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, the world is still broken; poets on a large island in the north Atlantic are obsessed with water; musings on compassion, light, Cassandra, and Calypso; some unusual accounting systems, and more. We end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.
broken world –
monsoon clouds like Band-aid strips
on an ebbing sky
Alternating between banal work and the feverish dystopia of my newsfeed, it does feel, sometimes, like the world is coming apart in an insane hurry, everywhere. In the middle of war and hate and climate change and the pandemic, if there is a safe place, it seems like it is getting smaller and smaller or fading away in the fog. Meanwhile, there’s poetry, rare but still able to say that, once, there was a time, somewhere, safe enough so a poet could, for a while, put pen to paper.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Broken World
A whole evening,Tom Montag, A Whole Evening
just stars and crickets.
If I were asked to name one signature theme or image for U.K. poetry over the past twenty years, it would be water. British English has so many words for different types of rain and for the movement of liquid, and numerous poets seem to reflect those riches in their work.
Am I right…? If so, why? Is such close attention to water a consequence of the U.K.’s climate? And does climate have a deeper connection not just to our everyday experiences but to our poetic lives…?Matthew Stewart, Water, water everywhere…!
the pale wetlands.
Beneath the mill
eels are trapped.
A plane overhead.
Too low, so loud.
In the distance,Bob Mee, IRRELEVANCE
You, my regular reader, may remember that several of my blog posts have been inspired by those of Matthew Stewart. In this case, it’s slightly different: a welcome instance of synchronicity.
It must be difficult to be a poet in Yorkshire and not feel a need to write, at least once, about reservoirs. Near where I grew up, in south-west London, the reservoirs were more often not forbidding places with no or limited access, surrounded by high walls, which kept the water out of sight, and grassy banks grazed by strangely suburban sheep. When they were visible, the water was enclosed by undisguised concrete. Some are havens for urban birders – Stephen Moss undertook much of his formative birding at Staines Reservoir.
Those in Yorkshire tend to be tucked away, in moorland hills, and properly absorbed into their environments. Therein lies their beauty, perhaps: the knowledge that even though we, and the creatures who live in and around them, appreciate them as natural lakes (and who doesn’t love a nice lake?), they are artificial , existing only to be functional; to provide clean water to the great conurbations of the Ridings. Peter Sansom’s marvellous ‘Driving at Night’, the opening poem of his 2000 collection Point of Sale, begins:
The res through trees
is a lake or calm sea on whose far shore
a holiday is waiting, a fire laid in the grate,
the larder stocked with tins, milk in the fridge,
and on the hearth a vase of new tulips.
I know instinctively what he means. The contentment invoked in those lines is topped off by that ‘new’: these are pristine tulips, with no sign yet of their heads drooping.
I’ve mentioned previously Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Widdop’, about the reservoir of the same name, a few miles north-west of his house at Lumb Bank, which he subsequently gave to the Arvon Foundation. Its opening lines are as vividly memorable as Peter’s:
Where there was nothingMatthew Paul, The poetry of reservoirs
Somebody put a frightened lake.
“A Thirst for Rain” is after Rosemary Tonks, and starts,
“I have lived them, and lived them.
Swollen afternoons of seared skin
when nothing mattered more
than the crow’s love of bone
or the damselflies’ tangled rise
above idle water.”
Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014) authored two poetry collections, six novels and was chiefly active on the literary scene in the 1960s. She renounced literature in the 1970s and seemed pretty much forgotten until a collected poems, “Bedouin of the London Evening” was published in 2014. Her poems focused on urban, cafe scenes or undermining pretentious potential lovers. Their tone is conversational and dryly humoured. Anderson’s poem matches that atmosphere, where a narrator looks on a full life where all that mattered was the next meal, the next love.Emma Lee, “Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s” Morag Anderson (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review
I’m definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I’ve read more poetry this month already than I’ve read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either.
It’s been storming here after such a dry summer, we’ve been flooded with so much rain. So it’s nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. […]
Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from ‘The Illiad’ who was to spy on Agamemnon’s wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from ‘The Odyssey’. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.
The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says ‘the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst’ and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it’s never clear who you’re listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I’ve just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don’t have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21
trees fallingJim Young [no title]
into the arms of the sea
that still makes rain
I have visited Eyam in Derbyshire where plague victims cut themselves off from surrounding villages in order to contain the disease. I have explored the remains of Scottish villages that were abandoned during the Clearances (my poem, ‘The Ceilidh House’ on p.16 alludes to this). Stones, graves and broken walls can tell a powerful tale, and sometimes these features are all we have to go on.
But Pompeii and Herculaneum are different. We are, for example, confronted with the reality of normal aspects of life, including shopping (the Market of Macellum, a fast-food counter …), art in the form of wall paintings and mosaics, garden features and so much more. It is as if the inhabitants have just gone out for a short while, leaving their stone guard dogs at the ready.
And yet it is not at all like that. I find I only have only to stare at the plaster casts made from the remains of the people (see here; and also top right on this blog page for a photo of a figure, head in hands) and their animals (dog, boar or pig, and horse) to begin to sense something of the horror. […]
Let’s turn more specifically to ‘Wildfire’. This poem was written during the pandemic; it was not intended to be a ‘happy’ poem. Poets use the currency of metaphor and sustained metaphor. How much of my poem was actually about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79? This is a question I continue to ask myself.
What I knew from the outset was that I wanted the reinforcement that repetition would afford. ‘Wildfire’ is a villanelle (think: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas). The form, allowing for only two rhyme sounds throughout, and the ‘pared-back’ nature of my theme seemed complementary.
Maria, you highlight my line, ‘I wonder who will live and who has died‘. Images of those 103 heart-wrenching plaster casts (the child, the man crawling along the ground …) were rarely far away, but I was also trying to understand what was behind the words written to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption was discovered, or recovered, in the 16th century. Hence the epigraph at the top of my poem.
I tried to absorb the text of the letter in translation and attempted to imagine what it might have been like not only for the Younger Pliny, but also for other survivors such as Cornelius Fuscus. Some of those who escaped asphyxiation from the pyroclastic flow at Herculaneum probably left by ship almost as soon as they became aware of the danger.
At the time of writing (my records state I began to draft ‘Wildfire’ on 20 April 2020), I had been in lockdown for some weeks. My outlook was changing, and perhaps that was partly why the subject for this villanelle came to me at that particular moment of flux. People we knew were beginning to catch Covid. There was fear in the air and the virus seemed close at hand.Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (2)
When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.
A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.
It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.
Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.
A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.Ren Powell, Accepting Helplessness
I died in the village. It was morning.
I died in the village, everyone came. There was a buffet.
Scorpions crawled over my eyes, into my nostrils, into my ears. Scorpions.
The wind had a sound like music from the other side of the world. People painted their faces and danced. Monkeys screamed from the distant trees.
Women covered my corpse with a white cloth. It might have been a table cloth.James Lee Jobe, I rose above my body and looked down.
To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.
To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet. To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.
To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go, like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight. To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.
To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.Jill Pearlman, The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer
I used to dream I was swimming in full dark, in oceanJJS, Oceans
unlit even by stars: no way to know if I was headed in, or out,
or parallel to shore until I sank from exhaustion. How awful
would that be, if it turned out I was swimming the shoreline
the whole time? I don’t dream that any more: now salt crusts
and burns my lips the same way, but I know there is no landing.
Today was the last day of the two week journey of this year’s Virtual version of Breadloaf. There were at least twenty lectures from amazing writers of all genres, including non-fiction and screenwriting, several long workshop sessions, pitching sessions, hanging out in a virtual Barn, and even Breadloaf readings on Zoom. […]
I was nervous that Breadloaf was only for younger writers, but I met people of all ages and backgrounds, which was great. I thought my workshop was full of really talented writers, and I was impressed by the level of writing at the attendee readings as well. The atmosphere of one of the oldest and most prestigious writers conferences in the country was much less stuffy or pretentious than I imagined it would be – could the virtual aspect of it make it seem more accessible?
I got lots of advice on publishing and lots of encouragement as well. A lot of kindness from people. I think it will have been a worthwhile thing to have done looking back. Now I need to actually apply the advice from workshop and on publishing and get to revising and sending out my work. I hope I stay in touch with at least a few friends I made, and crossing fingers for the manuscript that was sent in from one of my pitch sessions. You never know!
In a year (and a half) characterized by so much lack of socialization, going to a virtual writers conference was a great way to feel like I wasn’t totally isolated and that I was part of a larger writing community. It was also fun getting advice from other people who had been to Breadloaf before me about how to get the most out of it.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Virtual Breadloaf, Some Writer Conference Takeaways, and End of Summer Musings
I’ve been working flat-out on honing the manuscript of an essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, due from Tinderbox Editions late this year or early next (I suspect the latter at this point). It’s a blend of memoir and criticism with a good dose of cognitive science and narrative theory, plus thirteen 21st century poems reprinted in full to anchor the short chapters. Recounting the close of my con-man father’s life, it’s also the story of reading poetry through personal crisis AND an analysis of how “literary transportation” works when you enter a poem’s pocket universe (that’s immersive reading or getting lost in a text, for the layperson). I’ve been drafting this book since 2012 so it’s really important to me. Closing in on a final version I’ll submit to an editor, though, always makes me nervous. You’re down in the weeds, seeing ways a sentence here and there could be made more elegant, checking the bibliography, and wondering whom you’ve inadvertently omitted from the acknowledgments. But it’s also the last time you can try for the 30,000 feet perspective, imagining how the book will be received by others and trying to catch those moments of obtuseness or under-explanation that inevitably linger. Hard work in multiple ways.
This book, though, works through challenging personal material. On the good side, there are stories of travel, particularly my 2011 Fulbright in New Zealand; reflections on growth and change; and positive representations of sustaining relationships. The dark stuff involves, of course, tales of my dishonest and narcissistic father but also workplace harassment; a long-ago sexual assault; Chris’ mother’s dementia; and my mother’s first round of lymphoma in 2015. It shook me to spend time with that material again. Worse, since my mother died of the lymphoma’s recurrence in April, I had to put my sentences about her into the past tense. No wonder I was resisting finalizing the ms.
I did the same thing to myself in July, at the Sewanee Writers Workshop. I had to finalize my workshop ms in May, and it was full of poems about my mother’s death and other tough material. Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve finally been writing about childhood abuse and mental health. My mother always read my poetry books, but I think at some level I knew she wasn’t likely to read this new stuff. I’m freer to be honest than before, and some of what hurt me long ago was my mother choosing not to protect us from my father. Again, no wonder Sewanee was emotionally intense.Lesley Wheeler, When revisions are even harder
I’m growing back my mustache. It makes me look like one or both of my fathers. Not a look I’m going for, but you can’t help DNA or random chance. There are other things I can help, though, like that time I saw my father’s hands at the end of my own arms and decided right then and there to turn in a different direction. If I had the chance would I do it over again? Probably, yeah. Take a better shot at being the guy my kids might someday write poems about. The time machine only goes forward and we all move at the same speed.Jason Crane, Mustache
I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward. The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript. Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions. Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else. But, without any safety nets, my own fear is very real. I pictured myself 20 years down the line…the retirement savings I only barely have–how it’s impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore? Does anything? And even if it does most of the time, should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later?
The winds shift back of course. Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it? If money was no object (had I married a rich man…lol… or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present. But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way. That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones–ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me. I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble. That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.) On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of my creative practice. It also, however, made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can’t work in a state of instability. Of uncertainly. Creatively or otherwise.
Which is, of course, the worst of all puzzles. To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort.Kristy Bowen, stability & uncertainty | the creative life
I grew up in a word-loving family and my own kids have taken that much farther than I might have imagined. When very young they developed an unnamed game of verbal jousting I call, in this post, Game of Slurs, although the post doesn’t go into just how amusingly over-the-top they could get with inventive word pairings. They also played, with only minor nudges from me, all sorts of dictionary-based games including my favorite, Blackbird. And all of us have unconsciously incorporated words into our everyday conversations that, apparently, seem strange to those around us. When they were younger, some of my kids consciously modified what words they used when, but these days they not only use whatever obscure words they like, they also, well, “experiment” on others to see if they can get them to start using such words too. […]
In many ways, the language(s) we speak shape the way we think. We will never know what ways of thinking about, seeing, and interacting with the world are lost to us when we speak only one language. This is even more troubling in relation to entire languages going extinct. The Linguistic Society of America reports there are more than 6,500 languages used worldwide. Eighty percent, by some estimates, may vanish within the next century.
My problem, as a writer, takes place in a much smaller arena — my head. Much as I love words, it often seems impossible to fit meaning more than partway into language. I might manage to get a pinch of the inexpressible in, but that’s it, and only if I’m lucky. It’s like trying to stuff a galaxy into a suitcase and still zip it closed.
I hope we all do what we can, in these troubling times, to use language clearly, kindly, and well. Even more, that we make every effort to listen.Laura Grace Weldon, Definitions and Beyond
And on the prose front, oh, that annoying George Saunders is at it again, being all smart, and funny, and generous of spirit. I’m reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, which presents a handful of Russian short stories and then Saunders basically walks us through how each story is operating and challenges us to use some of that craft in our own work. In the process of all that he had this to say… “a story responds alertly to itself.” Which is such a useful thought, I find, when considering the moving, or non-moving, parts of my poems, including the ticking of time itself.
And later he takes a pause from talking about prose to include this little sidebar thought on what poetry is: “…poetry, i.e., truth forced out through a restricted opening. That’s all poetry is, really, something odd, coming out…The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at the fence of language and being bound by it. Poetry is the resultant bulging of the fence.”
Damn that guy.Marilyn McCabe, Human kindness overflowing; or, On What I’m Reading
“Lyric address is usually indirect.” (This, despite the frequent use of apostrophe in lyrical poetry, which Cullers argues is used indirectly most of the time.)
Lyrical apostrophe “posits a third realm, neither human nor natural, that can act and determine our world.”
“If one were to treat lyric as a domain to be mapped, one would need a multidimensional space.”
I especially like that last one. Lyric as Kosmos, as universe (and possibly universal). It jives with Whitman in some ways–resonates, at very least, with his idea of poetry as vast and of himself (as poet) containing multitudes.
Something to aspire to be, to write, to wrap my mind around.Ann E. Michael, Lyrical
The third full-length collection by Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero, following No Object (Saturnalia, 2013) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (International) shortlistedHard Child (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Popular Longing (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2021), a collection of narrative lyrics composed through wry observation, sharp commentary and consequence, and the occasional rush of breath. Her poems are pearls of logic, urgency and contemplation, composed of worn irritation and deadpan delivery. The poem “Have at It,” for example, opens: “When you work here for ten years, you get / a blanket. The blanket has their name on it, / not yours. I am conducting an anecdotal / survey of longtime employees, and I have yet / to find one person who uses the thing / to keep warm.” The mind moves quick, but the poems unpack slowly, as though not wishing to overlook a single thing.
As she writes to open the poem “Tea,” referencing, of course, contemporary reenactments of the 1773 American “Boston Tea Party” protest against the British: “I can’t get away from it. / Felted-up reenactors shoving a great fake crate of it / into the Harbor and jeering. / After the tour group leaves, they fish it / back out and towel it off, / unbutton their waistcoats to smoke.” I’m fascinated by the ways Shapero takes an idea or a subject and dismantles it, studying every small piece through her evolution of sentences. The poem “Tomatoes Ten Ways,” for example, extends thought across a great distance, yet turning every moment over to see what lay beneath, writing: “I just want to get // back now, back to my kitchen, back / to my peeler and ladle and electric / oven where decades of hands // have worn the temperature marks / clean off the dial—it’s always a guess. // Cooking is important. It prepares us // for how to sustain each other / in the emptiness ahead.” Through attempting to seek answers to impossible questions, Shapero manages to uncover separate but equally important truths, ones that might have otherwise lay fallow.rob mclennan, Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing
Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!–art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching–for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, “Patient Zero,” which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as “a worried, old heart / disease,” quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with “something…divine and endless.” Love. […]
There is a remarkable long poem called “Sing Sing” about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that “Sing Sing” must come from “the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores…” Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means “stone upon stone,” and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.Kathleen Kirk, Patient Zero
I’ve been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s 1995 book Kyrie, a series of poems set in 1918—during the (yep) flu epidemic. One poem begins “How we survived…” that is a perfect prompt, but it has an image in it that so freaked me out I don’t want to share it. I cast around, reading poem after poem: “You wiped a fever-brow, you burned the cloth. / You scrubbed a sickroom floor, you burned the mop. / What wouldn’t burn you boiled like applesauce / out beside the shed in the copper pot.”
And there’s this poem, the first in the collection, which seems to predict the future of that survival:
After the first year, weeds and scrub;
after five, juniper and birch,
alders filling in among the briars;
ten more years, maples rise and thicken;
forty years, the birches crowded out,
a new world swarms on the floor of the hardwood forest.
And who can tell us where there was an orchard,
where a swing, where the smokehouse stood?
—Ellen Bryant VoigtBethany Reid, Your Poetry Assignment for the Week
This morning, I reflected back on the month of August as a month where I came to realize–once again, and over and over again–how much of the world seems to be held together with tape and a patchwork of chewing gum and maybe a thin veneer of paint here and there. But frankly, the whole summer has felt that way, and perhaps this whole pandemic time, and maybe it has always been this way, but many of us can go for months or years before we’re forced to reckon with this knowledge again.
Humans like to think that we’re in control, and many of us will go to great lengths to maintain that illusion. For me, this summer has brought week after week of almost daily reminders that we’re not. Those reminders have ranged from the small to the huge, from the personal to the global.
When I think of the early days of June, I remember a time when it seemed that we might be turning a corner with the COVID-19 crisis. Vaccination rates continued to chug along, and we finished a K-12 school year with few student deaths and not as many outbreaks as I would have predicted. The world at large seemed calm–or am I remembering it wrong?
Then the condo building in Surfside Beach, just south of here, collapsed, and suddenly, it seemed that more buildings than we’d have expected have serious structural issues. And here we are, two months later, and it begins to feel like all of our foreign policy has collapsed and lies in ruins. The domestic political situation has felt like rubble for over a decade now, so that’s not anything new.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer 2021: Things Fall Apart
For any of us who care about other parts of the world and the people who inhabit them, it’s been a difficult and emotional week. I’m not going to get into any of it here. Suffice it to say that this blog wouldn’t have been named what it was [the cassandra pages], back in 2003, if I hadn’t foreseen much of the tragedy that would unfold as a result of American foreign policies — though I fervently wish I’d been wrong.
Obviously we need to continue to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering and work for justice and for positive change, while caring for those closest to us as well. Our primary responsibility is to remember to take care of ourselves so that we have a chance of being able to help others. What does that mean for you? Have you ever thought about it in depth, and written it down?Beth Adams, Drawing my way through a rough week
August: early rains in the south,Luisa A. Igloria, Ledger
and fires in the west. River birds sketch
figures on water. Dearest ones,
whatever accounts were entered there
have yielded up their remaining
balances. I’m spending every
bright pebble I find. The shallows gleam
with all the currency fallen from the moon’s
poor-box—greens and blues, discs of scarred
copper. Meanwhile, every drawer of this house
hoards a collection of all we fed to our ghosts.
In the end, there will be nothing left to collect.
After sitting in paralysis from another form reject for too long, I decided to take things into my own hands. I wanted to give myself something back—a small token of appreciation for showing up for myself in the first place, something that would turn this salty moment into a celebration. I wrote rejection fund on a scrap of paper, slapped it on an old (extra large) mason jar, and have since filled it to the brim.
For each rejection I get, I put a dollar in the jar. And when I find something—a new treat I’ve been craving, an application fee I couldn’t quite swing, or a much-needed cocktail at the end of a particularly long week, my rejections—and, let’s be clear, my faith in myself and my own (mostly) tireless championing—refill my cup and tenderly guide me back into the work.
And you know what? What started as a kind of goofy self-help move has been astoundingly grounding through the submission process—especially as an emerging writer. I realized I now had something to do with all that stalled, stale, sometimes paralyzing energy left over from getting a “thanks, but no thanks” for the work I poured so many hours into. I even found myself looking forward to those emails so I could tip myself again. Something totally out of my control now felt a little more manageable, something I could now take the reins on and say, “no, thank you!”
Because what many of us (hopefully) come to realize, is that not only are the rejections not ours, but the acceptances aren’t ours, either. They have nothing to do with me, and while I can celebrate the successes and grow from the critiques, I don’t want to hang my own worth on someone else’s yes or no.
My rejection jar helps restore a little bit of that agency. These poems I write day in and day out are small new friends, landscapes to grow and warp and feel the world through, come to new selves and new understandings with. They are stamped and sealed only by my acceptance, my rejection. I get to say when they feel like “good” or “bad” poems to me, “ready” and “not ready,” scrap versus actual potential. And then we can see where they might fit—or not—in the external world. Beloved literary editors—sometimes brusque with over-work, but often kind, thoughtful, and generous, too—have their own tastes of what makes a poem a good fit or not, and nothing about these rejections is personal.
Today, I count $28, and I’ve already taken some of that cash for a spin (my first purchases: two new rejection lipsticks, Desert Rose and Voyager #50). That money doesn’t feel like a sadly accumulating pity-puddle. No—it’s just proof I’m still doing the damn thing.The Rejection Jar – guest blog post by Zoë Fay-Stindt [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]
It has all felt a little magical. I tend to be skeptical of most things, and I have looked askance at the current fascination with manifesting, but… It feels like that is what has happened. Right before the pandemic hit us, Kari wrote something about wanting to stop blaming others for her unhappiness and it struck something deep within me. I was so tired of being unhappy and so tired of feeling powerless in my unhappiness. I hate toxic positivity and any solutions to personal problems that don’t consider systemic causes of them, but I sat myself down and made a mental list of all the things that weren’t working for me and asked myself what I could do to change them, by myself. I quickly realized I would have to do two things: Be open to what I started calling “radical lifestyle change” and tell myself and those close to me the truth of what I wanted (and didn’t), despite fear of my truths and of others’ responses to them. Sometimes it was scary and it was never easy, but when I remember my life two years ago and then look at what it is today, it feels like a damn miracle. (But to be clear: It’s not. I could not be where I am without systemic structures and advantages that have allowed me to make the choices I have, primarily the one that is allowing me to both draw retirement income and return to work.)
You guys: At the core of my life is a healthy, loving, committed relationship. We are creating a home that feels just right for how we live and want to live. I have time to nurture my health and relationships. I have time for creative work outside my for-pay work and to learn how to live in more congruence with my values. And now I get to go back to school, doing the kind of teaching I’ve missed for more than a decade, in the place I loved more than any other I’ve worked. I know it won’t be the place I left, and it’s going to be hard (Covid alone assures that), probably in many ways, but I am so excited to finally be tackling what feels like the right kinds of hard in this very hard time. To be starting a new chapter. To revise the ending of my story.Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again?
To sound like an electric guitar of scars singing stories of old wounds that learned how to heal themselves.
To never possess a dead man’s curve in our highway smile.
To be the hangman’s rope that unravels itself until there’s never no more hanging to be done.Rich Ferguson, Untitled #99
they do not understand
the beneficence of drink
how it grants distance
smooths out life’s wrinkles
they badger him
and he hides his habit
on park benches
the clouds change shapePaul Tobin, HIS OWN CALYPSO
a tin of the cheapest Pilsner
warm in his hand
I had been thinking about Andy Warhol saying, “All the Coke is good,” which inadvertently prompted me to remember, all the light is good. I’d been limiting my photography excursions to evening or mornings, because that is when many interesting or surprising things happen in terms of light. But when you’re on vacation, for example, you haul your camera around all day, you wear it like a drastic necklace to the detriment of your spine and neck alignment, and you take photos in all sorts of light. Your time in a place is limited, and so you take photos in all the light. All this, really, to say, make your art when you can in whatever light is available. Write in early mornings, during your lunch break, don’t wait for a perfect time. The perfect time is now.Shawna Lemay, All the Light is Good