks strung between tall trees. One loose strand is the reality TV show of Donald Trump trying to steer weather according to his whims. Serena Williams as falling hero. There is real suffering in the catastrophe of the Bahamas which demands an open heart.  

How can we hold values of openness and maintain the pole of poetic value?  It’s a tricky challenge that requires ongoing practice and community involvements. I’d also posit querying and challenging the self — but don’t take my example of insomnia, with long sessions of inter-self conversation.

Jill Pearlman, Continuum

See how he keeps
pointing at things,
they say.

See how things
keep pointing back,
he responds.

It is not
enough to see,
he says.

We must also
be seen
to understand.

Tom Montag, SEEING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 34

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 bloggers returning from vacation, looking for ways to resume creative or other work, and reacting to the increasingly dire world news, among other things. And three or four people who haven’t blogged in a while were posting again, which is always a good sign.


I’m off in the Austrian Alps for a couple weeks on vacation. It’s beautiful. Before I left a number of people asked ‘where do you go on vacation when you live in paradise?’ I know Barcelona has a lot going for it but I am much more a mountain than a sea person. And any city eventually leaves you begging for a break. In the Alps, even when the slopes are slurried in cloud it looks like heaven. We rented a house in a quiet area with views in every direction. I wouldn’t call it a village, there are so few homes around. This morning there’s a thick fog that lets only the outline of trees and mountaintop show through, and it’s a mercy.

I’ve been reading Jeff Vandermeer’s “Borne,” but otherwise packed a pile of books I haven’t touched. With departure set for Friday, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Though I’ve left work-work behind, I’m trying to write an introduction for my book in the form of an artist’s statement. Help! And I’m trying to design the cover. It’s wonderful that I get to do it myself. I do hope it turns out alright.

Sarah Sloat, Merciful fog

Okay, I know I should have gone back to typing up my novel as soon as we got home, but coming back off holiday to sit down at the laptop … well, it just didn’t appeal. We’ve had a lovely time camping in Norfolk, avoiding most of the bad weather that has affected other areas, and dealing with it when it affected us! We don’t use a mobile. We don’t take the tablet or the laptop with us. We don’t have an electric hook-up. It’s back to basics and I love it.

So, on our return I was browsing through an old novel, looking for a phrase to kick start something, when I came across It was a strange collection. It seemed to take hold, but not in terms of generating new writing. Instead, it led me to create the mixed media piece above. Somehow, it’s so much easier to take time making beautiful things like this than to tackle the hard work of writing. Also, I know that when writing feels like hard work, it’s not usually very good. So, I’ll content myself with having created this assemblage over the last few days – and it has pretty much taken up every day, I can tell you. All the items I’ve used are found objects, and the tray is one I’ve recycled (and painted and collaged). Oh, the joy of small things! [Click through to view.]

Julie Mellor, It was a strange collection …

You mention that these are primarily hybrid pieces. How do you define hybrid writing? 

I think of hybrid writing as an octopus in a glass jar, it’s a piece of living lyric text temporarily housed in a trojan horse mechanic, borrowed from other modes of writing in order to surprise, or delight, or make the heart of the poem beat visibly. The octopus can unscrew the lid from the inside, so the reader knows the structure is only temporary. It’s a matter of how soon it will happen, how cleverly she maneuvers, how beautiful her escape. It’s a kind of transcendence.

How do you decide which form to use when you approach a new piece of poetry or prose?

Usually it’s a matter of noticing where the piece seems to want to go. It was easy with the Field Guides, because the structure helped highlight the very particular habitat where I grew up — not just the physical place, but the emotional/impossible to really catalog grandparentland. I naturally veer towards cataloging, even though I hated that part of library school. At the time I despaired of finding the right “weight” to give each subject heading, but the great thing about poetry is how much you can/should trust the reader to gather meaning. As with any poetic form, if the structure I’m using doesn’t add to the meaning of the poem, or is too distracting, I revise it back out. Sometimes I’ve put a piece in hybrid form, and realized it was more of a brain teaser than a poem. It’s like a dropped stitch in knitting. The whole thing has to be remade or the work could unravel.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Sarah Ann Winn on reclaimed fairy tales and the octopus in the jar

I’m drawing: small charcoals that would like to become big ones. This work feels like my bastion against what’s going on in the world: this week we’ve heard about an Icelandic funeral for their first glacier to disappear; the forest fires in Brazil, devastating the rain forest, the lungs of our planet; and the insulting suggestion of buying Greenland, which may in fact be exploited in the future by the U.S. or Russia. The heat and the extreme weather in many parts of the world this summer are part of all of this.

But underpinning these catastrophes are the male aggressiveness, bravado, greed, competitiveness, and desire for domination at all costs that have driven our world since the beginning. I feel like I’ve been in mourning all summer. In July I re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in which he despairs about the human carnage and destruction caused by the Napoleonic wars, showing us, through masterful depictions of human lives, how characters of differing personalities deal with being caught up in war. I followed that with Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay on Tolstoy’s theories of history, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” I’ve also been thinking deeply about the Iliad, and Susan Sontag’s essay about it titled “The Poem of Force,” as I draw and paint places where the ancient Greeks once lived. My thoughts are starting to coalesce.

Beth Adams, Nonviolence

Bolsonaro sets fire to us all and Koch is dead: Taiga,
my Taiga is burning bright. Here Trump calls himself
the King of the Jews and how I said it was coming—
so many of us said this was all coming. Memory slips,
and time, too: witches are not well-moored in time
and my mothers grieve their own slide while feeding me
steak I eat with full knowledge, tears pressing the back
of my throat. The Inquisition burns.

JJS, August 2019: burning

Like blood on the hands of a policeman, like the screams of a beaten prisoner; a cat cries out in the night. It is the sound of my life spreading out in the darkness. It is the sound that says, “Now. At last” I cannot swallow midnight with my mouth bound by a gag. I cannot breathe from behind this choke-hold. The cat cries out again and again. The night drags on like a jail sentence.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Like blood on the hands of a policeman’

In the depths of despair, it’s tempting to think of all the writing rejections as the whale that tells us that we’ve taken the wrong direction.  But the life of the prophet reminds us that failure is part of the process–and the life of Jonah reminds us that even when we get with the program, when people accept us, we might still pout.

Jungian psychologists would not be surprised by this process.  One of the ideas that I found most comforting from our recent journaling time is that our culture tells us that as we get older, life should get easier because we’ve got it all figured out–but that’s not the way it is at all.  Failure is part of the process.

To be called to be oneself in one’s historical moment is never easy–even though we look at the life of the great humans and think they always knew exactly where they were going.  But it’s the essential task of every human.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Whale and the Ticket

Drive all night if you need to across these united states of change. Never mind the speed or distance to get to where you’re going. Leave all hates, all seizing fears and sorrows in the rearview mirror. Pedal to the metal until everything is spiraling and miraculous, the whole of nature arranged in a brilliant golden ratio. When you reach sunrise, it’ll be as blazing and beautiful as a congregation of Mojave angels. Don’t let off the gas. Drive faster, abandon darkness, propel deeper into day. Quench your craving for light in the authentic air.

Rich Ferguson, United States of Change

Here is something I read in The Guardian: an article about the work of David Shariatmadari about language. The article said, summarizing some of what Shariatmadari is thinking: Language is “a medium that is formed as it is used…a road that is paved at the same time as we walk it.”

I think of the Antonio Machado quote: “Caminante, no hay camino,/se hace camino al andar” which I’ve seen translated in many wonderful ways, but is roughly, “Walker, there is no way, the way is made by walking.”

I write and in writing, if I’m open enough, I can learn what I’m thinking and why, and then I can write toward writing it. I speak and in speaking stumble over all the ways to miscommunicate, to hurt inadvertently, to confuse, to be thoughtless, or to be thoughtful, to be funny, insightful, or astoundingly dumb, and go on to speak again, ideally having learned something (to hold my tongue, perhaps). […]

I have a literary crush on Robert MacFarlane. His prose unscrolls and rolls in wonderful rhythms and sound. I am now reading The Old Ways, his book of walking ancient paths. Here he is thinking about the word landscape. “Landscape is still often understood as a noun connoting fixity, scenery, and immobile painterly decorum. I prefer to think of the word as a noun containing a hidden verb: landscape scapes, it is dynamic and commotion causing, it sculpts and shapes us not only over the courses of our lives but also instant by instant, incident by incident.”

Marilyn McCabe, Talk Amongst Yourselves; or, Language and Learning, Words and Way

Sudden hawk.
A universe

opens
in its flash.

Another
closes.

You hold
your breath.

Tom Montag, SUDDEN HAWK

I wasn’t expecting this to be the type of summer that got one big end-of-season post, but here we are. Even if one experiences a temporarily happy moment these days, coming to social media–and a shared news cycle–tells us that things are very much awry in the world, and in particular in the United States. How do we use these spaces we’ve created? For affirmation? For protest? For the quotidian? We struggle, in the moment, whether we should use them at all. Sometimes it is all we can do to shut up, and to take in the changing colors of the water around us. 

This was a small-scale summer, which I needed after beginning the year in Ireland. I traveled to Tampa for teaching; my husband and I did an overnight getaway to Charlottesville, stopping off to visit Virginia Center for Creative Arts in tandem; and I just returned from running a few seminars in Delaware, as part of the Lewes Creative Writers’ Conference. Otherwise I stayed very much anchored to home. […]

I’ve been planting things. That is partially a literal observation–I’ve redone all the succulents inside the house, and I’ve flipped many of the patio containers that get challenged by the brightest of suns and the strongest of winds and, on the 9th floor, a lack of natural pollinators. They are hanging in thanks to daily watering. 

The planting has been going on figuratively, too. I am leaving the summer with a nonfiction manuscript of lyric essays in hand, as the wheels turn on the next poetry collection. The fall is teeming with teaching responsibilities.

Sandra Beasley, August, August

I cannot recall ever assisting her with canning; but from the time I was a very small child, I would sit beside her on a wooden bench or chair and “help” her shell peas or snap the ends from green beans. I suppose I prattled to her, because I recall her distracted “Mmmm Hmmm” responses. After awhile, however, I’d get quiet and daydreamy just opening the green pods and slipping the fresh, round peas out with my finger over and over, listening to the plunk as they dropped into the bowl in my lap. It was soothing.
~
I remembered that long-ago activity today as I shelled black beans from their dry, tan husks: two or three pounds of them! My shelling created a crackly noise that intrigued our kitten, who has otherwise been drowsy from the heat. I’ve been freezing green beans, cooking tomato sauce, and harvesting pears and black beans for days in the humid August heat–but not non-stop (I have a day job, and the students have returned to campus!).

So for me, the potential boredom of the repetitive task gets replaced by a rather Zen attitude. Be here now, shelling the beans, stirring the pear butter. Appreciate bounty and what the earth has given us. Remember childhood. Daydream awhile. Think about poems.
~
In this case, repetition means abundance. New poems as autumn arrives.

Ann E. Michael, Repetition

I’m feeling a little guilty for not keeping up with this space, but now that I’m settled I have the time. So I’m planning on posting weekly. My guilt is outweighed by having an astounding spring book tour! I went to places I really wanted to go, and not a dud in the bunch. I had fun everywhere I went. There were a few venues not on the tour originally, such a a visit to Nigeria (!) and the Salem Poetry Seminar/Salem Arts Fest.

Reader, I have to tell you, I am shocked I was able to do so many events this spring. Couldn’t do it without lots of help at home, and two understanding children.

I said yes to almost everything. I made it work. 😉

This past weekend we were at the Mississippi Book Festival, and while my books never showed up, we had a terrific time at the event.

Now I’m at this residency for nine months, and next week teaching MFA students. This glorious, beautiful space. The hope is to have a book or two finished by the end of my time. I’m feeling quite lucky and blessed these little poems continue to take me where I least expect it.

January Gill O’Neil, Proof of Life

Summers are usually my time for letting work lie fallow. Summers are for hanging out with my kids. Summers are for family trips and family reunions. Summers are for swimming in really cold water. Summers are for campfires and marshmallows flaming at the end of pointy sticks.

Then, every year, inevitably, summer begins to draw to an end. Lately a few of my friends have remarked on their sense of fall already in the air, but this morning was the first morning I really noticed it for myself. It wasn’t raining this morning, the sky was blue. But there was a nip in the air. I turned on the heater in my cabin (just for a minute!) before I settled down to write. On my forest walk, I picked up a scarlet leaf.

This year is also, I remarked to my husband, the first late summer of many (since 1998!) that we have not been sending one of our own children off to school. No new paper or pens, no new backbacks, no pleading (from already fully kitted-out daughters) for “new school clothes.”

Maybe you’re the sort of person who greedily jumps straight back into a writing project, without hesitation. But if you, like me, have some difficulty re-entering a project (for me, it’s more like having to carve my own battering ram and then break down the door), here are 17 suggestions: [Click through to read them.]

Bethany Reid, 17 Ways to Break Back into Your Writing Project

Happy to have my new review of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s excellent and timely Tsunami vs the Fukushima 50 up at The Rumpus today. Check it out! Sneak peek:

“In Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50, a book that crackles with imaginative language and mythological retellings that represent real-life disaster, Roripaugh offers the audience a new way to think about nuclear and natural disasters and the remnants and ghosts that remain in their wake. Worth a close reading just for the sonic skills displayed, this book manages to weave a larger message for the reader inside poems that are at once playful, plaintive, and foreboding.”

[…]

The fun of having a kind of crappy immune system is that one day you feel fine – see above re: socializing, and the picture of me enjoying some sunshine and flowers at the edge of Lake Washington – and the next, you’ll have to cancel all your appointments and are forced to take some unexpected downtime and go to the doctor instead of doing something “useful.” That was the case for me this week when I caught one of the stomach bugs going around. Mostly it meant lying around groaning (I’m not good with stomach stuff, though I’m pretty tough at this point about most health things) and extra sleep while playing classic movies in the background (the news was much too terrible to contemplate even on a very empty stomach) and it reminded me again that we have to appreciate the good days when they happen, and be gentle on ourselves on the bad days. I used the downtime to order a new Yoko Ogawa novel and peruse some poetry journals which had been lying next to the bed, and decide to grade Audrey Hepburn movies from best to worst (My favorites remain Sabrina and Paris When It Sizzles because writer satire on the latter and Paris featuring in both, plus I would definitely date William Holden and marry Humphrey Bogart.) Funny Face is a distant third, only because Fred Astaire just didn’t seem to have good chemistry with Audrey, but at least it has some nice scenes in a bookstore.

Our society really pounds in the point that we’re only to be valued if we are of use, and that is a negative lesson. Human beings – including myself – have value even if they’re not being “productive” or “turning a profit” or “making widgets.” One thing poetry does is teach people to slow down and evaluate their world (and worldview.) If the news says the world is burning, it may be, and what does that mean? And what can we do about it? That’s why the kind of poetry book I reviewed (link at the beginning of the post) is important – not just that it examines a huge cultural and environmental catastrophe of our time, but that it really makes us thing hard about why these things happen and how we are involved. And maybe even more valuable than the things you plan to do is the unplanned downtime that gives you time to ponder. Even if that downtime is the kind that leaves you moaning in bed.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My New Review up on The Rumpus, Spending Time with Poet Friends, and Unexpected Downtime

In your last years
you joined the ranks
of little old ladies

who let the beauty shop
wash and style.
Like your mother used to.

I always thought
they needed the bowl dryers
to set their curls.

I never understood
it was because arms
couldn’t reach anymore, or

ports or open wounds
couldn’t safely handle
the sluice of a shower.

I’d give anything
to talk over the hum
of your blowdryer again.

Rachel Barenblat, Hair

leaning on his stick of sorrows
the shadow-man old as Earth
waits for the bus

listening to your ear
I hear rain creating a canopy
for Mendelssohn

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Midsummer Scene /Midsommerscene

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poetry bloggers seemed to be channeling the general unease of the political moment and the restlessness of the soon-to-change season. There was an elegiac mood to many of the posts I read, but there were still flashes of humor, and as Sarah Stockton observed, creativity is a potent antidote to futility.


First was this from 1984: “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.” In 1984 not only is history rewritten daily but language itself is being narrowed, and as language narrowed, thought itself stultified. Thinking and language is, for us, our wag-tongued species, inextricable. “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”

I have always loved words, even as a little tiny kid would leaf through a book on the family shelf called How to Build a Better Vocabulary. Words were as magic as magic, and as delightful in the mouth as chocolate chip cookies, as cake with candles. And I can almost remember a visceral sense of my mind expanding as I encountered new words that struck me, words that opening up new worlds, new ways of thinking.

I just read Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks, a wonderful book about books and words, specifically words of regional dialect that describe things specific to regional experiences: how the fog creeps across the moor, the way certain rock formations sparkle, how the regular passage of a small animal through a hedge creates a hole. Worlds and worlds, words and worlds.

Marilyn McCabe, You Can Leave Your Hat On; or, Rethinking Writing and Editing

Shelter is always a two-way street, turning on the hinge of hospitality/prison.  In the ancient world, Greek hospitality served the purpose of putting the wandering stranger under control.  So it was in 1939 when the Spanish and Catalan Republicans fled Franco’s conquest and thought they were coming to a friendly country.  But the country wasn’t friendly.  It treated the wretched refugees whose numbers and socialist ideas were threatening, with lack of food, water and medical help.  So it was with Jews who thought they were fleeing from Germany and other countries to a safe zone, “free France.”  They were housed in Rivesaltes barracks “safely” until Vichy cut a deal with Nazis to keep their territory soldier free and delivered 2,251 Jews to Drancy and eventually to Auschwitz.  (Another half were helped to escape.)  Gypsies were brought from the north of France and detained as undesirables.  

The list goes on with successions of needs of a state’s questionable history – Algerians who fought for the French became hot potatoes, wanted nowhere, not thanked for their help, housed here until society repositioned them.

Rivesaltes also rings bells as the site of the Perignan airport – a small, Lego-like structure which is the windiest airport in France.  Riversaltes also the name of a wonderful sweet wine.  Oh, the multivalence of words!  Shelter, internment camps, hospitality centers, and all these hedgings speak of the uncertainties, fissures and failures of society to rest, humanely, with the familiar other. 

Jill Pearlman, Refugees: The Tragedy of Frenemies

“Admit that Mexico is your double, that she exists in the shadow of this country, that we are irrevocably tied to her. Gringo, accept the doppelganger in your psyche. By taking back your collective shadow the intracultural split will heal.” (page 108)

“This land was Mexican once/ was Indian always/ and is./ And will be again.” (page 113)

“So this is what happened to someone living at the border like me: My ancestors have always lived with the land here in Texas. My indigenous ancestors go back twenty to twenty-five thousand years and that is how old I am in this country. My Spanish ancestors have been in this land since the European takeover which pulled migration from Spain to Mexico. Texas was part of a Mexican state called Tamaulipas. And Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and part of California and Colorado, were part of the northern section of Mexico. It was almost half of Mexico that the U.S. cheated Mexico out of when they bought it by the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. By doing so they created the borderlands.” (Interview, page 274)

The above quotes are from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Fourth Edition. The book was first published in 1987; I encountered it a couple of years later, in graduate school, although I can no longer find my first copy. I’ve been meaning to reread it, because I’m advising a senior who wants to make it part of her thesis next year.

This was definitely the week. I’m sickened by U.S. gun violence and epidemic hatred without having a new or insightful word to say about them, but it felt just slightly sanity-restoring to spend time with Anzaldúa. After all, how can there be a “Hispanic invasion,” as the Texas shooter alleged, in a place to which the U.S. government has only the most recent and most dubious of many claims? Aside from the book’s reminders about history, it’s also big-hearted and wise and full of insights about language, culture, queerness, trauma, depression, artistic process, sacredness, and dreams. Plus, I loved remembering my twenty-something astonishment at its hybrid of prose and poetry: holy shit, you can do that?!

Lesley Wheeler, A slightly terrifying amount of reading

If you’re ever stuck for something to do with a damaged book, try cutting up some of the text and interspersing it with a couple of other sources to create a found poem. [Click through to view an example. —Dave]

Julie Mellor, The Observer’s Book of Birds

I’m re-sharing some of my collage poems from the recent past.  These were written for an Instagram competition (#aquietpassionpoetrycompetition) run by The Poetry School and Soda Pictures (‘A Quiet Passion’ was their biopic of Emily Dickinson released two years ago).  The judges stated that they wanted to see “poems which use the concentrated visual qualities of an Instagram post to deliver a punch as strong as an Emily Dickinson line.” [Click through to view the collages.]

Josephine Corcoran, Collage Poems

Years ago, my aunt gave me a stack of cool  victorian cabinet cards she’d been sent from relatives in Nebraska, where she and my mother were born. There were some young pics of my grandmother in the 20’s and 30’s among them, but most of the people were unrecognizeable and unknown..maybe a trace of resemblance at most–a set of brow, a curve of lip that echoed through my great grandmother, but little else.  She gave them to be to do “something artsy”  and they eventually, without their actual heads, became he unusual creatures pieces. At first,  I debated collageing on the photos themselves.  On one hand, it would ruin them. On the other, no one much cared, least of all my aunt..The originals, tucked somewhere in my studio even now, will one day be inconsequential to whoever stumbles across them. I wound up reproducing them on cardstock and then working with them.  But it scarce matters. Ultimately, they’ll ed up in the trash sooner or later.

The strange thing about being childless I suppose is knowing that my legacy, whatever that is, dies with me. Some day, I’ll grow old and die and people, probably strangers, will throw the bulk of my things in the trash –the poems, the artwork, the random bits of my life I’ve collected.  This makes me hurt. it makes me heavy in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. My dad & sister were pretty quick about dealing with my mother’s things after her death–alarmingly so, but it was probably necessary mental health-wise–the closet full of clothes, her jewelry box, a linen closet stuffed with half  burnt candles and semi-filled bottles of lotion.  Her presence is still very real in the house–the art she chose for the walls, the furniture, the photos, her dishes. .  But at the same time, she is also more absent–and in a way that has nothing to do with her physically missing.  But who can hold on to ghosts?  Or maybe ghosts are all we have?

Kristy Bowen, detritus

Not sure what I fear more:
that your house will feel the same
or that it won’t. The wheelchair
and hospital machines will be gone, but

the books in the library will still
be arranged by color, abstract
modern art constructed from their spines’
gradations. The heavy crystal bowls

of roasted nuts for cocktail hour
will still adorn the living room
where you used to hold court with
vodka soda and lime in hand, where

you let us take a family photo
that last Shabbat. I was shocked
you let us bring out the camera:
your hair was wild, unwashed.

You smiled as though nothing hurt.

Rachel Barenblat, Return

I said that her poem ‘unnerves and confronts’; I think I should qualify that. It’s not confrontational, it doesn’t insist. What Ann Gray does is to look unwaveringingly at her own trauma. There are three key verbs. I wanted. I was afraid. I watched. While she stands by the body of the man she loves the morgue attendant watched me through the window. He’s separated from the human story by glass, and by his bureaucratic routine that demands she uses the official, distancing, dehumanising formula
“He said take as long as you want, but he watched me
through a window and everything I wanted seemed
undignified and hopeless”
Meanwhile, what she ‘wants’ is to touch, and to touch passionately, but she’s afraid to hurt this man who can never hurt again. He’s gone, essentially, and separate. It makes me think of the agony of the dead miner’s wife in Lawrence’s ‘Odor of crysanthemums’. It’s this absolute honesty that told me I want to read and hear more and more of Ann Gray. So we will.

John Foggin, Poetry that really matters: Ann Gray (Part Two)

As writers, we are not limited by the boxes we fit into or those we don’t. The pot of opportunities does not have to be finite if we’re willing to push ourselves and try new things. More jobs can be created, more books published, more awards, grants and residencies offered if a greater interest is shown by poets, poetry readers and book buyers. If you don’t exactly fit the brief, be brave and try anyway. Always follow the guidelines and ask if you have any uncertainties, of course, but sometimes you might be the unexpected that gets noticed because you’ve approached things a little differently.

Gerry Stewart, Taking Yourself Out of the Box

Don’t build. Just find intact
(albeit cracked and leaky)
a house that’s there already,

one that’s rooted
firm and knows its skin;
that’s free of pain

and ghosts, with trees
and half-forgotten gardens,
mossy cold-frames, twisted

vines and sudden sundials
in the long, uncultivated
grass. Then let us blow

like puffball parachutes
in a random wind,
the achene fruit

that falls and germinates
when and where
it will.

Dick Jones, How to Build a School

You will study the maps,
make a plan, pack
the right clothes, only to find
yourself in a different country,
the one you didn’t know
you needed to explore.

It is here you find the answers
to the unspoken questions.
Here is the journal written
in a language you can’t understand.
Here the box of letters
written between two souls
you do not know.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer Publications

I took a bunch of pictures of roses at twilight with a flash, and got really interesting results. The best nature picture we got was this great blue heron at the penguin exhibit, and we got a flyby by a bald eagle on the way in to the zoo, too. There’s also a patch of wildflowers inside the raptor exhibit. We also had a close encounter in our own driveway with a great horned owl, which hooted at us with much urgency from a neighbor’s pine tree! Too bad no picture of that guy – it was definitely too dark by then. The garden smelled amazing at night – something beyond the roses must be a night-bloomer. The rose garden, usually almost done by August, was still in full bloom thanks to the little bits of rain we’ve gotten this August, in between the wildfire smoke and blazing hot days we’ve been having. Like the garden, in August, I’m definitely better at nighttime, out of the sun. Glenn always jokes that I’m really a vampire (I am allergic to garlic, the sun, and hate mornings) but there is something – biorhythms? poetness? – I am always at my best after dark.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry News in August, Fiolet & Wing and Poetry Prompts Contributor Copies, and Night Zoos, Birds, and Roses

Night. A waxing half-moon over the Sacramento Valley. 2 AM, nearly moonset. Somewhere close by, a great-horned owl announces its territory. Perhaps it is declaring its life, its joy, as in, “I’m here. I’m alive.” At my desk by the open window, I wait a moment, and the owl calls again. “I’m here, too, my friend.” I say it aloud in the dark room, but the words only fall to the floor and lay there like frightened puppies.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Night. A waxing half-moon over…’

Wagging is an art.
Dogs do it well with their tails.
You don’t have a tail, one would hope,
so a finger must do.
Wagging with any other
body part will get you in trouble.

And last but not least, what’s at stake.
Who gets the prize, takes
home the spoils, writes the poem.
Who’s crowned and whose
head must fall. Hint:
too often it’s one and the same.
In other words, you.

Romana Iorga, Finger-wagging

When I was younger I thought writer’s block was a lack of will, a kind of cowardice even, certainly my fault in some character defect kind of way. Now, after some long years of learning not to judge myself so hard, I experience writer’s block as something else- the body, mind and spirit telling me there is not enough, right now, to give. Just that. No judgement, no blame, just self-compassion, although there is still plenty of sorrow at times, and a kind of existential loneliness.

There’s another kind of writer’s block though: adversary-silencing.  This has its own pain scale, from Enthusiasm to Despair. Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring to silence the voices of compassion and kindness. The voices of vision and hope, of calls for reparation and change.  It’s shaming and discouraging and the most toxic of all, it can contribute to our own internal silencing. On days when I’m ok physically, I can still stop myself from writing a poem, or an essay, because who am I to say anything at all, or  it has all been said, or what I write will be wrong or worse of all, no one will ever care whether I write or not.  This is a mindset brought on by the assaultive effects of bullying, gaslighting, and fear. And the outcome is soul hurt and mental pain.

Yet, because at this point in my life I finally have the time, the means, and the luxury to spend my energy on more than the basics of survival (as so, so many do not), I must evolve beyond the comforts of privilege I might prefer to cling to. Push past the silencing effects of mental, physical, and emotional violence happening on so many levels in our country, in our world. Sometimes that means being justly and painfully held accountable for what I believe and say (thank you especially, wise millennials, for teaching me so much). We (and by we, I mostly mean white people) are rightly  being called to change at this crucial time in our human community. We all suffer when we let complacency or even despair, kill our gift of creativity.

Creativity, when practiced with a good heart, is a potent catalyst for change, no matter who is doing the work, or who the gatekeepers are, or who is sanctifying it. Creativity is a potent antidote to futility. That is something we can bring to the world, that is how we keep going, and that is how we can find a way to persevere and even to laugh sometimes in the face of the reductive absurdity of white privilege and fear; ours, or someone else’s. Creativity, at its best, seeks to alleviate suffering and to free all of us. So at least for today, I will take a minute to locate myself on the pain scale, even if I am so far up the scale that all I can do is think about what I might write if I had the energy to do so. Or perhaps I can’t think at all, but can just be a part of all creation. That’s ok too. I will at least try to remember to bow with respect to my own and the world’s beautiful and powerful resilience, and go on.

Sarah Stockton, The Energy Scale of Creativity

The blessing
of this poem,
he said, is

when it’s done
it stays done.

Tom Montag, THE BLESSING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 31

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, lamentation and celebration—like every week, I suppose, only thrown into sharper relief by current events. But mostly the joy of reading and writing poems.


America is now a map of lies, a map of bigotry. Perhaps it always was, and I just didn’t see it. It is easier to buy a gun than it is to find a safe place to live. If you hate the right people, the bulk of the population will love you; your hatred will be admirable, like an achievement. If you hate the right people, the brown ones, the map of lies will unfold at your feet. At last you will have a place to go where hate is love, where servitude is equality. The collective hatred and bigotry will take on the shape of hot air balloon to lift the true believers up to their make-believe heaven.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘America is now a map of lies’

I’ve curated a new prayer for Tisha b’Av that interweaves quotes from Lamentations with quotes from migrants and refugees on the United States’ southern border today. In reading the prayer aloud, we put the words of refugees — parents separated from their children; children separated from their parents; human beings suffering in atrocious conditions — into our own mouths. May hearing ourselves speak these words galvanize us to action.

Here’s a taste:

They told me, ‘you don’t have any rights here,
and you don’t have any rights to stay with your son.’

I died at that moment. They ripped my heart out of me.
For me, it would have been better if I had dropped dead.

For me, the world ended at that point.
How can a mother not have the right to be with her son?…

The prayer is online (and also available as a downloadable PDF) at Bayit‘s Builders Blog, and you can find it here: Lamentations (Then and Now).

Rachel Barenblat, A new prayer for Tisha b’Av

This poem [“Your Body” by Ann Gray] confronts and unnerves because, unlike the Victorians, we have removed ourselves from physical contact with the dead. Some of their customs persisted into the 1950s. As a child I was shocked when a classmate of mine in Primary School, Geoffrey Brooke, died of meningitis (none of us knew what that was; just that it was frightening, that it could visit any of us). More shocked when his mother invited us, his 8 and 9 year old classmates, to come and see him laid out in his coffin in the single downstairs room of their terrace house. When it came to it, I stayed outside. Some of my friends went in, and when they came out they would say nothing about it. Not then, and not later.

When my dad died, and years later, my mother, they were whisked away before I could see them. They vanished.

I wonder what I ever made of Sassoon’s line from The Dugout
You are too young to fall asleep forever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

It was just an idea, a notion. I think we too often persuade ourselves we understand. Unlike Hamlet, we are happy to conflate sleep and death and leave it there.

Which is why I need poems like Your body. One of my sons committed suicide by jumping from a high rise block of flats. The police told me that I wouldn’t want to see him, and I was too stunned to argue. I have no idea who identified him, or how, but it wasn’t his mother, or me. We couldn’t have a funeral until a long-postponed inquest was over, and his body was released. In his coffin, only his face was visible. His face was like the death mask of a beautiful stranger. It was unmarked, and he really did seem unnaturally asleep. I kissed him, but he didn’t wake.

Years later I had to go with my partner to identify the body of her ex-husband in the morgue in Wakefield. It was so bizarre, so unreal, like a piece of theatrical still life. I thought I would never find words for it and maybe I shouldn’t try. Now I know I was wrong in that, as in so many things, because of this lovely, tender, terrible, astonishing poem. 

John Foggin, Poetry that really matters: Ann Gray [Part One]

We text. She sends me Poké gifts,
and I say thank you. She says for what, and I flash
my phone so she can see we’re both in the same app.
We roll our eyes at the same time. We drip. We drift.
We cheered the drag queens, hot sun on glitter and sequins.
Drag queens still dance, music pounds, but us? We are done.

PF Anderson, After Performing at Pride

There are so many magazine and literary journals out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to not know where to start. For me, Twitter is a great place to discover new poems, poets, and journals I want to follow. Here are a few poems I read recently and loved. And yes, I discovered all of them via Twitter.

“People call her Bride of. The Bride of. Of this broken man
who made a broken man from parts of broken men.”
~ from The Bride of Frankenstein Considers Her Options by Meghan Phillips, published by Strange Horizons

” —& so i am learning to call unpleasant histories by their real names—such as what i demand of love—and that i used to be a boy—to think that if this body was a prison what happened when i escaped”
~ from If the Body is a Prison-House Where is the Warden I Have Some Complaints About the Plumbing by Danielle Rose, published by Third Point Press

” In other news, this is the top. Weep for what little things
would make them jealous. I publish a poem”
~ from In Which I Am Accused of Sleeping My Way to the Top by Jill McDonough, published by The Threepenny Review

Courtney LeBlanc, A Few More Poems I Love

Away from my normal routines for ten days in Portugal, I looked at Twitter occasionally and kept seeing references to “that essay” by poet Bob Hicok. I’ll scout it out later, I thought, first busy with the MLA International Symposium in Lisbon; then laid up in my hotel room with a stomach bug; and finally traipsing around Porto, making up for lost time and calories. I arrived home late this Thursday, and catching up with other people and tasks seemed more important. Scrolling through social media Saturday morning, though, I saw a smart set of questions Paisley Rekdal had posted in response to the piece, along with a link to the essay itself (which had been a little hard to find–people clearly don’t want to promote it). Okay, okay, FINE, I grumbled, brewed another pot of chai, and read it.

The essay isn’t good, no matter what you think of the argument. It belabors its point, which is basically that Hicok is “dying as a poet” (meaning, apparently, not attracting as many readers as he used to), and while it’s good, he concedes, that writers who are not “straight white men” like him are now getting attention, and he’s grateful to have had a good run, he’s sad to lose the limelight. If a writer-friend had told me this privately, over drinks, I would have felt embarrassed for him–listen to yourself, dude! Literature is not a zero-sum game, and nobody has taken your micro-celebrity away from you! I suppose it’s useful, though, that someone has voiced all this in print. I know other people think similarly: I’ve heard the asides, and seen the facial expressions, by white writers of various ages and genders, although whenever I’ve sensed a lament like this emerging in my company, I’ve either cut it short or walked away. […]

It is certainly true that while there are more presses and contests than ever before, there’s now a larger pool of people competing for them, as well as a real hunger from readers for stories and poems from less-familiar perspectives. I’m one of those readers, and I’m very glad publishing is more inclusive than it used to be–I hope the trend continues, and as poetry editor of Shenandoah, I try to help it along. Such richness benefits everyone who cares about literature. It’s also true that I’m striving, meanwhile, for my own foothold in the scene, and I get sad about the difficulty of that sometimes. What I keep coming back to: the only way to stay sane is to make sure your writing is urgent, well-crafted stuff, and to use whatever space and advantages you have to help others do good work, too, and feel some love for it. Then, whether or not you earn a lucky spot on the stage yourself one day, you’ll feel okay about how you’ve spent your hours.

Lesley Wheeler, Sharing space in poetry (“that essay”)

So, I posted a couple of observations on that Utne reader Bob Hicok essay on Facebook (if you are interested, you can read the threads here) and thought I might develop further here. This is not just to pile on to Bob’s racist/sexist/privilege issues but to discuss other issues his essay brings up. I think he’s missing a few larger issues in publishing, book sales, and mindset.

  • Bob has won two (!!) NEA fellowships and a Guggenheim, as well as a pretty cushy teaching gig, and has published ten books. I just, sorry, don’t feel like weeping for him because I (and most of my friends) have never had any of those things. Never been in Poetry or the New Yorker either. So, you know, he needs to check his privilege before he gets whine-y. Lots of poets have never been the flavor of the month, but Bob has had a lot of time in the sun. So it was an insensitive essay in more than one way.
  • My friend Kelli is always talking about “scarcity mentality” in poetry – the feeling that because someone else gets something, you get less. She points out that it is not true, even if it feels true, and not only that, it’s destructive. I wrote a little last week about poets cheering on other poets and how important that is. It definitely makes being the poetry world more rewarding. Helping others – by mentoring or reviewing or publishing – will increase your happiness, I guarantee. Everyone feels hurt when their book doesn’t sell or get reviewed or their book or grant gets rejected – but that hurt can be mitigated.
  • What Bob is lamenting – that his books sell less, that he gets fewer reviews – has nothing to do with poets of color, LGBTQ writers, or women getting more air time. It has to do with the landscape of publishing. The print book market is very fragmented, and I’d bet that most poets are selling fewer books and getting fewer reviews because there are so many books out there now. Gen Z have their own book buying tastes and habits – very different than his generation. Instagram poets, for instance. It’s not bad, just different, than it used to be. I’m sure, say, Billy Collins is still doing fine. Book publishing in general is changing. Book reviewing is in flux, too.
  • Also, it seems strange to talk about how all these troublesome non-white-male poets are taking up space when most of the prestige poetry presses and journals ARE STILL RUN BY WHITE MEN. I was trying to name the poetry presses run by women and people of color – can you help me? Are they the ones most poets want to be published by with, or get good distribution? (People have mentioned: University of Akron Press, Mayapple Press, Alice James Books, Sundress, Two Sylvias Press. as presses led by women..I’d love to hear more (especially presses run by people of color?)
  • Most tenure track teaching jobs are still given to men. In academia in general, women have much less chance of being offered tenure, and I’m sure poets of color and poets with disabilities could talk more about their experience with this. You’ve already lucked out if you’re an older poet with a tenured teaching job.
  • I don’t know about other reviewers, but there’s a reason I like to shine a spotlight when I do reviews of poets of color, women, LGBTQ poets, and poets with disabilities. In general, these poets are more vulnerable to prejudice, so I think it’s more important that their voices are heard above the crowd.
  • What am I missing? Anything else to add to the discussion?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking the Fall, A Few Thoughts on that Utne Poetry Essay, and Poetry Reviews, Sales, and Empowerment

Ammons’s poetry is a poetry of open-endedness, rather than of closed forms.  In line 121 [of “Corson’s Inlet’], he eschews the “easy victory” of traditional formal poetry (identified in the “narrow orders, limited tightness” of line 120), knowing that the deeper nature of the world is anything other than such “narrowness” of form might imply.

In some sense, poetry, of course, is inescapably form.  So Ammons admits in his conclusion to “Corson’s Inlet” that he has no choice but to try
     to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
     that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.

This statement suggests that, at least in Ammons’ view, a new poem must also create poetry itself anew, that a poet cannot simply rely on the predictable patterns of form but must allow the poem to find its own form in response to nature and the changing world it grapples with.  Ammons asserts that that world is necessarily disordered and in a state of ongoing change and that, therefore, instead of trying to show one’s poetic mastery by imposing a predetermined form over it, the poet must listen to nature, must listen to language itself, and allow him- or herself to “go with the flow” of that flux: “I have perceived nothing completely” — a nor can one ever, for all is mediated by the particular dynamics of the mind.

It is interesting to compare this poem with another Ammons piece, which is overtly an ars poetica, being titled “Poetics” (pp. 26-27).  It does very similar things.  Where, in “Corson’s Inlet,” the poem runs “like a stream,” here it is “spiralling from a center” (line 3).  Ammons opens himself to “the shape / things will take to come forth in” (4-5), yet when they do, as the birch tree in lines 6-10, it is merely or even “totally its apparent self.”  The poem, for Ammons, is not only the shape of the poem as written down, “but the / uninterfering means on paper” (17-18) — and more important is that the poet be
     available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours. (20-24)

In other words, it is not about the individual poet, the supposedly autonomous individual artist (as “great,” or what have you) but in fact more about forgetting the self, the ego, and opening up outwardly to — let’s call it the “cosmos,” at the risk of sounding over-serious and for lack of a less grandiose word.

Mike Begnal, On A. R. Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet” & “Poetics”

The last few months, I’ve been working on a more meta project, spawned by some less coherent thoughts I had when I was working on my actual artist statement. How to convey a whole world–a whole aesthetic framework, without delving into something a little more creative when it feels like you are supposed to be more expository somehow.  What wound up resulting was a lot of fun.  How to write about the endeavor of writing poems (and I use “poetry” loosely since most of my stuff takes the form of prose lately).

The subject matter of the pieces take a lot from my experience writing as a woman, of subject matter, of the academic-poetry complex.  Of desire and sex and writing.  The closest thing I can compare it to in my past writings would be this poem, which opens major characters in minor films, which touches on some of the similar ideas, but in a less specific way. Some of the artist statement pieces are coming soon in an issue of TYPEHOUSE, so watch for that to get a sampling. 

Kristy Bowen, artist statements

So I have some news. It’s kind of stellar and I just can’t stop smiling. It’s been almost a week and the effect hasn’t worn off yet. I am beyond thrilled and mega excited to announce that my book, GALLERY of POSTCARDS and MAPS: NEW and SELECTED, will be published by Salmon Press of Ireland (with US distribution). This makes this getting older thing not so hard to take. 

Over the past 20 years I’ve published four books of poetry starting with THE CARTOGRAPHER’S TONGUE / POEMS of the WORLD which focused on my time in the Peace Corps in West Africa, my Fulbright in South Africa and the death of both my parents. This book won both the PEN USA Award and the Peace Corps Writers Award. Next was CURES INCLUDE TRAVEL and then THE ALCHEMIST’s KITCHEN and CLOUD PHARMACY, all published by White Pine Press. You might notice they all seem to be on sale at the moment!

There are so many people to thank for helping make this book and its publication a reality (well, it’s not going to be out for a little while) but let me start with the main inspirations: Ilya Kaminsky, Geraldine Mills, Sandy Yaonne, and of course, the amazing Jessie Lendennie.  Sometimes the stars really do align. Or as my dear friend, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon says, maybe it was the chipmunk that came out of nowhere to stare at me for a good long while on a summer morning.

Susan Rich, Announcing a Forthcoming Miracle from Salmon Press: GALLERY OF POSTCARDS AND MAPS

One of my favorite poems in the collection – since I also mine pop culture for images and inspiration – is “Mission Dolores.” That’s the church in Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak when she leaves flowers on the grave of Carlotta Valdez. The poem not only summons up Hitchcock and Novak, but Dusty Springfield, Pet Shop Boys and Bridget Bardot, while noting that the 80s have become reminiscent of the 50s for the fearmongering and dread. Let’s not forget that it was nearly a  decade into the plague before President Reagan even uttered the word AIDS.

The mythology derived from the symbol might be an illusion
but not the reality in the fact that Thank God and thank you
General Motors Cadillacs are getting bigger again
so that this dreadful era becomes reminiscent of the ’50s
as if escape were indeed possible
as I walk by the Mission’s garden and all at once a stiff breeze
affects even my pompadour stiff with pomade 
and from out of the fog a long black Cadillac passes me by
and I needn’t wonder if inside the body is still alive. 


That poem was written on my birthday, Sept. 17, in 1989. It’s just another incident of synchronicity and a sign from the other side as I begin compiling my next manuscript, which focuses on my late uncle, Terry Graves, his time in San Francisco and his death from AIDS just a year before Karl. Terry and Karl were in San Francisco at the same time, and I can’t help but wonder if they encountered each other. Maybe in a poem they will.

I have a love//hate relationship with San Francisco, but I’ve been feeling the need to return. Urgently. And Karl’s poems only solidified that. It’s amazing when poetry can move and motivate you enough to want to travel across a continent. That’s what Karl Tierney’s will do for you.

Thank you, Sibling Rivarly, for bringing this book [Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney] into the world and making Karl Tierney immortal.

Collin Kelley, In the Castro with Karl Tierney

I love breaking words apart, especially words in foreign languages, and learning their etymology and usage. The idea of having a word warehouse in my head feels like the perfect analogy. The words all stored in various boxes and filing cabinents. I’m sure the organisation is an absolute mess, like most of my real-life storage. Items organised by need, use and more random connections rather than some systematic method. When I lived with my parents I kept my library card in a laundry basket in the basement. If someone moved it, I could never think where it should sensibly be, but I could always find it with my way. Our own systems work.

So when I look for the word ‘door’ in Finnish, I know I’d be shuffling through files of Scottish Gaelic to find it. I was just watching a video of the Scottish Poet Laureate Jackie Kay reciting her poem ‘Threshold’ to the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2016. She mentioned that in Gaelic they say ‘dùin an doras‘ for ‘shut the door’ and that took me back to learning Gaelic in Glasgow, so many years ago. ‘Don’t shut the door’ was also one of the first phrases I learned in Finnish when my son shouted it over and over at nursery when it was time for me leave. These memories pile up on top of the word ‘door’ in a wonderful scrapbook.

It’s also how my writing works, I start with a prompt, specific or more general and I just follow it where it leads me, jumping from one image or connection to the next. I might look at crafting a poem from the idea of shutting the door in several languages just from writing that paragraph. My poems have begun to cross over into Finnish and other languages more and more as I shuffle through the collected images and memories in my brain while I write. 

Gerry Stewart, Scattershot

And then the door swung wide
and the music bloomed like a tin flower:
John McCormack singing The Rose of Tralee.
And a four-square farmer’s wife came stepping
high over the tussocks, scarved and booted,
ringing a bucket like a broken bell.

And she’s singing too, singing in a wild
soprano, keen as the edge of a spinning
slate, plaiting her voice around McCormack’s
skinny tenor, scattering the gulls and lifting
a fishing heron out of the shallows
and into the all-accommodating sky.

Dick Jones, Looking for U2…

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 28

Poetry Blogging Network

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

After a bit of a lull last week, poetry bloggers are back in force, with posts about place and nature, memoir, parenting, judging poetry contests, working for a publisher, the ins and outs of self-publishing, and much more.


The term topophilia was coined by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan of the University of Wisconsin and is defined as the affective bond with one’s environment—a person’s mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place.

This feeling arose in me recently on a trip to New Mexico. The place in mind and heart is Ghost Ranch, which most people associate with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe–her house and studio are there (and are now a museum). But my association began before I knew of O’Keeffe; I was eleven years old, and the ranch was journey’s end of a long family road trip west.

The summer days I spent there somehow lodged inside me with a sense of place–and space–that felt secure and comforting, despite the strangeness of the high desert environment to a child whose summers generally featured fireflies, long grass, cornfields, and leafy suburban streets. Ghost Ranch embraced me with its mesas curving around the flat, open scrubby meadow where the corral block houses sat. Chimney Rock watched over me. Pedernal loomed mysteriously in the deep, blue-purple distance. I still cannot explain why the place felt, and still feels, like a second home to me. If I believed in the existence of past lives, I would say I had lived there before. Topophilia.

Ann E. Michael, Topophilia

I’m really happy to be in issue 44 of Brittle Star, with a piece of semi-autobiographical prose that is ostensibly about walking, but also examines my relationship, as a poet,  with the place I live.  Like many writers, I find walking beneficial, although I tend not to write whilst walking. At the moment, it wouldn’t help anyway because the novel I’m working on is set elsewhere, a fictional South American country devastated by pollution (which is about as far as possible from the South Yorkshire market town where I live).

Yesterday, I read a couple of poems on the theme of trees as part of the Urban Forest festival in Sheffield. This also involved walking, well, more of a saunter to be honest, interspersed with readings from a group of Sheffield-based poets. It’s been three years since I took part in the original event, and I was worried that the poem I wrote for the Urban Forest anthology might not be any good. Fortunately, when I reread it I was happy with it. What’s really unnerving is the surprise I felt at that.

Julie Mellor (untitled post)

Now some of the rye is falling over, and some of it has aphids. The seamy, seedy (!) side of the patch. But this evening, I spotted one ladybug, a small red gem.

And that is my reward for close attention. I’ve been reading about how close attention can lead to reverie. In my case, I’m hoping for stronger, more startling metaphors. In the meantime, I get practice looking, and the joy, occasionally, of seeing.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Days eleven, twelve, and thirteen

The pavement ends, but the road continues. Keep going. Hot summer sun. Ruts in the dirt, left there by wheels on the rainy days. Holes and low spots. Keep going. No breeze at all, no clouds. The road ends at a trailhead. A path through tall, dead weeds. Keep going.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘The pavement ends, but the road..’

So I took the kids to a family retreat at a Zen monastery. The monks and nuns organized the children by age group, and the kids were quickly all in: The 12 year old was shooing me away right after orientation and by the second day the 18 year old was asking when she could come back. Meanwhile I meditated, and talked with people, and enjoyed some silence and a lot of mindfulness bells. One evening we all walked up a big hill to eat veggie burgers and watch what turned out to be one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve ever seen. And then turning around, we noticed that the sunset was accompanied by a simultaneous double rainbow in the opposite direction. The hills and rocks were painted all over with deep red light. Above us, the indigo sky on the verge of becoming the blackness of space. The universe puts on the most amazing show, and sometimes we are in the right place, at just the right time, to notice it.

rotating planet ::
a million perfect sunsets at every instant

D. F. Tweney (untitled haibun)

I think it’s easy, when you have MS, to not go out in nature as often because it takes some advance planning and some help. But for me it’s worth the effort. Being in the woods brings me more clarity. I like taking time off from technology for a bit and thinking about life and milestones around a roaring river and old trees. It’s a great place for deep thoughts. There’s no way you can’t feel happier around trees and waterfalls. It’s a fact. It’s the kind of place where you start bursting into song like a freaking Disney princess.

So, all in all, an inspiring and romantic escape in between the rain that’s been surprising newcomers to Seattle (in the old days, July was always a little dreary.) I was happy I could still get into the forest and fields of flowers and the various waterfalls and celebrate 25 years of marriage in a fantastic setting. The night we stayed over, the moon glowed a pinkish orange, and it set at about 1 in the morning, and we watched it go down, and the stars were so bright. Pretty magical.  I’m lucky to be married to someone I’m still happy to be around after 25 years, in a place that’s filled with some of the best scenery in the world. So I’ve had some health issues recently, and I’ve felt a little discouraged about PoetryWorld, but I can’t deny feeling a little sunnier and a little more hopeful. I’ll have to rest for a day after all this activity, but it will have been worth it, and I feel I’m leaving the forest with more perspective.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A 25th Anniversary with Waterfalls and Mountains and How MS Can Limit Your Hiking (But Not Your Love of Nature)

How do the
locusts count
to seventeen

in their long
darkness of
waiting? Why

do they sing
all summer
in their time?

What does their
pregnant silence
mean in other

years? What else
am I not
meant to know?

Tom Montag, THE LOCUSTS

I don’t know why, but I never really accepted the fact that poets had stories to tell. 

I think of world travelers with unique experiences having stories to tell. Or, persons who have survived some illness or torture, or with some remarkable life discovery having a story to tell. I think it all boils down to is this a story worthy of being heard? Sometimes I think about memoirs that I have read that had very dysfunctional people in them. I think about what caused me to consider such a story worthy of being told, of being read.  I don’t think we always can know what another will be interested in, but if we write, and write with a creative flair that makes what we say interesting.  Sylvia Plath used to say that everything was writable. 

What I wonder today, is what stories that are waiting to be told at our southern border? What stories need to be told? Who will step up and fill this need? I confess that I think about this and it troubles me.  [long pause for reflection here]

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Poem finds Home Edition

I’ve only got one month in the office before I start grad school, after which I will be a full time student and that will be my only job for the next ten months. I don’t yet know what my school schedule will be so I can’t really plan my day – when I’ll exercise, when I’ll write, when I’ll study. Apparently the first week of August, the first week of classes, I’ll get everything necessary for the semester: books, schedule, etc. For someone with a Type A personality, not knowing it’s driving me insane. Because I have to plan, because I need to know what my schedule will look like, because I’m working on a new writing project that is unlike anything I’ve ever undertaken and it’s exhilarating and terrifying: friends, I’m writing creative nonfiction. And while I’m not quite ready to call it a memoir, it looks something like a memoir.

The idea had been ruminating for a while in my brain and I kept ignoring it and pushing it aside. I’m a poet, I don’t know anything about writing full pages, about writing paragraphs, about full sentences and dialogue and moving a story forward. But it wouldn’t go away and it kept popping into my head, lines writing themselves as I was walking Piper or working out or just sitting in the backyard, drinking wine. And so I gave in and started writing.

Thus far the words have come fast and furious. For someone who writes poems that rarely exceed one page, writing 3,000 words the first night I sat down was a surreal and bizarre feeling. But also an amazing one.

Courtney LeBlanc, Something New

Rob Taylor: Your debut poetry collection, Fresh Pack of Smokes (Nightwood Editions), is described by your publisher as a book exploring your years “living a transient life that included time spent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as a bonafide drug addict” in which you “write plainly about violence, drug use, and sex work.” From that description, and from the raw honesty of the poems themselves, it feels like a memoir-in-verse. Do you think of it in that way: as a memoir as opposed to something more creatively detached from you? Is the distinction important to you?

Cassandra Blanchard: I have written poetry since I was a young teenager and it is a medium that I am very comfortable with. It is also the best way in which I express my feelings and experiences. As for Fresh Pack of Smokes, I would say that it is a creative memoir. I write of my life experiences like a memoir but in a creative form. I would also say that this book has been a cathartic process for me, something that releases all the pent-up emotion. So it is a mix between creativity and memoir, though it is all nonfiction.

Rob: Yes, you can absolutely feel the pent-up energy being released in so many of these poems. You mention that you’ve written poetry since a young age. Is that why you turned to poetry instead of a more traditional prose memoir?

Cassandra: I didn’t start with the intention of doing a traditional memoir. I didn’t even really think that much about how these poems would fit within the definition of a memoir itself. I wanted to make a record of what happened to me and poetry was the easiest way to do that. I also thought it would be more interesting for the reader to read poems than straight-up prose.

I was drawn to poetry as a means of communicating my story because it was the best way for me to express myself. As I went along, I found that it was also the best way to lay out descriptions of events, people, and locations. The poems are basically one long sentence and I find this captures the reader better than the traditional form.

Rob Taylor, Therapy for me and an education for others: “Fresh Packs of Smokes” by Cassandra Blanchard

I was barely aware of David Constantine until about four years ago. It seems to me now like being unaware of, say, Geoffrey Hill or Tony Harrison. How did it happen?…perhaps because despite being a much-acclaimed translator, the co-editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, and author of the stunning Bloodaxe Collected Poems, he attracts no controversy, his work is crafted, elegant, and educated (as well as passionate, humane, and given to wearing its heart on its sleeve). In short, he is not fashionable. For me, he sits alongside Harrison, Fanthorpe, Causley and MacCaig; but apart from Kim Moore in one of her blog posts, no one had ever said to me have you read x or y by David Constantine?  So I’m taking a punt on some of you out there, like me, not knowing, and I’m hoping that after you’ve read this, you, like me, will want to rush out and buy his Collected Poems.

I met him by accident at a reading/party for the 30thbirthday of The Poetry Business at Dean Clough in Halifax. I was reading from my new first collection and David was top of the bill.

It was wonderful. He reads apparently effortlessly, he reads the meaning of the words, so it sounds like unrehearsed speech until you become aware of the patterning of rhythm, of rhyme, the lovely craftedness of it. I bought his Collected Poems (more than embarassed to find it was £12 and my collection was £9.95. Jeepers) and once I’d finished a year of reading Fanthorpe, I spent a year of reading David’s poems, three or four every morning, listening to the work of words, the deft management of unobtrusive rhyme and assonance, relishing the huge range of reference, the lightly-worn scholarship, the management of voices.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: David Constantine

The morning is yielding
its foggy pastels to brighter
                                        tempera.  Soon,
I will slip into familiar skin,
utter the names
                         of these almost forgotten
alleys of veins and arteries,
learn to inhabit again
             the labyrinth of my body.

Romana Iorga, Minotaur

4. I started playing around with writing poems again but I don’t know if my ideas will work out or not. My ideas are about the body, but in a much different way that I’ve written about it in the past, and I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. I want to write about the body from the point of view of strength and power, mastery and discipline, grace and balance, joy and gratitude, ownership and inhabiting, rather than the body as enemy, the body as victim, the body as a burden, the body as wounded. I may be able to do this, but then again I may not.

5. I awoke in the night with a very sad memory that I’m not sure is a real memory or not. I recalled being in fifth grade, very tall and very skinny. I was all alone on a basketball court, practicing shooting baskets. I was wearing a beige sweater, and I felt excruciatingly lonely. I think the strength training is jarring loose some old pain around my life-long sense of physical failure.

6. I quit eating dairy some time ago and over all, I feel much better for it. I didn’t feel like mentioning it because there is nothing more boring than listening to someone go on and on about their personal dietary decisions, and I feel no need to proselytize about it. It was a good decision for me personally, that’s all. The only drawback is that I do really miss fancy cheese. I have to deliberately not look at it in the grocery store or I get sad.

7. The reason I haven’t written about poetry much is because the only poet I want to read lately is Wallace Stevens. I bought an anthology of his in Sitka years ago and I’ve been reading it every day and it’s astounding and I’ve come to realize that he’s a genius and that he has bumped Anne Sexton from the top spot of my favorite poets. However, I have taken breaks to read the new anthology from Rose Alley Press, “Footbridge Over the Falls,” and you should get it and read it too as it is full of excellent-ness: http://www.rosealleypress.com/works/horowitz/footbridge/

Kristen McHenry, A Full List of Things I Haven’t Really Wanted to Talk About

Research is always about a question, sometimes posed in different ways or approached from various routes. And this too is poetry. Some of the poems I’m editing are interesting but lack a central question. This is what can come of writing from the middle of research — one feels briefly as if one knows something! But to reach back into the central question is essential to make art. Art comes out of the not-knowing, the search. Otherwise, you’re just presenting an academic theory.

There’s a local man who makes hundreds of paintings of local landmarks. They’re okay, in that they have some personality to them and a signature style. But there is no mystery, somehow, no way in which the artist is admitting he doesn’t know something about his subject matter. I’m not even sure what I mean by that. I just know there’s a blandness to the presentation such that I’m fine with looking at it once, but it’s not something I’ll bother to look at again. In contrast, I have a landscape hanging on my wall that I look at often. I’ll find a new streak of color I haven’t noticed before, or haven’t admired in a while. I’ll enjoy anew the shadowed trees, a smear of light on the pond edge.

Marilyn McCabe, What’s Love Got To Do With It?; or, Art and the Question

How did my daughters get so old?

Today my twins–Pearl and Annie–those tiny babies that we brought home in 1993–turn 26.

I have been reading old notebooks that I scribbled in when they were much younger (playing soccer, needing rides to friends’ houses and to the swimming pool), and I found this passage from the introduction to Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop:

Poetry, in the end, is a spiritual endeavor. Though there is plenty of room to be playful and silly, there is much less room to be false, self-righteous, or small-minded. To write poetry is to perform an act of homage and celebration–even if one’s poems are full of rage, lamentation and despair. To write poetry of a higher order demands that we excise from our lives as much as we can that is petty and meretricious and that we open our hearts to the suffering of this world, imbuing our art with as luminous and compassionate a spirit as we can.

You could substitute parenting–and though I wish I could deny the moments of rage, lamentation and despair, there they are, inked across the pages of my notebooks. So, with my apologies to Kowit:

Parenting, in the end, is a spiritual endeavor. Though there is plenty of room to be playful and silly, there is much less room to be false, self-righteous, or small minded. To be a mother or a father is to perform an act of homage and celebration–even if one’s family life is sometimes buffeted by rage, lamentation and despair. To parent in this higher way demands that we excise from our lives as much as we can that is petty and meretricious and that we open our hearts to the suffering of this world, imbuing our interactions with our children with as luminous and compassionate a spirit as we can.

Bethany Reid, Luminous and Compassionate: Good Goals

“Watch this, Mom, watch me.”
My son jumps into the pool,
surfacing to ask “was that

a perfect pencil dive?” Or
“look at this, do I look
like a dolphin,” wiggling

through the water, “or more
like a whale?” breaching
and landing with a splash.

If I don’t witness, it’s
as though it didn’t happen.

Rachel Barenblat, Watch me

On the first day of my two-week placement with Seren, I was asked to read Erato, the new poetry collection by Deryn Rees-Jones.

“Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song?” (from the Seren website)

That sounds like a cushy number, doesn’t it! Sit down at your desk, read a book of poetry and then go home and get paid for it! well, there was slightly more to it than that! I was asked to draft some questions for Deryn to answer on the Seren blog once Erato had been published. I was a bit bewildered by this task. Similar blog posts relating to collections by other poets, such as one with Jonathan Edwards on 1 January 2019, which followed the publication of his new collection, Jenn, showed that knowing Jonathan’s previous collection, the Costa Prize-winning My Family and Other Superheroes informed the questions asked in the interview for Jenn. How should I approach interviewing Deryn without having read her previous four collections?

I drew on my previous experience of interviewing musicians and bands for two years on the magazine Splinter, which I co-founded, and another two years doing so for Atlanta Music Guide when I lived in Atlanta. It’s been thirteen years since Splinter and eight since Atlanta Music Guide so I worried I might be a bit rusty! I didn’t get any feedback on my draft questions so figured Seren would salvage whatever they could and probably write most of it themselves. I wasn’t really expecting to hear anything more.

I subscribe to the Seren email newsletter and noticed a link this week to Erato, an Interview with Deryn Rees-Jones and my heart hop, skip and jumped! Should I prepare to sigh or sing?

The interview posted on the Seren blog is my exact interview! There are a couple of minor edits when I’d used I and it had been changed to we, which is a perfect example of my rustiness, and the penultimate question wasn’t one of mine but, other than that, the interview is exactly as I wrote it on Monday 20th May.

I’m really grateful to Mick Felton and the small team at Seren for making me so welcome. Mick acted as sighted guide between my Air BnB place to the Seren office each morning and back again in the evening, and made sure other Seren staff could do that if he was out of the office. It was very important for me to find out how easy I’d find it to work on an office computer using my screen reading software which, at Seren, included listening to the books I was required to read, typing my interview questions and copy editing a creative non-fiction book and the current issue of Poetry Wales. The experience was most definitely positive and, on that basis, I’ve applied for a job in Swansea and hope to be offered an interview during the last two weeks of July … more on that once I know if I am offered an interview :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetically Productive

6) The same poet very often submits one dazzler and one dud.
7) Stunning imagery and phrasing can make me re-read a poem but craft that’s more subtle and quiet will always beat this in a battle, hands down. If the images don’t pull together as a team then the underlying structure’s unsound and the poem satisfies less each time it’s read again.
8) When I encounter a poem that takes outrageous risks and pulls them off it’s an absolute joy.
9) I almost always wish I could award far more than the allotted number of commendations. So many poems have little things about them I love and I want the poet to know they brought me a slice of happiness. Sometimes I try telepathy. Let me know if this has ever worked.
10) Seriously, don’t use those fonts that look like squiggly handwriting. Not even for a shopping list. Not even for a memo to yourself. Someone, somewhere in a parallel universe will take offence.

Guest Blog: Confessions of a Poetry Competition Judge by John McCullough (Josephine Corcoran’s blog)

As a writer, you have probably met, and read, the poetry of a number of authors who chose self-publication. There is a grand tradition in literature of self-publication: Edgar Allen Poe, Margaret Atwood and E.E. Cummings etc. It starts with belief in one’s own work, and the willingness to invest in it. But it also has advantages that should not be discounted: no long waits for an editor’s response; control over everything from cover design to purchase and sales price. The burden will fall on you for marketing, but that will be part of the process. A major publishing house, no matter how well-intentioned is unlikely to put an announcement of your new book in the latest issue of your college alumni magazine, or your church bulletin. They don’t know about the local book fair and are unlikely to do the leg work necessary to get you a reading at your local independent bookstore. That will be up to you… and it would have been up to you even with a major publisher. So why not consider self-publication?

Surprisingly, it may not be as expensive as you expected. A local poetry organization has just printed and anthology of ekphrastic poetry with 96 pages, including color pages with the art works in question. The first run of 100 copies ran $700. Seven dollars per copy. Your local printer may charge even less. Services like CreateSpace offer low prices, but charge for added services which may be worth it to you. And while you may make a very significant investment, I believe that going the traditional route you would also be very likely to buy many copies yourself, to take to readings and for the friends and family who will be your natural buyers. Remember that the traditional publishers would have made the decision to publish your work because they believe that it is salable… and that they can make a profit in doing so. Remember that they are in business, and that although they may have the greatest respect and love for poetry, they are looking for a profit. Why shouldn’t that profit be yours? Basically our local printer, who does a beautiful job, is happy to be “print on demand.” After the initial run of copies they have our manuscript on a disc and will gladly print additional copies at or close to the same price.

Of course we must admit that self-publication is more work in many areas: the research to find a printer and to make the selections of cover art, paper and binding. Do you want an ISBN (that will cost you more). How many pages/poems? Is this a chapbook or a full length manuscript? Most libraries require that the spine of a full length manuscript be wide enough to have the title on it. Would you like to have blurbs on the cover? A traditional publisher may send out copies to established poets hoping that they will be willing to blurb for you, but within your own network of poets there may be many whose work you respect who will do the same.

Considering Self-Publishing – guest blog post by Kathy Lundy Derengowski (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’ve just spent two weeks on holiday in Scotland, out of routine, barely writing. The first week I was away from my family, relaxing. I wrote in my journal about my trip and took notes of images and lines that popped into my head about what I was experiencing, but I didn’t work on any poems. A lot of rejections came in, unsubmitted poems piled up. It felt weird and strangely liberating. I missed my daily routine, but enjoyed soaking up the new experiences which I will hopefully work into poems in the future.

While on the island of Jura, I took a long walk to Barnhill, George Orwell’s house, where he wrote 1984. We got lucky to manage the 12 miles between the rain showers and had a beautiful view to eat our lunch just below Barnhill. Twelve miles was too much for me, I was pretty tired and sore by the end, but earned my shower and wine reward at the hotel. My friend walked all three Paps of Jura the next day, so I feel like a total weakling. 

I’ve ordered a copy of Barnhill by Norman Bissell to read when I get back home. It’s about Orwell’s time on Jura, writing the novel. I had hoped it would arrive before I left for Jura, so I could read it while I was there, but it will be a nice chance to relive the place.

Gerry Stewart, Holiday Break and Barnhill

Lenin burns
brief in the sunset. Then the shadows blur
that too familiar gaze and now confer

upon the flats the anonymity
of dusk. Rocked home in a crosstown tram, we,
the gilded pilgrims from the rotten West,
witnessed the ancient world – a horse at rest,

the stacking of the sheaves through dust, the drift
of a mower’s scythe, the steady lap and lift
of sleep, of awakening. A harvest, it seems:
a gathering in of those early summer dreams.

Dick Jones, A RED SUN SETS IN THE WEST

I remember very few dates without having to look them up to be sure, but I do know that the storming of the Bastille happened in 1789–and by reversing those last 2 numbers, I can remember that Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. I can make the case that both events forever shaped the future.

Today is also the birthday of Woodie Guthrie, an artist who always had compassion for the oppressed.  I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here’s a singer-songwriter who doesn’t know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords–because he didn’t know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth–but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I’ve wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn’t handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn’t let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he’s created a whole body of work, but his most famous song (“This Land Is Your Land”) is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?  The lyrics are much more inclusive than you might remember, and there’s a verse that we didn’t sing as children, a verse that talks about how no one owns the land.

If I could create a body of poems that bring comfort and hope to activists, as well as one or two poems that everyone learns as schoolchildren, well I’d be happy with that artistic life. If I could inspire future generations the way that Guthrie did, how marvelous that would be. I could make the argument that artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the members of U2 would be different artists today, had there been no Woody Guthrie (better artists? worse? that’s a subject for a different post).

So, Alons, enfants de la patria!  There’s work to do and people who need us to do it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bastille Day Bastions

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 27

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, the Independence Day holiday seems to have depressed blogging activity a bit from the American contingent, and I think a lot of people are off on holiday as well. But I still found some fine summery posts about butterflies and caterpillars, writing in unusual forms, and being in unusual places such as labyrinths, Acadia, or the present moment.


Morning wakes hours before its city creatures.
I see light through the shutters:
cool insides while their clapboards communicate color — 
hydrangea pink, hydrangea blue —
to the morning.  Slate gray street, 
a herribone brick sidewalk.

Couples inside, 
coffee darker than their peignoirs.  
It’s a holiday.
The 4th of the seventh month, almost mid-summer,
almost tipping over. 

Jill Pearlman, Independence EveryDay

Hey, you guys feeling the Fourth of July this year? Yeah, me neither. Instead of grinding our teeth over 45 spending millions on tanks (and taking it away from our parks) in our capital, let’s take a moment to enjoy the wonders of summer all around us. Swallowtail butterflies! Kittens napping next to roses cut from garden!

And if you want to do something positive on July 4, consider donating to RAICES, which helps unaccompanied children and detained immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. And plant a tree and some milkweed. Feed your hummingbirds. Say hi to a neighbor. Little things that can make our country better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New poems in Summer 2019’s Spoon River Poetry Review, Butterflies, Kittens, July 4 and 25th Anniversaries

And I dream of the grass
of prairies, lost highways that pass,
relentless and unbending, by abandoned outposts,
forts and cowtowns whose brave boothill ghosts

still ride the range; the empty-hearted homesteads
whose screendoors bang on windy nights; dry riverbeds
enclosed by old barbed wire, and oil-well donkeys, one end
gazing at the sand, the other at the stars.

Dick Jones, 50 years since the first moon landing. What of Michael Collins, who stayed on board Apollo 11..?

from the top of my head paper ships set out

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, ku 11.07 2011 (1)

On my Italian parsley plant:
a fat green stripey caterpillar.

It’s a black swallowtail
in fourth instar, readying

for its chrysalis. Unlike
the monarch, predictable

in its cycle of rebirth, these
take an indeterminate time

encased in green or brown
before emerging wet-winged.

Rachel Barenblat, Chrysalis

–On Monday, as I drove to work, I thought about the sonnet I had written on Friday, and this thought flitted through my brain:  I wonder if I could write a crown of sonnets.  I wrote a second sonnet, and then went on to write a third and a fourth.  Yesterday I got a head start on the fifth.

–I’ve realized that I can rhyme Holocaust with Pentecost. My crown of sonnets may be headed in an unusual direction.  I have yet to use that rhyme, but seeds have been planted.

–Speaking of seeds, the butterfly garden continues to enchant.  On Monday, I realized that one of the bushes had caterpillars. And then I realized how much of the milkweed bush they had eaten: [image]

–More than once this week, I’ve thought of the book The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar.  And more than once, I’ve wondered if I’m remembering it correctly.

–Yesterday, I got three more plants that my pastor picked up for me.  He said that it can take 2 or more weeks for the milkweed to spring back from the relentless munching.

–The fact that  the bush can survive and come back seems like a good metaphor if I could avoid the potential pitfall of triteness and cliche.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Sonnet Crowns, Butterfly Gardens, and Discernment

I’m writing in haste as this looks like the day we’re going to tackle our back garden meadow (grass uncut all season) and the sunshine and garden shears are calling me. I’m putting together an informal, low-key workshop for Trowbridge Stanza based on the pantoum, which the Poetry Foundation explains well here and includes sample poems. The Poetry Foundation’s glossary describes the pantoum as

A Malaysian verse form adapted by French poets and occasionally imitated in English. It comprises a series of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The second and fourth lines of the final stanza repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza.

I first found out about the pantoum form by reading a blog from Warwick University by David Morley which unfortunately I can’t find online any more. I know that David Morley has included pantoums in some of his collections and that he is an aficionado of the form.  A. E. Stallings, John Ashbery and Donald Justice are other poets famous for writing pantoums.  You probably know many more – please tell me!

One of my favourite pantoum poems is ‘Incident’ by Natasha Trethewey, a stunning poem about lynching which I return to many times.

The subtle repetition of lines and circular nature of the form suits subjects that we revisit and strive to make sense of over time but that doesn’t mean to say that any poet should feel obliged to obey strict rules (as if!).  There is more to read about the pantoum at the Academy of American Poets here.

Josephine Corcoran, Collecting Pantoums

Jeffery Beam has long been a devotee of beauty, and his Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements is one of the prettiest books to appear in recent years. This poetry collection is another in the realm of the book-length series of poems, and is also an addition to the world of ekphrastic poetry. It is a book of free verse responses to paintings–and since the art is intricately tied together in a series, naturally the poems are as well. And internally they are held together, elaborate parallelism often binding the lines, so there is a kind of macrocosmic and microcosmic structure in the form.

Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements display a different way of thinking about what a book of poetry is, and it strikes me that the book is determined to create its own audience–that is, to create the reader’s understanding and sympathy for the project–through what is included. Short excerpts from Lindsay Clarke and Joseph Campbell serve as a kind of preface, nudging us in a desired direction. The poems and art form the core of the book, but they are followed by three essays about the poetry and the art. So the book itself teaches how to read it, and also how to look at the art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins… Then there’s a whole other dimension to the book in which music and poems join in the CD. It’s an interesting and rare way of looking at the making of a poetry collection, and one that must have taken a lot of love and care.

Marly Youmans, Midsummer reads

I was advising a writer-friend lately to celebrate small wins. Then I thought, hey, I should do that, too. Since my last couple of posts explored self-doubt, and a lot of people in my orbit are having rough summers (for example, catch up with Jeannine Hall Gailey’s inspiring posts), I thought I’d share some shine.

I’m getting ready for more visibility in 2020-2021 by applying for conferences, festivals, etc., and making lists of opportunities to apply for later. For instance, I’ll be attending the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference this November for the first time. I organized a panel, recently accepted, called Uncanny Activisms, about poems that resemble spells, prayers, and curses. My co-panelists include writers I know as well as writers I’ve never met but have been admiring from a distance: Cynthia Hogue, Anna Maria Hong, Hyejung Kook, Ashley M. Jones, and Anna Lena Phillips Bell. I’m very excited to hear what these smart women have to say about a poetic mode I’ve found indispensable these last few years.

On that note: two of my poems just appeared in the new issue of Ecotone. “State Song,” pictured above, is the shorter piece, and I’m SO delighted it’s placed near an essay called “Erasing the Border” by artist Ana Teresa Fernández (the image above is hers). “State Song,” from my forthcoming collection, is in that spiritual-political zone my panel will be addressing, and I hope it speaks against borders and fences, too. (The other poem of mine is “Turning Fifty in the Confederacy”–yikes.) Do read the whole issue if you can, for it’s full of challenging, beautiful writing. I love Ecotone‘s new department, “Various Instructions,” plus I found a new menopause-themed poem there for my growing collection: “Elegy for Estrogen,” by V. Penelope Pelizzon.

More fireworks: Amy Lemmon just published an essay in Diane Lockward’s July Poetry Newsletter about how to mine another poet’s book for writing prompts–and then revise out traces of the other writer’s words to create poems fully your own. The nicest part: the book that inspired her was my last one, Radioland! Lemmon’s piece is inspiring and accessible–check it out.

Lesley Wheeler, Some sparklers on a dark, hot night

Some experiences seem beyond words. That’s how I’m feeling about my week in Chartres. And yes, I know it was a writing workshop, and that I should be perfectly at home, writing about it. But.

So I went to Chartres for a writing workshop with Christine Valters Paintner. I wasn’t expecting a  spiritual workshop focused on Chartres Cathedral and its nearly 1000 year old labyrinth (and its 2000 year history, pre-current cathedral). Even had I known that the labyrinth would be a central aspect of our week, I don’t think I could have fathomed how profoundly meaningful this location was going to become for me.

Bethany Reid, Writing the Labyrinth

[…] I decided I needed to take a chunk of leave this summer. As such, I embarked upon a month-long break. But of course being the Type A woman I am, I made myself a long to-do list of things I needed to accomplish while on leave.

I started with ten days in Maine. The first week was spend at the Poetry Residency at Maine Media, followed by a few days in Acadia National Park. Jay flew up that Friday night and we spend the weekend hiking and exploring the park. Acadia has been on my list for a while so I was glad to finally cross it off. Also, it’s beautiful and has some excellent hiking so it made for a great weekend.

Once home from Acadia I moved on to the next item on my to-do list: adopting a dog.

I said goodbye to Daisy at the end of January. At fifteen years old, she had a long, wonderful life but I was still devastated when she died. I felt like part of me had died too and I vowed to take a long break from being a dog owner. But then…well, then I realized that there was a dog-shaped hole in my heart and there was only one thing that could adequately fill it: another dog.

Courtney LeBlanc, One Month

I had read the news as usual that morning and fell into the now-usual doom gloom. Then the radio reminded me that another of my music pantheon died recently. Dr. John has ascended.

And the station played a tribute to him for a few hours, but I was vacuuming and stuff so heard a bit here and bit there, nodding to the beat when I could hear it, otherwise swept in my own to-and-fro, but they closed with “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere,” and I thought, Right, Mac? Right?

But then I opened up Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights.

The Book of Delights is Ross Gay’s almost-daily, always-exuberant, sometimes-funny, sometimes-poignant record of his days’ delights. Which are often found in not so obvious places.

Although that groovy dude — and here I’m talking about Dr. John, although Ross Gay is indeed also one groovy dude — Dr. John’s oddball let’s-face-it-a-bit-whiny sly if-I-don’t-do-it-somebody-else-will devil on his angelic shoulder (have you HEARD the “Boogie Woogie Twins” with Jools Holland? Shut. Up.) makes it almost impossible for me to not leap up and boogie around the kitchen, there’s often a dark undercurrent in his music, that undeniable blue note, a hint of wrong-place-right-time. Some might call it duende.

And just as you might tire, thinking, all right, enough, you perky sonofabitch — and here I’m talking about Ross Gay — I don’t know that anyone would call Dr. John a perky sonofabitch — Gay will slip in an essayette that reminds us ever so subtly of that yin to yang, the old no-joy-without-sorrow note that sometimes being a black man in this world causes him to stumble over even in the midst of this practice of delight, or even just being a human in the world, and doing the hard work of loving in the face of losing.

Marilyn McCabe, Sweet Confusion Under the Moonlight; or, The kingdom of God is within you; or, Making the Better World

Perhaps we evolved this way so that someone would be there to bury the dogs and the cats, so that someone might be available to shoot the horse that would only suffer. Life and death leave a certain amount of cleaning up that must be done, and so we have minds that reason, we have hands that can grasp a shovel or squeeze a trigger.

Help me now as I gather the wood. The fire I am building needs to be very large, and very hot.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Perhaps we evolved this way so..’

The cedar
in the window

is somehow
changed by

my seeing.
I am

somehow
changed by

its being
there. Neither

of us speaks
of this in

ordinary moments.

Tom Montag, THE CEDAR / IN THE WINDOW

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: reluctant prophets, paper tearing, suntanning, finding the words, coping mechanisms, self-doubt, rejecting rejection, writing about one’s own death, writing about one’s own life, losing Jesus, the Buddha of recycling, coordinating a literary festival, thoughts on London, the gift of an empty house, poems to take camping, praise for chapbooks, praise for used bookstores, Janice Gould, poetry and current events, John Sibley Williams, the suburban gothic, and a heatwave.


in a beached whale a party of reluctant prophets

Johannes S H. Bjerg, ku 11.12 2011 (4)

Yokogami-yaburi
is Japanese for tearing paper
against the grain —
like that article you want to keep
but don’t wait for scissors
and rip into the story so the gist
is lost, or being stuck at 40
in living-the-dream, left holding the bag
of groceries or laundry or dirty diapers,
so you hide your stretch marks in a one-piece,
toss your hair like Farrah, and smile at strangers
on the beach while the kids make sand castles […]

Sarah Russell, Yokogami Yaburi

Here and now even boys
don’t swim topless, exposing chests
to the depredations of our star, but
when I walk to the condo pool for a dip
I still notice whether or not I’m in
the good tan window. And later
in the shower when I see my forearms
darker against the soft pale flesh
of my belly, I feel at home in my body.
I don’t look like you. But
after an afternoon spent dipping
into cool aqua waters festooned now
with tufts of fluff from cottonweeds,
my warmed skin comforts my touch
the way yours used to do.

Rachel Barenblat, Sun

I’ve been taking notes, wanting to return to poetry and I’m stuck in diagnosis and doctors notes and lists of possible problems. There’s words for it all though and I need to find them. Words for the NICU, the diagnosis and syndrome, the desperate sort of way she breathes even when sleeping. Her doctors say I’m doing so well. I think all you need to pass the mental health survey, given at every one of Kit’s appointments, is to not be willing to call it quits. I’d walk hot coals for this baby. Walk hot coals and eat them after! I’ll find the words soon I think, because I know there’s light here even if I can’t see where it’s coming from.

Renee Emerson, Finding the words

You’re going to see a lot of picture of smiles, hummingbirds, art, and flowers in this post, but it’s really a post this week about coping mechanisms and the realities of self-care for writers, regular people, and people with chronic illnesses that get worse in the summer.

I think this summer has been  hard on people. The news has been pretty bleak. I’ve heard from friends going through unexpected tough times, and I have been struggling with about a month of trigeminal nerve pain, as well as regular MS symptoms that generally get worse during summer. I’m also shopping two books around, which means I’ve been getting rejections for not just my regular poetry submissions, but books as well. There’s record heat around the world, and right now, wildfires near where several of my friends in Alaska live. So that’s where my own survival skills, self-care skills if you will, come in.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summertime of Art Galleries, Hummingbirds, Haircuts: Self-Care During Hard Times

I had a rough time getting started this summer and tried slogging doggedly through the doubt. Then I put myself on a course of related and unrelated reading, and that helped more. Reading is the best tonic I know (which probably explains some things about my career choice). I finished a draft of the short project that was killing me, put it aside, and then moved onto work that feels more congenial. This is a standard cycle in my writing life, and some combination of grit and rest always gets me through it, eventually.

The self-doubt that I find hardest isn’t about my relationship to the work itself. It’s about my relationship to other people. Like the juvenile giant squid in the video above, I’m both curious and wildly reticent. I’d much rather submit work towards publication or a grant from a distance, say, than approach an editor in person, at a conference. I’ve shied away from conversations and connections that might have helped me about a zillion times. And when you’re a middle-aged woman without influential mentors, no one’s rushing to hand you opportunities because you’re doing such good work in your quiet corner of the deep. I mean, it happens–I’ve put the work out there steadily, and sometimes nabbed a win–but it would happen more if I didn’t sabotage myself and hide in the murk. I’ve vowed to do better, especially with new books coming along. I WILL put myself and my work forward, because I DO believe in it fiercely. We’ll see.

Lesley Wheeler, Dear poetry professor: self-doubt

Summer is officially here and we have colorful plants blooming to show for it.  Cathy gets truly excited with plants in summer. I think she gets that from her grandmother – who was affectionately known as granny. When I leave in the morning or when I come home in the evening I am greeted by colorful unfolding nature before my eyes. I confess I love this. I love knowing that she loves gardening with flowers too.  By the way, we have tomatoes on our tomato plants (our one cash crop). 

I had a rejection of poems in a contest since my last confession.  I don’t often dwell on rejections. I am sure this was a form one too. But it did happen to be the same place that  I once received a form rejection with a handwritten note that said,  “you were close.”  But, I digress, the part of this rejection that caught my fancy was as follows… “We strongly believe that a poem’s value is not determined by its publication, or by the selection or non-selection by a limited group of readers. The editors urge you to wholeheartedly reject this rejection, and send these poems out again and write some new poems, and sent them out too.”  I confess this made me smile. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Little Slice of Confession Tuesday

Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”
He tripped and fell off the curb
Into a thousand foot abyss and went splat
On the perfect granite boulders below.
Splat flat, man. It happens.
He swallowed a sickness into his lungs
And wheezed until the dark angels came
To drag him away again.
The last thing anyone heard
Was some intense coughing up in the sky.
Or maybe the coughing was down below,
Deep inside the earth. One or the other.

James Lee Jobe, poem – “Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”

While I’m comfortable writing about my life, I’m not comfortable with opening my self to being explored in my writing. Cracking open a nut to find the insides too bitter. I’m trying not to shy away from the challenge these prompts are placing in front of me, but I can feel myself resisting. My writing is too pat, contrite lines trying to sum things up when there’s no exact answer. 

It all depends on my mood, what’s happening around me, a multitude of things that can tip my attitude one way or the other. Writing daily on a variety of subjects can capture this, the wildly swinging up and down of my moods, my opinion of my self.

I’ve been meeting online a few writers who write a daily haiku or short poem and post them as a kind of diary. My daily writing works in the same way, I guess, though I don’t always share them. It’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of my thoughts. This blog written over the last weeks also shows that flitting. 

I’ve been talking on here about struggling to find outlets and my support for my work. I find sometimes when you complain about something out-loud, verbalise the frustration or pain, the knot eases in some unexpected way. I started this blog originally to lay out some of the issues I was having with conceiving my last child, the guilt and grief, but shortly after starting, I conceived after years of trying. So the blog eventually changed to be about writing.

Gerry Stewart, Writing Your Life

But life itself came tumbling in – a cavalcade of
           catcalls,
           whistles,
           brickbats,
           silk ropes
           and roses.
And one day he wasn’t there at all.
Instead, out on the road, across the fields,
over the trees, in the sky,
           everything else was.

Dick Jones, Holy Writ

A Buddha appeared by the side of the freeway in Redwood City in the past year or so. I’ve long wondered about it, so yesterday I found my way over to see it up close. As I circumambulated it respectfully, I was surprised to see what was on the other side of the pedestal: An opening containing two dumpsters for the office building next door. Irreverent? Maybe. But then I considered that recycling and garbage is an essential part of the universe, no less than lotuses and Buddhas. Why wouldn’t the Buddha sit serenely atop a trash container? Or anywhere else, for that matter?

tending the garden ::
the trees this mulch was
and will be

D. F. Tweney, Someone asked the eminent Vietnamese Zen master Tue Trung: “What is the purified Dharmakaya?” He replied: “Buffalo dung and cow urine.”

So excited to have my poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal’s current Summer 2019 issue. The issue includes a lovely variety of poems and is worth spending some time reading through.

This year has been a whirlwind of Utah Arts Festival coordination as their Literary Arts and WordFest program director. You may have noticed I had to take a break from posting on my blog and interacting on social media while I pulled together all the details, performers, and such for workshops, a literary stage, and a kids art yard program. Everything went very well and it was an amazing adventure. I met so many talented writers along the way and it truly was an honor and a pleasure. That said, I’m glad to be back! Regular posting is about to commence! I’ve really missed my blog and the online poetry community.

Juniper is a new online poetry journal, published three times a year, in February, June and October. I love the simple, yet pleasing design of this web-based journal. It’s easy to navigate and easy to read. You can read more about Juniper in my interview with founding editor Lisa Young. They reopen for submissions September 1.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal + I’m back after a break!

I spent two amazing weeks in London earlier this month. It was my first time back to the UK since 2014, and I was worried that the city would have changed so much that I wouldn’t recognize it. Yes, there are more skyscrapers, Battersea Power Station is becoming a luxury mixed-use development and Crossrail (or the “Elizabeth line” as it will be called) is still under construction, but it also felt fabulously the same. I slipped right back into the hustle and bustle of it all and it was fantastic to be there again. […]

The biggest highlight was reading with Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, who has a new memoir called Mama’s Boy, at the Polari Literary Salon at Southbank Centre. Angela Chadwick read from debut novel XX and Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott read from her entertaining novel Swan Song. Paul Burston reallyl knows how to curate an evening and is the most dapper host. He’s also got a new thriller novel, The Closer I Get, which is getting rave reviews. It was wonderful to be in such company and the audience was spectacularly responsive and attentive. I was satisfied at how well the poems from Midnight in a Perfect World were received and that Foyles sold so many copies.

I must also add a word about my friend, poet and novelist Agnes Meadows, who always so kindly puts me up at her flat while I’m in London. One of my favorite bits of this trip was our evening trips up to the N1 Centre for coffee and writing time at Pret (love the flat whites and brownies). I wrote seven new poems during our evening retreats, and I am chuffed. Agnes also challenged me to go in drag to Loose Muse, the open mic for women she’s been hosting for 16 years. Men are welcome to read, but they must come in drag. No man had ever taken Agnes up on the offer until I agreed to do it. My alter ego was named Dame Colleen.

Collin Kelley, Thoughts on London and what lies ahead

Sometimes it’s sad when everyone leaves but sometimes it’s just what you need.  It’s not always possible to go away to write, on a course or retreat or holiday.  Even if you can afford it, even if it’s free or subsidised, it’s just not always possible – for many reasons, commitments, time or ability constraints – to leave your home and set up camp somewhere with nothing to do but attend to your notebooks.  Last week, for four whole days, I had the house to myself, my family all away doing their own thing. I got a lot done.  Not so much new work but a chance to sit with newish poems and give them some careful attention, free of all distractions.

Perhaps it was simply because the timing was right for me, for once.  It’s not that I don’t already have plenty of free time.  This year, I’ve had a pretty clear calendar and many opportunities to write and I have been accumulating poems but in a rather messy fashion.  But, recently, we’ve had more than the usual amount of admin to do, fetching and carrying people and belongings, family stuff, and my need to be alone has been growing, building a kind of tension that put the brakes on my creativity. Somehow, knowing I wasn’t alone in the house, even if Andrew was at the bottom of our garden in his office, interfered with my work-flow.  An uncluttered four days alone has meant that I’ve taken a clear-headed look at what I’m writing, organised poems into folders on my computer, even put together a submission to a magazine. It feels like a massive relief.

Josephine Corcoran, The gift of an empty house

Yesterday on Twitter I posed the idea that I’d like to do an anthology of poems to take camping. Why? Because when I go camping, I always take books of poems—usually poems that go along with the whole getting groovy with nature feeling of camping. I once told Jane Hirshfield that I’d taken her book Given Sugar, Given Salt on a camping trip, and she seemed to think that was an appropriate book for the woods.

Much of my own writing begins in the woods (either in reality or in my head). I don’t go camping nearly as much as I’d like to, but when I do I always turn to poems, peacefully reading under the trees, under the stars, with campfire smoke or fireflies drifting around me, or hiding in the tent because it’s raining. In my day job as an editor for a technology review site I spend hours sitting in front of two computers, each with about 50 tabs open. To escape from that mania I need to get out of town and out of my head.

But still, why? There are several good anthologies of nature poetry and ecopoetry. What would this camping anthology do differently. I see it as a book to help you get out of town—whether you’re already sitting next to a campfire or sitting in your living room. On my last camping trip I took Jim Harrison’s posthumous collection Dead Man’s Float, Song by Brigit Pegreen Kelly, and Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. For this hypothetical anthology I envision poems that help a person get into the spirit of being out in nature, poems that examine or celebrate it, poems that help us ask questions of ourselves, of the world. Poems to experience the experience.

Grant Clauser, Words for the Woods, or Whatever

A good chapbook packs a punch. It’s tidy, compelling, digestible. A good chapbook is a joy and inspiration, and leaves one wanting more…but just as happy not to have it. A good chapbook invites a second read.

Look at Nickole Brown’s fantastic To Those Who Were Our First Gods. When I say it’s a page-turner, I don’t mean I was eager to turn the page, but rather, I was eager to linger, and then to find out what the next page had to offer.

A chapbook by Frank Bidart was a finalist for the Pulitzer. But that was back in the early 2000s. I’m not sure any other chapbooks have received that much industry love. […]

In this time of short attention spans, isn’t the chapbook just the right thing — a subway ride, a coffee cup, and, if it’s the right size, shoved into the other back pocket where the cell phone isn’t. Plus a small size would make the book feel inviting even to the poetry-shy. Such a cunning little thing, this book of poems, approachable, nibble-able, something you can cup in your hands, a butterfly, a bird.

Marilyn McCabe, Little Red Corvette; or, In Praise of the Chapbook

First editions, clean and jacketed?
I prefer those lived with,
lived in, a note card
slipped between pages.

I see myself in a used bookstore,
on a back shelf, loose cover,
yellow pages, among books not
classified: is it history, is it

romance, is it worth the paper
it’s printed on? The bookseller
does not come to dust.

I lean against another
volume, convinced there are
worse ends than this.

Ellen Roberts Young, Booklover

Janice Gould, beloved Koyoonk’auwi (Concow) poet, friend, musician, and teacher, left our realm on 6/28/19. Headmistress Press joins with others in our grief at losing her much too soon, and our deep condolences to her beloved partner. We are proud that we published two of Janice’s books, “The Force of Gratitude” & “Seed.” Her words will ring their truth forever. The last time we spoke with her, Janice said, I would still love to meet you and talk with you.  I so appreciate what your press has done for my poetry.

River

How strong this channel has become,
the river widening at the bend,
creating shoals and back currents,
where chilly water will be warmed
by sun, and willows sprout
along the graveled shore. I hear
bees among the blackberries,
can smell their prickly fragrance,
and some days I think I see her
on the other side, near the edge,
surveying the wild current, noticing
how the wind rips along the surface of water.
She watches all that shining where forces collide—
otherwise known as my heart.

Risa Denenberg, Janice Gould, 1949-2019

Long ago, before I wrote poetry in a serious way, my favorite, much loved undergraduate English professors declared that there had never been good poetry that wrote about current events.  She talked about how aesthetically bad all the anti-Vietnam war poetry was.

She taught British Literature, and she was much more likely to spend time with Wordsworth and Coleridge than any poet still alive.  It would be much later that I would discover that one could write compelling poetry about current events, poetry that was both powerful and aesthetically admirable.

Rattle has a feature called Poets Respond, which it describes this way:  “At least every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse.”  I’ve often thought that it would be a cool practice to write one poem a week and submit it, but I often don’t do that.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I wrote not one, but two poems that dealt with the crisis at the border.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry and Current Events

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. The newspaper-like columns of prose poetry provide a social critique of the violent side of American culture centered within the boundaries of self and family. Although an apocalyptic tension permeates throughout, these poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  
“Dust rises from the road & there is
too much curve to resolve the edges
of embankment & asphalt. Backfire
keeps the pastureland carefully lit.
Static keeps us wanting for another
kind of song.”
— from “Story that Begins and Ends with Burning

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

I worked with something similar in the shared properties of water and stars--that dark shadow sitting squat under suburbia, but this project is more personal and grounded in my experience as a child who loved horror and grew up in the 70’s & 80’s. Last spring, one of the speakers at the pop culture conference on horror touched on the definition of the gothic–how even in the Victorian ages, it’s appeal lie in a safe way to transcend the relative safety of the middle class.  If we were comfortable–not in actual danger–we sought out ways to experience similar danger from a a safe remove.

When I was a teen, I had all these romantic fantasies that involved whatever boy I was crushing on at the time saving me from something–a disaster, a plague, a plane crash. the apocalypse.  It was a twisted princess fantasy I suppose–the prize not so much security, but survival.

“Sometimes, I’m swimming and there’s a body, floating bloated in the water. I scream and the man who saves me gets to have me.  Which is pretty much the plot to everything.”

The rush of being afraid, that rush of endorphins was similar to that of love.  Or at least my fevered teenage mind thought so.

And of course, imagined fears only go so far in touching on the REAL fears of suburbia–kidnappings, rapes, school shootings. (less prevalent, of course, in my years, but viewable in the lens now.)  But even these need a safe distance–survivors of actual trauma do not always like horror (with a few exceptions). All the urban legends we think we’re are afraid of vs. the very real things there are to be frightened of. 

What I wound with is a series of vignettes mixed with personal experience, something not quite just prose poems, not quite lyric essay, also something that, by presence of myself as “writer” addressing you, as a “reader” becomes a little bit meta.–an echo to victorian gothicism. 

Kristy Bowen, the terrible place and suburban gothic

When people ask where I come from
I say a small market town on the edge of the Pennines.
We have the usual mix of good luck and suicides.
Occasionally farmers are arrested
for growing cannabis in barns.
It’s not the sort of place where the sax
is commonly heard in the street.

The writing workshop at Café Crème
was cancelled tonight.
They’re digging up the road
and the electricity’s off.
Nothing for it but to sit here trying to write.

‘This is a shit poem,’ I say when you come in.
‘Well, it’s a shit saxophonist,’ you say. ‘What do you expect?’

Julie Mellor, Heatwave

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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: the solstice, sources of inspiration, circles, wounds, downtime, Joy Harjo, and more.


I spent the long evening at a poetry gathering at a house called Sunnyfield up in the hills about Emmitsburg.  Lovely, peaceful place.  Horses grazing on the lawn, long shadows of the trees, robins, wood thrushes and pewees calling.

Anne Higgins, Summer Solstice

Sunshine on sunshine, it builds up like snow, the light growing deeper and brighter throughout the day. To live in the big valley is to know light. Moving across this flat land, I try to keep my westward travels in the morning, and save the east for the evening, keeping the sun at my back. Feet upon the valley. Eyes upon the sky.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Sunshine on sunshine, it builds up like snow’

It’s officially the beginning of celestial summer, or should be, despite the fact that earlier this week I was reaching for heavier jackets and the space heater whenever the windows were open too long.  Even tonight, which is a little milder, is still dropping into the 50’s–no doubt probably some weirdness of climate warming/jet stream wonkiness. I have a blissfully unencumbered weekend excepts for some dgp proofing and getting things ready to print on slew of new titles and clearing out the inbox. I’m set to start reading submissions in about a week, so I am trying to get my organizational ducks in a row.

I am trying to enjoy these long evenings, though, chilly as they are, because beginning now, we will start to lose them bit by bit, and since I was spending a good chunk of time in the studio tonight, took a couple nights off this week and was home before the daylight was gone.  I’ve been dragging, and feeling my 7 vs. 8 hours of sleep more than usual.  (it does not help that sometimes it’s closer to 6 if I get streaming something good and want to get in one more episode (this week it was Dead to Me.) Despite my mind and body being tired, I’ve actually been a little more level emotionally than I was for a bit there, so even a cold summer does wonders in terms of seasonal affective disorder.  And actually, with no A/C I’d love a milder summer topping in the 70’s during the day.

Writing-wise, this week brought some final edits on my piece that was accepted at The Journal, and some good news about an opportunity to read at the Field Museum this September (more on that soon.) I’ll get free access to the museum to write about something there on exhibit, so I am already brainstorming ideas. It’s one of my favorite places in the city, and my favorite museum (it edges out the Art Institute by a hair.)  I’m incredibly nostalgic about it–it was our field trip destination that fateful day at 15 years old when I glimpsed Chicago for the first time and decided I wanted to live here, so every time I’m in there I get a certain euphoria.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/21/2019

As I walk past the rye, sometimes I have to stop and just watch it. The smallest breeze makes it sway, which is one reason it’s so hard to take pictures that aren’t blurry.

This morning, a mizzling rain falls, but I’ll share photos from some earlier days. I’ve wanted to draw grand, insightful parallels to writing, but lately the rye has felt more like a meditation, a graceful and ragged silence.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Days eight, nine, and ten

At every turn in this trip, there were elements of research that have fueled my recent writing. I have written several poems and lyric essays about our experience there.  I wish we had stayed on a bit longer, or forever. I was just starting to settle in, especially in Grange.  We stayed in a gorgeous stone house, with walking lanes and gardens, and one particular crow that would sit on  our bedroom’s window ledge and knock against the windowpane every morning.

Now back to our little farm and the onset of the growing season.  The weather while we were gone was very rainy and gloomy.  Our garden plot, which is very large area, was floating, so we had to wait it out before we could turn it over.  Yesterday, (6/22) the second day of summer, we began making the rows, laying down paper, planting a variety of tomatoes and peppers(4.5 rows worth).

Our plants were getting tall and pot bound. You could actually hear their sigh of relief when I placed them in the soil.

M. J. Iuppa, Late May: Travels to Western Ireland. A Dream Around Every Corner . . .

Between 1996 and 1998 I lived on Glanmor Crescent. It didn’t really have a back garden but the back of the property bordered Cwmdonkin Park, the location of poems like The Hunchback in the Park by Dylan Thomas. The house I lived in with four friends was mid-way between two entrances to the park, each no more than two dozen paces from the park.

Cwmdonkin Park is in the Uplands residential area to the west of the city of Swansea. It covers an area of 13 acres and has a Grade II listing as a well preserved Victorian urban public park, which retains much of its original layout. […]
The park is famous primarily for its associations with Dylan Thomas but the history of its creation also covers an interesting period in Swansea’s history when the city’s water supply and public parks were being developed by the municipal authorities. Cwmdonkin Park grew up around Cwmdonkin Reservoir […] The formation of the park is part of the general movement seen from the 1830s onwards to secure for the people some green open spaces in increasingly industrial towns.
(Samantha Edwards, A History of Cwmdonkin Park. From Dissertation for Diploma in Local History, University of Wales Swansea, August 1991.)

Any time I walked from my rental house to Cwmdonkin Park I passed by the birthplace and residence of Dylan Thomas. I like to think that poetic influence pervaded the air that I breathed as I walked past and maybe that’s why my poetry life has taken off now, eleven years later :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Potentially Perfect Poetic Place

There are so many poets and writers I admire it would be ridiculous to list them. However, what I need at the moment is not so much the influence of their work, but the influence of their way of living whilst writing. It’s a very long time indeed since I was drunk before noon and I don’t think the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle would help my writing one bit, but I do feel I need to make some changes to the way I balance life and writing in order to see the novel through to completion. Fortunately, the summer holidays are almost here, and I’m looking forward to having some time to ‘plant clues, post fetishes’ and create the conditions for interesting writing to occur.

Julie Mellor, Drunk before noon

Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing innovative math educator and founder of Natural Math, Maria Droujkova, in “Math is Child’s Play” where she talks about learning math through free play in the context of families and communities. More recently, she and I were talking via social media when she mentioned magic circles. I was instantly intrigued and asked her to explain. She wrote:

One of my consulting topics is game/experience design. One of my favorite design concepts is magic circle: a playspace co-created by the participants, where they suspend their disbelief and behave as if they inhabit another world. I’ve been collecting tools for building cool magic circles from all creative fields, from writing to engineering. Tools like pretend-play, problem-posing, or name-giving. Math circles are magic circles. The maker goal: learn to pop up constructive, emotionally secure, creative spaces wherever we go.

I had to know more. My questions to her turned into this interview.

What was your first experience with a magic circle?

That feeling when an activity is the thing and the whole of the thing? When the rest of the world and the rest of me pretty much disappears? I’ve been experiencing that for as long as I remember. Early on, at three or four, I rearranged stones to make tiny spring snowmelt creeks gurgle merrier. I made canals, dams, and waterfalls till my hands grew red and numb. I remember long pretend-play with my mom, dad, and my imaginary friends, like the red velvet bow that was a fire-butterfly who’d gently land on my hand to play with me. Or the friend called Reflection who could escape its mirror, turning invisible. In another couple of years, there were elaborate handicrafts, hours in the making, while my grandpa was meticulously arranging his stamp collection in hand-crafted albums. He worked at the same table, and my crafts only happened if he started his. There was a very different energy, but some of the same timeless feeling, when me and other rough neighbor kids let go of our constant low-key fighting for living as action heroes in one of the traditional games, also rough, like “Cossacks and robbers.”

Once again, it was a different energy and a very recognizable feeling when I started to spend long hours solving delicious problems before my first Math Olympiad.

I don’t think I can live for long without the magic circle experience. It’s somewhere between water and food on the hierarchy of needs. Yet when I first read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience I felt uneasy about the authors’ claims that there are people of the flow, and communities of the flow, maybe even nations of the flow, while other people and groups are not.

Am I doing enough of immersive, productive, joyful work? Are my communities? I’d had none of these worries between building elaborate snowmelt waterworks and making up fantastic worlds for fire butterflies.

Laura Grace Weldon, Magic Circles

But one pair
of open-toed sandals beckoned.
Against all odds they fit, but

February is winter here. They went
on a shelf in my closet to wait.
Mom, last night we shared shoes
again. Were you watching as

I walked circles around the house,
relearning how heels swing my hips
playing dress-up in my mother’s
shoes, now my own?

Rachel Barenblat, In your shoes

I read recently this quote from Yo Yo Ma: “Any experience that you’ve had has to be somehow revealed in the process of making music. And I think that almost forces you to make yourself vulnerable to whatever is there to be vulnerable to. Because that, actually, is your strength.”

Surely that’s true also of writing poetry.

Vulnerable is a word that alarms me — the v tumbling into the deep well of the u, the nervousness of the ner, the complicated movement from l to n that gets stuck briefly in the mouth. It comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound, after all.

So much of surviving life is about girding oneself against vulnerability — all that thick skin growing, that growing of water-shedding feathers so stuff will roll off our backs, that creation of a strong center around which the winds can swirl, that hollowing oneself out like a reed. To deliberately pull back the tough skin, part the feathers, to probe the wounds to make art is terrifying. Also, which wounds? How deep do we scrape into the scar?

To make art from the wound, though, is not to make art of the wound, necessarily.

Marilyn McCabe, A Cold and Lonely Hallelujah; or, Art and Vulnerability

The shimmer of heat waves,
a mirage, a bending
of light and hope that makes

something seem near when it
isn’t, when it is far
away. Cascades of light

like a waterfall, drops
becoming curves and lines,
becoming sparks and pricks.

The fluted melody
lyrical as longing;
voices blend and balance

at the edge of hearing.
Imagined pebbles plop
in imagined waters

sweet as amusement, yet
there is no sound, no joke,
no water, no liquid

love paused and suspended
in midair like ripe fruit
waiting for a open

mouth to find it. There is
beauty here, but is it
what I see, what you see?

PF Anderson, Our Lady of Love Lost

Arthur W. Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller, which I’m currently reading, deals with medical ethics, personal narrative, illness, and the community (all of us, really) who may need care, give care, and/or who realize there is a socio-emotional impact when friends, coworkers, and family members become ill and thus require care. A sociologist by training, Frank examines illness stories as testimonies that point to a social ethic and asks all of us both to tell more when we experience pain and to listen better when others are telling us about their experiences of illness.

“Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”
Mary Oliver, from “Wild Geese

At first this idea sounds unpleasant–one thinks of the stereotype of tedious conversations among the elderly about various surgeries and too-intimate revelations about prostates, livers, stomachs, and bowels (my dad calls these monologues “organ recitals”). That response–evasion, withdrawal, revulsion–is exactly what Frank seeks to change.

But then I consider the way I have heard stories of illness experience from hospice patients. How varied they can be. Some fragmented, some specific, some pious, some stoic, some anxious. And some that are beautiful. These stories aren’t just for (about) the person who has undergone the suffering. They are also for me, the listener. “When any person recovers his voice,” says Frank, “many people begin to speak through that story.”

Ann E. Michael, Listen better

Summer has never been my healthiest period – it’s when I usually catch the flu or pneumonia, when I’ve been hospitalized for MS, caught various bugs, and broken bones. I’m not sure why, but summer and I just do not get along. It’s also almost my 25th (!!) anniversary and I’m hoping I’ll be healthy enough to celebrate!

I can feel frustrated with myself and my physicality or just embrace the concept of downtime itself and allow myself to rest and recover. I’m trying to keep the television off and audiobooks and creativity guides around. I spend time sketching (which I’m terrible at) or dreaming over gardening magazines, listening to music, and sleeping.

I believe as creative writers – or even just as humans – we need a little downtime. We are not productivity machines. There are rises and falls, times when I write several poems a day and weeks when I don’t write anything. We don’t need to submit poetry every single day (and besides, you probably know fewer journal read during the summer – although there are exceptions.) They say children need to spend time being bored in order to grow problem-solving skills, imagination and creativity. Maybe adults are the same. We need to allow ourselves some unscheduled time, especially during the summer, when deadlines are less likely to be pressing, and people are on vacation anyway. Remind yourself you are valuable outside of what you produce. Maybe start up a hobby you’re not good at (see aforementioned sketching) and listen to music you’re unfamiliar with. Snip flowers from the garden and keep them in a small vase next to the bed while you nap (I particularly like roses, lavender and sweetpeas.)  I bet you will be feel better emotionally and physically, and creatively refreshed.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Solstices and Strawberry Moons, How to Tell It’s Summer in Seattle, and Thinking About Summer Downtime

I have been feeling a strange sense of accomplishment because I finished a book in the same week I started it. It’s not that I don’t read books anymore, although I don’t read them the way I used to. But it takes me forever to finish them, unless they’re super compelling or unless I’m on a plane or somewhere where the Internet doesn’t distract me.

I am the person who always had her nose stuck in a book–as a child, as a teen, as a student, as a commuter, in every facet of life.  Now I’m still reading, but I’m more likely to have my nose stuck in front of a computer screen.  I still read a lot, but I read shorter pieces.

News that might have once taken days or weeks to get to me now finds me in a matter of minutes.  As we all know, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Yesterday, I read the breaking news that Joy Harjo has been named the next poet laureate of the U.S.

I saw a Facebook comment that remarked that the recent choices for poet laureate have been fabulous.  I agree:  Natasha Trethewey, Tracy Smith–beyond that, I’d have to look up the list, but I’m rarely annoyed at the pick.

Sure, I’d like it to be me, but I also know I’m nowhere near accomplished enough.  That’s O.K.  I have time.  I turn 54 in a few weeks, and Harjo is 68.  But even if I’m never accomplished enough, I’m happy that I’ve kept writing, kept submitting, kept checking in with this deepest part of myself that I access through poetry.

Poetry–both poems written by me and poems written by others–has taken me to places I wouldn’t have found otherwise.  If you asked me to define good art, worthy art, that kind of definition would leap to mind.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A New Poet Laureate and Thoughts on What Makes Art Valuable

I am somebody ::
but the moon knows
that’s not the whole story

D. F. Tweney (untitled post)

Q: Hi Professor,

I have been published a bunch of times but never poems I expect – my best stuff hasn’t been picked up yet and I am curious – how do you go about editing or curating your poems so that you can get them published?

A: The short version: time/distance plus persistence, with a garnish of recognizing how random publishing can be.

In more detail: I wait for months until the poem is strange to me, so I can be objective about its strengths and weaknesses. I’ve just been rereading poems I drafted during the past year or two, preparing to submit or re-submit them, and I found a few gems; a lot of poems with strong potential but clunky or underdeveloped passages; and some I was once excited about but now realize might not go anywhere. Some poems I thought were shiny and near-complete disappoint me now, and that’s common–with critical distance, I’m better able to admit that a certain element doesn’t work, even though I’m fond of it. Sometimes I have to excise an opening stanza or two, but for me, problems more often occur at or near the end of the poem. (I’ve observed that some poets are great at punchy beginnings and weaker on closure, and others reverse those traits.) You have to be a ruthless trimmer/ re-developer, both for the good of the art and for publishing success, and it just takes a lot of time. There are SO many good poems out there competing for an editor’s attention: the winners are great, or lucky.

Having a few fellow writers to bounce work off of helps, too, whether it’s an informal/ online writing group or an official class. And sending in batches that hang together well, the poems illuminating one other, can help deepen an editor’s sense what you’re up to.

All that said, I’ve heard multiple book editors and contest judges note that the best poems in a book, when you check the acknowledgments, aren’t ones that have been taken by magazines. I’m polishing my next book ms now, including 50-something poems, most of which have been published independently. I still shake my head over the ones that haven’t been, because I feel they’re among my best. Sometimes that’s because they’re risky in some way that’s supported by the book as a whole, but might seem off to a magazine editor with less context. Other times it just seems random. Or am I just wrong about “my best”?…In any case, in addition to bringing your own work to the highest possible shine, keep reading magazines, thinking about fit, and getting the work out there. Hard work and persistence are under your control but the rest is “Crass Casualty,” as Thomas Hardy might say if he were blogging about the po-biz.

Lesley Wheeler, Dear poetry professor on submissions (plus dropped balls, tombstones, & “Hap”)

Isn’t it nice to take new books out of the bag and look at them, the shape of them, the colors, the covers and spines. Of course you primarily enjoy the anticipation of reading something new, but just seeing three promising, unread paperbacks piled up is crazy delightful too. 

Sarah J Sloat, Daunt

Maine Media offers other workshops too – in film, photography, videography, and book arts. Because they offer these things they were kind enough to open the studio to the poets and let us play with the letterpress. […]

I was so enamored with the process that I think I’m going to do a few broadsides of a poem or two to sell during the launch of my book next spring. Stay tuned for further details!

All week Nick had us writing from different prompts: pictures and news articles, poems by other poets and even using some of our own, older poems as inspiration. Then we took everything we’d been writing and started breaking it apart and putting it together in a new way. It was creative, it was physical, it was unlike any poem creation I’ve ever attempted. And it yielded a pretty good poem, one that took leaps I might not have ever attempted otherwise. I’ll share it with you soon, I promise.

At the end of the week we had an evening where we all gathered – each poet reading one poem they’d written that week, the photography students showing off their pictures, the film students showcasing their work. It was a wonderfully supportive, creative environment. I can’t wait to go back.

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing in Maine

I went to Sorrento on a school trip
I went to the local gasworks
I asked them not to come with ideas

borrowed keys and sprockets
hand-painted birds and animals
a cork and sealing-wax

the Western mind is trained
to set the colophon again
it seems to me quite normal

I do a lot of hanging
last-minuting
I was printing at 4am

they lose their hollyness
without the pines and the poplars
in the garden at 8 o’clock eating roses

Ama Bolton, ABCD at midsummer

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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 found poetry bloggers pondering existential themes: being at home, surviving, healing, cultivating acceptance, dealing with digital ghosts, coming to terms with evil, learning from trees, (not) procrastinating, being whole.


No matter the journey. No matter other roads taken. No matter you misplaced the map of your life behind a wheel of grief. No matter you took a multitude of detours.

Because as you look out the plane window, you understand the agency of this place. How it has been etched in your mind over decades of slow accrual through streams you have fished, forests you have hiked, mountains you have climbed, lakes you have swam in, oceans you have sailed.

And how like its great river that flows to the sea, it also flows through you, and you call it by name—home.

Carey Taylor, Return Flight

It seems to me that all the poets I originally gravitated towards, and whose books I bought were ‘northern’. Or, at the least, not metropolitan. When they weren’t self-evidently ‘northern’ they were ‘regional’; they came with distinct voices that could not be described as RP, and would lose something important if they were read in RP…and I guess that what they would lose would be music, rhythm, texture. I’ve shared the idea with other writers that this poetry was somehow more ‘committed’, less inclined to be ironic, more inclined to wear its heart on its sleeve. I know it’s teetering on the edge of a generalising sentimentality, but I’m trying hard to be honest, to nail some kind of felt truth. One of my northern poet friends opined that ‘metropolitan’ poetry was ‘too cool for school’, that it prided itself in its avoidance of a felt emotional engagement. I don’t know if that’s accurate or fair. But something about it resonates enough for me to want to try to pin down that elusive idea of ‘north’ and ‘northernness’.

Let’s start with ‘accent’, and (predictably) with a quotation from Tony Harrison’s ‘Them and Uz’.

“All poetry (even Cockney Keats?) you see 
‘s been dubbed by [ɅS] into RP, 
Received Pronunciation please believe [ɅS] 
your speech is in the hands of the Receivers”

Harrison spoke for tens of thousands of us who, in the 50’s, were harried for our accents in the Grammar Schools we sat scholarships to get into. It goes deeper than accent…which we can train ourselves to change. It springs from lexis, the words themselves, their resonance, their heft and texture. All the Old English, Germanic, Scandinavian words.

John Foggin, Northwords: Bob Beagrie

It took a long time to get here,
sailing, drifting, 
and dreaming, curled,

homesick 
and world-sick,

so much alike,
the young and the old.

Past lives peeled off like skins,
and I turned and tumbled and traveled

only to find myself 
in front of these closed gates.

Claudia Serea, Young/Old

I started counting the months that we’ve been recovering.  We’re mostly recovered in the big house, except for some of the difficult decisions about what comes back in the house from the cottage.  But the cottage needs serious attention, and I am just so tired.

I’m also thinking of a poem I wrote years ago.  I got the title from a powerful essay by Philip Gerard that appears in one of the very first books about how to teach creative non-fiction.  My poem was written years after after Hurricane Wilma (which wreaked devestation in 2 months after Katrina, just after we had finished up our hurricane Katrina clean-up) when I found myself weeping in the car, flooded by post-hurricane despair, even though the clean-up had been done and regular life mostly restored:

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Season Begins

I spent almost a whole day going to my hematologist down at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. My doctor there I have known for fifteen years. The last time we talked it was when we thought I might be dying of liver cancer, and we talked about safe biopsies and chemo and surgery obstacles. This time I brought her my newest book and we discussed my mild anemia (she’s worried about it, but I’m not) and MS drug risks and pain drugs and pain clinic consultations. I sat in the reclining chairs watching the beautiful Puget sound blue by all the people getting chemo and waiting to get chemo. I wound through the blood lab around patients much worse off than me. It gives you perspective, these kinds of visits. The doctor, which was very unusual, gave me a hug at the end of the appointment. It felt like a blessing, a sort of hopeful encouragement. I walked out into the rainy early evening, feeling the ghost of my previous experiences, of the fear of death, and the gratefulness of feeling alive.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems Up at WordGathering, Woodinville Wine Country, and a Day at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

I walked up to Renshin afterward and said: I have a problem with this idea. There is a similar concept in Byron Katie, that you can’t argue with life because it’s perfect exactly as it is. And it shows up in all kinds of Zen books. It makes a certain kind of sense, and it does help in achieving a certain level of equanimity. But it’s one thing for me to apply that insight to my own life, another thing entirely to tell someone else that.

Ah, but you’re making a big jump there, Renshin said. Who said anything about telling someone else what to do or what to think?

And then she added: Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy.

I was briefly stunned. She had in fact identified something about the way my particular mind works, and showed it to me in a few seconds of casual conversation. All I could think to do was bow.

Later, as I was leaving, I was sort of backing out the front door of the church while saying goodbye to a few people in the breezeway. And I almost fell over because there was a step down from the door – a tiny little step.

stumbling ::
the gap between the sky
and the ground

D. F. Tweney, Watch out for that first step

So how can I react to these digital ghosts and the griefs they awaken: online reminders of my wedding, or of my mother who has died, or of friendships that evaporated or hopes that didn’t come to pass? The only answer I have is to feel whatever I feel — the sorrow, the wistfulness, the regret — and to thank my heart for its capacity to feel both the bitter and the sweet.

And I can choose to be real, even in digital spaces. Even when what’s real is a hurt or an ache, a memory or a sorrow. Because I think being real with ourselves and one another is what we’re here for in this life. Because I think spiritual life asks our authenticity. Because life is too short for pretense. Because being real comes with its own blessings, its own reward.

Rachel Barenblat, Fragments: digital ghosts, gratitude, and grief

Here is what I want you to know about the silence, still as death and colder: it moved from you to me, see, here in this bonecage gone titanium, this immune system propped by goblin armies:
 
couplets emerge from scar, relentlessly enjambed. This body is a verse form dealing with both loss and love, but choked by anaphylaxis there is no scheme. The poet’s moniker appears at the end.
 
Once I took you all the way in, once I choked. They are peculiar twins, vulnerability and memory: I am made and remade as neural network linking like things, a synesthesia.

JJS, June 4, 2019: Ghazalish, The Flood

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. I love the way the newspaper-like columns of prose poetry in his work provide a social critique of violence in American culture while working within the boundaries of self, family, and the natural world. The book permeates an apocalyptic tension, but what makes it so great is the way in which his poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  And I also interviewed Williams about his book, which will be coming out on NBP podcast soon (seems like most of my poetry reading is focused around my podcasting work these days).  

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2019

There was a rash of gang shootings in Seattle over the last month, and my precious, gentle friend and co-worker recently saw the fresh body of a seventeen-year-old kid shot to death, bleeding out on the sidewalk at the hospital campus she works at. I didn’t realize the extent of her trauma until a recent get-together with my colleagues from my hospital’s other campuses. My co-worker is someone who I would consider a classic “good person,” a warm, kind human being who is probably a little too trusting. Part of her trauma came from the shock of seeing true evil at play. 

I am coming to realize that it’s been been a luxury for me to go through life believing that people are essentially good. We hear about horrible things happening all of the time, but until we come face to face with them, they remain more or less theoretical. We can’t really process that human beings have darkness and savagery within them until we see something like that. And because we don’t see it in other people, it’s very hard to see it in ourselves. And that’s the really dangerous part. In trying to process this local tragedy, I spent the morning listening to a podcast about the much bigger and far more atrocious My Lai massacre. It drove home to me how important it is to not get complacent about our own potential for evil. Believing that humanity is essentially good is dangerous and foolish. We have to face the truth of who we are as human beings and be vigilant, or we will fall to prey to savagery, violence and acts of inhumanity, no matter how “good” we convince ourselves we are. 

Kristen McHenry, Good People, Dark Places

A great deal of thought and planning had gone into the manner of the preservation of Bergen-Belsen. The absence of any of the accommodation huts, the vehicle parks, the workshops, the guards’ quarters, the administrative buildings that had once filled the grim estate and the restitution of the heathland and copses that had gone under their foundations creates a powerfully moving sense of a territory both haunted by the unendurable horrors of the past and yet now salved and dignified by nature. It’s an extraordinary place – an eloquent testimony both to utter destruction and tenacious survival. I shall never forget our quiet, slow day amongst the harebells and the graves.

ARTEFACTS

There is the heaped equality
of spectacles, the comfort
of linked arms –
wire, gold and tortoiseshell,
the white opacity
of the tilted lens.

There is the kicking scramble
of empty shoes, piled
like bean pods, shelled
of movement, scuffed and dusty
from the longest walk
in the world.

There is the hollow clothing,
the empty-handed gloves,
the headless hats and cap,
the hanks of hair, bagged,
sprung teeth in boxes,
stamped and labelled.

Bones we know;
we scrambled up and out
of the millennium
on bones.  These clothes,
these artefacts endure,
undiminished, unconsumed.

Dick Jones, BERGEN-BELSEN

I’ve been thinking about trees because I’m reading Peter Wohlleben’s 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees. The text reads like a friendly forester inviting readers to learn what he loves about trees and their encounters with us, with the environment (soil, air, sun, water, pollutants, pests, fungi), and with one another. I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical about the scientific veracity of his source material, but I do enjoy his warm enthusiasm for his subjects and his reminders that we humans don’t know even the smallest fraction of what goes on in the planet’s interconnected and unplumbed depths.

Although some critics object to what they see as too much anthropomorphism in Wohllebehn’s book, his use of the analogy of the human and the tree “bodies” makes his information about how trees and forests work easy to grasp.

For science nerds, there are other texts. The Hidden Life of Trees is meant to make the less scientifically-inclined reader more aware of his or her environment, to convince the average human being to consider plant life more consciously.

~

I take many photos of trees; and they appear in my poems pretty regularly, not as main characters but in supporting roles–not symbolic, but actual. Wohllebehn’s book may influence my work somehow…possible inspiration? But then, the trees themselves, especially the oldest ones, are inspiration enough.

Ann E. Michael, Trees

This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

When we were in our first years of library programming endeavors, people often wondered how we had so many ideas.  For workshops, for panels, for focus topics.  What I didn’t share were the back burners, or the ones that were a little too costly or the effort vs result ratio was poor.  I have suggestions for workshop ideas in my notebook that have been there for 3 or more years that I’m still hoping to make happen down the line. And maybe they’ll happen, or maybe they’ll get pushed out of the way by newer, better ideas.

In my notebook, there is a page full of tiny post-its for art projects, another with writing projects.   Another with anthology projects and other press doings.  Another with crafty things I’d like to make for the shop.  This is all in addition to the half finished things–like unusual creatures, postcards from the blue swallow, the mermaid anthology, swim. They stand like a weight in my other hand while the things I do finish or see to the end balance in the other.  I try not to let them get too out of whack, otherwise I flounder about feeling like I never finish anything I’ve started.  But I remind myself I do.  Just not those particular  things.

Kristy Bowen, on ideas, and too many of them

This also made me remember something that happened in (or to) my writing life many years ago. My daughters were young, I had my first full-time teaching job, and I told a writing friend that I would write…later. I may have said that maybe I wouldn’t ever get back to writing. In any case, I gave the clear impression that despite an MFA in poetry and all my huge writing goals, which my friend knew all about, I was going to put off writing.

She wrote me a letter — old school, sat down and wrote it in long-hand and mailed it to me (of course, that happened more often back then, but we did have email). She said something like this:

No one cares if you write. The world is not going to come and pound on your door and insist that you write. No one will miss it if you don’t write. They won’t even know. Meanwhile, life will unfold. You’ll get older. You’ll get farther and farther from your writing dreams. Eventually you’ll say to your grandchildren, “I used to write.” But your grandchildren won’t especially care either. It makes no difference whether you write or not. EXCEPT TO YOU. A place inside YOU will dry up and never be expressed if you don’t write. YOU will miss it. YOU will care. The only way to keep your writing alive, to keep this important part of yourself alive, is to write.

I probably have this letter somewhere. I should have framed it. I took it seriously (even though it was like that small, inner voice that I so often don’t heed). And I kept writing. Often, I didn’t have much time; I had little kids for a lot of years; I had a teaching career; I had teenagers and a mother who was ill. Nonetheless, I made a little time every day and I wrote. Some days the little bit of time turned into enough time.

And it has mattered. It has mattered to me. Writing has sustained me and saved me and even made things like parenting and teaching richer and more enjoyable. I am glad that I kept writing.

Bethany Reid, Procrastination Kills

A hot day. That’s OK. If I hated the heat I wouldn’t love the Sacramento Valley like I do. I like a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. 

There’s a lot going on. There’s my two on-going poetry reading series. There’s the events I attend as poet laureate, another one tomorrow. I am giving a reading in Sacramento this coming Monday. The homeless shelter where I volunteer as a board member is always active. My church is always active. My wife and I are part of an extended family group that I love very much. And then there’s all the chores that I put off. Never put off for tomorrow the procrastination you can do today.

And I love all those things. But what do I love best? Simply being. I meditate twice a day, write poems, wander around town. There’s a park right across the street from my house. I can watch the light changing against the huge pine trees as the hours pass. There’s an owl – at least one. At night, when it’s cool I like to go out there and listen for the owl. 2 AM, 3 AM, just whenever I happen to wake up. I see what the clouds and the moon are up to. Then I go back to bed.

And you?

James Lee Jobe, Journal Update – 04 June 2019

That Poem You Wrote

             is only half of something unsaid
hold it                next to the mirror
             so that it looks                 whole

do you look whole?      how

             can you tell?

Romana Iorga, That Poem You Wrote