Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: Fat Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a blog’s birthday, a book’s birthday… as the world steadily becomes more terrible. Poetry remains one of the very few effective antidotes to despair.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 5

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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

This week: a journey to the underworld, an allotted plot, becoming your own god, finding joy as a writer, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

The first digest of 2024 is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. (And yes, I know that expression dates me. I am an old.) Ten inches of snow fell and then were partly washed away again as I compiled this post today, which is quite Janus-faced: half looking back and half looking forward, half summarizing and half summoning. Let’s begin.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE

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

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

Tim Love, Some books

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

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

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

Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude

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

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

rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen

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

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

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

Purr and Yowl

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

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

Robin Gow, 11/25

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

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

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

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

Sue Ibrahim, Some days

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

Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner

2

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

3

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

Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)

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

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

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

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

Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty

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

James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising

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

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

The Key of S

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

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

Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023

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

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

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

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

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

(“Dear Friend”)

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

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

Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL

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

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

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

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

“slip themselves into various
shoppers’ pockets.

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Practice

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

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

Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles

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

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

Grounded hope. Yes, please!

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners

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

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

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

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

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Blue

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

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

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

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

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

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

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

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

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

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

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

Marilyn McCabe, Geese

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

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

Poetry Blogging Network

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

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

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


A mouth becomes a stone.
A child cannot stop shaking.
Bombs fall on hospitals, schools,
Churches, mosques, homes.
Numbed, frozen, bulldozed.
The images haunt my sleep.
Over and again, what
should I do? What could
I do?

Bells ring in, what exactly?
Ring for, what exactly?

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

i’m not coming out
of this poem
i am staying here
forever
and
ever

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

ok
in here it is raining
but it is cosy warm rain

Jim Young, sunny boy

Trees are shedding their summer hair.
What a tiny comb was used for grooming –
tufts pile on the sidewalk, bright and seething.

Where were we when we lost our crickets?
Softly, softly they left us without a sound,
darkness falls hard on hard ground, the cushion

they made gone, no love or jangle to soften
obsession, cool nights, bombs, part of the ear’s fabric. 
You can never put the shriek back in the throat of the cricket. 

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another. […]

What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

I hear the sweet voice of a young woman
making love. “Oh!” she says, “Oh!”

The birch trees tremble with sparrows. Yellow
leaves and seed husks flicker to the ground.

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

In this poem, I am accepting how it is as I say ‘let it have me’ and acknowledge I want to ‘keep it here.’ It sounds unusual, but actually I am aware of what is happening and know that at the moment there is no cure. I now turn the dark into a real person, quite sinister and let it feed on my body: ‘my body is a table so now it can feed.’ I want to keep the curtains closed to literally keep the dark in the room and get rid of colour: ‘I don’t need the glare’ and again, am perfectly happy about this.

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

The iceberg is back.
It looms out of its coat.
It shivers its keys onto the
silver tray, and drifts toward
the table for what seems like
a thousand years.

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

open its card deck of prophecies. My hand used
to move quickly, almost involuntarily, toward choice.

Now I understand that toward the end, it is good
to take time, to tend the slow simmer of soup.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Yes, I paused in the hunt for ripe raspberries this morning to listen to what must have been a catbird running through its repertoire, yes, I note a neighbor’s lilacs confusedly in bloom, noted the neighbor apparently reconciled with the wife and dog walking together. But what have I missed?

Whatever it is must be what x is equal to. And I must keep looking. It may be the next thing I need to make the poems or essays sharper, more exact, or at least, a clearer equation through which to regard x. The unknown, possibly unanswerable: life and its puzzling questions.

Marilyn McCabe, How do you solve a problem; or, More on Paying Attention

Yesterday my daughter stepped outside to play with the four-year-old boy who lives next door. As she was leaving, I heard the boy ask my daughter what her mother’s name is.

My daughter replied, “My mom’s name is Becky. But sometimes people call her Rebecca…Because she’s a writer.”

I laughed, of course. Yes, that is I! Rebecca of the Pen!

Becky Tuch, Do editors pay attention to a writer’s name?

October is my month, my favourite month. Autumn in full swing, brazen colours and spice. Wet and slowing down. I bake, I cook, I begin to build a nest to hibernate in. It’s also our autumn school holiday, so I’ve actually been able to do all those things which is more difficult when I’m working.

October is also #scotstober month. Scotstober is a challenge to learn and use a new Scots word every day. Here’s the Twitter post for this year.  I love it, some are familiar to me, and some are new. I have done various takes on the challenge, sometimes finding poems that use the word, other times writing my own few lines. This year I’m doing the latter and creating a poem using some of the words. I can’t keep up with all 31 words, but it’s Day 22 and I have most of a poem written. 

As with most of my Scots poems, I prefer to use words I’ve heard in context or am comfortable with. Some words in the Scotstober challenge are older and not used much, so they don’t feel right in my poems. So as I’m bringing this together as a poem, I’m changing some words to suit me. I’m grateful for the inspiration Scotstober brings. […]

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

ahm ettlin tae no sing thi same thrain,
but thi rain an its pebbly sklyter
drouns oot mah will

Gerry Stewart, Autumn’s Brewing – Scotstober 2023 and When the Readers Don’t Get A Poem

A lively and intriguing title for a poem sequence by our guest poet Lydia Harris. Her work has featured here before (March 2019). This sequence is from her new collection Objects for Private Devotion, beautifully produced by Pindrop Press, published last year. Lydia lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Many of the poem sequences in her new book focus on local culture, people, nature, objects – such as the prayer nut which provides the cover image.

The sequence about the fieldfare is inspired by the great Serbian poet Vasco Popa. The Blackbird’s Field is also a sequence, from Popa’s Collected Poems, close on 400 pages – drawing on folk tale, surrealist fable, personal anecdote, and tribal myth. […]

Lament

I’ve lost my folk,
my night ships,
my dear blood,
thick then thin,
night bird, stray bird.

Tongue

A whip of liver-coloured flesh
sheathed in the coffin of his beak.

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

I have mentioned before that there is a kind of pressure to – not only survive cancer – but to somehow turn it into something people call a “blessing”: a catalyst for a better life. This isn’t new to me. CSA and a bipolar diagnosis carry with them the same kind of pressure to excel: to reach a point where you say that your adversities were a “blessing” that made you who you are. That is a lot of pressure. You can’t say that and be average. Not only is the bad luck yours to deal with, it is yours to justify by way of being “better than” in some way.

Health – mental or physical – shouldn’t a competitive sport. Resilience so admired as to give us secular saints for a capitalist economy. I have to remind myself of that. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end: just a means to enjoy each day on its own terms. Have we always been such a performative species? Is it just me that sees it this way? It very well could be just me.

But there are a surprising number of cancer survivor gurus/coaches/teachers who will guide you through the process to find your better story. It is an entire industry. And it is so very seductive.

But I am not going to see this time of my life as a blessing. I do hope that I am learning things, but I have always hoped that I was continually learning to be a better person.

You know, if anything, maybe I am learning that all this effort at “improvement” is unnecessary: that maybe the clearest view is from a point of average.

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

The weekly ritual of bathing, of cleansing before church on Sunday which the son duly follows. However, he self-harms using his father’s razor. The reasoning is given in religious terms, the release of blood a sacrifice to atone for undefined and unspecified sins. Whatever those sins or perceived sins were, they seem to have triggered depression. A later poem in the same section, “The Stone In My Shoe” describes the stone as, “suicide never lets me go./I walk with its stone in my shoe”. The drugs listed in the poem are anti-depressants. It’s also a “language of this limbo.” Later, “The Idiot’s Guide to Suicide” lists unsolicited and unhelpful advice, such as “It’s just a bad mood.” “get a grip”, “keep a happy diary”, “You need to try Yoga” or “Be kind to yourself.” All things that never should be said to someone in the grip of depression.

Next section, “the universe”, a poem called “The Crab” is about avoiding saying aloud the word whose astrology sign the crab represents. The word cancer was treated as taboo as if saying it could make it contagious. Treatment leaves the sufferer,

“I’m now scared, scarred, and unable to pee.
They cut away cells, cells, and dignity
and, still, I cannot say its name.”

Emma Lee, “Red Rite Hand” Adrian Harte (in case of emergency press) – book review

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it’s all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/21/2023

Ten poems, read by 14 young poets, dazzled the packed Perspektiven Raum with brilliance and bravery. 14-year-old Grela Rabi’s as yet untitled poem that begins, “am boden kleben sie fest,“ was selected by our panel of three judges to win the 500 CHF gift certificate to Wenaweser Fahrradcentrum in Schaan. Congratulations Grela! The 500 CHF donation to the climate-themed charity of their choice, was split between the classes from ISR and Liechtenstein Gymnasium. The ISR classes chose to donate to “the bees in Liechtenstein.”  All participants received a book of poetry (from previous Word to Action participants) and a potted plant to take home. Class teachers received books on composing poetry. […]

My reflection is this: the poems were moving in different ways. It was interesting to see that the poems were different based on age group. The youngest were sad but optimistic about the future and used fantastical imagery to get the point across. Some were totally realistic about the trouble the planet is in. And the rest were a bit alarmed and made a call to action. This last category seemed to move the judges the most. At Word to Action we know that poetry physically changes those who hear it; it can move us to take action.

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

Poetry can be so healing precisely because it springs from that deepest place of reckoning with what it means to be human — the place we seek with the intellect but touch with the intuition. And down there in the depths, we don’t much differ from one another, sharing the same basic longings, the same basic fears. Clifton reflects:

Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart.

[…]

Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.

With an eye to what it means to be a poet, she adds a sentiment equally true of any creative endeavor:

I didn’t graduate from college, which isn’t necessary to be a poet. It is only necessary to be interested in humans and to be in touch with yourself as a human.

Complement with Clifton’s classic “won’t you celebrate with me” — a living testament to this poetry of personhood turned art — and her spare, stunning ode to the common ground of being, then revisit Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being and Anne Gilchrist — Whitman’s most beloved friend — on inner wholeness and the key to a flourishing soul.

Maria Popova, How to Be a Living Poem: Lucille Clifton on the Balance of Intellect and Intuition in Creative Work and the Healing Power of Connection

Sometimes I feel like all religion is a search for order in the world. Maryann Corbett’s recent collection of poetryThe O in the Air, offers order to a disorderly world; or rather points out the order within the seemingly meaningless details of life.

I started reading Corbett’s poetry with her collection Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter and made my way through all of her work last summer. Less familiar with formal poetry, I was mesmerized by the meters of her work– the surprising yet inevitable conclusions of her poems. A free verse poet myself, I felt like someone who only sings folk songs listening to someone singing opera and totally nailing it. […]

A Tennessee girl raised in the Bible belt, I kept drawing together the marriage of her Catholicism and formal sensibilities; liturgy, rhythm, and tradition are deeply connected to the spiritual in her book. Whereas in the country churches I was shuffled to growing up, we were more likely to have an impromptu testimony or sing verse four just ONE more time—and here I am, a free verse poet. Church traditions and poetry traditions can learn from each other, I believe, and I found myself learning much from yet another inspiring collection of poems by Maryann Corbett.

Renee Emerson, a review of The O in the Air by Maryann Corbett

On October 12th, I announced a $200 donation to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) who will provide aid to displaced and fleeing families in Gaza. Today, and retroactively for purchases from 10/12 to date, I am going to forgo all income for the press and donate that money to Medical Aid for Palestinians. What this means is that the $3 I would normally keep from each sale will instead be donated. In addition, I am going to match that amount with a personal donation to the same org. In other words, each book purchased gives $6 to Gaza. […]

Additionally, I call on all of you who are able to donate money to one of the following organizations:

As an added incentive, if you email me (deadmallpress@gmail.com) a receipt for a donation of $20 or more to one of these orgs, I will send you all four of my own chapbooks for free (including shipping). Just be sure to include a mailing address as well. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I have to give.

R. M. Haines, New Fund-Raising for Palestine

Human animals are still animals. We have evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly sensitive to our environment. We have evolved to survive at all costs. Our beautiful big human brains can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by something far away, and anxiety caused by something in the room. They are one and the same with the same flight or fight response. If we are feeding ourselves a constant diet of news, which is, invariably bad, terrible, frightening news, we are constantly keeping ourselves in a place in which we feel we have to be hyper aware of everything that is happening because at any moment we may need to act.

It is good to be informed. But there is a limit to what you can actually do to help, understand, prepare, protect. I feel like even saying this is a kind of failure, a sort of cowardly way of looking at any situation. But it is a realistic way of looking at the situation of the world being on fire. […]

I don’t know any single person that isn’t in pain from watching the world burn. But pain is a counterbalance to love and I don’t know any one person that isn’t feeling immense love and a fierce desire to protect and help their fellow people, fellow world citizens. To be alive and aware is an act of resistance. Help where you can, be kind where you can, but that includes yourself.

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

So there I was. Sunday morning, in a suitably poet-like dress ( I restrained myself from the Byron sleeves this time) the comfort of chunky boots and my jade pendant that goes with me to every scary situation. This was going to be the first time reading in real life. I shook ( just the one leg bizarrely) but my voice stayed steady, I managed to look up at my audience, pause where I wanted to pause and even breathe occasionally. In hindsight perhaps choosing to read a poem about one of my last conversations with my Dad added a layer of difficulty I didn’t need, but I’ve never been one to take the easy route. Unless I’m hill climbing. Then I’m scouting for it before I set foot on the path.

I felt lovely. Energised, and pleased to have spoken my poem as it needed to be spoken, with the added boost of praise from a poet I really admire. I’ve put off reading in public for a very long time and realise that it is something I desperately want to do – to hear the sounds of the language I have chosen, and to test out the impact or effect on those who are listening.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

I am overcome & rejuvenated by imbalance – complexity
it blocks out the constant nitter-natter, and is oddly calming

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

4. Then there are poems about love and lust and coming of age, perhaps. As if all life is visceral even at its most tender. “O minute hand, teach me / how to hold a man the way thirst/ holds water…” – A little closer to the edge.
5. And then of course is the end that is possibly the beginning of the narrative, the whole narrative. The look within: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. / The end of the road is so far ahead/ it is already behind us.” – Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong and “& so what— if my feathers / are burning. I / never asked for flight” – Devotion. These are the last two poems. As if the book is waiting for its sequel. Not to tell the reader more. But to tell the poet just a little bit more.
6. This is not a quick read because you will keep going back to read some poems. You can fill your senses with lines like “The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies.” – Into the breach or “How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands?” – Seventh Circle of Earth or “I enter / my life / the way words / entered me— / by falling / through / the silence / of this wide / open mouth”. – Logophobia. You always leave the page wondering if it is about the past or the future, about beauty or violence, about a person or a people, and if the one is actually possible without the other.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

news-worthy names shared
world-wide. Not Beit Lahia’s.

There, leaflets, like birds,
still fall from the sky,

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

Maureen E. Doallas, A Poet’s View (Poem)

Three or four years ago, I knew I wanted to write about the footballing heroes of my childhood, those lower-league footballers who triumphed and failed before my eyes, who evoked a sense of masculinity that was hugely different to today’s view of men, whose team generated a sense of belonging among the local fans. In short, I knew I wanted to write directly about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, but indirectly about far more. However, I didn’t know how to go about putting such a group of poems together. And that was when I read Stanley Cook’s excellent poetry for the first time.

Cook wrote two separate pamphlets on the back of his time working as a schoolteacher, Form Photograph (Phoenix/Peterloo, 1971) and Staff Photograph (Peterloo Poets, 1972). In each case, he created a set of vignettes. The first batch, of course, were pupils, while the second were teachers. He generated these portraits of individuals within a specific context, building a wider picture of society through the implicit dialogues that were generated among the poems, accumulating his effects via verbal collage.

On reading Cook’s poems, I admired them immensely and suddenly realised I could adapt his technique to my footballers. And rather than using a photo, I was drawn to the team sheet that appeared on the back of every programme, and thus ‘Starting Eleven’, the second section in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, started to take shape. Thank you, Stanley! I’d like to think you’d enjoy my poems too…

Matthew Stewart, From ‘Form Photograph’ to ‘Starting Eleven’

One of the things I’m working on now is an essay, ironically, on lyric essays, so I’ve been doing some research, reading some books of lyric essays. It’s weird for me, since I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, an ad copywriter, a book reviewer, and a poet, but until the pandemic I didn’t write personal essays or lyric essays. Even though I’ve had some essays published I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert.

But on Facebook I put up a query and got some really interesting answers, from people who definitely are more qualified than me. And as a poet I’m attracted to the idea of an essay that isn’t necessarily: theme, point, point, conclusion. That allows for leaps, long parentheticals and ellipses – in short, essays that mimic poetry in a lot of ways.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review of Flare in New Pages, Pumpkins and Typewriters, Halloween Mystery Parties and Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

I sometimes send stuff to US paper journals. I don’t know my way around very well, and depend on online ranking lists etc. As in the UK, US paper magazines are disappearing (e.g. Tin House and Glimmer Train – 2 of the top 5 in one list), and the online replacements don’t have the same impact. I think more of their journals are university based. And there’s the pay-to-submit issue.

I have trouble understanding currently fashionable US poetry, so it’s the short story market I focus on. There’s a wide range of journals. The most recent one that I was in paid me $20 for a piece of Flash and sent me (expensively, unexpectedly) a contributor’s copy, cover price $18. But it’s only 290th in one list I found, and in another list it’s categorised as Tier 4, Respected: usually small circulation, one or more “notable” prize mentions, sometimes payment.

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

I first started thinking about this post not long after writing the last one…probably sometime around the Tuesday when I started reading the book from which the poem below is drawn from. The poem below reminded me of sitting in my garden a few days before…just sitting on the edge of my patio and staring into space. It had been a rough day at work—there have been a few of those of late, but the future is hopefully looking brighter—and while I was contemplating my naval opportunities (basically setting off to sea and not coming back, a wasp came sidling up to me like some sort of stripey spiv. A fucking wasp, in October!! I ask you…

The sight of the wasp had me at this time of year had me worried about global warming, but also had me harking back the summer when another one of the apocrita critters had stung me on the back of the neck. I was also nervous having also been bitten on the back of my leg by an ant while sitting in the same spot a couple of weeks ago. What have I done to upset the insects of my garden?

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

The concept of ambition in poetry, and how one defines that word in relation to poetry, is something I first encountered in Donald Hall’s 1988 book Poetry and Ambition–still in print from University of Michigan. I read this book of essays in 1991, in between changing diapers and coordinating naptimes for two children under the age of four. It was difficult to feel ambition about career at that time, and a career in poetry was ever a pipe dream; but the notion that a writer could feel ambitious about the work she might be doing in learning about and endeavoring to craft really good poems, even should she fail most of the time, felt encouraging to me. I recommend this book, as there’s also a good deal one can find to disagree with in it, and debate is useful for thinking.

Fast-forward to today (time does seem to move in fast-forward), and I find myself retired from a career on the fringes of academia, where I taught composition to students less-prepared for college and ran the writing center at a university. But I did not teach poetry or creative writing and was staff, not professorial/tenured; so the need to be career-ambitious through poetry was null. That suited my personality well. Maybe too well. Yet somehow I managed to get a reasonable amount of my work published (see the sidebar of this page) and to get several chapbooks and books into print (see the My Books tab here). I had my own form of ambition.

What now, I wonder? I have so much work to revise! Recently, I submitted an experimental, historically-based chapbook to a publisher, and I’m working on getting a new book of older work, though not as old as The Red Queen Hypothesis‘ poems, into print. Will I spend the next few years just catching up? Possibly. Is that “ambitious”? Nah, just means I wasn’t ambitious enough to get to it earlier!

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

An AK-47 claiming he’s the delivery boy and a knock-kneed tuba tuned to the key of gloom.

Bad weather, lousy music, and World War III bearing a bouquet of bombs.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a clogged toilet doing a crappy Bob Dylan impression.

A half-dressed serial killer wanting to slip into something less comfortable.

Banging on my front door: droughts, diseases, and all the bad poems I’ve ever written coming back to haunt me.

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: horror in and out of the news, an outpouring of appreciation for Louise Glück, the future of academia, menopause, and more. Enjoy.


I spent parts of the weekend digesting the whole of Netflix’s Fall of the House of Usher, something I have been waiting for for over a year, being a huge Mike Flanagan fan and lover of Poe in general. It was everything I expected and more–a modern day gothic chilling tale of corporate greed and evil, of extreme moral ambiguousness, set within the frames of Poe stories and poems. And so many poems, enough to make this writer and one-time English major, quiver with delight. I found myself thinking about Poe and how well it all holds together, even nearly 170 years later. How influential his work still is on the literary consciousness of writers, despite his entire life and career riddled with depression and addiction. How Flanagan takes the work and bends it into something new, yet immensely true to the original. […]

I often think about the Greeks and how pervasively their stories remain in Western thought, but Poe is up there on the list as well. For all of Poe’s wraith-like rants against other writers and his worry that he was an utmost failure (all too often related), he manages to stick. Beautifully horrific things still bear his fingerprints. While if you asked me who I liked more, I would say Nathaniel Hawthorne (who examined similar ideas with a little more subtleness), I still love Poe for all his darkness and bluster, which make the series an especially delightful experience that also got me thinking about my recent waffling in regard to writing poems. How I often feel like no one is listening and maybe no one is. But then Poe thought this as well. So maybe I just need to leave my worries to time and allow the chips to fall where they may. 

Kristy Bowen, darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe

The drive took a meandering trajectory dodging abandoned belongings and storm-broken dreams. They coasted gingerly along the city streets under the huddling live oaks, still recovering from the trauma of a demon breath, reflection reaching its barren bones to snatch away any good sense. Outside dried mud cracked under the tires leaving crumbly hints and gaping possibilities, inside half-formed intentions simmered between them hazy and tingly like heat lightning. 

Years Later

Long forgotten ghosts are unexpectedly uncovered, teasing her memory, challenging her self-respect. She puts on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Begins cutting.

Charlotte Hamrick, Snatched: the Means and the End

Writing, at least for me, and at its heart, is necessarily inchoate. Words come out. You work out what to do with them later. Or not: one way of thinking about literary modernism is as a kind of cult of the first draft (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s diary). Poetry, in particular, seems to grow in the gaps. Small poems, lyrics, appear like changelings in and among other things I thought I was writing. I might work them up in the ‘poetry’ book later, but they rarely start there.

This doesn’t mean they always come out looking like prose. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they are trying very hard (possibly too hard) to get away from the prose around them. I’ve come to think of poems like the mushrooms put up by fungi: sometimes they disguise themselves as the detritus they are feeding on, sometimes they look very different indeed. But it’s all one forest.

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

Dear special you,
This is not yet
a cat. This is
a bird hiding
from cats. It is
a butterfly
masquerading
as bird feathers,
a flock of dead
butterflies whose
still wings have been
repurposed as
art, frozen in
time.

PF Anderson, Dear You

I’ve been reading and thinking about the power of place lately. I’m reading for possibly the third time Rebecca Solnit’s book from the late ’70s called Migrations. It is about her ambling around Ireland thinking about ambling, about immigration and exile, about power and poetry and the land, about belonging, about what ties someone to a landscape.

She is so freaking brilliant, which is why I’m on my third read. It is so rich with ideas and beautiful prose that I can barely read it, so often do I have to set it aside to think about what she’s said. I’ve never been to Ireland and although I’m of Irish heritage, I don’t feel particularly connected in the way that so many Americans seem to feel. But the sense she talks about of a land and people integrated, stony and lush, windblown and scented — I get this. I walked out today into a damp autumn day redolent of leaves and dirt and pine, hear the strong song of the stream, high from recent rains, and I felt this land settle around me. To quote an old poem of mine, “I wear this world, a wedding gown, a shroud.” I often feel like I can’t get enough of this land, can’t ingest it enough into my cells. I stand helpless and smitten. [….]

When people are willing to kill over, to die over, land, its “possession,” am I to understand that inherently, as someone to whom landscape means so much? Territorial wars, I know, are about much more than enjoying the view from a ridge. “Land” is access to resources, control, power, as well as history, culture. In this way my own connection to land seems innocent, shallow.

War seems the corruption of that kind of innocent connection to land, borders a persistent, baffling machination of land and idea, of land and love. Call me naive. A word derived from words meaning natural, as well as native, born. Maybe our ideas of place are much too small.

Marilyn McCabe, In my dreams I’m always walkin’; or, On Writing, on Place

I am rebuked for silence: hear then my words, O Israel!
I love you beyond reason and beyond sense,
and the wheeling track of the stars knows
the darkest thoughts we’ve shared. I will not

repudiate my love. And this also is a silence, for which
I also will be blamed. So be it. If the shoe were on the other foot
would a Jew be left alive, between the river and the sea?
I’ve heard their words. I listen. silence is good for that.

Dale Favier, I Am Rebuked For Silence

Because I still have an oven, I can bake bread and knock on the crust: 
a hostage might answer.
Because yeast is alive for a short time,
embroider my name in your handmade world.

Oh long reams of sheets on the ironing board, 
I give you my full attention.   
I give you Simone Weil and Malebranche: 
attentiveness the soul’s natural prayer 
Is prayer.  Pray, pray. With feet.  With flowers, stones.
With undone lips, with murmuring surf.

Jill Pearlman, Half-Baked Prayer (So far, so near)

I am happy to announce that you can now pre-order the press’s two latest chapbooks: Corey Qureshi’s What You Want and Jonathan Todd’s Shift Drinks. Both poets are from Philadelphia and both collections address themes of work and struggle, and I’m very excited to have them join the press’s growing catalogue. […]

Also, with each sale, we are proud to be raising money for the Community Action Relief Project (CARP) in Philadelphia. According to their website, “CARP is a mutual aid and harm reduction project committed to sharing resources and redistributing wealth throughout the Kensington community of Philadelphia. . . . [They] provide essential supplies needed for survival, including hot meals, snacks, clothing, hygiene kits, on site wound care, and safer drug use kits.” In addition, they offer community education and a library of radical literature. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and CARP.

Lastly, I am aware that this release comes at a moment of acute suffering and horror in the world. As we speak, Palestinians are enduring a genocidal siege at the hands of the Israeli military, all with the direct support and encouragement of the United States government. In solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have lived for decades under brutal apartheid, I will be making an immediate $200 donation in the press’s name to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), an organization providing emergency aid to the people of Gaza. Half of the Gazan population consists of people under the age of eighteen, and MECA is providing vital support to families there. In effect, this amount will match what we anticipate raising for CARP, but with the benefit of being given immediately. Receipts for this will be provided soon.

R. M. Haines, New Chapbooks Available!

on the days i can touch what is lost, what is said?

death of depth
we dare call heaven

milk makes a prison
of skin

tears of grace
original face

Grant Hackett [no title]

Years ago I started using a little patter before the prayer that I borrowed from Rabbi David Markus. It was originally ad libbed to be singable to the Rizhyner’s melody for the prayer, but it’s basically become liturgy in my community. My son sings it to me sometimes. Other members of the community quote it. The opening has become part of the prayer now. And this past Friday night, as soon as I played the opening chord, everyone knew what was coming.

“Maybe you’ve had a little bit of a week,” I sang.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had –“

That’s when I noticed the tears pouring down my face.

*

…For the people torn from their homes and shot. For the concert-goers at the all-night dance party whose dancing ended in a massacre. For children, killed and kidnapped. For lifelong peace activists, killed and kidnapped. For over a thousand Jews slaughtered last Shabbat. For my friend whose partner grew up on one of the now-massacred kibbutzim. For the first responders whose job it was to locate and cover every dead body. For the people who were traumatized seeing Torah scrolls draped in tallitot at Simchat Torah because they evoked Jewish dead bodies draped in tallitot. For everyone struggling now with generational trauma. For the hostages in Gaza. For the families of the hostages, frantic and afraid. For the mother I know whose child couldn’t fall asleep in the bomb shelter. For the children and adults who have no bomb shelters and nowhere safe to go. For Awad Darawshe z”l, killed by Hamas while doing his EMT work. For the recognition that someone out there is wailing and mourning every single death this week, including those who weren’t EMTs or peace activists, just “regular” Palestinians and Israelis. For every life snuffed out. For every child now without parents, and every parent now grieving their child. For the inhabitants of Gaza, with electricity and water cut off, whose buildings are now rubble. For the hopelessness and the anguish. For the fact that grief becomes politicized, and strangers on the internet critique for whom and how we grieve. For the fact that I had to firmly instruct my teenager not to watch videos of hostage executions that Hamas has threatened to broadcast. For the fact that not everyone has the luxury of looking away from the death and loss and horror. For every heart now shattered. For the near-certainty that it’s going to get worse before it gets better…

*

“– a little bit of a week,” I managed, somehow.

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

“And if you’ve had a little bit of a week — ai yai yai yai yai yai yai yai!”

The words of the prayer don’t really matter, I’ve said more times than I can count. I’ll sing some Hebrew. Maybe you’ll sing some English. Then I’ll sing some Hebrew, and you’ll sing some English. But what really makes this prayer work, what gives us the spiritual capacity to let go of our baggage and be fully present to welcome Shabbat, is the krechtz. The cry from the heart, from the gut, from the core. The ai yai yai. We have to let it all out before we can let Shabbat in.

Rachel Barenblat, A little bit of a week

Should we be grateful for banality?
Just the ordinary day when nothing much
happens. A day of choices: act or not, understand

or not, feel or not, live or not, be on the right
side of history or not. This is the blessing. The
ordinary day. The luxury of choice. The safety

of power. The power of safety. The sky too,
just blue, clouds unbothered, drifting. This
day when nothing happens. Thank you, we

can whisper to the unremarkable night […]

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A day of choices

It’s a hard week to write about wonder, but I began the day thinking that it’s moments like these that ask us to recommit to what is best about humanity, in the face of so much evidence of what is worst.

It was always my hope to study wonder not merely through an aesthetic or critical lens, but as a fundamental aptitude and resonance in our human experience. Today, I want to revisit the writings of thinkers who, to my mind, summed up the stakes of wonder as a vehicle for empathy.

Rachel Carson said that “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race,”[1] and I stand by her thinking that wonder and humility are incompatible with a lust for exploitation. If we can wonder at the unlikeliness and singularity of a human life, then we safeguard against the impulse for violence. St. Thomas Aquinas also connected wonder with pleasure and desire “that culminates not so much in knowledge as in encounter with majesty,”[2] waking us to what is most essentially human in us, and what is most capable of feeling.

Reflecting on this quality in Wordsworth’s writings, Kate Rigby argued that the reader is “restored to a sense of wonderment before that which we cannot grasp,” which in turn allows us to “be better placed to live respectfully amongst a diversity of more-than-human-others, without seeking always to subsume them to our own ends and understanding.”

Maya C. Popa, Why Wonder

Today we celebrate Columbus Day: October 12 was the actual day of the first sighting of land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can’t imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was. […]

I keep thinking of the ship’s logs and the captain’s journals, which Columbus kept obsessively. Perhaps we need to do a bit more journalling/blogging/notetaking/observing. Maybe it’s more calibrating or more focused daydreaming. These tools can be important in our creative lives.

Maybe we need a benefactor. Who might be Queen Isabella for us, as artists and as communities of artists?

The most important lesson we can learn from Columbus is we probably need to know that while we think we’re sailing off for India, we might come across a continent that we didn’t know existed. Columbus was disappointed with his discovery: no gold, no spices, land that didn’t live up to his expectations. Yet, he started all sorts of revolutions with his discovery. Imagine a life without corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Imagine life without chocolate. Of course, if I was looking through the Native American lens, I might say, “Imagine life without smallpox.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Columbus and Our Own Creative Lives

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Louise Glück. She is, perhaps, best known for her poetry collection The Wild Iris, which was published in 1992 and for which she received the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem opens the book: At the end of my suffering / there was a door.

Her 2014 collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, also from Carcanet, gave me both comfort and confidence as I was struggling to complete the manuscript of Remembering / Disease. ‘You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals, and each time you enter it’s the same place but it has been arranged differently.’ Each time I entered this world, I felt closer to home.

Fokkina McDonnell, Austere beauty

It’s overwhelming to spend time with her poetry; you end up steeped in her mythologies, baffled by a personal story both tantalizingly near the surface and never quite within reach. (Consider a poem such as “The Dream,” a poem with two voices, beginning: “I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed we were married again,” and ending with the prosaic explanation, “Because it was a dream.”) […]

I’m trying to share enough so you see the range—this is a poet who published in The New Yorker for fifty years, after all—and the power present in even her early work. I’ve been noticing, as I flip through the pages, how often the color red occurs, as if Persephone’s pomegranate seeds keep replicating into other forms, and reminding us that, whatever is here, in our troubled and besieged turbulent world, it is our world.

Bethany Reid, Louise Glück, 1943-2023

In 2008, I was lucky enough to be one of Louise Gluck’s poetry students at Boston University’s MFA program.

I remember taking the T to her Cambridge apartment, the breakable vases of dried flowers from her garden everywhere, all of us crowded on the couch and floor hoping not to be the one dumb enough to bump something over.

We were all (I think–or at least I was) a little afraid of her, this tiny steel-gray haired woman, so cutting and dry with her poetry and her remarks (but always a bit of sly humor there).

She had pink Himalayan sea-salt on the table–I hailed from Tennessee backwoods and I’d never seen that before. She used a typewriter in a windowed room. I thought she was the most elegant person I’d ever met.

I remember her telling me the end of one of my poems was “Flaccid”–I knew it was bad from my classmates’ giggles (yes, giggles), but had to look up what it meant when I got back to the dilapidated broken-window Victorian apartment my husband and I (21 years old, newlyweds) were renting. Flaccid, added to the vocabulary. And I sure as hell fixed that ending.

Renee Emerson, Tribute to Louise Gluck

My local public library’s poetry section is on the sparse side. However, after renewing my card today, I felt determined to borrow a poetry book. I considered taking out one of Louise Glück’s collections, but I already own copies of the two on the library’s shelves (Wild Iris and Meadowlands). I chose Maxine Kumin’s 1992 book Looking for Luck instead. When I returned home, I learned that Glück has died (age 80). There will be time to return to her books and to seek out her most recent collection, which I have not read; but hers is a voice readers of poetry will miss.

One thing that her poems do is to face, without shying away from, sorrow or grief. They seldom offer sociably-conventional consolations. The consolation is in the spare beauty of her observation, her control of language. That is difficult to do. When I write from despair or deep grief, I find I want to bring some kind of–call it hope?–into the last few lines. I wonder whether I’ve a tendency to want to comfort; maybe my readers, maybe myself.

Ann E. Michael, Poets, horses

Neither the calls of zebra doves nor the down-

sliding notes of the golden crowned sparrow
can quiet my restlessness, this sense of how,

even in the middle of paradise, grief’s mottled
eye continues to offer itself as a gift of welcome—

strands of black tiger eye kukui nut and ti
leaves, a ceremony wreathed around my neck.

Luisa A. Igloria, E komo mai means “welcome”

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?

I am someone that gets really paralyzed if I think too much about theoretical concerns. So I try to engage with them but limit them. When I was in grad school, I wrote a poem about a character from Arabic literature. One of the critiques of the poem, in workshop, was whether or not I had a right to take on that voice. Several of my classmates spent the majority of the workshop discussing this question, not even really getting to the craft of the poem itself. They were concerned that the answer was no, I didn’t really seem to have the right. It was a troubling experience for me because 1) The assumption that I was not Arab myself was incorrect 2) It brought up a whole lot of existential tailspinning (am I Arab enough since I don’t look as Arab as some of my family, for example, since I’m not totally fluent in the language, etc.) and 3) It scared me that there was this possibility we couldn’t engage with certain things that elicit our curiosity as writers, and that this list of things we can’t engage with are constantly shifting and hard to predict. Isn’t that an obstacle to empathy? At the same time, yes—it’s hugely important to me that writing is genuine and that writers are aware of their own positionality AND do not obstruct or co-opt the voice or tradition of another. In that way, I suppose I’m always asking: where is my work in relation to empathy, honesty, originality? And do I have a reason why I’ve written this? Those are the questions that feel most important to me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.D. Lauren-Abunassar (rob mclennan)

Over the last decade, Emma Simon has quietly but impressively built up a reputation as a gifted exponent of quirky, well-honed poetry, good enough to grace many well-known journals and to win or be placed in several prestigious competitions. Her two pamphlets – Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (SmithǀDoorstop, 2020; a winner, chosen by Neil Astley no less, in The Poetry Business’s annual pamphlet competition) – showcased her poems’ qualities. Notably, as well as containing first-class content, a number (but not too many) of the poems have ostentatious titles, e.g. ‘A Pindaric Ode to Robert Smith of The Cure’. Emma has completed both the Poetry Business School Writing School programme and the Poetry School / Newcastle University MA programme and thereby been fortunate to receive the tutelage of some of the UK’s finest poet–teachers.

When Emma announced that Salt would be publishing Shapeshifting for Beginners, available here, I was very glad, and keen to see how she would work across the broader canvas of a whole collection. For me, Emma’s poems, though distinctively her own, remind me of Vicki Feaver in how she draws, often playfully, upon memories, reveries, a wide range of cultural references and a generally wry viewpoint, to consider the place of women and girls in, and the occasional accepting befuddlement at the weirdness of, our contemporary world. Her tone throughout is commanding: the reader follows her train of thought without question. Glyn Maxwell’s blurb says that the ‘poems are shaped by lockdown’, but they are largely far from being about the pandemic, even, it seems, at a subconscious level. It’s a very witty, clever and enjoyable collection.

Matthew Paul, On Emma Simon’s ‘White Blancmange Rabbit’

Hélène Demetriades’ debut collection, the plumb line (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2023) , is a superbly crafted, touching exploration of parenthood and of family relationships. The poems are grouped into three sections: Beginnings, Gravity and Departures, each focusing on a distinct stage in the evolution of those relationships, particularly between the daughter and the father. […]

I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. It is so human, so touching, so authentic, so relatable. It gets right to the heart of family relationships, revealing both the challenges and the rewards.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the plumb line’ by Hélène Demetriades

“Ophelia” has a content warning for non-specific sexual and domestic assault. These poems explore allegories for the complexity of feelings that such assaults trigger. Interspersed are fragmentary erasure poems titled “Ophelia”, using Shakespeare’s character. Ophelia is cast as, “torrent, tempest/ whirlwind her body/ the theater of others”. Later, “she will choose cold/ the poison of deep grief” and is described as “o’fire that drowns”. […]

The collection successfully weaves historical and contemporary reactions and trauma from domestic and sexual violence, using allegory and symbolism to explore and illustrate how such violence impacts its victims. “Ophelia” is sensitively and compassionately drawn.

Emma Lee, “Ophelia” V C McCabe (Femmé Salve Books) – Book review

John Guillory writes in Professing Criticism, a 2022 book, that literary criticism “originated millennia ago, achieved a maximal state of organization in the twentieth-century university, and now faces an uncertain future” (xv). He begins with a well-known story: nineteenth-century literary critics were self-trained journalists publishing in periodicals, while universities concentrated on philology–language instead of literature. “Literary scholarship” came into being as a profession after World War I, when it began to serve universities to offer electives and majors to its “clientele,” future members of a professional-managerial class (50-51). From a critic’s point of view, why not jump into the breach with your close-reading skills in pocket, since “professionals” receive higher status and compensation? The new English specialists stressed the exercise of scholarship (knowledge) rather than criticism (opinion). And here we are.

I’m reading Guillory’s tome while preparing to speak on a roundtable called “Avenues of Creative Scholarship,” and I’m only partway in, but what made my jaw drop when he speculated that since literary criticism wasn’t always a university discipline, it’s reasonable to imagine that the whole English Department enterprise was a blip, now ending. Arts and humanities curricula are being destroyed at places like West Virginia University–and declining in power and attractiveness at my own college–so why should this speculation surprise me? But somehow I’d always imagined that the eclipse would pass, perhaps once we got smart and recentered the discipline on what draws students in: reading personally, making their own literary art, asking high-stakes questions about what literature is and does. I mean, that could be true. Even now, there’s a bright ring around the shadow. But Guillory is right. To count on my discipline’s survival–to count on universities surviving in some shape comparable to their twentieth-century versions–is irrationally optimistic.

Witness the shuttering of The Gettysburg Review this week by the administration of Gettysburg College, apparently from a mixture of ignorance and indifference. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a deeply interesting (and paywalled) interview with GR editors Mark Drew and Lauren Hohle in which they discuss how consultants, framing themselves as efficiency experts, draw paychecks from many institutions by targeting the arts and humanities; Drew also reminds us that Kenyon College closed the Kenyon Review for a decade before thinking better of that decision. His own speculation: “The ideal fix, to my mind, is for the magazine to be endowed, either wholly or in part, so that we’re protected from the vicissitudes of changing administrations.”

Lesley Wheeler, Arts and humanities in annular eclipse

When Lesley talks about the closing and narrowing of academia’s support of poetry, literature, liberal arts in general, I am reminded of all my reading on Cold War Culture than indicated the American government was secretly propping up—and using for propaganda—many of the big journals we have come to think of as “permanent” features. Between the fifties and the eighties, the intelligence community thought it was important to show that America had its own artists that could compete with Russia’s—and, of course, they wanted to follow any potential communists into artistic enclaves. So, they gave money to Kenyon Review, Poetry, Paris Review, they helped publish books like Dr. Zhivago. Now, anti-intellectualism is king in politics—the government’s no longer interested in being a patron of the arts. Lesley mentions the patronage that most artists need to live as disappearing—but maybe it was always a sort of mirage. How many people in my generation could even procure a tenure track job in English Literature or Creative Writing? And the chances for the people younger than me, even less. Last week I talked about money and the awards system—a sort of insider trading post about how being wealthy enables you to get more money from grants, awards, and fellowships because you know some sort of secret password—whether it’s a certain college degree, championship by a wealthy mentor, or other. These things feel forbidden to talk about in the poetry world—but I feel it’s also important to point out that the poetry world is as corrupt and given to influence as any field, but also has its havens from that corruption if you look for them.

As a writer, I’ve always felt like an outsider—first, being a woman who did not come (or marry into) money, now, being a disabled and chronically ill woman who still has not won the lottery—and part of me feels like I’ve been beating a fist on the big blank walls of poetry institutions for more than twenty years. I’ve written hundreds of reviews, too, a world that is apparently disappearing, the idea of literary criticism itself being valuable enough to be paid for—was that a waste of time?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Solar Eclipse, Loss and Sadness, a Tribute to Louise Glück, and Some Thoughts on Poetry, Academia, Ambition and the Establishment

And yet, here I am, able to recognise in my own body that things are changing, that my body, once again, is unpredictable, uneasy, causing me more anguish. I wrote a poetry collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse a few years ago. It was about finding a way to be friends with a body that had let me down so badly; a body that had lost us all our children. The collection was about grief, but was also about recognising that my body was precious, my body had done its best.

But somehow, as menopause approaches, I find myself back to feeling my body is an enemy to me. What is there to say? The door is closing, the door is slamming, there is no going back. It is the finality that is daunting. I don’t want to go back. And yet, the well of sadness that is a part of carrying the death of your baby around with you is open again. I look down into it and I see the person I was, in the body that I was in, looking back up at me hopefully. There is no real difference, it is the same body, it is still doing its best, I am still doing my best.

What am I trying to say? That the loss never goes away, but that you fold around it, like scar tissue forming around a foreign object, until it is a part of you, a part of your body and your story. I have stopped trying to fix myself, I have stopped punishing myself, and am embracing myself.

Wendy Pratt, A Childless Woman Approaches the Menopause

Reflecting on my own time in the [Australian Poetry Slam] scene, I’m proud of the performances and the poems, but also wondering what was it that drove me to compete in slams. I was first introduced to them in Adelaide 2016 when I was asked to be a ‘sacrificial’ poet at the SA State Slam Final. I loved  being the ‘warm-up’ poet but it was safe. It took me a couple more years to find the courage (was it courage?) to perform as a competitor. Ironically, I was working on a novel at the time and was writing in residence at Writers SA where I saw the poster advertising the national poetry slam every. single. day. Was it desire to win that made me compete, or something else?

It was 2016. I was 48 years old and peri-menopausal. It might seem strange to say that at 48 I was only just finding my voice; but that’s how it felt. I think there is an alchemy that occurs in the body and mind in the years leading up to and during menopause. However, in our youth obsessed culture, it’s the negative effects of aging & menopause that are emphasised; so much so that older women can feel, at best, devalued & invisible and, at worst, whinging hypochondriacs. Pre-40 me found the idea of women being invisible incomprehensible. To my shame, I remember thinking: what the fuck are these women complaining about, what do they mean … invisible? I’m starting to get it. But it’s a bullshit story. And I’m working hard to let go of these bullshit stories. (More on this to come in future posts, I’m sure …)

So perhaps there were a number of competing reasons that I stepped up to the microphone and performed in a poetry slam. A desire to write something short (writing the novel was a torture and it’s still unfinished), a desire to be seen (fuck invisibility), and a desire to be heard, which became stronger than self doubt or fear. The more I performed, the more confident I became. It’s no coincidence that my first collection of poetry & prose is titled SIARAD, a Welsh word that means to speak.

Caroline Reid, POETRY SLAM PERFORMANCE: Stars

I think I just want to find a life that isn’t centered on how sick I feel, how cancer-ridden my boob is, how ashamed I am of my swollen, painful, unhealthy body.

I need a new hobby that doesn’t function like a mirror – or a selfie.

This morning as I think about running to the lake, fear builds up. I am afraid that the weird sand-feeling will cause me to stumble. The last thing I want now is a broken wrist.

But the squirrels are really active now for some reason. Seasonal? I want to see them. It is one way to stay in the moment – to be with them in those seconds before they scamper out of sight.

Negative capability is just about being in the moment, after all, right? Not judging, not needing to surround anything with meaning or purpose?

Just put the map down for a minute – eh?

Ren Powell, Oh, the Negative Capability

This week had brought renewed creativity. I’ve joined the peaceful space that is Dawn Chorus. It’s a simple concept of bringing writers together to work for an hour before the nitty gritty of life begins. There is a prompt to use if other inspiration if scant, but more than anything this is a place of calm focus, a place to enjoy the simple act of making time to write.

This act has been fruitful. I’ve written two new poems, and a piece of creative non-fiction. They will need to be polished before they go on their adventures, but it feels good to write something new, and to simply give myself space to think. Being a writer is a solitary pursuit, and being a writer with a chronic illness brings an extra edge of invisibility.

Whilst working alone is one of the positives of the surprise redesign diagnosis with M.E. wrought in my life, there is something about working in community with others that brings a different dimension. Accountability feels like too strong a word – no one is relying on me to turn up each morning. Perhaps it’s simple community – the sense that we’re all working to reach a similar goal. A quiet synergy, even if just for an hour. This space to think is hard to pin down amongst the constant chatter and pull of needing to be visible, needing to be part of the world regardless of whether it is a space that feels welcoming. I often wonder how it must have felt to live with so little sound, without the constant hum of traffic or radios, odd clanking of another redevelopment, whirrs of gardens being tidied and the simple presence of so many people. This level of external distraction makes it difficult to simply be part of the world without shouting.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Being part of the world without shouting

The blockage has finally cleared! Poems that had been gathering dust in numerous in-trays have finally come back to me, all with a polite ‘no thanks’ attached. Oh well. Although having said that, I’ve two poems forthcoming in South magazine and another two in the Hastings Stanza Anthology ‘Bird in a Wilderness’ which we’re launching on Friday October 20 at The White Rock Hotel, Hastings at 7 pm – if you’re anywhere near, do come! The book is partly in aid of The Refugee Buddy Project that does wonderful work in welcoming refugees in the Hastings area.

Robin Houghton, All kinds of poetry news and shenanigans

It was a huge pleasure to be interviewed by acclaimed poet David Adès for Poets’ Corner hosted by Westwords. Each month a poet is invited to read and talk about their poetry on a theme of the poet’s choice.

For this episode, we talked on the theme of Limits of language, limits of experience. in the context of my poetry videos. We covered a lot of ground but the conversation falls naturally into more or less bite-sized chunks. We start with an extended discussion on the nature of video poetry, how they are made, how they can work, and more. Then we go on to talk about some of my specific pieces.

The Youtube clip includes excerpts of these videos, in order: after-image; Palingenetics; and furthermore (indexed); A Captain’s; The Ferrovores; FUTURE PERFECT; and An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses.

Ian Gibbins, Limits of language, limits of experience – extended interview with David Adès for Poets’ Corner

I’m very pleased to announce that Mark McGuinness’ excellent poetry podcast, A Mouthful of Air, which has recently featured poets such as Mona Arshi, Judy Brown, Rishi Dastidar, Ian Duhig, Mimi Khalvati, Clare Pollard, Tom Sastry, and Denise Saul, has recorded a discussion about my new Salt collection, Between a Drowning Man.

Mark’s method is to focus on one particular poem and between us we chose the poem ‘you are not in search of’, on page 57 of the new book, from the latter end of the ‘Works and Days’ sequence. You can listen to the podcast here. It’s about 40 minutes in length and includes a reading of the poem at the beginning and end. There is also a helpful transcription of our discussion.

Martyn Crucefix, New podcast discussion on Between a Drowning Man

I lost my mind.
I put it here somewhere,
I know I did.

The rain sweeps against the window.
Tonight’s autumn rain.
Waves of it, light, then heavy.
It’s 2 in the morning.
I pace the room,
listening to rain.

Bob Mee, Untitled

the soldiers return
but no one believes them
for they are mute

if you don’t like this war
there’s another one
on the next channel

the adverts are sweeter
a new car in the bright sunshine
turns into a hearse

Jim Young, rumours

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week found poets wrestling with war, illness, the deaths of loved ones, and publishers giving up the ghost, while also rejoicing at new poems, new books, old friends and autumn weather, among many other things. Enjoy.


My beloved doesn’t understand my enthusiasm for “putting the gardens to bed for winter.” It seems like boring, hard work. Yet I don’t clean everything up–I always leave cover for bees and other creatures that need leaf litter and old stems in order to winter over. However, taking down the stalks and cutting back the peonies (etc) feels satisfying to me. I work in the cooler weather and sense the difference in the air. I recognize the annuals are dying and the perennials are going dormant, the trees let go of their coloring leaves; walnuts, oaks, and hickories seem to fling their mast upon the earth with every gust of wind. There’s nothing sad or somber about the changing of seasons. Winter must arrive in order for spring to do its thing. I like to think of daffodils, muscari, and irises huddled quietly in soil and taking much-required rest before the warmth unthaws the earth. I feel the same.

Ann E. Michael, There & back again, with weeding

To not know; to think only about the usual mixed feelings of crossing back to “real life” after a holiday, with tender feet and breathing open pores.  To be one of the ravers in the Israeli desert dancing under the starry October sky.  To be an observant Jew dancing wildly over Sukkot-Shabbat-Simchat Torah, giving thanks over three holidays celebrating joy, joy, joy, going into otherness – not knowing about the bloody weekend.

I was counting the hours of those in blissful ignorance, having switched off their devices for another kind of communication as one holiday slid into another into another — before they’d have to rejoin those who knew. That sliver of innocence would not narrow and close in the usual way, with a shiver, a tremble as we cross back over the straits — as poet Yehuda Amichai writes, trying to soak it all up before the flute holes close.

From one kind of abyss to another.  Strewn with corpses draped like black flowers/on roads, on the tops of cars, in one’s hearts and arms.

Jill Pearlman, Beyond Belief

A song, a garden, a salvation. A goodness, a grace, a sky-blue smile.

A skeleton key that’ll unlock well-being’s fortune and not the grave.

Rich Ferguson, The Skeleton Key at Wellness and Vine

It’s over five months into chemotherapy treatments and, even though the drugs are less harsh than they were the first 3 months, it is taking a different kind of toll on me. I didn’t hit a wall, really, but have sunk slowly in terms of feeling enthusiastic about anything. I have forced myself these past 6 weeks to exercise for an hour and a half five days a week. But that is it. There’s nothing left after the walks, the runs, the hiit program and yoga.

There is nothing left with which to write even.

I am not sure I have ever done anything this difficult in my life. I am after-the-marathon-tired, but it’s not over yet. Sometimes I can’t even grasp why I’m doing this. And I know that sounds childish. But it has been difficult to keep in mind any kind of timeline or image of a future reality. When is this “over”? What will that look like?

Ren Powell, Understanding Fatigue

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Refuge’.

On a global scale, the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. On a more personal level, I have friends who have become refugees this year. And while the disastrous war in Ukraine or the horrors of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean may be prominent in the thoughts of many, they are just the tip of an iceberg which includes mass displacement in and from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan and so many others, due to war, natural disasters, famine and a host of other reasons. Even for those who have fled or claimed asylum under marginally less terrible conditions than some others, the emotional impact (at the very least) is shocking.

Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’, from her most recent and truly wonderful collection In the Lateness of the World, speaks in the voice of a taxi driver who is also a Syrian refugee. I find the juxtaposition of the incredible horror of what he’s endured to arrive in a (relatively, apparently) safe city, with his determination to “see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there”, almost unbearable. Forché brilliantly conveys the contrasts between the warm taxi and the filthy, dangerous rubber boat, the hotel in Rome with its portraits of films stars and the dead child floating in the water. How surreal it is to hear someone in a calm environment quietly describe the inhumanity they endured to arrive there. And there is also an underlying sense that death is never far away. ‘The Boatman’, as a title and the self-description of “the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world”, makes me think of Charon, who took the souls of the dead across the river Styx. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, National Poetry Day: Refuge and Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’

There is an interesting phrase in Gordon Weiss’s 2011 book on the root causes and final days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, ‘The Cage’. Weiss describes the careful record keeping and desperate telephone calls of a small group of Tamil government doctors who were trapped along with thousands of civilians in the ‘siege zone’ as the Sri Lankan army finally closed in on the Tamil Tigers. These were, Weiss says, integral to “the compilation of memory” that subsequently provided evidence of atrocity that would otherwise have been obliterated entirely. “Instinctively (the doctors) understood better than most that the only gravestone that those who died would receive would be in the form of the ticks and marks on a hospital casualty form”, he writes, and “…(o)ften the UN would speak to the doctors from their radiotelephones, listening to their pleas for help and intervention while the dull sound of exploding shells crackled up the line…” (p276). 

There is a comparison to be made I think (albeit one that I have to be careful in making) between the heroically steady and precise record keeping of those doctors, and their real-time testimonies of witness, and the enormous job of compilation that the three editors of this first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry have undertaken. The voices that they allow to emerge, rising as they do from both within layers of division inside Sri Lanka over the last 60 or 70 years, and from around the world as the diasporic community has grown over the same period, create a rich and varied psychological/political landscape which is as unique – and often as harrowing – as the experience of Sri Lankans over the period since independence from British colonial rule in 1948. It is hard not to read this project of anthologisation as one in which a compilation is taking place so that a shared cultural memory is not obliterated by the deliberate forgetfulness of the powerful global forces that shape history. 

Chris Edgoose, The life of their land 

This is an ugly game
of dominoes. There
is always one more.
Waiting to fall.
Ampersand.
Melomys & more.

Who should the bears
blame, as they
starve on melting ice,
on river banks,
who should the green
sea turtles blame,
or emperor penguins,
their babies much
too young to swim?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Bramble Cay Melomys

Sukkot for me evokes both fragility (the sukkah begins falling apart as soon as it’s created; every life is a sukkah, fragile and fleeting; God knows I’ve sat with sorrow in the sukkah at times) and joy (Torah tells us to rejoice in our festivals; this is zman simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing; on Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day, God calls us to linger a little longer in joy.) These poems are somewhat in the mode of Texts to the Holy, though I leave it to you to decide who is speaking, and to whom. […]

I see how fragile everything is
around you, how tenuous
any peace. Reasons for sorrow
pile up like fallen leaves.
Feel my heart touching yours,
enfolding yours.
I’m here with you where you are
under this roof that lets in rain.

Rachel Barenblat, Rejoice / Fragile

I am so happy that I wrote a poem.  It’s been weeks of writing a few lines and then sputtering.  And in the spirit of appreciation for August Kristin who left me poem notes, let me write down an idea for another poem I had as I drove back from Lutheranch, back across Georgia on Sunday.

I thought about what and who had previously been on the land, about Harriet Tubman leading slaves to safety.  I thought about dark skies and scars and reading the stars, a map to freedom, stars that scar the black back of the sky.  I thought about all the people we cannot save, no matter how hard we try.  I thought about writing about Harriet Tubman when she’s old and cannot save people anymore, but is that valid?  I realized I don’t know much about Harriet Tubman when she’s old.  I thought about Harriet Tubman and the Stono River and her spywork during the Civil War.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair after the Apocalypse

Humour seems to me to be a useful and sometimes subtle tool to get over a message about the general state of the society that I find myself, however reluctantly, a part of. There are plenty of poems here that poke affectionate fun at people and their habits, at myself for the absurd elements of my own life – and often, because I read a lot of poetry and far too often poets want to be taken so very seriously, at poets. Sometimes something deeper and more serious lurks beneath the surface, but sometimes it’s justifiable as fun for fun’s sake.

Maybe the point in jabbering on about this is a reaction to a whole string of poems I’ve read recently, and comments in discussions, where the writers seem to inhabit a closed, incredibly self-indulgent, self-absorbed world, as if they are unaware of what’s happening outside.

This week’s prime example, was a bizarre and to my mind scarcely believable debate, carried out with a considerable amount of fury, as to what is, and what is not, a haiku. I found both bizarre and ridiculous that people were getting so worked up about it that they were resorting to insults.

The world is burning and people are being slaughtered, folks, and you’re worrying about this?!

Maybe the point here is a message – please let’s take ourselves a little less seriously and remind ourselves that we’re here to untangle the madness that comes with the responsibility of being human in whatever way seems appropriate at the time – and not to preoccupy ourselves with pedantry, particularly when it involves such a flimsy thing as a perceived poetic form.

Bob Mee, COME ON POETS, TAKE YOURSELVES A LITTLE LESS SERIOUSLY, PLEASE

waking up a thousand birds :: i have to be a perfect dawn

(first appeared in Roadrunner Haiku Journal in 2009)

Grant Hackett [no title]

Ok, you might say, so what do poems about Aldershot Town footballers of the 1980s have in common with poems about life in rural Spain, for instance? Well, quite a lot now you come to mention it.

The main nexus is the chafing of belonging and estrangement. In the commuter belt in South-West Surrey and North Hampshire, where most town centres look alike, have similar shops and chain restaurants, where people don’t put down anchors but move around to be closer to a new job, there’s no doubt that the second half of the 20th century saw a loss of community, of identity, which was pretty deeply felt by the time I was a kid in the area during the 1980s. In that respect, lower-league football had become a significant factor in generating or recovering communal identities. By supporting their local team, people belonged. And that was definitely what attracted me to Aldershot Town.

Not enough, of course, because I ended up leaving southern England for Extremadura, where I found a profound, established sense of identity in small towns such as Almendralejo and Villafranca de los Barros. In retrospect, that feeling of belonging was what made me stay, even though I would never quite be one of them, always a foreigner.

This dual perspective runs through Whatever You Do, Just Don’t and knits its sections together. By straddling two countries, two languages, two societies, I can’t 100% feel at home in either, but my perspectives on them both have acquired extra nuance, additional layers. In these poems, Sunday tapas and siestas in deepest Extremadura might even remind you of a nap after Roast Topside or Brisket in Knaphill or Croydon in 1979 or 1982…

Matthew Stewart, Four sections, one book

It would be impossible not to absolutely delight in the lyric gestures of Bennington, Vermont poet, essayist and erasure artist Mary Ruefle’s latest, a collection of short and shorter prose and prose poems simply titled The Book (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2023). Ruefle is the author of well over a dozen full-length titles, most recently Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Dunce (Wave Books, 2019) [see my review of such here], and this latest collection offer pieces that sit within a wide gradient, from prose poem to the very short story and everything in-between. There is something quite magical in the way her pieces exist within this collection, this “book,” offering the notion of genre as something wonderfully fluid. Within compact lines and wonderful flow, she offers intimate and lyric slivers of life and thinking, meditations on ordinariness that is never truly ordinary, or spectacular simply because of that ordinariness. The variations on her prose structures hold an enormity, packing nuance into every phrase. “That book sat on my various shelves for decades until I got around to it,” she writes, to open the piece “THE BOOK,” “and then it seemed to be written especially for me. I hope this provides some hope to the other unread books surrounding me who are wondering what will happen to them when I die.” There is such a joy within these sentences, these phrases, one that appreciates and explores with such a level of curiosity and wonder combined with a deep and abiding wisdom that it is it be envied.

rob mclennan, Mary Ruefle, The Book

There are a lot of options for adult skaters–testing, competitions, clubs, classes, private lessons, etc. There are different kinds of skating a person might focus on–freestyle (jumps and spins), dance (solo or paired), moves in the field. I’d thought about and dabbled in different ways of skating since first returning to the ice. Exploring was good and I’m glad I tried on different goals and ways of being a skater, but my lack of a clear focus contributed to my feelings of ennui. Then, a long thread in an online forum this August full of older skaters talking about life-altering skating injuries gave me serious pause about my attempts to return to jumping and spinning. Did I really want to risk my ability to do all kinds of things I now take for granted just so I could do a waltz jump that was likely never going to look or feel the way it did 45 years ago? A few weeks ago, while talking about possible goals with another skater, I said, “I think I’d rather do simple things beautifully than hard or risky things I can barely get through.” As soon as I heard myself, I knew I’d figured it out, my new skating manifesto:

Simple things, done beautifully.

I want to be a strong skater. I want to skate with speed. I want to skate without fear. I want to skate gracefully. I can do all of those things if I’m skating simply.

At my next lesson, I shared this way of thinking about it with my coach. “You often say you don’t want to nit-pick,” I told him, “but I think I want you to nit-pick. I don’t want to just execute a move. I want to master it.” He took me back to working on basics.

I then had one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Focusing on moving beautifully broke through a block in understanding I’d had about doing crossovers, one of the simplest moves there is. I was able to do crossovers more powerfully than I had previously, and with less fear.

That felt so good, I started thinking about how it might be to do other simple things beautifully. I followed Kate Lebo’s process for making chicken pot pie, one night roasting a chicken and making gravy, and the next roasting vegetables (using herbs from our garden) and making pie crust. The third night I put all the parts together into a pie, and it was pretty amazing. Pot pie is one of the simplest dishes there is, and Lebo showed me how to make it beautifully. Now, I’m wondering how I might apply this way of thinking and being to everything–to my relationships, to work, to writing, to making a home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Simple things, done beautifully

Simon Cutts is a poet, printer and publisher and the thread of continuity that runs through the legendary Coracle Press. The Small Press Model is a collection of more-or less short prose pieces, many of them occasional and previously published, some new, all of them concerned one way or another with the question of publication in all its various forms. Cutts’ overall approach, and the philosophy that lies behind Coracle, might be best summed up by the following quote from one of the last pieces in this book, a note on the work of artist Peter Downsbrough: ‘I am always amazed at the simplicity of devices in the construction of his work, the home-madeness that leads to such an abstraction and austerity of the finished work.’

That sense of the hand-made, the austere and simple is, I think, what characterises Cutts’ philosophy of publication; the idea of the published thing as an object fitted to its primary purpose and taking its place in a world of objects, is central to his practice (along with his various Coracle partners) and to this book.

The book also reminds us of his very inclusive definition of what constitutes publication. Yes, there are lots of books, but a Coracle Press publication can be a single page of printer (or blank) paper, a gatefold, a book, a catalogue, an exhibition, a building or the monumental resin on concrete publication of his A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire that graces the cover of The Small Press Model.

Crucially, for Cutts, publication is a physical experience. This might mean a concern with the qualities of paper:

“I suddenly realised that I was interested in the transparency of sheets of paper and variable lines of coloured type.”

or, as an extension, the physical qualities of traditional print processes or the frequent examples of books and other physical objects being a continuum; again, A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire is a good example, having started life as a book before becoming a monumental presence.

Billy Mills, The Small Press Model by Simon Cutts: A Review

There’s a strong preference for summer running through these poems. In the title poem, a childhood memory of a neighbour who had “drab furniture with crochet antimacassars” and who “only spoke the island Welsh,” yet was kind,

“In a hot summer that reverberated to the sound
of roller skates tearing up concrete
she took us in her shiny black Morris Minor,
speeding past farms and fields of potatoes,
to the candy floss paradise of Benllech
with its wide apron of sand and donkeys.
Me in my beloved yellow towelling hot pants,
while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ played
from everyone’s open door.”

Readers can almost hear the children playing on the beach, the splash of waves and the song blaring from open windows. Even the black is polished to a cheerful shine. In contrast, “Winter’s Breath” ends,

“Winter is a black and white country.
The old know this: it strips flesh
from trees, flowers, bones.”

Emma Lee, “Seasons in the Sun” Annest Gwilym (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) – book review

Richard remarked on how ‘stuffy’ the poetry world can be. Over the years, Penteract Press has published many exceptional works, including The Book of Penteract anthology, Christian Bök’s The Kazimir Effect, your own collections Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) and Slate Petals (and Other Wordscapes), and Pedro Poitevin’s Nowhere at Home. It never ceases to astonish me that these publications – and indeed experimental poetry generally – appear to receive little or no attention from what one might call the ‘literary establishment’. What are your thoughts on this?

Anthony: The poetry world is run by a small number of cliques. But this shouldn’t be surprising: it’s true of literally every industry. It’s unfortunate that the styles favoured by these cliques are at odds with the poetry we wish to promote — but it is what it is.

We can remind ourselves that innovation and technical skill ultimately win out. The art that gets remembered tends to be outside the mainstream of its day, and mainstream artists rarely have any longevity.

That said, fame isn’t much use when you’re dead….

It’s also worth considering that even ‘popular’ poetic styles aren’t particularly popular. This lack of popularity makes it easier for non-mainstream poets to do their own thing — after all, we can see what we’re missing out on by remaining on the fringes, and the answer is: not a lot.

More coverage for Penteract, constraint, and visual poetry would be nice. However, from an aesthetic perspective, I’m quite happy to be outside mainstream circles. There’s little in the mainstream that inspires me, these days.

Marian Christie, ‘Everyone is invited’ – An Interview with Anthony Etherin of Penteract Press

This news hit a lot of people hard, myself included. My first response was shock. But we just read that magazine!, I thought, the way people sometimes respond after hearing terrible news about a person—But I just saw them!

A literary magazine is not a person, of course. But the closure of this particular journal means not only the loss of another vital home for beautiful and important contemporary writing, but the loss of jobs for the editors. I interviewed Lauren about a week ago, as part of our Lit Mag Reading Club discussion of Gettysburg Review. She was engaged, funny, and clearly passionate about this work.

If the magazine’s closing felt shocking to me, I cannot imagine how these editors feel. From what they’ve tweeted, it appears they were completely excluded from this decision.

It also appears the editors were given no warning that this was coming, and that there was no negotiation option made available to them. Nor, it seems, was there any effort to seek a buyer for the magazine. The college board met last week and presumably discussed this situation. The editors, from what I gather, were not part of that discussion.

Evidently too, the college president’s reasons for closing the magazine are not based on facts. According to the editors, he inflated the magazine’s budget when speaking with the faculty. He also hinted at layoffs which suggest a need for budget-cutting overall. Yet just last week, the college received a $10 million-dollar donation from a former English major. The editors are right to ask, where is that money going?

Another question, of course, is what can be done?

Several magazines have gone through threats of closure over the years, then pulled through. In spring of 2022 Conjunctions almost stopped publication, but then didn’t, after outcry and public pressure upon Bard College. In the Story Magazine newsletter from a few days ago, Editor Michael Nye recounted the way people rallied behind and ultimately saved Missouri Review.

The editors of Gettysburg Review are encouraging readers to reach out to the president and provost of Gettysburg College.

Becky Tuch, Can we save Gettysburg Review?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, which opens my book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change: every ending is also a beginning, and we don’t necessarily know of what. A wise person once told me to start each day by asking this question: What else is possible?

Life constantly surprises me—sometimes in painful ways, sometimes in wonderful ways. Change is the only constant, isn’t it? During an interview the other day I was asked how I live so comfortably with ambiguity and ambivalence. My answer: I don’t! I don’t live comfortably with the unknowns, but I try not to struggle against them. I try to trust the ebb and flow. As Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” […]

Keep Moving has been a miracle in my life. Writing these notes-to-self each day helped me become more optimistic and open to change. And as I shared in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, the advance for the book enabled me and my kids to stay in our house. Nothing stressed me out more, or woke me up in the middle of the night more, than the fear of losing our house in the divorce. I worried about having to uproot my kids from their neighborhood, move them away from their friends, and put them in a new school. I had no idea how I would manage to keep us here.

If you’ve been divorced or faced a major financial hurdle for another reason—medical bills, a job loss—you understand that frantic fear. Keep Moving is why I’m writing this to you from my office in the front room of my house, watching people walking by with strollers and dogs. It feels like a miracle to me.

Maggie Smith, On Surprise & Gratitude

Why is brief light so beautiful at such a time

of day? Sometimes I drive under a canopy
arching over certain avenues just to feel

immersed in that dapple, imagining
voices speaking from out of the leaves.

I see clusters of moth wings outlined with Damascus
steel, the glisten of hummingbirds teetering on slips

of vine. Even the blood inside the hard bronze
carapace of a horseshoe crab radiates fluorescence.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (13)

This isn’t really a post about magic, it’s about the power of poetry, as an art form that depends almost exclusively on a hyper-aware use of language, for good or ill. […]

Canntaireachd is a verbalisation of pipe tunes, to be used when teaching a student new music. You sang it until you’d learned it, then got the fingering right on the chanter, and then you learned to play it on the pipes. Far from being random vocalisation, it is an elaborately coded highly technical language. Pipers would say it is more effective than staff notation, as it is written to convey not only pitch and rhythm, but dynamics and intensity, and I’m glad to say it’s still being taught. You can hear an example of it in Martin Bennett’s Chanter, given a surprising twist on his Grit album.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Hocus Pocus

i dread to tread the wounded ways
where he brought forth time’s voices
still the crack-lipped words tell and still
the moments dear to this man’s standing
still the morning
still the air
of thomas dare be there

upon reading a poem by RS Thomas

Jim Young, be thee there

It is one of the hardest things in life — discerning where we end and the rest of the world begins, negotiating the permeable boundary between self and other, all the while longing for its dissolution, longing to be set free from the prison of ourselves. That is why we cherish nature and art, those supreme instruments of unselfing, in Iris Murdoch’s lovely phrase; that is why happiness, as Willa Cather so perfectly defined it, is so often the feeling of being “dissolved into something complete and great.”

Because our sense of self is rooted in the body, it is through the body that we most readily and rapturously break the boundary in the ecstatic dissolution we call eros.

That is what former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin (June 6, 1925–February 6, 2014) explores in her subtle and stunning 1970 poem “After Love,” found in her indispensable Selected Poems (public library).

Maria Popova, After Love: Maxine Kumin’s Stunning Poem About Eros as a Portal to Unselfing

This is a short poem that came to me in what felt like a very few minutes, on the third anniversary of my father’s death.  I had forgotten the date, but when my husband and daughter urged me to go out with them one Sunday, I had a strong sense I needed to stay at home.  Sitting on the decking, I suddenly remembered the significance of the day, 6th June, and sat very quietly connecting to the experience of being with my father as he lay dying. The poem came through to me at that point, just a light poured through him in his last eleven minutes.  I do remember having to look up the word for an alchemical container though! ‘An alembic’.

At the time of his dying I wanted to recite the mantra from the Buddhist Heart Sutra, ‘Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!but couldn’t remember the ‘samgateof the fourth word, so looked it up on my Mac.  The mantra, in Sanskrit, means ‘Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, what an awakening, Amen!’.It interests me, perhaps as a psychotherapist, that the part of the word I couldn’t remember was the ‘utterly beyond’.  On my Mac I found the singer, Deva Premal’s version – so with her singing accompanying me, I sang it to my father. What happened next is brought to life in the poem.

Drop-in by Hélène Demetriades (Nigel Kent)

The image of Proust’s broken vase gave me a vehicle to think about how an object comes to be precious and meaningful. It also helped me find a metaphorical link between the museum exhibition and our human lives, which are a series of short-lived displays. Since my consideration of wonder has always been both critical and creative, I cherish these moments when the distinction between thinking about wonder as a critic and as a poet dissolves.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I just picked up a book of poems I don’t get at all. So I suggested to myself that I pick three of these poems at random and try to write an imitation of them, just to see what I might learn along the way. Isn’t that a good idea, potentially? I mean, it would force me to settle into the rhythm of the poems, the syntaxes, what seems to be playing out with the nouns and verbs and images. When I say “imitation” I usually either do a word by word replacement of words I come up with off the top of my head, or, more commonly, I try to choose OPPOSITE words. Not all words have opposites of course, but I give it a shot. If a poem starts “After the moon rose…” I might write “Before the seed settled…” Get what I mean? It’s an interesting exercise.

Marilyn McCabe, Long list of priors; or, On Procrastination

How did you come to visual art first, as opposed to, say, fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

Actually, I always wanted to be a writer, throughout my childhood. So when I went to university I studied literature and writing. But I was so disappointed and repelled by my graduate program in creative writing (at Concordia, FYI) that I sought escape from it and wanted to find other outlets. So I stumbled into the visual arts through the world of zines and DIY publishing and performance, and at the time, I found it so much more free than what I was encountering at grad school. I put aside writing and literature for basically a decade, to do performance and film and visual arts projects, and then finally came back to it in 2018. […]

Writing seems like one of the few tools that makes sharing or expressing an interior world possible. It’s a way of representing lived reality. And lived reality—actual lives—are so repressed all the time.

I also think that any use of language is at least a little bit magical, in the sense of the speech act, like the act of naming, or the act of promising. It’s a way to make spells. […]

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

I once heard John Giorno respond to the question of “How to make it as an artist” with the answer “You have to ruin your life,” and it comes to mind often. I think it’s true in the sense that your life will no longer make sense to most people (ie. ruined) but it will also be a lot better (ie. ruined in the romantic sense, of having a more full relationship to the forces of change).

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amy Ching-Yan Lam (rob mclennan)

I think the majority of literary competition guidelines now include a statement on AI. Usually AI isn’t allowed, though the wording tends to be along the lines that they’ll delete the accepted online piece if AI use is subsequently discovered.

Cult. Magazine has an enlightened (or resigned?) attitude – “If AI tools were used to make your submission, please inform us how you used the tool and why”. The pieces are collaborations of sorts. They’ve benefitted from the work of others, but so have pieces that were workshop exercises, or pieces that are “after” another work.

Tim Love, Writing and AI

So you’re a writer of a certain age, who has written a certain number of books, and after, say, twenty years, you’re still not getting major attention for your work. Read: you are not winning the big money, big attention awards.

But think about this: the people that are winning the big awards are not winning by accident, and maybe not even because of their talent. Someone out there has done a PR campaign, gotten to have lunch with the right people in charge, went to the right schools, got the right mentors. And a LOT of that has to do with class and with money. No disrespect to people that win big, but if you look behind the curtains, you’ll notice that a LOT of them have a LOT of money. It costs something to put yourself out there in the best light—either money from your publisher, or your family, or from powerful mentors at powerful institutions. Does this mean, shocking intake of breath, literature is not always a meritocracy? I’m just going to suggest that those of you struggling with not getting a major award should realize that there are aspects of the world of grants, fellowships, prestige awards that are not going to be…completely in your control. I wish people would talk about this stuff a little bit more and be more honest about what it takes to really make it as a poet. For instance, Louise Gluck inherited a fortune from her father’s invention of the X-acto knife. Merwin inherited a ton of money, TS Eliot married it (and then put his wife in an institution so he could access that money faster). No shade on any of those poets (well, maybe a little at Eliot—what a jerk!), but they were able to be influential poets because they had talent but also because they had money.

Not to say every poet with money becomes influential, or every prizewinner has secret millions (but you’d be surprised how many do!) I wasn’t born with money, I didn’t marry into money, and I didn’t win the lottery, so I didn’t go to the fanciest schools and I’m still paying off student loans from my less-fancy schools. Does that mean I will live a writer’s life without recognition, awards, fellowships, etc? Not necessarily. I do know people who are just like me who have succeeded in making the “big time.” And Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer…but not til many years after her death. So perhaps we all – writers, scientists, people in competitive fields like composing or physics – feel that we are being looked over, but continue with our work nonetheless. I remember my father, a robotics scientist, was always depressed a week or so after learning he didn’t win an NSF (the science equivalent of the NEA) grant. I later had a college roommate who was one of the people who screened NSF applications, who told me it was a depressing job because there were so many great applicants and she could only choose a very small number to win. I think about both those things a lot.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, October or August? More Pumpkin Farms, A Review of Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV, Talking a Little about Prizes (and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad if You Don’t Win)

Setting some personal guidelines for how and which markets to send your work can be helpful to keep focus on your priorities—and sometimes breaking those rules is completely appropriate. Having some flexibility will make your submission strategy more fulfilling. For example, I often send new poems (which are always my ‘best’ poems at the moment) to top tier literary magazines and journals first, hoping I’ll hit the literary jackpot and be published by The New Yorker or Poetry. So far, no such luck, but I keep trying anyway. You never know when one of your pieces will be the perfect fit for a specific issue. Once I’ve had several rejections from those markets, I lower my sights a bit and start sending to more mid-tier markets. I also make exceptions from time to time; send a poem I wrote for a prompt to a themed call or send some poems to a university journal because I really like their aesthetic and what they’re up to. I definitely lean toward feminist lit mags and can’t help but to send them work, regardless of how new they are or how few followers they have on social media.

Trish Hopkinson, Do I need a strategy to submit to lit mags?

Let’s say you are what you consume. I want to become more clear-headed, astute, insightful, observant, persuasive, better at listening. If I read what is sloppy or loopy, maybe I read too indiscriminately and I squander my time.

Maybe I get frustrated easily. Maybe poetry isn’t the tool for what I want to be fed.

Each media has its strengths. Hum. Haw.  Hum. 10% of poetry, maybe 5% of it, knocks me back on my heels.

Maybe that is a good rate.

To honour the exploration, the edges, matters. What matters is everything not the notable and marketable golden hour that can have an elevator pitch towards one outcome. Poetry should explore, should sometimes fail, should leave gaps where new standards can emerge.

Poetry can create not only reflect. Poetry isn’t like hockey where you need equipment and support of an industry and stadium of audience. Poetry can be done collaboratively or as a whisper to and from self. Poetry isn’t mainstream capitalist. It’s jangled or can be. Not trying for offbeat or in hand.

Pearl Pirie, disability & writing

In other news, I was very lucky to have been mentioned in a post by my old mucker, Matthew Stewart. His second collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t is starting to turn up in the world and I’m enjoying seeing people enjoying it and savouring it. (Excellent review by Christopher James).

As Matthew himself notes, I’ve

“seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course.”

And this is the crux of his post, it’s not about me, it’s not about him either. It’s about us, as writers (and fuck it, as people) having folks that are friends that support and help each other through encouragement, goading, provoking and supporting. He’s the first to tell me something is shit or good, as I am say something isn’t working.

What changes as a result of this is up to the recipient, but, the space is safe to say this stuff. It’s  likely true elsewhere, but I, for one, welcome the trust that comes from it.

I’m less happy that he has texted me to insult me about the Arsenal result by questioning the origins of my fandom, but y’know…it comes with the territory. I will say, however, that I’m honoured and looking forward to seeing the old sod again in the flesh in November. You should come along too on the 7th November. 7pm. The Devereux Pub.

Mat Riches, If you see Sidney Road, tell me

One night we woke up to hear Patsy Cline singing Walking After Midnight on mamma’s stereo and daddy’s old truck rumbling down the road like the Big Foot. We peeked around the kitchen door to see mamma slow dancing, her arms wrapped around herself, fried chicken and mashed taters slip-sliding down the wall like the tears falling down her cheeks. Maggie took her red rooster feather and plaited it in mamma’s long hair while I took Patsy off the stereo and put on James singing Give it up or turnit a loose. Then we Soul Train lined our mamma up up up into the starry, starry sky.

Charlotte Hamrick, A set of linked micros

I practice
letting go . . .
autumn morning

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: October ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we’re in the thick of it, with odd dreams, recalcitrant language, blockages, burning letters, dwindling daylight, and poems struggling to be born. Enjoy.


For the first time in a long time, I reached for my poetry drafting notebook, to capture two lines that came to me suddenly: “Remember the knife / and the tiny spoon.” These are a cake knife and a salt spoon, brought home from the farmhouse–the spoon because it is so tiny and charming, the knife in case I bake a cake. But who knows what they will be in the eventual poem? It is assembling itself in fragments. “Will there be a piano?” I don’t know where it will go next.

Kathleen Kirk, My Nasturtiums

Watch this space. There is the kernel of a poem in there but at the present it isn’t clear. It’s definitely a case of some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you and some days you both go hungry. Wow! I was looking up the origin of the phrase when I came upon this long thread relating to The Great Lebowski. I love the internet for this sort of thing!

Paul Tobin, ALL THE BEAUTY DRAINS AWAY

who cried eight tears into the heart of each star

who runs the circus of death

whose martyred howl shall be restored as flesh

Grant Hackett [no title]

While a couple new poems have wriggled their way out of the ground, I am still not back to full productivity, but October can sometimes be a fruitful time even with the landscape dying off and folding in for the winter. November is never particularly kind to me, as the last few years have attested, so I am determined to enjoy thoroughly what comes before it.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/1/2023

Our minds take us wherever they need us to be.
Whenever’s another matter but that too.
I remember when we had no particular place to go.
All the same we knew the way.

Cluster bombs of napalm follow orders, are buried with full military honours.
Out on the bright sea something sparkles.

Bob Mee, THIS VIOLENT SKY

In physical chemistry, the critical point is where the temperature and pressure of a substance are both sufficiently high that there is no longer any difference between its liquid and gas states. In mathematics, the critical point is where the rate of change of a variable of interest is undefined or zero. In the rest of the world, anthropogenic climate change is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Climate scientists warn us that once we cross some critical climate tipping points, there can be no turning back: things will only get worse and the “new normal” will be largely undefined.

Nevertheless, we can guess how things might look. When language fails to describe how we feel about the disasters occurring around us now, we must invent new forms of expression. As the world contorts and reshapes to the stresses we place upon it, we should bear witness and record what is passing, what is coming to be.

Ian Gibbins, Critical Point at FELTspace

In my sighted days I had a very cluttered Windows desktop. Sometimes I would intentionally position an icon so that it overlapped and obscured one of the other icons. One of the mandatory icons was a shortcut to the Training and Development folder. An icon interfered with this, resulting in raining and velopme. I had exotic dreams about a pair of star-crossed lovers from ancient Greek mythology called Raining and Velopme! Maybe it’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold … the repair enhancing the beauty.

The opening asks us to consider what if everything was beautiful? Can something only be considered beautiful if we have something that is not beautiful to compare it with? What if the broken then repaired item is more beautiful than the unbroken item? Maybe the average person is more beautiful than the supermodel simply because the scars of life have created a resilience and beauty beneath the surface.

Giles L. Turnbull, This is the Way the Pamphlet Ends

I decided to start Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn’t lull me back to sleep.  Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed.  The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets.  In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020’s, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life.  But it’s still an intriguing read.

I just finished Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet.  She’s from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950’s.  She’s working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan.  I’ve read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I’m not sure why.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now

I loved hearing the poems of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire, and Maria’s fantastic poems, also. And what an honour to share our reading space in the gallery with the stunning artwork of Sandra Suubi, selected for this year’s Liverpool Biennial.

Yes, I did wear the second-hand red silk dress (mentioned in my previous post) that arrived at my house folded neatly into a large envelope. Thank you Oxfam Online!

Josephine Corcoran, One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone

This week the fatigue has caught up with me. 7 weeks in to this new chemotherapy, and writing is difficult. Mid-sentence I stop typing, because I’m not sure where my thoughts were headed.

Right before I sleep the words come rushing. The images. The poignancy that may or may not have real.

In the evenings, I’ve been trying to concentrate on poetry. Learning to identify dipodic meter. Attempting to write in it. But my attention span is short when I’m sitting still, I can’t get past a quatrain. The body objects to a stillness that is not sleep.

Oddly, the best way to fight fatigue is to exercise. So I am either exercising or falling asleep.

Ren Powell, AWOL with apologies

A good poem can create links and resonances that overload a melody. You can go forward and back, pick up echoes, go slowly through a stanza, stop at a phrase or skip a line. You have time and attention for layers of meaning or step outside a poem altogether to enter a whole new landscape. And you can afford to make every word, every line, new and different. A reader has the headspace to pay attention.

Listening to a song is very different. Familiarity is important. Simplicity and space is important. Rhymes matter, because a good rhyme might be predictable, but it is as welcoming as a well-prepared cadence. It doesn’t matter if you have filler syllables the way it would in a poem:

The weary earth we walk upon
She will endure when we are gone

Karine Polwart Rivers Run

because the voice makes good use of them. Words are there to guide you through the music, and the music is there to interpret the words. You may visit the realms of thought and imagination, but more likely you will find your emotions stirred and become deeper acquainted with your heart. Writing a good lyric is a synthesis, and requires knowing what not to do, how to create space, when to leave well alone. A poem that falls flat on the page (like most of Burns, as far as I am concerned) can fly as a song.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Words of Mercury

In their strange cosmogony predating Copernicus by two millennia, the ancient Greek scientific sect of the Pythagoreans placed at the center of the universe a ball of fire. It was not hell but the heart of creation. Hell, Milton told us centuries and civilizations later, is something else, somewhere else: “The mind is its own place,” he wrote in Paradise Lost, “and in it self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”

Grief and despair, heartache and humiliation, rage and regret — this is the hellfire of the mind, hot as a nova, all-consuming as a black hole. And yet, if are courageous enough and awake enough to walk through it, in it we are annealed, forged stronger, reborn.

That is what the non-speaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson celebrates in her shamanic poem “Center of the Universe,” found in her extraordinary collection The Kissing of Kissing (public library), song of the mind electric, great bellowing yes to life.

Maria Popova, Center of the Universe: Non-Speaking Autistic Poet Hannah Emerson’s Extraordinary Poem About How to Be Reborn Each Day

I’m not convinced the pigs know what dessert is but they seem to have survived their nightly road crossing, so far. The scene they create is timeless enough to be considered for embellishing a decorative jar. Better still if humans weren’t around to interfere and build roads that endanger the pigs in the first place. Harsh, perhaps but the rhythm is gentle and the language simple so it doesn’t feel didactic.

In the title poem, a ginkgo tree, thick with age, offers shelter to Taoist poets, one of whom calls it “A Tree Becomes a Room” […]

Emma Lee, “A Tree Becomes a Room” J P White (White Pine Press) – book review

Did I ever tell you about the time I was on an AWP shuttle bus and a publicist’s assistant told me that my sacral chakra was blocked? We were chatting about reiki, so I’m clearly receptive to that kind of random conversational offering, but it’s pretty bold to diagnose a stranger. I instantly knew that I’d landed in a funny creative-writing-conference anecdote. What surprised me was that it also felt like a serious and sincere exchange: she was trying to be helpful, and for my part, I suspected she was onto something.

I don’t use the term “writer’s block” because I find it unhelpfully mystifying. There are tons of reasons to feel paralyzed at the keyboard: fear that you have nothing worthwhile to say; fear of certain audiences’ criticism; illness and exhaustion; and the sheer difficulty of articulating some material, for emotional or intellectual reasons. Blockage IS a perfectly good metaphor for those obstacles; I’ve certainly spent years of my life getting in my own way. But I have to diagnose the obstruction in a more specific way before I clear it. Plus, calling it a “block” implies complete stoppage, and I seem to spend my writing time discovering side roads. If I can’t write a poem, maybe writing a blog will show me what I’m bothered by. If I can’t bear to finish that article, could it be the wrong project? Do I need to re-route completely?

Lesley Wheeler, Blockage, re-routing, clearance

The story of her suicide seems, like many suicides, improbable. She jumped/fell off the bleachers of Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Hadley, Massachusetts. At the time, I remembering one of her sons protesting that she would never have committed suicide. Now the narrative of her jumping seems the single story. But anyone who has studied suicide knows that women rarely jump, or shoot themselves, or do anything that distorts the body.

She came from a family of ten children, was married three times, and had two sons. None of these are points of connection with my life and yet I deeply connected with her poems. Poems that often spoke of the dead; of the thin veil between this world and the next. Image and sound, the real turning into the surreal.

Susan Rich, The Lasting Work of Deborah Digges

Somewhere in time the mother is depressed. The child doesn’t know this, the child has never heard of depressed. The child watches the mother from behind her eyelash curtain, not knowing this is the beginning of secrecy. She watches for the slightest upturn of her mother’s lips, for the lines on her forehead to smooth out like waves on a sunny, sandy beach. The child has never been to the beach but she’s seen it on TV, broad and sparkling like thousands of smiles.

Charlotte Hamrick, Curtained

Under a froth of mosquito netting, an island
from which to push off toward sleep. You tucked
every fold carefully around the mattress, leaving
no space. In the ceiling or in the floor, some houses
held a secret door—one rusted handle coupled with
an iron slide lock. Before the grownups retired for
the night, sometimes they walked around the house
perimeter, checking windows or scattering salt.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (3)

Contrasting Kinetic Kissing with Mekong Delta shows something of the range and variety of the collection. This is also a poem about relationships, but very different in form, tone and style. There’s is no hyperbole on this occasion: it is infused with melancholic realism. The narrator in the poem has kept some love letters from an old boyfriend. The opening line, ‘They’re white as rice that wasn’t thrown at us’, suggests that this had been a very close relationship that might have resulted in marriage given more conducive circumstances. However, the lover served and died in Vietnam. She had kept his letters, meaning ‘to re-read, gather them for warmth’, but she resolves to burn them instead: ‘I light a match, red breast flames releasing/ Angels illegible in their ascent.’

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Apprenticed to the Night’ by LindaAnn LoSchiavo

I dream of elevators
in a large hotel. A wish
to be lifted up? One is
too crowded, the next
stops at floor nineteen,
my room on seventeen.
As I realize I could
walk down two flights,
the doors close, reopen
on floor twelve, my fear
of yielding control
justified.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thinking about dreams

I’m facing a blank grey concrete wall.
The desk came in a flat-pack box.
I assembled it with the included
Allen wrench, named after the
Allen Manufacturing Company
of Hartford, Connecticut,
the town where my father was born.

An Allen wrench is also called a hex key.
Will it, if properly applied, free me
from this curse?

Jason Crane, First Poem At A New Desk

In the Dean Koontz interview I mentioned last weekend, he also said something interesting, if a bit harsh. He said that if you’re constantly writing yourself into a corner, then perhaps you’re not meant to be a writer.

Harsh, because I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell anyone else that they’re not meant to be a writer.

Harsh too, because I am literally constantly writing myself into corners.

I have written myself into so many corners my home office is actually the shape of a megagon.

Finding one’s way out of such corners, I suppose, is part of the satisfaction of writing. It is also, at least for me personally, part of the anguish. It feels as if I never know if I will actually make it back toward the other side of the room, where there are merciful doors and windows, or if I will stay in this particular corner for yet another week, month, year, eternity.

Becky Tuch, How do you get out of a writing corner?

All I want is house filled with color.
A little bit of privacy.
A green vine.
A sky filled with water and sun.

Carey Taylor, Enough

How did your first book change your life? The first book truly gave me confidence.  It confirmed that it was possible to do this thing I thought impossible which was to write and publish a book of poems.  How does your most recent work compare to your previous? Aurora Americana and my previous book, Radioactive Starlings, are both thinking through the notion of place.  They are doing this in different ways but the notion of place is the link by which they connect.  How does it feel different?  Aurora Americana is a dawn book.  Most of the poems take place during or close to dawn.  I’ve never centered time in this way. […]

I write every day.  I wake up very early, before sunrise.  I like to have that new day’s sunlight fall over the page as I write.  I usually write for four hours in the morning.  I end the morning writing session with a run.  I dedicate the evenings to revision. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Myronn Hardy (rob mclennan)

The end of September brought rain (from Tropical Storm Ophelia) and cool weather. I returned from Chicago, the most recent leg of my book tour and spend a whole week with my pups – hiking muddy trails and getting out as much as the quickly fading daylight would let us.

I love fall – the cool weather, the turning leaves. But I hate that the sun is setting earlier each day, that I have to rush home after work to try to sneak in time on the trails. Still, I appreciate every mile and every minute we spend outside.

Courtney LeBlanc, Autumn is Here

Welcome to October! Here we had a weekend of cool sunshine after a week of a deluge of cold, crazy hard rain. I had a new fairy tale poem appear in the journal The Broken City and a kind new review of Flare, Corona in TAB journal. I had a really delightful Zoom book launch with Malaika and Redheaded Stepchild Lit Mag and a wonderful group of North Carolina readers and writers. We also had book club (We read The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes of New England at Bookwalters in Woodinville, and we chose Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo for next month), plus a Supermoon! And I got together with an old friend to catch up and wonder through a sunflower maze. Whew! I am ready for sleep.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome October! A Busy Week: Reading Reports, Supermoons, Writing Friend Dates, New Poems and New Reviews of Flare, Corona and Pumpkin Farm Visits

After we’ve whispered the name of our country like a curse and a cure.

After mistaking rupture for rapture and exit for exist.

After we’ve stuffed all our love and differences into a time capsule, telling ourselves we’ll revisit them on our deathbed—

Rich Ferguson, After and Before

The third level he identifies is being willing to ask for help in promoting your work. Yeah, this is tough. It’s a little “please, sir, I want some more”-ish, in that I’m holding out my work in trembling hands to the Great Creative Orphanage Master who will sputter down at my little bowl astonished at my temerity and utter, “What!”

But of course, it’s not that way at all. There is no such orphanage, nor master. My bowl is not empty. I am not seeking gruel. I’m just one among many looking to complete the circle of creation: a writer wants a reader, a painter wants a viewer.

There are in this world people who can help you get read or viewed. It may seem like they’re gatekeepers, that is, that some people slip through skippingly and the portcullis slams down on the rest of us. But it’s not really that way. People by and large like to help other people. Not all the helpers can help all the seekers. That’s just a fact. But many help many. And sometimes the one who is helped is you, and sometimes it isn’t.

Marilyn McCabe, So much younger than today; or, On the Art of Being Helped

Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) … must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” An interesting detour into the apparently meaningless episodes that happen and are forgotten though Kundera points out that “In infinity every event, no matter how trivial, would meet up with its consequences and unfold into a story.” That is if we, like god, were eternal.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -16

If there was ever a time to learn to set boundaries, it was when I needed to work to a deadline, on my own published book. Alongside taking the app off my phone, I began to say no to unpaid and low paid work, I began to change my own working patterns, I moved to Substack and I took a risk on myself as a writer, or to put it another, more healthy way – I invested in myself as a writer. My wages dropped, initially, but though growth is slow, growth is growth. I am making it work.

A couple of days ago I logged into facebook and felt a familiar sense of dread and guilt. Because I’d not been on the site for a while I had missed so many people’s news – sad news and happy news – I felt a terrible guilt to have missed birthdays and anniversaries and competition wins and publishing news etc. And it was at that point that I realised that Facebook was no longer enjoyable, I found that it provoked anxiety rather than joy.

Wendy Pratt, Leaving Facebook

Last month Tesserae: A mosaic of poems by Zimbabwean women, was released into the world. Working on this book with Samantha Vazhure, founder and editor of Carnelian Heart Publishing,  and the wonderful poets whose voices are featured within its pages, has been an immensely rewarding experience. 

During the Q&A session following the book launch on Twitter/X Spaces, a participant asked: what poetry do we as poets read? It’s an interesting question to unravel. I’ve been thinking how my answer would have evolved  over time.

At my all-girls’ school in the nineteen-seventies, English literature was exactly that: English. It was also dominated by men. We read Chaucer and Shakespeare, John Donne and Andrew Marvell, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wilfred Owen. Golden daffodils fluttered and danced in the breeze; brooks bickered from haunts of coot and hern, whatever those might be, while outside our classroom the African sun blazed and jacaranda trees wept purple tears. 

Marian Christie, What poetry do we as poets read?

october 
in the corner of every window
a sleeping snail

Jim Young [no title]