Ren Powell

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, the #ShareYourRejections hashtag took off on Twitter, with poets joining other writers in detailing rejections both humorous and harrowing. Since a number of this week’s blog posts also address publishing challenges and successes, I thought it might be interesting to begin with a few of those tweets from regular Revival Tour participants before proceeding to the usual blog excerpts.

https://twitter.com/charlotteAsh/status/1029913894469427200

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Every Girl Becomes the Wolf is now available!

This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.

I’m so proud of this chapbook of monstress poems Laura Madeline Wiseman and I coauthored and its been a delight to see that friends, family, and strangers have been receiving the book.

I received my author copies this week — with their gorgeously smooth textured covers — just in time for WorldCon 76 this weekend! If you’re going to be there, consider stopping by Room 212C to hear me read some poetry-type things along with some fellow Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) members.
Andrea Blythe, Announcements: New Poetry and an Upcoming WonderCon Reading!

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Pre-orders for my new poetry collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, are now available at Sibling Rivalry Press. You can pre-order at this link.

Many, many, many thanks to Seth Pennington for his gorgeous cover design, Colin Potts for the author photograph and SRP publisher Bryan Borland for his support of this collection. The book will be officially released on Nov. 15. Stay tuned for book launch and reading announcements! […]

“In Midnight in a Perfect World, Collin Kelley navigates the moody landscapes of desire, travels the dark edge of Eros in the 21st century of love, charting his passage in language sometimes brutal, sometimes lyrical, often both at once. And if that perfect world all lovers seek remains elusive, here we break the boundaries of the familiar and arrive in a place where we can breathe the twilight air and step, almost, into the dream of it, ourselves.” — CECILIA WOLOCH, author of Tsigan
Collin Kelley, ‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ now available for pre-order

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Kansas City area poet Sara Minges brought out her new book at a well-attended reading at Prospero’s Books.

Sara’s book, Naked Toes, published by Chameleon Press, is a splash of upbeat, witty, and sometimes cathartic views world of the world around her through her wide open and perceiving poet’s eyes.

She mocks Barbie and Ken. She even tangles with Barbie; she will not be plastic or silent.

Her real-life role is that of Play and Happiness Expert. No, Really. There is such a thing.

She shares exploits of “arse kickin,” being handcuffed in the county jail, and her little black dress.

One gets the impression that publication of this book was perhaps a freeing experience. Like the freedom she gets from naked toes.
Michael Allyn Wells, Local Poet Sara Minges Brings Her Poetry to Print

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As I know you’re at work on a new manuscript of poems, does it differ from your previous books, overlap, or strike out into new territory?

Vanessa [Shields]: I just finished writing my new poetry book last night! How cool is that? Its working title is ‘thimble’. This collection began out of spiteful necessity. Meaning, I couldn’t not write poetry anymore. Come last October, I was bursting after having not written in months. I was on the fence about submitting to the Ontario Arts Council Recommenders’ Grants because I was pissed I didn’t get one the previous year (!). Out of spite, I threw some poems together and submitted. I got three grants! The most ever for me – and it floored and humbled me. Also, gave me the confidence I needed to keep writing. My confidence shifted from a drying brook to a roaring river!
Bethany Reid, The Fabulous Vanessa Shields

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The other night these lines drifted through my head: Once I saw the world as full of opportunities / now I see the trip hazards. […]

Yesterday I got an acceptance from a journal that hasn’t accepted my work before, TAB. And even better, they took not one, but two poems.

As I always do when work is accepted, I went through my submission log; happily those poems aren’t under consideration at too many other journals. As I made my way through the log, I thought about how long they’ve been looking for a home. I thought about long ago, when I read a poet who said that after 10 rejections, she assumes the poem still needs work and does a revision. But I know that the odds of acceptance are cheap–there are lots of poems out there, circulating, looking for a home.

Yesterday’s acceptance is a good reminder that progress can be made in a writing life, even if one has only scraps of time. In past years, in days of paper submissions and postage, I’d have already created packets of poems ready to be mailed at the first moment that literary journals opened for submissions in September. These days, I try to remember to send out several submissions a week, which during busy weeks, turns into only several submissions a month–which is still better than nothing.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Inner Life of the Disney Princess and Other Inspirations

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August has begun its now-typical delivery of multiple rejections, as most of the awards and contests to which I submitted my manuscript earlier in the year (and one proposal to a conference-of-which-we-won’t-speak-because-OH-MY-GOD) have reached their decision-making deadlines. So there’s that happiness. I’m watching my list of submissions dwindle on Duotrope and it’s both depressing and kind of relief-inducing. I’m nearing the point where my MS won’t be out in the world at all. That makes me both weepy (well, it would, if I was a crier) and kind of elated. One can’t be rejected if one’s not putting oneself out there. Of course, one can’t be published, either.

But there’s a small collection of poems growing still — and after I get some distance from them and then return and edit them with some discretion, perhaps I’ll begin submitting those. Maybe I should just have my sights set on journal publication and give up this book nonsense.

That last sentence is probably disingenuous but I’m more or less thinking out loud with this blog.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Persona Poems, Rejections, Decluttering, and Trash Pandas

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I’m happy to hide out at Virginia Center for Creative Arts in these waning days of summer. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was how green it smelled–I love my city, but you don’t get overlapping layers of flower and grass pine, nor all the butterflies. There’s a frog that lurks outside my studio. There’s a magnificent spider that I’m pretty sure it’s a brown widow, not a black one, but I’m staying clear just in case.

Because this is my fourth time here, it’s easier to slip into the rhythm of things: I knew to bring my own orange juice, my own blankets, and a bottle of scotch. I enjoy being social at breakfast, or at lunch, but not both. I’m trying to spend only an hour a day on email, isolating it to the leather couch in the living room. I’ve got a stack of books and lit mags to devour, and W8 has a comfy reclining chair for reading. Although I haven’t been in this studio before, I’m happy to see a number of friends as past occupants. […]

I wish I could say this time was all about recharging my creative energy. That’d be a lie. I have over 1,500 pages to evaluate (literally) of work not mine, some of which requires line edits. Yet this is also my chance to push-pin the pages of the fourth collection to the walls, and live amongst them. There’s a distinct type of edit that gets done when I can look at pages casually, skipping around, and compare adjacent shapes of poems. I catch redundancies of phrase I did not see before.

I’m still deciding three sections or four, and which poem will close the manuscript. But my resolve holds: this book is a book. I’m excited to tell you more about it soon.
Sandra Beasley, Back to VCCA

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It has been a summer of quiet. Avoiding the noise. Relinquishing the pressure of “content”, in terms of both producing and consuming.

I wrote very little. Read less than I’d like (awaiting new reading glasses). But listened.

I dropped every project on my summer to-do list, except extending my morning meditation to 20 minutes, which I have done with more ease than I anticipated. I unintentionally developed a daily yoga practice as well. I don’t recognise myself.

And yet, I do. […]

After so much rejection last fall and a winter of depression, I spent a good deal of summer thinking about how I have fetishised my identity as a writer. As a poet. What keeping up appearances has meant for the praxis of my writing. I forced myself from the fall to keep a handwritten journal, rather than an electronic one – just to remind myself that public documentation of writing does not make it any more significant.

I asked myself whether my writing time passed in a state of anxiety, of fear. Whether I was writing to prove something to the vague, indefinite judge out there of what is “good” poetry. Whether I was motivated by a fear of not being seen (ie not being “real”), … or a fear of being seen.

This week is the first week back to school. I am looking forward to meeting the students tomorrow. Looking forward to my morning routine – which includes writing.

The difference now is that I no longer think of it as the time in which I have to justify my existence.

I have been listening to John Cage’s music. Wondering what silence has to say for poetry. I’m listening to the coffee machine and its easy metered song. I’m motivated to discover what words will come from it all.
Ren Powell, The Pursuit of Silence

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[A]fter having to cancel a reading the day after I got out of the hospital, I took a whole bunch of prescription drugs and set out to conquer the world – two days after.

Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond hosted a panel on apocalypses, including me, YA author (The Last One) Alexandria Oliva, and Gather the Daughters author Jennie Melamed, last night. It was great – a good sized audience, great questions, and the two other authors were wonderful. I was so happy that I turned a corner – I was really nervous I’d have to cancel. It was a nice reminder that I am more than just a sick person or a super mutant patient of a bunch of specialists.

It was also nice to sell some copies of Field Guide to the End of the World, talk to other writers about writing, and talk to an audience about the joys of poetry. Things that remind me of the good parts of being a writer. Today I got an acceptance in my inbox of two poems, which was a nice reminder, too, that it the middle of what feels like an endless stretch of bad, there might be good things waiting.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Talking Apocalypse, End of Summer, Hospital Trips (and Other Unplanned Trips)

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I attended a lively and unpredictable poetry reading/performance recently, No River Twice. The poets who participate in the group reading develop the concepts at each performance, endeavoring to find meaningful and entertaining ways to permit audience members to sense an active engagement with poets and to experience poems more vividly. It appears to be an evolving performance process, and I enjoyed myself!

Grant Clauser explains the idea on his blog. Most of the poets involved have at least some acting or performance background. They are also active as mentors, instructors, advocates for the arts, and “working poets,” by which I mean they get their work published and performed and are constantly writing, revising, and reading the work of other poets in the service of learning new things.
Ann E. Michael, River of poetry

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It is always interesting to read poetry in a new venue — one that is new to you but has been many things in the course of its 100 year existence, or one that opened its doors last week and has hosted one jumble sale and a campaign meeting. I often record my poetry events so that I can make any necessary alterations to volume, pace and diction in my delivery, not to mention noting any memory slips; this also means that I hear how room ambience varies with venue and audience size.

If I’m reading without a mic then I prefer the smaller cosier rooms where the audience is metaphorically sitting on my knee; if I have a microphone that is nicely positioned, I like a larger venue where the sound hangs around before dissipating into the evening.

I like to hear the room ambience in a live recording, which is making me think about what my audiobook should sound like. There is ambience when I record poems from memory because I stand about 4ft away from the microphone in order to reduce pops and clicks. For the screen reader performed poems however there is no ambience. So I’ve been playing around with the reverb settings in my recording software to see how well added ambience sounds.
Giles L. Turnbull, Friends, Room Acoustic Experts, Poets, Lend me Your Ears!

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I wanted the challenge of having to write a single draft of a poem quickly, then send it off right away.

There’s pressure in knowing you only get one shot–but freedom from perfectionism too.

I bought a pack of random postcards.

I pull out a card, turn it over, and begin to write.

My only constraint (aside from the poem needing to fit in the small space)

is that the poem must have something to do with the concept of time.

It’s been quite crazy having to figure out how to work time into a poem about a giraffe or a monkey.

Even though it feels like I am writing in a vacuum, the poem is a missive to my audience of one.

Some of the poems came swiftly, without setting my pen down once.

Some of the poems have taken a bit more time.

But nearly all are silly, in some way.

Rarely, if ever, do I allow myself to just be silly.

And you know what, I can’t figure out why. It’s actually a lot of fun.

It’s okay not to take every endeavor so seriously.

Participating in the August Poetry Postcard Fest is reminding me that it’s okay to write mediocre poems.

It’s even okay to write bad poems.

As long as the postcard poems make the recipient smile, that’s good enough.

And good enough is sometimes good enough.

And I think there is a larger lesson in this postcard experience for me–

just write!

No matter what happens on the page, just write.
Lana Ayers, About half way…

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About 12 years ago I finished an MA course in Creative Writing that I was ill-advised to have started. I don’t know what my motive was, but my heart wasn’t in it. I duly got my MA, but the writing didn’t start in any meaningful way until I started going to the Poetry Business Writing Days on a regular basis a couple of years later. Even then, between 2007 and 20012 I averaged about twelve new poems a year.

Something strange (or, rather, wonderful) happened in 2013; it was like a dam bursting. I’ve written ceaselessly since. 272 new poems. I cannot account for it, but I’m happy to count my blessings. And I can now look back and see a curious process and progress.

In one of the essays I wrote for my MA I see that even then I had an idea about where I wanted to be. I wrote that my imagination was:

‘visual, excited by landscape, particularly the landscape of hills, fells, sky, sea and weather’. but that I wanted to be more: concerned with explorations of people in landscape, and the meaning of their histories.’ […]

This poem, about someone I was very fond of, only happened because of the pressure of a fast writing task that ambushed me into knowing an emotion I didn’t know I felt. Thank you for that ‘write from a postcard’ task, Jane Draycott. I plucked up the courage to give a copy to Julie’s brother at her funeral. He liked it. He shared it with people, and I sent it off for the Plough Poetry Competition, where Andrew Motion liked it and gave it the first prize. That’s what changed everything. It gave me permission to think I could write, along with the encouragement of Kim Moore (who put one of my poems on her Sunday Poem blog), and Gaia Holmes, who gave me a guest slot at the Puzzle Hall Poets. That was it. The dam broke.

Years of reading and teaching, and having a family and a history were stacked up, waiting to be dealt with and voiced. It took 70 years, but I finally got going.
John Foggin, I’ll be back

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[Larry] Levis suggests that from a poetry of place in which place was specific and represented a lost Eden, this kind of poetry of place has been shifting in favor of finding different ways to imagine the imagery and ideas of that loss. Of the poetry of place in general he notes, “It is the geography of the psyche that matters, not the place.” He notes “Eden becomes truly valuable only after a fall, after an exile that changes it, irrecoverably, from what it once was.”

“And yet most younger poets still testify precisely to this alienation and isolation, this falling from Eden. Only they have changed it. It is as if the whole tradition has become, by now, shared, held in common, a given…,” he observes. He wonders, “Again, in some unspecifiably social sense, it may be that places themselves became, throughout much of America, so homogenized that they became less and less available as spiritual locations, shabbier and sadder.” He considers, “it may be that this…new homelessness…is what a number of…new poets have in common when they practice the ‘meditational’ mode–for what they tend to hold in common is, at heart, a contradiction: an intimate, shared isolation.”

But I wonder if this isn’t exactly what poetry is, an intimate shared isolation? Don’t we sit alone with a volume in our hands seeking to find contact with another mind/body/soul/individual? Maybe I overstate it. And maybe he overstates a poetic drift away from poetry of place. But as I read desultorily across literary magazines and volumes, I do find less about exterior place and more about interior place, specifically the interior place of identity. Is this the new home that we’re writing about, the home of who we are, or think we are? And is self-identification by definition an exercise of comparison to others, in some way an oddly collective act? Funny.
Marilyn McCabe, “Who am I, why am I here, why did I cut my hair, I look like a squirrel”; or Thoughts on Poetry of Place and Self

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Time and time again, poetry shifted my gaze and restored my mental health. It gave me access to experiences I’ve never had and clarity on ones I did. So many poems made me feel less alone in my mistakes, and brought cognition to mistakes I didn’t always realize I was making.

Like Katherine Larson’s poem “Love at Thirty-Two Degrees,” where she reminds her lover, “every time I make love for love’s sake alone, / I betray you.”

And Lisel Mueller’s poem “Fiction,” that expresses the familiar nostalgia and grief we’ve all had at the end of a friendship. She longs in lyrics, “if only we could go on / and meet again, shy as strangers.”

And Hanif Abdurraqib’s poem “For the Dogs that Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut,” which I’ve read nearly every week for the past three months, because, I too, “must apologize for how adulthood has rendered me.” and fear vulnerability. Like him, “I am afraid to touch / anyone who might stay / long enough to make leaving / an echo” and have, for awhile been “…in the mood / to be forgotten.”
The Transformative Power of Poetry – guest blog post + TEDx talk by Crystal Stone (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets have been blogging about friendship and community, cross-media inspiration, how to measure productivity, how to handle disability as a writer, and (of course) much more. My favorite quote of the week comes from Ren Powell: “Sometimes just let the fox be a fox.”

Everything I say is, was.
Everything. It’s all in
round numbers. The date

you began. The date
you weren’t. Ages, years, gifts.
“I feel moved,” you began, then

spun on wheels whirling like
laughter, curved like smiles,
round as eyes. It was
a piece of everything.

In memoriam, Carl A. Larkins, 1948-2018
PF Anderson, Like You

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I have very precise memories of the first four books of poetry I owned, three of which have been mentioned a few times in these blog posts. First was Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles, bought for 2p from a jumble sale at my junior school; second and third were related to my A-Level English class, The Poems of Thomas Hardy and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems. The latter two were my first influences — I spent two years trying to write poetry with Hardy’s gloomy perspective on life. Then came Blue Shoes by Matthew Sweeney.

Blue shoes was a present from my parents. They knew I was enjoying the poetry I was studying and that I’d started writing my own, and so they picked out Blue Shoes for me. Goodness knows why they picked that particular book from the poetry section of whichever bookshop in Harrogate it was but I am very glad they did.

Blue Shoes was published by Secker & Warburg in 1989. They purchased it as a signed copy and I loved the tone and shape of the poems. I guess it was more pamphlet-sized than a full collection, but there was such beauty in its mien. I remember most of the poems fitting on one page and, I suspect, this still subconsciously influences me — my poems are often short and they don’t feel finished until I’ve extracted only the essential core.
Giles L. Turnbull, Under the Poetic Influence

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The UK summer heatwave rendered me incapable of doing little else but hugging the shade with a goodly supply of water, tea and reading material. I granted myself leave from writing a blog post, last Sunday. Writing output amounted to little more than notebook drivel on nights when it was too hot to sleep. I never find it too hot to read, though.

I’ve blogged before about collecting poems that I’ve read in magazines or online: the ones I love and those I might wish to re-read or refer to, at some point in the future. There are more than a few I’ll cut out and keep from the Europe issue of Magma. As a long-term subscriber, I think it’s quite possibly the best issue in years (I can’t comment on my TBR copy of the Film issue). It could so easily have been Brexit-centric but issue 70 was, as always, a net cast wide in terms of style, subject and takes on a theme. Poems that made me smile: Duncan Chambers’ Les Vacances; Sarah Juliet Walsh’s Le Rêve. One that made me laugh out loud: Astra Bloom’s Sacré. My absolute Top Three poems of political/social comment: Fiona Larkin’s Hygge; William Roychowdhury’s Farage for a Migrant Worker; Katriona Naomi’s Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere.
Jayne Stanton, What I’ve been reading this summer

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I’m teaching an independent study for a Business student who literally has run out of courses to take–so I offered to teach Introduction to Literature as an independent study. Once a week, we meet in my office to discuss literature. It’s quite delightful, and in some ways, she’s learning the material the way she would have had we been teacher and student in the days of Socrates. Except that we have literature on paper. Perhaps the more apt historical reference is the way that students learned (and probably still learn) in the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge.

Yesterday she wasn’t as prepared to talk about Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” so we switched gears. We looked at poems, and we spent time with Gwendolyn Brooks. When we read “We Real Cool,” I had a memory of Gwendolyn Brooks reading the piece, and I thought, let me see if I can find this.

We meet in my office, which has 2 computer screens, so I found a clip which included Brooks discussing the poem and arranged the screens so we could both watch. It was a still photo, which in a way was great because we could focus on her voice. She reads the poem so differently than I do–which lead to a great discussion of how the words are arranged on the page.

Later, I thought about the miracle of the Internet. Once, if I wanted my students to hear Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem, I’d have needed to plan ahead: I’d need to find the recording, and I’d need to make arrangements to play the recording. In fact, I stockpiled materials so that I wouldn’t have to think ahead. Yesterday it took about 30 seconds from the idea of Brooks reading the poem to her voice coming to us through the speakers.

I do understand all the ways that technology can detract from the learning experience: the constant distractions, the materials that seem like good sources for a research paper but aren’t, the technology failures which disrupt our teaching plans. But what an astonishing world we’ve created in just a few decades.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Brave New Teaching Worlds

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There were a couple of specific research questions I would have liked answers to, but I didn’t find them. Instead I enjoyed watching [Anne] Spencer’s friendship with James Weldon Johnson unfold and deepen over many years. He encourages her to write and submit her work, staving off discouragement. They recommend books and articles to each other: Johnson suggests, for example, that Spencer read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, and she responds with enthusiasm about what she’s found. Spencer encourages Johnson and his wife to visit for spring flowers and Christmas festivities, noting she feels more alive when she can look forward to their conversation. There’s plenty of politics in the letters but also ordinary stuff, like worry about Spencer’s children. It was especially sweet to notice how the salutations evolved over time: from the relatively formal “My dear Mrs. Spencer/ Mr. Johnson” to “Dear Anne” and “darling Grace-‘n’-Gem.”

The surviving correspondence between Spencer and Langston Hughes adds up to a much slimmer folder, but there’s also a lot of warmth and play in it. Spencer tells Hughes, for instance, about naming birds in her garden after distant literary figures. There’s “one named Langston–quite too proud of his black and gold-bronze plumage…and Mencken so yclept because of a certain spurious bitterness–mostly pose.” What a lonely world she lived in, and yet so populated. It’s not totally unlike writer-friends in far-off places now, messaging in ways that will be difficult to archive.

For all the violence in Spencer’s time and ours, there was and is a lot of love zinging around. I hope we can keep protecting it from the general heat. Write from the saving coolness of it. But it’s so, so hard.
Lesley Wheeler, Same old love

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I wrote a book this past week. Okay, to be precise, I finished it–what felt like a somewhat Herculean act of confronting every “TK” page in the collection. I put the rest of my life on hold. I rescued a poem from the abandoned archives via some drastic edits, wrote a prose-poem based on a field trip into the city, wrote a long one after a day’s worth of immersive research, then wrote another short one, a kind of early-morning grace note.

This doesn’t mean that much, in the overall scheme of things. Now I second-guess myself. Now I send to a few trusted readers to second-guess for me. Three sections, fifteen poems per section, 68 pages total; all of this is negotiable, of course, though it’s comforting to find measures equal to Count the Waves and I Was the Jukebox, my previous two collections. I’ll want to place a few more poems in journals, and I’ll need to draft a precis–a 1-2 paragraph introduction that distill’s the book’s thematic focus and why people might want to read it.

At the end of the month, I’m fortunate enough to head to Virginia Center for Creative Arts, push-pin pages to the walls, and live within the book’s geometries. The time will feel stolen–departing the morning after my workshop for The Writer’s Center ends, returning to DC the day before my American University class begins, and with University of Tampa work on my desk while I’m down there. But I’m going to make the best of things. All that before I even think of sending to my editor in September. Who might reject it.

Still: I wrote a book!
Sandra Beasley, Writing

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Who remembers the silence of flood,
the pulse of fat brown rivers
quiet as elephants, bloated with swallowed fields,
with diesel rainbows, slowly spinning trees?

Who remembers silence by gossipy streams
full of the small-talk of stones?
John Foggin, Flood alert (4)

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In the 1970s, science historian and television broadcaster James Burke created and hosted a show called Connections. I was a fan of the series because I loved the surprising ways discoveries, events in history, people, and accident led to innovations and the criss-crossing of continents and ideas. The interdisciplinary aspect of human culture, of science and the arts, fascinated me as a teen. Those networked ideas have shown up many times through my life.

Connections: The photo above was taken by my fellow student Steve Lohman when we were freshmen. Steve later attended Pratt School of Art, We lost touch for a long time, and–I have forgotten how–I found his metalwork while I was looking for cover art for my book of poems The Capable Heart.

Connections: I liked Steve’s wireworks, but I remembered him as a photographer. Granted, what a person pursues at age 17 or 18 is easily liable to change–but I was curious about how he started doing sculpture. When he mentioned he’d attended Pratt, I asked if he had ever met Toshio Odate, who taught there for years. “One of my favorite teachers!” said Steve. “I loved his class.”

Connections: My spouse took a job writing for a woodworking magazine, where he met Toshio, who wrote about Japanese tools and woodworking techniques. Meanwhile, Toshio was creating his own works of art at his home as well as mentoring many students. He’s now a long-time friend of ours. […]

Connections: Neural networks, the embodied mind, the ways writing assists in psychological healing, the twists in a good novel’s plot, the turn in a poem, metaphor, surprise. The unexpected thrills us–unexpected connections fill us with curiosity and a kind of joy, as does the closure.
Ann E. Michael, Connections

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Can you talk about the intersection between pop culture and poetry, and what draws you toward this mix in your work?

There’s a long history of literary critics and gatekeepers insisting that poems that reference pop culture or contemporary culture are necessarily not serious works of art, and that great literature must be timeless. I reject this idea — I think it’s dumb to try to divorce art from your lived experiences and the culture it comes out of, and that trying to ties into this false notion that literature can or should be “universal,” which historically has really just meant writing that appeals to straight white men. I’m drawn to writing that feels honest, that I see myself in, and my life has always been steeped in low-brow pop culture. My girlhood was formed around watching Saved by the Bell every day after school and reading Christopher Pike horror novels all summer by the pool and watching the movie Pretty Woman at every family gathering. My models for relationships were TLC songs and My So-called Life and Sex and the City and The Real World and perhaps most of all the show Friends, which we watched every night at dinnertime. Pop culture is in many ways what has shaped and inspired me most as a human and an artist.

Your most recently collection is Reversible (Switchback Books, 2017). Can you talk a little about the book and how it came into being? How was your process of writing this book different than with other collections you’ve published?

I wrote Reversible over the course of around 7-8 years, starting right after I finished my MFA in 2008 until it was published in 2017. The poems in Reversible are mostly about time, and girlhood, and feminism, and identity formation and self expression through cultural ephemera like music and clothing — how in the 90s I was obsessed with clothing and music from the 70s, and now everyone is obsessed with culture from the 90s. Sometimes I think Reversible is the last of anything I will have written that won’t be written in a mad scramble to find time — I remember sitting in a coffee shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco in 2008 and writing one of the long poems from Reversible, called “8th Grade Hippie Chic” (which was published earlier as a chapbook by Immaculate Disciples Press) in its entirety in my notebook while listening to songs by Fergie and Avril Levigne playing on the coffee shop radio. I worked 3, sometimes 4, days a week and even that felt like a lot, and also the pace of everything just felt so much slower then. I’m so jealous of my younger self!

Now ten years later I live in New York and I work full time and have a zillion other writing and editing projects and other life responsibilities and I feel like my relationship to time and my writing process has been totally exploded. Now when I write, it’s on my commute or in moments stolen from my workday or from sleeping or from doing some relaxing thing I’d really like to be doing, and I’ve had to allow my approach to writing evolve with the requirements of my life as a full-blown adult in late capitalism.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Marissa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge

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Are you aware of the Instagram poetry community? I’m on Instagram mainly as an artistic outlet. It’s soooooo much nicer there than other social communities. I like it best because visuals come first and words a distant second (and the added bonus that old classmates can hardly find me).

That may sound weird coming from a poet but I’ve identified as a visual artist much longer than I have a writer. My hand is years out of practice, though, and drawing is taking a back seat now, but lately picture-heavy Instagram has been giving me an outlet for my words. In a weird way.

I’m not interested so much in putting my best poetry on Instagram. Right now I am focused on publication for individual, finished poems in hopes that it will lead to a book. And publishers consider poems posted on personal social media accounts as official publication. They want first-runs. That’s okay. I get it. Some of my stuff I throw out there to the masses anyway before publication because I want the human connection. I don’t write in a vacuum anymore.

Instead, I use Instagram as a free-writing, no-holds-barred, morning pages place. Instagram’s My Story feature is great for this. I usually either take a photo or go back to one I’ve taken previously, add it to My Story and use the Text feature to write something based on the photo. It’s kind of an ekphrastic prompt, and I find it very freeing. I don’t allow myself to edit or even consider sending it to a lit mag. Mistakes are most welcome. What I want is weird.

Stories don’t last more than 24 hours on Instagram so I use the Save feature at the bottom of the My Story screen to save what I’ve written for use in a future poem or flash piece or something else. Then I send the Story and my words out there to whomever may want to see it. Doesn’t really matter. It’s getting the wild words on the page– on the picture– on the Story– that counts. Something might come of it someday.

What have you done lately to make art in an unexpected place? Try the Instagram Story prompt and @ me what happens.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, instaprompt

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In the wake of Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018, I’ve kept writing and done some small fine-tooth-comb type edits to poems that I’ve written this summer — which happen to number FOURTEEN, if you’re curious.

I know, I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.

I know that for other writers this isn’t really a big deal, but I know also that there are some of you who understand this feeling — this feeling of having been treading water for a really, really, really long time and then finally venturing toward some distant shore. The shore may be really far off in the fucking distance, but you’re finally able to swim toward it. Maybe that’s a lame and expected metaphor. But I warned you — I’m still rusty.

Yesterday I met with M.S. and we shared with each other the work we’ve been attempting to eke out this summer, something especially challenging for her, because she’s been teaching art at a camp for the past month and a half. We talked also about our Repeat Pattern project and finally came up with some good working guidelines — not exactly restrictions or obstructions, but our expectations/desires as far as our method(s). We decided to use the sketchbook method again — it won’t be the Brooklyn Art Library’s sketchbook, but something a little larger and sturdier that we’ll use to archive our ideas and drafts — or for M.S., maybe actual art. We gave ourselves a year, too — we’ll exchange the book back and forth throughout the next few months and I’ll respond to her art and she’ll respond to my writing — albeit in an associative, not literal or direct, way.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Plans, New Projects, and Ignoring Henry Miller

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How profound to be a miner,
ascending in a steel cage,
that end of shift fatigue momentarily lifted
only to be shouldered again the following day.

Think also of the diver, swimming towards
the thinning colour that is surface;
how dangerous that epiphany
when nitrogen enters the bloodstream.
Julie Mellor, To say we exist

*

I’ve always been an A-type, goal-oriented human. The problem with that is when you can’t achieve your goals, do you consider yourself a failure? Do you forgive your body for betraying you? I think the trick is to enjoy and appreciate the moments when you can do things, and the rest of the time, you have to be okay with the fact that your body isn’t going to work all the time. Which is tough. We live in a society that values doing things, not being things. I used to, for instance, earn good money as a tech-writing manager. Not anymore – I’m lucky to break 15K a year as a writer and editor these days. (Just being realistic, people. This was also true when I was working as an adjunct!) Am I worth less as a person because I make less money? I’m still writing. I still send work out to be published, just maybe not as fast. The poet in me says: this downtime is allowable. It does not make you less of a poet. But the A-type, goal-oriented part of me says: what are you even good for these days? It is angry that I’m not able to do even simple things every day – go to a bookstore, or a garden, or hike by a waterfall – that bring me joy. I can’t socialize every day anymore. Those feel like losses to me. I love my friends, my spouse, my garden and my cats, all of whom have put up with me in my new, broken condition – one that is fragile, and somewhat unpredictable. I need to be able to accept my new condition as well.

This has made me think about Emily Dickinson, who was home-bound for most of her adult life. She didn’t get out much, although single women couldn’t do as much in her day even if she had been totally well, which some historians thinks she was not. She did have a fabulous garden and greenhouse (concreted over by the next owners of that property, by the way, to make tennis courts – the shame!) She famously wrote a poem about what might make a life worth living (“If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking”) so I think she also struggled with, having not attained publication or fame during her lifetime, and not getting married or having a family (women in those days didn’t have much chance of having any type of career) seeing herself as a failure, coming up with coping mechanisms for not being able to achieve her goals. “Victory Comes Late” is one of my favorite of her poems, because it deals with bitterness and loss from the perspective of achieving goals, but late and at a time when it no longer brings a thrill. (Did she foresee her own post-life fame, I wonder?)
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Making Peace with a Body at Odds with Your Life Goals

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I discovered that living in Denial-Land about disability was dangerous for me as a writer. It meant that I was hiding from myself. For example, I saw that I’d written almost all of my poems using an implied speaker who apparently had a perfect body—or didn’t really have a body at all—yet the reality is that everyone has a body, but no one has a perfect body. I was keeping my imperfect body walled off from my poetry in order to provide the kind of fake speaker I thought readers wanted. A disconnect or vacuum from our authentic self is created when we wall off our real bodies from our writing, I believe. The fact that each of us lives with our own unique body is an elemental feature of our existence.

As I found out more about Disability Theory, I started to sense myself as an embodied creature more so than I did in the past. As my worldview changed, I felt more grounded, more connected to my true self. This is reflected in my poetry, which doesn’t necessarily focus on my body per se. But there is now more depth to the speaker. The speaker is “marinated” with a realistic, imperfect human body that “soaks into” the poems at times by a process of nuance and implied reference.

Also, in the relatively short time that I have been aware of it, my writing process is different now. I still have a “work ethic,” but I’ve changed the rules. I refuse to consider myself a slacker when I’m flexible about my writing. And I have to remind myself constantly that time lost to illness doesn’t equal failure. Recently, I have forced myself to let go of work sometimes. Surprise, surprise, the sky has not fallen in.

The Japanese have an aesthetic of beauty through imperfection. The term wabi-sabi, as explained by Leonard Koren in his influential book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, refers to the act of embracing the flawed—the weathered, rusted, or worn down. Kintsugi or kintsukuroi (“golden mend”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Cracks and repairs are highlighted, not hidden. What would happen if we applied this aesthetic to our human bodies? Our lives? Our poetry? What would happen if we wrote about real people with real bodies? If we celebrated the flaws that make each of our bodies unique? Let that thought bounce around in your head for a minute. What would happen? Just what would really happen?
A Moving Target: What Disability Taught Me – guest blog post by Eileen Murphy (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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broken button:
tugged & twined
frayed against
the cape the cowl
the collar /
shrugged high
against the iceheart
marrowbone dark //

flat cataract:
milk or smoke
or silica
obscuring the macula /
watching now only
what she remembers
of red shift / of
spectral drift //

abalone pearl:
effaced by
a drugged horizon
now pink & sable
deep elliptical
frozen albumen //
Dick Jones, names of the moon

*

It’s been a week since I heard the cuckoo, though the songbirds are still here, getting on with the effort of living before they leave us to another season of darkness and crows.

I’m picking up a 4-year-abandoned project I called Running Metaphors. Starting Fresh. Nothing terribly ambitious. Nothing terribly profound. A quote handed down to me from my mentor, as to him from his: “Sometimes just let the fox be a fox.”
Ren Powell, August 9

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

This week, poets have been blogging about death and rebirth, games and puzzles, loss and resilience. Among other things.

Start with the dead things, she says. The stink bugs
that hid under the floor boards and shriveled;
the spiders that starved blanketed in rugs
of their own soft webs. There is a brittle
delicacy in exoskeletons
prepared to shatter with a puff, the grace
of dry bones, the so tender elegance
of perfectly still lines in a limp face.
PF Anderson, Necromancy Sonnet

*

Some of my friends consider me an expert in the garden, but I am merely modestly educated, mostly in the School of Experience. Expertise? I considered enrolling in the Master Gardener certification program; but frankly, I prefer to garden with beginner’s mind. I love what experts have to teach me and, being bookwormish by nature, I learn a great deal by reading books by experts.

Mostly, though, I learn from the garden–or from the hedgerow, the woodlot, the fields, the meadow, the wetlands. I’ve discovered that sometimes, the experts’ methods are not replicable in my yard; but a series of trial-and-error experiments of my own may produce the desired result. I have learned to let go of some of my “desired outcomes,” because the plant world and the weather control my stewardship of the soil more than anything I can attempt to do.

Letting go…well, that is the Zen of landscaping and raising vegetables and putting in a perennial bed. Also there is the constant, tedious maintenance–the tending and nurturing–that requires discipline. The discipline can be mindful, and it can also foster empty mind.
Ann E. Michael, Today’s eft

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As if it is easy to pack bags and drudge up the hills
follow the revolution of the earth, the length of days.

Not to grow roots, unattached to the pear tree that fills
the air with the scent of sweet blossoms.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Song of the Valley

*

Recently I had a conversation with a non-poet friend who asked me why I write poetry or even read poetry. He had read some of my recent book, Tapping Roots, which was actually the first group of poems I ever pulled together. (I had already prompted him that I liked feedback about what people liked.) This book is about growing up Midwesterner, and in particular, Southern Illinois., about people who have influenced my childhood and adult pilgrimage. If you don’t count college, I’ve lived in thirteen “homes,” but the place I still think of as “home” is the town where I was born, Belleville, Illinois–even though I only lived there for the first FIVE years of my life. I’ve been in the Chicago area for two-thirds of it. If people ask where I’m from, I say “Chicago,” because of course in a way that’s true. The majority of my adulthood was spent in one suburb or another. There’s a certain odd pride in being “from” Chicago, but my heart, corny as that sounds, still belongs to the south of me.

I digress. My friend said he could really identify with so much in my book as he had similar experiences growing up (same generation and similar economic status in the early years), so he could see why this poetry at least affected people. On the other hand, he likes to read fiction that has nothing to do with his life–mysteries with involved plots–far from his daily life and work. The implication was that his choice of fiction did not “work” the same way as my poetry seemed to do. I walked away from this conversation having multiple conversations of my own in my head. The simplest answer to his question is that I write, and particularly poetry, to CONNECT. It seems like such a transparent yet “rings-true” answer. (Yes, I know that there are poets who say they don’t care if someone likes what they write.)
Gail Goepfert, Getting High

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If not praise, something like a thought or two
for archaeologists who dig up car parks
searching for the bones of a king

and for the council worker sweeping dust
and dead leaves with an edgy sway,
his tattooed face looking into cars, unseeing

as commuters look away. Watch
those involved in text spats
with boy or girlfriend; the woman

who stops and holds up her phone
as if it were a chalice and she sought
to quench her thirst; those who read

the pavement cracks and stones;
who walk as if on air, or weighed down
by something shocking left over

from their dreams.
Pam Thompson, For Those Who Walk Pavements

*

After listening to Rachel Zucker’s long conversation with Sharon Olds, I felt liberated. Sharon Olds seems to live in a kind of poetic trance state that resonates with me. She speaks of how she pays attention to the fleeting thoughts that come to her, the thoughts we humans have a tendency to sweep under the rug. Her words gave me insight into how to go deeper into what I truly think about myself and the world and to try to put those thoughts into my writing.

I know I hold back a lot. The hardest part of writing and of living in general is to sift through received notions about the world and to instead open up to infinite possibilities. As Alan Watts states in his lecture series Out of Your Mind, the hardest part of life [and art] is “how to create a controlled accident.”
Christine Swint, Inter-National Poetry Month

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On Saturday I sat for two hours and wrote poems for anyone who stopped by. In total I wrote ten poems on the following topics: new relationships, cherry blossoms, libraries, spring, transience, traveling, graduating, bread, beauty, and ducks. Ten poems on ten wildly different topics. […]

The poems I write during this event are composed in just a few minutes. I don’t edit them or give them more than a quick read-over. I jot them down, and then rewrite them on the nice paper the library provides. They are usually relatively light-hearted and don’t touch on many of the heavier topics I usually write about. I never really expect much from them, so to get this email really made my day. It reminded me that words matter and that my words mattered to that person. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
Courtney LeBlanc, The Poet Is In

*

In my heart, I know sharing work matters. When I was a child growing up in harrowing conditions, poetry saved my life. It still does. Every day.

As a child, I saw how people who’d suffered loss, and tragedy, and all kind of hurt, spoke out about their experiences in poems. Across distance, time, gender, culture, these folks spoke directly to my wounds. They lived to write about what they’d been through–a testimony to survival, and likely, even thriving.

I’ve come to believe that our words reach those who need them most. However that happens–whether publication in a literary journal, or in the community newsletter, or posting online.

Poetry is my spiritual practice. Getting work into the world is a necessary part of that practice. Rejection is a piece of it too. And the hurt. So I rest, take some deep breaths, and keep on. I hope you will too.
Lana Ayers, The Road Paved With Rejection

*

April is conveniently both National Poetry Month AND Autism Awareness Month (which in my opinion, should be co-opted into a celebration to the extent that the witch hunt gets buried beneath our self acceptance and love). I can’t think of any one thing I have clung to more in my pursuit of Autistic Personhood than poetry and art. There is a WEALTH of autistic artists and poets out there, but, you wouldn’t know it from Google. I had to alter my Google search terms eightfold, to finally come up with material penned by actually autistic folk and not ‘Autism Parents’ (non-autistic parents of autistic children, mostly who describe themselves as warriors against Autism–not their children). Much of the poetry written by Autism Parents violates the privacy of autistic children and a good deal of it justifies their abuse, suggests their deaths or hints to their eventual murder. I read these poems and stories and end up feeling very afraid for the children.

When I did finally happen upon the poetry I was fervently seeking (thirstily drinking in all the imagery and not feeling so alone in the world), I saw that some of these works described the other side of the over-televised, tabloid-cast experiences of the voiced-over majority on the experience of autism. The bare bones were emerging and there was the truth. Often, the voice of the adult autistic child emerged, recounting vignettes from youth, sorting through the still frames of a world nearly lost. It was a narrative of survival, meticulous care given to wonder in surroundings, objects, the personification of things–everything is a relic, all is holy. In these words is a kind of beauty that I imagine most non autistics consider fantastical, exotic, or strange. This assumption is based on actual neurotypical reactions to my own work.
Hilary Krzywkowski, Honoring autistic poets for Poetry Month & Autism Awareness Month (guest blog post at TrishHopkinson.com)

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The other day I was in the grocery store, slinking along with my canvas bags and my head full of Li-Young Lee’s poetry (oh yes, his new book The Undressing in the car). Suddenly, a man that I only see about three times each year roared out, “I bought your new book and the poems are making me cry.” He grabbed my arm and swung me toward him. “I love this new work,” he continued in a voice so loud I felt like I might melt before it.

I know that he lost his father last year. Somehow, at least one of the poems that I’d written had been a key for whatever was locked inside him. I could only hope that he felt like I did when a poem fit perfectly inside an empty space I’d been carrying, a space made of feeling alone and now filled with words.

I could only smile and thank him. Thank him for reading my work and telling me so. Thank him for reading poetry. For reminding me that when I am at my desk, I am not truly alone.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isn’t it time for poetry to be dead, again?

*

The Meals on Wheels I ordered for him rotted in the refrigerator. Viruses destroyed his computer. He wandered around town, confused and disoriented. He ate less and less, surviving on Coke and the occasional fried egg, and refused to bathe or do his laundry.

Once while we were in the car, I put in the Poetry Foundation CD and told him to listen, skipping forward to “The Blue Terrance.” The rigid, defiant look in his eyes softened a little. He listened closely, this lover of poetry whose faint pencil marks I can still read in his 1950 copy of the Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, the one he took with him when he joined the Army in 1954. We sat in the car for the two minutes it took to listen to the poem. At the end, he was perfectly still, under the spell of Hayes’s voice as he recited the last lines:

That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

I could see the words of the poem as clearly as skywriting. I knew my father was moved, too, by the way he remained motionless for a moment, before slapping his knees and muttering, “huh!” The poem’s last lines hit me: sitting with my father, whose mind and body were slipping away, was one of the loneliest times in my life.

The Blue Terrance is at the Poetry Foundation.
Erica Goss, An Appreciation: Terrance Hayes’s “The Blue Terrance”

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Jezebel

I’ve not replaced Jezebel,
who died in my arms
with a needle in her paw

years ago. On this dismal
wintry day, shag of snow
in the yard, I’m on my own.

As my last lover shut
the door, she warned,
You’ll die pet-less and unwed.

Now I live like a nun
who’s slept too many nights
in a habit of coarse cloth.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bo

*

Sometimes my health problems can seem overwhelming – the time scheduling and attending all the medical appointments alone take up can be overwhelming – but I am happy this April to be seeing another spring, to see the little cherry tree I planted last year bloom, the tulips and daffodils show up in a garden that was pretty barren when we moved in. I got an award for my last book of poetry, Field Guide to the End of the World, which came in the mail yesterday (see below.) I’m happy to release this weird non-fiction PR for Poets book that hopefully helps some poets have an easier time than I did. I’m happy right now to be alive and able to go out a bit in the sun, to walk a little bit and watch the wildlife. I don’t know what my expectations of my life were when I was little, but I don’t know that I could have predicted how things turned out – but I know I don’t feel disappointed. I look forward to writing another book of poetry, even to sending out another book, and bringing that next book of poetry into the world. I feel scared of some aspects of my life – mortality and the scariness of the MS diagnosis and my liver tumors and etc – but I think writing has made my life better and happier, and I hope that poetry makes your life happier too, but if not, be sure to get outside and smell the…tulips.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Springtime and Aging, PR for Poets and Thinking about a Poet’s Choices

*

The picture is a painting of a couple walking through a park in the rain. It’s not a good painting, managing to be both sentimental and garish — the colors are improbable. But as I’ve been working on the puzzle, my sense of shape and color is enhanced. After spending time sifting through the pieces, when I walk away I see the world afresh, my eye still alert for that certain shade of orange, for a piece with a little blue in one corner. I see new colors everywhere in the everyday world. And I’ve come to appreciate the picture painter’s bold use of color, his or her fearlessness at slapping a stroke of cerulean in a shadow, a smear of fresh-grass-green on a tree trunk.

Because I’m seeing the painting through tiny shards of it, seeing the bits of tree for the forest, I’m enjoying what’s been accomplished here in the details, as I pull back to look at the overall picture.

And it occurs to me that if I could bring this level of attention to my writing, it could be a powerful editing tool — to slow my process way down and see each and every word, how the words fit together, how they elbow each other, where space is used, and then pull back to understand each element anew as I view the whole piece. And also use that heightened awareness of word and silence as I encounter the world.
Marilyn McCabe, Easy Pieces; or, Editing as Meditation…Editation?

*

As I put the game away at the end of the day, I reflected on the final board, with its mix of words and non-words, a board created by people who clearly don’t understand the rules of Scrabble. But it did look like a board that was created by people having fun with letters and language.

Throughout the day, I overheard snippets of conversations where people reminisced about the games they had played and enjoyed. Even if people didn’t have time or inclination to participate, the presence of a Scrabble game in process jolted them into a mindfulness that they didn’t have before going into the break room.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, National Scrabble Day at School

*

Reading [Alice Fulton’s] work challenges me to be more playful, to take more seriously poetry’s higher calling to something beyond mere “sense.”

And Fulton does play! She plays with clichés and colloquialisms, tosses in science and politics, and somehow gets away with it all (masterfully). Although these poems predate the 2016 presidential election, their refusal to be linear seems to me strangely fitting for our times, and prescient.
Bethany Reid, Alice Fulton’s Barely Composed

*

From Bruegel to Van Gogh, [Diane] Seuss draws inspiration from many artists and paintings besides the Rembrandt her title references. Seuss conjures these works into the modern era by personalizing the paintings, the way John Ashbery once did in “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” Beneath the intensity of her gaze the paintings come alive:

The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyes
are in love with it as they are in love with all
dead things that cannot escape being looked at.
It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as my
father was there in his black casket and could not
elude our gaze…

By bringing the father into the frame, the lifeless form of the turkey within the original painting is activated, here we get a sense of the poet’s hauntings, of the memories these still lifes bring to the surface for her; this one, evoking the corpse of the dead father is particularly traumatic. Surface itself becomes an illusion. Seuss’ poems reveal there are infinite depths available to the viewer. In this poem, as well as in others, the morality of the arrangement itself it called into question, the act of being invited to look on such horrors is interrogated as well as our own relationship with death. The speaker in the poem chooses not to look at the body of the father though without knowing her own reasons for this, and so the speaker feels as if they are “paying / a sort of penance for not seeing then,” she tells us, “Now I can’t get enough of seeing.”
Anita Olivia Koester, Unframed: Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss

*

Granular now, this ice, this temperature differential, this oblique control: if I had a god she would be that nervous flicker exploding from thawed hay, iced crocus; she would be the question how? now so granular, the big parts answered, each single blade iced green, and stymied. […]

Ice-sheathed, spring willows try so hard. Nerve connections fire. A peregrine sails, fastest creature on earth. To be so fast, aglow with sap: where are you going? Each next thing, coming fast. Muscle snagged on titanium bone. It still hurts, you know, resurrection; just significantly less than what came before.
JJS, April 15, 2018: Lazarus, in mud season

*

The lapwings are back in the fields and along the edge of the lake. Canadian geese have claimed their pastures along the motorway. Spring’s hypomania is in full bloom just after sunrise. The grove smells like dark earth. Like death and the greening that follows.

Where the trees stop and give way to the plowed fields, the stench of manure is a slap to the senses. This is what life tastes like. Want it or not.

*

The puppy has a mouthful of moss.
I’m thinking it’s time to listen to the silence between the birds’ exclamations.

*

Last night I watched a woman dance to the sound of a train passing. Bach spoke through organ pipes, from over 200 years ago. The sacred. The profane. The meaningless distinction between a pianist’s fingers – oh, where they’ve been – and the return of the lapwings.
Ren Powell, Returning with the Lapwings

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

I was not thinking about their poetry.

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing on “Moving On”

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Ren Powell

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

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

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

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

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

Carolee Sherwood: “reading mercy island by ren powell”

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

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

Deb Scott @ Stoney Moss: “Reading Mercy Island”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(65) Night/soil.

(66) Only nonsense can save us now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell

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

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

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