Ren Powell

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were blogging about the imagination, their vocation, the tone and shapes of poems, poetry performance, inner demons, death, resilience, taking inspiration from other artists, activists and scientists — that sort of thing.

Sunlight streams in through the windows,
but we aren’t ready for it yet. We pinch
close the curtains to shut out the day.
Light streams out the tv as if to feed us,
as if to break us. We let ourselves be broken.
We snap like a weighted bough from a tree.
Crystal Ignatowski, After the Opening Ceremony


This is a chapbook by Mary Ruefle. Its central idea: “I believe there is no difference between thinking and imagining, and that they are one.” It is an encouraging and even inspiring little book. Its style is direct and accessible and a little quirky. There are pictures facing every page of text. And, of course, there is a goat on the cover – and inside. Emily Dickinson’s goat, to be exact. An encouraging book with a goat on the cover is a thing to be recommended, I believe.
Dylan Tweney, Let’s talk about Imagination


If I meet someone at a dinner party and they ask me what I do, I say, “I’m a poet.”

Invariably: “Really, can you live off that?”

I have never been discourteous enough to ask them if they had actually meant to ask me about my finances when they asked me what I “do”. Because what I do to earn enough money to pay my bills is not the same thing as what I do to find meaning in my life. What are we really talking about at these dinner parties?
Ren Powell, Monetize Me


One student commented, after reading these poems about flowers, that she thought the poets had really noticed the flowers and taken their time looking. I thought this was an insightful observation by a young writer, and was something of a lightbulb moment for her, to have been given permission to stop and stare, and not rush about.
Josephine Corcoran, Writing poems about flowers #writerinschool


The balance of idea and tone is crucial; one must match the other, and one cannot move forward without the other, it seems.

It occurs to me that one of the editing approaches I can take with tone is to radically pare down the words, to move away and away from prose, to introduce white space and silence. Sometimes this can unsettle the plummy tone and begin to allow the poem to get its feet under it.

In contrast, with the poem that goes nowhere, one approach I can take is to keep writing, to write toward something, often starting with the prompt “what I’m really trying to say is:” and asking my mind to move around the image or memory that presented itself, and why it arrived, and why now. Then once I’ve got a lot of prosaic words that may be heading me toward the central idea the poem is wanting to consider, I can begin paring back toward something interesting.
Marilyn McCabe, Take It Away; or, Some Thoughts on Editing Poems


One of the reasons I like to try on different forms is to prevent getting stuck in a rut. I’ve seen poets who haven’t evolved their style over decades. Richard Hugo is the most obvious example, and except for 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, he wrote the same style of poetry his whole lifetime. I don’t want to get bored with my own poems, and I also want to explore new ways of doing things.
Grant Clauser, Form Decisions: How Poems Take Shape


The day was so busy that I did not have time to fret about whether I’d miss a word, inadvertently “revise” something on the fly, or flub the cadence of a line. And somehow, when I was up at the podium, it all worked out. Since the poems were new I read them extra slowly, and they were kind to me.

Reading the brand new poems when they were still brand new enabled me to return to the feelings I had when writing them. It was kind of like one of those capsules that expands into a dinosaur sponge when you toss it into the bathtub, only instead of a dinosaur it was a poem. In the wake of this sentiment, I vowed to return to the poems and get them ready to send out. Sometimes you find a “push” in the place where you’d least expect it.
Mary Biddinger, New poem who dis?


[G]ood performance, like good writing, is about continual failure. It’s always a wreck. Always. Performance, a momentary and immediate sharing with your audience, is both a glorious, generous act and an imperfect, ephemeral disappearance. Ideally, too, no performance of any one poem should be the same in new iterations (where it becomes practiced and rote). It’s about a letting go, especially at the moment of where the word is spoken, where the ego begins to evaporate and it’s just the words themselves, hopefully with a little good lighting, a smart costume, and a really, really good house.
Jim Brock, Poetry, More Theatre


I’ve written about outsider artists such as Myra Albert Wiggins and Hannah Maynard — women photographers of the late 19th century that were decades ahead of their time. More recently, I’ve focused my poems on the work of the three Surreal Friends — Leonora CarringtonKati Horna, and Remedios Varo. Women artists who emigrated from Europe during World War II and lived in Mexico City gaining acclaim for their work in a kind of sideways fashion.

For years my poems have focused on these women — and women in my own life.  I know that being part of a community of women poets and artists has deeply influenced my work in subtle and less subtle ways.

This past winter while at a writing residency, needing to write out of my own traumatic past, I turned to the new anthology Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse to give me the extra push I needed. If these women could write eloquently and with anger concerning abortion, rape, heartbreak, and healing — who was I not to write my own truth?
Susan Rich, “Feminist Poetry is having a Renaissance” This Week’s Headline! – Poems, Events, and a Confession


What draws you to writing horror? In what ways has the horror genre enlivened your work and your life?

To me, the horror genre is all about survival and strength, which is why I feel drawn to it. I enjoy writing in a genre that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that monsters (both real and imagined) exist, and I like to take the opportunity to teach my readers (sometimes through personal example) how to face down their demons and win. Aesthetically, I’ve always enjoyed art forms that focus on darkness and the healing properties that are associated with it, so my eye for the strange and unusual has been leaning towards romanticism and surrealism for as long as I can remember. I’m a big fan of the beautiful grotesque and I try to use that as a staple in my work as much as possible.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons


So positive things we can do to increase our resilience in the face of bad news: nature, humor, a supportive community of some sort, a willingness to look for the positive or the learning experience in a situation. I think also a certain love of risk-taking – that’s something Jenny Diski kind of encapsulates over and over in her writing and her life. (PS Her book of short fairy-tale-esque stories, The Vanishing Princess, are like what I would write if I wrote short stories, except with way more bodily functions and sex.) Am I much of a risk-taker? I think maybe I felt more adventurous when I was younger and more confident. But one good thing about getting older is letting yourself do things you might not have thought about when you were younger. I am thinking that to survive a scary diagnosis like cancer or MS – or the poetry world – you need to not be afraid to confront the difficult truths, but not let them overwhelm you. To try things even though you may (or probably will) fail, maybe repeatedly. This may boil down to: how to keep hope alive in a dark world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Importance of Resilience (in the Poetry Game and in Life)


Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work?

A~I write a lot of about death, or more so, the incredible luck it is that you are even alive to begin with, how everything had to go perfectly right since the very beginning of time. Sort of like Mary Oliver’s “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I use writing as a means of connection. I throw something out in the world and see if it resonates with anyone else. I’m basically saying, “Hey I feel this. Do you feel it, too?” Whenever that happens I feel like this human web gets a little bit tighter, a little bit stronger. Against all obvious signs I still believe in the goodness of people.
Shannon Steimel, Cloud / An interview with poet Ally Malinenko


A woman writes at a desk in a study. Furiously
awake at five a new theorem buzzing, she constructs it
with her pen – Three-Dimensional Structures
in X-Ray Crystallography
Her hair is electromagnetic:
why brush it, it is white thought. Behind her a model:
molecules, a tree of them, primaries, red, yellow.

Today is blue. She allows it to happen. This is not
a woman writing her memoir. She is writing off the edge
of the planet. What mirror? What toothpaste?
Pam Thompson, Not a Suffragette Poem Exactly

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers from my feed reader: in this edition, George Szirtes). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were blogging about loss and order, memory and embodiment… In short, they were being poets. (OK, to be fair, they were also blogging about more nitty-gritty, #amwriting types of things, too, I just chose not to feature those posts this week. By the way, if anyone wants to start an alternative weekly digest, I’d be happy to link to it.)

The poem has taken the liberty of interpreting a symbolic hint in the picture. The inverted flame shape, suggested by the woman’s headscarf, is a conventional symbol of death. Even if we do not consciously interpret it as such – and I doubt whether Kertész did, or at least we do not know whether he articulated such a thought in his own mind – once the photograph opens its multitude of doors onto the fields of memory and imagination, the symbol, even though we cannot name it, begins to speak to us and organise other parts of the image into a possible coherent whole. The man’s one leg, the halo of his boater, the absoluteness of those stern planks of wood with their jagged waves at just about neck-level, combine to support the death narrative. There is nothing dramatic in the narrative itself. Nothing is obvious: it is all apprehension, all shudder, all admiration and marvel.
George Szirtes, The Blind Musician and the Voyeurs 7


My mother’s history and my own are intertwined. I feel the tugging almost viscerally when I clean. How much it meant to her to give us all a perfect house. How much I’d rather spend time doing almost anything else because I can never do it right. How much our patriarchal culture has colored everything we do, including what we’re taught as children about our roles and values.

At public readings, when I read poems from my book Every Atom, I sometimes find myself wanting to explain my mother, explain myself. Even though the poems explore what our relationship was, honestly, sometimes painfully, I want to defend her, defend myself. Every person is just one domino in a long chain. She became who she was with the input of all the people and events before her, and I have become (continue to become) who I am for a thousand reasons.

So now I’m going to sit down and read a book. Watch the sky. Allow myself to be present in this moment, remembering my mother.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Sunday Cleaning


So much of my work involves imposing order, or revealing order that is occluded. Divine the bones of a student’s idea and help her build an essay or a poem that will stand steady, bear some weight. Uncover and tell a story latent in the survey results, the aged manuscripts, the tangle of movements and mavericks that make a literary period. Organize aspirations into weeks of future labor, then write the grant application.

But first comes the mess. Notions, images, daisy-chained phrases with their slightly crushed petals unevenly spaced, like teeth in a first-grader’s mouth. Mess precedes order, often succeeds it too, and some of the best writing remains redolent with it. Mess is smelly and exciting. Noisy and damp.
Lesley Wheeler, Excerpt from a mess in progress


The apparent plainness of this and its stripped-down observation draws me, the reader, into a strange meeting, poised between then and now, on the threshold of leaving. The place is studiously real, but what happens in it is disturbing and dreamlike. Haunting. There are little discords that snag. A sack under the tired Xmas lights that’s a grey cowl. The face in the rain might be dream or a drowning refugee. Why can’t the poet remember the face? Why can’t he help? It’s a poem that bothers me and won’t let go. I think that’s what poems should do. At least some of the time.
John Foggin, Them and [uz], or just us…and a polished gem. Ian Parks


Louise Glück’s critical eye reminds me of the red-tailed hawks that patrol the highways, sharp of eye, beak, and talon. Even in my car I feel like prey.

In American Originality, a book of essays published previously, mostly in The Threepenny Review, and introductions to books she chose as award winners for Yale University Press, Glück examines the state of contemporary poetry with her baleful eye. Even her praise is fierce.
Marilyn McCabe, Eye for an I; or Thinking About Louise Glück essays and Art for Our Time


I didn’t blog last week. I was thinking.

About Neruda. And that was because I was thinking about Burns.

I was not thinking about their poetry.

When I met my partner just a few years ago, one of the first things he gave me was a book of Neruda’s love poems. Since his reading (at the time) was largely restricted to non-fiction and Dan Brown, it meant a great deal to me. He’d done his homework. But just a few months later I saw an article about newly uncovered letters, in which Neruda boasted about raping a woman.

The Neruda poems just sit there on my shelf now. And every few months, I notice them, and consider tossing the book in the trash.
Ren Powell, On Ruminating


At the center of this affair is the body. What is it that the body knows? What intimacies and intricate registers of longing exist in the depths of muscles and across the landscapes of skin? What betrayals lodge there as well? [Sophie] Klahr’s poems work to show us the way the body dreams, the way the body stores its longing and often works against our will.

Here, (turn the body)
the spinal column, then buried:
clustered nerve-stars
galloping from palm to cunt to sole, this picture
where the bed is a feeling you can’t shake, a migraine, a cage
containing sea stones,
a script, a string of red lights—
It’s a dream:
there is a girl, a bed, a gun, a fire

Throughout this poem, “Opening Night,” the speaker creates layers of distance from her own body, she considers it in pieces as in close-up photographs, she considers herself as if in a movie she doesn’t belong in, her body having involved her in a story that is working to dismantle her.
Anita Olivia Koester, Desire as Desire: Meet Me Here at Dawn by Sophie Klahr


You dream there is a hole in the floor and someone you love falls through in slow motion: you can’t get there fast enough to catch her. You dream a black dog stands at the wood’s edge, still as tree stump: you don’t know what he means to say. You dream your body arcs gracefully through stained-glass air, then shatters. Death comes, again and again—for others now. You live. The sky spits sleet.
JJS, February 4, 2018: ice storms


I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, my heart


Count your heartbeats
one by one as you fold
into your grief. Not as if to say,
“I am still here inside my life”,
but to declare that for as long
as that old muffled bell still booms,
your crazy rainbow self will hear it
and you’ll be, as ever was,
just one heartbeat distant.
Dick Jones, Jacqui


Like many poets (and people generally) when I’m under a great deal of stress, I function pretty well, but the stress shows up in dreams, and when I’m able to honor it, through poems. My new manuscript is a departure for me, it is more intimate and risky. It’s full of pain, but also hope. May we all survive this year.

In the crush of regret subject and object
exchange garments. Time is a notion too
liminal to survive. If you’re willing to amend,
there may be hope. For a moment, the stricken
sparrow’s shivering heart still beats. It’s time
to loosen the strangling cord that binds us so
painfully to one another and consider freedom.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing on “Moving On”

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

It’s worth mentioning that I don’t link to every post I liked from the past week—not by a long shot. Some may not fit with the other selections very well, and some are just tough to excerpt from. This week a lot of poets seemed to be in a contemplative mood, tackling the big subjects: hope and mortality, Kafka and Kate Bush…

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
Dick Jones, Hope Springs


Let me just say that I had a rough year, along with the rest of the thinking world, in 2017, but with the added joylessness of feeling beleaguered at my workplace. Today, pulling clothes from the drier and rolling socks, I remembered a time period in my 40’s when I would roll socks with the image that someone was standing behind me with a gun pointed at my head, giving me a time deadline for getting the chore done, or be shot. It reminded me of how bad things can get emotionally, while still making the effort to go to work every day, and roll the socks every weekend at the laundromat. I had moments like that over this past year. And murderous dreams.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on Saturday


It took me 20 years to get to Arthur W. Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller, and I might not have found it so useful and illuminating if I’d read it twenty years ago. Now, however, the book’s insights are relevant to my life and to the current moment. Frank powerfully reminds us that as members of the human collective, we need to listen to people; that in time, all of us become wounded storytellers; and, therefore, each of us benefits by learning how to bear human living with a kind of “intransitive hope.” By intransitive hope, Frank means finding a way to be with our suffering in life, recognize that suffering happens, but also to recognize that there are ways to be human that do not end in miraculous cures–that may (and will, eventually) end in death.

And that’s okay. He suggests that healing is a project, not an outcome.

Kind of like writing, you know?
Ann E. Michael, Edges & outcomes


It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that we waged wars solely for the benefit of our corporations. We are still dealing with the ramifications of one of those in Iraq. Hell, we are dealing with the ramifications of the Banana Wars still, a hundred years later.

But, I have hope. I keep writing. I keep loving. I keep reading amazing poetry from ever-more diverse voices.

The faith that I have is in our fellow people in this country. So few of us are actually those assholes who march for white nationalism. My faith in my fellow Americans is that we will find a way forward, out of this mess. That we will continue to repudiate these shitheads and call our their racism directly, succinctly.
Eric M. R. Webb, Well it’s Alright…


But she wasn’t coming through, I was going in, my link to her a series of hot boxes where she would appear without warning over decades like the Virgin, her songs a catechism, her name a prayer I chanted at the backs of retreating lovers, divorcing parents and death, and even in her absence, the music never faltered like I did, songs willing pills back into bottles.
Collin Kelley, Kate Bush Appears on Night Flight, 1981


Looking back, I try to understand how people make simple rules, and routes of least resistance. I remember asking my Grandmother if she saw Goodnight and Good Luck when it came out. She said, “I don’t have to watch it, I lived through it.”

But she didn’t want to talk about it with me.

I’m sure she knew I thought I had something to “contribute to the discussion”. I really was young then. I hadn’t learned to listen — even if I’d known the right questions — the way in. It would have been a waste of time.

If she had opened up about the complexities of her experience, I might well have tried to solve them, simplify them with labels and analysis. I’d gone to college, after all. I would have made absurd parallels in an attempt to empathise.

I must have been an ass. If she hadn’t loved me, she wouldn’t have liked me. Looking back, I don’t like me.
Ren Powell, The Wisdom of Old Men, And


K knows you’re not supposed to say what’s true. He’s the only one who sees these systems and revolts. But he himself is missing the system that silences women’s voices. So, then, When I read Kafka, I become K. The whole Gare D’Orsay jam-packed with workers, typists, typing away at their desks, shoulder to shoulder, the din of their fingertips like locusts. There he is, scared and running, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to escape. He shouts, and I’m K now, shouting, saying things I’m not supposed to say.
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear K


Who the hell can’t dig a damn hole
by saving the eggs out one at a time?
none of us pure sane until the balance
on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down
too heavy for me, it went shut
a sad, steady sound
james w. moore, Shut Down (a sestina)


[Mary] Oliver states that she “…did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” I can identify with that in every part of my being. In 2004 several years before I retired from teaching and found myself pursuing poetry more passionately and with much more attention to craft, I wrote these lines: Some days / I am even/ saved by / beauty. Every minute part of nature, and particularly the botanical part of nature, draws me in. One photograph, just one, that pleases me to the point of elation is enough to change the tenor of the entire day for me. I commented to a friend just this week that when I go to the Chicago Botanic Garden I can feel even my breathing change, the tightness in my chest and shoulders loosen within minutes–I am being saved.
Gail Goepfert, Poetic Uber-ing


I spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what poetry can DO. I wish poems could stop inhumane deportations and government shutdowns, and I hope poets will keep trying to make the world more kind and fair. Mostly, though, my aims are smaller in scale: can writing this poem change ME for the better? The stories we tell about ourselves really matter, and I’ve been trying to tell hopeful ones. After all, that’s what I want to read–literature that acknowledges the complicated mess we live in but ultimately tilts towards love.

Now, two weeks into a new class on documentary poetics, I find myself thinking about poems, instead, as testimony, carrying some part of the past into our present attention. That’s not unrelated to poetry as spell, prayer, or action, but the emphasis is a little different. The poets we’ve been reading–Rukeyser and Forché at first, and a host of Katrina poets now, including Patricia Smith, Cynthia Hogue, and Nicole Cooley–are asking what we need to remember. Their poetries still look towards the future but are more explicitly grounded in history. We’ll be sailing even further in that direction soon with Kevin Young’s Ardency, a book I’ve never taught before.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry, pickled


I found myself experiencing this wonder even within the book’s title. The title itself is a poem, it creates a doubling: there is the wolf and the being that should be called—wolf. Once an expression is isolated and placed in a new context, here as the title of a book, it becomes symbolic and takes on a deeper meaning. Within these five words the poet is questioning himself, or rather the self that was being consumed by alcoholism. The phrase can also be seen as a kind of call and response, distinct rhythms divide the phrase into two: the call is trochaic, and the response is iambic. The response—a wolf a wolf—recalls howling not only within the image, but in the sound of wolf, which is repeated the way cries are repeated. And make no mistake Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection absolutely howls, howls from that deep intimate place of uncertainty where the body and spirit confront one another.
Anita Olivia Koester, New Ways to Howl: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar


I would suggest that there is a place that is neither one of fear or one of hope. Sometimes I walk around the house, and I look at all the objects – the photographs, paintings, baskets, tables, sculptures, and I know the stories represented by each one, can recall the day when I bought it, who I was with, how many apartments and houses I’ve carried that object. I am surprised, each time, by the love that flows from each object and into me. That may seem corny, but it isn’t, because the objects we bring into our lives, especially those objects we spent money for, sometimes a lot more money than we had at that time but something inside us kept saying, “I have to have that. I have to have that,” and we bought it and never regretted doing so, because that particular object awakened a place of beauty in our souls, brought a sense of wellbeing to our bodies and spirits, a sense of order to the inner chaos, a cohesion to the fragments of selves and hurts that spun haphazardly within.

When I finally finish this tour of my life, this memory-trip of objects. I am smiling. Finally, I say quietly, “I’m going to miss me.”

And then, I laugh with mortal joy.
Julius Lester, notes on Atul Gawande’a Being Mortal, from JJS, January 20, 2018: an exchange of letters

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (and leave a comment there if you’d like to join). Please note however that I reserve the right to occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial to join the revival tour. As for my own blogging, this week I added two posts about poetry to my oft-neglected author site, so I’m definitely feelin’ the revival fever! If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

What is it to be a poet in this world? International, intercultural, intergenerational. Virtual.

My social-media life was the opposite of poetry. Since 2016, I’ve experienced it as divisive. I am tired of labels.  Even the silly ones. What kind of pizza are you? Which French philosopher? I understand that categories are useful. Scientists find use in them. But poets shouldn’t. Poets are occupied with the truth. And the truth is always a platypus.

I crave the deep work. The work of sincere attention necessary for poetry. I want to close my eyes and rediscover my senses. I want to fight against the stenciled concepts I’ve adopted.
Ren Powell, Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House


I was very, very late to Twitter, but once I latched on, I saw a vibrant, diverse, and engaged set of poets. I initially followed old poet friends, and then I started to pick up all these new voices. At first, yes, I was dismissive of it all, from the registering of liking and retweeting of tweets, all about instantaneous, mindless, and cost-free feedback, to the humble-bragging about followers-to-following ratios. I wondered if Kaveh Akbar ever read a book a poetry without his phone ready to snap a new favorite stanza. I wasn’t sure what to think about Jericho Brown’s latest report of his body-fat percentage. And yet, poets like Akbar, Brown, Eve Ewing, Danez Smith, Shaindel Beers were not only accomplished in their craft, beyond woke in their politics, and genuinely enthusiastic about their art, but were challenging me to love more and assume less. These poets were kicking my ass.

Soon, the nosiness was rather pleasing to me, even with all the self-promotion, because it was this deep buzz of human activity. It was also useful for me to remember that these poets had much more serious, deeper engagements with their craft than their latest tweet-storm, and that the twittersphere is just one access point. It’s also useful to remember just how lonesome poetry writing can be, which is another quality that I do love about it, and Twitter is one means to connect.
Jim Brock, Broken Links


Work is a complex thing. It can be a soul-sucking, time-burning depletion, or it can be an expression of the full being. There can be grace on a production line, I imagine: pride in efficient, high quality work done safely by a team who believe in their product. But when I think of work, I think of solitude. That’s just me. I think of the times I’ve lost myself in my work of mind and hand — the swirl of thinking and logic and overcoming obstacles, being imaginative in problem-solving, articulating something effectively. And having fun in the process. Loving, in fact, the process. I also think of all the jobs I’ve had that were not that at all, were depleting in various ways, mostly because I either didn’t care about it or didn’t feel valued, or both.
Marilyn McCabe, Let Me Give You a Hand; Thoughts on Work


Here’s what I believe: writing in a supportive environment when the rules are: be playful and yes, anything goes are a great recipe for success. Unlike most other workshops, we focus on creating our own writing prompts (new ones for each class) and for each one, we have a secret mission whether it is to write image driven poems or create new forms — everyone leaves with at least six drafts of six poems they never would have written otherwise. Kind of wonderful.
Susan Rich, What I Love About Teaching Poetry Workshops


I liked this process of adaptation. When movies are adapted from books and stories, filmmakers change things. They fire characters and compress scenes in part to save money on paying actors and renting space, but also because there is often no need to say what is shown. Why not something similar with poetry?

I think writers and probably poets especially can get locked into the sanctity of their words and lord knows there are times when that makes sense, but if poetry is to be a conversation even if as in this case with oneself, I think it’s important to let go a little bit especially when changing mediums. My academic background is in film production and screenwriting where the expectation is that the written word is not final so maybe this comes easier for me, but it’s a comfortable way for me to work and I think it’s useful to see where your words can go and a worthwhile exercise to keep playing with what you’ve made and, if you dare, open it up for others to do so as well.
James Brush, all roads lead here & Notes on Adapting Poetry


Poetry is not meant to speak clearly now.
Circumlocute. Paint pictures, white
upon white upon white. Associate.
There is something to be said for fragment,
flash illuminated, a freeze-frame strobing.
Memory breaks like that. Stuck to glass.
Millibars drop, pummel backs with snow.
Whose scapular muscle twitches? What
feathered thing flies, heart hammering.
JJS, January 4, 2018: To the Small Bird Flying Under It


Ada Limón and I were part of a cohort of poets who came up at about the same time in publishing our first books. Now, I say that word “cohort” with two asterisks.
The first asterisk is that we were a cohort uniquely born of the internet era. Yes, we each had the communities created by school—which in her case, was a rock-star class of New York University MFA graduates. But in the larger sense, we were that first virtual community of poets who had a meaningful dialogue via comments left on each others’ blogs. We muddled our way through NaPoWriMo together. We cheered each other on when no one else was paying attention.
The second asterisk is that Ada’s first book and her second book were simultaneous, thanks to having Jean Valentine select the manuscript Lucky Wreck for the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize, and then—literally, within months—winning the 2006 Pearl Poetry Prize with The Big Fake World. That never happens. She made it happen.
Sandra Beasley, Introductions


When I make money from poetry, I try to put money back into poetry. I want to support the literary community as much as I can. I spent some time at the end of the year subscribing to a few journals, as I do every year – I try to rotate the journals so I can support as many as possible. I buy a LOT of poetry books (although I get a decent number as review copies) because 1. I want to support my local stores that carry poetry and 2. I want to support small presses that publish poetry. But I do also support the idea of literary publishers, organizations and journals trying to raise money outside the small circle of poets that want to publish – by reaching out more, trying more ways to gain subscribers, maybe advertising? What do you think? I remember being poor enough that every book contest fee hurt. I feel that fees have gone way up since I started trying to publish work waaay back in 2001-2.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, 2018 so far: A Poem in Rogue Agent, New Year Zoo Lights, Luck and Poetry Fees, and Thinking About the New Year and New Poetry Blogs!


January slid in on the light of a cold full moon. Like a winter wolf, I am denning, exploring the dark that is so much part of this time of year where I live. I curl up on one end of the sofa in the evening and plunge into the pages of book after book. I am twitchy and witchy and my reading choices reflect it. I began the year with Patti Smith’s Devotion, followed swiftly by Kiki Petrosino’s Witch Wife and the Em Strang’s Bird-Woman.

My dreams are full of skaters, spells, and wings. These are just the types of books I love, ones that bring you along head-tilted and stumbling, not sure if the path beneath your feet is solid or black ice. Books full of spells and enchantments. Images that carry the tang of fallen leaves and the hiss of snow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Balancing dreams and reality


we undress together   down to our satchel of lost poems   refusing to be more than alive
Grant Hackett (untitled monostich)

Ren Powell

Poet, playwright, translator and teacher Ren Powell returns to the Woodrat Podcast to talk about her new collection of poetry (and North American debut) Mercy Island, religion in Norway, her shifting perspective on poetry animation, and other topics. She’s the third author in Via Negativa’s informal Poetry Month book club.

Ren recently consolidated her web presence at a new website. I last interviewed her in early March 2010, for the 9th episode of the podcast. My blog response to Mercy Island is here, but do also check out the more proper reviews and interviews from Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Deb Scott, Fiona Robyn, Rachel Barenblat, and Carolee Sherwood.

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Mercy Island by Ren PowellThis is the third of four books that Kristin Berkey-Abbott and I are encouraging others to also read and blog about this month. (You can order from the publisher before the end of the month and receive 15% off.) Send me the link to your blog post and I’ll update to include it. Posts so far include:

Rachel Barenblat @ Velveteen Rabbi: “Ren Powell’s Mercy Island”

Carolee Sherwood: “reading mercy island by ren powell”

Writing Our Way Home blog: “An interview with poet Ren Powell”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott: “Holy Week Readings of ‘Mercy Island’ by Ren Powell”

Deb Scott @ Stoney Moss: “Reading Mercy Island”

Dorothee Lang @ Daily s-Press: “Mercy Island – Ren Powell (Phoenicia)”

What follows is most emphatically not a review; some of these lines relate only tangentially to Ren’s poems (which is why I don’t name the poems). But obviously it isn’t every book that so moves me to write and to remember.

(p. 1) The head of state, polished to a high sheen, is not the kind of god to submit to questioning.

(2) I remember $24.95 in saved allowance, dimes & quarters stacked on the counter of the camera store in exchange for that black box, my Instamatic! And taking a photo of my shadow beside the pigs.

(3) Grandma had a slingshot she used on the guinea fowl, those perpetually agitated gray commas.

(4) When Elvis died, I knew it was because he had maligned the innocent hounds.

(6) Going home from the pet store, the goldfish on the back seat beside me vibrated in its plastic bag of water. Three days later, it died of loneliness.

(7) The brutal screwing of Muscovy ducks in a muddy ditch was my introduction to reproduction: The enormous male crushing the female, pushing her head under the water, threading her with a white rope.

(8-9) I hated everything about shooting groundhogs, especially when their big soft bodies slid off the shovel or when, wounded, they escaped a second shot.

(11) Starting to drown in the ocean, that second or two of great silence under the waves — yet another project I didn’t finish.

(12) Out of all the days I’ve lived in blessed doubt, the two when I flirted with certainty were enough to make me burn forever.

(13) Behind the barn, behind the barn! The place where chicken-killing dogs were shot. There alone we could curse to our heart’s content.

(15) I measure my life in generations of 17-year cicadas, Brood X. I was 9 the first time. In a jar at the back of a drawer, I still have one or two of those transparent shells with exit wounds in lieu of wings.

(16) Clowning in the lunch room, he pulled the neck of a turtleneck shirt up over his head & in a matter of moments earned the nickname that would follow him to the grave.

(18) My brother yelled “copperhead!” when my foot was in mid-air & I launched into flight. That evening we found the reason why it couldn’t move, its shed skin.

(20) I once paid a statue to talk. She was loud with rust.

(21) In one well we had what we called a mudpuppy, but it was only a newt.

(22) Whoever invented the kaleidoscope must’ve had a childhood like mine: no TV, no visits to amusement parks, plenty of time to look at each odd thing from every angle.

(23) In the 4th Grade I learned that the body is made up of rooms too small to see. I was a city! And there were whole districts that never slept.

(24) We brought one runner sled, red as a red wagon, down with us from Maine in our red VW bus. In summer, we built mazes of tunnels through the tall grass.

(26) Our sky was narrow but dark then. I used to feel sorry for the light of distant stars that had been traveling so long just to enter my eye.

(27) The only thing about highways I didn’t hate was the shimmering water that wasn’t there, what it taught me about thirst.

(28) We had roosters, so our breakfast eggs were always fertile. I dreamt of chicks hatching in my stomach.

(29) Escaped garden plants have taken over half the forest. A curse is nothing but a blessing turned feral.

(30) If a bachelor dreams hard enough, he can give birth to a migraine.

(32) She left a letter with the stain of a dead centipede & several promises.

(34) Ah, romance. I remember corn silk, the wet trail of a slug.

(35) I remember scraping the roosts, nostrils burning with ammonia, and that big black rubber tub bulging with chickenshit.

(36) Feathers falling from the sky are commonplace. What seems incredible now is that Grandpa actually took up arms against a hawk. But Bontas must’ve all been like that once. We drank, we gambled, we owned other human beings, we shot hawks out of the sky.

(41) I was a gardener of little faith. When seedlings came up, I was astonished. I couldn’t bear to thin.

(43) The back of a shy man’s neck is red from scratching. You wouldn’t guess how I know.

(44) We keep calling them mountains, these hills, in the hope they’ll outgrow us.

(46) Birds from the tropics fly here every year to sing. Also to make new birds, yes — & teach them the songs they never sing in the tropics.

(47) Surely the near eradication of lice and fleas on humans has done our species a great disservice. Books & scrolls are a poor substitute for that daily close reading of each other’s primary texts.

(49) I learned early how to hold my breath: at the conference about my unruly behavior, the exophthalmic teacher waiting for me to speak. Strapped in for the orthodontist whose fat fingers tasted like garlic.

(52) Missing for most of my life, I remember being stoned and present for a mother who placed my hand on her child’s bare belly to feel the sickness — blood flukes, perhaps? — like a burl on a tree. I showed her my wallet, already emptied for other mendicants, & said nothing about the belt full of bills against my skin.

(53) We just can’t help stealing each other’s souls.

(54) No sane person looks forward to a trip. I look forward to having traveled.

(55) I miss the two or three male friends I used to open up to, our shared vulnerability over open beers, the layers of blue smoke that wreathed our heads.

(57) You might not believe it, but the part of a woman’s body I most miss touching is the back, below the shoulder blades & above the hips, that flat pastureland with its single ridge.

(58) Tiger beetles anywhere in the world turn my older brother into a predatory beast, one who stiffens, crouches, springs.

(60) That the wind signed its name on our fingertips before we were born — well, I call it wind. Some impersonal force random enough to convey uniqueness.

(63) The idea of the Sahara: not the shadow of civilization but its impact crater.

(64) I used to trace veins of quartz in the local bedrock; now it’s threads of moss that draw my eye. I have left off believing in heaven even as a metaphor. I am homesick for earth.

(65) Night/soil.

(66) Only nonsense can save us now.

(67-68) Garlic & mint, mint & garlic: I would join any church that had that for a catechism.

(69) The trailer where we went one by one for IQ testing at the age of six smelled of new machines & fear. I remember being told I could watch myself on television — a closed-circuit TV, but I didn’t know that. The dim realization that fun was being had at my expense.

(70) The Flavored Nuts sign — conveniently posted at shoulder level — remained a site for teenaged pilgrimage long after the factory closed and cloying smells stopped emanating from its windows.

(75) Like a single Roman letter stretching into a cursive sentence, the great blue heron launched into flight.

(76) Do peaches float? I feel I should know this, I who once publicly embarrassed the author of a book called Stones Don’t Float with a piece of pumice.

(77) A mother grouse doing the injured-wing act led me to the edge of a near-cliff. I wanted to see just what malice she harbored in her speckled breast.

(79) There’s a desert under my floor where rain hasn’t fallen in 150 years — it’s dry as the Atacama. A strange hairy people live there. I hear them thumping rhythmically and moaning now & then.

(80) Grandma was the only person I’ve ever helped bury. She was anti-religious & unsentimental and wanted to be cremated. It still felt awkward to tamp down the soil, hopping on her grave in tight funeral shoes.

(83) Across the gulf of puberty I catch only the faintest echo now of my childhood misery. I wonder though if my frequent, public self-baring wasn’t essential training for the vocation of poet.

(86-87) In a world with lichen in it, nothing is lost. The fungi are farmers, pioneering the most desolate faces of rock.

Ren (Katherine) Powell talks about how living in Norway and translating Norwegian poets, and also a Yemeni poet, have shaped her own growth as a writer

Ren Powell

Included in the conversation are readings of four poems by Odveig Klyve, two by Mansur Rajih, and three of Ren’s own poems, “It Wasn’t the Flu,” “Spring Heralds,” and “Losing My Religion.” See Ren’s website for links to more of her poems online, and Anima Poetics for her Flash animations.

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

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Subscribers must click through, or visit the video page.

I went to the woods to live haphazardly, from hand to mouth, marching like an army on my stomach. The path travels through me like a wave, like a particle. I’ve learned nothing, & am much the better for it — the forest teaches by confounding expectations. The bright orange of an eft, like the hair of a punk rocker, says: leave me alone. The spots on a fawn are a map to a country that doesn’t want to be found. The sun doesn’t move there, trapped in a net of trees. A hen turkey clucks not to lead her chicks, who disguise themselves as stones & vanish, but to lead me, her sudden unwanted charge — to draw me away. Which might turn out to be exactly where I was going.


Speaking of forests, be sure to visit the June edition of the Festival of the Trees at Roundrock Journal. And for many more creepy-crawlies like the millipede in the video, check out the latest Circus of the Spineless, the blog carnival for invertebrates and the people who love them.


I learned something about making poetry videos today: the addition of music can mean the difference between success and failure.


I’m always excited to see other poet-bloggers making videos. Ren Powell recently launched a second blog to showcase her terrific poem animations, AnimaPoetics. I’m sure I’ll link to most of her videos at Moving Poems eventually, but do check out her site in the meantime. She’s posting new videos at the rate of roughly one a week.