Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 20

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found me in an odd mood, a bit disoriented by the sudden onset of summer here, and so in compiling this edition I found myself drawn to the odd sentence, the strange story, the unexpected efflorescence of the unsayable.


So this is all to say that in the absence of Things to Look Forward To just landing in my lap, I’m trying to create Things to Look Forward To all on my own, and when I write Things to Look Forward To, I mostly mean Things That Will Distract Me from Thinking About the Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

And if you’re a writer and reading this, you’ll know that’s a laughable goal, because if I write anything I’ll probably be Writing About Something I Think is Completely Unrelated to Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore But is Actually a Loose Metaphor or Allegory for Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Once More Into the Fray: I Revive the Blog and Once Again Accost the Internet with Nonsense I Can’t Just Keep in My Damn Fool Head

Good morning from the West where we are but blood under the earth’s talons

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Cold enough still to sharpen the lungs to hitch and hurry, to be glad of the fullsuit even with lats and shoulders complaining of restriction; above, that cloudscape reflected, below, that cloudscape reflected; her skin in the palms of my hands patting her wave-greeting, a braille of lake-language, of where ya been babe, hi!, and a pouring of bliss immersed in her copper taste, her silky texture, the smell of her unique among all the lakes, as every beloved is unique; freshening wind enough to make real push at times, coasting in still sky others, fast, slow, hit by arctic blasts of springs from below, sun baking neoprene from above; breathing into cold joy; cruising slowly, going strong, coasting again to better listen to the dialogue, the poetry, the lovesong being sung by us both; power returning to my body and brought home to home ground, so many hundreds upon hundreds of miles in this water; alive–

JJS, Open!

I’m really pleased to be writing about Mike Farren’s Smithereens for all sorts of reasons that will become clear as we go along. But I have to say that the first one was its title, which is, I think, only the second use of the word in a poem since Tony Harrison’s Bookends in the 70s. The poet and his father are sitting in a morose silence, either side of the gas fire, sitting out the night of the day Harrison’s mother dropped dead. It’s one of many poems that explores the business of articulacy, of education, the way they separate families that should be close, make them inarticulate and awkward in each other’s company. Like Dylan says we never did too much talking anyway, but as he didn’t say, it’s not all right. Not at all.

A night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we’re alike!
.
Your life’s all shattered into smithereens
.
Back in our silences and sullen looks
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between’s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books
.
It’s not just the title ‘Smithereens’ that resonates but the obduracy.. the stupidity, if you like.. of the men and their silence. As Harrison says in the poem, his mother’s not there to break it.

John Foggin, Catching up: Mike Farren’s “Smithereens”

The word flower thrives in every language, says Kate Farrell, and Julia Fiedorczuk tells her poem, “bloom, bear fruit / come to life.” Galway Kinnell reminds us that “everything flowers, / from within, of self-blessing; / though sometimes it is necessary / to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

Shawna Lemay, 10 Poems about Flowers

Like the protagonist of Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Circular Ruins,” who seeks to dream into existence a man “with minute integrity,” Goodby dreams these poems onto the page only to reveal that we are all part of the dream, reader and poet alike.  As he writes in “The Ars” (the title poem), at first “he cannot imagine yet / ripped space”; finally, however, “his dream inscrutably feeds / on itself wrings pain bodies dry.”  The body “dry,” the table-soccer player of The Ars’s cover photo (taken by the author himself), a simulacrum, the seam of the mold visible from the crown of the head on down.  As the concluding poem, “Llu” (meaning “power” in Welsh), reminds, “To happen is finished and about to.”  That is, it is “finished” by fashioning hands, or in the case of the figure in the photo, not so finished; indeed, these poems are always about to be, but never quite, and in this manner, are.

Mike Begnal, John Goodby’s The Ars

listen to the illusive will o’ the wisp lisp
of voices beyond choices
extra-cranial in their introspection
the prolapse of a mind in depth defined
and all thought proscribed by thought

Jim Young, noise

Again last night I thought about something I wanted to explore this morning on the page. Well: screen. And I thought to make a note on my phone, but then figured it was so obvious that I would remember.

Obviously, I did not remember. I bet it was profound, though. And would have lead to a book auction for the small creature taking form from my navel-gazing and ethical brooding. There went that opportunity.

Instead, I sit here on a flat Thursday thinking my glasses really need cleaning. Glancing over at Leonard and feeling guilty again because he is more overweight than I am. Then wondering if he wants some peanut butter. Because I do.

Ren Powell, RL and The News

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

Christine Swint, Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Even in my dreams
coyote sings.

Tom Montag, EVEN

Things that shouldn’t exist
in the same world: the scent
of lilacs in bloom and the stench
of the “skunk water” I read about
on Facebook this morning.

I sit on my mirpesset, surrounded
by green: trees in leaf, willows
trailing graceful fringes, pots
of oregano, rosemary, mint.
So tranquil I could forget

global pandemic still rages,
India’s cremation sites burning
around the clock. I could forget
bombs, rockets, mortar shells,
bereaved parents and orphaned children.

Rachel Barenblat, Bereaved

in love’s one tear

filling the whole flesh

hear me

Grant Hackett [no title]

I could imagine reversing this looking back. The new moon in all its newness with a long tail, the tail of all its memories and associations reaching behind it into the future. My future now. I live forwards but remember backwards. O ) ) ) ) ) )) A crenelating ripple through time, a wrinkling of the brain.

Gary Barwin, On Garage Doors: Do I feel like I am 16 now that I am 57?

I’m trying to avoid getting too carried away with what/how the poet is saying things as I found myself having to “have a word with myself” a couple of weeks ago in relation to a review that’s due out soon as part of a new thing. I can’t talk about the “new thing” yet, but it is exciting to be in “on the ground floor”. However, in writing a review I was really pleased with myself for seeing that the poet in question had changed a word in a poem when moving it from their pamphlet to their full collection.

The change was subtle, one letter, but it was a shift that made me wax lyrical about the poet’s intentions for a few sentences, exploring the reasons behind the change and what it might be saying about a poet’s voice becoming stronger with experience, etc. However, that was quickly deflated when the editor for “new thing” said (and I hope they don’t mind me quoting) that it was more the “proofreaders that preferred the more modern version (carcass) so I don’t think we can read anything much into that“.

A potent reminder that sometimes a change is just a change is just a change.

Mat Riches, The Flattened Calf and a (anti-)Matador

It’s late May, which means the garden is changing. My own roses aren’t blooming (dang deer ate the tops of every rose, even the ones in “deer proof” cages) but the peonies are about to go, the pink clematis, rhododendrons, and azaleas are blooming, and the birds are singing loudly every morning. I find myself sitting outside on the deck more and more each day, especially the cloudy days, and the birds are getting more comfortable with me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Reintegration – Family Visits, Haircuts, and Roses – and Rejections

Clearly
the world is always changing, not even mildly

inclined to take your sensibility into account.
Before you know it, it’s high summer again

and the trees are filled with the high humming
of cicadas. They’ve awakened from a long

pause, an interlude. Should their bodies become
spore-infested so parts fall away, they won’t even

notice.

Luisa A. Igloria, Extravagance

I don’t know if this was inspired by Planet Zoo or not, but I had a terrifying nightmare a few days ago in which I was being eaten alive by a giant cobra. He had his jaws solidly around my leg and was making rapid progress on swallowing his meal whole. One of my hospital volunteers was attempting to rescue me and he kept telling me to be very, very still. I listened closely to his instructions, all of the time convinced I was going to die and devastated because I didn’t want to shed my mortal coil in the jaws of a giant cobra. In the end I was saved, but I woke up in a cold sweat and awash in adrenaline. I made the mistake of Googling “eaten by snake dream symbolic meaning of” and none of it’s good. I find it very unfair that a cobra was aggressively trying to eat me. I have always been very snake-positive and have stood up for snakes in the midst of wide-spread cultural fear and loathing of them. And this how they thank me. Sheesh.

Kristen McHenry, Grid-Blindness, Slow Creativity, When Cobras Attack

you chased the hare
a golden zigzag
covering the roots
and hollows
as if born amongst
bracken and moss
we waited
locked in time
i whistled and called
and you came
spinning in from
the wrong direction
hope intact
joy undiminished

Dick Jones, Dog Sutras §47

The odd thing is, mostly we did not talk about cancer. I told her my particular story, of course: the unusual way I presented; my misdiagnosis of relapse; my prolonged treatment ‘just to make sure.’ But that wasn’t what we talked about. We talked about my family, about language, about what she called ‘spiralling’, that sudden swirl of thoughts, like a gust of wind round the corner of a building, that can knock you off your feet from nowhere. Mostly we talked about that. And about relapse prevention. Not cancer relapse (there is no safety net there), but spiral-relapse.

Which, years later, is what I am still learning now. Or re-learning, with some new words and ideas thrown in. It’s good. I like learning languages, the names for things. I’m not good at them, but I have always liked the process. This is a chair. I sit in the chair. This is the door. I come through the door. I am happy to sit in the chair. I sit in the chair and we talk. We talk.

Anthony Wilson, On Being Chipper

It’s been strange to be on campus in the mornings and not be taking temperatures of everyone who arrives.  I had gotten used to it as a way to greet people.  I know that I can still greet them, of course.  I also laugh at myself, because I remember a weeping moment in the late summer of 2020 when I said, “I’m just so tired of taking temperatures.”

And now, it’s strange to retire that equipment.

On Thursday our internet went out, and I called the new IT people who asked me to go to the server room to tell them if I saw any lights blinking that shouldn’t be blinking.  When I told them that no one on this campus was ever allowed to have the code, I could tell they were just dumbfounded.  Within a few hours, the campus had internet restored, and I had the code to the server room (those 2 events are not causally related).  I made this Facebook post: “Because we have a new IT director, I have been given the code to the server room, a code which previously, no one but the few IT folks were allowed to have (much to the fire inspector’s puzzlement). I have used the code to go into the server room. I expected to find a great treasure. I found old equipment, including an ancient fax machine.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Retired Equipment

For some time, I mistook intuition for a door-to-door salesperson peddling snake-oil pleasures rather than recognizing those moments of elusive clarity as an otherworldly awareness far keener than rationality.

Still, there are times when logic learns to muzzle itself, and perception is allowed to freely surf the electromagnetic spectrum of consciousness,

follow psychological and physiological footprints until discovering that mysterious inner creature roaming around like Bigfoot

singing the well-tuned song of self.

Rich Ferguson, Gut Feelings and Bigfoot

This lurching is exhausting. But at the same time, we are also recording sensitive changes to our emotional body. Major concepts that are supposed to have held us are weak. Our relations in every encounter, human and nonhuman, create worlds. What is true in the morning might be overwritten by what is true in the evening. Come to it gently.

Jill Pearlman, Shock of the (Post-Covid) New

You know how I’m a bit of a sucker for interesting poetry formats? Well, I’ve often wondered what The A3 Review was all about – a paean to the London to Portsmouth road, perhaps? Or a massive mag that won’t go through your letterbox? I bought a copy of issue #13 to find it’s neither of those. As the website says, it’s ‘a magazine that behaves like a map’ – it comes folded into A6 size, but opens out to reveal its contents.

In it I found poems by a number of international writers who I wasn’t familiar with, plus a pocket-sized Q & A with Roger Robinson (top tip: ‘read & write more, publish less’) and some quirky graphics. It was really interesting to see the poems spread out, so you get a visual sense of how they sit together as well as how they ‘talk’ to each other.

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: The A3 Review

As a reader, I’m especially keen on poets who show a knack for trapping and then heightening the natural ebbs and flows of language. Of course, many don’t even want to. However, their forced and artificial turns of phrase tend to leave me cold despite their popularity with certain editors and judges. I seek an apparent simplicity in a poem, accompanied by an almost imperceptible tightening of its cadences and layering of its potential ramifications. This is difficult to achieve and notoriously undervalued, but it moves me far more than linguistic fireworks that don’t earn their corn. 

In the above context, I was especially drawn to Ruth Beddow’s two poems on Wild Court last week (you can read them yourself via this link). Their connection to experience is clear, while their capacity to reach way beyond mere anecdote is also startling. In other words, I thoroughly recommend them and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from this excellent poet whose name is new to me. Yet another example of the role of a fine editorial eye at a poetry journal: spotting talent and bringing it to readers…

Matthew Stewart, The natural flow of language, Ruth Beddow’s poems on Wild Court

The poems of Late Human explore, in unusual twists of perspective and thinking, the questions between the unanswerable, and around certain questions that have long been answered. “Having sopped up the mess,” [Jean] Day writes, to end the eighth section of the ten-part sequence “WHERE THE BOYS ARE,” “Or stopped a door with a thud from closing / So the Children of Corn may sow their seed / absolutely certain / That the longer a person remains unsexed / The older he or she will live // To apostrophize [.]” These poems are quite remarkable for not only what they achive, but what they achieve so quietly, and with such ease. Day’s poems play off sound, meaning and rhythm, offering sequences of thoughts pulled apart and strewn together in a delightful and almost deadpan linearity that makes sense even as one knows it possibly shouldn’t.

rob mclennan, Jean Day, Late Human

Raymond Carver’s story continues. The poet gets a ladder, climbs up to the first floor. Then, finds himself face to face with his own room, with his desk:

This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

Why? I think it’s because this is where he normally writes: that inner life – room – he’s built for himself. (He repeats ‘desk’ a number of times: showing this is the pivotal spot.)

There is an intensity to this strange, and touching perspective, as well as something overwhelming: ‘I don’t even think I can talk about it.’ 

I’m reminded of the Winnicottian idea of finding room inside yourself, somewhere robust you can work and play.

Charlotte Gann, ROOM IN MY HOUSE

I’ve been reading Diane Seuss’s Frank: Sonnets, which has got me thinking about cracker sandwiches. She mentions them a couple of times in the poems. I have never had a cracker sandwich, but the idea really sent me into a deep recollection of peanut butter crackers. Saltines, of course. The way the peanut butter eases up through the holes like little brown worms.

I’m pretty sure it was my sister who showed me you could put jelly on there too. Jelly! The purple not easing but full-on squooching up through the holes. Plooping out the sides if you weren’t careful.

It was best to stuff the whole thing in the mouth at once. The dry cracker on the tongue, its salt, how it melted quickly on the tongue to merge with the peanut butter but for the edges that caught on the teeth, still brittle and crunchy to the bite down. The jelly, grape, sweet, soft, cool on the roof of the mouth.

Marilyn McCabe, Blue dress blue dress; or, Writing the Lived Experience

On the project front, this week I hope to finish the website edits I started last week and get a finalized draft for dark country.  I also need to create my Patreon postcards for May, and I’m obsessed with watercolors and trees, so that’s what I’m thinking. I’m getting the last batch of dgp 2020 titles production ready, so look for a whole batch of them to drop soon as I get their pages up. A couple 2021 titles have also been hitting the site. It’s also the end of May, which means next week, we’ll be opening for submissions for next year, and this seems wholly impossible.  I think I blinked and entire year went by, but also it dragged heavy, especially through November and beyond. I am still getting used to not being afraid as much moving about in the world, and it opens up so many doors in my mind that have been shut for so long.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/23/2021

Tree branches flailing in the wind.
Crows claiming territory.
The river when it’s in a hurry.
The sky thundering about a coming storm.
The earth when she shakes.
Leather shoes dancing over a hardwood floor.
The automobile horn under an angry hand.
The chattering squirrel.
The orca lowing in the deep.
Things and beings speak.
Ssh.
Listen.

James Lee Jobe, Crows, leather shoes, inner strength.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 16

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Earth Day was this past week, and as cynical as I’ve become about that, what with rampant corporate greenwashing, making everything about consumer behavior rather than policy solutions, etc., I was surprised and pleased by the variety of off-beat and genuinely insightful perspectives I encountered in the poetry blogs. As usual with themed editions of the digest, however, there’s also plenty of interesting miscellaneous stuff toward the end. Enjoy.


The hand knows the pen, and greets it the way old friends do when they meet by accident on the street. The paper is there, waiting. The afternoon gets very quiet, and waits with the kind of patience that one sees in the elderly. An anxious excitement hangs in the air. Dust mites are watching as if they know, as if they understand. It is almost time. In a moment, the poem will begin.

James Lee Jobe, Truth? Sometimes. Not always.

The old masters were never wrong—
Auden knew this. Bruegel, too, understood
our worry: that all wars are plagues.
That plagues are endemic to the human condition.
And when the dead rise, there are those
who don’t even notice.

Christine Klocek-Lim, How to survive in an apocalypse

I’m wary of calls for unity. It’s not that I’m cynical (maybe a little), and I’ve certainly been idealistic in my time; but long experience and lots of stories and histories and my father’s background in how people behave in groups have led to feeling circumspect about unity. It works with people, yes, but it also leads to the worst aspects of tribalism. To the fostering of rigid ideologies. To acts against outliers, to the construct of evil Others. […]

For myself, I choose diversity. The earth manages its diversity wonderfully, even when human beings thwart it. Milkweed seeds and thistle find their ways into monoculture cornfields. Plants and insects gradually populate the rubble we make.

When circumstances keep me in a tribe-like bubble, I read books and poems that show me other perspectives, other climes, other social cultures, cities, classes, geographies–other histories than my own. I find ways to explore, in person or virtually, artwork and film work, drama, music, and dances from places I may never visit but without which I would be less attuned to the World. To its wonders, which are many. Insert here, instead of a unified goal all people “should” achieve, Whitman’s “Kosmos” or Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” with its line “All things counter, original, spare, strange;” or, more contemporary, Vievee Francis’ glorious “Another Antipastoral” that states:

Don’t you see? I am shedding my skins. I am a paper hive, a wolf spider,
the creeping ivy, the ache of a birch, a heifer, a doc.

Ann E. Michael, Wary of unity

Lately I’ve been thinking about foxes. While walking my dog Red through the neighborhood, we saw (or smelled from Red’s point of view) a fox sunning itself in the middle of the street with a carefree attitude. It lifted its hind leg to scratch an ear as we approached. The mail carrier driving by said he sees that fox and others regularly in different parts of the neighborhood.

A large tract of farmland adjacent to our suburban street was sold a few years ago. A sizable woodland was plowed over and turned into another subdivision, so many of the animals that used to live there have had to migrate. In the last week or so I’ve encountered, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, and now, this fox.

Christine Swint, Foxes, Archetypes, and Escape

Woodpigeons hunch on the open fence
in the freezing wind and rain
despite you providing shelter.

Woodpigeons perch on the gutters
and shit on the windows,
then fly off applauding themselves.

Sue Ibrahim, Woodpigeons

It’s in my next book, this place all fairy mounds and shifting beaver waterways, too apparently small to get lost in, yet every time, unpredictable tiny wild.

It’s the alive nature of risk, how even short and new paths suddenly turn bog, or turn left when the signs point right.

At the crossroads, sorrow to have to choose, again, one wrong over another. There should be a path unobstructed, somewhere.

Lacking that, there is just this that can only be enough for a short while already run too long.

JJS, The tiny wilds

I really like that phrase of Bob Horne’s…‘landscape made language’. It chimes with Macfarlane’s ‘landmarks’. Unconsciously, I hyphenate it. landscape-made-language.  And also language-made-landscape.  So much of Alison’s poetry is a poetry of place. A topological poetry if you like. Her landscape is particularly that of the watershed lands between the old textile towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire [2]; sour moorland tops, incut valleys full of canals and railway lines, and bridges. Old mills and dyeworks in small valleys, sometimes slightly sinister, gradually falling into dissolution; millponds and leats. Valley sides thick with sycamore and balsam.A layered, imbricated landscape, and one she knows intimately, about which she writes with what is often a textured precision. […]

Four years ago, while walking her dog in a familiar place, she slipped, broke her spine, almost drowned in a millpond, from which she somehow managed to drag herself, until she was found.

John Foggin, Catching up: Alison Lock’s “Lure”

On this Earth Day, I could have written about Iceland, where new earth is being born this very minute. But instead, here is a painting of an elemental landscape in Greece, one that’s probably existed in various forms for as long as human beings have gathered fruit from trees and fish from the sea: stony soil, an olive tree, the sea just beyond. If we listen, maybe we can hear the tinkle of bells on the collars of sheep and goats, herded into a hollow just beyond the picture frame… In Mexico, perhaps the olive would be replaced by some agaves. These are the sorts of natural and agricultural landscapes of basic sustainability that exist all over the world, which are threatened by climate change, and which we must protect. 

As I painted and thought about these things, I enjoyed knowing that some of the pigments I was using came directly from the earth too, and that water — the most basic substance of all — was the medium in which they were dissolved. But the connections go far deeper than the food we eat, or the elements we use in our daily lives.

For instance, it’s iron that gives its red color to the earth that was at my feet in this picture, and there’s an iron molecule in the center of each hemoglobin molecule in our blood, which is why it appears red.

Most of the time, we don’t even think about these interconnections. But actually we are creatures of the earth, just as much as the old olive tree with its roots in the rocks: it’s true on the macro level of our interdependency for life itself, and it’s true on the micro level of the smallest cells in our bodies.

Beth Adams, A Greek Landscape for Earth Day

Something about the bird that dropped
its feathers so it could remember
what it’s like to be naked in the mouth
of the world—Sometimes it mouthed
the shape of what sounded like love
or a kiss or a call. Even if it didn’t,
we had to forgive it for confusing
salt for sugar, for what dissolves easily
in foam. We stood without moving,
or learned to stop running away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Epiphora

Still thinking about Earth Day.

I read an interesting blog post – and an interesting comment there about how humans cooperating with one another is the key to the success of our species.

I’ve been thinking. What is the measure of success here? That we’ve overpopulated the earth? Overwhelmed other species? Poisoned our own homes? Occasionally wiped out huge swathes of our fellow humans in the name of “good”?

And what is the time frame here? Will we be as successful as the horseshoe crab? The jellyfish? It longevity a criteria? Is it to literally be the last man standing when we’ve eviscerated the earth entirely to make plastic toys? When the world is quiet but for our own voices?

Ren Powell, The Success of Our Species

seedling of another species :: is the language that i speak

Grant Hackett [no title]

… looking out of the patio windows, the grass pale because it hasn’t rained, and earlier, a goldfinch picking away at the curly branches of the twisted hazel. A cool breeze lulls the pine in the neighbour’s garden, cone-tipped branches, the place where the magpie likes to hop about, serious and concentrating on his next big find – a blackbird’s or a sparrow’s egg – and there’s a house sparrow, dipping and sipping the water from the birdbath, freckling the patio with droplets…

self isolation
picking up a dead fly
by its wings

Julie Mellor, Self isolation

It’s Earth Day, and this morning I spent my early hours rereading Passings, 15 poems about extinct birds—a luminous, heartbreaking, award-winning collection of poems from Holly J. Hughes.

Passings was first published in 2016 by Expedition Press as a limited-edition letterpress chapbook. It garnered national attention in 2017 when it received an American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation. As Holly says in her acknowledgments, “fitting that a small letterpress, itself an endangered art form, would be honored.” More than fitting, richly deserved.

It is our great good fortune that in 2019, Passings was reprinted by Jill McCabe Johnson’s Wandering Aengus Press. Although the gratitudes are slightly expanded, it is essentially the same and available from the press, or your independent bookstore

Bethany Reid, Holly Hughes: PASSINGS

In the meantime, I’m making plans for seminary housing.  On campus housing is cheap and furnished.  There’s also an option for intentional communal housing, but I’ve decided not to go that route.  In my younger years, I’d have gone that route, but these days, I’m in a more monastic cell kind of mindset.  This shift intrigues me.  I’ve requested a one bedroom apartment.

I have a vision of arriving at seminary with my sourdough starter, some musical instruments, and my markers.

Yesterday we transplanted seedlings.  We’ve been growing plants from seeds that we’ve collected from plants we’ve been growing.  Everything I researched told me that we would not be able to grow milkweed from seeds, but we gave it a try, and now we have 30 seedlings.  We did the same thing with peppers, cilantro, and dill.  We’ll continue to house them as long as we can.  

The future seems murky with possibilities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Housing Options

Thumbing
through the old photo album I pause at that photo,
remember how my dad dug up the rose before
the old house was sold, replanted it in my
parents’ backyard. A few pages later
there it is, twirling over my parents’
porch, now only a picture in an
album. Gone from this earth,
like my grandparents,
like my mother,
one day,
like
me.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 20

Even in the
is-ness of all things—
snow doused rut,
bleak skeleton of blackberry—
there is a waiting:
water of what’s next,
small fist of intent.
Who can live in the moment
amid all this soon-to-be:
bud of laurel,
aspen’s catkin, thirst
of the dirt road?

Marilyn McCabe, The poet’s game: or, On Waiting

Oh, moralizing culture! Since we have so little understanding of where we are, there will be endless pronouncements of where we are. Certainties about what we’ve learned from the pandemic, and prophetic images of our future.  The more we don’t know, the more we must say.  The more we shouldn’t say, the more we will.  No good void goes unfilled.  Enter a slogan.  

Carpe Diem?  It seems obviously capacious, which gives everyone room to pick bones.  The dessicated twigs in front of the carved letters in the photo look like they hide a sarcophagus.  Latin and Horace and Odes might overwhelm the swinging modern individualist, even if they agree with a misreading of “Seize the Day” as a consumer-ish urge to achieve personal triumph.  

Ideologues of a different stripe might battle the hedonistic “go for it” message, again misreading the more philosophic horticulturalish reminder to pluck and gather flowers at their moment.  To pluck each day in its fullness.

So little can be said.  It’s no wonder we keep at it. 

Jill Pearlman, The Carpe Diem Dilemma

no one thrives in a factory
we need sun on our faces
& snow underfoot

a hundred miles
with the crockpot on low
& some beer in the fridge

up the mountain
write your name
down the mountain, cook

the drone circles the summit
captures his tiny image there
one arm raised, smiling

Jason Crane, POEM: he lives in a van

Stupidity fairly oozes from me, these days. Dull ignorance and prejudice. I grow brittle. I roam my little spaces and think my my old stupid thoughts. The sky is a little airless cap over my little airless neighborhood. I count, and count, and count: the number of breaths since I started trying to sleep; the seconds until I take my eggs off the stove, the eighths of inches my waist has grown or shrunk, the number of pull ups done today. Sometimes I count backwards: from thirty to zero, while I wait for the oximeter to stabilize its numbers. For the novelty and piquancy of it. That’s how large the sphere of my mental operations has become.

This is where some extravagant meditation on natural beauty is supposed to come in: some memory of Mt Hood seen over the railyards at sunset, or the glowing fume of a waterfall before it drops into the deep green shadow of the Columbia Gorge. Really? I’m going to address this stupidity with images borrowed from picture postcards? Is anyone disposed to believe in that? Certainly I’m not.

All right. So that’s my state of mind. And my body? My back is totally borked, as it has not been in years. I had thought I was done with that affliction, but here it is again. And it gives the lie to the dreams of immortality I’ve been indulging of late: dreams of becoming so very healthy, so lean and fit, fasted and refitted, that I simply never decay. Such nonsense. 9% life extension in female mice: that is not immortality, Mr Favier. That’s another couple years of being an elderly male primate. If it translates at all.

Dale Favier, Counting Backwards

These are mangoes of desperation,
mangoes that were given promises
of eternal youth, but promises
were misleading at best, if not lies.
These are mangoes left to marinate
in the faint wishes of another
kind of life, wishes that sucked the life
right out of everything around them.
Still, this will have to be good enough
because these are the mangoes I have
here and now, and they are my dessert.

PF Anderson, Mangoes

The disposable
line ask for
nothing.

Write something
hard like rock
brought up

by winter’s
heave, left
to warm

in spring sun,
permanent,
mythic.

Tom Montag, THE DISPOSABLE

The lilacs are out on the island and are beginning to open on my deck. Lilacs make me giddy and stupid. Lilacs make me slather myself with fancy girl perfume and wear my tiara to the grocery store. Lilacs make me dance. Lilacs are the smooth rock hidden in my boot the secret to my creaky hips in the morning. I wanted nothing more than to be the famous Lilac Queen or one of the famous Lilac Princesses of Spokane when I was growing up. Of course I was not. I have grown weirdly nostalgic for the smell of city busses and lilacs in a vase or purloined lilacs in my arms. They grew everywhere when I was a girl. I thought they were wild flowers but they are in fact intentional. When I was a girl my stepfather told me that if I ever saw lilacs growing randomly in the woods or in some deserted old place it meant someone lived there once and loved there enough to plant those gorgeous flowers intentionally.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

dry stonewalling
we move the stone Buddha 
a blackbird visits

Jim Young [no title]

The man who sells magazines has the largest hands I’ve ever seen.  

               Keeps licking his fingers, fondling the pages. His tongue darts out, 

                                  then back in and my knees ache with spring. With the hinges in my haunches, 

the feathers in my lungs.  The whipoorwill spins on its weathervane

                in every direction. What is desire, but a soft turning of every gear

                                  in the body? The wrought interior, where the prism shatters with sun.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo day no. 22

I’m fascinated by Fredericton-based poet Mary Germaine’s lyric scenes, displayed through her full-length debut, Congratulations, Rhododendrons (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2021). Congratulations, Rhododendrons is a collection of poems braided together from odd musings, recollections and observations, and long stretches of lyric that run out and across beyond the patterns of narrative sentence. Consider the title of the poem “The Look on Your Face When You Learn / They Make Antacids Out of Marble,” and its subsequent opening: “Who knows the name of the empire that took your arms, or the earthquake / that left you to drag your way, legless, to the top of the rubble.” Her perspective is delightfully odd and slightly skewed. Uniquely singular and refreshing, Germaine provides new life into the narrative-driven lyric. Consider, too, the title of the poem “Upon Hearing How Long It Takes a Plastic Bag to Break Down,” that includes: “”We built them to make it easy / to carry groceries, gym shoes, / shorelines, treetops, and dog shit. / And they do. And they will, until the end / of time, or the next five hundred years— / whichever comes first. I will be buried / and I’m not sorry some plastic will outstay / my appreciation of sunsets. I suspect even sunsets / will be garbage by then.” Or again, the poem “Every Poem Where I Have to Pee in It Is a Pastoral,” that includes: “This is why everyone hates nature: / nothing to buy out here. / Plenty to smell but nothing good to eat. / Nobody knows that better // than the night-browsers, riding the crooked / wheel of their shopping carts / up and down the laneways, perusing for / who knows, finding wire hangers.” I think it is safe to say that Germaine is writing some of the finest poem-titles I’ve seen in some time. They are remarkable for their evocative wit and slightly twisted humour.

rob mclennan, Mary Germaine, Congratulations, Rhododendrons

This morning I was looking through the National Trust news and came across the latest Spring initiative, #blossomwatch, in which they are asking people to photograph blossom (I think the official day for it is tomorrow) and flood our social media channels with gorgeous pink and white. I dutifully downloaded the PDF ‘information pack’ and in it found a poem written by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett in response to members of the public who had contributed their thoughts on Spring. I confess I’d not heard of Elizabeth-Jane, and a crowd-sourced poem doesn’t always bode well, but I absolutely loved it and found myself reading it several times and wanting to show people.

I can’t post the whole poem here, and the extracts on the NT site and here on the Guardian website (which tells the whole story of how it was written) don’t do it justice, as the beauty is (for me) how the poem builds and ends. So do download the ‘pack’ and read the full poem.

Robin Houghton, #Blossomwatch poem by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

It was Earth Day this week. Last Earth Day, I planted an apple tree and cherry tree in my yard, and over the last year, we’ve faithfully watered, fertilized them, and kept the deer from eating them, and this year, we were rewarded with a few leaves and a couple of blossoms on each. This last year we planted a Strawberry Tree and another cherry (this time, a fruiting Rainier cherry) and we are watching them grow in containers on the back deck. The birds love them. All of the tulips are almost done blooming now – remember last weekend, they had just opened? It’s definitely been a week to celebrate that brief burst of bloom as much as possible, and attend to the garden, cutting back, planting, putting coffee grounds on the roses. Sometimes it’s time to plant, and sometimes it’s time to nurture what you’ve already planted. Maybe I should try this on myself!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, National Poetry Month, Lilacs, Apple Blossoms and Melancholy, Earth Day, Zoom Poetry Inspirations, and a Book Giveaway

A cat wants to be a Cadillac. A Cadillac wants to be a garbage truck.

A garbage truck wants to be a wet dream. A wet dream wants to be heaven.

Heaven wants to be a dive bar. A dive bar wants to be diamonds.

Diamonds want to be handfuls of dirt. Handfuls of dirt want to be thrown into graves.

Graves want to be winds. Winds want to be human. And humans forever want to be everything at once.

Rich Ferguson, The Chain of Want

This tool has a smooth handle, satisfying to the hand. There’s a burn mark from some long-ago scorching-hot stove. The iron twists and curls. It’s beautiful; I think in one of my early apartments I hung it on the kitchen wall as an ornament. Today it was the perfect tool for flipping pumpernickel bagels in their simmering bath before putting them in the oven to bake. 

Learning to make bagels was one of the projects I planned for myself, imagining the long isolated pandemic winter. I baked loaf after loaf of rye bread, and soft golden challah almost every week. I kept putting off the bagel project. Maybe on a subconscious level I wanted to keep a treat for myself, something to look forward to in this year of solitude and grief. 

But the winter is past. The snows are over and gone. Every day more people here become vaccinated. (Though in India, the pandemic is raging worse than ever…) Baking bagels today felt like an act of hope. I don’t need to defer the tiny sweetness of trying a new recipe lest I need that sweetness to get me through some other, worse, day than this.

Rachel Barenblat, Unanswered

Recently I was chatting with two poet friends, and we remarked on how we did enjoy rain in a poem. 

Well, I feel the same way – actually, more so – about telephones.

Often, mentions of phones in poems can be immensely lonely and forlorn. There are of course famous examples. Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ draws towards its wonderful close via:

Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.

Selima Hill’s ‘Cow’ has, in passing, 

unscrupulous restaurant-owners
who stumble, pink-eyed, from stale beds
into a world of lobsters and warm telephones

I never seem to forget these insomniac glimpses / images. Both also feature (almost horribly) real, physical telephones – in work spaces left empty and dark at night. Phones ringing in our lonelier lives.

In Sarah Jackson’s poem ‘The Red Telephone’ a small boy’s enormous impulse to get through to his mother almost overcomes the insurmountable obstacle – that he has only a toy phone, ‘red plastic with a curly white cord’, with which to do so.

Charlotte Gann, MEANWHILE TELEPHONES CROUCH

As the book might say, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? As the book also might say, I have been away. Which is to say, right here, shuffling around the same square footage of study for the last eight months, just like everyone else.

What have I been up to? I can’t really say, except that I have been engaging with the process. Except it has been a pleasure to dive into real head space and not have to think about communicating publiclly with anyone. Except that I want to stay here a little longer.

How to put it? William Stafford once said that a writer is someone who ‘is not so much someone who has something to say as she is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things she would not have thought of if she had not started to say them.’ I love that. It’s long been a touchstone for me.

So the one thing I thought I was working on has turned out to be other things, or rather more things, and those things are requiring of me that I spend more time with them and by the same token less with you, here.

Anthony Wilson, Head. Space.

It’s been hard. Excellent visiting nurses came in daily for extremely painful and elaborate wound care, but meanwhile I was learning to keep a mostly-incapacitated elderly woman safe, clean, fed, hydrated, and as content as possible. She was very grateful to get home. From her bed or the nearby recliner, she was following the Chauvin trial and news of violence across the country; she was also interested in the “helicopter” on Mars and in Prince Phillip’s funeral procession. When a phlebotomist couldn’t find a vein, my mother slyly said, “It’s Prince Phillip’s fault,” although I don’t think anyone understood she was joking but me. When she slept, I read some news, a bit of a mystery novel, and a bit of social media. I’ve been able to do maybe an hour a day of my own work, but it’s hard to concentrate. Logistically and emotionally, there’s a lot going on. I started writing a poem a few days ago involving the strange in-betweenness of illness, the haunted noises my mother’s refrigerator makes during the middle of the night, and her repeated statement that someone was trying to get in the front door–maybe those three weirdnesses could hang together? Anyway, I was interrupted.

Lesley Wheeler, Diagnosis / verdict

Anecdotal Poetry. What does this term mean to you? In my experience, it’soften invoked disparagingly and dismissively by certain critics, reviewers and editors to describe work that seems to take a rooted place or experience as a point of departure. It’s used to imply the poems under scrutiny are somehow lacking in imagination and of less consequent artistic value than pieces that have been written via other approaches.

In fact, this perspective isn’t just a slight on the poetry in question, but also a misinterpretation of the very essence of the genre’s transformational powers. In summary, it encapsulates a wilful confusion of the nature of poetic truth, as if such poems were a simple relaying and portrayal of fact.

What term might be used in its place? Realist Poetry is useless, as it also imposes similar pigeonholing limits that are equally and intrinsically absurd. For example, surrealism is simmering away just under the surface in any decent so-called realist poem. On second thoughts, I’ll leave this last question to people who are obliged to answer it by academic demands and constraints…

Matthew Stewart, Anecdotal Poetry…?

The police often have a rather bombastic way of expressing themselves which is based upon demonstrating power via vocabulary and particularly via polysyllabic and longwinded effusions. However, if this is the means by which linguistic prestige and authority is gained, it’s misguided.

The poetry world isn’t that different. Both fields seem to have this general assumption that intelligence is gauged via grandiloquence. Something isn’t ‘stolen’, it’s ‘purloined’. The suspect didn’t just run away, no, they ‘absquatulated from the purlieus of the malfeasance’.

This is extreme, and of course, made-up, but it does show you that the places where elite language once were, are now the preserve of goons and florid language isn’t clever, at all. Poetry should really be trying to be accessible, not trying to exhibit and strut, and I suspect that people (poets) who use inkhorn language are actually trying to disguise a deeper deficiency in their work…

Richie McCaffery, Poetic licence REVOKED

I have cried at three video games in my entire life: “Syberia”, when Kate finally finds the woolly mammoths, “Gone Home” at the end when the big secret is revealed, and this one, called “Lost Words: Beyond the Page.” I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was written by Rhianna Pratchett, who is the daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett, the famed fantasy and sci-fi writer best known for the Discworld series. Terry Pratchett died after a battle with Alzheimer’s, and this game revolves around the main character Izzy’s struggle with her beloved grandma’s mental deterioration after a stroke. The game toggles between two alternating sequences—one is the young girl’s journal, where the words light up on the page and you reveal new pictures and words as you move through the written sentences, and one is a side-scroller that enacts the fantasy story that the girl is writing to help her cope with her grief and the chaos in her family. In one journal scene, Izzy recalls a trip to the beach with her grandmother, who was a marine biologist, and is introduced to the concept of bioluminescence. It’s one of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game, and I feel like if I try to explain it I’m going to botch it.

I think at the core of what I want to get across here, and what I’ve been trying for years to explain, is that some of the very best literature out there now lives in the realm of video games. I know that this is anathema for academics and others who have outmoded ideas about gaming and gamers, but it’s the truth. It’s partly why I have been so drawn to certain games over the years and talk so much about games on this blog. I feel that there is a huge world of literary excellence that writers are missing out on by eschewing games. “Lost Words: Beyond the Page” is a perfect example. I’m so glad that I found it, and I feel compelled to share it with you, dear readers. If you don’t game at all, it’s a gentle introduction to gaming—it’s not twitchy; it’s very intuitive and forgiving, and it will be easy to learn. I would urge you to branch out and give it a try. I don’t know how far into the game I am or much more I have to go, but I find myself not wanting it to end.

Kristen McHenry, Baby Mystery, Game Rave, Literary Anathema

On those days, not infrequent, when I feel diminished as a poet, I still have a sense of confidence in my ability to write a really good book review. It’s become my writing practice and my connection with other poets. I like to think of the practice as my own personal MFA program. Writing poetry book reviews has deeply enriched my reading and writing experience– it’s taught me how to read “closely” and shown me how to recognize the craft of syntax, tone, meter, musicality. I believe it’s made me a better poet. It’s given me opportunities to connect with other poets and within the larger community of poetry.

Two years ago, in March 2019, I launched The Poetry Cafe Online: a Meeting Place Where Poetry Chapbooks are Celebrated and Reviewed with my review of Lauren Davis’s Each Wild Things Consent.

The goal of The Poetry Cafe is to create a comfortable, inviting home where interested poetry lovers can enter, feel welcomed, and read reviews of poetry chapbooks. As curator of The Poetry Café, I’ve received chapbooks from more than 100 poets. I’ve written many reviews myself, but more amazingly, I have published reviews by 27 guest reviewers and as of today, a total of 54 Reviews! I’ve also added Interviews to the site.

The project has grown far beyond my expectations. If you are not following it, please click over and add your email address to follow Cafe postings, usually once a week. I’m always looking for new reviewers or interviewers, and I could sure use some help with managing the site.

Risa Denenberg, A Writing Practice: Book Reviews

Last year I planned to take a break from #NaPoWriMo because I thought I’d be busy promoting “The Significance of a Dress” (still available as a print or ebook from Arachne Press). However, the pandemic led to cancellations so I ended up doing #NaPoWriMo, finding art an inspiration to compensate for the lack of planning. This year, I thought I’d take the break I’d planned last year but I found myself writing a poem on 1 April. Call it habit or discipline, but April seems to be a month for drafting poems.

It’s also a good month to start new habits. The drear, winter mornings have gone, clocks have gone forward an hour on to British Summer Time so the evenings are staying lighter for longer and the outdoors is looking greener with plants coming back to life. For me it’s also the month before hayfever really starts, a breathing space before outdoors becomes hellish. There’s a plus to having to wear a mask. I rarely bother with new year’s resolutions, but when I do I usually see January and February as planning, thinking months and get resolutions underway in March/April as the season turns. January’s a horrible month to start anything: there’s that post-holiday lull, the weather’s discouraging and it’s still dark at beginning and end of the day.

During the pandemic, I have been relatively privileged: classed as a keyworker but able to work from home with enough space to set up an office-at-home that’s not in my living area. Since my writing has always happened in the gaps around everything else, it still happens in the gaps around everything else. I don’t have a routine: a poem wants to be written, it gets written, a short story haunts me, it gets written and I’ve always got something to review. I think my breathing would have to stop before the writing does.

Emma Lee, NaPoWriMo 2021 and the Value of Writing Communities

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 15

Poetry Blogging Network

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

After last week’s flirtation with a tighter focus on poetry, it’s back to the usual, glorious miscellany of poets thinking out loud about all manner of things (but mainly poetry). Some themes did emerge: poetry about women’s experiences, hopefulness about the easing pandemic, the pleasures of books, and the numinous power of large animals. Enjoy.


paperboy
delivering births and deaths
on his cycle

Jim Young [no title]

Here I am again. Is it spring, with its stuttering reenactment of incarnation, that renders me numbskulled, vacant?

I’m inert. Such a great word, short-stopped by that cul-de-sac of an -ert.

Like the newly snow-emerged and dim-colored field, I am empty.

I have not written in a long time. Nothing is on my mind. I am thought-less. Seem to have nothing to say. Have no idea how to write a poem.

No idea why I would even do such a thing.

Have no sense that I’ve ever done such a thing in my life nor that I will ever do so. As the damp field curled with squashed lines of old weeds and broken stems of milkweed, languid pale humps of grasses tangled in mud will never be anything other than that.

Will it?

Marilyn McCabe, This must be the place; or, On Not Writing

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Just popping in with a quick note…

When twigs swell
and begin to bud

and leaves emerge
chartreuse and tender

I’m proclaiming
what I nurtured

in secret silence
through the long winter

and sleep’s cold blur.

Rachel Barenblat, Spring

I’m so grateful to Editor Carolina VonKampen of Capsule Stories for including some of my work in this sweet publication. This edition is chock-full of spring-themed poetry, and it couldn’t have landed in my mailbox at a better time. After a long year of Covid challenges and mitigations, the compilation of writing contained not only demonstrates that many small presses and their editors have persevered through this stretch, as have many writers. The struggle is real, and I know this firsthand, whether gathering the focus to edit, or the wherewithal to set aside time each day to truly write. I know it’s tough to put pen to paper, but if not now, when? Start small. Word into sentence into stanza, or paragraph. Start. The other piece I so greatly appreciate about Capsule Stories is much of the writing gives me hope. Much of the writing touches upon the natural world. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read.. Thank you to Capsule for publishing this. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully, it will become easier.

Kersten Christianson, Capsule Stories, Spring 2021 Edition

Spring as an ice storm spring as the first watermelon of the year is so blood red and perfectly sweet that your heart breaks a little spring as lilacs that refuse to let down their green knickers to show their purple spring as pale pink tulips in the house in a milk jug nodding their heads

all the tulip tourists have descended upon this quiet island so my coffee shop bakery is now overrun with women wearing bedazzled jeans dragging small children in by their arms to get an ice cream or use the bathroom while their tired cranky husbands wait so the line stretches out the door everyone crammed shoulder to shoulder ignoring the pandemic go away tourists I don’t love you eating my fear and scaring the whales

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Remember how the mist fell, a veil
floating from the sky’s crown, the sea

reaching up, up, up – a meeting of waters?
You said There is no horizon, no distance,

only the here and now. And it was true, the sea
and the air mingling, salt and oxygen drifting

into our faces as we watched under our tent,
the canvas billowing like lungs after a hard run.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 12

Yesterday afternoon we’d walked along the beach at Horsey, and my wife turned to me and said “I feel better already”. That’s the kind of review we should be leaving in a guestbook—if beaches had guestbooks. Perhaps we should have just scratched it into the sand as a temporary review, and perhaps we would have done if a) we’d thought of it at the time and b) the beach wasn’t lined with seals. Horsey is famous for this, and it is one of my favourite places in the world, even though I don’t get there much. […]

The seals there are a magnificent sight, and the sea air was the perfect tonic after the best part of a year in the city. At the risk of being incredibly self-centred (and hey, why not) It reminded me of my poem, ‘Horsey Seals’ – can you tell why it reminded me of this?? [Click through to read it.]

Mat Riches, The Sea(ls)They Cure Everything

Driving back from the doctor’s this morning, a horse was standing at the top of a hill all alone. I can’t explain why it felt important. Single horses standing on hilltops just feel profound. I felt a flush of awe. […]

I am learning to leave awe alone. To accept the flood of emotion, like slipping into a warm bath, and let go of associations and interpretations about what it means to me or for me. I am learning to let the horse on the hill be a horse on the hill, and relish the flush of emotion for its own sake. Children do that, don’t they? Thrill in things without believing them to be omens or signs from the oracles. Without believing they either deserve them, or have to work to deserve them. They just observe. I’m sure there are adults who do that as well. I actually think I know one or two.

They think I’m weird. […]

I probably take a hundred photos a month. But I love what it has done to me. Now, when I am driving, or in the passenger seat, I see how beautiful the scenery is. I “frame” it in my mind and appreciate the reflections, the colors, the incidental composition of elements, the repetitions, and patterns.

I notice more – camera in hand, or not.

I also think it’s helped teach me to be passive. In a good way – to leave my ego out of the situation when my ego isn’t necessary. To fully embrace the value of being an observer and not a participant at times. To understand that it is possible to take center stage when it’s appropriate and then step back without the fear of losing “my place”. To be more generous. Less judgmental. Less fearful.

Ren Powell, The Horse on the Hilltop

The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.

PF Anderson, Sleeping

A woman walks to church the Monday
after Easter. She’s wearing a light
sweater because at last it feels
like it could truly be spring. But who
even goes to church anymore
on a weekday morning in New York?
The immigrant healthcare workers
will tell you. The nannies and short-
order cooks, the 1 AM custodial
workers; grandmothers who spent
years polishing other people’s floors
on their knees as if before a god who only
cares that every surface reflects
his many countenances.

Luisa A. Igloria, They Ask What Came First: The Hate Speech or the Attack

I was recently having a small discussion with someone on IG about our angers and our darknesses. I am maybe at the stage where I have identified a few new dark parts of my soul. And I think there is a value in sharing those, but that also there is so much darkness right now, that I don’t think it’s a useful time for me to sort of interrogate it in public. Others have more pressing issues, more is at stake currently. I was thinking about the difference between taking dark things into a dark time vs taking something dark into a light place. And really, just the privilege to even be mulling over stuff like that gives me pause.

Maybe it’s worth something small though to yell out, yes I am dealing with the new dark parts of my soul! I honestly don’t know if this is true.

I think part of me would rather be planting flowers in unexpected place on a city street. But there is another part of me that feels it’s worthwhile to just sit and try to understand.

Shawna Lemay, Peace Love Chocolate Cake

Kelli Russell Agodon and I had not seen each other in over a year and she and her husband Rose came over. We were all fully vaccinated and so happy to be able take one more step towards re-entry to a normal life. Hugs! Unicorn sprinklers! Pink cupcakes and sparkling rose for my birthday AND to celebrate Kelli’s new book from Copper Canyon, Dialogue with Rising Tides.

It was great to talk poetry, gardens, hang out on the back porch on rocking chairs with hummingbirds, and just goof around. And we had a lovely day for it – the warmest day of the year so far. The tulips in our gardens bloomed while our visitors were here, which seemed like a sign of something good.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post-Vaccine Visits with Friends, A New Poem in Chestnut Review, and a Zoom Reading

I have always joked that I’m a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I’ve meant by that statement is that I’m queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I’m queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze. […]

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I’m a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I’m thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I’m thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don’t even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don’t want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what’s next.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I move among this cemetery of words,
run my fingers along the headstones of conversations.
I asked my grandfather to interpret my dreams as, kneeling,
I trimmed the grass by the grave of his faith.
The details will blur, moss and lichen will muffle voices.
Slowly the earth of our thoughts will turn, subside.

Bob Mee, 5 a.m. APRIL. WRITING YOURSELF OUT OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

I wrote my poetry collections Noir and The Girl Who Cried from what I’ve called my ‘Understory’: I’d always had a distinct sense of life running along two parallel lines, even as a child. And I learnt very young there were things it was acceptable to talk about, and things it was not. On the whole, unhappy things were the ones that caused trouble.

I think in terms of having an ‘elephant’ that decides what I actually do in life, whatever my rational brain might say. It makes the big moves. 

And I, or my elephant, ended up shaping my collections around the subjects I’d found most painful in my life, and most difficult to talk about. Noir (HappenStance, 2016) explored vulnerability as a teen, and the fallout from exploitation; and The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance, 2020) probes a lifelong struggle with attachment.

Writing these made more sense of things, somehow. As though the invisible suffering wasn’t all for nothing.

Ongoing group

So then I decided to set up an ongoing online group under the banner ‘The Understory Conversation’ – for other poets who are also curious. The group has been meeting since autumn, and feels truly nourishing. […]

The thing I think we most value is the fact we meet with a shared understanding that having an Understory is part and parcel of normal human experience. So we start from there, without pathologising.

It’s liberating. 

Common themes emerge in a way that’s almost uncanny. We learn so much from hearing from each other. We really listen.

And the group offers some refuge – as each member wends her way through the processes of writing, submitting, publishing.

Charlotte Gann, THE UNDERSTORY CONVERSATION

I’ve been working this week on preliminary design for the next book project, which is my collection of midwest gothic awesomeness, dark country.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve finished an ungodly amount of full-length manuscripts (well, it’s just 4, but it feels ungodly when they are sitting quietly unpublished.) I decided this year, since I don’t have any book releases on the immediate horizon, and it had been a year since Black Lawrence released sex & violence, that I might as well get them out in the world.  It’s been a learning curve–and something altogether different than publishing zines or chapbooks, which I am used to. A full-length book is just so much more unruly than a shorter book. More editing, more proofing, more design hits and misses.  And also, the after work of actually getting it in the hands of readers and getting any sort of blip on the promotion side. It feels hard with anything I write and put out there, but especially something like a full-length collection. 

I’ve spoken before on my reasons for self-publishing this series of books–mostly that my current publisher passed on a couple of them during reading periods (and obviously, they can’t publish everything I write, cause yo, I write a lot.) I’m not feeling like sending to other contests and reading periods is really something I want or have resources to do.  I am also aware of the space I take up as a mid-career, already reasonably well-published author when there are so many other emerging writers out there who could have those opportunities. (I think this sometimes when I’m on the self-pity train, the why not me? train, but really sometimes, things like publishing luck seem really capricious and obviously skewed toward the privileged–whether it’s age or gender or ethnicity.) We should all take up less space. Or at best, try to make room through our endeavors. But you also have to balance this with a desire to find your readers and thrive as a creative. 

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty when you don’t have someone–an editor, a publisher, backing you up.  Lots of doubts that you’re not just putting more crap into the world.   Other people who probably think your work is crap.  But one thing I hope I’ve gained as I get older is not so much blatant overconfidence (which is totally true sometimes) , but moreso an ability to discern what is good, what is crap, what’s worth launching into the world, and what should just stay safely on my computer for awhile or needs more work.  I also know how to put a book together now, more than I ever did.  Have even been able to help other authors with their through manuscript consultations.  Consultations which actually have taught me as much as I’ve helped the other author (hopefully anyway..lol… I may have just muddied the waters).

Kristy Bowen, a year of self publishing

Who I am is constructed, in part, out of books I’ve read. When I read, especially if I love what I’m reading, I feel as if the book has entered my very bone marrow. But I read, on average, four or five books a week. Often more. Where has my mind put decades of books?   

Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic offers an answer. It’s titled, “Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.” She writes, “people often shove more into their brains than they can possibly hold.” She cites a study from 2009 showing the average American encounters 100,000 words a day. Our memories simply cannot keep all this information readily available. I say pish posh, the memories we take in from what we read has to do with its relevance. We hang on to the information that most impacts us, intrigues us, or that we put to use.  

Beck also points out we’re better able to recall the context in which we read a book, so we remember reading a green-jacketed novel based in Sierra Leone while on vacation, but are likely to recall the book’s contents. To me that’s one of memory’s gifts. I’ll never forget reading The Color Purple while nursing my firstborn or reading The World According To Garp while on the couch recovering from knee surgery or becoming so immersed in by Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House while at an airport departure gate that I missed my flight.

Okay, maybe I feel threatened by the idea that I’ve wasted literal years of my life reading books that simply float beyond memory into a void. But there’s plenty of evidence that books change us, whether we remember them well or not at all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Forgetting Books We’ve Read

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

José Angel Araguz, shoutouts

Even without knowing that Ashley Farmer is predominantly the author of works of prose—including the forthcoming essay collection Dear Damage (Sarabande Books, 2022), the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012), the short story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014) and the novella The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, Inc., 2015)—the pieces in The Women might suggest that. This isn’t a swipe or a complaint, but an acknowledgment that her poems are constructed very much out of sentences, allowing one to build upon another, and allowing that accumulation, or even that collision, to inform each piece’s short narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a collage of ideas around a particular phrase or thought, and other times, the narrative is more straightforward, allowing one foot to step directly in front of another, towards a conclusion.

The poems included here are constructed via selecting threads and phrases from Google searches. Through her searches, Farmer collects sequences of threads and interweaves those searches into poems that each sit beneath titles that one might suspect were lifted from her original search phrase, but for the acknowledgments that include that certain “of these pieces previously appeared, sometimes in slightly different forms, under slightly different titles.” It would suggest that the searches, however they were conducted, utilized an array of phrases and sentences, sorting the barrage into bins, and from each of those bins, crafting each poem from those materials. The Women plays with elements of exploring and documenting how women are seen, depicted and discussed, pulling at a variety of depictions of cultural space, worked neither as flarf nor conceptual, but shaped into poems that write of domestic labour, violence, home, love, fear, strength and community, body image, health, leadership, marriage, weathering storms and notions of being bad or inherent goodness.

Her poems include shades of the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Stern Woodman, in that all three determined their gaze on and around the form and cultural ideas surrounding women, from the abstract, the absolute and the absurd to concurrently acknowledge and document as well as strip away those layers of overlaid determinations by a male-dominated culture; all three of these artists, in their own way, allowing the women they were viewing and/or discussing, their subjects, to determine the shape of their gaze, but also shaping that final result. “See two young women harvesting hope in Marion County, / 1944,” Farmer writes, in the poem “Women Land,” “cultivating new pathways to the boardroom.”

Stop Women

Sometimes one wonders if our nation is a public strip club. A mother and daughter who run a brothel for truckers fight back when the mafia tries to take over their operation. Men’s fragrances smell like excuses for getting home late. You will not stop women.

rob mclennan, Ashley Farmer, The Women

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear that Rena Priest will be our new Washington State Poet Laureate. I took a workshop with Rena at Chuckanut Sandstone in 2018, and have been happily singing her praises ever since. She is an exceptional poet and—you have only to meet her once to know this—a generous and kind teacher.

Plus, I had just ordered her book Patriarchy Blues, from Village Books so that I could include her in my blog line-up this April. Serendipity all over the place!

Patriarchy Blues was published by MoonPath Press in 2017, and received an American Book Award in 2018. Many (all?) of its 26 poems are about desire, specifically, the lopsided desire that comes of living in a patriarchy. Dedicated to “the subterranean homesick matriarchy,” the book holds up a mirror to the world and the world puts on its lipstick and dances. Scissors desire the thread and the moon longs to turn her face away. “Can you climb into a person’s / longing for you and float away?” asks one poem (“The Encyclopedia Britannica, Sunshine, a Mosquito”); another, “Is desire not acted upon a betrayal?” (“Creeping Out of Orbit”).  And, always, this lushness, the body nourished by drums and bells and honey.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest

“A Cap of Horror” is subtitled “First World War poetry written by female nurses and carers” and is edited by Leo van Bergen, Marijke Foncke and Renee Schoffelen. Leo van Bergen’s introduction explains the rationale behind the anthology, “I wondered whether besides Brittain and Borden other female nurses had turned their wartime experiences into poetry as well. Eventually I found seventeen women, nurses and others working in the medical line, who in forty poems and a cycle of sonnets reflected on various aspects of the (medical) war. Many of these touched me deeply, as I hope they will do you.” The anthology is bilingual in English and Dutch in the hope of gaining recognition for the poets in Dutch-speaking countries. Open the book from the English language title to get the poems in English, reverse the book to the Dutch title to get the poems in Dutch. The contents list includes Vera Brittain, Mary Borden, May Sinclair and Rose Macauley and the poems are organised by theme. […]

“A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” is a welcome anthology of war poetry from the viewpoint of nurses and support workers who cared for the casualties. While there is some jingoism and some poets cast soldiers as heroes, others temper this by addressing the affect caring for the injured had on the nurses. Loss is also acknowledged and questions raised about the nature of war and the importance of remembering. The research in tracking down the poems and rediscovering women poets of the period is a useful reminder that there is more to be written about war than the work produced by soldier-poets. A useful addition to the canon of First World War poetry.

Emma Lee, “A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” edited Leo Van Bergen (dt) – book review

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Sarah J. Sloat about her new book Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books). […]

“When I was doing [Hotel Almighty] and even now when I work on projects, a lot of what I find I’m doing is just expressing a love of reading and of books themselves,” says Sloat in discussing her new book. “I mean, I just love paper. To take a book and be able to make it into something — that was really fun and exciting for me.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat

Yellow. How do we read you?  Sickly or simple as happiness?  Simple as just living without ponderous thought.   Daffodils in their junior prom dresses.  Come rain, come light snow petals quiver but they don’t drop.  

Forstyhia too.  On the frontline of joy.  Out from under, like Easter.  In the face of death.  Breathing quivering glaring at darkening rain clouds that glare and brighten them

 A duck egg’s yolk, outsized sun.  That which feeds in scarcity is revered as a goddess

and fear, and disillusion, too much optimism, too much yellow that fades, becomes dingy, a street sign — crossing! bus! children! — in need of attention

and fear of the other in their own birthed skin —

Jill Pearlman, A Season of Yellow

Those distant sirens are spreading rumors. They say the seasons are loveless and can only offer damage as a diamond ring.

Those sirens swear that zombie-walking romeos are the only fix we can find for what ails us. That the streets have nothing promising to share, they can only teach us how to curse in gutterspeak.

Those sirens don’t reveal how we can have our lighter moments, like loud-sugar lovers in some FM pop song. Or that we can outlast destruction, just as Joan of Arc was made saintly when ravaged by flames.

Those distant sirens don’t mention how optimism, dressed in its halo of golden moments, can linger with us in alleyways, show us how to find that one good vein even in our darkest moments.

Rich Ferguson, If you listen carefully

But wow, did today feel like my dream of orcas who invited me to ride them: two of them side by side so I could stand with one foot on each orca back as they held a rein of kelp through their mouths so I had something to hold onto: their powerful, pent bodies also reined in to not throw their rider, the ripples of trying to remember to go gently because right, we invited this weird fragile thing to come along and we don’t want to drown her by accident something I could feel in them through my feet: the body does what the body loves. What it is made to do.

You know what happened in that dream? They said you know what this is dumb just come down with us and I answered but how will I breathe? And they said you won’t need to, and I didn’t. I went down with them, orca myself now I suppose, and I could see their powerful bodies with my own, flashing even in that dense weight of black depth.

It was pure bliss.

The body does what the body loves, so for the final 100 of the 4rth 400, I loped with powerful pull reserving nothing much at all, and for the final 50 kicked like I was finishing, and for the final 25 turned up the volume enough to bring it in at 1:15 again and slosh the wall.

What did my heart rate do during that last 100 of the last 400? It went DOWN. Ha.

My body loves wholeness: animal power unconscious of itself, just pure expression and pure experience.

JJS, Day 6: 4x400s round two – the body does what the body loves

Imagine it: gathering again, with other human beings, engaged in listening, in art, in entertainment. You know–all that stuff we once took for granted, pre-pandemic and back when virtual events were mostly either experimental or TV shows.

In recent years, I have not been participating in many poetry readings; attending them still, yes–when possible, when life has not intervened too much–but not actively looking for reading venues, not the way I did in previous decades when I was learning how to present my work publicly. Lately, even when I’ve attended readings with open mics, I often choose not to sign up to read. I need to get home to grade papers or go to bed.

This situation has led to a gap in my reading-poetry practice. True, I teach; I am accustomed to speaking in front of a group of near-strangers, and that is a kind of public-speaking skill. There’s a distinct difference between being the authority and being the author, however. I found myself trying to explain this difference to a friend of mine last evening as we drove home from: MY FIRST IN-PERSON POETRY READING IN AGES!

[An aside here to express boundless thanks to Jenny Hill and Dan Waber of the Wunderbarn in East Greenville PA, who asked me to lead off their Just about an Hour and a Half Variety Hour for the 2021 season–quite an honor!]

I had some preparation, however, because local friends-in-poetry had invited me to read for a video that will stream on April 27th from the Facebook page of Bethlehem PA’s venue The Ice House. That was a new experience for me, though strange: I had to stay in one place without walking and fidgeting while reading to a very kind person behind a camera and another kind person connected to me by a microphone and earphones–in an otherwise empty performance space. O, Brave New World…

The reading at the Wunderbarn commenced the following evening, so the practice in front of the camera helped by giving me the opportunity to organize both my poems and my thoughts. I would not say that putting together a reading is exciting, but it offers some of the quiet challenges of a puzzle or word game. The act of reading in person to an audience changes those challenges to one of performance. It has been a pleasant task to expend energy thinking about poetry; I’ve been attending readings and craft talks remotely all month. And the performance space at Wunderbarn is sweetly rural. We were seated outdoors, and as dusk came on the human voices were accompanied by ducks and frogs. As so many of my poems feature the natural world, that felt fitting.

Friends in the audience, an added boon. That fact encouraged me to read two or three newer poems that I’ve not read out loud before and not to feel too awkward about possibly stumbling through my own lines. Also, though the grounds were muddy and the air rather cool, the rain held off. If I were the sort of person who believed in omens, I would say this event bodes well. Instead, I lift up my voice in gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, In person

fires lit in circles
burning across the page

elliptical but intersecting
on late-night bridges

off on a lark
in front of the crowd

looking through telescopes
wondering what we are

cloud-obscured stars
outside the bar

Jason Crane, POEM: orbits

We might take off our shoes and walk together through the dew-damp grass of the very early morning. We might sit down together with coffee and quiet talk, speaking of those things in our lives that are real. It might be that we have beliefs and values in common, and that our hearts are our own, that we are not controlled by some dogma or ideology. That who we are and what we are might be more important than where we were born or how we pray. Wouldn’t that be something? In these things I will place my hopes, and I promise to leave room for your hopes as well.

James Lee Jobe, Our hearts are our own.

Red buds
of the silver maples

making promises
to the wind.

Tom Montag, RED BUDS

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 13

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week saw the beginning of Poetry Month, which nets us even more original poems than usual, and given that it’s Easter today I decided to focus on themes of death/rebirth, renewal and hope. Rounding out the digest are appreciations of books and authors and other musings on poetry, with several poets sharing exciting news about new projects and publications. Enjoy.


The spruce trees are filled with siskins whose bright voices patter and swoop. Such brilliant conversation from the world at this turn of the season, two weeks past solstice, Easter Sunday, Eostre. Even though there is still a bitter chill in the air, everything begins to consider breaking hibernation – somewhere up the hill the bears are turning in their dens, the trees must be passing the news of snowmelt from root to root deep in the ground.

And here am I, considering how to let rise my own clear and sweet spring. I have my second vaccination shot this week, and both of my large projects, the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference and Storyknife, are gearing up to commence. I’ve just finished the last set of comments on one of my grad student’s final thesis. 

I feel like a little kid crammed into a too-tight sweater. Mostly what I ache to do is write poetry. 

“Let us remember that in the end we go to poetry for one reason,” Christian Wiman writes, “so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Turn

Praise the God that broke our spines. 
That lined us up like children at our desks. 
Stuffed us full of sawdust and now nothing 

is clean or upright. Everything tight in our 
bodies, but nothing where it should be. 
The heart, cut clean out. Our tiny tongues. 

Kristy Bowen, rabbit classroom

I drew at sunset again. For the second time in a row I pulled the card Thanatos from The Wild Unknown Archetype Deck, even after shuffling the deck several times. It was the card on top. From the bottom, I drew Agape.

I tried to connect my feelings of divine love and wonder and my inner, emotional concept of death. There are some feelings about death and loss in me that I doubt my capacity to handle. Drawing and coloring, writing the actual words, helps me process my fears or doubts in a healing way.

I listened to Nina Simone and worked on reconciling living in the eternal present while looking at Thanatos as directly as I could manage, knowing that my body will one day return to the earth.

Christine Swint, Art Journaling and Archetypes for Healing

I must admit that at the writing of this
poem–this made thing–I know
nothing about poetry. I am like Socrates
in that I’m bent on dying, albeit
slowly and not necessarily of a surfeit
of wisdom. The poem–shall we
call it poem for now?–is still a block
of wood. Who knows what it may turn into?

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2021–Day 0

things that are half-lost
stories in a box
disable you

on the first of May
a long time ago
I was ritually sacrificed

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2021

they flutter like butterflies in a forest of glade
up along a sunbeam and they are gone
either side the dark is depth 
the rubbed eyes of disbelief hover there
like the celandine between the gravestones 
before we turn away with our net
the jam jar of childhood empty
but full of hope

Jim Young, DAYS OF VERSE

I take my vaccinated, scarred lungs back to the pool: it’s the beginning of week four back in the water, and I’ve been coaxing and calling these sails-turned-antique-bellows – their leather cracked and wheezing – into healing.

Breathe. Continuous. Bigger than that. Come on, breathe, better than that!, you know what to do, continuous, expand ribs sideways in quick, vast inhale, then steady continuous exhale, never not cycling, come on, babies, breathe for me.

JJS, a year out from the first hospital trip

I found a teakettle
at the high water mark
after years
of riversong
movements
magic lamp
water djinn
beaten up
broken in
boiling off
impurities
because all that mess
is still serviceable.
Three wishes
after dishes
because we still have cleaning up to do.

Jared A. Conti, Another Chore

I want flowers and I want beautiful light that makes me scream out in joy like you would scream in the front row at a concert with your favourite band. I want you to have flowers, too, and screaming light. I want to “refrain from quoting authors I’ve only read secondhand.” (Moyra Davey). I want to take one really fucking holy wow photograph that makes everyone gasp. I want to write more. I want to understand and mull and watch funny sitcoms and laugh. I want waffles and maple syrup and cream of wheat with brown sugar. I want a single martini with a single olive at the end of a long day. I want to hear your witticisms. I want to want to be kinder again. I want to watch all the varieties of peonies grow in our garden this spring. I want to put out seeds for the birds and I want to grow some tall sunflowers. I want to sit on the bench on the island at Pyramid Lake again and look at that wild mountain reflection until it fills the inside of my mouth.

Shawna Lemay, Cry Out Your Want

Expect nothing
and morning

will bring joy.
We know that,

yet we don’t.
Look away,

then look back:
there is hawk,

there is fox,
coyote

standing side-
wise to hope.

Tom Montag, EXPECT NOTHING

This year’s celebration of Easter is tinged with reflection on rebirth and re-emergence. The whole story of rolling away the stone, rising and walking out of the cave into the garden where Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener – I mean, imagine the metaphor of blinking in the light after quarantining for over a year, having finally waited your two weeks after your vaccination, and re-entering the living world. That was me this weekend. It’s still strange to walk into a store or get your haircut – everyone is still in masks, of course (only 17 percent of Washington is vaccinated, compared to 19 percent of the US) – and there are different things – no reading material in salons, or drinks, no waiting areas. […] I went to Molbaks (our local gardening store) and bought flowers and herbs to plant – and the wares still seem a little scant and of course the crowds you’d expect at Easter aren’t quite there. I walked through the bookstore, taking my time and looking at new titles, and instead of feeling scared I’d catch something, I felt…not scared. That’s the big change.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Rebirth and Re-Emergence on Easter, Cherry Blossoms and Magnolia, and Staff Poetry Picks (Including Field Guide to the End of the World)

A crisp sprig of Italian parsley dipped in salt water. Vibrant and green, salt giving way to savory as the stem crunches. It’s the third step of the seder, karpas: greens representing spring and new life, salt water representing the tears of slavery in ancient days and our tears at injustice even now. It’s a gustatory hyperlink. The minute that first bite hits my tongue, I feel it in my bones: change is coming. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never take the leap at all. It’s time to go.

Storebought matzah spread with horseradish is another one. Matzah, at once the humble hardtack of our affliction and the hasty waybread of our freedom. Maror, evoking the bitterness of slavery, the sharpness of oppression. The cracker shatters with a crunch, the horseradish stings the nose. This year, its sharp scent is another reason for gratitude: I don’t have anosmia, I don’t have COVID-19. It’s a humble taste, a simple taste, and one that speaks volumes. We’re leaving this narrow place.

Rachel Barenblat, Four flavors

This has been a strange week for me, adapting to major changes in my work life, adjusting to the new world of Lyft, which I frequent now almost daily, and processing memories from my time at a former hospital that I have now returned to work at again. All of this has made me contemplative and strangely nostalgic. I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Jules, who died at age 96 in the same hospital that he was born in and that he served in as a volunteer for over thirty years, right up until two weeks before his death. I recall putting together his memorial, and how obsessive I was about getting the poem reading right. I chose a poem called “Directions” by Billy Collins, and every time I rehearsed it in my office, I fell to pieces at this one simple line:

“I will walk with you as far as the garden.”

That line haunted my dreams and broke me apart time and time again. It took me a while understand why it brought me to tears every time I came to it: It’s because I knew in my bones that no matter how close I was to Jules, no matter how many people loved and adored him, (and there were many), no matter how strong and extensive and close-knit his family, no matter how many gathered at his bedside to be with him for his last breath, that ultimately death was a journey he would need to take on his own. I could only go with him so far. And that is the truth for all of us. It’s a line that speaks to the final letting go, the point past which we can no longer be accompanied, the point at which we release our hands from our loved ones shoulders and watch them walk off into the mystery of the afterlife, knowing we will never see them again on this plane of existence. Death is always a solo crossing.

Kristen McHenry, Lyrical Simplicity

Owl’s racket and god appears
in the low bones of mice
my daughter sews spangles
to her left heel the kitchen clangs
with her ghosts and copper hooves

let’s build a death star behind the fig tree
stitch marigolds into our manes
float along the salt edge
take honey from its gold gold bed

Rebecca Loudon, Maundy Thursday

Let me be clear:  I do not believe in the substitutionary atonement theory that explains the death of Jesus as necessary to keep us all from going to hell.  I believe that Jesus was killed because he was a threat to the Roman empire.  Crucifixion was the punishment for terrorists; other types of criminals were stoned or beheaded.

I can’t find the Richard Rohr quote that I’d like to end with, so I’ll paraphrase.  The cross is not God’s requirement to love us.  Crucifixion is the world’s response to God’s love.  Jesus comes to show us of the depth of Divine love, and for his trouble, the Roman empire crucified him.

And yet, God can use this ugliness too.  The empty tomb tells us that empires and other powers will not have the last word.  Out of utter cruelty and depravity, we can find new life, new hope.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Good Friday in a Week of Depressingly Ordinary Violence

Spending an Easter alone — first time for that. Alas, I am shipwrecked in Spain waiting for my residence permit to become a physical document.

But my favorite restaurant is open for take-out, I picked up various goodies at the pharmacy, I exercised, and danced around a little to some 70s music (is there gas in the car, yes there’s gas in the car). The last two days I hadn’t felt well and I cried about it to my husband on the phone, but I’m a bit restored today.

At midday I finished Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy. My daughter warned I’d be sorry to finish because you become so enveloped in Ditlevsen’s life. I did miss it when I sat down for lunch, since I like to read at lunchtime. But I missed it too because apropos of Easter it has its holy elements — the hardscrabble, the yearning to breathe the oxygen outside your own suffocating environment, the vibrancy and drive and honesty. Ditlevsen says she hates change yet she was an element of upheaval, too. It’s a bit of a miracle how she escaped her childhood milieu, despite her later troubles.

Sarah J. Sloat, Easter/  drove a tent pole in / to a kiss

One ear whistling middle C
while the other sings D flat.

One ear taking slow steps, softly,
as if it is just a bit tired.

One ear holds up a mirror,
and talks to itself, crackling

like ice over air, an old
telephone wire, and says, don’t

forget to unmute yourself.

PF Anderson, Mismatch

Moments when lightning bolts in the sky resemble a map of Pangaea.

Or when you see the face of your first pet in the folds of a tissue. Or how all the lines on a lover’s hand can resemble the canals on Mars.

When the birdpoop on your windshield is the face of that high school teacher you most disliked.

Or the burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich offering the Virgin Mary’s appearance seared into your savory snack.

Moments when all of existence feels woven into a patchwork quilt of awe and interconnectedness.

Like when I play the song of life backward and continually hear your name.

Rich Ferguson, Moments when lightning bolts

I fail poetry and poetry gives up on me. This is the machination
of muses and fates. The present is a documentary playing on the

back of a cloud. These Bangalore nights. The uncensored underbelly.
The filth, the loneliness, the lies, the insomniac buildings that

follow the sun, the bikes tripping on empty roads past midnight,
the feet stumbling out of overpriced pubs and seedy bars, all

dreaming the same dream, all reaching for the same exit, a
one-way street jammed from this red light to the next.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, These Bangalore Nights

Here’s a go at translating “Sobre la tierra amarga…” (1903). I take unconscionable liberties with the stanza and the punctuation. [Antonio] Machado has three four line stanzas, but I think it works better in English with two sixes. And I can’t bear ellipses in poetry. (What the hell are line breaks for?) But other than that it’s a pretty close translation.

Dreaming, on this bitter earth,
has labyrinthine roads,
tortuous paths, parks
in flower and in shade and in silence;
deep crypts, ladders over stars;
altarpieces of hope and memory.

Figurines that walk and smile
(the melancholy toys of age):
kindly images
at the flowered turn of a lane,
and rosy chimaeras making their way
into the distance.

Dale Favier, Sundry Remarks

It’s been very straining to sort out this odd dream space — something like trying to navigate the whole world based only on what I can see through the peephole. Compelled to investigate sounds, the only answer I get is a blurry view of a hallway. Sometimes, a distorted figure, too. I keep the door closed, but my poems entertain all of them.

Our second spring of the pandemic has been a really fruitful time for me creatively. It may have taken me longer than most to hit my pandemic bread making and writing strides, but I’m happy to have both right now.

I’m also back to my workouts. The physical activity is probably more closely linked to the mental stamina for poetry than I’m aware. Whenever I try to figure it out what comes first, I end up with a chicken-and-egg situation, which is terribly boring. But either way, the movement — like the daffodils — announces brighter moods ahead.

*

The strangeness of it all has caused me to expand my idea of the kind of writer I am. I’ll never return this poet costume to the store. I’ll be buried in it. But I am getting more playful about what it means and how little the label actually matters.

Carolee Bennett, daffodil is just a word

There are these fine moments when I forget that I am getting old, and just exist. No, I don’t feel young again, it’s more like age doesn’t matter, like time doesn’t matter, and I am just alive, as the universe is alive. Like everything is connected together, one, and I am a part of that. A part of the whole. I love those moments. […]

This is how the sunshine tastes. Like gold, like power. And this is how it tastes to be a man in sunlight. Even now, in the darkness, the flavor is on my lips, on my tongue. 

James Lee Jobe, to be a man in sunlight

Here’s another way time is tricky. Spring always reminds you of previous springs, for better and worse. Academe, too, is structured by seasonal recurrences: semesters and breaks, registrations and grading, and the longer cycles of teaching years and sabbatical interludes (if you’re very lucky). The latter are big markers in my memory. 2015-16, when my mother was sick; 2010-11, when a life-changing Fulbright brought us to New Zealand; 2005-6, when I wrote Voicing American Poetry in “Mod Hall,” overflow office space in a decrepit trailer by a stream; and my first leave in 2000-1, when my son was born, my first scholarly book went under contract, and in the long deep breath after achieving tenure, I thought about what I wanted for my liberated writing life. Perhaps I have two sabbaticals left before I retire–again, if I’m lucky.

All of which is to say I’m feeling the cyclicality of time right now just as much as the forward march of my precious writing year and uneasy anticipation about the difficult-to-plan future. I’m more than okay, plenty anxious, glad to be balancing different kinds of writing work, well aware of how spinning plates can unexpectedly crash. Meanwhile, the trees are budding maybe a little earlier than they have before, as the world heats up. It’s freshly amazing how beauty and danger arrive together.

Lesley Wheeler, Spring’s nonlinearity

Aren’t the tulip trees and
Bradford Pear again in flower; and the dogwood and sweet-
bay magnolia; and soon, the leaves and darkening syconia
of the fig, drooping like fleshy sacs? You might say we’ve
weathered and are weathering still. In the frenzy of rain
or hail or the froth of seawater, what mouths tilt even more
widely open? In the beginning, the mother goddess wept
for all her children thinning to bone across the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Spring Rain and Ephesian Goddess

I am thinking about my absent dad and the significance of the holiday in my growing-up years. In church, the purple vestments were switched for white with gold trim on Easter; and my father, in his clerical robe and stole, looked important and shiny behind the pulpit. White flowers, especially lilies, showed up; everyone wore their best spring outfits. I feel nostalgia around these rituals, but they did not settle into my heart and create a believer of me. To my dad’s sorrow. I know my decision to leave the Church grieved him, but he accepted me and loved me all the same. He believed he’d see us in heaven, though he’d admit he had no idea what the afterlife would hold.

Rejoicing in the world’s beauty, the sharing of fellow humans’ suffering, and the way words can express the things that matter–the Biblical poetry–those things have settled into my heart. My consciousness. Hence metaphor and symbol and rhythm, songs of grief and praise.

They rise.

Ann E. Michael, Traditions

Eternal memories from the Eternal City, Rome, 2018, from the weeks we were lucky enough to spend in Testaccio. That year, religious holidays fell at the same time — Passover Seder was finishing as Easter bells began to ring.   In the days before the holidays, I got swept up in the emotional intensity, the cresting of passions in theatrical and religious Rome. I was fascinated with the intricately woven histories and texts of two great faiths.   I found some journal notes where the timeless ritual makes appearance in the living moment.  I share them: 

Last night the Trevi fountain, with its gaudy excess, the water lit to resemble tropical Hawaii, was crowded with holiday tourists.  Groups of long-skirted priests walked by, disappearing into the dark streets.  Two steps away, a church that seemed carved out of grotto rock, opened its doors. Inside a few worshipers were sitting in pews alone.  A nun began to strum a little guitar, maybe ukulele, and in a high voice slipped off, then refound her key and wavered with naked vulnerability. 

At six this morning, a group of worshipers stood at the back of the neighborhood church  chanting what sounded, in its open repetitions like the Kaddish prayer.  Aramaic speaking to Latin?  Probably not, but the cultural overlaps were beginning to seem like the point.

Jill Pearlman, Eternal Memories in the Eternal City

Fernwood Press, an imprint of the Quaker press Barclay, has accepted my poetry collection Church Ladies for publication in spring 2022!

I’m very excited to work with this press; I found them when a writer I follow announced her forthcoming book. Knowing we had similar topics and styles, I sent a query, and a month later had a phone call with the editor to discuss a contract. CL is a sort of niche book, so I’m pleased to see it matched with a press that will best understand its intentions and how to market it.

I began writing Church Ladies in 2016, researching women from church history and writing persona poems about them. The project was fairly done by early 2019, but that was also when we got Kit’s diagnosis in utero – and the rest of that year did not allow time for poetry.

I started sending the manuscript out again in 2020. A poet friend gave me some feedback on it – that it needed some more personal, relatable poems mixed in. So I added poems about my family (still not myself! Oh I was so bent on hiding!).

After several almost-not-quites with some presses, I laid the manuscript aside to pursue novel writing for a while. Between 2017 and 2020, its various iterations had been rejected 20x.

One night while up with baby, I suddenly KNEW how to revise it – how I could move it from Almost there to There! I added some titled section breaks, mixed in some personal poems about faith, and had what was accepted by Fernwood a couple months later. I’m happy to see this little poetry manuscript find its way.

Renee Emerson, Forthcoming new book: Church Ladies!

I realized this week that, although Mad Orphan Lit has been a long time in the planning, everything is a process and I have been working steadily toward this – at a slant.

When my first book was published in 1999, the original concept with the publisher was a coffee table book of light verse and photography on the theme of childbirth. For reasons I won’t go into, the book wound up a traditional paperback. Though, I was still both grateful and proud of my first book.

The next books were beautiful hardback, bilingual editions of not-so-light poetry with Wigestrand Publishing in Norway. I have also been fortunate to work with Beth Adams at Phoenicia Publishing in Canada on a selected poems book called Mercy Island. Still, all this time, I wanted to work more holistically with the presentation of the poetry.

I have always cared about how the words look on the page. And I have always had a drive to work with studio art – in college, I shifted my major back and forth from art twice.

I’ve wanted to literally be more “hands-on” with my poetry books. About ten years ago I took a book-binding course with the award-winning binder, and expert teacher Ingeir Djuvik. I made blank books at first. Then personal planners. Then I wrote a poetry book for my now-husband. A one-of-a-kind. And the idea for Mad Orphan has been brewing since then.

Who knows, maybe it was the physical isolation of the pandemic, the consequential need for touch, that pushed me onto the playing field finally?

Mad Orphan Lit’s first project is IMPERMANENCE

The project began with my daily meditation on the philosophical problem of impermanence, and the Noble Truth that our suffering is caused by our inability to accept (or even see) impermanence. The poems and the visual/physical presentation of the work evolved together.

The bust was made of plaster and paper mache (using my handwritten poems for the project ripped into strips). I photographed the bust in various locations in the Jæren landscape of Norway. If you read my blog, you already know the story of how I lost my head: it was supposed to break up slowly in the waterfall during filming. Instead, it was taken by the current and slipped under an old mill house - trapped by the torrent of water, the wooden beams, and the rocks.

That’s the way of things, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, A Little Announcement

While I mostly write in free verse, most of my poet friends know that I love form. In fact, even in my free verse, I usually incorporate some formal aspect… Something that my MFA thesis advisor and I butted heads about on a regular basis! Even though I don’t regularly write with rhyme and meter, I do enjoy incorporating some formal structure into my work. Sometimes that means only writing in tercets, or repeating a specific word, or making the poem fit a predetermined shape. I find the challenge a major source of inspiration.

Starting this April, I’m launching A Year of Forms. Whether it be meditation, writing, or some other endeavor, I’ve found long periods of practice and study to be invaluable. I’ve decided I want to spend the next year of my life studying form, and I want to study it with you!

While I’ve created a yearlong program, I know that might not work for everyone. To that end, I’ve divided the workshop into four themed series. That way, you can still get the benefit of some longer structured study. Single workshop sessions are also available. Finally, if you’re looking for one-on-one critiques, I’m offering optional private sessions to supplement the program.

Check out the program page for details. I look studying form with you this year!

Allyson Whipple, Let’s Spend a Year Studying Form

One of my favorite things about poetry is how it can not only detail an experience but also be an experience. The intimacy of language to be known and shared between us, to be changed and yet hold despite the changing, speaks to the human experience in a way that is simultaneously of the mind as much as the body. In Radiant Obstacles (Wipf & Stock 2020) by Luke Hankins, one encounters a poetic sensibility aware and after such simultaneous experience.

Take the poem “The Night Garden,” a short lyric which engages with some of these ideas despite its brevity:

I am the waterer of the night garden.
I can hardly see.
I water what I remember
being there.

In four lines we have a narrative and a turn that defines that act of remembering. That alone is stunning. But what makes the poem speak to the human experience is the parallel blurring implied by the fact of the poem and the poetry within. The fact of the poem sets a two-line narrative about the night garden; the other two lines, then, reflect back this narrative as the ephemeral act it is narratively and in language. The garden that can barely be held in the speaker’s vision is parallel to what the poet has rendered for us on the page. Through brevity, clarity, and thought, Hankins is able to evoke an intimacy similar to the remembering the speaker engages in.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Radiant Obstacles by Luke Hankins

Arctic Dreams explicates the landscape, a place that includes the indigenous people who understand it better than anyone but to whom few listen, the scientists who study it via industry-funded grants, and its animals and plants. My favorite section of the book, “The Country of the Mind,” describes the tiny Beaufort Sea Island called Pingok: “to a Western imagination that finds a stand of full-crowned trees heartening, that finds the flight and voice of larks exhilarating, and the sight of wind rolling over fields of tall grass more agreeable, Pingok seems impoverished.” By the end of the chapter, Lopez questions our acceptance of the need to leave home (“it is a convention of Western thought to believe all cultures are compelled to explore”), wonders “which plants separate at a glance mesic tundra from hydric, hydric from xeric?” and observes the remains of human settlement on the island.

Lopez offers the deep connection the Inuit people have to the land that’s sustained them for centuries as a balm for what ails our present culture: “This archaic affinity for the land, I believe, is an antidote to the loneliness that in our own culture we associate with individual estrangement and despair.” Reading these words, I suddenly understood why I should care about this vast and distant land: because someone else did. That, I believe, is the message that underscores Lopez’s nature writing: we should care, passionately, powerfully, about every place on Earth, no matter how strange or unforgiving.

In the mid-2000s, I sat in the audience in Saratoga, California, listening as Barry Lopez recited W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” from memory. After the poem ended on the line “dark though it is,” Lopez let the silence last, then began, finally, to read a short story from his latest book.

Erica Goss, Barry Lopez: An Appreciation

Aside from the duty of passing on his religious code, I don’t remember my father giving me advice. You knew by osmosis the basic rule: Get on with it, do your best and don’t bring trouble to the house.

When I was nine or ten, I took to climbing on to the roof of the blacksmith’s forge and, lying flat, watching him through a loose slate. It must have been winter because it was dark. When I shinned back down the iron drainpipe to the ground I was met by the local police constable’s boot landing squarely on my behind. He grabbed me by the ear and marched me off home, twisting it as we went. At the gate, he sent me in with a warning not to let him catch me doing that again. He knew if he’d banged on the front door and handed me over himself I’d have got far worse from my mother than he’d given me. An act of kindness, then. And advice that I didn’t need to be told.

To others now, that faraway time is a monochrome world. To me it’s full colour. You grow with it, alter a little as the world ‘develops’, but it is always there, sometimes positive and good, sometimes not.

Anyway, back to social media. And poetry. Or writing anyway. You only have to scan it to realise that so many people have become accustomed to feel it’s their responsibility to dish out advice – all it takes is the trigger of someone asking for help to solve some linguistic conundrum or to end some kind of torment that writing is inflicting on them and a torrent of quasi-psychological or practical ‘help’ arrives, followed by a deluge of likes and retweets or shares.

Frankly, I find it disturbing.

Perhaps it’s genuinely kind. Or maybe just self-serving nonsense disguised as generosity. A kind of cesspit of supposed goodwill.

Partly I blame the proliferation of ‘how to write poetry’ courses, creative writing classes, and more broadly just the availability of contact that is a product of the technology we have available to us. We can interact with each other so easily and so do because, well it seems so many of us are able to find some kind of validation through it.

Progress, I suppose, but I’m not cut out for this. I don’t need your validation and you, believe me, don’t need mine.

It may be inevitable that at some point anybody who has made some kind of living out of writing or at least has had some books published will be asked questions about this and that. And, in my case, for fear of seeming aloof and unpleasant, have made an attempt to answer.

OK, I can ramble on to strangers about the craft of writing if necessary, but I don’t have the patience to be a teacher, nor the inclination to tell anyone else what to do. You find your own way and that’s about it.

But one thing – perhaps the only thing – that I have ever felt it’s useful to say is ‘Without having fun with it sometimes, writing is a pretty empty activity. Sure, for me as well as for most who write it’s about investigating, reflecting, untangling the mysterious experience of being on this planet but there are times when it’s necessary and, well the right thing to do, to open the pressure valves and enjoy yourself, let the music of the words loose, let yourself dance without a care for how the dance turns out. Relax!’.

So that’s it, then. Now if anyone asks I can refer them to this blog. Job done. Thank you and goodbye.

Bob Mee, ADVICE? NOT SURE I’M MUCH HELP, SORRY…

In The Octopus Museum, Brenda Shaughnessy envisions a future in which cephalopods have taken over the world. The museum of note is not a museum of cephalopod history, but of human history, a record of our present moment interpreted by strange new rulers. Each poem in this collection is beautifully, richly contextualized, presenting a vibrant capsule of the human experience, like a carefully curated museum exhibit. This is a powerful and stunning collection, one I highly recommend reading.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: March 2021

Consider this my little National Poetry Month party for our current United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. There isn’t much I can add to the abundance of material already on the web — reviews, You Tube interviews, music and performance videos — but I can at least point you in their direction.

In addition to being a poet and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer. (Click on her name to find a wealth of information.) She is the executive editor of the 2021 anthology, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, and her most recent book of poems is American Sunrise. In 2016 I read (devoured) her memoir, Crazy Braveand then gave it to a dear friend. I met Harjo in 1993, when I was serving on the committee for the Watermark Reading Series at the University of Washington, and at one time I had all of her books. There is something about the way Harjo unleashes color and image, the incantatory voice of these books that demands to be shared.

Bethany Reid, Joy Harjo

The title poem, fittingly, is at the end, focused on when the credits roll at the end of a movie and cinema-goers have the chance to move out into daylight again. Likewise a cancer diagnosis need not be fatal.

“The End” is a collection of poems with gallows humour and a soul of brevity. Gareth Writer-Davies’s wry observations and minimal expression suit the overall tone of the poems. The short stanzas, with some lines pivoting on one word, offer plenty of space for readers to engage and think around what’s being said.

Emma Lee, “The End” Gareth Writer-Davies (Arenig Press) – book review

As I am perpetually behind on everything, I am just now getting to Washington D.C. poet K. Lorraine Graham’s The Rest is Censored (Lambertville NJ: Bloof Books, 2017), a book-length accumulation of short lyric fragments that encompass the length and breadth of those lived moments that exist between or around what might otherwise get recorded. “Sit next to someone,” she writes, early on in the collection, “who doesn’t want / Next to                           / Yes  but is this interesting?” The Rest is Censored shifts the notion of the day book, a daily archive composed through the lens of the lyric, into a book of moments, framed within the boundaries daily life, opening as the body and the narrator wake. The narrator wakes, and the poem begins, suggesting less a “day book” than the book of a single day (although this temporal presumption on my part might be both missing the point and completely irrelevant). Composed as nine sections and a brief coda across one hundred or so pages, Graham composes short bursts as a sketchbook; composed of threads and moments, a poem of connection, fragment, sentences and disconnection. “insert bland / excited comment about landscape.” she writes. As part of her February 2019 “12 or 20 questions” interview, she references the compositional structure The Rest is Censored, as well as that of her debut, Terminal Humming (New York NY: Edge Books, 2009):

It felt good to have my first book, Terminal Humming, in the world as something I could celebrate and share with others, but it didn’t change my life. I used to think that the The Rest Is Censored, my second book, was very different from the first. Formally, it is. Terminal Humming is dense. The Rest Is Censored is spacious. But they both emerged through interventions into my daily routine. I wrote Terminal Humming when I was research assistant at a think tank in Washington researching US-China-Taiwan relations and missile defense systems. I’d read Vallejo’s Trilce on lunch break and then write for a while in my cubicle or outside. I wrote The Rest Is Censored on my daily bus commute between Carlsbad, CA and UC San Diego. It was a beautiful, miserable, hour-plus ride along the Pacific Ocean. I’d write until I was too nauseous to continue.

rob mclennan, K. Lorraine Graham, The Rest is Censored

It’s the retired steelworker’s turn. Before sitting in the chair for his shot, he turns to us. “I’m leaving two weeks from today,” he says with a grin, “driving across Ohio to hold the baby girl I’ve been missing.”

The dark-haired woman is next. She says “I hope I don’t cry. This has me all emotional.”

Then it’s my turn. I find it hard to contain my exuberance. “I expected trumpet fanfares with each shot!” I say to the pharmacist. What does she do? She bursts into song.

Laura Grace Weldon, A Short Bridge Between Us

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week, a bit of a miscellany… or perhaps I simply resisted the urge to look for linking themes as I usually do.

The night before last, it was warm enough to sit outside and watch clouds cross the almost-full moon, and I became mesmerized by the show: how these strange, ephemeral creatures took turns ingesting, or failing to ingest, this radiant capsule, each glowing in subtle rainbow colors when its turn came. It felt more than a bit familiar.

Anyway, enjoy the digest.


You’re not worried about yourself, but you should be.
You’re worried your friend will catch this dread thing from you.
They won’t. That doesn’t mean they are okay. They’re not.
And they won’t be alright. And then they won’t be, and
then there is nothing, nothing you can do, nothing
you can do different. Here — what you should be doing:
You’re not worried about yourself, but you should be.
You should rest. Rest more. Don’t be so surprised. People
want to help. Let them. Eat rainbows. Pinch white cheeks pink.
Look for the hot water bottle now. Bundle up.
Expect no fireworks, swimming suits, ribbons, or wreaths,
but treasure candles. This is your worst and best year.
Live in the now. Write it down. You won’t remember.

PF Anderson, Letter To Myself a Year Ago

I recently had a text from one of my stepdaughters who was passing on a question from her five-year-old: “Nana, how are poems made?”

Hmm! I tried to think very hard before responding. How to say something encouraging and likely to engage a five-year old, while still being honest? No doubt there are teachers or ex-teachers reading this who would have plenty of good suggestions. All my teaching experience has been with adults, and having been a Brownie helper for a short time I learned very quickly that I had no idea how to seriously pique the interest of a 9 year old, let alone a 5 year old. The last thing I wanted to do was to say anything that would put my granddaughter off poetry for life.

I wish I could remember what I thought about poetry when I was five. Did I love nonsense poetry, silly stories and loony rhymes? I’d hate children to think that’s all poetry is about. Is it the only way ‘into’ poetry for a five-year old, or is that just setting low expectations?

Robin Houghton, On encouraging children’s interest in writing poetry

I’m ready for Haggadah of phenomenology, where everything has a voice — every person, every thing. Already decentered, in this story we give equal voice to the midwives Puah and Shifra, we flesh out the anonymous people, Pharoah, the Egyptians. We voice the animals — “Let all that have breath praise Yah” — fish, mules, snakes. All things — the dry land, waves, the sea, the tambourines. This is where wise ancient texts, already rich with choral vocals, meet the new. It’s part of the command to see the radical in the traditional, for if the original hadn’t been radical to begin with, it wouldn’t have survived.

Jill Pearlman, Speak, Kafka: What the Maxwell House Haggadah didn’t share

Often my observations seem mundane, but they’re real, and they’re true, and that feels important, I’ve no doubt that writing haiku has been a coping strategy during the pandemic. Going for that morning walk, writing those few lines, has felt stable and constant, and importantly, it totally lacks ambition. That might seem like an odd claim for a writer, but haiku are about taking things one moment at a time, not writing a poem, but capturing an experience, an observation. It may shape up into something later. I might like it enough to send it out. But at the heart of this is the moment of experience that comes before the words, or at least before the written word. This is how if feels to me. I don’t pretend to be an expert. In fact, I feel like a complete novice, but that’s good because it removes any expectations I might have for the work (expectations belong to that slippery construct, the future – and remember, there is no future).

Julie Mellor, A haiku milestone

‘When I feel like that, I ask myself what would a young, white, confident man in tech ask for? …’ is the best advice I’ve been given in March. It helped me to leave a couple of the questions on the recent census unanswered, and to launch my Facebook page this week. 

Questionnaires, however well-designed, try to squeeze us (in the case of the UK census, all 66.65 million of us) into boxes. I’m averse to small spaces unless they are ones I step into of my own accord, zipping up the flap behind me. But it’s mandatory to submit the 2021 census, so I clicked the required boxes on the online form last Sunday and pressed Send. 

The same day, I created a Facebook page in an attempt to offset some of the challenges of publicising a new book at a time when the pandemic has made the usual readings in bars, cafes, and libraries impossible. At an event pre-lockdown, I might sell 5 books following one of these (usually) free events, sometimes more, occasionally none. I usually offered a discount, signed the books as requested. It was a good exchange all-round.

The questions I didn’t answer on the census were about religion and sexual orientation. In writing this, I have already given you more information than the National Office of Statistics will receive about me. Perhaps I was influenced by the recent graffiti (graffito?) I saw near the station which reads, JESUS WAS BISEXUAL. How odd, I thought, to choose that as a daub, but then again, it did get me thinking. So too the other graffito under the railway bridge: GREAT NESS IS BORING. How odd, I thought, to condemn a hamlet near Nesscliffe so specifically, and to travel ten miles or so into town to do so.  

Liz Lefroy, I Census Myself

With a primate’s practiced peck
of thumb and forefinger I catch
a sugar ant, and absentmindedly
roll it to its death:

I will notice the smell of its small catastrophe
later, when the sun is high, and I rub my eyes,
aching from the light.

Dale Favier, A Change of Days

When John Greening posted on social media the other day that Harry Guest had died, I was taken aback to note that the news didn’t then spread far more widely.

I’m not at all qualified to write an obituary of any sort, but I do know that Harry Guest was a significant figure in British poetry who published with Anvil/Carcanet and was widely anthologised. In fact, I even have a battered copy (picked up from an Oxfam shop in the early 1990s) of the Penguin Modern Poets that featured his work…

In other words, his passing seems to me to be yet another example of the ephemeral nature of poetic fame. Of course, as Bob Mee mentioned on Twitter, the poets who “disappear” are often among the most interesting to read.

Matthew Stewart, Harry Guest (1932-2021), the ephemeral nature of poetic fame yet again

(This is part 1 of a series of reflections on each of Austen’s novels as I reread each one this year.)

I feel the point of S&S is that one should not allow oneself to be ruled by emotion, even appropriate emotion (like the grief the Dashwoods feel when their father dies).

One must be “mistress of herself”

What a good book to read nowadays, when airing every emotion is seen as Authenticity. When Emotion is equated with Truth.

Renee Emerson, My Jane Austen Odyssey: Sense and Sensibility

Marvin Thompson’s debut collection from Peepal Tree Press is a PBS Recommendation and deservedly so. All too often we are informed of the arrival of a startling voice, usually a vital one, striking a new note in English poetry. Well, this is the real deal: a superbly skilled practitioner of the art whose work is driven by two seemingly opposing forces. Thompson writes with a disarming sense of autobiographical honesty, often about domestic life, as a father and a son. Yet he can also create fictional characters with detailed and convincing voices and backgrounds. What holds these divergent styles together is his demonstrated conviction that the past (as an individual or as a member of an ethnic or cultural group) interpenetrates the present.

Martyn Crucefix, Jazz and Upbringing: Marvin Thompson’s ‘Road Trip’ reviewed

Anthony Cody’s Borderland Apocrypha has been an engrossing read. It details violence against Mexicans in the United States in poems that splash and splatter across the page. Set in landscape format, the book unfolds with white space and quick bursts of text, as if almost every poem is a kind of erasure, the text a struggle to stand against the white space.

A central poem is “Prelude to a Mexican Lynching, February 2, 1848, Guadalupe Hidalgo; or The Treaty of Peace, Friendships, Limits, and Settlement” which is an almost-30 page erasure of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which, as an end to the Mexican-American war, required Mexico to cede to the US all or parts of what we now know as the entire Southwest. The so-called treaty was bilingual, and Cody’s erasures show two erasures on each page, a dotted line separating the English and the Spanish. The erasures from the preamble and Article 1, for example say in English, “animated by a sincere desire to/end/the people/as good neighbors/There shall be/ America and the Mexican/without place.” And on the Spanish side: “las calamidades/que/existe entre/paz y/ciudades/sin/personas,” which I translate as “the calamities that exist between peace and cities with no people.” (Cody himself supplies no translations of the Spanish threaded throughout the collection, which meant some happy leafing through and discovery in my Spanish-English dictionary.)

Marilyn McCabe, Darkness on the edge of town; or, On Cody’s Borderland Apocrypha

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

The fabulous Eloise Klein Healy told me (when I was expressing frustration at feeling ready for a book and not having one) “You keep knocking at the front door of poetry and they are never going to let you in the front door. But there are a lot of ways into the house of poetry and once you are inside it matters a little less how you got in.” She also told me “Adrienne Rich died, they chose a new lesbian poet, and it wasn’t you, so get over it.” EKH is a font of wisdom.

10 – What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I am not a daily writer, but I am a daily thinker. I think about poetry or a poem or my central idea every single day. I also am pretty good at solving poetry problems in my head. Eventually there comes a part of the process where I am writing everyday and I do a good job of giving myself one problem (Where should this line go? How do I get from A to B?) to think about and solve. That problem kind of bubbles away on my backburner until I figure it out. I’m of the Gertrude Stein school- It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing really, really nothing. That nothing is super important to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tanya Olson

This last week the beloved Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski left us. I’m a bit wrecked by that I have to say. His books are always near my reading chair in my study. He wrote the famous “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” and so many other surprising and wonderful lines.

For example,

“Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in others’ poem.
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with their
foreheads pure, cleansed. by dreams.”

Shawna Lemay, Beauty Break

I cannot consider my heart’s wet muscle its pumping pumping pumping the weight of it the fat of it the pulse of it in my body at rest I cannot consider my heart’s music its valentine its stupid fault line my father’s heart stopped its lithe work when he was sixty I cannot consider my heart’s busy valves and harnesses aorta and arteries a horse’s heart in my body its glenoid shape its fourteen pounds its chambers filled with sugar and green grass and ecstasy its horse chambers playing Bach in a barn in sunlight my giant horse heart rolling in hay beating time keeping time perfect and alive but for an apple a hot steamed snort my heavy horse body moving always forward moving toward morning moving toward heaven

Rebecca Loudon, First Seder

Yesterday I realized that those vaccine appointments are on the feast day of the Annunciation.  I did some sketching, which I may write more about later.  This morning, I woke up with a poem in my brain, about the time just after the Annunciation, and the poem just came out mostly fully formed.  That almost never happens, particularly not these days.

It’s also been the kind of week where I have that mental whiplash that comes from being safe and careful, pandemic or no pandemic, but surrounded by people who are not being safe and careful.  As Monday night went into Tuesday, I finally got a good night’s sleep, in part because we kept the windows closed.  For several nights before, I had awakened to squealing tires and revving motors.  Has my street become a drag racing gathering spot?  And if so, why?

It’s a week of lots and lots of traffic, even on residential streets, as we see all sorts of strange stories of Spring Break in Miami Beach–more occasions to be snarky about lockdowns and how maybe we should have stayed in lockdown. Last year, the South Florida tourist season came to a fast finish as the pandemic closed in.  I do understand how we are a tourist economy, but I was not sorry to see the on season switch to off.

It’s been the kind of week where I keep stumbling across reminders of what we’ve lost.  For example, I opened a paper box in my office and found not paper, not recycling of used paper, but cans of soda.  It took my brain a few seconds to process the bright red, silver, and green of the cans of Coke products where I had been expecting white scraps of paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Annunciations and Vaccinations and Signs of All Sorts

sweet blood drawn into dawn :: robinsong

Grant Hackett [no title]

Humming seder psalms,
I rub silver polish into
the pitcher we used for

pouring water on our hands
when we returned from
your funeral. I’ll fill it

with ice water, and
your small silver creamer
with our salt water tears.

Rachel Barenblat, Third Pesach Without You

 While I have been in better sorts for the past couple of weeks, Tuesday there was a dip that found me crying for no real reason in the middle of the day in the middle of the library.   My mood usually improves as the weather does, but an upward spike in covid in the city had me frustrated with the stupidity of humans and just not ready to ride a third wave out, especially when vaccines seem, even once they open to me next week, something not all that easy to get an appointment for (especially if you do not have limitless time to spend on the internet and transportation to far away places to get them). I was mostly crying not necessarily because I fear getting sick (every day, unavoidably out in the world)  but I’m not sure how much longer I can go in this state of paralysis where I can’t read, can’t really create, have no concentration and mostly am phoning it in and pretending to be a human. Facing another summer of it had me in tears when it feels like it could be so very close.  At least until I made the mistake of reading the news.  

In better spots of my days, I am busily humming away on new dgp releases, though it’s hard to not be intensely scattered.  Things that used to be easy breezy take forever. There will be a slew of catch up 2020 titles coming to the shop soon, so watch for those. While it makes for a crazy time right now as we launch into 2021 releases as well, taking a bit of a time allowed me the opportunity to catch up on a horrendous backlog of orders from late 2019 into lockdown (a time when I was uprooting the whole operation and releasing way too many books in too short of a time). I think the wise words about knowing not when to quit, but when to rest were very important as I thought about upcoming plans for the press, which I considered scaling back significantly in my burnout.  This was combined with a slowdown in income for the whole operation.  Obv. not releasing titles makes things expectedly slower, but also just people not spending as much $$$ in general, and authors not regularly ordering author copies for readings (because, you know,  there are no readings *covid sigh*) It’s a huge blessing that I was already free of studio rent because we would have certainly have been evicted. On the other hand the slowdown allowed me to catch my breath a little, so it worked out for the best. Now it’s just a matter of moving onward. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/25/2021

It’s not often I find myself thinking about milking horses, but there have been at least three occasions that I can remember. (Let me know if it crosses your mind more frequently, but know this —it isn’t a competition).

The first was about ten years ago when I remembered an incident from when I was a nipper. My mum helped some friends of ours with a foal that was born on their land. Please note that they had horses, it’s not the kind of place where horses just roam about dropping off baby horses for a laugh. Regardless of this, it set me off on the path to write a poem about it.

I did, and there have been many, many drafts since then…and name changes…and submissions to magazines…and rejections and redrafts and resubmissions, etc.

The next time was when I got an acceptance email a couple of weeks ago (March 11th) from the revived Poetry Scotland to say they were taking the poem. I was lucky enough to have been in the last issue of PS under the control of Sally Evans, and I’m very happy to say I’m in the first issue back under the auspices of Judy Taylor & Andy Jackson. I was (and still am) very honoured to be in there, and that this poem has found a home.

Mat Riches, Horse Milk

Books make me feel less alone. Less peculiar. I have noticed that when I feel isolated and lonely, I go on book-buying sprees. Every book is a potential: this one will save me. I blame it on my religious upbringing: The Word is God. The answers are in the scripture. When every adult around you is an idiot, there is a near-ancient authority that has left riddles to be untangled.

There is hope, here: on the page. In the verses that sing.

I’m taking a course on visual poetry right now and am fascinated by asemic poetry. I am surprisingly drawn to it. Moved by it. After spending years studying formal poetry and analyzing poems with a chair and a rubber hose (despite Billy Collin’s objections), I am finding an instinctive satisfaction in holding the handwriting up to the light. Acknowledging the humanity, the creative mind present. The philosopher Denis Dutton said that one of the universal criteria for art is evidence of individual expression. Another is craftsmanship. Another is that the work is somehow imbued with emotion.

And in my mind poetry is the leap we make between the poet’s material expression and the poet’s subjective experience that demanded expression. In other words, all poetry is itself a meta-metaphor: the poem is the vehicle and the poet’s subjective experience is the tenor. And it seems to me that if we recognize this vehicle/tenor without putting it into words (creating new metaphors), then we are perhaps communicating in a more directly visceral way.

People have worked for years trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript because we recognize the human hand. We have this feeling that there is something important here. If someone were to ever unlock the code (if there is one) it would no doubt be anti-climatic. Our intellectual evaluation of the work would suck the joy right out of the visceral experience. We would lose the emotional connection with the artist by creating an intellectual one. One step removed.

Let’s not know. Let’s let the mystery be.

E.’s mother tongue is not English, and often when he reads my poetry he says: It sings so beautifully. Sometimes he has no idea what the ten-letter words mean. Sometimes I have leaped too far between vehicle and tenor the metaphor is lost. But it sings.

That matters.

Ren Powell, Visceral Understanding

I’ve been so remiss about putting new material on this blog, and for that many apologies. Today I want to bring to your attention my new pamphlet collection of poems, brought out just a few days ago by Fras Publications in Dunning, Scotland. The pamphlet itself is spare but elegant – the poet Walter Perrie who runs Fras operates as something of a literary cottage industry. He selects, edits, designs, prints and distributes his publications which include the periodical Fras. I’ve long been a follower of Fras and have admired Walter’s pamphlets, particularly Alasdair Gray’s late poetry collection Guts Minced with Oatmeal (2018).

I’m proud to say that Walter has published a selection of my own poems – under the title Coping Stones. These are all poems written since my 2020 pamphlet from Mariscat Press called First Hare but these new poems happen to have been written under the grim long shadow of Coronavirus. This is not to say that these poems bore on about hackneyed and trite topical issues relating to the virus itself, but rather that the pandemic darkens the background of these poems.

Richie McCaffery, New poetry pamphlet

I am searching my brain; is there anything that I forgot to tell you? Did I tell you about the sunlight reflected in the morning dew? Did I tell you of the echo of the hawk cry in the granite canyon? Even now the clock is ticking.

James Lee Jobe, the echo of the hawk cry

In such
a town, a group of black-shirted birds
plays chess under willows in the park.
The oldest philosopher is a pine tree;
how wise it is to keep its own counsel
as one war follows another, as the young
descend the mountains to the city, then
return when all their faith has run out.
The future continues to row its flat-
bottomed boat on the lake, sometimes
stirring the water with only one oar
so it goes around in small circles.

Luisa A. Igloria, 1-Point Perspective

For all his love
of holiness

he was not a saint
but a scoundrel

like the rest of them,
a common poet

who put words first
and loved the stars

and didn’t think
much of heaven.

Tom Montag, OLD POET

I would walk through fires of your nightmares.

Spend my last dollar to buy you necklaces of the most beautiful adjectives.

In my free time, I’d work as one of life‘s ghostwriters.

Would alchemize tears into a Niagara Falls of uplift.

Pick the locks of your most deeply hidden hurts.

Be the monkey bars on your playground of monkeying around.

I’d cut words from magazines of your old miseries, rearrange them into an alphabet of new beginnings—

anything and everything to live with you in the Hotel of New Moons.

Rich Ferguson, Hotel of New Moons

Meanwhile, this week marks one year since my latest chapbook launched into print–right at the start of US pandemic lockdowns. Find it here: https://prolificpress.com/bookstore/chapbook-series-c-14/barefoot-girls-by-ann-e-michael-p-317.html

So I am celebrating in a very small way, hooray for the little things! For the fact that my 88 year old mother has had her vaccine, and so have I, and now we can visit in person and appreciate little joys like cranberry, raisin, almond, and dark chocolate trail mix, floral bouquets, slow walks through the garden starting to green up and–soon–bloom. Maybe I will even be able to take her out for a beer (at an outdoor restaurant) in a month or two. I can read her some of the poems I’ve written about my dad. We can just sit and watch the birds.

For the fact that my students are slogging away, enduringly hopeful that by the time they graduate the USA will somehow be better. Maybe it will. With their help.

For the fact that my siblings and I have friendly relationships with one another–and honest ones.

Hooray for my spouse, mowing the meadow with his 1947 John Deere Model M tractor! For a new manuscript of old poems that I’m finally spending some genuine, careful, critical time revising.

Ann E. Michael, Moderately good intentions

all transplanted
washing my dirty knees
after a short prayer

Jim Young [no title]

How would you describe the link between your art and your poetry?

I have come to the conclusion that I am an artist and I use whatever media feels right at the time.  I originally did a foundation course in art and design and left English behind at O level.  I didn’t do an English Degree as many poets have, so  have always felt I’ve come into the poetry room by the wrong door.  But it’s the door I found, so here I am.

I began to write poems in the late 90s at Norwich Art School, whilst on the BA (hons) Cultural Studies degree. I found I could more tangibly create images with words than I had been able to do with paint, and learnt to use metaphor more subtly through reading and writing poetry. Poetry became my prime focus and I left my visual practice behind.

My visual work was rooted in the theatrical.  I toyed with the idea of designing for theatre, but was quite protective of the little sculptural environments I was making and having them scaled up for actors to act in didn’t appeal to me.   I found that through poems, I could fulfill my megalomaniac urges to create the scenery, the lights, the actors and the drama.  I think of my poems as little theatres.

When we moved house ten years ago, I gained a studio space. I started collecting the kinds of strange objects that have always interested me, but never had the storage room for. Mostly found, or more like, foraged objects, from flea markets and so on – the kind of objects that arrive with their own stories. I like to put them alongside other objects and try to invent new stories for them. Most of my practice involves play. I place things together in the same enclosure to see how they will get on. I need some kind of logic before I reach for the glue-gun to make their relationship permanent. Often that logic is a dream-logic, and sometimes this is cemented using words cut from old books and encyclopaedias, or my own whole poems. I am interested in the way that words and images play against each other and shift their meanings and connotations.

I have always been fascinated by Cabinets of Curiosity, the way unrelated objects are gathered together in a microcosm of the world and think this aesthetic has unconsciously crept into my work. I have a fetish for boxes, and tend to see poems as boxes – methods of containment that offer a semblance of order.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Helen Ivory

It’s almost April, which is National Poetry Month – which means more readings – yes, even I’ll be doing a reading – and more attention to poetry in general, which is good. It’s also my birthday month, and when I’ll technically be able to safely go out and be fully immunized. And it’s Tulip Festival time – even if spring is running a little late, Skagit Valley will be full of blooming tulips by the middle of April, and I’m planning a day trip up there to see them this year, having missed it last year due to the shutdown. Wish me good weather luck!

It’s also a month when many new poetry books come out, including my friend Kelli Agodon’s book from Copper Canyon, Dialogues with Rising Tides, among others. Go ahead and treat yourself to a few good poetry books for poetry month. If you want any of mine, signed by the author, (some of them hard to find on Amazon anymore), see here!

Anyway, I am wishing you all a happy and healthy spring, and a happy National Poetry Month. I am hoping the vaccines will be faster than the variants. I am hoping for an end to our plague year at last.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Stealth Spring in Seattle, Spring Submissions, Poetry Month Approaches

someone’s mask
crumpled in the field
pink primrose

James Brush, 03.24.21

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: celebration and mourning, outrage and humor. The equinox and all it implies. Playing make believe and other strategies for survival. And (as always) more.


Unrecognizable, this same crossroads again,

every time unrecognizable: what to risk now
solid, and what to mourn? I swim foramina,

canals, a scything nerve weaving sole witness
to slim remainder of youth: ten years aged

in four. Cored, hollowed out. Will there be
joy again? Embodied strength not taken

for granted, I swim accursed sprints: designed
for endurance, my covid lungs shriek. Still.

An absurd time, so fast fins don’t explain;
all this power in my flesh, wasted, almost

lost, gained, cherished, lost. Where now,
and what use? Distance a recurring answer—

that and climbing back from broken.

JJS, Surgiversary 4

It took weeks of calls and clicks to schedule this appointment. Now I feel disoriented.  I haven’t been in a store for nearly a year. So much stimulus — doors that open to let me in, shelves with products, actual shoppers! When I sit down with the nurse to get my inoculation I have to stop myself from using the word “grateful” in every sentence.

Grateful isn’t large enough to express this feeling. I’m not aware of a term that can fully encompass the year all of us have been through. A word that includes our isolation and fear, our efforts to pull through and pull together while apart. A word that acknowledges all the ways we’ve been divided. A word that doesn’t forget a leader who, according to experts, could have averted forty percent of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S.  A word that incorporates fear, grief, exhaustion, fury, longing, despair, hope, uncertainty, and so much more.

I wait the required 15 minutes before I can leave. I watch others who are also waiting. They look at their phones or listen to the nurse talk about potential side effects. Every person here looks beautiful to me. Already I imagine our antibodies responding to this shot, better protecting the trillions of cells that make it possible for us to breathe, smile, crack awful jokes, hug, sleep, dream.    

As I walk to my car I recognize the heaviness in my chest as the weight of guilt for getting the shot before anyone anywhere who might need it more than I do. Still, I sit in the driver’s seat, tears welling in my eyes, and whisper thank you thank you thank you. Then I turn the music up louder than I should, start the car, and drive home.

Laura Grace Weldon, Beyond Gratitude

We sit with the trauma, the sirens, the losses —
the journey to Pesach begins where we are.
Feel ourselves lift from constriction to freedom.
Someday we’ll dance at the shore of the sea.

The journey from COVID begins where we are.
The vaccines were distant. Soon they’ll be here.
Someday we’ll touch on the shore of the sea,
ready for morning we can almost see coming.

Rachel Barenblat, The virus was distant, the virus was here

When I began writing this blog, eighteen years ago today, it seemed appropriate to name it after the Trojan princess Cassandra, cursed by her spurned lover, Apollo, to utter prophesies that would always be accurate but never believed. That was on the eve of the Iraq War, the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, which I was certain would plunge the world into an endless war between cultures, and a great destabilization that would cause untold human misery through civil war, destruction, loss of life and livelihood, and migration that would be rejected by much of the western world, which would also refuse to admit they had caused it. I am not happy to say that I was right; I would have loved to be wrong.

At the time, I couldn’t have predicted the exact shape that the far right would take in the United States, or in other countries: this has been worse than I ever anticipated. Climate change has accelerated even faster than I feared, and I never would have thought the United States would actually withdraw from international environmental agreements – thankfully, this decision has been reversed. I didn’t know that I would not only move to Canada, but become a Canadian citizen, though it was a possibility. I’m appalled but not surprised by the racism, ethnic hatred, misogyny, and violence of these years,  as I wrote in that first blog post in 2003 […]

Still, I never would have predicted what the world has lived through over the past year: a pandemic of such magnitude that it brought the entire world to its knees, cost the lives of millions, and caused untold human suffering that has been unjustly borne by the poor, by people of color, the elderly in care homes, those working in high-risk professions without proper protection, and those without access to technology. 

Because I am not in those categories, I have been safe throughout this long year. Two days ago, I had my first vaccination. It was given in a huge conference center here in Montreal, the Palais des Congres: Quebec has made a commitment to vaccinate all adults with a first dose by our national holiday, June 24, St-Jean Baptiste Day and they are moving very fast toward that goal. The nurse who gave me my shot seemed to be about my age, and I asked her in French if she had been working throughout the pandemic. No, she replied, I’m retired, but I volunteered to come back and do this because I have the training. Merci beaucoup, I replied, and our eyes smiled at each other above our masks. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude — for the scientists who dedicated themselves to developing the vaccine, the people who were working to deliver it, for being in a country that believed in science, planned well enough and has the money to provide for its citizens, and for reaching this point of greater safety. And I felt overwhelmed, at the same time, with sorrow for the loss, suffering, separation, and disrupted or damaged lives that may take years to recover, if they ever do.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 60. Full Circle

I am honored to share that my poem “In Like a Lion” has been included in the Oregon Poetry Association 2020 Anthology of Pandemic Poems. This is a stunning collection of poetry written by Oregon poets as witness to these times. It is a document that will have both significant historical value regarding the event itself and the writers in this place who have shared their poetic response to it.

I urge you to consider purchasing a copy of this anthology either through Submittable or Wild Apricot. All the proceeds will go to continued funding for the Oregon Poetry Association. If you love poets, or if you just want a record of this year told through the words of Oregon State poets, I encourage you to buy a copy.

In so many ways my thoughts of this year will probably not be completely known until more time has passed. It has been such a difficult time for so many, especially to those who have lost people to Covid-19. I have been privileged to have a warm home to live in, food to eat, health care. I have had the privilege to reflect during this time, to think about how I would like to contribute to the world in a way that helps those less able to have the basic needs of life. And frankly, I have no desire to return to “Normal”, for it was with the slowing down, the staying put, that helped me see how much happiness could be found in my own home, my small block, my changing neighborhood. There have been things I have missed, like live music, poetry readings, coffee shops, going to dinner with friends, and I look forward to doing them again. But I have changed, and these days I wonder what I will find when I re-enter the world and will I belong?

Carey Taylor, Pandemic Anthology and Thoughts

It was a more celebratory St. Patrick’s Day this year than usual because I was finally able to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, so a lucky day indeed. I felt great the day of the shot, no allergic reactions, though had a down day the next day (like a normal human – fever, chills, headache, nothing crazy.) It was sunny and Glenn and I went out and took pictures with the plum blossoms afterwards. Glenn won’t have his shot for another week or two at least so it’s a moderated celebration, but it feels like there’s something positive on the horizon. after so much stress and anxiety about when and how I’d get the shot and if I’d catch covid before I got the shot.

Washington State has only vaccinated about 12 percent of people so far, so we still have a long way to go to any kind of “safe” opening up, but at least it’s finally moving forward after crawling at a snail’s pace while other states raced ahead. The process of getting the vaccination appointment took three people (myself, my mother in Ohio, and Glenn) after a friend called me to clue me into to how the vaccines were proceeding so yay teamwork, but it shouldn’t have been such an undertaking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are still waiting for your shot – your tech-savvy friends and family, your friends who are volunteering at vaccine sites – and I hope you all get your treasured vaccines sooner rather than later. It really took away a great weight and anxiety I had been feeling for at least a year, but even more recently as numbers and variants have been on the rise. I feel like I can focus on other aspects of life again. Like writing. And friendships. And living life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Spring Equinox, St Patrick’s Day, Vaccinations, a New Book in the Works, and an Upcoming Redmond Poet Laureate Reading

If you listen without language, you may hear
my grandfather playing Brahms on the cello,
grunting every now and then with the effort
of an old man soon to die. He played for me

that spring I lay sick with pneumonia.
I was nine and lonely for my mothership,
her planets and galaxies preparing me
for a life of stargazing and solitude.    

Although at times I say too much, there is much
I will never say.  If you are sad, go to the ocean.
There, is music. Lay your tongue aside, listen.
May you hear the stillness between breakers.

Risa Denenberg, How to Be Sad

It’s light in the morning when I go to work and light when I come back, even from my later clubs. This makes everything that little bit easier. We’re still covered in a hard layer of icy snow, but every day it melts back a tiny bit as we’re hovering just around zero at the moment. Spring is coming, but we’re still getting hit by blasts of takatalvi, a return to wintery weather that will last well into May. 

I’m hoping with the return of the light, the warming temps and my after-school clubs soon finishing, I will find a new burst of energy. My writing clubs were a bit of a disappointment to begin with. With Corona, they said we couldn’t hold them inside and Finland January to March is too cold to take your gloves off to write. I tried rap and rhyming games and even verbal story-telling, but it’s hard when you’re in a dark park and the kids are hyper and tired after a long day. So we usually went sledging. 

Except my first graders. They were struggling with writing and sitting still indoors anyway, so with them I’ve been going on ‘adventures’. It started out as a ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ type walk around the school, but it has evolved into an elaborate game where each child takes turn leading us through some imaginary world that they hold in their heads, but never fully explain to us. Some bits we do over and over, going into the bushes which we treat like a house, hotel, tent and resting, sliding down the icy hills. Sometimes we’re hunting things, other times we’re being chased by monsters. We often are given super powers, weapons or vehicles. One little boy loves to organise the food, so is always making me cups of tea and fishing for dinner or making pizza. They love it and can now run their adventures on their own, so I just follow along and let their imaginations tell me what I should be doing. 

I introduced the second graders to it this week and they also loved it. One of the other club leaders only had one student, so they came along on our space adventure. We even got a chance to sit back and let them run about themselves while we had a chat. After a year of not having much social interaction, standing in a cold park to talk about something other than work for 10 minutes while watching kids runabout after polar bears is a real blessing.

Gerry Stewart, Going on an Adventure

Let’s call them a family
and imagine them close up,
give them faces and dreams,

assume they laughed, argued,
slit fish, held as we do
wood smoke in their hair.

Let’s follow their eyes
across the marsh, towards
a low, dark line of trees

and wonder with them
what the great red and silver
discs above will bring.

As they walk along the seabed,
carrying their ancestors,
let’s say they lack, like us,

understanding beyond their horizon,
compassion beyond their reach,
language beyond their need.

Chris Edgoose, In Aeternum

And silence, despite what they’ll say,
is not our preferred language.
Grandmother is 75 and she
picked up a wooden plank—
her rage: the sound of it smacking
the face of the white man
who punched her, unprovoked,
in the eye. Hate is not an abstraction.
Try pushing your own face into
the sidewalk under the weight
of your own boot. Try sighting
down a cold bore at your own
contorted face before you pull
the trigger. We are still here
burning with a thousand fevers,
though now more discerning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Carlos Bulosan’s “Letter in Exile”

This morning, I made this tweet:  “I am thinking of the hate crime in Atlanta, the Vietnamese girl running burned and naked while I got to be safe in 2nd grade, wondering if I can write a poem that weaves these threads without committing the sins of privilege and appropriation.”  For future readers who can’t remember which hate crime I’m mentioning here, I’m talking about the white man who killed 8 people in 2 different massage parlors and an aromatherapy spa in Atlanta; six of the victims were of Asian descent.

I have been thinking about my profession in academia, where I am not allowed to touch naked bodies, and I’m thinking about those industries that require touching naked bodies:  backs, nails, feet.  And then there are the other industries that require more mingling than just touching.

I came across this article with this quote that will likely haunt me all day:  “To be an Asian woman working in the US South in the massage industry means being an object, not a subject; being neither Black nor White and thus seen to have honorary white status, which in practice conveys a false belief that you aren’t subject to White supremacy; being invisible except when you have been killed by a white man who claims it’s not his fault — it’s his addiction. It means further disappearing: being one of six women killed in what people aren’t even calling a racially motivated crime, although can there be any doubt that it was misogyny and toxic masculinity that killed you?”

I had been thinking about these issues already.  On Sunday, I listened to On Being, which featured an interview with Ocean Vuong, who talked about his Vietnamese mother grandmother and the war in Vietnam and nail salons.  I thought about the photo of the young girl running burned and naked.  I tried to write a poem on Sunday.

Today I returned to that poem and tried to write something else, but so far, I haven’t developed anything that makes me happy.  But I have trails and whisps that may coalesce into a poem.  And even if they don’t, they’ve helped me think about important issues in a way that many won’t.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Work that Touches

Michigan poet Carlina Duan’s second poetry collection, Alien Miss (Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2021), is a poetry title composed via lyric narratives, tight lines and observational turns across a reclamation of her family’s language and culture, working to reconcile two entirely separate selves in a foreign space into a singular body. As the cover copy reads: “Tracing familial lore and love, Duan reflects on the experience of growing up as a diasporic, bilingual daughter of immigrants in the American Midwest, exploring the fraught complexities of identity, history, belonging, and linguistic reclamation.” In the opening, title section, Duan works through the beginnings of her family’s immigration, citing past versions of racist immigration law that deliberately limited Chinese admission into the United States. “what’s an American dream but / a debt. a price to pay.” (“ALIEN MISS CONSULTS HER PAST”).  The collection is constructed in three sections of lyric narratives—“ALIEN MISS,” “LINEAGE OF” and “INHERIT WHAT YOU CAN”—all aiming to both acknowledge and document the past, and the implications that those racist policies have had across the generations and into the present. As the poem “‘THE SITUATION IS GRATIFYING’” ends: “my father was my father until / I watched him turn his mouth into / a pearl. soundless when the officer / implied counterrevolutionary action & he / said nothing. flattened from my father / into a line of water. they took him away, / made my face river. made / an entire country flood.”

Duan writes a suite of connections between cultures, between two distinct paths, attempting to navigate that unfamiliar, impossible between. “o / chinese god,” she writes, as part of the poem “NONE ON THE ROOFTOPS,” “are you there, are you / smoking? please hear me out. I am / stupid & young & I like your necklace.” She writes the minutae of family and family relationships, of family and cultural lore, and the weight of expectation, and how, so often, those expectations fall victim to the collision of cultures. Alien Miss is a book of outreach, seeking to investigate both the past and the present, seeking out what must not be lost or left behind, and how certain external forces shifted her family in ways that must also be reconciled with.

rob mclennan, Carlina Duan, Alien Miss

afternoon sunshine
above the sea grass
a golden dragon

afternoon sunshine
above the golden dragon
honeysuckle buds

Jim Young [no title]

I’m procrastinating on finishing the manuscript. So if I put off the morning tanka prose practice, it means putting off the manuscript. I have competing goals: a crisis in confidence means I want to protect my ego – not writing means I can still count on the validation of the last thing I published.

And if I think too hard about that, I will fall apart like a loaf of bread in water.

Speaking of which, yesterday I took the paper mache bust to a waterfall to film it disintegrating under the flow of the water. But paper mache floats. And floats away. I watched my head get pulled under the mill-house – never to come out the other side. I waited 20 minutes. I figure it’s trapped under the continual torrent of water, probably wedged between old planks and stones. I felt sick to my stomach about littering. And silly – standing there with the fishing-net that I’d purchased that morning to make sure I got all the paper fragments out of the creek once I’d filmed my head’s disintegration.

This was not helpful in regards to my confidence.

I’m taking a visual poetry course and feeling like a gate-crashing novice among the craftsmen there. I’m reliving the criticism of art professors from thirty years ago: poor craftsmanship, derivative concepts. I keep telling myself this is what bravery is. Youth has nothing to overcome. Age has the experiences of youth. At least age means I know now that originality, in and of itself, is bullshit.

Ren Powell, Disintegration

everyone hoped
we would recover

but we got worse
& stronger

when the daylight wanes
& the moon grins

we are this and that—
blue with time
& forgery

we are trees tangling
between the shadow
& the sky

James Brush, P.S.

The bulk of feed was written in 2018, shortly after the death of my mother.  The central portion, the hunger palace, existed before that, although the focus was more on the young girl body and disordered eating than it was the circumstances of the last year of my mother’s life, but somehow, these two threads became one–the parts particularly about childhood and the foregrounding in her death.  What had been a lyric essay project about my own historical body image issues &  how they echoed my mother’s became extremely poignant in those last months of her life.  The fragments in the series were eventually integrated into a single piece that appeared in 2019 in The Journal, and now, in  this book. Other similarly themed projects followed that same year. The Hansel and Gretal inspired plump.  The changeling focused the summer house. swallow, which is another dip into adolescent body image. The final segment,  the science of impossible objects, was another series that previously existed and some pieces already existed in draft form, but it took on a different lens in 2018.

What to do with all these mother and daughter, food and body related pieces, but make them into a full-length book. I began pulling it all together in 2019.  Looking at it now especially, there are so many echoes of each segment in those that surround it.  The apocalyptically shorn Barbie of the first section is echoed in  the “Barbie cake…so big, it swallowed us all.”  The bee changeling of the summer house is revived in plump as the witch (this was unintentional, but worked out nicely.) The animals that take over the house in the hunger palace are the same animals that gather to watch the slaughter in plump.  May perhaps be the same animals lifted from the museum in the science of imaginary objects. Or the “the outside animals that long to be inside animals” of the summer house. There is also violation of the body.  The gauntlet of boys hands and predator/prey in swallow.  My mother’s creepy cousins in the hunger palace. The trapper’s son in plump, “his fit around my throat.”

It’s particularly interesting to write a book about mother, about being a daughter, about (I guess metaphorically) being a mother, when mothering is, in this sense, an act of creation, of art making. So much of this entire book felt like a purging of sorts, which is also in many ways, it feels important to get it out in the world.  

You can pick up a copy here .

Kristy Bowen, mother tongues

Hotel Almighty has been out for six months today. It’s been wonderful having a book out and the best thing about it is—surprise!—readers. I’ve had teachers tell me how the book excited their students; I heard from a reader who credited it with rekindling her interest in and openness to poetry; I’ve seen bloggers talk about being inspired by it; and a fellow poet told me that her six-year old sat down to read it with her because of the collages.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s published a book but one of the best (& worst) experiences is reading reviews on GoodReads and the like by complete strangers. One reviewer on GoodReads wrote “This book changed my life.” I mean, that’s a moment for a poet to gulp and make sure you’re on the right page. I guess getting feedback shouldn’t have surprised me. Of course people were going to read the book when it was published. That was the point.

Sarah J. Sloat, happy half year

The joy of this world—there are no empty
places, everything is full of energy and life—
is equally its horror. The biome of the gut,
the hollow tube that pierces us. Archipelagos
where the most violent exchanges occur at
microscopic scale, whose tiny denizens first
preserve us, and then, at last, consume us.

Lori Witzel, Negative space (A cadralor)

it is hard not to feel hopeful these days I have been oddly bi polar symptom free for a year no mania no depression all while the world was tumbling into the gray there is no explaining it but I am grateful though occasionally shaky as in this morning trying to type on my pc and hitting the wrong keys forgive me my frozen animal hands my mistyped words I have been practicing Bach for no concert ever I have been practicing Bach for that girl for remembering that girl maybe she was moaning maybe she was bleeding maybe she was giving birth in the crook of my arm in this time of blood

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report Vernal Equinox edition

[H]epatica is about as close to a sprite as any blossom I know of.

They aren’t common where I now live. Here, the vernal ephemerals I see most often are trout lily, bloodroot, spring beauty, violets, coltsfoot, trillium. Probably a few others that I’m forgetting because the ephemerals haven’t popped up yet. Still far too cold and a bit dry after a month of snow cover. The emergent greens in my gardens consist mainly of winter weeds, and I’m happy even to see those. Because: green.

“Just a little green like the color when the spring is born” says a line in Joni Mitchell’s song. The green things rise up or out of what surrounds them, coming into view.

I have been keeping under the standing snow, leaf litter, and dross for three months, processing (as the jargon terms it) my father’s death and a new manuscript and a backlog of poem drafts and covid-19 with its attendant disruptions, limitations, and opportunities. But the snow has subsided from all but a few gullies on the north sides of hills; iris reticulata and snowdrops are in bloom, along with the winter-blooming witch hazel. There’s work to do in the garden. Poems to revise. National Poetry Month ahead (April!). It’s the 25th year for this literary celebration.

Time for me, like the skunks and the skunk cabbage and the little ephemerals, to rise out of my surroundings. And take up this blog again? It’s a start. A little green shoot emerging in the chilly sunlight. Hello.

Ann E. Michael, Emergent

Like a dog’s ear
asking “What?”

the day waits,
the sun patient

at its rounds,
the wind letting

off, joy making
its morning noise.

Tom Montag, LIKE A DOG’S EAR

I finished choosing Shenandoah poems a couple of weeks ago. It’s such a pleasure to accept work, but there was so much strong poetry that I had to turn down, I could have built another good issue out of what I rejected. Honestly, I agonized so much I wondered if I’m cut out for this. Trying to shake it off, I figured I’d use my decision-sharpened mind to start submitting my own poems again–I’ve been delinquent–but I spent most of this week in a spiral of uncertainty (although family worries also contributed to that). I did finally get poems under consideration in a few places. It took me a ton of revision and reading through old folders, as well as research into markets, to make it happen. I’m freshly aware of the odds against making the cut, so I did a lot of hard thinking about the stakes of each poem, trying to delete or change iffy passages as ruthlessly as I could. And now I won’t know how well I managed it for months! 

The Zoom conversation I recently had with Celia Lisset Alvarez and Jen Karetnick therefore felt timely. See here for a recording of “She Persists: Rebounding from Rejection” that includes readings and lots of frank talk about our personal stats. Below are some bonus tracks consisting of their answers to my follow-up questions, plus their bios so you can find out about their many projects. I bolded a few bits that strike me as especially useful and inspiriting. At the very end, look for a few footnotes from me, too. [click through to read the interview]

Lesley Wheeler, Three editors on rejection and persistence

Remember how we pondered on finding our muse in these dark times? How for some of us, lockdown  deadened our creativity which had an impact on our wellbeing – home schooling gave no head space or time to write, and working from home gave us back ache.

We’re now inviting you to submit your poetic responses to this series of conversations, artwork and dialogues from a whole host of poets, editors and artists.  I am so grateful to them for their generosity. How amazing are poets, editors and artist?! What I have learnt from this is how supportive people in the poetry community are, sending out our work is hard, and rejections are harder. What is wonderful is that everyone who has been part of this project has given their time and words and energy for free so each can create something new. Write better. Write more. I can’t thank them enough. Watch out for Helen Ivory next Friday. We are all eager to read your work. The guidelines are:

Submit one poem based on a piece of artwork from the Creativity in Lockdown series. Include the name of the artwork and artist. 

Send your work to: thepoetryshed@hotmail.com

Abegail Morley, Creativity in lockdown – your response – submissions deadline 31st March 2021

The collection ends on a note of hope, in “Seollal (Korean New Year)”, where a young girl has fallen asleep on a subway train,

“Her father worms out of his coat,
rolls it as best as he can, into a squished pupa.
Tipping his daughter’s head to the side,
he plumps it into place against the partition;
lets her head fall back to a pillow of goose down.

The little girl
continues to dream.”

Perhaps the poet also still dreams of her father. It’s a poignant image of paternal love.

“Aftereffects” is an engaging, eloquent exploration of bereavement and loss. Jiye Lee’s situation is personal but she broadens it out to be of wider interest. The relationship between father and daughter is delicately and accurately probed, showing readers what has been lost without telling them how to feel. The poems’ deceptive gentleness have readers focused on the sheen of a feather before re-reading and looking again shows the bird can fly.

Emma Lee, “Aftereffects” Jiye Lee (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I gave up on writing fiction about 10 years ago. I concluded that I just couldn’t write anything with a plot that moves, and I ought to just stick to poetry, where my writing isn’t totally boring.

Every now and then I’d read a book and think oh if I could only write such a wonderful book!

But of course I only write poetry.

But then I lost Kit. And I wrote hundreds of poems about her, and I have this manuscript that is just my bleeding heart on a page.

I needed a break. I needed a break.

So I decided to try to write a middle grade novel. And I actually did it! There are characters, a beginning middle end, there are words on the page! It was simply astounding to my poet-mind to see the thousands of words stretch out in this ocean of prose.

Is it good?

No!

But I am revising. And I even sent it to a few beta reader friends which felt so scary and exhilarating— so different from sending friends a poem to read, since I usually feel somewhat if a poem works or not — here, in fiction, I’m an absolute beginner, trying to clumsily trace out my abcs.

Even if the book never gets an agent, never gets published, was just me taking apart the gears of novel writing to see how it worked, I am proud of myself for trying. That 9 year old Renee who read Ray Bradbury and dreamed of making fiction that could sing, I think I’ve (finally) been as brave as she hoped I’d be.

Renee Emerson, Writing a Novel

To those of you who were waiting with baited breath last week for my non-existent post, I apologize. I’m not generally prone to getting sick, but I got hit with something again, some horrid crud that knocked me out for about three days straight, and all I could do was shiver under the blankets in a state of perpetual chills and severe fatigue. (It wasn’t COVID.) I have come to the conclusion that the massive, intense, non-stop stress over this last month strained my immune system and left me vulnerable. Thus, I am experimenting with short, “gentle” Yoga and calming videos to try and reduce my cortisol levels. All it’s done so far is make me jealous of the beautiful young blondes who occupy such videos, which are always filmed in gorgeous, beachy, tropical settings. Of course these women are relaxed. They live on the beach and they have glossy hair and flawless figures. I would like to see a de-stressing video shot by a working mother of four with some middle-aged flab who is filming in her messy living room while her five-year-old twins fight over the i-Pad and the cat hacks up a hairball. Now that would be impressive.

Kristen McHenry, Boating Blunders, Barbell Joy, Real Meditation

transplanting rice

she complains
about her heartless lover

to a scarecrow
without
a head

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetry of the rice fields

There are several species of owl here in my valley. I especially [like] the barn owls. Listen closely; maybe you will hear one, especially at night. I have noticed that they always seem to sound as though they are pleased; there are no complaints from owls that I have ever heard. I think that the owls know something about living that humans do not know. Whatever this truth is, we may have known it once, back when we were closer to the tribal fire, but if we did, this truth is long forgotten. Come to my valley. Hear the owls. Perhaps you and I, together, can begin the work to form the tribe once again.

James Lee Jobe, Come to my valley. Hear the owls.

Night falls and evening surrounds us with a gardenia’s voice sweet on air as the sounds of approaching sirens weave themselves into the fabric of accidents.

Sepia-stained sorrows seek technicolor tomorrows as hustlers decked out in tattered garments of calamity stroll all-night boulevards of now or never.

Kisses of uplift refuse to claim gravity as their bride as the wayward and weary roam the streets, closer to the grave than their best intentions.

Cherished hopes glow brightly as the spines of books penned by absolute bliss while certain dreams are forever abandoned at bus stops going nowhere.

Night falls. Evening surrounds us.

If we can withstand the heat, bear the pressure of burden and beauty, we’ll be crushed into diamonds of morning light.

Rich Ferguson, Sirens Sound Themselves Into the Fabric of Accidents

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week, as many are marking the one-year anniversary of the coming of the pandemic, the love of reading and poetry, as something that’s been helping so many of us get through it all, is almost palpable.


You set
yourself

for this,
your work,

every day,
this, and

nothing
else.

Tom Montag, POET

It’s spring all over the place but I’ve never been fond of spring and now is the month my father died. I never forgave spring for taking my father away from me with the noisy lush savage green growth everywhere. I got my first vaccine on February 25 absolute winter and today I made an appointment for my second vaccine at the end of winter. Making the first appointment felt like a Jesus miracle. Making the second appointment felt like a panic attack. The first vaccine knocked me on my buttocks I tell you what I thought for sure I’d get the shot roll my sleeve down put my coat back on and head for my car ignoring the advised 15 minute wait but I ended up being exceeding grateful for that wait. Whoa. Who cares. I don’t want to die.

My son is camping with his friends at the state park eight minutes away from here. It’s the first time he’s seen his friends in over a year. He came home for a minute last night to gather firewood from our yard and he smelled like a campfire his clothes and hair thick with sea air and matches and dinner cooked on a grate. He is intensely beautiful.

I feel almost normal these days. Better than normal. I float up and out of my chair up and out of my body. There are bears and wild salmon and orca under my skin pulsing my blood along with growls and fluid muscular grace. Yesterday I bent down in my garden and an eagle flew up his heavy wings flapping right next to my head and my heart hammered in its cage. Incredible. This is called healing. I am not overly fond of spring so I ignore it and consider summer dresses and flats and my awful shrub of hair. I am too terrified of humans to get a haircut yet. Or a manicure or any damn thing.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The hearse got stuck
in the mud-snow.

I watched from graveside
as they tried reverse

then pushing —
finally backing down

to approach
from the other side.

Mourners in
inappropriate footwear

struggled in icy mud.

Rachel Barenblat, March funeral

When I heard about Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s death last week, I was checking news items on my phone after digging over the boggy, rain-saturated ground at our land ready for this year’s vegetables and hoping for a dry spell soon. I went home and read again the poem of his I have enjoyed more than any other, The Old Italians Dying, and sat and thought awhile on Ferlinghetti’s fame and long life. The Old Italians Dying was first published in the Los Angeles Times but I first read it in Landscapes of Living & Dying, published in 1979, and then again in Wild Dreams Of A New Beginning, which this morning I settled to read in full over a strong coffee as I forced into nothingness a night of complicated, exhausting, travelling dreams filled with people I recognised and some I did not. I’d forgotten the details of the dreams but not the experience of them. I took three cups of coffee before my toast with honey and bowl of porridge and the pills that help keep me alive. Then I fed and watered the hens, and talked to them a little to see if they had anything to say about the way the world is and how it was for them in the darkness. Frankly, they were more interested in their food, though a bantam cockerel, an Ancona from Italy, took time out to curse me first.

Later after the practical stuff of the day, necessary conversations by phone and email, and other less relevant interruptions, I sat with more coffee and saw beyond the window two magpies chase off songbirds as a pigeon on the grass watched in the way that pigeons watch most things. Motionless. Without comment. And out of nowhere came a thought of the orator Quintus Hortensius – how his opponents sneered at him as he held his audience’s attention with his words and an extravagant swirl of his toga, how in retirement he bred fish, how he persuaded a very young woman to divorce her husband and marry him and how all of his great speeches are now lost. Ancient Rome doesn’t particularly interest me but occasionally I experience a flimsy connection to ancient civilisations as if the human chain really does sometimes reach out and pull me back through the generations to think of these lives so full and impassioned but so long gone.

And then on TV came the latest news on the virus and I thought as usual of the lives that have gone out over the past year. It’s a sad, difficult time for so many. I gave thanks yet again for life not only because the ‘anniversary’ of my first heart attack is approaching once again, but also because I was born almost dead. My flesh darkened by lack of oxygen, the midwife breathed into me long past the moment most would have given up until they say she felt something move in my chest and I lived. My father put an Easter egg in my cot, for it was Good Friday. If I’d died what would I have remembered that I don’t remember now? Darkness. A sense of light. Sound? Fifty years on, four thousand miles away, our daughter, a midwife, breathed into a child long past the moment most would have given up until she said she felt something move in his chest and he lived. His father’s lament changed into a dance of joy, his mother in her chair came back from numb grief to hold her living, breathing son. What will he be told? What will his memory hold on to? Will he remember darkness. A sense of light. Sound ? I hope he has as good a life as I have had and hope to continue to have.

Bob Mee, ABOUT THE DEATH OF LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI AND THE LOST SPEECHES OF QUINTUS HORTENSIUS

the grackles opened
like gates in the trees
shadow birds, eyes glistening
you could almost imagine
these noisy shades
abandoning tangible birds,
parking lots and steel dumpsters
in their odyssey through
suburban woods,
clacking and creaking
like machines or clocks
ticking away the last
hoarse seconds of winter.

James Brush, On March 1st

I wonder if someone might have begun reading these ‘diary snippets’ thinking they were going to be interesting? One review is finished. Hurray! Two more to go. My son has packed up his things ready to return to his student accommodation. My hair is incredibly long. It’s been over a year since it was cut or coloured. There are blond coloured bits on the ends and the rest is mouse with grey sprinkled through. I have a vague memory of feeling very frightened of old ladies with long grey hair when I was a little girl. I haven’t noticed any small children bursting into tears at the sight of me yet. I’ve just been sent a date for my first covid jab. The avocado plant I grew from a stone in the first lockdown is still with me. Onwards.

Josephine Corcoran, Recent Diary Snippets

To wake from a dream into another dream, and in the second dream to feel compelled to explain the first one, to define a moment that wasn’t real in another moment that also isn’t real. That’s what I like about sleeping.

James Lee Jobe, from a dream into another dream

You know the way somebody makes a remark and it clangs in you, your body vibrating with recognition? A friend recently told me that she’s learned a lot over the past year about what she needs to be happy. Yes. I’ve had other lesson years: for instance, I learned during my long-ago stint as department head is that I start falling apart if I don’t have an hour or so of flow experience each day, usually through reading or writing. Even class prep–rereading books, thinking about how to inspire engagement–can satisfy that hunger. Answering emails from the Business Office cannot.

The pandemic has been a tough teacher. I’ve had to be more deliberate this year about pairing periods of work-output with periods of restorative activities, and the range of possible restorative activities is necessarily smaller. I discovered how much travel had scaffolded my emotional life–choosing destinations and planning trips as well as the sheer relief of escaping my small town–and how sad the days felt without even small adventures to anticipate. I dealt with the restlessness through spring, summer, and fall by planning a new hike every Saturday, but tendonitis hobbled me in January, and February was just too icy as well as being crammed with deadlines, meetings, guest classes, and other tiring Zoomy things. I’m introverted enough not to mind some isolation, but projecting energy and enthusiasm via screens really takes it out of me. I entered March both revved up and melting down.

At my worried spouse’s suggestion, we spent 3 nights at a rented house by a deserted lake, which helped me reset. One reason I travel is because it puts distance between me and laptop-oriented work vigilance; I can’t seem to assert that boundary in my own house. I wasn’t looking forward to coming home and retethering myself to professional effort by “attending” this AWP, for which I had registered in a long-ago fit of optimism. Plus I’d learned that most of the sessions were pre-recorded, which I thought would remove that last frail shred of human interactivity. Virtual conferencing at its worst, I thought.

Somehow, though, I’ve done okay. I tried to watch multiple sessions on the first day then managed to listen to myself: I have it in me to pay high-quality attention to one session per day and reduced attention to a second, but that’s it. Why beat myself up about an incapacity to do more? The live chats enabled by the platform are more interactive and interesting than I expected, but I’m still not fulfilling that old, anxious “see and be seen” AWP imperative anyway, so, I told myself, just chill.

Lesley Wheeler, Learning, unlearning, and #AWP21

A year ago, I wrote these words:

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

I want to reach back in time and pat myself on the head and murmur, “Bless your heart.”

While a pandemic will, of course, always create hardship and change and pain, ours hasn’t had to play out the way that it has–and I just want us to, for once, be honest about that and about why that is. I want us to be honest about all the ways in which our schools were broken and not serving kids before the pandemic. I want us to be honest about what we are going to get–and not–from the choices we are making.

If this post has any real point, it is only this: To shine a light. To share experience. To mark a significant anniversary. To tell a truth. To be seen.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whiplash

There is a relentlessness to bright sun on unmarked snow. A type of perfection that hurts the eyes. 

Let me get small and smaller. Let me get as small as I possibly can. Spruce needle on a suspension of snow.  The way the world cannot be anything other than what it is. There is no great secret, but there is a lot of mystery.

May I admit that when I think about what I want to leave behind, I am struck by the sheer amount of time I have wasted not paying attention? 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Spindrift

bottom water
the moon loosens its grip
on the starfish

Jim Young, ashes

The research is beginning to stack up that the vaccine is curing long covid, or knocking it way down, anyway, or something, we don’t know yet, wait and see, we will learn more:

this is what I say now too, all the time, wait and see, I will learn more, we’ll see: I can’t trust covid farther than I can throw her, the wily bitch.

I say: cautious optimism. I say, in a whisper: I feel better than I have in a year.

JJS, the clarity of cardiac damage

in the bedroom of the epidemic will my devotion to sky end without dawn

was my shadow a bird :: in the desert i could have been

is crocus the flesh where your absence nests

Grant Hackett [no title]

Our Lady of destroyed flowers and abandoned children, stolen lawn gnomes and homophobia.

Goddess of sideways nights and placebo days leaving us feeling neither up nor down.

Hacked computers and gone electricity, bitter words and bitter coffee grounds. Stress and loneliness, revenge and hate-scented candles.

Our Lady of lost love, lost keys, lost phones, and when the ping leaves our iHope—

leave us so we may pray our way back to safety and sanity.

Rich Ferguson, A Prayer for Anti-Prayer

Entering the ocean is always a risky business. The ocean is immense. It obeys its own laws, rhythms, and tides. At any moment, it can push you under and sweep you away.

Many times as a child, I’ve braved the shallow water along the shore, leaping through the waves. Many times, I’ve been surprised by a wave larger than I expected and tumbled, caught in a seemingly never-ending spiral of water, buffeted against the sand and rocks below, bubbling foam swirling all around with no sign of which way is up. Anyone who’s been submerged by a wave has experience a moment of terror, a moment when you realize you might not surface at all.

As I returned to the shore after my most recent ocean swim, I began to think about how the risks faced by writers and artists seem to parallel the risks of the ocean. The act of creating prose, poetry, or other forms of art can sometimes feel fraught with danger. Yet, we continue writing, continue creating, continue delving into the depths.

Andrea Blythe, Diving into the Deep

One of the poets I am mentoring now asks me what is too mundane a subject for poetry. Nothing, I say. It’s all about perspective. What I didn’t confess was my own fear that people will judge my perspective to be mundane. Or derivative. (What about human experience is not derivative?)

They will, you know: judge. And that is okay. I shrug sometimes, too, at things that touch other people deeply. Our experiences meet randomly through art – every poem is a crap-shoot at an over-crowded table.

This poet I mentioned had a little epiphany reading Mary Oliver. And Patricia Fargnoli. And what is more mundane than cancer, really? Mental illness? Death? Sex? And the fact is if the subject of the poem is truly original then what human would understand it? Human experience is the subject matter of all art, isn’t it? (Even when intellectual activity is the experience being addressed).

I’m pretty sure trees create poetry. Mushrooms, absolutely. And maybe someday I will see it for what it is. We all will. Maybe every network of roots that run along the forest floor tells a story in carefully metered verse. Internal rhymes, intertextuality with lines that will reach right into our coffins.

Ren Powell, “Said by you, though, George?”

In “When I Think of My Body as a Horse” Wendy Pratt explores cycles of pregnancy and grief, the ability of a body to transform and the effects of those transformations through the lens of the natural world. A daughter becomes a hare, a fleeting, furtive visitor of dreams, shaped by her mother so that her mother can survive her loss. The mother’s body starts as a foal, unsure and giddy on its own legs, and becomes a controlled horse of purposeful movement, learning lessons from the natural world. The poems are written with the control and power of their spirit animal and tackle motherhood and loss with poise and a compelling force.

Emma Lee, “When I Think of My Body as a Horse” Wendy Pratt (Smith|Doorstop) – book review

Wendy Pratt’s new collection, When I Think of my Body as a Horse (Smith-Doorstep, 2021) is not only brave and ambitious in its thematic scope and aesthetic approach, but also achieves an astonishing degree of humanity, coherence and cohesion.

Pratt takes received formats by the scruff of their necks and lifts them out of their expected usages, such as in the case of Two Week Wait. At first sight, it seems a supposed, so-called list poem, beginning with a conventional couplet and starting three of its first six lines with a repeated form (love + verb + and`+ verb), as follows:

Love turned the dial up
and watched us burn.
Love caught us like frogspawn
and cupped us in the light
of a duck egg blue day…

This technique creates the effect of a chant, lulling the reader into a false sense of syntactic security. However, Pratt quickly changes gear as the poems moves forward, piling up irregular line breaks, then two clauses per line, then a foreshortened final line…

…Love was needles and charts
and scans, love was clinic visits
and operations, love riddled us
with drugs, love shook us with hope,
love gave us you, love lost us both,
love lost us all.

Via her subverting of a list poem, Pratt rips away an initial incantation and transforms it into a wail, into a heartrending lament.

Matthew Stewart, Emotion transformed into art, Wendy Pratt’s When I Think of my Body as a Horse

I often think of a poem as a snapshot. How would you describe your relationship with poetry and photography and are the two artforms linked?

My father was a keen amateur photographer and I had hundreds of images to draw on when writing Whistle, the collection dealing with my childhood. Although autobiographical Whistle relies almost entirely on ‘metaphorical truth’ – much of it is imagined. The mechanics, materials, science and process of photography provided endless metaphorical possibilities, as did its mysteries. Each image carried a memory or an insight into my parent’s’ lives before I existed.

Photography also gave me a metaphorical lexicon, allowing me to write about personal events that would otherwise have seemed unsayable.

The language of photography still sneaks its way into my writing. I photographed people and I write about people; small human stories are what interest me. I try to bring the same tenderness and gentle in both mediums.

I was a photographer first and agree parallels exist. The critical writing about both mediums cross over and are often interchangeable. Poems and photographs exist within a physical and temporal frame, giving the viewer/reader their own imaginative space.  Both depend on acute observation, the moment or object that has something to say beyond its own self. Photographs depend on rhythm, shape and tone in presenting their moments. You could also see repetition of shapes and colours within a photograph, as rhyme.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking creativity with Martin Figura

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?

Because I have very little free time I am in some ways always writing. Like David Ly said in these interviews, everything seems to begin with my iphone. I write down mixes of what I hear, what I read, what I see, just lines lines lines sometimes words words words. When I sit down to write at home I take out those e-notes and put a little order on them, write them into notebooks longhand see what goes with what. Are there areas of overlap rhythmically or thematically? Shove lines together and see if they fit or fight, fighting is often better. If a thread emerges or something interests me I go with it and see what happens. I never approach my laptop early in this process, by the time I finally start to transcribe a piece ‘on screen’ I’m acknowledging the language is mostly done and I now want to see what it might ‘look like’ because the visual, the shape of a poem is of great importance to me.

With respect to the commencement / accumulation of a project I have found with my upcoming book, Recovery Community, and subsequent work throughout this year, that I gradually come to an awareness that something is starting to take shape, that is to say I become aware that I am starting to write around a commonality of sorts. Often, it’s an attitude or a basic emotion so, for example in Recovery Community I realized I was constantly being drawn to David Lynch films and certain music (Swans, Tool, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance), and I was hyper-focussed on anxiety, the physical experience of rising anxiety, moving through a physical space with dread, and how those moments might relate to old and/or imprinted traumas, but also how it may be a necessary journey on the way, well, to Recovery. After a while I bowed to the returning influences and just submerged myself in their consumption – as many books films songs etc as I could find – see what falls together. Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s one good short poem, sometimes it’s a chapbook, sometimes more. The interesting thing for me is that I know more definitively when a project is done than when it’s begun as I will notice I have ‘moved on’ to write in a different way altogether and at that point I know I can bring the curtain down on that particular project. While I may add an occasional piece here and there the fever of highest activity is done with; it has burned its way through my system. A specific example of this would be the poem The Scalded Sea (from Recovery Community). I had read Oliver Sacks’ heart-breaking 5-6 page account of one man’s battle with mental illness, I then went deeper and read that man’s published diaries and a biography. I made notes all the way through, maybe 4 weeks’ worth of reading (some 500-600 pages) resulted in 10-12 pages of notes and became a 5-page poem. When I finished The Scalded Sea I knew what Recovery Community was or needed to be and knew I was very close to being done because something felt realized through the writing of that particular poem. It felt like in writing that poem I had answered all my unasked questions of this project. Is it the best poem in the book? No. Am I proud of it? Yes. And once it was written I knew for better or worse I had come to a place of acceptance relative to personal lifelong questions around trauma, suicide, anxiety addiction and alcoholism that told me I was done with the particular energy I had been channeling for this book. The work then remained was to revisit my other poems, remove what was no longer relevant (and we removed a lot of stuff from this MS including some personal faves), put them together in a certain careful order to see if they told a story I could follow, then stand back and accept/hope it was done for better or worse.

The very next day I began writing other poems and probably because of the pandemic and again because of new influences arriving (this time Cronenberg, Ballard, Psychic TV, Mandy, Johansson) I found myself very quickly engaged by a new energy ie project which I subsequently wrapped up a week or two ago. So, for now I’m just enjoying reading without feeling like some sort of receiver where I have to drop the book or pause the film every five minutes to write something down.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Conor Mc Donnell

As an addendum to my previous post on reading poems aloud, tonight, I stumbled upon an old recording from a Chicago Poetry Center reading in 2004 and was thinking how strange it is to encounter your older self.  I feel this much with writing–poems and blog posts and old drafts of things, but much stranger audio-wise. I kept thinking how my voice sounds different, but maybe it’s all in my head.  The girl (and I say girl, though she was already 30) who showed up in the swanky SAIC ballroom clutching her handmade copies of Blood Mary seems very far away.  I was there because I had somehow won their juried reading the previous spring. You could have knocked me over with a feather when not only did people want to buy copies, but they wanted, in one of my first writerly moments, to actually sign them. […]

That 30 year old hadn’t had her heart really, really,  broken yet.  Hadn’t suffered the sort of losses that come with getting older. And it’s stranger still to think of the value of those things to one’s writing at the same time.   She hadn’t been worn down to a stone, but still had some rough edges. She also hadn’t become quite so disillusioned with the poetry biz status quo and was quite a bit more the optimist than the realist she finds herself now. At the same time, in some ways, it might have well happened last week. Last month. Last year.  I don’t know if pandemic time is especially disorienting, but maybe it’s always like this. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between, part two

It’s taken me a while (maybe since the pace of my 9-to-5 has been so hectic), but I’ve finally been leaning heavily on this time at home to write and read more, including, in recent weeks, pulling some old favorites off my shelves. I’m re-reading a handful of poetry collections that achieve elements of what I’m trying to do in my new manuscripts, including one that’s “about” an invented character (an alter ego, of sorts) and one that may end up being a novella in verse with an entirely different main character. I’ve never done either of those things, but the bones of them have been in past poems, and their themes have been chattering to me incessantly.

One book I’ve revisited, as you can see in the images below, is Rachel Zucker’s “the pedestrians.” […]

I’ll always have a relationship with this book. When you find “simpatico” during any moment of great need and longing, it sticks with you. Poetry gives us so much. It’s often a better friend than we deserve.

The time I’m spending with “the pedestrians” now is less about surviving painful emotions (and painful numbness) and more about craft. How does Zucker convey such emotion while deploying such sparse, well, emotion? In portraying the flatness of love (habitual) and life (deflated), how does she gut us like she does? The poems really connect, as in, they land all their punches. The collection is devastating.

I’m re-reading it now to study that and to see how Zucker so deftly creates “characters” out of her speaker and the speaker’s husband and navigates their interior and exterior worlds within the context of a strange — somehow glimmering! — dullness.

Carolee Bennett, “no word in her language”

Everyone loves John Keats.  

I’ve looked for #KeatsHate online just to see if it exists – there is hate for everything else after all – but as far as I can discover there is nothing in the modern world but love for this particular JK, love for the poetry and love for the man*. If the haters are there, they’re keeping very quiet. My conclusion is this: those who love poetry love Keats, and those who don’t love poetry don’t care enough about Keats to hate him. Perhaps now, 200 years since his death, is the wrong moment to be looking for criticism of the man and his work, but thinking back I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone express serious reservations – not unless you go right back to the classist snobbery of Yeats. And I’m not about to set a precedent, but I am interested in why his stock remains so high, particularly amongst poets themselves.  

It is a paradox, but true I think, that one of the reasons he remains so well remembered and so well loved is exactly because he is so well remembered and so well loved. Even for those whose tastes do not run to the Romantic, Keats represents the kind of poetic longevity every poet hankers after, whether they admit it or not. All literary writing is a bid for immortality, even the ancient Egyptians sensed something along these lines. Keats was intensely aware of this, and the cynic in me is tempted to read his final request of Joseph Severn to have ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’ inscribed on his gravestone as one last, slightly duplicitous but nonetheless genius attempt to make such a bid. Like Shakespeare, Keats is living the kind of literary afterlife we all aspire to but which none of us will achieve (and yes, that includes you, 99.99% of published poets). Poets love Keats, in part at least, because they want to be him. They want to be one of the tiny fraction of poets who poets and readers will still be admiring and taking inspiration from in 200 years’ time, and that Keats did it means they can do it too.

Chris Edgoose, ‘I would have made myself remember’d’: Why Poets ♥ Keats

Many thanks to Existere for publishing my poem “In Having Been to the Capella Sistina” about exactly that, a not too long ago visit to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City that feels worlds and worlds away. Just as I was finding the means to travel and the inspiration of experiencing in person the fine art I’d only ever seen in photos, the pandemic took hold and I resorted to virtual museum tours via digital screen. The lines from my poem “compare the scene to all / the kitsch—mugs and mousepads, / postcards and pamphlets, / digital images—zoomed in / on god’s finger reaching” seem far too real and much less ironic than I originally meant them to be.

Existere is a Journal of Arts and Literature founded in 1978, established and administered by students at York University in Toronto, Canada. They publish biannual issues in fall/winter and spring/summer of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and artwork. They are currently open for their next issue and pay their contributors $50 along with a print copy of the issue. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, they are now offering free copies of Volume 39 Issue 1, downloadable as a PDF! So you can check out the issue, read the wonderful variety of work, and see what types of work they accept before submitting. 

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “In Having Been to the Capella Sistina” published by Existere + Paying submission call!

Today, I learn, is #WorldBookDay. Who makes up these things? (And immediately hear a response in my head: “Publishers like you!”) Be that as it may, in my life, every day is book day, and it’s been so practically ever since I can remember. Last week the members of my book group started talking about when we had begun to be readers, and what form it took for each of us. We told stories about the books in our homes, local libraries in the small towns many of us had grown up in, how reading early made problems for us in school, happy hours spent reading in treehouses, or curled up on couches on rainy days, what those favorite books were and how they shaped us as the readers we are today. I’ve never been a solitary introvert, but I was definitely a bookworm whose parents often told me, “Come on, get your nose out of that book, and go outside!” This was a somewhat half-hearted admonition from my mother, who was pretty much of a bookworm herself. As an only child, I was alone a lot, and books always felt like my friends as well as boats and planes and magic carpets on which I could travel to other places and times.

Exactly one year ago today, Jonathan and I made a decision at 5:00 in the morning, half an hour before calling a taxi, to cancel our planned trip to Mexico City because a pandemic looked like it was actually going to happen. We figured we could get down there all right, but coming back on March 20 might not be easy, or safe. A number of people thought we were being over-cautious, but it proved to be the right decision. During this long year, one that I don’t think any of us will be able to truly process until much more time has passed, life has changed a lot. In addition to the good developments, like becoming proficient at Zoom and finding new friends, communities, and artistic outlets through that medium, we’ve stopped seeing family and friends, moving freely from place to place even within the city, having a studio, singing with my choir and going to the cathedral, shopping in stores, having routine medical appointments or getting our hair cut, going to any kind of in-person event, or even having normal visits with our neighbors. Montreal has been hit very hard, and people over 65 have been asked, and at times required, to stay in their homes. Thank God none of us knew it would be this bad, or go on this long, or I think we would have been even more despairing. Although it’s been a very hard year for us in a number of ways, I feel incredibly lucky that we’re still here, and we have appointments for our first vaccinations next week. I’m immeasurably grateful to the scientists who have developed these life-saving, world-saving vaccines in record time. I just wish that they would be available equally and fairly to all human beings — but, as this year has also shown, inequality and injustice are concentrated in minority populations, and there is no vaccine for that: we ourselves are the only solution.

Fortunately, during this time I’ve had three steady companions: my husband, my cat, and books.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 58. My Companions the Books

This morning, I read a review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, and it gave me pause, as these book reviews often do.  I always feel a bit abashed at how few of these important novelists I’m reading–he’s a Nobel laureate, after all.  And then there’s a moment when I do a Google search and read the Wikipedia article–which books am I feeling bad about not reading?

And then there’s a moment of further self-castigation:  I haven’t even seen the movies of the very important books!

I try to remember the names of other authors whom I haven’t read, and I spend a bit more time in Googling and remembering and trying to convince myself that I’m more well-read than I’m giving myself credit for.  I think of my grad school days and trying to figure out how I would ever catch up with 20th century British Lit, one of the fields I studied intensely.  And now I’m further behind.

Oh, let’s be honest.  I’m not going to catch up–to say I’m behind implies I will even try.  And I won’t.  I wish I could say that I’m not catching up because I’m maintaining my expert status elsewhere, but that’s not true either.

These days, I have a serendipitous approach to my reading life.  I just finished a fabulous book about Athens, Georgia in the 1970’s and 80’s, and how it became so influential in the world of pop and rock music:  Grace Elizabeth Hale’s Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It was not only a deep dive into one town and into bands I loved once (but don’t really listen to these days), but also a meditation on how to be an artist and how to stay true to that calling.

While I don’t want to deny myself the treat of serendipitous finds like that one, perhaps it is time to be more intentional.  I remember back in high school when I was worried I would get to college and be unprepared.  I thought my high school wasn’t requiring enough of the classic, so I took it upon myself to read more.  For every 2 books I read for pleasure, I required myself to read one of the great books.  They tended to be 19th century classics from England and the U.S., white, and male.  That’s how we defined classics in the 1980’s. 

Perhaps it’s time to try some self-improvement via reading again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Being Well-Read in the Twenty-first Century

I think it’s time for me to pick up John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty, again. I’ve read it many times, and it’s always a good comfort. he reminds us of the words by Pascal, “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.” If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, is that this is what saves the soul, this is what keeps the heart from hardening, this is what makes me want to open my eyes up in the morning. From the hope of seeing the light on the wall, to reading a poem, or listening to a piece of music that lifts me — these things keep me breathing well. So for now, I wish you, too, good breathing, and many moments of beauty in each day.

Shawna Lemay, Beautiful Stuff

The river and its hem.
Magnolia trees holding in
their creamy cocoons.
An egret dipping
one leg into
the current.

All around us
only the things
originally belonging
to this world
are allowed
to touch.

Luisa A. Igloria, Haplos

twisted branches
the blackbird retreats
into his song

Julie Mellor, twisted branches

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, you can probably guess what many poets were blogging about. But there were also still books to review, publishing news to share, and other delightful things.


In Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, his sprawling novel of poets, revolutionaries and Pinochet, I remember most vividly the scene of a poet trapped in a stall of the bathroom as riot police entered her university.   Where else would she be?  She is Auxilio Lacouture, poet and auxiliary individual, manic monologuist.  She is bound by the ordinary, which becomes extra-ordinary, in spite of and because she’s a minor actor in the stream of history.  She missed megaphone calls to evacuate because she was reading poetry in the can. Thus she becomes part of the surreality of reality overlaid on the streets and in her own vivid consciousness, as public and private eruptions, of multiple narratives over several days of her own obsessive confinement.

Lacouture recalls: “I lifted my feet like a Renoir ballerina, my underwear dangling down around my skinny ankles and snagging on a pair of shoes…I saw the soldier who was staring entranced into the mirror, the two of us still as statues in the women’s bathroom…I heard the door close…

“I saw the wind sweeping the university as if it was delighting in the last light of day.  And I knew what I had to do.  I knew.  I had to resist.  So I sat on the tiled floor of the women’s bathroom and in the last rays of light I read three more poems by Pedro Garfias and then I closed the book and closed my eyes and said to myself: Auxilio Lacouture, citizen of Uruguay, Latin American, poet and traveler, stand your ground.” 

My daughter and I were burning onions for a French onion soup the day the insurrection took place.  We witnessed the coup by play-by-play accounts, by a torrent of words as we were darkening onions.  We were pouring broth over heaps of caramelized onions stuck to the bottom of the dutch over, scraping up the brown bits when the coup was going down.  We are part of a river and it’s going somewhere and we don’t know whether we’ll be judged for some other bit of goodness that we did, or didn’t do.

Where were you? 

Jill Pearlman, Stuck in the Stalls of History

It’s been a long year, and it’s only January 9th. It’s taken a couple days to process what actually happened on Wednesday enough to write about it coherently–mostly I was taking in memes (thank god for humor, or we’d all be crying 24/7) and articles and collecting information the remainder of this week. On Wednesday, I was mid-way into a post-break catch-up week and humming along with work, my eye on the troubling covid deaths. That morning, I’d had my first test myself as a campus requirement, and despite it being a bit uncomfortable, nothing too traumatizing. It was a good, sunny day in Chicago, and that afternoon, watching the live coverage from DC it seemed alarming, but also sort of silly. I’d suspected there might be violent protests happening, but not that they’d actually get inside and vandalize the Capitol. And if they did, it seemed kind of ridiculous, since they’d surely eventually be forced out and the count would continue (which is pretty much what happened on the surface.) In the past couple days, far more insidious things have been revealed..zip tie toting para-military, violent threats on social media, hanging gallows and the police that moved a barrier aside to allow the rioters to pass right through. The deaths and injuries to other police.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/09/2021

I’m thinking tonight of particular photographs of yesterday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol: the image of the burly white guy carrying a confederate flag through the Capitol rotunda. The image of a blonde white woman and her friend, seated on the dais of the Speaker of the House, taking selfies. A line of Capital Police on the steps, two of them jostling each other and laughing as the mob ravaged the building and milled around below them. A video of the President of the United States and his family in a tent, keeping time to loud pop music, while watching the rally on large screens, like it was a party. And then inciting that mob to unprecedented actions inb the history of the country, before retreating into the White House, behind the barricades.

A friend posted the phrase that this would go down as “one of the whitest moments in American history.” Many of us are well aware what would have happened if the people storming the Capitol had been black.

The Italian newspaper, La Stampa, published its front-page story today with the headline, “Once Upon a Time, there was America.”

I’m afraid that sums up how I’m feeling.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 53. Few Words for this Horror.

After this week, it’s hard to discuss anything but politics on some level: chiefly, that failed coup incited by the supposed Leader of the Free World and put down with considerably less lethal force and speed than last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were; but there’s barely any moral high ground here in England where our disgraceful government has presided over more than 80,000 deaths from Covid (and those are just the official figures) and pushed the NHS to the brink of collapse, and headteachers and so many others to despair. Meanwhile, Stanley ‘Acquiring French citizenship and vaccinated’ Johnson is all right Jack, as is Murdoch. Still plenty of idiots say or imply, ‘They’re doing their best’ – yes, to line their and their donor-friends’ pockets. Of course it’s impossible to take to the streets to protest during the Covid lockdowns. As Robert Lowell observed in 1964, ‘a savage servility / slides by on grease’. The only people who are out protesting here are the scarily gormless anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers, with many of whom I had a seemingly endless Twitter spat back in August.

So it’s been appropriate for me that one of my poems published this week in #36 of Poetry Salzburg Review is (mildly) political: ‘The Ballad of Mike Yarwood’. Yarwood was the first variety act I ever saw in person, when I was five, at the Winter Gardens Theatre in Bournemouth, with Peters and Lee as the music act. At home and at junior school, we all loved Yarwood, and he ‘spawned the nation’s mimicry’ in playgrounds and workplaces alike. But having made a fortune from impersonating politicians and celebrities of different kinds, he became a Tory donor and cheerleader and drank himself off our screens. My poem’s ending sees him stuck in one of those hideous Apartheid communities for the absurdly rich which litter parts of the Home Counties and elsewhere, and which JG Ballard described so chillingly in Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes.

Matthew Paul, Bloody politics

What I can
count on, when

democracy might be dying
at the hands of white men

and women waving
Confederate flags, wearing

Camp Auschwitz shirts,
brandishing zip ties:

the havdalah candle’s
sizzle, plunged

into wine; the scent
of shankbones, simmering;

the song of Torah
where every sentence

culminates, with no
uncertainties;

the winter sun
lingering

just a little longer,
promising better days.

Rachel Barenblat, Count on

“Hah, Ramstad!” a student crowed one day, waving a paper in front of me. It was an assignment written for a different teacher. “Total McWriting and I got an A!”

“Well,” I said, “at least you know what it is. I guess I’m glad you know when and how to use it.”

He grinned.

“And when not to,” I added, a statement more of hope than fact. He shook his head at me and went to his seat.

I knew that he didn’t see himself as the kind of writer I hoped he might become, but I never lost belief that he could. I never lost belief that he should. While in the classroom, I never gave up on my students as writers the way I gave up on myself as a cook. I never lost my belief that they needed to be able to tell their stories from scratch. When I told my students that everyone has the capacity to be a good writer, I believed it. When I told my students that stories–the reading and writing of them–have the power to save lives, I meant that, too. The stories we listen to and tell ourselves have everything to do with why and how the world is what it is. These are things I still believe, to my core, which leaves me, at the end of a week in which those who lack the ability to tell true stories from false have wreaked formerly unimaginable havoc, in a place of wondering.

How did I get to a place where I could stand in my kitchen and tell myself a story in which it didn’t matter if my students couldn’t tell their own or understand enough about others’ to see into and through them? Was I wrong to search for some middle ground; did my acceptance of McWriting for some situations undermine every other message I gave about the value of telling stories true? What skills do we all need to sustain life in situations for which there are no formulas guaranteed to save us? What kind of stories do we need to live and tell to get to a better place?

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

After flinging an arm across the seat next to him to save a tomato plant from toppling over, [Ross] Gay writes [in The Book of Delights] that the motion is “one of my very favorite gestures in the encyclopedia of human gestures” (214). I agree that it belongs on a “best of” human behavior list. And yes, so delightful. In response to potential impact, our instinct is to buffer the one next to us, the other.

… which brings me back to the googly eye on my lawn and another fascinating human gesture: making stories to explain the world. That’s another kind of buffer, isn’t it? Again, I don’t mean anything close to a silver lining. And I don’t mean for our fabrication to imply any kind of lie; instead, by fabrication I mean the act of creating.

The stories we tell ourselves can be raw and true and hard. But the telling is itself a buffer, something — in Gay’s case a daily delight — that fills some of the space between us and the crash. It braces us for impact.

Carolee Bennett, “something deeply good in us”

As a child, I learned that kindness could cure the snakebite of others’ poisonous actions.

That was so many moons and wars ago.

Wars started by humans and wars that got humans thinking maybe our shared gardens would bloom better with wisteria than wounds.

And so goes this battle for decency and democracy, beginning again amidst its many unendings.

Some endure these conflicts by standing firm in their hate while I exchange shadows with strangers to feel how others move through their lives.

Our shared humanity hasn’t disappeared;

it’s simply huddled in a bomb shelter at the intersection of insurrection and serenity.

Rich Ferguson, At the Intersection of Insurrection and Serenity

I’ve been reading much analysis of the events on Wednesday. I haven’t read much that startled me out of complacency, that made me want to think further and more deeply, but this article on the NPR site did.  Sociologist Alex Vitale says we shouldn’t be focused on the police angle but on the larger issue of justice in society.

But he’s not talking about justice the way most of us have been talking about justice.  Most of us want people punished, want people put in jail, want officers fired.  Vitale says, “Well, look, Americans are deeply committed to their retributive impulses. The United States has become a gigantic revenge factory. So obviously, people are falling back on these impulses — imagining justice as a question of punishment. Imagining that accountability is going to be measured in years of incarceration.”

But then he pivots–he doesn’t leave us drowning in our retributive impulses.  He sees that we have a 2 year window to deepen the conversation.  He says that in the past, we’ve been content to turn a variety of problems over to the police:  homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness.  The police aren’t equipped to handle those issues, and as a result, we see the fractured and broken society that we have today.

He also notes that the people in charge along with the people who benefit–white people, to be specific–prize order over justice.  If we commit to justice, we have to tolerate some disorder, some messiness.

I see two issues here, the one of what to do about this specific group of people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol building and the issue of how to craft workable public policy that works for more of us.  In terms of punishing Wednesday’s rampagers, I have a vision of education, not prison.  Let them read the books that were on the smashed bookshelves.  Give them a choice of whether or not they’d like to serve their sentence in prison or in the U.S. Congress, being useful to Senators and Congress people and the Capitol police.  Make them write research essays about the artifacts that they trashed.

The question of public policy is even thornier.

We’ve had decades of public policy crafted by wealthy white men, mostly for the comfort and benefit of wealthy white men.  What would happen if we started to listen to other groups?  Not just black, brown, and indigenous groups, which would certainly be a good start.  But what if we listened to mothers and fathers?  What if we listened to immigrant groups and those seeking shelter from ruinous policies in other countries?  What if we listened to artists?  What if we listened to members of religious groups that aren’t mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to poor people?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Committing to Justice, Not Vengeance

Who put their lips
to the hose and siphoned the gas,
so all we heard when we fired
the engine was a mindless buzzing
like bees? They run up the steps
of any sacred temple, dressed
in stolen furs. They smash
the windows in with their horns.
Whatever they touch turns
into bricks or bats or stones.
They straddle every chair as if
it were a sow or a mare.

Luisa A. Igloria, Defiler, Despoiler, Pillager

When 9/11 happened, I didn’t feel guilty about being here. I was still a citizen, but I felt displaced. My friends still in the States, from California to Kentucky to Michigan all wrote to tell me about how “we” were feeling — assuming I was outside of the “we” affected. When Norwegians consoled me, it was difficult to shake the feeling of being some kind of fraud. I didn’t know how to feel. Which feelings were “legitimate” for me to have, and which I was appropriating. I kept hearing my grandmother calling me a drama queen.

When the children were murdered here on July 22nd, 2011 a lot of my students told me how “we” felt about it — sometimes describing the cultural framework of Utøya, not considering that I’ve lived longer in this country than they’ve been alive. Or that my own children were in that age group that was most intimately affected.

Recent years have been even more difficult. No longer holding legal citizenship, and no longer recognizing the culture I knew, it’s almost like having an out-of-body experience sometimes. Hovering over an old life. Like a character in Sartre’s No Exit. Or like watching loved ones heading for a car wreck, helpless to intercede.

Distance helps you find different perspectives. While different doesn’t mean more correct, but I do think it means more complex. It’s why there are grants for emerging American writers to live abroad a while before returning to write about their home country. I thought that having grown up in a white-trash dysfunctional family, I was savvy to the “real” America. But being here, I’ve learned things about the hidden realities of the culture I thought I knew.

But lately, I think I am having the same kind of epiphanies that so many Americans are: every myth I was taught in school — from the Cherry Tree to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — has been turned on end, toppled like theater scenography. Part of it is just a matter of maturing, I guess — a matter of crossing demographics and cultural boundaries. The fact that social media has made diversity more visible to many of us.

A huge part of it is the BLM movement.

I don’t think I am finished crying about Wednesday’s seizure of the Capitol Building. I don’t think the chapter has closed. The hand-wringing and helplessness seem both familiar and not. This out-of-body experience seems like something many of us are sharing right now.

There’s the scene in the Wizard of Oz: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I feel like the curtain has been drawn back and I still am waiting for whatever is there to step out of the darkness.

Ren Powell, Things I Do Alone in the Car

what became of the childhood innocence
when we all played together
tag hide-and-seek stickball kickball
and then later but still really children fell in love
and those first nervous kisses and fondlings
and going out with your friends
your crew
feeling like the whole world was wide open to you
and how on earth does that degenerate
into some of those same children growing up
into a frothing rage
storming the capitol building
screaming the language of hate
surely we could still be like children
laughing together

James Lee Jobe, screaming the language of hate

It’s a few days later, Sunday. I have talked to my little brother, who actually lived through a coup attempt when he live in Thailand. I tried to tell myself I was safe, I drank liquids and slept at irregular hours. I’ve tried to write some poems about America, but they weren’t any good. I sent out a sample from my pandemic manuscript (yes, I’m probably not the only person who wrote a book of poems during the last year – we certainly had the time on our hands) and sent one of my other manuscripts to a publisher. I tried to take pictures of my birds. January is a cold, wet month typically, but we’ve had colder, rainier weather than usual, resulting in landslides and giant trees coming down around my neighborhood. Talk about pathetic fallacies.

So I’ve been reading poems – old poems, that I loved as a kid. Fragment 68 by H.D., sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay. Does poetry fix anything? No. Does my furious doomscrolling or tweeting at Mike Pence or the GOP congresspeople to impeach or invoke the 25th amendment do anything? Maybe not, either. Being a poet sometimes means being an observer. Being an observer sometimes makes you feel powerless. I’m in bed right now, looking at the rain, feeling tired and anxious.  I know there will be better days ahead. Sending love and hope out to you, my friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week to Make Us Think, Is 2021 Going to Be Worse? Attack on America from Domestic Terrorists, and Poetry as Solace

It’s not going to let up, is it? Does it feel like there’s more news because I’m at home more? Probably not, but it does seem to be getting more momentous as the days go by.

Arguably, it’s always politics, all of the time, but as Matthew Paul rightly points out here, it’s almost impossible to ignore the sheer amount of politics going on. However, I’m aware he mentions me in his post and I don’t want this to be a circlejerk, so I’m going to move on. I don’t think there’s anything that I can add to the weight of discourse around current events beyond relief that there appears to be grown-ups on the way in in the US (for all the faults of Biden and Harris, they are at least stringing sentences together and not calling for mass insurrection) and positive news about the vaccines (for all the uselessness of our own government in organising the rollout).

In an attempt to distract myself, I’m going to focus, for now, on the small coincidences of oranges and a poem.

Mat Riches, A Coincidence of Oranges

You wouldn’t think that a book of essays on disasters would make you feel better, but somehow it did make me feel better. Because it’s less about disasters and more about, as she says, the way we think about them. She says on the end of the world, “I’m not sure the doom will occur like a moment, like an event, like a disaster. Like the impact of a bomb or an asteroid. I wonder if the way the world gets worse will barely outpace the rate at which we get used to it.” 

She also notes that her research into disasters was comforting. “We’re still here, after all.” But goes on to say: “But I can only take so much comfort in the past. This point in history does feel different, like we’re nearing an event horizon. How many times can history repeat itself?” She wrote this before Covid, before these recent events, obviously. But you have to hope that this is some kind of a turning point.

We’re seeing more, the fog is lifting, the mirage is revealed as a mirage, even though most people were calling the iceberg an iceberg all along. A disaster, as it recedes into the past, can be analyzed, dissected, essays can be written about them. Questions, new questions will be formed. How did we get used to this? How inevitable was it?

Maybe it’s naive to just ask, when we’re deep in the thing, how are we to get through to the end of disaster? To the other side? Are we to be musicians playing on a sinking ship? Maybe?

You’ve heard me talk about a strategy I’ve used to get through to this point, which is to do one fun thing every day.

I recently read the inspiring article on Neil Pearte, drummer from Rush, in Rolling Stone Magazine and here’s the quotation I keep coming back to:

“What’s the most excellent thing I can do today?” he used to ask himself.

So maybe that’s a better way to put it. Either way, I don’t think it’s frivolous.

The best ideas, creative ideas, and I think going forward we’re going to need a LOT of those, comes out of play, out of different ways of thinking. If you want to get rid of brain fog, see things in a new way, do something fun, do something excellent. Or, I don’t know, go down to the river and play with ice shards. Do something excellent and then write about it, or sing about it. Because that’s worth something. It’s worth a lot.

Shawna Lemay, Mirage on the Horizon

What an up and down week I’ve had, I’m talking rollercoaster levels.  Terrible news, terrible weather, low energy, low light.  Then, from somewhere, a blast of a good joke, eating something delicious, a dazzling shot of sunshine, something captivating on telly (iPlayer),  poems that speak to me, music that brought me to my feet to dance (after a fashion), making headway with a project, making plans about another project – and then, back to feeling a bit despondent (actually, very despondent).

You’re often like this in January, says Andrew.

Yesterday, we drove five minutes to the Avon and Kennet canal (or is it the Kennet and Avon canal?  I’m never sure) and walked for about an hour, thinking, chatting, stretching our legs, being outdoors, smiling at and being smiled at (mostly) by a few other walkers.  It cheered me up.  Don’t criminalise people for doing this please, anyone.

Josephine Corcoran, Reasons to be or not to be cheerful, or not. Or something.

Ok, so it was a terrible week.

But in other news, not such a bad one.

My friend Katherine sent me her Christmas poem and it left me feeling elated. That I had already read the poem of the year – in early January!

Anthony Wilson, Reasons to be cheerful

they show me the bees
tweeted from the antipodes 
in a blizzard

Jim Young [no title]

My fourth poetry collection, Strangers, will arrive in the world in April 2021. The book will be published by Biblioasis, with (loving and fastidious!) editing by Luke Hathaway and (beautiful and striking!) cover design by Christina Angeli. I can’t wait to get it into readers’ hands.

Strangers is a themed collection drawn from a decade of writing (the earliest in the book date their composition back to 2011), but written in earnest since the birth of my son and the publication of The News in 2016. The poems explore lineages – familial and literary – and all the ways those we hold closest are both a part of us and, in some ways, forever beyond our reach. 

Written during a time when my two half-brothers died, my son was born, and my mother was diagnosed with dementia, it’s also about early middle age: a time when the great loves of our lives begin arriving and departing simultaneously, with little time to fully attend to them all. Strangers is one small attempt at such attendance. 

Rob Taylor, “Strangers” is on its way in 2021!

The shape
the poem
takes,

the bones
of what
it means

but does
not say.

Tom Montag, THE SHAPE

My recent reading has also delighted me with word meanings. I was reminded in Chess Story that a dilettante, that dabbler so often despised for surface involvement, is simply someone who delights in, say, the arts, as an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. Zweig speaks of “a true dilettante in the best sense of the word, one who plays for the pure delight–that is, the diletto–of playing.” I also looked up “antimacassar” (I think in The Queen’s Gambit?), a word I always get from context, and delighted in the discovery that this upholstery protector = anti + Macassar, a brand of hair oil. Perfect!

Kathleen Kirk, Chess Story

And by reading, I mean, reading like a practitioner. That is, when we meet a poem that affects us, we need to take it apart and figure out how it did its magic. And we need to do this over and over again with all kinds of poems. And we need to try the tactics, retry, try something else.

And I believe — I have to believe — by doing this over the course of who the hell knows how long, we’ll develop some instincts, some skills, and some confidence. And when the poem isn’t living up to itself, something in us will feel uncomfortable, our skin will not fit us quite right, our ears will flick forward and back at some sound that’s not quite right, some voice inside us will whisper, “Sorry, you just don’t have it yet.”

And we’ll sigh and unscrew the carefully packed poem, pull all the guts out, and start all over again, adding this, taking away that, turning the pieces around, and putting it together again, then sitting with it to let those hard-won instincts have their say, their little jabs and hmms.

Marilyn McCabe, Barrelin’ down the boulevard; or, One Last Thing About Revision (This Week, Anyway)

Darklings, I have missed you and now I am finding my way back to written language to writing to poetry after my return to reading in such great gulping swallows and healing myself of the hunger that that particular loss opened in me. Here is my hand seeking in a dark room if you wish to take it. I miss you all but have followed your voices now bringing mine back in. Hello. Hello from the island. Hello.

Rebecca Loudon, Sending out tendrils through the stars

The podcast is back for 2021! In yesterday’s episode Peter interviewed Mario Petrucci, and then we had a bit of banter about prose poems, New Year’s resolutions and whatnot. We have some very interesting interviews coming up over the next few weeks, including Mary Jean Chan, Inua Ellams, and a number of other lovely poets and pundits to be confirmed ….why not have a listen and sign up?

Robin Houghton, Readings this coming week, Planet Poetry & Uni stuff

I seldom review prose on Rogue Strands, but I’m making an exception today for Liz Lefroy’s book, I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) (Mark Time Books, 2020), simply because it contains far more poetry than the vast majority of collections that are brought out by major publishers.

I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) takes Lefroy’s long-running blog as a point of departure and shapes it into 52 pieces, most about a page long, one for every week of the year. It offers snippets of a life, a family, a job, sometimes portrayed head-on, sometimes aslant, but always accompanied by a feeling that (like the best radio presenters) Lefroy is engaged in a one-to-one chat with the person who’s reading her book.

This effect is achieved via the presence of a fluidity and a supple cadence in each sentence, Lefroy’s excellent poetic ear underpinning every entry to such an extent that I’m tempted to label them implicit prose poems. What’s more, the easy-growing language then lends additional impact to her invocation of arresting images at crucial points, which is another extremely effective poetic technique.

Matthew Stewart, Prose that’s packed with poetry, Liz Lefroy’s I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence)

One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work. […]

In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.

José Angel Araguz, poetry feature: Lisa Summe

A poem that returns the reader to the individual is ‘Ode to a Pot Noodle’. Owing something to Neruda’s Odas elementales (1954), the narrator is taking a short break from “fast-paced” hospital duties – a Pot Noodle is all there is time for. In the daze of night and fatigue, images arise (of course) of her distant home, her grandfather, of Philippine food and conversations that, in the time it takes to boil a kettle, vanish as quickly. She addresses those distant people: “this should have been an ode to you. / Forgive me, forgive me”. But the Ode has already been written in the course of Antiemetic for Homesickness. The collection is a testament to the presence of the absent, the persistence of memory, the heroism and suffering of those who we hold at arms’ length, invisible but without whom our modern society – our NHS – would fail to function. In the time of Covid – and after it too – Romalyn Ante’s book is reminding us of debts and inequalities too long unacknowledged.

Martyn Crucefix, Tagay! on Romalyn Ante’s ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I do think writers have a responsibility to observe and record culture. I have great admiration for poets who take up current events in their work. I don’t mean that poems need to be explicitly political (though we could argue what that word means), but that they are making space for ambiguity and complexity of human experience on the page. I have edited a nature journal (www.thefourthriver.com) for the last seven years, and we are always discussing how to refresh notions of what a “nature poem” can or should be. Our nature is not the nature of Wordsworth or Thoreau or even Marianne Moore and our art needs to reflect that.
[…]

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

“Learn the lessons of boredom.” –my husband, Paul, to our kids.
[…]

12 – What fragrance reminds you of home?

Uh, vaguely damp dog?
[…]

17 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Luck.

18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? 

I recently finished Carolyn Forche’s memoir What You Have Heard is True, which tells the full story of her time as a young poet in El Salvador. It was riveting. With my teenage son, I recently watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time. It was also riveting, for many of the same reasons the Forche book was. Human barbarism and human beauty & resilience inextricably twined.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sheila Squillante

To this, I’d like to add a haiku by another Snapshot Press author, Ron C. Moss. A poet friend of mine, Sue Riley (winner of the 2019 Ginko Prize) leant me The Bone Carver by Moss and I’ve loved it from start to finish. The ‘reflections’ poem I’m going to quote is this one:

highland lake
burnt button grass
on both sides of the moon

Firstly, I’m impressed that this ‘reflections’ poem doesn’t actually mention the word ‘reflection’. We see the image of the ‘highland lake’ as a mirror in which the moon appears without the writer having to hammer it home. The idea that we can see ‘both sides of the moon’ somehow suggests, to me at least, that not only can we imagine the reverse, the dark side if you like, but we also see a half moon rising above the water, with the other half reflected below. If so, this might also indicate the time of day – twilight.

The very specific type of grass, ‘button grass’ locates the poem in the southern hemisphere (Moss is a Tasmanian writer and artist, plus Wikipedia will tell you that button grass forms part of a unique habitat in Tasmania). The alliterative use of ‘burnt’ is precise in its evocation of place too (Wikipedia says ‘buttongrass is relatively flammable and the ecological community is adapted to regular burning’). So, within three lines the poet has managed to convey both the visual image of the moon on/ or reflected in, the lake, draw a comparison with the button grass’s spherical flowerer heads and the rising moon, and also imply a contrast between the heat of the bushfire with the quenching waters of the lake. In the author information, it says that Moss serves as a volunteer firefighter, but it’s not necessary to know this – the poem subtly conveys his knowledge and experience without needing to state it.

So, I want to say thank you to all those mentioned in this post. You created a web of connections that led to me focus on this poem and write down my thoughts on this chilly Sunday afternoon. Outside, the paths are slippery with wet ice and the dog is content to lie on his back near the radiator rather than go trekking across the fields. Nevertheless, I shall be going out shortly, well wrapped up, to experience the thaw, such as it is, and hopefully to take inspiration from it for a ‘reflections’ poem of my own.

Julie Mellor, Reflections …

My video floodtide has been selected to be shown at the Gallery for Sustainable Art in Berlin as part of their 1.5 degrees international exhibition, running from 15 January – 12 March 2021. The exhibition is about whether or not we reach our climate goal and includes object, installation, photo, painting, video, and readings.

floodtide imagines a city in the near future when sea levels have risen significantly. What does it look like? How will we cope?

The composition process making the video was very complex. Nearly every scene has been composited from multiple sources requiring more than 500 individual sequences from original footage filmed around Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Inner Suburban Melbourne, the Western Highway, and Far North Queensland. Each scene required matching of lighting intensity, colour and direction, as well as wind direction (in clouds, water, trees, etc), atmospheric haze, perspective, scale and more. In most scenes containing water, footage of the sea has been added to the landscape or cityscape. Similarly, nearly every sky and cloud bank has been composited from mixed sources. Almost none of the building skylines is from a single location.

These scenes might be imaginary, but the reality may not be far off…

Ian Gibbins, floodtide exhibited in Berlin

I gave a reading yesterday in the Poetrio series at Malaprops Bookstore, run generously and flawlessly by poet Mildred Barya and Malaprops Director of Author Events, Stephanie Jones-Byrne. I forgot to take a screenshot or watch the clock because my co-readers Kathy Goodkin and Eric Tran were so amazing, but the recording is here, and you have the option of supporting a great indie bookstore by ordering any of the books (or others) here. (Speaking about clocks, I should say we each kept to our time of 12 minutes-ish, which is basically a holy miracle of restraint where poets are concerned.) Mildred introduces writers not by listing their accomplishments but by reflecting on their poems, setting a mood that was both thoughtful and celebratory. In this case, she noted how many ghosts populate all of our new books. Kathy spoke to that in a wonderful way by reading a poem about the period costumes ghosts are described as wearing, speculating that in twenty years we might be haunted by ghosts in tee-shirts and skinny jeans. Eric began by talking about building an altar to ancestors, noting that everyone wants to escape the ghosts of 2020 but maybe, instead, we could consider how to honor them. It’s a moving idea.

I was also impressed by the emotional range of Kathy’s and Eric’s poems–grief, hilarity, anger, love–and how they talked about that in the Q&A. Eric’s advice for infusing a serious poem with humor is to take your first draft and make it gayer. Add glitter.

Lesley Wheeler, Winterred

Twelve of the thirteen members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met for two hours in the Land of Zoom on 2nd January. Thanks to Thalia for the use of her account.

It’s taken me a week to lick my notes into shape and collect everyone’s photos.

There was a new energy in the air. In our separation we are meeting one another at a deeper level. Trees have been planted at the Dove. Some of us are taking online courses in a variety of different art-forms. Spaces are being cleared. We have rediscovered old diaries and commonplace books. We have been connecting, via stories and photos, with our foremothers. We spoke of the family stories behind many of our Christmas decorations. We are wondering how to pass our knowledge on to the next generations as a gift, not a burden.

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2021

But we are spirits of another sort, which is to say
That kindness walks among us, and grief,
And uncertainty about how to greet this guest.
Do we offer him a seat, hang his black
And faded hood up on the hat rack, stand his scythe
With the umbrellas?

Dale Favier, A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 49

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: holding space, the private self, light and darkness, dog sutras, writing poetry for children, and much more.


I’d like to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of Miguel Algarín, Puerto Rican poet, writer, and co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café who died earlier this week. Algarín was the embodiment of being a poetic presence on and off the page. His poetry set precedents by holding space for political struggles and literary insights that represented the various communities he worked and taught in. His work through the Nuyorican Poets Café as well as in his teaching showed him as a model for holding space for poets from all backgrounds.

The more I teach, the more I feel that the classroom is a space of confluence, a space where the experiences of my students and those of my own all meet, eddy, and converge, a presence. A stage can be a classroom as can the page. Across these three spaces, Algarín touched a great number of lives, influencing directly through community-minded efforts as well as through a singular understanding of languages.

The poet Rich Villar in a recent set of tweets shared the following sentiments:

I think it’s good to celebrate the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It’s good to celebrate and mourn Miguel Algarín. It’s also good and important to celebrate Miguel’s IDEA of the cafe, the “poetics” of community, which is genius particularly because anyone can replicate it.

So many spaces and places defined what became known as the Nuyorican movement. None of it required official sanction or 501c3 status. It required two things: need, and audience. Even the old squat on 3rd Street wasn’t necessary at first. Any old space would do.

Villar goes on to share the example of Elisabet Velasquez who, among other things, is conducting a series of stories on Instagram highlighting poets who answer questions asked by her followers. I agree with Villar when he compares Velasquez’s use of social media to hold space in the spirit of Algarín. That when one looks outside the capitalist-driven and prejudice-strained world of literary publishing and awards, one sees that giving and honoring each other is easy. That answering a question on social media or mentoring someone through email correspondence is easy, is community. One of the great joys of running this blog is being able to connect with y’all and create community.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Miguel Algarín

Poetry blogs have taken on special significance in 2020. As mentioned in my previous post on Rogue Strands, time might well have speeded up this year in many respects, but many people have also had that very same time weighing on their hands as a consequence of isolation, both in mental and physical terms.

In other words, poetry blogs have provided their readers with longer reads than social media posts, all alongside more substantial content. They offer us the chance to remember we’re not alone in the midst of this pandemic, together with the reassurance that there are other people whose experiences mirror ours.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2020

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

The main questions I’ve been exploring in for the last few years (especially in Death Industrial Complex and MONARCH) all deal with identity formation in the context of a consumer culture. How does the messaging we’re exposed to dictate or even generate our desires? How do we know for certain we want what we want and we are who we are when we’re persuaded and manipulated so insistently to buy X, look like Y, aspire to Z. Are there any forces that exist outside consumerism? I’d like to think that magic, spirituality, and the occult all still retain pockets of freedom but it’s also apparent that large portions of even that which traditionally exists only on the interior, and therefore comprised our “true self” or “identity” no longer does.

The current question, for me, is about who we are in private. Do we have a private self any more? Do some of us have more of it than others? Do we value our interior lives less than ever before? Why? Shoshanna Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2018) thinks about this within the context of social media and surveillance policies and all the quick click “opting in” we do. She says, “When the fact is if you have nothing to hide, then you are nothing. Because everything that you are, the place inside you, your inner resources from which you draw your sense of identity, your sense of voice, your sense of autonomy and moral judgment, your ability to think critically, to resist, even to revolt—these are the capabilities that can only be grown within. Jean Paul Sartre calls it the will to will. And that will to will grows from within and you should hide it. And you should cherish it. And it should be private. And it should be yours.”

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Candice Wuehle

I’ve lost everybody
everything is a problem
there’s writing everywhere

a museum of smells
making scents/making sense
of light and water

I’m a butterfly
walking through smells
in the Blue City

plant a hawthorn circle
in your heart
maybe the singing bird

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2020

Enraged alarm clocks and five-alarm insomnia.

Sweet morning kisses and to-do lists gone stale.

Coffee brewing, babies burbling.

The final vespers of a pale moon and ghost-souled airwaves of pain playing across ravaged cityscapes.

Oraclegush of fortune’s fire hydrant and the Tiffany-slippered footfalls of first light.

Cars and bicycles stripped and stolen, birds singing like they got a degree from the University of Bliss.

Mildewed wash hanging out to dry on a cat’s ninth life.

The exquisite corpse of dreams remembered growing more vibrant by the moment—

all the lights and darks on the keys of early morning’s piano.

Rich Ferguson, Play Morning for Me

Advent is upon us, and with the season, the problematic language that talks about light overcoming darkness.  Those of us who grew up with this language might not understand why it’s problematic.  Those of us who have worked with language know that language matters, and this language has an impact on how we treat people with darker skin colors.  Even those of us who have worked with language can be in a bit of denial.  

We might be in denial about the impact of theological language on modern race relations, but language shapes us, and the theological language of light and darkness is hard to escape during the holiday season, even if we swear we’re secular creatures […]

Those of us who use Advent wreaths to help us be more mindful during the season before Christmas may wonder how to avoid these pitfalls. One of my Create in Me pastor friends, Naomi Sease Carriker, has created a wonderful idea. It’s a reverse Advent wreath, where all the candles are lit week 1, and each week, one fewer candle stays lit from the week before.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Advent and the Issue of Light and Dark

It’s your birthday,
my darling, you don’t know that
I wrote you a poem.

I will whisper it
in your sleep, in languages
for newborns and gods.

Many years have passed
and we’re becoming now less,
less of everything,

but there’s more to learn.

Magda Kapa, November 2020

dog sutra 3

the two of us
you running
quicksilver
into your future
me as slow
as one step forward
and then the next

dog sutra 4

between the sloe
and the oyster
a tree singing

Dick Jones, DOG SUTRAS

Some people lead such quietly unassuming and self-contained lives that there can sometimes be quite a delay between their death and the knowledge of their death filtering out into the wider world. The poet, translator and independent researcher in the field of Scottish literature John Manson is a prime example of this. His is brilliantly profiled in this short film by John Hudson. He died in August this year, but it was only yesterday that I found out about his passing, and then only by happenstance.

This, however, seems fitting – I met John only once and again this was by chance. In 2012 I was a writer-in-residence for a month at Brownsbank Cottage in Biggar, the last home of Christopher Murray Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) and his wife Valda. For anyone interested in MacDiarmid’s life and work one of the key scholars is John Manson, from his vital work in unearthing MacDiarmid’s WW2 poems to John’s huge academic magnum-opus Dear Grieve: Letters to Hugh MacDiarmid (Kennedy and Boyd, 2011).

One day I was in Edinburgh getting my messages in to take back to the cottage on the little bus to Biggar. At some point on Lothian Road, a face familiar from a photograph got onboard. I was pretty sure it was John Manson, and he was wearing the trademark black suit with tie. After a few minutes I moved to the seat behind him and introduced myself. Luckily it was John, and he was pleased to meet me – we’d corresponded when I was preparing to apply to do a PhD back in 2010 and one of the first expensive books I bought with my Carnegie scholarship money was a copy of Dear Grieve (now much thumbed).

I explained that I thought it was very apt that we’d meet on a bus heading for Biggar, after all so much of John’s intellectual energies had been focussed on a sympathetic rehabilitation and revelation of MacDiarmid’s vast body of work. John himself was just coming back from St Andrews where he had spent the afternoon with the poet Lillias Scott Forbes (then in a care-home and in her 90s – she died aged 94 in 2014). It struck me then as a magnanimous move – to spend all day in transit to pay someone a visit (he lived in Kirkpatrick-Durham), but John was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, not to mention patient with Scot-lit neophytes like myself.

Richie McCaffery, John Manson (1932-2020)

I know your work from your two chapbooks of poems for adults, Love Bites (Dancing Girl Press, USA, 2019) and Blueprints for a Minefield (Fair Acre Press, 2016). Can you tell us something about your decision to write for children?

 I’ve loved children’s books for as long as I can remember. The best ones have a magical quality that I’ve never grown out of. I’m often found loitering in the kids’ section of bookshops pouring over poetry and picture books, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d get a hankering to try to write some. Once I started I couldn’t stop, I have several more book projects on the go already!

Who is your imagined reader for Saturdays at the Imaginarium? Do you have an age of reader in mind? Who do you think will enjoy reading it?

I don’t tend to define readership by age. I guess I write what I write and then once a book goes out into the world, it sort of has a life of its own and whoever connects with it, connects with it. I’ve always loved children’s books that are multi-layered, the ones you keep coming back to at various times in your life and each time you do, you grasp something different in them; I’d like to think (hope!) my writing offers that to some extent. I get such a buzz when I hear about kids enjoying it, and when schools and libraries post online that they’re using it in teaching and creative events. I’ve been getting some lovely feedback and it makes me grin widely!

 […]

What advice do you have for poets writing for children?

Go for it! And never be tempted ‘talk down’ to children, kids are pin-sharp and capable of far more complex thinking and nuanced emotion than many adults imagine. Read lots of contemporary adult poetry. Hone your poetry skills with the same rigour you’d apply when writing for adults.

Who are some of your favourite poets for children?

 I have so many favourite children’s poets. It’s tricky to name just a couple as I’d hate to accidentally leave any friends out! I can safely name a few late favourites though: Shel Silverstein, Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Mervyn Peake. Also, it took me a while to discover that Carol Ann Duffy writes for children; her poems sparkle with intelligence, humour and affection. And they absolutely don’t talk down to anyone.

Josephine Corcoran, Interview with Children’s Poet Shauna Darling Robertson

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Roy G. Guzmán about their new book Catrachos (Graywolf Press).

Guzmán’s Catrachos is a stunning debut collection of poetry that immerses the reader in rich, vibrant language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this powerful collection blends pop culture, humor, with Guzmán’s cultural experience to explore life, death, and borders both real and imaginary.

“This isn’t supposed to be a history book, and yet it is,” says Guzmán in discussing Catrachos, explaining that the book is not supposed to be anthropology, sociology, or a testimonial either, and yet it is. “Those are the contradictions, especially when you’re a marginalized writer, your words are always operating on so many different frequencies at once.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán

This important, painful, excellent, necessary essay came around again in a huge group of women writers I’m part of, and I found myself recalling that at the time it was published and I first shared it, it was probably right about the first time I (carefully, rationally, gently, but seriously because the abusive behaviors were starting to escalate) noted that my liberal, well-educated, etc. partner’s current tactics were actually point for point identical to Trump’s and of course he didn’t want to be that person, that would be horrifying, so could we reframe how we were discussing… – and he nearly flipped the table before shoving me and my still pretty freshly reconstructed spine out of his way and storming out. I was punished for weeks for making such an “unfair” and odious comparison, even though the words he’d used were literally straight off Trump’s teleprompter, verbatim, used to justify actual harm of me, and to blame-shift that harm onto me.

And I reflect, this morning, on how little a difference there is between that period’s “tired of this whole subject because I’m having to actively appease this kind of abuse every day in my own ostensible home even with a man with whom it should have been, by all available evidence, impossible” and the present’s “tired of this whole subject because I’m so aware there is no self-reflection possible on the parts of the men abusing power and 90% of the people I know will simply pathologize me rather than hear something about our structural situation and/or themselves and decide to change it” and “tired of this whole subject because of how like most of the other hardworking/brilliant/dedicated/fierce women I know my own position in the literary and academic world has been shaped and severely limited by standing in any way against this kind of abuse, which is endemic in our field as well as outside of it” and “tired of this whole subject because frankly, the older I get the more aware I am that this stuff is the default position of both most our structures and most individual men, the position to which they will revert when pressed (‘one calling-out away from the red pill’/onset of MRA rabies, as Rhodes writes in her essay), and the ones who spout ‘feminism’ are generally the worst of the lot because they have prioritized both access to women and a self-image as a ‘good guy’ that inures them to self-examination” — and other forms of tired, which amount to a kind of psychic shrug at this point, a deep, repetitive, and un-affordable shrug and wow my traps are tight from all this shrugging: it was 1997 that I started studying the public health epidemiology of violence against women and really wrapping my head around the institutions (family, churches, media, schools, judicial systems, etc.) that create the structural supports for it, and really understanding that in every individual, personal relationship there are both exceptions and not, and so on.

JJS, Speaking of praxes: essays we’re tired of writing

1. It’s gusty and cold; my son, home from college, is doing virtual math classes in plaid pajamas at the dining room table; and I suspect I’m not going anywhere for a long time now, beyond sepia-toned trails through the woods. Reading time. I just finished the new poetry collection by Heid E. Erdrich, Little Big Bully–she’s “visiting” virtually this winter as a writer in residence and a group of faculty are having a book-club-style discussion of her book, which won last year’s National Poetry Series. It’s a powerful study of colonialism, sexual assault, racism, contemporary U.S. politics, and how to live against and through it with love for people and the land. Heid is an Ojibwe poet enrolled at Turtle Mountain and she lives in Minnesota, so it’s a wintry book. Strongly recommended.

2. The apparition of poets’ faces on a Zoom/ petals in a wet dark month: in a weird parallel to Heid’s visit, I’m going to be the virtual Pearl S. Buck Poet in Residence at Randolph College this February! (When I proposed our writer in residence series, I actually modeled it partly on what Randolph was already doing. Here’s something on what Fran Wilde did last semester–she sounds wonderful.) This means a reading, class visits, and teaching a 1-credit master class in four sessions to a small group of advanced undergrads. Apparently some of these poets are also into sf, so I’m developing a syllabus called “Haunted and Weird.” I was offered the honor out of the blue last month, a saving spar in the usual late-fall surge of rejections.

Lesley Wheeler, December cadralor

Like a fledgling,
you’d stumble-fly
day and night

over the blind
and ticking fields,
intent on that tendril

of scent calling from beyond.
Most of the time, you are fickle;
perhaps, others think, even

unfaithful. But if you believe
the name carried on the breeze
addresses you and no other,

you will follow the snow-
dusted tracks, cross
bridges of fog.

Luisa A. Igloria, How to answer what you can’t refuse

What I’m Looking For (Penguin, 2019) is a ‘selected’ by US poet Maureen McLane gathered from five collections 2005 – 2017. I first came across her work in a York Uni seminar, and enjoyed the sample poems enough to buy the book. Actually just a poem entitled ‘OK Fern’ is enough to make we want to buy the book. The power of titles!

Jackie Wills is a Brighton-based poet I’ve known for some time, and I’ve been to her creative writing workshops. I loved her collection Woman’s Head as Jug and her newest book is A Friable Earth (Arc, 2019) – by the way, Arc have a sale on at the moment so now’s a good time to browse their excellent list.

For some reason recently I picked up the Complete Poems of R F Langley (Carcanet, 2015) (which had been on my bookshelf for a while, but I’d not dipped into it) and found a trove of poetry I really connected with. I think I may have thought he was going to be hard work of the J H Prynne variety but that’s not the case at all.

My Telltale pal and co-host of Planet Poetry Peter Kenny recommended I read Poor (Penguin, 2020) by Caleb Femi, which arrived on my mat yesterday, and I couldn’t resist a little flick through (there are photos!) The blurbs are mighty impressive, the book is hot off the press (published last month) and I can’t wait to read it.

And in case that’s not enough, I also couldn’t resist Inua Ellams The Actual (Penned in the Margins, 2020) I heard Inua read at The Troubadour in London a couple of years ago I think, and I’ve also enjoyed reading some of the poems from The Actual in The Poetry Review and elsewhere this year.  It’s got a brilliantly witty cover with spot gold foil detail. And you can always judge a book by its cover as we know :)

So, swimming in lovely poetry. I’m also swimming in the pool again after the enforced month off and that feels fantastic too.

Robin Houghton, Swimming again… in poetry

I am pulling Annie Dillard off the shelf again. I’m looking for writers who are asking questions instead of offering conclusions. I want to see the workings of other people’s minds at the point of their mushiness, their unbaked, reptile-fetal promise exposed.

I want to see moments of negative capability. More poetry please.

And I’m open to suggestions.

*

I saw a tweet this morning by a person looking for “more intellect, less wisdom” in their poetry. I’m curious what they mean by that, but seriously doubt that a fruitful conversation can be had about the subtleties of those words in soundbites and “threads”.

Just thinking about attempting it in that form makes me anxious. I want a cup of coffee, a deep chair and a long, well-formulated exploration of ideas.

I want to fall in love with the world again.

Ren Powell, A Desire to Slow Down and Fall in Love

Since most of us can’t do the usual celebratory things right now due to covid, I made up a photo project this week to see the beauty in the everyday. To the left is a photo of a Greek Strawberry Tree that we saw in a parking lot. Now I want one to plant myself. So, having a week of smaller disasters and the continuing sadness of losing my grandmother to covid, I wanted to find the grace, the things to be thankful for, in a time that feels totally barren, usually. We did get several days of sunshine (even if the sun goes down on my street at 3:30 PM – it matters, in Seattle, how far up you are in how much light you get in a day) which felt like a nice respite. Several mornings I went out on my back porch and just stood in the freezing cold (36 yesterday morning) just to get a few moments of sunshine. It is supposed to help your mood. Here are a few more everyday things I thought were beautiful: a robin, back-to-back woodpeckers, apples at the Tonnemaker farm stand in Woodinville, Mt Baker at sunset.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Rejections and Small Disasters, A Pushcart Nom, and Looking for the Beauty of the Everyday in December

Thank you to everyone who not only tolerated but embraced my Gloom Train post of last week. I’m still riding the rails, but I’m managing to continue on anyway. I’m still going to work and brushing my teeth regularly and slogging along with the infernal home workouts. I even managed to do a 5:00 a.m. session last week. 5:00 a.m. people. The sense of virtuousness that clung to me like sweet cologne for most of the day made it almost worth it. Almost. I don’t think I’ll be doing those very often. 5:00 a.m. is not “my” time and by 8:00 p.m. that night, I was practically comatose. But I would like it to be added to the official record, that I–notoriously Not A Morning Person–did a complete, one-hour 5:00 a.m. strength training workout. On a weekday. Please mail my halo to my home address.

Kristen McHenry, Ridin’ the Rails, Cyberpunk Master, Bikini Savages

Yesterday I had plans, a to-do list, et cetera. Nope. And also, yes. I did change the sheets. I did get 75 letters to my precinct printed out, stamped, signed, and addressed! It was a letter thanking my precinct neighbors for voting, reminding them that we have an election April 6, 2021, wishing them Happy Holidays, and reporting that we were the best precinct!–with 87.26% voter turnout! Wow, right?! I had planned to send the letter in time to say Happy Thanksgiving, but the individual precinct results weren’t posted yet, so I waited. I had planned to walk into town in the sunshine yesterday to mail these letters at the post office, but the day got away from me, and dark was falling as I signed the last of the letters in red and green, drawing holly exclamation points. 

Before that, I had planned to meet a friend for a hike in the woods. But first I had to check my email… 

Yesterday’s email contained a poem acceptance. So first I attended to the contractual details there. Then I updated all the files (physical and digital) related to that, because, these days, if I don’t do it in the moment I might not do it. The poem was part of a 4-poem submission, and I wondered where the other 3 might go next. Again, I have to do this in the moment, or the moment gets away. For example, I had been thinking of a particular place to send these poems if they came back, but that deadline had just passed 6 days before. I looked at another journal I’ve wanted to send to–and, yay, they look at only 3 poems at a time. Perfect! But was it perfect? Was this the right place to send these 3 poems? Now I’m following two roads that are diverging in the woods I was supposed to be hiking–one road has poems I might send, and the other has places I might send them to. While I’m on the one road, I keep going down little unfamiliar side paths that turn out to be poems I wrote in April, or, when did I write that? Finally, I give up and fold the sheets fresh and warm from the dryer.

Kathleen Kirk, The Day Got Away

I know we have several weeks of autumn left on the calendar, but winter arrived here this week. Wild winds tore the last leaves from the trees and sharp air bit our cheeks (when we stepped outside, which we did as little as possible).

I’ve largely made my peace with winter, with this winter, particularly, and what it promises to be. I don’t mind the dark. There’s something about it I crave, actually–the way it reveals so much by stripping life down to its essentials: heat, food, drink, touch, sleep. […]

Other than cleaning the floor and grocery shopping, I didn’t do any of the productive things on my list. I only did being things. I did not sew or decorate or clean or bake. After dinner I just sat on the sofa for a bit, listening to music and appreciating the warmth and soft lights of the living room. Just being felt strange, as unusual things do, but also good.

It was a very winterish kind of day, and it restored me. It broke my usual migraine pattern; I woke up Friday with no sign of illness and had a productive day. I moved slowly and steadily through it. No spinning, pumping grind. Did I accomplish everything I “needed” to? No. Would I have if I’d pushed in the usual way–gutting through both Thursday and Friday, overdosing on meds and feeling sick and wrecking myself for the next two days? No. So what, really, was lost? Nothing of value, I think. What I gained was my health and my weekend.

In Wintering, [Katherine] May reminds me that humans sleep more in the winter, and that in earlier times, when artificial light (among other things) didn’t shape our days in the ways it does now, we commonly experienced periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night–a time for drinking water, peeing, contemplating, wakeful dreaming, lovemaking, quiet talking–before returning to more sleep.

I’m wondering now how life might be if we viewed the winter season as a metaphor for sleep, and our winter days as those periods of middle-of-the-night waking. How might we spend them, then, these hours of scant light, if we could view them this way?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Winter

How we wanted
to be so cold

only hot cocoa
could save us.

We made caves
in the snow

and waited
and waited,

until the blue
light failed us,

until darkness
pulled us home.

Tom Montag, CHILDHOOD IN IOWA

It was more than forty years ago. So cold.
The old rotten shed was fully engulfed in flame;
I had pulled off some old boards for a small fire
To keep from freezing. Sparks
From a stout north wind did the rest,
And me just standing there in the snow
As the sirens got louder and closer.

James Lee Jobe, right there in the imperfection is perfect reality

I first saw this poem in the days before I left Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for mental health reasons. I loved the slow movement of its grief in declarative sentences flowing across naturally paced lines.

I look back at that time: I had my own demons to wrestle with. I clocked it as a ‘poem for later’. Well, now ‘later’ has arrived, and I am in the thick of it, ‘immersed in the solitude of the moment’ and ‘pierce[d] … with nostalgia’ for a time that cannot be brought back.

I will her back, but she does not come. I see her most clearly when I do no willing at all. And there she is. The leaves collect on the lawn. The kettle boils. The hour-before-people-dark with the dog, just a few ‘twinkling stars’, as in her nursery rhymes.

Anthony Wilson, The Sky Over My Mother’s House

At the beginning of the pandemic I started a relatively short-lived project wherein I stood on a chair in my kitchen and photographed what was on my kitchen table each morning, some flowers, my breakfast, maybe a book. The light was spring light, and it was effervescent. We knew and we didn’t know what might follow. The light was new and bright and hopeful even if filled with dread and panic. But it was a new dread and panic then.

This project grounded me, and helped me anchor my days, when everything was unmoored, the library was closed, and we were hard core self-isolating.

These days what grounds me is attending to the sunrise and sunset. Mainly, I’m photographing the sunrise from my back porch, but aspire to be somewhere to shoot the sunset. This rarely happens, but still, I observe it. If I’m home I can see it through the trees, peeking through various suburban houses. If I’m at work, there is usually a pretty spectacular view, even if I’m not able to photograph it. […]

I’ve blogged before about “the great work of sunrise” by Thomas Merton and it’s something I think about a lot. There’s also a line by Charles Wright about how we can count on the fact that the sun rise and the sun sets. “Most everything else is up for grabs.”

Shawna Lemay, Sunrise and Sunset

I am here present as we said in elementary school I am here but I am reading reading returned to me like a lightning bolt to the brain the day the power went out all over the island and I was alone in the pitch black dark call me if the power goes out my son told me so I called him and said the power is out are you going to come here now with coffees and oats and ropes and batteries or what but nope so I crawled under my covers and started reading Atwood’s The Testaments with a flashlight I read straight through the night then I read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials all three books and was into the second book before I realized it was a YA novel and I don’t care it was magic then Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower but only halfway through because it was too grim and scary then I read Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore which stunned me now I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend I will never take reading for granted not ever again I know it can go out like a flame

I’m back where I was as a young woman when I left the commune inside of words and reluctant to turn on the television or look at a screen reluctant to surround myself in noise

I brought a tree into the house today from a Christmas tree farm ripe and green and pitchy I wrestled it into the stand and tightened the bolts with pliers I have done new things recently I replaced both the air filters on my car under the hood and on the passenger side so I had to figure out how to open the glove box by pressing in on the sides then sliding the connector tube up which involved me getting on my knees on wet leaves but I decided I didn’t want to pay $120 when I had YouTube to guide me like Jesus unfortunately there is no YouTube to tell you how to get a dead wood rat out from under your house but eventually the smell got to me and once again I knelt on the forest floor this time armed with my shop vac heavy gloves a long stick and a pair of barbecue tongs and managed to wrestle it out then fling the poor thing into its forestry grave

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

If this were any normal year, I’d be thinking about perfect gifts for family & friends.  I’d be spending a lot of time watching bad holiday romance movies and eating cookie dough before it makes it to the oven, and I am doing these things, but they are less like things I enjoy, but more like shreds of normalcy I am clinging to with every fibre of my brain and it’s exhausting.  Even on the days I don’t have to leave the house it’s harder to get out of bed.  Early in the pandemic there was an infographic that designated a line between “thriving” and “surviving” and we are all feeling it right now. 

So I light my little tree and put a wreath on my door and make chicken soup and try to conduct myself as if the world is not falling apart in every emergency room and hospital and in so many homes. I think of our softness in terms of living through major historical events.  During the zine workshop I wanted to tell the students to pay attention and to document everything they can, because unlike most of the time I have been alive as a Gen X-er, “history” was something that happened significantly before I was born.  But really maybe it was always happening and there are only certain really bad points where the future textbooks are watching and waiting. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/05/2020

the splinter under my nail
clawing at this howling wind
paged as dry as fire ash
take your foot off my pen your wait
off my outlook on the rain’s blear
the unscalable north face of your verse
my ineptitude at finding just one handhold
on the crumbling scree of the people you
pain so elegantly in their inelegance
five poems in and i am sunk drunk
i wish you could have met me
and lent me your handkerchief
today it is all too late

Jim Young, RS Thomas