Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: words with friends, a loving attendance on the world, histories of brokenness and violence, lithium wasps, the Mouth of Hell volcano, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: the shadows of children, a different kind of faith, ellipses like off-ramps, poets as secret agents, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: love and chocolate, the return of light, bringing scarecrows to life, the cost of beauty, and much more. Enjoy,

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 6”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Poetry Blogging Network

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.


All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox

All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger

All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blankets

Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE

Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?

Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.

Tim Love, Some books

I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –

the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is

grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,

Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves

Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!

At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.

In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.

Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!

To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.

Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.

Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude

For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”

Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”

rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen

Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.

Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.

Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:

Purr and Yowl

Kristen McHenry, Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!

if you haven’t been laying on a roof
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
being misunderstood.

Robin Gow, 11/25

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,

close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,

don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.

Sue Ibrahim, Some days

One is a beekeeper.
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
Cold mornings.
Rainy mornings.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.

Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner

2

In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.

3

A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toy
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.

Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)

The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.

But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?

But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.

It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.

Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty

Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.

James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’

‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.

In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland

I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?

We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.

And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.

Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:

The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.

This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising

The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.

As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:

The Key of S

Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.

This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:

Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023

I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.

We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”

And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:

You write often of    Trees   Dogs   Birds
she says       and I feel disappointed      because I wish

her to tell me       You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.

(“Dear Friend”)

In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.

What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.

Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL

Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.

Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.

Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review

Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,

“slip themselves into various
shoppers’ pockets.

I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”

Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review

It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.

Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.

Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built

Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?

Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued. 

RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?

RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.

Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr

What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud

I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.

Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.

Ann E. Michael, Practice

The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles.  Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city.  It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.

In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings.  But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab.  I took this picture because I felt like I should.

Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles

I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.

In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)

Grounded hope. Yes, please!

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year.  In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service.  We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.  

Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional.  No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving

And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.

I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.

But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.

A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.

As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.

Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners

I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:

The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.

Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.

And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first. 

When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.

This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4

Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.

Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.

Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.  

My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).  

When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.  

I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination. 

As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness. 

It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work. 

Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace 

This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.

I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up.  I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations

Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:

sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.

The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.

I wish I could have that back. My parents,
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Blue

You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find

again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know

where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether

someone remembered to save the seeds
from the fruit of once abundant trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?

the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.

Marilyn McCabe, Geese

and then i found you
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: remembering Maureen Seaton, gearing up for fall book launches, making videopoems, pondering the big questions, and much more. Enjoy.


It’s rare to read a poetry collection and enthuse about every one included in it. Inevitably some poems will resonate with us more than others. But Matt Morden’s collection, Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press 2007) has me savouring every single haiku on every single page. I felt like that when I first bought it and feel it again today.

Nigel Jenkins, on the back cover, said, ‘They are as spare and translucent as it’s possible to be, yet they are deeply affecting…’. ‘Spare’ could easily suggest something that has been pared back to the detriment of content and meaning. But Morden has such a wonderful eye for detail, and humanity observed, that his micro poems expand beyond their physical boundaries. They are like miniature doorways into shared emotions, felt experiences. And the natural world, where it appears, always feels, through suggestion, like a parallel to the human one. […]

I mentioned in a previous post that, for me, the best poets and poetry collections are the ones that fire me up to write too. Here are a couple of haiku written today, thanks to Matt Morden.

unsettled weather
she deletes her Whatsapp
while I am reading it

summer’s end
he buys me a chilli plant
called ‘Basket of Fire’

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

I came across a poem today that speaks with the voice of my aching heart. I was delighted to find the author is Amanda Gorman, whose poetic voice often resonates with me. She’s a poet for this moment on earth. Young, truthful, gifted, she speaks plainly with vibrant images, simply but with rhythm, alliteration, and assonance. Amanda Gorman is the author of The Hill We Climb and Other Poems. She was the youngest inaugural poet in America.

Right now, we are in a transitional world, upside down in our values, experiencing the hottest days on our planet and the most confusing and dichotomized (is that a word?) society. I am aging. At 74, my heart and my body hurt a lot of the time. We’ve survived a pandemic together, but somehow also apart. That experience has re-sculpted our way of life. Gorman’s poem felt as if it was torn from me.

Rachel Dacus, When Everything Hurts, Poetry Heals

While looking for a nonce meter form to use for this collection about sin-eaters and ornamental hermits, I’ve been wanting to follow numbers. 40. 42. 6.

Today, because of medication, my red blood cells are collectively at a low point—but if left alone, the individual cells would rise and fall independently in a staggered rhythm of roughly 40 days.

It takes 40 days to mend a fracture, and 40 days to replace the epidermis. Hindu women spend 40 days secluded after childbirth. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Muslims believe the dead may return on the 6th day or on the 40th.

The list goes on as far as you want to follow it. One half-truth will beget another.

In fact, you can pick any path alongside a river and follow it to the one sea.

This is my path.

Ren Powell, Searching for One True Form

John Greening’s recent, self-confessedly ‘tightly-focused’ little selection from Goethe’s vast output is, in part, a campaigning publication. In his Introduction, Greening notes the difficulties surrounding the great German poet’s presence in English: the sheer volume of work, the range of that work, the man’s polymathic achievements (as poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic), the long life untidily straddling all neat, period pigeon-holing. Christopher Reid has called him ‘the most forbidding of the great European poets’, but perhaps the English have come to see him as a mere jack-of-all-trades? And where do we turn to read and enjoy the poetry? Michael Hamburger’s and Christopher Middleton’s translations look more and more dated. David Luke’s Penguin Selected (1964; versified in 2005)is the most reliable source. But tellingly, as Greening says, one does not find young, contemporary poets offering individual translations of Goethe in their latest slim volume in the way we do with poems by Rilke or Hölderlin.

So here Greening sets out a selection box of various Goethes to encourage other translators: we find nature poetry, romance, the artist as rebel, meditations on fate, erotic love poems, a rollicking ballad, dramatic monologue and a very fine sonnet. I like Greening’s determination not to lose the singing. Here, he has ‘shadowed’ the original metres and retained rhyme schemes, though he sensibly makes more use of pararhyme than Goethe’s full rhyming. While not approaching Lowellesque ‘imitations’, Greening has also sought a ‘contemporary texture’ by venturing to ‘modernise an image or an idea if it helped the poem adapt to a different age’. For example, in ‘Harz Mountains, Winter Journey’ (‘Harzreise im Winter’) Goethe’s buzzard has become the more familiar image, in southern England at least, of a red kite. The carriage or wagon (‘Wagen’) driven by Fortune becomes a car in a ‘motorcade’ and another vehicle is imagined ‘winking on to / the slip-road’. There’s also an enjoyable touch of Auden in Greening’s updating of ‘crumbling cliffs / and disused airfields’ (Middleton has ‘On impassable tracks / Through the void countryside’).

Martyn Crucefix, Goethe’s poetry – some new translations by John Greening

I ran into a poetry acquaintance recently, and on being asked, I churned around in my brain and realized it has been 14 years since I got my MFA. The person then asked, “Are you still writing?” I stared at them blankly, thinking, “What the hell else would I be doing?” But I just said, “Oh…yes,” and was left feeling a bit stunned. You who know me well may know that I “quit writing forever” on a regular basis. I’ll have to remind myself of my stunned reaction next time I’m tempted to declare, “I’m done, done forever.” I’ll remind myself how stunned I was by that question, how confused that I would have quit writing, even though that degree is now in the murky past. How startled I was at the thought that not-writing might be “a thing.”

Marilyn McCabe, What’s he doing in there; or, On “Being a Writer”

Oh, well. Once again, I had every intention of following through on the Sealey Challenge this year and posting about what I read. Instead, I did a little traveling and the whole shebang fell apart. I have continued my way through my stack, but will not give extended commentary here. (The post would be very lengthy.) But here is the list of what I’ve read since the last time I posted:

  • Carl Phillips Then the War and Selected Poems
  • Mary Jean Chan Flèche
  • Robert Hass Time and Materials
  • Tiana Clark Equilibrium
  • Roberto Carlos Garcia What Can I Tell You? Selected Poems
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay The Harp Weaver and other Poems
  • Tracy K. Smith Such Color: New and Selected Poems

[…]
I went in to substitute teach for the afternoon on the first day of school at my old building, filling in for a friend who had to attend a family funeral. The kids were nice, the afternoon went quickly, I saw some old friends. But I got home and was TIRED. ALL CAPS TIRED. I legit yawned from 6:30 PM on like I hadn’t slept in days. A good reminder that I retired at the right time. And that teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Donna Vorreyer, The best of intentions…

If I were doing the Sealey Challenge this year, I would embark on a re-reading of the Maureen Seaton books in my possession, having just learned of her death. I met her in Chicago and took a seminar with her, and she was an inspiration. She encouraged me to send some prose poems to Quarter After Eight, where they were taken. It became a favorite journal of mine, full of the challenging and unexpected. 

I would probably start with Furious Cooking.

Sadly, I am not doing the Sealey Challenge this year–voraciously reading a book of poems a day in August–because daily life has gotten a bit too complicated by caregiving, though resting with poetry might have helped. The heat wave did not. Now I think of throwing my ivy comforter on this wooden glider, putting the stack of Seaton books beside me, and at least leafing through, pausing here and there to concentrate on a poem. But the afternoon is spoken for.

Kathleen Kirk, Furious Cooking

This morning, news of 2 deaths took me back to specific times in my life:  Bob Barker and Maureen Seaton.  I was surprised, in some ways, to learn that Bob Barker had been alive these many years, and saddened to realize how relatively young Maureen Seaton was when she died, in her mid-70’s.  At this point, if there’s a cause of death, I haven’t found it.

Bob Barker seemed old when I was first aware of him, lazy summer days watching The Price Is Right, with my mom and sister.  We loved this game show, and I’m not sure why.  Looking back from a distance, the prizes seem less than fabulous, unless one won one of the showcases at the end.  I remember one babysitter pointing out that the contestant was lucky to have won extra cash because she’d need it to pay the taxes on the prize package.

Still, we tuned in, almost every morning, unless we had swim lessons.  And the show went on–and on and on–long after we quit watching, long after Bob Barker stopped hosting it.  Reading the news coverage, Barker seemed like a good human.  I’m glad he lived so long.

Maureen Seaton also seemed like a good person, but unlike many of my peers, I was not her student.  I was an adjunct at the University of Miami where she taught, but our paths rarely crossed.  Once I went to a reading where she and Denise Duhamel read from their new work.  I bought Little Ice Age, which had just been released.  Seaton signed it, and told me how much she appreciated the fact that I bought her book in the hardback edition.

I looked up the publication history–that reading must have been in 2001 or 2002.  Wow.  It seems a lifetime ago, and in so many ways, it’s just as distant a time as my suburban childhood watching The Price is Right.  I went to poetry readings so often that many faces started to seem familiar.  I had dreams of my own book with a spine, and when my first chapbook was accepted in 2003 for publication in 2004, it seemed a tantalizing possibility.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting to Past Times

I was very sad to hear about the death of poet Maureen Seaton, who was a tremendously encouraging and supportive writer as well as a really fun writer—I’ve been reading her for years, but it is her steady kindness to others that I saw in all the mentions of her in social media. I wonder—does our work matter more, or how we treat people along the way? Either way, if you haven’t picked up anything by Maureen yet, you should. Ed Ochester, the editor of 5 AM and University of Pittsburgh Press for a long time, also passed away—another poet who was known for kind editorial notes and support for writers. Yes, he sent me some of those notes. We feel real sorrow—not just an abstract sense of loss—when these kinds of people pass away. The poetry world can be cold and indifferent, but these were people who made it less so. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a cliche, but they were people who reminded me to be not just a better poet, but a better person, and I will miss them. I want to remember to be kind, how important it is to write that note, or that blurb, or that appreciation or review.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Flare, Corona in F(r)iction, Still the Smoke and Heat, Poetry World Losses, A Blue Supermoon Coming…So Look Out (or Up)

The latest from Redmond, Washington poet (and that city’s second official poet laureate) Jeannine Hall Gailey is Flare Corona (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023), a constellation of first-person narrative lyric portraits and self-portraits clustered into four sections—“Post-Life,” “Harbingers,” “Blood Moon” and “Corona”—as she articulates an uncertain future around the weather, ongoing fires and the opening months of the pandemic, and of living with Multiple sclerosis. “You were warned.” she writes, as part of the poem “To Survive So Many Disasters,” “You promised / never to return. You set out on a journey / far from home. You looked out into darkness / and saw possibility.” Her poems explore layers of complication, both from within and surrounding, simultaneously burning out and refusing to fade away. There are moments in poems that see powerful lines occasionally buried, but Gailey writes from the centre and from all sides of each of these ongoing crises, offering her lyric as a way to document what has happened, what is happening, what might still be happening. “Under the mountains,” she writes, as part of the short poem “That Summer,” “the earth tried to shake us off. / The oldest oak trees fell, / people sheltered and burned in swimming pools, / the screams of horses in the air.” She speaks of climate crisis and its ongoing traumas, as the poem ends: “We were tied to a troubled earth. / You said it was too late to leave anyway.”

rob mclennan, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare Corona

I had actually forgotten that I’d written this poem until someone shared this image on the site formerly known as Twitter. As soon as I read it, I remembered what was on my mind and heart when I wrote it. I had to search on my hard drive to date it, though — I wrote it in spring of 2015, earlier than I thought. Looks like it was originally written in couplets, though I also like the shape that someone gave it in this image. (There’s a slight transcription error in line 8, but I’m honored that someone liked the poem well enough to share it this way, even without the original punctuation and italics.) It’s not exactly a sonnet, in terms of rhyme or meter, though it’s inspired by the movement of a Petrarchan sonnet — eight lines, a turn, then six lines. My favorite line is still, “God isn’t / a diner waitress saying: what can I get you, hon?” That’s not how I understand prayer to work, even petitionary prayer. Sometimes I can’t help wishing it worked that way, though. I would order so much wholeness and healing and sweetness and fulfillment of hope. 

Rachel Barenblat, Find

Today’s post draws from my research into how, exactly, wonder can work in service of preservation efforts, and how poetry can be the invaluable link connecting the two.

I often revisit the work of my most humble, most brilliant friend, Robert Macfarlane. In addition to being one of the most mesmerizing and thoughtful writers on nature, he has, in my estimation, done the best job of succinctly capturing one of the chief issues we face in our efforts to address threats to the Anthropocene:

“As a species, we will not save what we do not love, and we rarely love what we cannot name.”

Inspired by the findings of Cambridge researchers who discovered that British children aged eight and over were significantly better able to identify Pokémon than organisms found in the natural world, Macfarlane set out to write a book that would reclaim “the magic of naming nature” through “summoning spells,”: short, rhythmic poems. That book, beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris, is called The Lost Words, and it celebrates the identification and cherishing that naming the natural world allows. He provides a lexicon of slowly vanishing words—acorn, adder, bluebell, and so on—relying on a visual acrostic, whereby each stanza is capitalized to highlight the letters spelling out the thing described. Here is “Bramble”:

Bramble 

Bramble is on the march again,

Rolling and arching along the hedges,
   in to parks on city edges.

All streets are suddenly thick with briar:
   cars snarled fast, business over. 

Moths have come in their millions,
   drawn to the thorns. The air flutters. 

Bramble has reached each house now, 
   looped it in wire. People lock doors,
   close shutters.

Little shoots steal through keyholes,
   to leave – in quiet halls,

Empty stairwells—bowls of bright
   blackberries where the light falls. 

The poem relies on what Francis Spufford in The Child That Books Built called the “gloriously embedded” elements of language to which children are so attuned, “its texture, its timbre, its grain, its music.” Bramble is personified as “on the march again” across rural and urban landscapes, while the tightly woven pattern of full rhymes, “hedges / edges,” “flutters / shutters,” and slant rhymes “briar / over,” capture bramble’s invasiveness. Where things might turn sinister in the fifth stanza, “People lock doors, / close shutters,” Macfarlane redirects the story to acclaim the power and literal fruitfulness of bramble: “Little shoots steal through keyholes / to leave…/ bowls of bright / blackberries where the light falls.” The almost incantatory stresses make the poem ask to be spoken aloud.

In short: the poem enacts the wonder of the thing it describes.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: The Lost Words, Wonder, and Environmental Preservation

when were stars erased by rain

when did sleep still live in a tree

who was the first to murder a dream

Grant Hackett [no title]

I’ve been a bit scant on posting this month because I’ve been a bit scant on everything—inspiration, creativity, energy, and pep. August feels like it has dragged on interminably, and I haven’t been able to get forward momentum on anything. The heat, smoke and terrible Seattle air quality hasn’t helped with my general sense of stagnation and ennui. I’m left to just sit and wait out whatever this is, while I hope for a return to crisp, cool air and a good week of cleansing rain. In the meantime, I haven’t had a lot to say, and I haven’t had the to drive to fight through it and muster up a post anyway.

Despite my listlessness, I have managed to make one decision this month, which is to return to journaling. I used to journal daily, and I can’t pinpoint the exact time that practice fell away for me, but I haven’t journaled in many years, and it feels like it’s time to start again. Journaling always brought me clarity, and I am feeling a need for clarity on many things right now. The act of sitting and writing with pen and paper, physically moving your hands over the page and connecting your thoughts to the movement, imbues a sort of magic. It brings calmness and calls forth truth and orderliness of the mind, which is something I long for right now. And of course, returning to journaling means buying a plethora of fancy new journals, which I am definitely not addicted to and don’t have a hoarding problem with at all.

Kristen McHenry, August Blahs, A Return to Journaling, Training Re-Set

I recently came across this blog post by Naush Sabah about why we send our poems to magazines (or not). I’m in agreement with her on just about all of it, although I needed telling some things; for example:

You needn’t seek to publish every poem you write. Some work is for the drawer, some work is for an audience of one or two friends, some work is better within a book, some work is for the trash and, if you’re lucky, a key to unlock the next piece of writing.

It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but when I think about it, I can put most poems I write these days into one of these categories. I haven’t been sending out as many poems to magazines as I used to, and among those I have sent not many have been accepted. I’ve been a bit disillusioned about this to be honest.

And yet at the same time I can see that quite a few of these poems belong with others in order to have the impact I’m after. In other words, in a collection.

A few might even be poems I should be treating as stepping stones to the actual poem I’m after, the ‘key to unlocking the next piece of writing’ that Naush talks about in her piece.

A funny thing to be saying, given my unofficial role as cheerleader for submitting to magazines. I still believe in the magazines, and still encourage people to send in their poems. But it’s what I’ve always said: it’s not a strategy that suits everyone all the time. Goals and ambitions change.

Robin Houghton, The positives of submitting less to magazines

Scientists say faking happiness can hurt you.

Scientists say the average person walks the equivalent of five times around the world in their lifetime.

Scientists say when you die, some companies will turn your ashes into fireworks.

Scientists say the universe is like a giant brain.

Rich Ferguson, Scientists Say

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Wonky

Who knew, at the bend,
a long slant sun would meet me,

we’d eat a burst of tomatoes 
at night, already in shadow,

a wall of sound, sonic crickets
like monks in saffron robes 

lined from here to the mountains,
soft, soft their silken chant, hand clap.

Jill Pearlman, Slanting

I can now share/remind you that the launch event will also be on the 7th November, at The Deverux Pub in Temple. I will be reading with Matthew Stewart (launching his second full collection. I’ve read it and it’s excellent). There will also be readings by Maria Taylor, Hilary Menos and Eleanor Livingstone. It’s a Red Squirrel Press and HappenStance read off. Who will win? Who will hold the coats???

Come along to find out…I am very pleased as it will be the first time I’ve actually met Sheila, Hilary, Maria and Eleanor.

More details here. And my thanks to Nell for putting this up (and for putting up with me). And very much thanks to Sheila for agreeing to publish me in the first place.

More from me on the book when I have it, but I am very, very excited now and it’s all starting to feel scary. 

Mat Riches, Varroa-iations on a theme

Super-excited to share this cover! Thank you to everyone at Sundress Publications for their work on this! Special thanks to Ani Araguz, my partner and artist behind the artwork on this cover. […]

This piece is entitled “we go to sleep early so we can dream what’s never in it for us.” I love the sense of at once feeling mired and also breaking apart. This ties into the way ruining and becoming ruins because of want are used as a metaphor in the book.

Also, happy to share that the project has a description as well. Check it out:

Is selfhood constructed? And if so, by whom? Exploring queerness, race, body image, and family, Ruin & Want is a masterful meditation on otherness and identity. In a series of gripping, episodic prose pieces centered on an illicit relationship between a student and his high school English teacher, Araguz peels back the layers of his marginalized identity. By reflecting on his childhood into adulthood, Araguz grapples with finding a sense of self when early, predatory experiences have deeply affected his coming-of-age. In quixotic, deeply eviscerating lyric prose, Araguz delivers a troubling but bold memoir that handles this topic with courage while grieving what it costs survivors to reckon with harm’s aftermath. Yet in the midst of this struggle, we find many bittersweet and lingering gifts such as, “For the first time I saw myself as someone worth seeing,” that make this work necessary and unforgettable.

I’ve been working on R&W since 2016. The work has had me learning and growing over the years. The book is a testament to my survival. The final year of work had me realizing that I have been late in embracing my queer identity, something that has been difficult to do until the completion of this book. Still learning as I go.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want cover reveal!

Writing really is a long game. I wrote Murder Girl gets wired in 2007 after I’d relocated from Perth to Adelaide and was still elbow-deep in writing for theatre. I didn’t know about prose poems. I thought I was just writing little sketches (were they poems? were they stories?) with a view to heightening ordinary fuckd-up urban and suburban folk to a kind-of mythological status. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d give my characters names like Murder Girl, Violet Sweets, Beef Boy and they’d always drink too much & have low self-esteem. Auto-bio much? Now I can hear rhythms & a smattering of rhyme in this poem, which were the precursors to me writing and performing my first spoken word poem in 2016.

In 2020, when I received funding to record my first collection SIARAD as an audiobook & make some video poems, I wanted to record multiple sound-tracks for this poem, which were then edited & enhanced by the audio genius Jeffrey Zhang. Then, the poet indigo eli introduced me to featherful (not their real name) who agreed to make the video-poem. I still remember the feeling of being blown away the first time I watched it. It exceeded my expectations in capturing the feel of late-night, urban-gothic youth culture in small city Australia. The video poem’s interplay of dark and light, appearing & disappearing, is eerie.

Caroline Reid, VIDEO POEM: Murder Girl gets wired

Earlier in the week, a facebook friend asked everyone if they could think of a time they wanted to stop writing, and what made them carry on regardless.  How did they work through it? I was thinking of responding, but then realized the answer was way too complex and convoluted to deal with in a comments section. There are days when I feel this way about poetry specifically, not really writing in general, of which I have done many different types and genres at various points.  I love that I get to make a living writing other kinds of things now, but poetry sometimes feels like something I could easily drop from my life like a napkin from a table and I’m not sure anyone would notice. It certainly doesn’t contribute financially to my life, nor does the pursuit of it necessarily all the time contribute to my mental well-being. It is a lot of time and effort invested with steadily diminishing returns, something that took me a long time to realize.  That working harder or more or better wouldn’t necessarily show any kind of difference at all. And by returns, I don’t necessarily just mean po-biz things, many of which I have let go of in the past several years.  But more so the sense of purpose that I sometimes lose the thread of at times. Would I not spend my time better by writing things that allow me to make a living rather than dropping poems into what usually feels like a void. Would not these energies be more productive leveled elsewhere?

And yet, I don’t know how I would live without it. Or where I would channel those same storytelling energies. Fiction, sure, but I am not really very good at it.  Essays, maybe. Writing poems, good or bad, have been part of my life since I was a stupid teenager who did a little too well on an English assignment and somehow locked in hard on a genre that most people don’t seem to care about at all. I used to dismiss that Rilke quote about HAVING to write, of dying if you were forbidden to do it,  as pretension and dramatics, but maybe he was right. Sometimes I am not certain how I could ever consider stopping. Sometimes I am not certain how I can keep going.

But there are still poems to be written. Projects to be executed.  I am digging in on the video poems that I will be releasing in September–the villains series–armed with a fancy new microphone […]

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/28/2023

One thing I love about poetry is the space it holds for nuanced conversation. It’s so magnificent when poets get their teeth in something, shake it about and snarl at it or fawn over it (or both!). Poems are places where we can wonder about things and be in awe just as likely in response to something beautiful as to something terrible.

Barbie is a spectacular subject for poetry. In addition to the cultural baggage noted above, she offers opportunities for ekphrasis and persona poems. She conjures nostalgia and personal story. She invites reflection on identity and body image. She churns up questions on gender, class and power. And of course, there are all those outfits: Who is she, really? “Just” a doll? Perhaps.

It’s all grist for the mill, as they say — frothy, frothy fodder for poets.

I, personally, haven’t written any Barbie poems, but I always enjoy reading them. Of course there are full collections worth noting, including KINKY by Denise Duhamel, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang and Never Picked First for Playtime by Dustin Brookshire, which is an homage to Duhamel’s.

Carolee Bennett, barbie in the poetry world

“From From” explores the question “Where are you from from?” (where are you really from) by investigating the awkward state of being American yet being othered by white Americans and of the feeling of incompleteness when you discover your heritage through English sources. Youn’s approach is less direct than Claudia Rankin’s but equally as eloquent. Youn’s studies are inventive, setting up two perspectives to interrogate received knowledge and bias. “From From” is a multi-layered collection that rewards re-reading.

Emma Lee, “From From” Monica Youn (Carcarnet Press) – book review

My father died five years ago. Yesterday was his death anniversary. Five years seems wrong. It feels both too long and too short. In this state of unmooring, one becomes time’s orphan, just as moving from Singapore to New York made me an orphan of place. I have lived in New York as a foster child for 20 years. 20 years seems wrong too, for the same reason. Yesterday I tried to recall the exact day I landed in JFK airport and took the bus to Grand Central Station, in order to board the train to Sarah Lawrence College, where I was to learn how to write, but I could not remember. What I remembered was sitting across from an older Jewish man on the train. He told me he was a jeweler who opened his own shop. Tonight, 20 years after I came to this city to see if I would be any good as a poet, I am having dinner with a younger Singaporean poet and her mom. She is here to pursue further training in the craft of writing, as I did. She will meet a host of interesting people in NYC, the sedulous, the sadducees, the seducers. I hope she will meet my jeweler.

Jee Leong Koh, Foster Child of New York

I visited Magnetic Poetry this morning aka The Oracle. This is what she imparted.
Happy Saturday.

Beneath dreams and
shadows
your sweet tongue
bares a fasting and
a wanting
pants for roses raw and light
licks an ache
a sleeping love
cooling to rust

Charlotte Hamrick, a little something

Highland Park Poetry press has set up a book launch/poetry reading for The Red Queen Hypothesis (and me) with poet Rene Parks and an open mic to follow. This event takes place Saturday, September 9th at 5 pm, at Madame ZuZu’s, 1876 First Street, Highland Park IL. Here’s a link, and here’s another link. It’s a ways to travel from eastern Pennsylvania but a good reason for yours truly to visit a new place, meet new people–including the book’s publisher–and listen to other poets.

Too often, perhaps, I stay around the home front, indulge in my introversion by gardening and reading, and shy away from promoting my work. Lately, it’s been months since I did any submitting. There was my participation in the annual Goschenhoppen Festival, then a short but lovely week in North Carolina, camping and seeing friends. Now, the veggie season is starting to wind down–tomato sauce simmers on the burner–and I will have fewer excuses for why I am not sending out poems.

But my travel for the year is not quite done. In September there’s one more trip away from PA, and after that we can settle into autumn. I have writing plans, so once we return, I need to create a schedule that is flexible enough I can stick to it but framed clearly enough that it feels necessary and not difficult to integrate into my days and weeks. Every one of my writer friends knows how challenging that can be. Wish me luck. There’s a chapbook that’s been languishing in my desk area for quite a long time, but to which I’ve recently returned; there’s a ream of poems under 21 lines that might make up a collection, too. Then there’s the next manuscript, rather grief-heavy at present, that I need to re-think and revise.

Oh, and all those poem drafts I have not looked at in awhile…

Ann E. Michael, Book launch, travel, PR

Ann E. Michael, The Red Queen Hypothesis, Highland Park, 2023

Like her wonderful blog, Michael’s second full-length collection is meditative, witty, and smart, with a scientific and sometimes philosophical bent. Also like her blog, it’s closely observant of the more-than-human world in flux. “The Red Queen hypothesis,” I learned, comes from biology: species must keep evolving to survive. Poems and the people behind them must keep changing, too. In addition, The Red Queen Hypothesis suggests the advantage of sexual reproduction, and there are plenty of seductively “soft persuasions” in this collection. Like the “Stew Cook” speaking to her beloved, this is a book to “fill nooks with aromatic hours.” Shout-out to all the tasty slant-rhymes amid a profusion of traditional forms: rhetoric/ lick, beige/ strange, viola/ Iowa. My sense of knowing Ann pretty well by now might be an illusion—I’ve spent way more time reading her work than with her in person—but then again, intimacy with another person’s way of thinking is one of reading’s chief attractions.

Lesley Wheeler, Holding dear

As I was writing You Could Make This Place Beautiful, taking risks with both form and content, I suspected that for every reader who attached to certain craft choices, there would be a reader who’d chafe at those same choices. (Sort of like, “For every bird there’s a stone thrown at a bird.”) The direct address, the vignettes, the meta aspect of the narration, the privacy boundaries—I knew all of these were “love it or loathe it” choices.

All of this to say: I knew I was writing a book with a strong flavor. But I love strong flavors! Blue cheese. Smoked kalamata olives. (Smoked anything, really.) Very dark, bitter chocolate. Very black, bitter coffee. Chili crisp. Rose lemonade. Dill pickles. Hot curry. An imperial IPA. I find these things delicious, but I also completely understand how they might taste terrible to other people.* Taste is subjective.

You’re not for everyone. Your work is not for everyone. So be it!

“You are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.” —Sol LeWitt, in a letter to Eva Hesse

Whatever happens to your work when you send it into the world, with its sometimes treacherous landscapes, is none of your business, really. You made the thing, and now people can make up their own minds about it. Will everyone love it? Probably not. Will everyone hate it? Also, probably not.

But do you love it? Are you proud of it? Do you stand behind your choices? Have you made something uniquely yours?

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

Does this story know how to walk into the sunset, arm around the waist of hope? Does it know when to stop, to let the past become the future, let the future rechristen the past, let time recalibrate itself around words — words written now, words written then, words that make no sound? Where the last part of the story stops, more has already happened. Before. ‘On Turning Fifty’ was a milestone-chapbook I released in 2019. Then from the quiet of the year that followed, came ‘The Night is my mirror’. The continuity surprises me, though much of it was inevitable. There was more. From the horror of the pandemic years came the anguished poetry in Duplicity, released in 2021. All the dots are connected now. Do you see the pattern? Do you remember the crow that became a line in the sky? The first line. Do you see what geometry that line has wreaked? How solemn are those polygons? Which side is up? Some of those edges follow the horizon, some of them touch the acute angles of one blinking star in the sky.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (53)

awaiting the summer rain:
a stick shaped
like a bird’s foot

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 August 2023

On Sunday I was part of a group of poets and musicians reading at an outdoor event in the Italian Gardens in Scarborough. I don’t think I’ve been in the Italian Gardens since I was a child. I have a strong memory of my mum and myself having a day there together, me playing with my Sindy doll and running around the pond and up and down the stairs imagining I was in a fairy world, my mum quietly reading a book in the shade. It was just as I’d left it, though in the mean time it had become quite run down, before receiving funding to be brought back to its former glory. As I sat in the shade with the other readers and musicians I could hear the breeze blowing through the leaves and the scent of the sea and the flower gardens were carried up to us. […]

Mostly I have been stuck in the office this week sending literally hundreds of emails to Spelt competition entrants, letting them know the outcome. Our brilliant judge Jane Burn has sifted through 788 individual entries to whittle down to a longlist of twenty poets. Alongside that I have been pulling the last bits of issue 09 together and sorting out problems with it. We’ll be going to print with it soon. And as if that wasn’t enough, I’m working on yet another Arts Council England bid for some Spelt stuff too. If you know me you will know filling in applications makes me want to pull my own eyes out and kick them out of the window. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending so much time at my desk, we decided to have a walk along the beach last night at about 8pm. It was glorious. The sea was a gentle murmer, there were still people on the beach, some of them with little fires which seemed brighter in the dusk. Scent of sausages o the breeze. There were lots of dead jellyfish looking like hazy autumn sun sets.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience: The Scent of Summer

Heavy trucks cough out a smell of omelettes and salad, financial ruin.

Food is an answer, yes, always, but remember to spit it out.

I stood to one side, didn’t understand, didn’t get involved.

A book called A Very Short History Of Friends.

Guilt is a secret hand opening ancient maps, spreading them out.

Bob Mee, MEDITATIONS ON GUILT

Committing to commas, semi-colons, and cover layouts is an act of courage not demanded of us in the day-to-day virtual or verbal worlds where mistakes can (usually) be corrected at the touch of a few buttons, or with a cough and repetition of a line. It may not feel like it if you haven’t done it yet, but be assured that the process by which Moth, Aunts Come Armed with Tea Cakes (Thirza Clout), Body of Water (Emily Wilkinson), Lucidity (Ross Donlon), and I Buy A New Washer (Yours Truly) (all published by Mark Time) came to be in print form is a matter of precise, finite, and often late-at-night-squeezed-into-the-rest-of-life decision making. It’s also a matter of kind discussion with our editor, Ross, of benefitting from his poetry wisdom and skills.

It’s the finite, deadline bit that’s so difficult: a form of existential angst, made manifest. Never mind that saying, the one about ‘abandoning poems’; when you publish them on paper you have to release them carefully, tenderly, precisely, and, it may surprise some, soberly, and after lengthy and serious thought. This is because you release them to the possibility of changes of mind, misunderstandings, and (oh horror!) typos, as well as joy, understanding, and connection.

Liz Lefroy, I Mark Time

No time for lingering, except to linger
       in a room filled with simple light; no
call to pilfer coins it scatters freely
       at your feet. Bowl, water glass, figs 
softening on a tray—enough of need.
       Clear-eyed, unclouded: even as 
sweetness falls away, you want 
      the making of things that last.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Unsentimental

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 28

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: apocalyptic weather, gardening, mentors, making time to write, giving “cancelled” writers a path to redemption and reconciliation, and much more. Enjoy.


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

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

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

the best of wives
is fresh air

Sarah J Sloat, the best of wives is fresh air

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra in the Mountains

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

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 55

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

Tim Love, Flash Fiction Festival, 2023

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

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Harvest

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

Jackie Wills, Friends and a view of hills

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

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

Jill Pearlman, How to Break the Ice in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Terminal

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Aloft at last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Order, Accountability, Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every angel is fucking the seven arts.

Each leaf had achieved its vastness.

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

It was August and the night was hot.

What we were proposing already exists. 

Lisa Robertson’s Boat

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

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

ryan fitzpatrick’s Fake Math

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

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

Pearl Pirie, Fake Math

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

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

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

Perhaps it can teach bullets how to sing Ave Maria.

Rich Ferguson, Season of Goodbyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, On Gaia Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy Mills, Border Blurs by Greg Thomas: A review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, No More Number 2 Pencils

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

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Honoring The Impulse To Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Rewriting Memories and Poetry Collections

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

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

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

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

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

Fokkina McDonnell, The special table cloth

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

Jim Young, So much about nothing to do

After some time, the light

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

Lopsided butterfly
slowly opens and closes
torn white wings.

PF Anderson, Fixed & Floating

on which side of my skin is sky

have all suns held inside a dawn that never arrives

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

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


When, in 1982, I first encountered William Carlos Williams’s now-famous 1923 poem ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, readable here, it was instantly inspirational and probably the first poem that I really loved. Like my devouring of the works of Kerouac, Ginsberg and the other Beats, this came about because my brother Adrian, four years older than me, had undertaken a poetry module as part of his American studies degree at Essex University. We both loved WCW’s poem for its directness, immediacy, exactness, brevity, shape upon the page, and absence of punctuation and upper-case lettering; so much so that Adrian, with no little pretension, asked our mum to knit him a jumper which featured a red wheelbarrow against a grey background. I don’t think anyone ever ‘got’ the image without prompting, but we knew – and somehow that sufficed. To us, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ seemed a significant advance on Ezra Pound’s 1913 poem ‘In a Station of the Metro’, which rather clumsily attempted to transmit the spirit of haiku into English poetry.

Over the years, my admiration for ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ has reduced, partly because my tastes have broadened to include poetry far more florid than Imagism and perhaps because, like WCW’s ‘This is Just to Say’ (which, due to the abundance of social media parodies it has spawned, has become more well-known than ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’), the poem has, within the poetry world, become famous to the point of infamy. In my own poetry, whatever concision and specificity they contain are qualities I first grasped from WCW’s poem. But by 1983, I’d discovered the Penguin Book of Japanese Verse and its translations of Bashō, Buson, Issa, Shiki and other haiku poets and retrospectively found Imagism to be verbose in comparison. Nevertheless, I retain a certain nostalgic fondness for my first love.

Matthew Paul, On ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ and what Donald Davie had to say

I still have the copy of The Will to Change: Poems 1968-1970, by Adrienne Rich that my sister, B. Ruby Rich , gave to me for my 16th birthday. The first single author book of poems I ever owned. What did my teenage self make of it? Dear Reader, my mind exploded. I was just turning 16 and already I was more than ready for transformation.

Looking back at this copy, here are the only words which I underlined in a time when I didn’t believe in underlining in books:

To read there the map of the future, the roads radiating from the

initial split, the filaments thrown out from that impasse.

To reread the instructions on your palm; to find there how the

lifeline, broken, keeps its direction.

from “Shooting Script,” final section

Now, more than 40 years later, I am amazed at how deeply the images and syntax have metabolized into my own work: maps, palms, and pushing to establish new roadways into a reformulated self. Poetry as alchemy.

Here was a woman (with my last name, but unfortunately, no relation) writing of the inchoate world that I’d intuited without having the words for such ideas. Was the wreck (I immediately purchased Diving into the Wreck:Poems 1971-1972 with my babysitting money) actually submerged underwater or was the wreck more of an internal, carved out shell of the mind?

Susan Rich, Adoring Adrienne Rich

Metaphor is risky. Sometimes I feel like a distrust of metaphor is the primary feature of contemporary poetry. If this is true, it goes right back to modernism and the revolt against (terrible mixed metaphor incoming) the debased coinage of flowery Victorian verse. It has something to do with modern conditions, too – alienation, transitoriness, the destruction of old certainties. All metaphor is a kind of dance between an individual’s sensibility (I think this is like this) and what can be expressed in language, but what you can risk depends in part on trusting your adience to make the leap with you. But modern audiences, where they exist at all, are necessarily unstable.

Instinctively, I know poems need metaphor even as I shy away from it. It can be tempting to squeeze one in at the end of a poem, in the same way we might close on a rhyme though the poem had previously shown no interest in such things.

Jeremy Wikeley, Billy Collins, Middlemarch and Metaphor

Grief turns everything on its head; the reason and logic of language can fall short. This poem doesn’t make logical sense because grief doesn’t make sense. It has to be felt, not reasoned with, and we need to make adjustments to include loss & grief in our lives. Hence the repetition of the word ‘adjust’ in the poem. 

Here’s a bit about how I approached the making of this work: I began by Googling ‘tips for dealing with grief’ and included some words from my searches. I also reference the ritual of tea making, punning on the phrase ‘adjust to taste’. Since reading Megan Devine’s book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, I’ve discovered that the stress of grief can show up as physical pain, which was certainly the case for me. Days after my mother died, while I was still in hotel quarantine, I began to experience acute physical pain in my left shoulder (which still hasn’t completely healed. I reference that shoulder pain in the poem.

When I showed ‘Tips for Dealing with Grief’ to Donna she was inspired to made a teeny book, typing the words of the poem onto pages made of teabags (you can see them in the photograph). We included the book in our recent exhibition, SOLACE, as part of Adelaide Fringe. I also used a fountain pen to write the poem on rice paper, which was hung in the gallery. It was bought by someone who planned to hang it in their workplace as a way of prompting discussion about grief and loss between work colleagues.

Caroline Reid, Tips for Dealing with Grief

I’ve not read the whole that this is from, but the words by C.K. Williams about how “each death demands / its own procedures / of mourning but I can’t / find those I need” really helps. Each death is universal; each death is utterly its own. And then, when the losses build up, I wonder what happens to our ability to find the right ways to mourn? The trauma gets embedded into our bodies in ways that are not easy, though loss is never easy. The layers of loss and trauma though, that must be different now.

Shawna Lemay, Marking Occasions

I have no blueprint. I’m getting younger. One poem does not have to sound or look like the next. I make coffee, sit down and see what happens.

Before I begin, I check if a payment has gone from the bank account. A message pops up: We’ve made some exciting changes to our Log-In Page.

A brochure for community living for the Over-60s drops through the letterbox. A home is built on laughter and good company, says the brochure. Enjoy stress-free retirement living, says the brochure. There are friendly faces everywhere, says the brochure. Our friendly on-site staff ensure everything runs smoothly, says the brochure. Our friendly team will be happy to help, says the brochure. Find out more about our affordable way to buy, says the brochure.

I make another coffee. Look out at our lawn full of forget-me-nots, daisies and dandelions. The neighbours, who will mow their grass if they spot a single daisy, call it a jungle.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING, 13 MAY 2023

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Really depends on the project. In the last decade or so, as I explored drawing on research for book-length projects, my whole creative process shifted from writing individual poems in short bursts to a slower, longer framework for completing a book, even if poems were arranged in series. I discovered a remarkable slave story in New Orleans right before I was leaving for another position, the last slave to use the courts to sue for emancipation on the eve of the courts being closed to slaves with the signing of the Fugitive Slave law. This slave, Cora Arsene, won her case. Dred Scott, in a different state but the same year, did not. Writing that long poem entailed a decade of research about Southern slave history (including the Haitian Revolution), and much much consideration of genre. The new collection, instead, it is dark, beganwith the shock of my husband’s massive heart attack. He was born into occupied France, and my rather inchoate impulse as I began the book was to honor his life by turning some of his memories and dreams into poems. I conducted a lot of research and ended up interviewing his extended family in France for this collection.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Cynthia Hogue

As a child I used to love exploring the old fortifications in the south and east of Zimbabwe, as well as the rock art that is dotted around the country. The rock paintings, by semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, are difficult to date but are believed to be at least a thousand years old. Many may be much, much older, dating back several millennia. They are found in caves and rock shelters, or underneath massive overhanging boulders. 

These extraordinary works of visual poetry use the surfaces and materials that were available to their creators at the time: natural earth pigments, mixed perhaps with animal fat, painted on smooth, weathered granite. Large slabs of rock allowed the artists to paint freely and expressively; splits, curvature and irregularities in the rock face are integrated into the compositions. […]

When thinking about poetic constraint, we tend not to consider surface. It’s interesting to contemplate how poetry has been shaped by the surface on which it is written – rock, stone, clay, wax, parchment, fabric, paper, electronic screen – and how this has evolved over time. 

Marian Christie, Rock, Paper, Scissors: Shape and Surface as Constraint

Yes! is a sensation. Creating is a sensation. Editing in a groove is a sensation. Poem is a sensation.

Get enough stimulant and take away enough sleep, add enough stress and you’ll addle yourself into invoking a sensation, but labelling it poem doesn’t make it one.

Sometimes it’s as if the muse exists and you channel something into something close to final form. Some dark half of your brain has been working on that while you were doing the business of life. Sometimes these poems are your best that people like the most and yet they took the least effort while what you laboured over, invested in consciously, took pains to perfect, receive a meh.

Pearl Pirie, The Joy of Editing

I’ve been thinking about my heart condition and looking at poems I wrote shortly after having a heart attack. Contemplating my mortality is a new thing for me. I’ve had to adjust my thinking about time and the future. It’s a subtle shift but a profound one to consider that my time to be, to write, and to love is limited. It’s unsettling in the most interesting way to think of the body as having a mind and deadlines of its own.

Rachel Dacus, A poem on mortality & the heart

David and I enjoyed many happy visits to Laugharne and the Carmarthenshire coast from our Swansea home. You can barely make out the Writing Shed, but the Dylan Thomas Boathouse is the last white building beyond the castle on this side of the estuary, where the tidal stream bends to the left. […]

Lidia Chriarelli has once again curated an anniversary website to mark the occasion – here. My thanks to Lidia for including my Swansea-based contribution, a picture-poem. You will find it here, if you click the link and then scroll down. 

You might also be interested in Dear Dylan, an anthology of Dylan-inspired poetry and prose from Indigo Dreams Publishing, edited by Anna Saunders and Ronnie Goodyer. This volume (see here) was published on #DylanDay 2021 and contains one of my poems, ‘Tentacles and Tar’. 

Caroline Gill, International Dylan Thomas Day, 14 May 2023

I’m writing this from my little ex council house, my little pebble-dashed paradise, in the room that I set aside for myself as a gesture of belief in myself. I’m listening to the birds in the garden and the sheep in the next-door field and the sound somewhere (already?) of a lawn mower and the sound of people getting into their cars and heading to work. I am relaxed. As far as ambitions go, this is where I am and what I want. I want to make enough money to do the thing that I love and the thing that I think I’m good at. The relief knowing that this is entirely in my own hands is wonderful. And yet there is still an element of writer’s block going on in my little peaceful office.

This week I finished a block of mentoring in which myself and the mentee worked together to look at what she wanted out of poetry, out of being a poet and looked at how to get to that place. There is something that happens to poets in particular, I think, in that they have an idea of what they ‘should’ be and forget to ask themselves what they ‘want’ to be. It is perfectly acceptable to not want to dominate the poetic scene, to not want to climb over people to get to the top. We forget that joy does not always come from conquering, it often just comes from existing in a contented manner.

Wendy Pratt, Writer’s Block and How to Beat It

Cannot fall asleep from having Mother-
worry for so many things I never can
put adequately into words. I have
Mother-ache and Mother-sorry,
Mother-lonely, Mother-poor and
-poorly, Mother-never-will-come-
up-to-measure. Mother-who-has-left,
-has-left-behind, -has-herself-been-left,
who cannot finger the space in the middle
without feeling the old pulsing that once
came through her, bound her, unbound her…
Picture Mother as a mime whose arms
close around her, rock her, remind her:
who will save you if not yourself?

Luisa A. Igloria, Mother-

Identifying her body at the funeral home before cremation (because they send the wrong ones so often, did you know that? I didn’t, but I do now) the thing is, all her beauty was restored. My father’s mis-shaping blows. The drunk decades of absence. The rapes she suffered. The dead brother, her mother’s voice saying it should have been her. All of it. Generations of trauma, the things we do not say. Gone to wild violets, dogtoothed, in the forest. Gone to horses. Gone to freedom and innocence, cliché or not: just gone from her, her elegant bones gone to the before, before any of it went wrong. Only beauty left, invulnerable at last in this extremity of our mortal situation. That face, her beauty, burned into me too: that final loss of her, but in tenderness now. In tender surprise at so much beauty in the corpse of her, impossible and true.

So what, then, of all her consequential failures, or of mine. I still carry them, but so much else too. She tried, for a long time, and consequentially, to amend, as I did. Some we failed. Some we won. 

JJS, Mother’s Day

“Latch” is a quiet, studied exploration of what ties us to home and the shifting role of motherhood, from being mothered to becoming a mother. The poems are an intimate sketch of family life from a child’s view and then a mother’s view, that use the personal to make a broader point. We are shaped by our parents’ actions and our landscape. The country with its floodwaters, weirs, rivers to swim in is as much a character as the people. Water nurtures in warm baths and drinks, and also cleanses. Rebecca Goss invites readers with a poised engagement and rewards with precise language guiding the reader through the accumulation of details to cross the threshold.

Emma Lee, “Latch” Rebecca Goss (Carcanet Press) – book review

My father, my ancestor, was kidnapped by shadow. Late in the afternoon, a shadow crept through the window and lay like a carpet on the floor. My father bent down to examine it for though he was a master rug maker, he did not know how to weave darkness. 

As soon as he touched the floor, he was taken, where we did not know. My father was a clever man and over the years of his disappearance, learned the secret of weaving shadows. And so, though he never returned, my sisters, my brothers and me, our children, and our grandchildren, learned also. We saw our father’s patterns stretched across the road, in long shadows near the end of day, the dark woven into his name.

Gary Barwin, Father of Rugs

I’ve been working on some fun little aesthetic vibe videos inspired by other writers on Instagram I’ve seen..usually for novels and never for poetry, and yet, I realize that poetry books also, though they may or may not contain narrative and stories, definitely DO have a vibe. In fact, you could always say that poetry is sometimes JUST vibes. An experience, a moment, an intangible piece of communication. It’s yet another thing I am not sure that AI could produce of translate, even with hashtags. I did an experiment earlier with the image generator where I typed the phrase of one of my favorite Tik Tok aesthetics–dark academia (which is really just all of our styles in the 90s if we read too much Donna Tartt) and it gives me nonsense, and yet, most people would understand what I’m talking about. It’s a mood. A set of moods. A vibe. […]

These are glorious fun, and I actually made a couple in the past year about works in progress, sort of inspo boards in video format as a taste of what I’m working on. Last summer, GRANATA, and earlier this year, RUINPORN, the manuscript I just completed. In both cases, they both help reflect and inspired me as I go. I even did a similar one just for my shorter series, villains because I had the images saved for making daily NAPOWRIMO reels. There’s something about them that appeals to the collage-ist in me (plus music!) Be on the look out for more of older books and newer projects…

Kristy Bowen, all about the vibes

This weekend has been all about stripping…Paint-stripping specifically, and it is slow, laborious but dull work. It has meant I’ve been able to catch up on some podcasts as I strip away at layers of paint in my hallway.

Each one has had lots of interesting things to say, so in the absence of anything else I shall point you to them.

1. Rebecca Goss being interviewed by John Greening. It’s in two parts (part one and part two, because that’s how two-parters work.) This was recorded before her latest book, Latch, came out, but you can here in the podcast the book coming to fruition. I loved lots of what Rebecca had to say about being a poet, about her trajectory to becoming a poet, about learning to fight against defaulting to the same form—in her case it’s couplets and being labelled “deceptively simple”. You can also find transcripts here and here

2. The comedian Steven Wright being interviewed by Conan O’Brien. This is a new podcast to me, but I love Steven Wright’s sense of humour. His one liners are incredible.

For example, “Support bacteria – they’re the only culture some people have.”. See here for a list of 100 or so, and get yourself his albums, ‘I Have a Pony or ‘I Still Have a Pony ‘.

The reason I note this podcast, despite being it just being incredibly funny, is that he describes the 4 rules he set himself when he started out. You’ll have to listen to get them all, but essentially he talks about not doing political, topical material or swearing in his work. The first two help to give his work a timeless quality, and the last one is to help make the work land more. A joke with swearing in can be funny, but if you take the swearing out it makes the line work harder. This may or may not be useful in terms of writing poems. I am on the fence, but see what you think.

Mat Riches, Anthropocene and not heard

This week I’d like to celebrate the debut poetry collection of stellar poet and friend, Amanda Galvan Huynh: Where My Umbilical Is Buried (Sundress Publications).

I’ve admired Galvan Huynh’s work on and off the page for some time now. She’s a committed Xicana educator as well as an editor, alongside Luisa A. Igloria, of the essay collection Of Color: Poets’ Ways of Making :: An Anthology of Essays on Transformative Poetics.

I had a chance to read the collection and provide a blurb. Here’s what I wrote:

“From the title, Where My Umbilical Is Buried, Amanda Galvan Huynh invites readers to engage with the metaphor and image rich sensibility that drive the poems within. From the roads, nights, and fields where memory lies ‘buried’ under the sounds of voices whispering, Coke tab bracelets jangling, and cumbias, these poems grow and flourish into a lyric gift, an expression of affirmation and presence for gente y familia—the living, the dead, as well as who we must be in between.”

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Amanda Galvan Huynh

There seem to be plenty of launches and other events coming up. I just read today about Josephine Corcoran’s new pamphlet from Live Canon, to be launched on May 21st. Tomorrow Jill Abram’s launch for her debut pamphlet from Broken Sleep is happening in London – I had booked to go along, but then was offered the chance to talk about Planet Poetry to 3rd year students at Brighton University at their end of year publishing course. Peter and I couldn’t resist the idea of being on a panel and talking about the podcast! Thanks to Lou Tondeur for the invitation. On June 2nd I’m delighted to be reading at Frogmore at 40, Frogmore Press’s 40th Anniversary event in Brighton. I’m a tad daunted to be honest, looking at the names of the other readers. So I just hope I’m not reading first. Please come if you’re anywhere near Brighton, it should be a grand night!

Robin Houghton, Launches, project updates and two disputed works

Poems in this short collection are set where I live, against a Wiltshire backdrop of standing stones and henges, at the time of extreme heatwaves, a global pandemic and the start of the war in Ukraine. At the time of writing, my two children were growing up and becoming adults and I was re-establishing life with my husband in a long marriage. All of these events have found their way into the 20 poems collected in Love and Stones […]

Josephine Corcoran, My new chapbook ‘Love and Stones’ is available to pre-order

I’m so happy to share that my debut essay collection, All Things Edible, Random and Odd: Essays on Grief, Love and Food, is now available for pre-order through CLASH Books! The official release date will be November 28, 2023 and I’ll be using this space and others to share information as the date approaches.

For now, I’ll just say that this is a project –let me catch my breath here–twenty years in the making.

So, you know: maybe don’t give up.

Sheila Squillante, All Things Book News!

I had author photos taken in advance of The Familiar‘s publication (and found out that the official launch date of the book will be February 2, 2024. Yay!) The author photo experience was a strange one: I promised myself that when I had a new book I’d have a proper professional photograph taken (also, I believe in updating author photos. I don’t want to be one of those people who uses the same photo for 10 or 20+ years — aging should really be documented and acknowledged, even if it ain’t pretty). But I may have moved too far out of my league, because while Priyanca Rao (of Creative Headshots NYC) is a really personable, highly talented, super-skillful photographer, I’m definitely feeling imposter syndrome when I look at them, to the point I *had* to poke fun at myself when I reposted some of them on Instagram.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, All the Stuff All at Once

I’ve got my poetry set all set up and so excited to be at my favorite all-poetry bookstore tomorrow with my friend Martha Silano (whose poem was a clue in NYT crossword this week, what what!) and we’re bringing fancy macarons to share during the book signing afterward in the Parlor.

This is my first time reading at Open Books’ new location in Pioneer Square. I’m hoping we can keep it cool (and I’m bringing a few cold drinks with me just in case) and that people show up since we are having beautiful sunny weather after an entire spring of rainy gray cold days. I had to drag out all my summer dresses and sandals after wearing sweaterdresses and boots earlier in the week. I’m happy to say you can also order a personalized copy of Flare, Corona from Open Books here. Support indie bookstores!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Book Launch and Straight into Summer, Interview with Kelli Russell Agodon, BOA’s Blog Post and Making a Flare, Corona Cocktail, and Readings Tomorrow and Monday!

Under it all there is a low not-sound; a subtonic grinding of plates; while above are the netted lines of swallows too shrill to be heard, too quick to be traced; letters that  dissolve in the sky before they can be read. The book is there. Here, rather. Anywhere that a fool might reach. Did you really think you were the only exception? God may be merciful; I wouldn’t know; but that would be bizarre.

Dale Favier, Books

Amorak Huey’s latest collection of poems is titled Dad Jokes From Late in the Patriarchy. It came out almost exactly two years ago from Sundress Publications—get your copy of it here—while the pandemic had been going on long enough that I was thinking the end was maybe in sight, though of course I had no idea what the end would look like or if it would ever come. I’m trying to remember just what it was like to open this book up and read these poems but that time is squashed together into mostly one big shitball. I can look at the date and know what must have happened around then but I can’t make it work in my memory.

What I do remember is the way I read this book slowly, because after every second or third poem I just needed to take a breath and ruminate on what I’d just read. I told Huey as much on Twitter, back when I was on there.

Brian Spears, Backwards Poets Write Inverse

An apology has to hold
the whole universe in its
hands. It has to be heavier
than the wound. How many
words make up a universe?
How many words make up
a universe that is forever
expanding?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (38)

One thing about being a writer is that, after awhile, you meet other writers one way or another: sometimes through social media, Zoom events, or in person at book signings and readings; sometimes through conferences, workshops, or various educational programs; sometimes by finding local writers groups or getting an introduction to someone through a friend. When you meet writers, you get the additional privilege of reading their work. It so happens that lately, many of my writerly friends and colleagues have published books, and I’ve been busy reading them! […]

The near-abstract imagery and the concrete place-names and lyricism in Heather H. Thomas’ 2018 Vortex Street appealed to me on several levels, from the scientific (a repeating pattern of swirling vortices, see “fluid dynamics”) to the particular: my husband grew up in Reading, PA, where some of these poems are suspended in recollection. I’ve also loved reading Grant Clauser’s latest, the 2021 Codhill prize-winner Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, a collection of poems that strikes me as both deeply beautiful and tenderly sad. Poet Lynn Levin has published a terrific book of short stories that remind me of the wry sense of humor and wide-ranging knowledge her poems have while proving she’s also a deft hand at plot and character. Maureen Dunphy’s memoir Divining, A Memoir in Trees, brought to mind parallels with Lesley Wheeler’s memoir in poems, Poetry’s Possible Worlds. In both books, the authors have chosen a locus [an American tree, a contemporary poem] and used the exploration of that “trigger” to draw out something personal. What better way to connect with readers than through something we love and value? Which brings me to a shout-out to Jane Satterfield, whose poetry collection The Badass Brontës isn’t in this photo because I’ve already lent it to someone who’s a Brontë fan.

Ann E. Michael, Reading friends’ books

Tell us about the new collection

I haven’t put out a book. Instead, I’ve collected a few spoken-word’n’beats’n’rhymes together in either an extended EP or a short album and called it Funkinism.

It covers a lot of ground: from comedy cannibalism to nature-funk, from forgotten black women to people (like myself) who aren’t that good at dancing.

I’m releasing pieces one by one via my Bandcamp and sharing snippets on Facebook and Instagram too. My Patreon supporters got the whole thing as a free download for backing me […]

How has the poetry business/scene changed over your life time?

I think the arrival of the spoken word/performance poetry scene has given a big boost and a youth-injection to poetry, which is great. Actually, before that in the 1970s, the rap scene began with street poets battling it out verbally. Rap is poetry and hip hop is massive. So I guess I’ve witnessed rhyming words becoming super-popular and travelling right around the world.

In the 21st century, social/digital media invites poets to reach audiences they might not have (although we find ourselves shouting into the void unless we spend some advertising dollars). It also invites us to spend a lot of time learning how to use these digital tools. Time that could have been spent doing your do. I’ve definitely succumbed to too much tech, not enough artistry, which is why I wrote this piece, called Watchin’ It or Doing It.

I’ve seen festivals increasingly offering poetry tents (which are packed): a brilliant antidote to atomised creatives performing snippets of their work to a camera screen, only for that worked to be watched just 3% of the way through until the audience scrolls on to another bit of eye-candy.

Paul Tobin, MAMA TOKUS THE INTERVIEW

They’ve built a new wall between the park and the motorway. I had to strain to hear the cars over the birds. Not that I put effort into it, once I satisfied my curiosity. Once I grounded myself in the reality of a kind of “this too”.

There was a soft rain. Perfect running weather, though I can only walk right now. I like that tug in my center that tells me: run. It means something different now. Not a running from or a running to – but a way of being with the world.

Art pour’art. Life imitating art. Life for its own sake.

I recognize this feeling. It’s not a high. It’s filled with gravitas. Maybe this is what contentment feels like: joy tethered to the deep unknowns. Fear has a story, I think, while this is something akin to reverence.

I will return to running. I am ready now for the familiar.

Ren Powell, The Familiar

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week saw the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the spring equinox and World Poetry Day. Somewhat to my surprise, the former didn’t get much explicit attention in the poetry blogs, but the outbreak of war was the impetus for Phoenicia Publishing founder/editor Beth Adams to start her blog the Cassandra Pages—I think the longest-running literary blog I follow. And the war was certainly also an impetus for me and many of my fellow bloggers back in 2003, so it’s an anniversary with some consequence here. Instead this week I saw a lot of what Rachel Dacus calls a “heading-into-spring burst of vitality.” Enjoy!

NB: There will be no digest next Sunday. I know, I know, it’s Poetry Month, but I need to see the ocean. When the digest returns, it will probably be on a weekday; I haven’t decided which one.


The pristine snow,
abandoned, sinks —

a sooty skin.

Broken objects
rise up. An arm, 
stairs, cardboard
boxes shocked
by fetid air,

my head 

pushes from the
mud […]

Jill Pearlman, Flux, March

It’s World Poetry Day, and tonight I will be going to a Josephine Hart Poetry Hour event at the British Library, about WB Yeats. 

By my reckoning, Yeats has been in my life for about 30 years. I was a young teenager, as with so many of the artistic influences which ran into my bloodstream and stayed there forever. I was thinking tonight that the records I listened to between about 12-16 are part of who I am — they are me — and the records I listened to between about 17-22 are time machines, which is actually something quite different. Yeats is part of who I am and thus, part of what led me first from Canada and then to Ireland and then to London. And certainly to being a poet, as far as it goes. (A small thing, but mine own.) 

The poem that came to mind tonight, in another year of global turmoil, was Yeats’s ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’, part of the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. It weaves together the extreme focus on the personal, the immediate and the close-by, with the broader crises and concerns which put the poet in that place of absolute focus in the first place. It grasps at what can be seen and held, and also hoped for, amidst profound uncertainty. This is, in varying degrees, the story of the world in recent years (and in less recent years). And it was written a little over a century ago.

Clarissa Aykroyd, World Poetry Day: ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’ by WB Yeats

This week on my local Nextdoor, someone wrote about a man at a busy intersection who, for the second day in a row, was walking around naked from the waist down. Lengthy threads–about obscenity laws (or lack of them), police responses (or lack of them), mentally ill support services (or lack of them), penalties (or lack of them)–ensued. In the midst of one thread, a woman shared that she wants to kill herself. Four people responded to the woman, but more than 30 (I stopped counting) continued yammering on at each other about laws, police, services, et cetera et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

There’s more than one way to be naked in the street. Most people aren’t going to stop their cars to help. I closed my laptop and cleaned my oven, which made me think of Sylvia Plath. We don’t do what we can’t.

Last week I got a rejection that was so encouraging it almost felt like an acceptance: “We admired your essay, but we’re going to have to pass this time. “Resistance” reached the final round of our decision-making process. We would love to read more of your work, and we hope you will submit to XXX in the future.”

It’s the only writing I’ve submitted anywhere in the last year. Speaking of not doing what we can’t. It was a micro-essay about mass shootings. And ice skating.

I want to write about that class. I want to write about these people–us people–who gather in virtual rooms at the end of days that look ordinary to everyone else and unzip our normalcy suits to let the alien life we carry inside us breathe a little freely for a few hours. I don’t know how to write about that, any more than I know how to help the half-naked man or the woman who wondered if she should burn herself up in the house her grandmother and mother once lived in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The week that was

I’ve forgotten to count the atmospheric rivers that have gushed across the San Francisco Bay Area, but the incredible deluge seems to have sparked a lot of literary ideas for me. When the 50 mph winds are bending trees sideways and sinkholes are appearing in the roads, it’s a subtle hint that you have nowhere better to go than your writing desk. I’ve cradled my laptop many of these dark, rainy mornings. I’m feeling a low rumble of energy, the heading-into-spring burst of vitality that soon will pop leaves out of the soil and bare branches.

Rachel Dacus, Creating Characters in Springtime

Today this blog celebrates its twentieth anniversary. I almost forgot, because I was focused on it being the first day of spring: an event we’re eagerly anticipating up here but about which there’s been precious little evidence, other than the maple sap running, and brighter, longer days. However, I’ll post these grape hyacinths in the hope that we’ll be seeing real ones — in about a month.

The craziness of living in, and enduring, such a northern climate may be matched by the craziness of having blogged here for twenty years. Or perhaps I’m just stubborn. Social media was supposed to be the death of blogging, and it did do-in most of the blogs that started when mine did. Other platforms were touted as the next best thing, but I think most bloggers just got fatigued. Keeping up a blog, trying not to repeat yourself, and finding something personal to say is hard enough over years and years, but when the readers and commenters start to go away, it’s even harder to remember why you began it in the first place.

But I do remember: I was a journal writer and determined letter-writer, with a well-established practice, and blogging fit me to a T, not only because it satisfied those same urges, but because it also added the possibility of a visual component. The latter, of course, became the raison d’être for Instagram, and I have loved being part of a community of artists and photographers there. But for those who want to write regularly and seriously, nothing has really worked as well as blogs, and for someone like me who’s a visual artist as well, and wants to own her own website rather than be data-harvested at every click of the mouse and keyboard, blogging has continued to be the best choice. I guess stubborn perseverance has just kept me at it, because first of all I write and make a record of my art for myself — I’d do this anyway — but how much better it is to share it with you, communicate with you, and get to know each other.

The doubts I was having about blogging a few years ago have mostly disappeared. It’s clear to me that this is where I belong, and that it works for me.

Beth Adams, Cassandra at Twenty

I ran into one of my blog readers last night in person at the theatre. What a joy, and I am so touched! He said he has read some books based on my blog accounts, and he also enjoys my chalkboard poems. This just warms my heart! And I needed warming up, as it’s been cold and gloomy for a few days, but yesterday the sun came out, and there was a clear sky with stars and a fingernail moon last night!

Kathleen Kirk, Hello Beautiful

It’s been a weird week here in Seattle, with the first days of spring bringing bright blue skies, 60-degree weather and cherry blossoms, and ending with surprise snow and an equally surprising bobcat visit.

Today I have two videos for you—one of a bobcat walking by my back door, and one from my offsite reading at AWP with BOA at the Seattle Library. I’m not an expert at YouTube yet, so forgive me for any problems. I even (at my little brother’s urging) finally made myself a channel, so you can like and follow me there, and you’ll get a mix of readings plus bobcats. And silliness.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Weird First Week of Spring – Starting with Bright Blue Skies and Blossoms and Ending with Snow and a Bobcat Visit, A Video from my AWP Offsite Reading and Last Picture

I wandered over to Facebook, where I saw a post by Daisy Fried, who introduced her students to Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.”  Along with reading the poem, they listened to this podcast that contains a discussion of the poem–great stuff!  After the podcast, I read this article that talks about the history of how this poem has been received by larger communities (the poetry community, the black community, new generations of activists).

Eventually, I shifted to seminary writing.  I like to think that my seminary writing was deeper and richer because I began my morning with poetry.  I know that my life is richer each day when I begin my day with poetry.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Beginning My Day with Poetry

Late last night someone sent me a wonderful goat video. I wanted to read a poem about a goat, but the only one I could think of was “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

I started thinking about the perennial conversation E. and I have about art. He doesn’t use the term with a capital A, ever. He sees art as a form of escapism, not as a portal to a shared experience about what it is to be human. He doesn’t want to spend his evenings looking at the hard things. He says he gets enough of hard things. And isn’t that true of all of us.

And I can respect that. Though I find it inexplicable why we would have such differing attitudes about beauty and awe. Such differing approaches to acknowledging what it is to be human.

But then, I have seen his whole body express awe while overlooking valleys from mountain tops. Maybe that is enough for him. Everything. You can die on the mountainside. At any point of the journey. He doesn’t put it into words, or squeeze it into symbols. He has this, and maybe it is enough?

I would talk to him about this. Ask him. But I don’t think he wants to think about it. It just is and doesn’t need to be teased apart and put together again. If I brought it up, I think he’d just suggest a hike.

I like watching goats. Their pronking moves me emotionally in ways that I can’t keep up with physically or even intellectually. I envy them their in-the-moment joy. At least that’s what it looks like. But I will admit that there is something about their eyes. The gut-hooked association to Christian symbolism that I carry with me from childhood. The dangerous wildness.

So for me, the pronking kids will always have the darkness of Kelly’s “Song”.

Because this all this is true. And I am still learning to hold the paradox lightly and enjoy the flow.

Ren Powell, The Hard Things

Hard to believe it was over ten years ago that I first stumbled on (or rather out of) The Betsey Trotwood pub in London’s Clerkenwell with my long-suffering willing-to-be-taken-to-poetry-readings friend Lucy.  It’s certainly a stalwart of the poetry scene.

A week or so ago I was there to hear readings from students on the Poetry School Writing Poetry MA. Friends and fellow Hastings Stanza members Judith and Oenone are both on the course – Judith about to complete her final year, Oenone her first. They both gave fine readings, as did many others, and the whole event was a huge love-in for the tutors Glyn Maxwell and Tammy Yoseloff.

I do love the atmosphere at ‘The Betsey’ – an achetypical Victorian London pub with an upstairs function, these days entirely smoke-free of course, but just a few decades ago it would have been eye-stingingly fuggy. (It was pointed out to me however that the room was not accessible. This is of course a problem with all the old pubs – they just weren’t built with accessibility in mind. I’m not sure what the answer is.)

The pub used to be called The Butcher’s Arms apparently, and perhaps the renaming (taking the name of a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield) was symbolic of its friendliness to the poor poets and writers of Owd Lahndon Tahn. Many a book launch happens there. In fact, the latest edition of Finished Creatures launches there on Tuesday 4th April. Do come if you can.

Robin Houghton, Poetry at the Betsey

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to party in the city with a hot young lit mag, you might enjoy Bindu Bansinath’s Dispatch From The Drift’s Latest Party. Writes Bansinath, “Their parties have become a media frenzy of their own, providing endless Twitter fodder…but a friend of mine described the whole evening best when she said, ‘They’re a gathering of nerds who want to drink and shit-talk The New Yorker.’”

[…]

Finally, in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm to his article, Rattle Editor Tim Green has begun a list of lit mags that have updated their guidelines from “unpublished work only” to “uncurated work only.” You can view the list here. We hope to continue to see it grow!

Becky Tuch, Lit Mags to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right!

Stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, comma by comma, a good editor enables a poet to understand their own method, makes them question and/or justify their choices, helps them spot their own weaknesses, encourages them to raise their game a notch. Such close editing places a draining demand on the person who does it, requiring a high level of engagement. It takes so much out of the editor that they often struggle to sustain their own writing at the same time. And this sacrifice is another reason why editing is generous.

Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press is the editor I know best, and her example is the point of departure for this post. Few publishers work as closely with their poets. What’s more, her graft on others’ behalf is definitely detrimental to her own terrific poetry. I’d suggest that U.K. Poetry could do with a few more Nells, though she’s a one-off. In fact, you could do far worse than get hold of her latest top-notch collection, Pearls, which hasn’t received the attention that it so richly deserves. It’s available to purchase here.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of poetry editors

I saw an interesting twitter discussion the other day about what font to use when submitting writing to journals/presses. In my undergrad classes, the poet professor I most admire would say Times New Roman was really the only professional font to use, if you want to be taken seriously (which of course my 19 year old self did!).

There’s some common sense here–Comic Sans is obviously wrong, as is Typewriter font. I feel like the font should not distract from the actual writing (and those two examples do).

The font in question in the discussion was Garamond, which is the font most commonly used for published books–the idea being that if you submit your poems in Garamond, they LOOK like they should be published.

Renee Emerson, would a poem in any other font smell as sweet?

Think of a safe place, they said in mindfulness class. Think of a compassionate friend, one who is wise and supportive. I became safe in the red chair by the fire, covered by a blanket knit by my grandmother. Friends, grandparents, spiritual figures, mentors—who would offer compassion, energy, illumination. A huge letter A, tall as a ten-year-old, Times New Roman, black, sat down in the chair on the other side of the fire. Anything is possible, it said. Did light shine like wings around it as if it were a medieval saint—“outer glow” in Photoshop? No, it was crisp as if letterpressed into air. Anything is possible, it repeated and I understood that this A was the beginning, that language meant that I could explore, that it opened the world to possibility as if I could see the bones under the flesh of the world.

Gary Barwin, A by Fire

Recently I’ve  been reading SuperInfinite, Katherine Rundell’s excellent biography of John Donne, and this in turn has led me to revisit Donne’s poetry. I recall vividly the thrill of discovery when I first read him as a teenager, delighting in his clever conceits and his command of metre, rhyme and form, as I sought to understand his meanings.

This is what excites us as readers and learners – coming across something new that stimulates our intellectual curiosity, challenges our perceptions but also appeals, at some deep level, to our imaginations and our being. We can experience this sense of wonder and delight not only through literature, but also through music, mathematics, art, sport, gardening, or even through intriguing blends of different forms.

Lori Wike’s Jump Search, a recent release from Penteract Press, is just such a novel blend of two different forms. A jump search, Wike explains in the Introduction, ‘is a new type of puzzle in which a word is concealed within a maze grid of letters and numbers. It is a synthesis of a word search and a number maze’. 

Marian Christie, Review: Jump Search by Lori Wike

That was the time I went as a dominatrix.
I wore my jodhpurs, riding boots,
carried a whip. I had my Cleopatra eyes,
and black bra under a side-less top.

Rebecca, my boss, had dyed her bob orange.
Tony, always modest, in dinner jacket,
bow tie, trainers, and baseball cap.
Black lace gloves for the HR woman in the wheelchair.

Fokkina McDonnell, Abolition

For a while now, Brooklyn poet Jordan Davis has been producing chapbook-length volumes of selected poems, one of the latest is by Brooklyn-based American poet Nada Gordon, her The Swing of Things (Subpress, 2022). This is the first of Gordon’s works I’ve encountered, so I’m unaware of the larger scope or scale of her work, so this “remix” is a curious introduction, and one reminiscent of how Phil Hall reworked selected scraps to assemble his own critical “selected poem,” Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015) [see my write-up on such here]. The chapbook-length poem “The Swing of Things” is structured through untitled sections (as well as an array of photographs, some of which suggest their own collage-works), short bursts that exist across each page; some of which group, or even cluster, allowing for its own kind of collage-work possibility. Her visuals and text both suggest the familiar but one that is twisted, turned and shaped into what is unerringly new, and some of which is just enough to unsettle, question or even simply wonder. Gordon’s poems hold a delightful heft, subtle in its play and dark corners, writing from both the shadow and the sudden light.

rob mclennan, Ongoing notes: late March, 2023: Amanda Earl + Nada Gordon

A few weeks ago, I visited Lee Martin’s creative nonfiction MFA workshop at The Ohio State University to talk about “Ghost Story,” which they’d read for class, and we talked about the amount of poetry in the prose, both at the sentence level and the structure level. For example, I used white space to slow down the pacing as I do in poems, here employing short paragraphs—sometimes only a single sentence—and section dividers. White space acts as literal “breathing room” on the page, regardless of genre, so these are spaces where the reader is invited to pause and reflect before moving on.

I also wanted to work lyrical and imagistic repetition into the piece, as I like to do with poems. In the opening paragraph, the laundry floated….the dishes floated….I floated” feels to me like a litany. There is also anaphora—a poetic technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words—in the words “no idea” repeated, and in the three spoiler alerts. Ghostlike images carry through the piece as well—images of transparency, invisibility, helplessness. The chains in section one return in section four.

I shared with Lee and his students that “Ghost Story” also appears in my forthcoming memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, though not as a single piece. I have broken it into its smaller sections (where the asterisks are in the original essay) and threaded them through the book, and I’ve added a new final section. This is something I also do in my poetry collections: I like to spread a series of poems over the course of a book rather than compartmentalizing them in one section. These then work to pattern the collection and create multiple moments of recognition for the reader.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Ghost Story”

After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Second Year in the Garden

Betty Drevniok was “a major early influence of the shape of haiku” in English Canada by making space for a community to grow. How did she get to haiku before haiku was a thing in Canada? Terry Ann Carter related in “A History of Haiku in Canada” that Drevniok moved from sumi-e to haiku in the 1960s. 

In 1977, Betty Drevniok, George Swede, and Eric Amann founded the Haiku Society of Canada. Rod Wilmot recalls several Haiku Canada weekends in the 1980s hosted at her wooded cottages in Combermere in Northern Ontario. From 1979-82 she was President of the Society.

Michael Dudley remembers her as “an exceptionally kind, considerate being, who generously shared her ideas and insights by conversation, correspondence, presentation, and publication”.  […]

In her haiku primer, Aware, Drevniok said, “Be aware of things around you. Let those things reach out and touch you.”

Janick Beaulieu in her history of ‘Haiku Women Pioneers from Sea to Sea‘ says this book Aware: A Haiku Primer is Drevniok’s best legacy. You can read Janick’s essay and Drevniok’s 108-page book Aware as a digital book at the Haiku Foundation Digital Library. It was a book that led to a eureka by  Jane Reichhold.

Pearl Pirie, Betty Drevniok

Lola Ridge’s life was, in many ways, a tale of her times. Born Rose Emily Ridge in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, she and her mother emigrated to New Zealand as a child after the death of her father. She acquired a stepfather with a taste for Shakespeare and drink, married in her early 20s, lost a child, had a child, started publishing poetry in local newspapers and magazines. When she was 30, her marriage broke up and she moved with her son to Australia, where she studied art and submitted a collection of poems, Verses, to a local publisher AG Stephens, literary editor of the Sydney Bulletin in which much of her Australian work appeared, in 1905. The book never appeared.

In 1907, after the death of her mother, Ridge sailed to San Francisco with her son. She left him in an orphanage there and moved to New York, where she became Lola, knocked 10 years off her age, and immersed herself in the literary and anarcho-socialist life of the city that was to be her home for the rest of her life. […]

The Ghetto and Other Poems shows that Ridge had, in her new home in New York, absorbed the lessons of Whitman, Imagism and other avant garde poetry movements that she came across in the small magazines of the day, and forged her own distinctive voice from these influences. The title sequence, which opens the book, is an exploration of the everyday life of the poet and her neighbours in the Bowery district of New York.

Billy Mills, To the Many: Collected Early Works, Lola Ridge

If you delete every email that begins I Hope You Are Well And Having A Lovely Week So Far
If you play Masters Of War through amplifiers outside a government building
If you stand in the street and wave a plain piece of paper
If you sit on a bench in a park and throw paper planes at a cardboard cut-out of the King
If you drink coffee for too long in the red cafe
If you write for too long in the blue cafe
If you glue yourself to the past, chain yourself to the future
If you wear solid well-dubbined walking boots to bed and buy a dog
If you repeat the story of fourteen workers killed by an avalanche of potatoes
If you are caught singing the old song I Shall Be Released
If you enjoy silence, your own company, books on Pond Life and Freshwater Fishes
If you like sitting beneath trees and listening to rain

They will stamp your file with the words Specific Threat
They will stamp your file with the words Guilty Of Malicious Disobedience
They will accuse you of stealing thoughts from the needy
They will force you to download a self-care app and accept a free gift of a plastic penguin
They will accuse you of illegal use of the senses
They will accuse you of sending ice and light out of the country

Of talking to the girl who sells bracelets in the street
Of not wanting to get up in the morning
Of memorising the poetry of a prisoner of conscience
Of taking a public footpath to a secret mountain and eating a bun from a Tupperware tub
Of swimming in a sewage-infested sea dressed as a clown

Your sentence will never be revealed

There will be no right of appeal

You will die of unnatural causes

Bob Mee, NO RIGHT OF APPEAL

In the past two weeks, I’ve read two contemporary poetry collections that I didn’t, er…love…or perhaps what I mean is I did not respond to them the way I enjoy responding to poems (and no, I will not be naming titles, though I will be giving these books away). While that is a let-down of sorts, I also started reading naturalist Marcia Bonta‘s Appalachian Autumn–which I do love. The book takes an environmental-diary approach that I have enjoyed in other naturalist writers’ work and which, no doubt, I relate to partly because I am also a near-daily diarist of my own backyard; Bonta has much to teach me, because she has a naturalist’s education and long experience. This is one of four Appalachian Seasons books she’s authored, and maybe I should have started with Spring, since that equinox has just passed. I found myself interested in the story this book tells of her family’s legal struggles with local lumbermen and absentee landlords, however. It’s an experience with which, sadly, my beloveds and I are familiar.

And I also began reading a book of poetry I have found exceptionally compelling–Rebecca Elson’s A Responsibility to Awe. Perhaps more on that in a future post. So books continue to enrich my life. I hope that is always the case, but I’ve seen how changes in human neuroplasticity can affect even the most bookish among us. More reason never to take the joys of reading for granted–and to keep my library card current.

Ann E. Michael, Bookish decisions

This week has been a good work week. I’m back into my writing routine. In fact I have upgraded my routine to include a pre work early morning walk. I think the bit of sunshine we’ve had of late has done me good. Like a flower I’m turning my face to Spring. I’m up at six for a brisk walk, then into the office for an hour of writing, then breakfast, a slow dog walk with the elderly dog, then back to the desk until lunch. After lunch – another couple of hours at my desk, then I finish early to read. At five I end my day with another slow walk with the elderly dog. I’ve decided to incorporate reading into my work day, rather than trying to fit it in around other jobs. It’s too important to be crammed in. It feels like luxury, like a hobby, like something I certainly should NOT be doing in work hours, but the reality is that I need to keep up with poetry collections in order to run decent poetry workshops, writing challenges and courses (see below for the lates writing challenge). I need to find books for the book club too, and I think of reading as a kind of ‘CPD’ – Continued Professional Development – something that I remember from my days as a microbiologist – the importance of keeping up to date with new research, new developments in the field.

Wendy Pratt, Come Write the Watery World With Me

Finishing the Phaedrus. Finally, I have a definition of dialectic, a word that has bedeviled me since college. (Probably because I first met it in Marx and Hegel, who both put it to strenuous and unaccustomed work.) For Plato, it’s the art of collection and division: “seeing together things that are scattered about everywhere and collecting them into one kind,” on the one hand, and being “able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do,” on the other. Note that this is not seen as imposing categories or distinctions, but as recognizing them. (Phaedrus 265d)

274c & following, is Socrates’ denunciation of depending on the written word: reading encourages you to think you know things, when you don’t; relying on texts leads to a feeble memory; writing fails to fit the message to its audience; texts are frozen and can’t answer questions. Writing is an amusement and an aide-memoire – not serious philosophy.

And now, on to the Parmenides.

If it didn’t mean wishing away the parable of the cave, I might wish Plato had never written The Republic: such an ugly book, full of Socrates at his worst: it put me off Plato, and in fact philosophy, for decades. I’m glad that I have lived long enough to meet this Socrates who prays to Pan by the riverside: asking for his daily bread, and to be made beautiful inside. A different man entirely.

Dale Favier, Dialectic

What should I call it? What should I call
the reading of the last word of the poem and the
inability to go back to the beginning, to go anywhere

because that devastating silence that follows, is the poem.
And that is the reading, that being rooted in the debris
for as long as it takes for the universe to stop shuddering?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 39

This poem was originally conceived as a response to my frustration at how having cancer had impacted on my life (spoiler alert – it ended up somewhere quite different!) Specifically, at how having a melanoma skin cancer in 2018 meant that I could no longer think about being out in the sunshine, of having the warmth of sunlight on my skin, without immediately feeling anxiety – did I have sun screen on, where’s my hat, cross the road to walk in shadow and so on.

What I was mourning here was the loss of a sense of spontaneity and freedom to bask in lightness. The poem became a meditation on how writing enables us to place ourselves in spaces and states of being that may no longer be possible in everyday life – where facts have no consequence and instead ‘all is shadowless velocity’ where I am ‘lit up, let loose’. I liked the sense that with each letter written on the page one can transport the ‘matter’ of myself to experience new or lost sensations, emotions and places.

In the repetition of ‘I can write myself’ I also played with the idea of ‘right-ing’ myself through this process – I’m very interested in writing for wellbeing. Following my second cancer diagnosis a year after my first – this time with breast cancer in 2019 – I won Arts Council funding for a residency at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer.  I saw not just through my own experience but through running these workshops the power of poetry to support health and wellbeing. 

So in this poem I wanted to echo the sense of ‘writing oneself’ and its connection with ‘right-ing’ oneself, both mentally but also physically because I talk about the ‘lost nodes, radiated breast, sleeved right arm’ being parts of a ‘new entirety’ that is balanced and restored through a new way of being in the world.

Drop-in by Niki Strange (Nigel Kent)

Even the whales were invited

to the inauguration of the machine.

One of them said, I am tired of sorrowing

with my own voice, with my own blue heart

wanting to beach on the strand. I am tired

of making recordings that no one translates

with any accuracy, or at the very least into

flowers.

Luisa A. Igloria, Deus Ex Machina

Poetry and Music have been documented as being helpful for elderly people, including those living with dementia, the after effects of a stroke, and even physical disability. Often it is the familiar poems learned by heart at school that has the most noticeable effect. I have read several times for Northwich Stroke Club, and seen these effects for myself: memories suddenly become vivid, audience reciting as I read, smiles and animation, or the closing of eyes and relaxation from lulling words.

This world poetry day (21 March), I was invited to read at a private care home, where the residents have a poetry club to share favourite poems. In a two hour slot (with a tea break in the middle), I read them some of my favourite poems, and they contributed a few of theirs. Only two people were brave enough to read, but both read beautifully. In the second half, I read them a few of my own poems, choosing ones that I felt might resonate with them but avoiding anything too sad. Not everyone stayed till the end, which was fine. It was a relaxed and chatty session, and we all sat round in a circle together, so it was very friendly. […]

I worry for today’s generation of school students, and the generation before them, that they will have no loved poems to take forward into their old age. The way poetry is taught in some schools these days, and secondary schools are the most guilty, takes the pleasure out of the poem. Schoolchildren are told that they can’t understand poetry, without the teacher ‘translating’ for them; that poetry is hard and full of secret meanings that need to be decoded. This is a dishonest and wrong approach. Rather than forcing pupils to make heavy dictated annotations, they should be encouraged to ‘feel’ the poem first, not simply label the parts as if it were an engine or a dissected animal. Colleagues were always amazed that my classes got such great results ‘despite’ my allowing them to interpret the poem for themselves, using the skill set I had given them. Poems belong to the reader, and don’t need mediation. Allowing the pupils to ‘own’ the poem helps them understand on a deeper level what that poem is doing and how it is doing it. This is how I taught poetry myself in my 16 years in secondary school, and stint in FE prior to that.

Angela Topping, The Power of Poetry

At seven, I couldn’t close my ohs.
Amazement sloshed out of me;
each ache spilled a constellation.
Winter nights, I etched snow angels
and lay back in their wings to drink the sky,
but every time my heart rushed up
and I’d hurl helpless towards stars.

Kristen McHenry, At Seven

I didn’t get to write a post last week (like that matters) as I was knackered after a long weekend in Norfolk. I went back to see my friend John Rance. John is the dad of my two closest friends, but I have always thought of him as a friend too. He’s always treated me the same way- certainly since we’ve all be old enough to buy him a pint…(I jest, mostly). John has been ill since a series of strokes starting back in September last year, and it was made clear to his family a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to recover—despite there having been some positive signs at the start of the year.

I’m glad I went and spoke with John and said my goodbyes, as the message I was dreading came on Tuesday afternoon to say that John had passed away. It had been utterly devastating to to see a man that had been so full of life reduced to the shell he was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. John had lived so many lives as a parent to five children, husband to two wives (not at the same time), travelling across Europe as a young man, living in New Zealand while in the army, working as a salesman, a landlord for a working man’s club, a pub, becoming the artist he’d always wanted to be in later life. He was the first to help start an occasion and often the last to leave, the first to say something wise, the first to see the silly side of something, an inveterate creator of myths and legends (apparently West Ham won us the World Cup). His laugh filled a room, his determination to play jazz sometimes cleared it. A friend of mine recently wrote that John introduced him to so much in the way of art, music and film that he could never fully say how grateful he was, and that seems a fair assessment. And also nowhere near enough to describe the man. John’s art hangs in my kitchen. John’s light and shadow (he’d appreciate the art of that, I hope) will hang over my life forever.

If it was devastating to see him reduced in life, then it was a billion times worse to get that call on Tuesday. I was at work at time, and the moment the message landed I gathered my things and set off for home. The world of media research seemed exactly trivial after that.

I stood on the platform in a daze and decided to blot things out with a podcast—music didn’t seem right at the time, and I played the latest Planet Poetry episode. It featured an interview with Robert Hamberger. Robert is a poet I knew of, but hadn’t yet explored his work, so I listened with interest as he talked about his life, his work, his work within form and how it’s less of a straitjacket and more of a way of finding freedom to let the poem say what it wants to say. I nodded along (inwardly, making a loose mental note to finally push the button on buying Robert’s books…and knowing I would, eventually, but probably not straight away). I think he’d read a poem before this, but then he read a poem called ‘Moments’ and I came close to utterly disintegrating on the Circle line to Victoria station.

Mat Riches, Altering the colour of words

Phone, shut up about the news.
War in Ukraine, assault on trans rights,

a perp walk and its possibilities —
even the very Facebook where people

will find this poem: none of them help me.
Alert me to pay a different attention.

Listen: the red-winged blackbirds are back.
Forsythia blooms across the muddy lawn.

Rachel Barenblat, Notice

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing not to have anything named after you. There’s a quiet beauty to wandering this life, one’s name kept only to themselves and those closest to them.

Sometimes when it’s stormy, I offer my name to a random raindrop falling from the sky.

I say it quick before the drop crashes to earth and rushes off with all the others.

Rich Ferguson, No things are named after me

So today, I think about time and projects and seizing the day. Today, I make blueberry muffins from a box mix and drink coffee and sort through print jobs I picked up earlier in the week like these great little collage posties soon to be in the shop. I think about the next book, collapsologies, and its overall concept and visual ideas for covers and such.  Yesterday, I scanned some analog artwork I’ve had in mind since the beginning that’s been sitting on my shelves for over three years, basically since the book was conceived during the strange summer of lockdown, though the poems took a little longer to finish. I’ve been working digitally entirely lately, which always feels more polished, so it’s always strange to look at paper pieces cobbled together from stacks of vintage magazines. Their imperfections.  Glue spots and ragged paper. But then again, the greater limitations of working with what you have vs. what you can find and manipulate are two very different kinds of creating sometimes.  Sort of like a game with defined pieces vs. a scavenger hunt.

So that book needs to be finalized in April or May, and maybe, just maybe, will be ready for the world in June or July. Meanwhile, I am closing in on the end of the short series of poems about houses I’ve been working on.  They are still very rough and need some serious clean-up time after I’m done, but at the moment, I am liking them very much.  I have found over time that my relationship to my own work is fewer highs and lows and more of an even keel.  I feel like I am writing better than ever, but I also feel like people care less and less. Or less than before. Which is of course, a folly to judge oneself by, and is totally my own fault at spending too much time on social media platforms, whose exodus and algorithms are always affecting internet attention spans.  The danger of embedding your creative life in something where everyone is jostling for space, which is true of the publishing world and less true on the internet, but still kind of works the same. 

So I try not to think too much about [it] and go on endlessly appreciating the people who I know are interested in reading my work. Or maybe reading it and I don’t even know it. And more that I should just look to satisfy myself anyway, to make sure I am happy with what I am putting out there in the world. To take pleasure in the experience of writing and its rewards and maybe a few little connections it makes with other people in this short amount of time I, or anyone, is plodding along on this planet. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/26/2023

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: rewilding the roof, a thread of wisdom, dreams, dead poets, quipu, AI, a golden age for poetry, and much more. Enjoy.


The pigeon’s toes as he carefully
steps over his own feet: the cock
of his head at the swish of a car:
the night-echo of 4 p.m.
when the light has (mostly) drained from the sky
and rinsed away the day’s greed,
(the day’s greed for now) to make
room for the evening’s: oh
my dear friend I miss you:

Dale Favier, Winter Afternoon

With the return to greater freedom in 2022, my visits to the rooftop began to decrease. In the spring, I tidied the space again, but by summer, when restrictions lifted, it started to feel like an eccentricity. It was harder to explain why I was climbing out of a window to meet the sun in a few square metres of space, when there’s a huge park, long cycle rides and friends’ gardens nearby. When the restaurant next door became busy again, I began to feel conspicuous sitting above the chattering guests in the courtyard, with my underwear out on the drier. […]

I haven’t given the garden much thought in the past few months, but today, when the fresh young sun beckoned, I decided to go out, to tidy up and think about this year’s planting. Looking through the window, I stopped myself before opening it up wide, noticing a blackbird gathering flat-roof moss. It was so bright-eyed, so glossy, so busy collecting what it needs for its new nest and brood that it came to me, there and then, that I will let my garden grow by itself this year. I’ll leave the moss and the leaves and the twigs of last autumn for the birds, the brave ones who visit the town centre, and their young. 

For everything, there is a season. A time to garden, and a time to refrain from gardening. The rooftop was loaned to me, for a while: an open secret. For the time that I needed it, I made of it a sanctuary. 

Liz Lefroy, I Rewild My Garden

It is good to remember how the other day I read something about everyone wanting out of their current life – and I thought: nah.

It is a reminder that things will settle again. Probably in the same old painful places, but settled, and the kind of thing you adjust for without too much effort.

Eventually.

I’ve rearranged the furniture in this little library. Put a vase of dried flowers on the little side table. They dried in the vase. 6 months – maybe more.

I can’t decide if they make me sad. Or if they just are. There is a story there that I won’t write.

Ren Powell, What You Attend To

Heaped grey boulders mimic a colony of seals.
Not long before love winters in my heart.
I need to tell you how it feels

to be together, yet growing apart.
Your craggy face seems so much older
clouded in a bluish hue. I brace myself to start

as you place a hand on my shoulder
but all I can say is It’s getting colder.

Fokkina McDonnell, Valentine’s Day

I find less to be said and more silence in my seventh decade. Or maybe it’s just that my vision of my life is much clearer and inclines me more often to gratitude, as well as to grief. Life is indeed a puff of wind, and whether we return, as I believe we do, it’s not with the same life. Still, a thread of wisdom is being woven in each experience, strand by strand strengthening the long and longer view. I have glimpses of where I may have been and where I’m heading. I feel lucky in a way that’s hard to describe. Though, you know, that’s what poets do. 

Rachel Dacus, Lunar New Year Poetry 2023

I’ve been thinking about smallness, so it was fascinating to read, this weekend, Jeannine Hall Gailey’s dazzling new poetry collection, Flare, Corona, a book that explores parallel crises on many scales, from the microscopic to the telescopic. I plan to teach it so I snagged an advance review copy, but it’s now available for pre-order from BOA editions.

It’s moving to read poetry about events in Jeannine’s life that I followed in real time, especially her diagnosis with cancer (they gave her six months) then re-diagnosis with multiple sclerosis–but it’s moving in a different way to see how she frames these experiences in relation to bigger catastrophes, somehow finding inspiration in it all. A poem that covers some of this territory, “Under a Blood Moon, I Get My Brain Scanned,” connects astronomical phenomena with lesions and neurons. Elsewhere, poems link solar flares with a familiar coronavirus, ahem. This comparative or metaphorical move is in the book’s DNA: omens of doom for humanity are widespread, but apocalypse can also be internal and local, especially when your cells are turning against you. Like a lot of other powerful writing, Flare, Corona oscillates between lenses, attentive both to tiny details and the big emotional stakes of facing how precarious life can be.

I’ve been in a mood of midlife reconsideration, and that’s here, too–see “April in Middle Age”–but while I’m several years older than Jeannine, she came to this angle of vision through a sense of mortality that has more near and acute sources.

Lesley Wheeler, Flares, small and celestial

Mice scurry in the dark. A lost gust
of wind sometimes wakes the
dust. An empty Pepsi bottle rolls between
benches. Life goes on while you wait.
The stretch of universe you hold tight
between your fingers, starts to slip. You
think the rumble of thunder is an
incoming train. You think you imagined
the rain. You wake up in your own
bed, wet and shivering, still waiting,
a bottle of pepsi, warm and flat,
sitting on your table.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 33

The other night in that delicious not-completely-asleep state called hypnagogia, I found myself walking up the long front steps of my childhood library. I felt happy anticipation as I carried a stack of books to return, knowing I could bring home a freshly enticing stack. I set the books on the returns side of the tall circulation desk, which was as high as my shoulders, so in this make-believe state I was a child again.

I asked the clerk at the desk what story I needed. (I never did this as a kid, I simply found my own books.) She silently lifted a finger and pointed me in the direction of my home away from home — the children’s section. I don’t remember, in real life, ever talking to the children’s librarian or even if there was one. But in my dream the children’s librarian indicated I should sit in one of the miniature chairs at a miniature table. She sat across from me. She wore a white blouse, tucked in, and half-glasses that slid partway down her nose. (Sorry for that stereotype. Or was it more archetype?)

I asked her what story I needed. She didn’t speak either. Instead she reached up to the crown of her head and unzipped. Inside her human costume she flickered through a series of curiously aware creatures, morphing right there in front of me into wildly colorful birds, softly furred mammals, mysterious deep sea beings, until everything settled into one living body. I could see she was showing me herself as a glossy gray seal with large inquisitive eyes. This seal being was beautifully and perfectly who she was, really.

Laura Grace Weldon, What Story Do You Need Right Now?

10:30AM: Toddler woke up too early, so has a melt down at the library, and we scurry home for an early lunch, and to finish the rest of our schoolwork.
11:30AM: I set my oldest up to make some cookies for an event tomorrow, put on the math video lesson for my 2nd grader because she’s struggling with a concept, check my oldest two kids work (I hover around and help them as they need it, but they are fairly independent). The toddler and 5 year old also watch the math video and my toddler falls asleep.
12:30PM: Lunch for me, quiet rest time for the others (which means reading, playing quietly, or listening to audio books). I usually set a timer for an hour to keep us on track, and I work on teaching my online classes, writing, blogging, etc.
1:30PM: Piano practice! I get the toddler up from nap, everyone out the door and to our piano teacher’s house. We stay an hour while the oldest two take piano lessons, and I get some time with my 2nd grader and her reading practice while the two youngest play.
2:00PM: Reading practice is done, and the three youngest are playing. I read a few poems from an anthology, then finish writing a poem I’ve been working on this week. I usually write a line or two a day, and rearrange stanzas, edit, as I go along. Today the poem felt finished, so I’ll type it up tonight (I always draft by hand–it’s very messy).

Renee Emerson, how a poem gets written (by a homeschooling mom of five)

Every February 11th for the past two decades at least, the same thing happens. At some point I suddenly realize that it’s the anniversary of Plath’s suicide, and every year, I am surprised that indeed another year has passed without her in the world that could have still had her in it had things worked out differently. Books that could have been written. Awards and accolades that could have been won (which she craved), More and better loves, more words, more paintings. Just more. While she may not have lived to be in her early 90s at this point, she would have had many more years in the world that would have loved and demanded her work.

Or I like to think it would have, but it’s also wrapped up in the complication that one of the reasons that Plath is so famous and so loved is that she did not live past 30. I always try to list the poets that were Plath’s contemporaries that had long careers–Mary Oliver, and Adrienne Rich. Or Linda Pastan, also born in 1932,  for example, whose recent passing was mourned by a number of poets I know who appreciated her work greatly.  They all did well. Went on to write more, love more, become mentors for younger poets, and thrive as teachers and writers. But outside of literary-specific world, they’re not quite the household name that Plath is among the normies. Part of it might have been the success of The Bell Jar, and her fame as a prose writer, but even that is complicated by her very famous death and the book’s related subject matter. 

I’ve no doubt we’d still be reading Plath if she’d lived, though I suspect the sad girl cult, of which I am a member, sometimes wouldn’t have made her a patron goddess (along with Taylor Swift and Tori Amos…lol..). Because I learned everything I knew of the lit world from reading Plath’s work and journals and letters when I was 19, she is still something at the heart of my own writing, even as my poems have changed and developed over more than two decades. It took me a little longer to fully appreciate the craft and skill of Ariel, which I grew to become enamored with (so much so that I wrote centos drawn from it with honey machine.) What happens on the other side of depression when you climb out of it and dust yourself off? Would her work have been as furious and full of blood if she’d calmly reached middle age? We’ll never know.

Kristy Bowen, feathery turnings

I believe I’ve read every book about Elizabeth Bishop’s life and work. At this point I know the narrative of her life as if it were my own: the death of her father, followed by her mother’s being sent to a psychiatric hospital (never to return), Bishop’s dislocation between sets of grandparents, her meeting Marianne Moore just after college, a trip to Brazil and intense allergic reaction to the fruit of a cashew. Her lifelong alcoholism; her many lovers — including the assistant secretary in the English department at the University of Washington—with whom Bishop moved to San Francisco with….and then disastrously to Brazil…but that’s another story.

Somewhere, in all that reading I came across this little known fact: Elizabeth Bishop always kept a compass in her pocket. (If you know where I read this please, let me know!) I found this fact revelatory. Bishop wrote about her love of binoculars and this seemed to offer a sense of continuity in the image I had formed of her: birdwatcher, traveler, watercolorist — and brilliant poet. I had tried writing about her before but this “little-known fact” somehow was the portal I needed.

If you are a poet, and if you love Bishop, there’s a good chance you are one; I offer this suggestion: find an obscure fact about a poet you admire and see if the object can open a doorway into a new poem for you.

Susan Rich, Elizabeth Bishop: A Couple of Facts and Some Fabulousness

The skeleton wasn’t in the closet. It was hanging in my father’s study. A human skeleton. There was also a shelf of fetuses suspended in liquid. Animal fetuses, though I thought they were human and that one was my elder brother, if he’d been born. I knew my mother had had a miscarriage before me. My father was a medical student and then a doctor. This wasn’t some macabre hobby. It was professional.

But I didn’t find these things strange or macabre. They seemed natural. Just part of my dad’s work, part—or parts—of all us.  It was the equivalent of listening to music and then seeing the instruments. Or listening to language and knowing it was made up of letters. Bodies as signs in the language of living. […]

Remember those anatomy illustrations in the encyclopedia made of layers of transparent pages? Turn a page, and the skin disappears. Turn another and the nerves are gone. Then arteries and veins. The heart. Lungs. Other organs. The last page was the bones alone. More naked than naked. It ain’t no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones. Then like playing a movie backwards, you could reclothe the body in itself, gift wrapping the self in its own skin. Then finally, close the encyclopedia and clothe the body, front and back, in encyclopedia pages. The book was a bed or a coffin for the naked body.

Gary Barwin, MEAT AND BONES

When I was working on You Could Make This Place Beautiful, and even before I began writing it in earnest, I read a wide variety of memoirs and essay collections. The genre I tend to read most often is (surprise!) poetry, but as I wrapped my head around this project and what it might look and feel like, I immersed myself in prose. As a poet, I’d been writing primarily along the left side of the page, so it was time to get comfortable with the righthand margin. So much page to explore! A vast frontier!

In all seriousness, it was a challenge for me, leaving my comfort zone and committing to a long, extended form. I’m a whittler as a poet; my poems tend to shrink as I revise, not grow. So as I thought about how to sustain and structure the book, I looked to poets’ memoirs as models. I wanted to see how other writers whose “home genre” was poetry contended with so much real estate.

The other big challenge was one of perspective and point of view—and, let’s face it, vulnerability. In poems, we have a speaker who is not to be mistaken for the poet. Even if I write, “I walked my dog” in a poem, the reader is not to assume that the “I” is me, Maggie Smith, the poet, or even that the dog is Phoebe, my incredibly cute and incredibly lazy Boston terrier. No, there’s at least some artistic distance between speaker and poet, even when we know that the experiences and details are semi-autobiographical.

Maggie Smith, A Pep Talk

For want of a clear
           enough opening in the sky, a comet 
remains a green-tailed rumor. What could
           you do about the whale that washed up
one day, its hump a dark, ridged thumbprint on
           the sable beach? A humpback’s song spans
seven octaves, nearly the entire range 
           of a piano—You dream of how it carries 
in the air: one bloom, one signature like prayer.

Luisa A. Igloria, Carry

This morning, while walking the elderly dog, I ran into a village friend, let’s call him Nial, though that isn’t his real name. Nial is in his 70s, maybe even older, and is wonderfully stoic and opinionated. He walks six miles a day with his collie dog while listening to audio books. We often stop and talk about the state of the country. There is usually swearing. Since he found out I’m a writer, and working on a big project, he usually starts any conversation with ‘how many words today?’ He’s like my writer’s Jiminy Cricket; my external conscience, reminding me to sit down and just write.

Today, no words. All this week, actually, no words. I don’t tell him, but I’m feeling a bit lost right now, a bit vulnerable. I’m still getting up to sit at my desk for the writing hour, still feeling my heart lift when I see a flock of jackdaws cross the orange-streaked sky, still placing my fingers on the keys. But not working on the book. I’m a bit washed out and need to reset my brain after spending January catching up on funding applications, catching up on the magazine, judging poetry competitions. I feel like I might never write again. I also had a few big rejections for poetry lately, work I thought was secure and homed, and now I’m sucked into a pit of imposter syndrome and feeling like I don’t really belong. Belonging, and that sense of not belonging is a big theme in my work. The big project is also sort of about not belonging. I’m finding it unusually difficult this week to lay my heart out on the slab.

I tell Nial that I’m still getting up but that funding applications have taken precedence. Without funding I don’t have the opportunity to spend chunks of time on writing. “I don’t understand it” he says, “I do in a way, because I’d like to write, but I’m no good at it. But I don’t understand why you do it.” Nial doesn’t read well, or write well, he’s got no formal education and left school at fourteen. One of the things we have in common is our working class background. He is fiercely intelligent and driven, and held very high positions in his work, has made huge differences in the charity sector too, he’s a man who sees what needs doing, and does it. He has done exceptionally well for himself. “Why do it, if you can’t make a decent living off it?” I pause for a minute then tell him it’s art, it’s a compulsion. “Ah, like an obsession” “yes, something like that”. Yes, something like that.

Wendy Pratt, Putting Your Heart into it

Had the opportunity to share one of Paul Hlava Ceballos’ poems at a reading this week. The poem, “Coronary Angiogram,”* is a fascinating prose poem whose turns of phrase move between two different languages of the heart: the medical and the personal.

There’s also a nod to history and craft in the second stanza:

“At a museum in Quito I saw knots tied along lines of hand-woven silk. Beautiful and multi-colored the Quipus hung, perhaps the coded names of Inkas killed by Spanish, perhaps an art form, or both,”

This image of actual knots and weaving mirrors the weaving of languages that drive the poem. The most stunning moment for me, however, is how the speaker leaves us witnessing another kind of crafted piece, a stanza composed of vertical lines and asterisks.

At first, I was unsure what these represented. The typography here does resemble Quipus in a way, the notes and the threads. Upon listening to the poem at the link (highly encouraged), there’s an additional gift: the sound of windchimes.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 021023

This Federal Trinity has its counterpart in the foundational trinity of Roger Williams, his early mentor Edward Coke and George Berkeley as the forces of law, generosity and idealism that lay behind the foundation of Rhode Island, the Ocean State (another recurring phrase throughout the book), although for me Berkeley, as a slave owner, makes a somewhat uncomfortable hero. Williams was granted the charter for that foundation from Charles II, whose birthday is the Restoration Day of the title, and, as it happens, that date, May 29, is also Rhode Island Statehood Day.

In addition, the famous Royal Oak episode from that king’s story lends into multiple oak/acorn references in the poem, and these in turn inform, by way of a kind of visual pun, the acorn/mandorla/almond iconography that clusters around Gould’s vision of love as well as chiming with a number of oak-built ships, such as the Constitution, that recur and are echoed in William’s use of canoes. The shape is a twinned catenary, the arc of history bending towards justice. These strands, and many others, all help shape a timescape in which, say, Penelope, Williams, Lincoln, JFK and Henry coexist in a timeless time as composite selves: ‘You, my beloved, are a plurality of yourself.

Billy Mills, Continental Shelf: Shorter Poems 1968-2020 and Restoration Day by Henry Gould: a Review

This is a timely collection as women’s rights are being rolled back and not just in America. Jane Rosenberg LaForge has created an empathetic collection that explores and questions attitudes towards women’s roles and the lack of control and autonomy women are granted even over their own bodies. Readers are left to speculate whether the aunt never became a teacher because she could no longer stand to be around children or because her chronic conditions, the consequence of not being able to access proper healthcare, prevented her. Either way, a life that had purpose became one without. And the consequences reached far beyond one woman.

Emma Lee, “My Aunt’s Abortion” Jane Rosenberg LaForge (BlazeVOX) – book review

Produced as a triptych of fragment-accumulations—“: sunup :,” “: day :” and “: dusk :”—San Francisco poet and editor Sarah Heady’s [see her ’12 or 20 questions’ interview here] latest poetry collection is the full-length Comfort (New York NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2022), a collage/response work that plays off the language of a New England journal produced for farm housewives. As she writes to open her “NOTES” at the back of the collection:

Comfort magazine was published in Augusta, Maine between 1888 and 1942. Its tagline was “The Key to Happiness and Success in Over a Million Farm Homes.” Aimed at rural housewives, it began as a thinly-veiled vehicle for selling Oxien, a cure-all snake oil, with subscribers receiving discounts and bonus gifts for signing up their female friends—perhaps an early multi-level marketing scheme. At the same time, it provided a valuable source of virtual companionship for women who led isolated lives all across the United States. Much of the found language in this book comes from issues of Comfort published in the 1910s and 1920s.

The initial structure of the collection, as she notes as well, was influenced by Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy, specifically her marybones (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. To open her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,” Heady notes that: “Comfort would not exist without the work of Pattie McCarthy. I am indebted especially to her book Marybones, which directly inspired the form of this book’s prose blocks. Thank you for showing me new ways to work with found language and the historical record.” On her part, Heady collages elements from the archive and found language to weave together a boundless expansion of fragments and accumulations, pinpoints and sweeps of prose lyric. As with McCarthy, Heady writes around the marketing directed towards historical women, offering insight into the possibilities of the realities of their labour and lives, and the ways that they were depicted through this particular journal. The poems in Comfort articulate that divide through collage and collision of found and archival material, propelled through language and a staccato of disconnect that thread their way across the length and breadth of her book-length canvas. There is something interesting in how her exploration through a borrowed structure opens her lyric, allowing for the spaces between and amid her lyric to be as populated and powerful as the words she sets down. Blending concrete description and scattered collage, she writes of rural women and the weather; she writes of recipes and the wish for a new stove, all stretched taut across each distance like a drum.

rob mclennan, Sarah Heady, Comfort

It is marvelous how [Marguerite] Duras conjures up a poetic intensity from very simple situations. The paraphrasable plot is laughably simple, but the patterning of language and incident is masterly. There are intensifiers deployed—a limited time and place, the intoxication of alcohol, the murder of one’s lover, music, a storm—but all woven in so naturally that they seem to come from within the characters, rather than without. The man and the girl would find their way to the park bench one afternoon because they are who they are. The method is to bypass psychology to aim straight for the formal, and intense, emotion.

Jee Leong Koh, Four Novels by Marguerite Duras

I’m convinced that when we look back upon the current decade we will come to realise that it has been a golden age for poetry when a succession of impressively talented new poets were discovered by the editors of small poetry presses. Add to that list the name, Katy Mahon, a poet from Northern Ireland, who made her debut in 2022 with a pamphlet, Some Indescribable Cord (Dreich).  You only have to read the first poem in this small collection to be impressed. […]

Mahon acknowledges that it took her some time to realise that it is writing rather than music that provides the creative fulfilment she sought. In Shaping Words she describes herself as a sort of gardener of words: ‘I pluck them out// like seeds from a fattened grape/ and plant them on paper/ with blue-black ink, and watch// as they grow ripe, changing form/ against the darkening night.’  The image is a powerful one: it implies that writing is life-enhancing, sustaining, and fulfilling, but perhaps above all, it provides a sense of self-sufficiency, a means of cutting the chord and of emerging from ‘semi-darkness.’ Mahon came late to writing, but here is one reader that is delighted she has found her true vocation. Like a musical chord, her vibrant poems have a lasting resonance that continues to reverberate long after you have read them.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Some Indefinable Cord’ by Katy Mahon

How important is music to your poetry?

Very. I’ve loved and been involved with music almost all my life, from elementary school choir to musical theatre to singing contemporary music to singing in my present church choir for more than twenty years. The rigour of baroque music thrills me, as do the more raw rhythms of western Medieval music. But I also love the music of my own time. The three songwriters that have likely influenced me most as a poet are Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Cockburn. All are musical geniuses and their lyrics can be immortally beautiful. Paul Simon in particular is brilliant at making poetry out of the patter of everyday speech.

Music lives in the body and in a poem in much the same way. It integrates us in a way nothing else seems to be able to.

Diane Tucker : part five (Thomas Whyte)

Let’s face it, writing can be hard. There will always be people who do not want to do the work of writing from the soul, brain, heart, emotion, experience, dread, you-name-it. Painting is hard, too. But people who don’t want to practice and experiment with visual art can use paint by numbers, clip art, or AI. There will always be a few folks who learn to play an instrument for the joy of it and for the challenge of continually learning new approaches to the process of music making; the rest of us can be audiences, if we like. People who write because they can’t not write? They won’t use bots unless they want to experiment with them: make perverse use of the programs, play with them to see what the human’s skills can do in concert with algorithms, bits, bytes, and data. I know artists who are already collaging with AI-generated art to create new, human-mediated visuals.

I recognize the fear factor here, but I don’t buy into it because I am so curious about what will happen next. I’m interested to see how changes will occur, which changes will make a difference and which ones will just vanish, and whether pedagogy will develop toward, away from, or parallel to AI developments in numerous spheres–to name just three of numerous possibilities. Change is exciting, but it’s also hard. I can’t say I am as excited about adapting my fall semester syllabus to reflect whatever the university decides to do in light of ChatGPT, but since I’ll have to adapt to a new “learning management system” anyway, I may as well accept that “a change is gonna come.”

Ann E. Michael, Automatic writing

marram grasses
the blown anonymity
of shifting dunes

Jim Young [no title]

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, which this year will fall on a snowy Tuesday. I am ready for spring, not more snow! Glenn got me some beautiful tulips and put together a little tableau with my new book. Wine, tulips, a good bookwhat more could I ask for on a winter’s day?

Speaking of which, I got an advanced copy of Rachel Zucker’s The Poetics of Wrongness, which is a series of essay/lectures about things that are wrongfor instance, even the idea of a lecture! It’s thought-provoking and enjoyable reading, especially if you’ve read some of Zucker’s other prose (or follow her podcast).

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Where I’ll Be at AWP, Almost Valentine’s, the Poetics of Wrongness, and Flare Corona Makes Its Way into the World – and a First Review

The week before my reading, I went to a Saturday afternoon fundraiser for Ukraine at Doncaster Ukrainian Centre Club, at which Ian, Sarah Wimbush (the organiser) and Joe Williams were the featured poets among an open mic session of most of the Read to Write regulars and other poets from further afield, beautifully MC’d by Mick Jenkinson. I’d recently read Sarah’s marvellous Bloodaxe collection, Shelling Peas with My Grandmother in the Gorgiolands, available here, having previously enjoyed and admired her pamphlet Bloodlines, so hearing her read from it was a delight. The whole afternoon was a pleasure. As ever with open mics, you never know quite what you’re going to get, but in this instance, the overall standard was refreshingly high.

Despite practising beforehand, I felt a bit ‘ring-rusty’ when I read at Balby, but the group were so warm and lovely that any nerves I had soon vanished. The questions were good ones and kept me firmly on my toes – they’re a very knowledgeable group. Up and down the UK, local groups are the lifeblood of poetry, especially for those who are just starting out, and might not have read or written poetry since they were at school. In this case, the group impressively encompasses writers at different points on their poetry journey. I hope to get along regularly to the group’s sessions once I have a bit more time, which I hope to have later this year.

Matthew Paul, On a reading for Read to Write

Last night, I attended the baptism of a newly born tear.

Its parents were joy and sorrow.

I press my ear to the clock, but cannot hear into the past or future, only the moment’s tickings.

All things magical, all things mournful.

If we are fortunate, everything comes to us in equal measure.

Rich Ferguson, Newtonian

Rubble, rumble, toil, trouble.  All week long, a poem wrestled with me, and I within it.  It held me tightly in its grip, everything onomapoetic with rubble.  Emotions far outweighed thought: I grabbed at words, poor human with a pen, hoping something might eventually be interpretable. 

Early Thursday morning, it released me.  It hatched me like a clean and happy chick.  You know the feeling, lying there dazzled and wondrous at nothing at all.  

In this post-ness, there is no big vision. The nuzzling of two green things inside a streak of sun: a chlorophyllic fingered leaf lays its consolation on a celery green couch.  Estranged family.  The live plant remembers that the cloth, the weave, flax, linen, may have been an ancestor.  The roll of a warmbody in bed on a cool morning. The squeal of a trumpet in a big band.  The bend of a head.  Tenderness in the gesture, an open field of peace.

Jill Pearlman, Rubble, Rumble, Toil, Trouble