Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 1

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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)

Woodrat Podcast 38: Ren Powell redux

Ren Powell

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

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

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

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

Lines in response to Ren Powell’s Mercy Island

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.

Woodrat Podcast 9: Ren Powell, A Poet’s Way in Norway

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).

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Walking Forest Blues

Subscribers must click through, or visit the video page.

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


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


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


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