Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: mothers and mothering, silence and mental noise, wonder and wreckage. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19”

Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 13

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week—the last before NaPoWriMo madness descends—had poets blogging about surreal fragments in walnut ink, pantsers vs. plotters, ectoplasmic connection, combinatory play, an ancient math teacher, a cracked cathedral, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 13”

Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Poetry Blogging Network

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

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

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

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

Jim Young, sunny boy

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

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

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

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

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

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

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

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

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

Lament

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

Tongue

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

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

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

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

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

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

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

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

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

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

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

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

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

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

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

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

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

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

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

Kristy Bowen, darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe

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

Years Later

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Snatched: the Means and the End

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

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

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

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

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

PF Anderson, Dear You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Favier, I Am Rebuked For Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

R. M. Haines, New Chapbooks Available!

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

death of depth
we dare call heaven

milk makes a prison
of skin

tears of grace
original face

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, A little bit of a week

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

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

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

can whisper to the unremarkable night […]

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A day of choices

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

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

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

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

Maya C. Popa, Why Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fokkina McDonnell, Austere beauty

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

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

Bethany Reid, Louise Glück, 1943-2023

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Emerson, Tribute to Louise Gluck

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Poets, horses

Neither the calls of zebra doves nor the down-

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

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

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

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

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Arts and humanities in annular eclipse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, A Childless Woman Approaches the Menopause

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

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

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

Caroline Reid, POETRY SLAM PERFORMANCE: Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Just put the map down for a minute – eh?

Ren Powell, Oh, the Negative Capability

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

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

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

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Being part of the world without shouting

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

Robin Houghton, All kinds of poetry news and shenanigans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martyn Crucefix, New podcast discussion on Between a Drowning Man

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

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

Bob Mee, Untitled

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

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

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

Jim Young, rumours

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: changing seasons, ailing mothers, famous poets, non-fungible tokens, unfashionable metaphors, and much more. Enjoy.


Back from a scorching hot week in North Wales, to which we took waterproofs, heavy duty walking boots and woollies, none of which we needed. Thankfully we also took shorts and sunscreen!

The Llyn peninsula is a long way to go, further than Land’s End (I looked it up!) but it was worth it. What a beautiful, unspoilt part of the British Isles. […] It would make an excellent place for a writing retreat. Quiet, surrounded by nature and with a very poor phone signal.

While we were there I started reading Byron Rogers’ compelling life of RS Thomas, The Man who went into the West, which I’ve nearly finished. He was clearly a puzzling and contradictory man. Although I knew the name, I’ve never made an effort to read his work, which I’m a bit ashamed about now. Especially after Gillian Clarke, on a course at Ty Newydd, exhorted all of us to go away and read him. My podcasting poet pal Peter says he met RS when he was a student, and was struck by his presence.

At Aberdaron, in the little church where RS preached for some years, they’ve made a sort of shrine to him, with newspaper articles, copies of poems and other material.

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

The night of the new year
gathers up cat cries in baskets
made for apples, lopsided and sweet,

rolling downhill fast as barrels.
All these nights are the same, heavy
with waiting for those starry eyes

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

The Torah table’s in place. The chairs are arranged, and the music stands, like one-footed angels. The microphones, angled just so. The Torahs are wearing white holiday clothes. Prayerbooks wait in tidy stacks. Rolls of stick-on nametags sit beside baskets of printed holiday bracelets. The piano is tuned. The slide decks are ready. The sermons are ready. The blog posts are ready. My white binder of sheet music sports a rainbow of marginal tabs, colorful stepping stones through each service. As for my soul? Just now a spoonful of honeycake batter called her back from distraction, saying: ready or not here we go.

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

Walking the lane this week has saved my sanity as I simultaneously finish edits on the manuscript for The Ghost Lake, get issue 09 of Spelt Magazine to the printers and hand in a complex Arts Council England grant application for some Spelt projects. Despite their pledges to ensure all people can get support to apply to the arts council, I still found the application system clunky, off putting, frustrating and not in any way transparent or helpful. It literally gave me a migraine trying to get through it. Usually I would have a big rant here about the difficulties that working class people in particular find when putting applications like this together, but I’m wasting no more time on it. I have books to finish, projects to start and the glorious cool autumn air to experience. Stepping out into that air, walking the old dog through the already falling leaves and the beech mast has been like someone putting cool hands on my fiery brain and soothing it directly.

Beech masts – the fallen nuts of the beech tree are everywhere in the village right now; a carpet of nuts that crunches pleasantly when walked over. We are a village of lime trees in the newer part of the village, at the top, then beech trees in the lower part, over the marshier ground. The word Mast comes from the Old English ‘Mæst’ – the nuts of trees fallen on the ground and used for feeding animals, especially for fattening pigs. My village is an ancient one, its name has viking roots and roughly translates as hamlet of the pig keepers. This is one of those facts that is like a door opening to the past, a thin place where I might step through, know myself as one of a long line of villagers. Here are the beech trees, and here, in the very naming of the place, the tree-ancestors, the pig herders moving their woolly sided pigs between them over the marshy, boggy ground. And back, further back, here is the bronze age burial ground on the cliff edge above the village, and here, the path that goes from the lane of the beech trees up to the burial ground. I imagine the villagers of the bronze age making their way up to their ancestors with offerings. There is a peace in the continuity of habitation. I like to walk here and know myself within it. I like to remind myself that people have been surviving here for thousands of years. The autumn air and walking in this place is helping me to connect to The Ghost Lake, helping me find my way through the edits, sharpening, honing, bringing the book home. It’s a beautiful process. One day I’d like to simply do this for a living, to walk, to write.

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

I’ve started a series of poems on Finnish animals, really animals in Finland as none of them are particularly Finnish, hares, cranes, elk, magpies. I haven’t written about the norppa seal or reindeer, animals I connect with Finland, though I might. The creatures I’ve chosen take on a Finnish persona, though they are animals I know from elsewhere. I’m mixing my love of nature with my focus on belonging to a place. The animals are guides, gods or representations of myself, moving through Finland with the will to understand, if not accept, the world around them.

These new poems have made the Finnish collection change again which is intruiging. Its early incarnations were about me struggling to adapt to living here in connection with my family, hanging on to the remnants of my life in Scotland. As I said, these new poems are not necessarily about accepting my life here, but more just listening to the voices of Finland more intently. Stepping out of myself for brief wanders.

All this sounds like I’m writing a blurb for the book, but it’s nice to sort out my thoughts on it. And who knows, it might be useful someday as a blurb.

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

The middle of my days are usually a rhythm of homeschooling, a break for lunch, then work for a half hour or so during quiet rest time, then activities / play time with the kids in the afternoon. As my kids have gotten older, we have more outside the house activities, but I keep them to the afternoon so we can have a consistent school day (Except for bible study–that does intrude on one of our mornings, but we feel it is worth it).

I also do my writing either in the early morning (if work allows), or in the quiet rest time, or in the afternoon–right now it is kind of getting squeezed in. It isn’t ideal–during many seasons in my life, I had writing in that 5AM workout spot–but I’ve just been committing myself to make sure the writing gets done everyday, even if it isn’t happening first thing. When my classes are out for the semester, I’ll put writing in that morning slot for work.

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

My basement yields an oddment of jars
and the large blue pot that waits for this occasion.
I whet my favorite knife,
find cutting boards and colanders
and blues on the radio.
The tunes remind me of hard times, when canning
meant peach jam for toast in winter,
and women wore aprons.

I put mine on
(a gift from my husband before he knew better),
wash vegetables, and start to work.
I pare and core and chop and mince,
humming with Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith,
peeling the next apple, and the next.

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

A summer has slipped by. And now the world is changing shape again.
In the mornings, the orange-brown pine needles scattered on the trail
stab at my imagination like a thousand accusations:
You should have used the time better.

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

I know some of us are driven by fear. Sometimes I think every choice I’ve ever made comes from a place of darkness: an empty room with cracked vinyl floors; a smooth-surfaced pond, cold currents rising suddenly between my legs.

How many of us can’t remember our heart stopping when we reached up to grab our mother’s hand only to see a stranger’s face staring down at us?

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

There were nine contestants – three first round games would produce three winners who would then tape a two-game final round. Yes, all five games for a week are taped in one day. You have to bring clothing changes in case you win for that reason. When I arrived and met the other contestants, I knew I was in trouble. This had nothing to do with the people in the room. Everyone was kind and friendly, excited to compete, cheering on the others, encouraging and calming to those who were nervous. (Raises hand.) But I felt clearly out of my league. Let me explain.

How did I prepare? Honestly, I didn’t. I did some review of the sciences and world geography (my weakest categories) and took some of the Jeopardy final question quizzes on Sporcle, but I knew that my 61 year old brain was NOT going to learn a whole plethora of new things in only a few weeks. But I soon discovered that several of the other contestants followed Jeopardy religiously (beyond watching the show), had been on multiple game shows, belonged to trivia leagues, entered crossword tournaments, were collegiate Quiz Bowl champions. They all knew about things like a Coryat score (I had never heard of it) and one person—-I still don’t know who—had a study packet the size of a ream of paper sitting on one of the tables.

So I decided to try not to pass out, to do my best, and to be bold.

Donna Vorreyer, I’ll take FAILURE for a Thousand…

I guess this is what I am doing in the way of poetry lately: a Mother Tree. Visual, 3D poetry–a small branch anchored in a vase with glass pebbles, hung with ornaments from her life: earrings, baby bracelets, a nostalgic love pin nestling in the tree as if K-I-S-S-I-N-G. There are two tiny skulls to represent her parents, who lived with my parents for a time in their old age. So did my dad’s grandfather, at one point. My folks were very generous people, also taking in a high school student, whose parents moved his senior year, and a young man from Mali. They are living now in a retirement community, in independent living but with lots of home health care, and I am slowly but surely clearing out the family home while it is for sale. Lots of laundering, donating, recycling, redistributing, and rearranging. I feel like my mom!

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

In phone videos,
she shakes her head or calls
the names of her ghosts;
sometimes she has no clue.
We say no more to the constant
drawing of blood, to the checking
of sugars. The body is folding into
itself like its own prayer, heedless
of time however long the transit.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

Very honoured to have KHÔRA feature my work. This poem was dedicated to my mother after her brave battle with brain cancer. The videopoem was created by Michael Lewy as inspired by the poem and my digital collage. The publishing honorarium was donated to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. https://www.corporealkhora.com/issue/26/passport

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

When the same word floats up from the most disparate-seeming characters.  My yoga teacher. My poetry mentor. A black hat rabbi. The list would be disparate enough without Baudelaire – but the dark prince poet was at the forefront in demanding we slough off our lazy habits that inure us to precision and keep us from paying – drum roll please – Attention!  Attention – the practice my yoga teacher, poetry mentor and rabbi insist we devote ourselves to rather than allow slothful addiction to routine to cloud perception of what is. 

The reason I think about it is that this weekend: Shofar!  The curly ram’s horn provocateur is regularly blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  One prayer: May the cry of the shofar chatter our complacency. Another: May the cry elicit the response, hineini, I’m in the moment.  As Maimonides said, “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber.”  

Then there’s the fact that this Saturday, the shofar took a Shabbat rest; the routine that breaks routine was broken. The rabbi compared us to attendees to John Cage’s 4:33, walking into the hall expecting a blast – and instead we hear silence. Or non-silence: coughs, shoes, heavy breath, pulse of the universe.  Dereglement of the senses.  Music/life in the white space.  Or rather, music/life is the white space.

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

Kodak, Blaise Cendrars’ series of American vignettes, was published in 1924 by Stock.The edition – much sought after on the rare book market now – included a portrait of the poet by his friend Francis Picabia. In Kodak Cendrars employs a literalism consistent with his intention of reproducing in words a collection of snapshots of 1920s New York. I’m beginning with the first eight poems. […]

Waiters grave as diplomats clad in
white lean out across the chasm of the town
And the flowerbeds are alight like a million tiny multicoloured
lanterns
I believe Madame murmured to the young man with a voice
tremulous with suppressed passion
I believe that we might do very well here
And with a sweeping gesture he displayed the vast sea

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

At the time, I thought of the poetry I was writing as a quite narrowly focused topical intervention, but in the last 4 or 5 years (partly with the greater clarity with which the Brexit heist can be now seen to have been foisted on the country), the poems have come to seem less dependent on their times and more capable of being read as a series of observations – and passionate pleas – for a more generous, open-minded, less extremist, less egotistical UK culture. It was Hesiod’s pre-Homeric poem, Works and Days, that suddenly felt oddly familiar: in it he is not harking back to an already lost era, nor to past heroic (in our case imperial) events. Instead, Hesiod talks about his own, contemporary workaday world, offering advice to his brother because the pair of them seem to be in some sort of a dispute with each other (a squabble over limited resources – that sounded familiar).

So my developing sequence took over from Hesiod the idea of familial disputes, the importance of the persistence of Hope (in the Pandora’s jar story), the idea that we need to understand that we are living in an Age of Iron (not idealised Gold). Poetry can never be summarised by its own conclusions but the poems seemed to me to be arguing the need to work hard – to have patience – not to buy into fairy tales of a recoverable golden age that probably never existed anyway.

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #2

I just finished “Traversals: A Folio on Walking,” guest-edited by Anna Maria Hong and Christine Hume for the summer 2023 issue of The Hopkins Review. Walking and poetry have so many intersections: they foster observation, thinking, feeling, and talking; prompt unexpected encounters; depend on rhythm; and sometimes resemble each other even structurally, because meditation and meandering are associative as well as linear. When I give poetry students a walking-based writing prompt, their work often gets better. But I’ve hit pause on that assignment for a while because taking a thoughtful ramble isn’t safe or possible for everyone, and I’m pondering how I can reframe it.

This folio opens the field brilliantly. (Speaking of prompts, the co-editors offer amazing ones here, and excerpts from the folio are here.) “Traversals” contains a wide variety of poems and essays that riff on pilgrim, flâneur, and man-in-wilderness clichés, often exploring walkers’ vulnerabilities. Rahne Alexander writes about walking in recovery from a vaginoplasty. Petra Kuppers, a disability activist as well as artist, discusses how she “gets more jeers when walking upright than when whizzing along” on a scooter. The title alone of Willa Zhang’s essay “Young, Asian, Female, Alone” defines powerful parameters. Other pieces trace paths informed by grief or trauma.

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

We walk up the road and over the hill.
The yapping is even louder. Even louder
and louder still, as the road winds down
between high hedges and round bends
so narrow and tight we can’t think
and the moon is just a basket of light.
And as we reach the house – it must be
this one, we agree, it’s so stunning, so
perfectly blue and so bright – we know
that there is no dog, no yapping, only
silence, and there we are, all of us
with no idea how we’ll ever get home.

Bob Mee, TEN PIECES WRITTEN OVER THE PAST WEEK ON THE ISLAND OF ISCHIA

One thing people ask about a lot is endings: How do you know when a poem or essay is done? How do you find the right moment to step out of a piece? How do you avoid either stopping short or overshooting the target?

The short answer is intuition. With experience, you often feel when the piece has found its most resonant, compelling landing. But it’s also true that some exit strategies work better than others, so today I’m sharing one of my favorites.

Whether you’re working on a poem, a story, or an essay—or even a longer form piece like a novel or memoir—experiment with ending on a significant image. Let the detail release meaning.

You can use a new image at the end of the poem, or return to an earlier image, so that the piece is somewhat bookended. I like how this move gives a sense of coming full-circle—a sense of closure and cohesiveness—without relying on exposition. You don’t want to oversell the closing or spoon-feed the reader; after all, a poem isn’t a fable with a moral at the end.

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

A few years back, Nell from HappenStance sent me feedback on a poem. She told me “I like it, Matthew, but the title’s dead.” That phrase has stuck with me ever since. What did she mean? Well, the implicit conclusion is that the title wasn’t contributing anything extra, not drawing the reader in, not adding an extra layer, not coming alive. It was simply there as a placeholder, as if for internal use only.

And I was very much reminded of this exchange when we went through the process of deciding on a title for my second full collection. My initial suggestions were perfectly neat, summarising key themes or bringing them together, but Nell rejected them all, one by one, explaining once again that they weren’t bringing anything to the party.

She then came back to me with a list of potential alternatives. One of them leapt out at me. The one that she might not have expected me to embrace, the one that threw caution to the wind but worked perfectly: Whatever you Do, Just Don’t.

Matthew Stewart, What’s in a title? How and why we decided on Whatever You Do, Just Don’t…

In Acumen 107 (Sep 2023), Andrew Gleary writes “There are poets who would use metaphor had not all metaphors been workshopped out of their writing because metaphor is presently unfashionable.

Maybe so. Metaphors go in an out of fashion. There are extreme views about their value –

  • the damn function of simile, always a displacement of what is happening … I hate the metaphors“, Robert Creeley
  • Metaphor is the whole of poetry. … Poetry is simply made of metaphor … Every poem is a new metaphor inside or it is nothing“, Robert Frost

20th century UK Poetry had Surrealism, [political] Realism, The Apocalyptics (Dylan Thomas et al), The Movement, and Martian poetry (Craig Raine, etc). One could interpret each as a reaction to the previous movement, though no doubt influences were more complex than that.

If metaphor is unfashionable nowadays, it may be because the poet and the poem’s subject matter have a higher priority. It feels to me that we’re in an age where previously suppressed voices are being given space. Minorities (by virtue of race, sexuality, mentality, etc) are out of their niches and have something to say which can be as important as how it is said.

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

For its entire history, dating back to the days of scribes writing books by hand on parchment, literature has been forced inside a copy-based economy. The entire point of books and poetry as technologies is that they can be copied relatively easily. For any author to make a living, they have to reach a wide audience, selling as many low-value copies as possible. This has been the state of affairs for so long that it’s hard for writers to imagine an alternative.

That alternative, though, is easy to see when thinking about visual art. A painting or sculpture can’t be copied—the piece is a unique original that only the artist could have created. While the artist might make prints as an additional means of income, the original retains value and becomes collectable, creating an entirely different economy, with collectors and art lovers buying and selling the works, injecting revenue into the industry. This is why art museums have elaborate galas while libraries resort to used book sales.

Collectability offers more than just money—it’s fun! From baseball cards to Beanie Babies, collecting things that we enjoy, participating in a community, and treasure-hunting as we build our collections, is something human beings like to do. Everything from model trains to postage stamps have trade shows, where people love to swap their wares and brag about their latest finds. With a copy-only economy, literature has never been able to fully participate in the world of collectables. A rare book market exists, but it takes so long for a book to become rare, and the artistry is so far removed from the physical product, that a wider interest never develops. Published as NFTs with provenance linked directly to the author, collecting literary artifacts suddenly becomes an accessible and fulfilling hobby.

Which brings us to the most common criticism of NFTs: “Why would anyone buy something they can copy without paying for it?” This is the “Right-Click Save” argument, and every person that harnesses the potential of this technology has eventually pushed beyond it. Just as technology is constantly shifting, what it means to truly own something has evolved as well. To illustrate this, if you print a copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, do you feel that you own that painting? Of course not. Your printed copy has none of the value of the original. And yet the ubiquity of those prints only increases the value of the original painting, keeping it in the public’s consciousness, which is part of why there tends to be a crowd of selfie-takers surrounding famous impressionist paintings. Speaking of which, MOMA, where Starry Night lives, has incorporated NFTs into their collection.

Making the leap back to the literary world, the ability to collect and display an original piece of writing, connected directly to the author’s digital wallet, completely reverses the economic incentives of publishing. Rather than hide our work from each other, hoping to create a scarcity that will force readers to buy books, we can share our poems and stories widely—the more people who read and appreciate the piece, the more potential value that digital, collectable original, accrues. This technology encourages writers to share their work more freely without the drawbacks we’re used to, creating an environment where all the incentives align, and literature can truly flourish.

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

One of my foundational assumptions is that art gives our lives meaning. So, on the one hand, that idea alone compels me to write. Writing is a spiritual practice, as being a poet is part of my identity, not just a task I complete. Making something new, art for art’s sake, can be very gratifying. On the other hand, there’s a lot going on, locally and globally, that’s very disturbing. In recent years, I’ve found myself addressing some of those concerns in my poetry more than I used to. Much of my current work is environmentalist; living along Lake Superior makes that almost inevitable I think. But I’ve also written poems honoring George Floyd and addressing immigration at our southern border. So I guess one of a poet’s primary questions is “Who am I?” not only as an individual, but also “Who am I?” as a member of a community, and where do the boundaries of that community lie: with my immediate family? with my neighborhood? with my country? with my planet?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Our responsibility is to tell the truth. So many people we encounter are intent on obfuscating reality. Writers lack access to many conventional forms of power—most of us aren’t rich, and we don’t walk the halls of corporate headquarters or national governments. But our facility with language provides us with a different kind of very potent power, and we need to be willing to use it.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lynn Domina

Someone recently observed, bemusedly, that I don’t have any people in my poems. I was bemused by their bemusedness. (It’s not entirely true; I do have people poems. But it is true that they are mostly unpeopled, unless you count me.)

I thought of this today as I was out for my walk. I grabbed those old binocs on my way out the door. I often see little birds that I can’t quite identify, or high circling things. It is my engagement with the natural world that moves me to speak. My encounters with humanity generally leave me with little more lyrical to say than wtf. But I still see them — the people I encounter, directly or indirectly. I wonder about them, try to maintain a level of empathy toward them. They interest me as representatives of our species, our part in the natural order. But I don’t look at them in quite the same way as I look around me when I’m outside. (Plus if I train my binoculars at people, there may be a..er…problem.)

I don’t regret leaving that job. Even though I blew through that retirement savings and lived many nerve-wracked and uncomfortable years. Never bought my own home. Never achieved a career goal. Do not have my own pension. But looking, seeing, and thinking about it all, binoculars weighty in my hand. Yeah. That’s a life.

I dropped the binocs several times over the years and some mirror or other is rattling inside, so they don’t always show me things with clarity. Ain’t that the truth, though. Confusion makes art too.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re a butterfly; or, On Life and Looking

Some decades ago, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts—in a rent controlled apartment, on a traffic island in Harvard Square. I was at the intersection of Bow, Arrow, and Mt. Auburn Streets. I felt both in and out of the poetry scene, although mostly out. My family struggled financially and there were no expectations placed on me except to marry a Jewish man and have children. So far, I’ve failed on both accounts.

Life as a poet was not something my parents could imagine for me, nor something I could really even imagine for myself. In Cambridge, in the 1990’s, if you were a poet you needed to be rich, brilliant, and most of all, if you were a woman, you needed to have ass-length hair.

Jorie Graham, Marie Howe, and Lucy Brock Broido: they were known as the hair poets. One favorite rumor was that when one of the women interviewed at Columbia for a tenure track position, the academic conducting the interview asked her what she could bring to the job which the other candidates couldn’t. The question came at the end of a day of many meetings, a teaching observation, and endless forced smiles. Before the poet could stop herself, she blurted out: hair. That week they made her an offer and yes, she took it.

But the poets’ reputations didn’t end with their beauty or brilliance. It was that supreme confidence that most intimidated me. Today we would call it “white privilege”, which it certainly was—Harvard undergraduate degrees (in some cases) paired with youth, beauty, hair and a supreme confidence deep in the hipsway and in their DNA.

Once, I saw Lucy Brock Broido read at M.I.T. draped in standout attire that hasn’t faded from my memory even 30 years later: a cream-colored form-fitting blouse with high collar and a soft grey jacket covering a short short skirt. Emily Dickinson meets Twiggy. Sitting in the audience, I estimated that the clothing, the boots and modest jewelry had to cost at least $1,000. In 1990, a bit more than my monthly salary.

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

It’s been a while since I had any anthologies to review, and now I have two very contrasting examples of the genre to look at. Both books are well described by their subtitles; Blood and Cord is a thematic anthology of poems and prose dealing with the experience of birth, parenthood and early loss, while the Griffin prize anthology offers representative samples from five of the shortlisted titles. Interestingly, most of the work included circles around themes of death and grieving.

The latter opens with a bang, an excellent long prose piece by Naomi Booth called ‘What is tsunami’ which traces a child’s language development as experienced by a mother, from the mutual incomprehension of speechlessness to the different, but equally difficult, incomprehension that comes with fluency, brought together at the end by the titular question and its answer:

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

Prodigious wash that draws her in close, and sweeps her far, far away.

It’s a genuinely impressive piece of work from a writer who is, I regret to say, new to me.

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

The moths in the poem begin as “quiet words”, but the eyes of the lovers also turn into “moth wings”, disinterred from their context (“like a land that is locked, or lost”). So moths here are pieces of memory and language which fade away, but in doing so whirl and flare (they are “ecstatic with decay”). I think this makes ‘Small decrees of dust’ a poem about trying, fitfully, to love yourself, to gather up the evidence that will allow it, including the evidence of having been loved by another.

Jon Stone, Single Poem Roundup: Crowson, Crowcroft, Blackstone

‘Gleaming scars’. Draycott’s rapidly unfolding images pull ideas together in startling ways, refreshing perception by breaking down compartments and prizing apart conceptualisations that deaden awareness. She does this here by directly describing the process of kintsugi instead of simply referring to it. The phrase ‘the ancient art of the broken’ combines punchiness with a vast, vague and ambiguous suggestive reach. So vividly described, the process is made intensely and tantalizingly present to the imagination and, at the same time, as remote from daily life as something in a fairy tale. The last two and a half lines, returning us to the freezing river of the claim, put ‘the ancient art’ out of reach in a more physical way, with the repeated ‘all you needed’ sardonically emphasizing the gulf between aspiration and reality. Finally, those ‘gleaming scars’ bring the animate and the inorganic together in a way that creates a disturbingly unstable sensation, like touching something one expects to be dead and finding it alive or vice versa. What’s imagined as mended with scars of gold isn’t just a broken pot but the labourers and the bird in the living scene that the pot opens onto, and the shattered mind it represents. ‘Shining seams of precious metal’ doesn’t simply give a more vivid idea than ‘gold’ would have done, it specifically emphasizes gold’s metallic inhumanity.

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

I only had to read the first three poems from Street Sailing by Matt Gilbert (Black Bough Poetry, 2023) to know that I had found another poet to add to my list of favourites! It is a remarkable work for a first collection: thoughtful, profound, engaging, beautifully crafted, fresh…: the sort of debut which makes you wonder where the poet can go from here, but let us leave that for another day. Let me tell you more about Street Sailing.

The collection is structured into a sort of physical and psychological journey of three parts that begins with a sudden awakening, as if the poet has been punched awake. There is a sense of shock, of disorientation, of confusion: ‘memory sent scrambling/ for her trousers: What – the hell – was that?’ (Awake). In the second stanza the narrator tries to make sense of the unanticipated experience: ‘Panicked synapses fumble/ for a trace’ and so begins a journey that will take us through both urban and rural settings and will lead in the final of three sections to poems of new understandings, of tensions resolved and of ‘Acceptance’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Street Sailing’ by Matt Gilbert

You are a poet, writer, teacher and now also an editor. Tell us about Sídhe Press; how it came into being, its ethos and editorial vision.

Annick [Yerem]: I had thought about a press for a little while and during a slow art project with Sarah Connor, where we sent poems back and forth in letters, Sarah mentioned that she was thinking about putting a book together. So I just went with my gut and asked her if she would trust me with it even though I had no idea what I was doing. This was last June. And then everything came together, I found a name, found the picture for the logo thanks to an old friend, Aida, and then found Jane Cornwell, who agreed to work with me and design and format the books. Due to timelines I ended up doing the anthology on dementia first and found my wonderful co-editor and now friend, Mo Schoenfeld, to work with me on it. I have been incredibly lucky to work with Jane, Sarah, Mo, Larissa Reid, and with so many wonderful contributors. For the next anthology, I will be working with Mo and Sarah again, and also with Sue Finch, Róisín Ní Neachtain and Giovanna MacKenna. Have veered from the course a little to re-publish an amazing book by Nikki Dudley, now called Just One More Before I Go.

It´s been a very steep learning curve and of course I make mistakes, sometimes mortifying ones like writing poets´ names wrong, which happened a few times in the last anthology. The whole process teaches me a lot and it´s also something I can do although I´m sick, bit by bit and with a lot of help. I want Sídhe Press to be a safe space and a press that poets can trust. Am aiming to be transparent about mistakes and own up to them, and to be transparent about the process. 

Marian Christie, Poem by Poem: An interview with Annick Yerem, Editor at Sídhe Press

I had a sudden recollection the other day of a reading given by Brian Patten. It could have arisen because my interview with Brian is on the popular posts list. 

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

Brian is saying:
fuck you Stephen Spender
fuck you for what you visited on Stevie Smith
fuck you who remembers you now

that was years ago
and Stephen Spender
is not even a reflection
in our collective rear view mirror

A word about the people mentioned. Stevie Smith is a perennially popular poet who gave the language the phrase not waving but drowning. Stephen Spender was from a privileged background and became  communist before being knighted. If I have to choose a side then I’m with Brian. 

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

I talk often of those sorts of tether points that connect certain eras or memories of our lives with others. My past self, 19, and just beginning to send out poems and my current self, also sending poems out in submission and the vast ocean of time between them. Or my 90s self, listening to certain songs or doing certain things and suddenly there is the same song and I am doing much the same thing, just 30 odd years later. At the drive-in last week, there was a string between my current self waiting excitedly for the movie and my child self waiting for the sun to set in the back of the car while my parents sat in the front.

Kristy Bowen, webs

This month, I’m entering into my third year of retirement (sort of, mostly) from education. A fair number of people asked me, when I left, if I was going to do more writing or focus on writing. It was a thing I always thought I would like to be able to do. It was a thing some part of me thought I probably should do. But any time I thought about it, I felt nothing but ambivalence. There was nothing much I wanted to say, and no goals related to writing that I could feel myself caring much about. Given that, writing hasn’t been something I’ve given much time to. Other things felt more compelling.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about renovation and Louisiana, I’ve been feeling a shift. I don’t have a goal in mind, and I don’t have something particular to say. Instead, I have questions I want to think about, and this week it occurred to me (in a duh! kind of way) that questions are always my best way in, the best reason for me to write.

I’m not feeling ambitious or dutiful or purposeful. I’m feeling curious. That, too, feels like going home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

from Haidan, (Haiku Stage) a monthly haiku magazine, September 2017 Issue, Honami Shoten, Tokyo

Fay’s Note:   There is intentional space in the Japanese original.   It is a style of her haiku group founded by her father, Mikihiko Itami (1920-2019).

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 16, 2023)

Before our Labor Day travel and our COVID infections, I was getting into a poetry rhythm.  I had actually composed a poem or two to completion.  My more usual practice over the past year or two (or more?) has been that I write a few lines, have a few more ideas, write a bit more, run out of time, never return to the draft.  My older process was to think the poem to completion before writing anything–I did wind up with more completed poems, but I lost more ideas too.

Obviously, both approaches have pros and cons, but I do wish the poetry part of my brain was feeling more inspired on a daily basis.  I was going to write that I should try reading more poetry, but I’m actually reading quite a bit of poetry as I prepare for my in-person class each week.  

I tend to be hard on myself for all the scrolling and internet reading and online ways of “wasting” time.  Some that time could be better spent.  Some of it is class prep.  Some of it will come out in poems in interesting ways.

I am grateful that I’m no longer spending time, so much time, getting ready for accreditation visits and doing the documenting that is required of administrators.  I do not miss that kind of writing, although I was skilled at it.

Let me do what I always do:  trust that my processes are at work, while also looking for ways to have more writing in each day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

So, Monday I was healthy enough to get my antibody infusion finally, so I spent four hours with a needle in my vein, getting my temperature and blood pressure checked, and getting antibodies I can’t create put into my body. No major problems yet—still alive, as the pictures will prove—but I was knocked out for at least four days. I know some people with MS get these things once a month – as well as cancer patients, and people with immune problems like mine – but this was my first “infusion center” experience. […]

For now, just grateful to still be kicking and hopefully better off with the antibody treatment, ready to get out into the world and do a poetry reading with a friend at a cool indie bookstore this week, grateful for people reading and reviewing Flare, Corona in this busy world where poetry is so easily overlooked. Grateful for good weather, and flower farms near and far.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, An Infusion, A New Review for Flare, Corona, an Upcoming Reading at Edmonds Bookshop, and Spending Time in Flower Fields

Since my accident two years six months ago, I am growing stronger again and don’t have to pre-plan things quite so much. Mentally, my skills are returning and my brain is no longer having to focus quite so much on healing and regaining confidence. I keep trying things that push me a little out of my comfort zone, and each time I succeed, I feel more confident. The pain is less too, most of the time.

So for me now, September feels like a new start, even though I no longer teach. Some of the groups I belong to are starting up again, and I am excited to meet up with new friends I am making them, while still cherishing old friends.

We are starting to tidy the garden for winter and plant some bulbs. I am still sad that gardening is so very hard for me. I can do a lot sitting in a chair but if I try anything standing, I have to sit down fairly often. But at least I can easily get into my shed, although I can’t fetch anything out of it!

Apart from using my walker or my stick, and needing my grab bars and handrails, I am more or less back to my old self, and can take independent steps when I feel safe, though never outside (trip hazards!). Caution is still required because of Covid, but I am actively looking to lead poetry workshops and give readings now. I much prefer face to face. I am looking forward to reading in Shrewsbury next month, a 10 minute slot at the launch of Festival in a Book Anthology, edited by force-for-good Liz Lefroy, and meeting up with some poetry friends from that area.

There are a few exciting publications in the pipeline that must stay secret for now, but I am feeling happy and optimistic for the future.

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the sea and other holiday destinations, kids, writing retreats, sewing, Barbie, and more. Enjoy,


“The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that ships are sometimes wrecked by it. On the contrary, this adds to its beauty,” says Simone Weil, French philosopher in a poetic mood. She’s right: the endless surface of the sea, whether navy or aquamarine, has the abyss tucked into it. Summer used to be billed as a time to shed every care; now we know it will be ringed by wildfires or panting hot temperatures, by enclosures on the tarmac or by encirclements of algae. How else to reach paradise but by snaking roads, switchbacks and old goat paths that flirt along unguarded cliffs? But those 300 degree views of the sea! That dizzying compact between danger and thrill. Even when lying passively on a beach, you are in the solar eye. Remember Weil: “On the contrary, this adds to its beauty.”

Jill Pearlman, Simone Weil: Happy Beachgoer

We dip in the ocean. We marvel at the ocean, because most of us on the board don’t live here. (The one who does live here laughs and affectionately calls us tourists.) Pelicans glide right overhead, and sandpipers run on wet sand. We hum bits of liturgy on the beach. A seashell with a hole in it sparks a sermon idea. Among rabbis, with the Days of Awe on the horizon, everything is a sermon idea.

We brainstorm about build projects, governance and innovation, what we want to co-create in the year to come. We talk about collaborative play, about middot (character-qualities), about book projects and game mechanics and how to reach people where they are. We play Hebrew bananagrams, examine what makes good games work, talk about what might differentiate liturgy from poetry.

Rachel Barenblat, A Week of Building With the Bayit Board

Poems this past year have, admittedly, been sparse. Last summer was given over to the wedding, and months before the wedding to growing sweet peas, Japanese anemones, cornflowers among a long list. And to sewing. Just as I am intrigued by the co-dependence of writing and gardening, I’ve come to see writing, gardening and making clothes as a divine trinity that came together for the wedding. Here’s the family, plus dear friends who count as family. And three poems on making the wedding dress (above) are now on Vimeo for the Society of Authors positive poetry party. I made my outfit too. 

Jackie Wills, More on sewing and an anniversary

The sewing I’ve been doing this summer started as an experiment. As in my food choices, I’ve wanted to become more conscious of where our clothing comes from, who our dollars support or hurt, its environmental impact, and how the industry operates. I am neither a purist nor a crusader: I’ve bought plenty of clothes at Zara, H&M, Gap, Old Navy, and many other clothing companies that use offshore manufacturing. But like my friend K., who writes the blog Passage des Perles, I do shop at thrift stores, and am becoming more and more unwilling to support the fast-fashion industry, distressed by its reduced fabric quality and construction, and underwhelmed by the styles as well as their positioning to a much younger consumer. I also didn’t want to spend $200-$300 on just one or two items at local boutiques run by Quebec designers. For that amount of money, I wondered what I could actually make myself, and whether or not I’d be happy with the result.

Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 1

And so much time given to those
old gilt cruel gods; so much time given
trying to sew a rag doll of myself. When
I could have followed a single splash
spilled from the jar of the sun; a moment’s
careless radiance; a story of its own.

Dale Favier, Pail

I’m rather late in posting this. On 10th June, Mo Kiziewicz gathered a group of ten writers and artists for a second day of art and poetry in The Hive at Peasedown. (The first one is dicussed here.) We took Cecilia Vicuna’s Brain Forest as our inspiration, playing with knots, experimenting with found materials, sound and language, making ‘precarious art’. A collaborative installation grew in the art room. We read our poems to it, in the midst of it. We photographed and dismantled it. In Vicuna’s words, “We have to work together for our survival … and most of all because it is fun”. It was! We went home with more hope, a new way of looking at discarded materials, and a fresh confidence in our capacity to make something together. Thank you Mo, and all who were there.

Ama Bolton, Quipu at The Hive

Beneath our anxious quickenings, beneath our fanged fears, beneath the rusted armors of conviction, tenderness is what we long for — tenderness to salve our bruising contact with reality, to warm us awake from the frozen stupor of near-living.

Tenderness is what permeates Platero and I (public library) by the Nobel-winning Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez (December 23, 1881–May 29, 1958) — part love letter to his beloved donkey, part journal of ecstatic delight in nature and humanity, part fairy tale for the lonely.

Living in his birthplace of Moguer — a small town in rural Andalusia — Jiménez began composing this uncommon posy of prose poems in 1907. Although it spans less than a year in his life with Platero, it took him a decade to publish it.

At its heart is a simple truth: What and whom we love is a lens to focus our love of life itself.

The tenderness with which Jiménez regards Platero — whom he addresses by name over and over, like an incantation of love — is the tenderness of living with wonder and fragility. He celebrates Platero’s “big gleaming eyes, of a gentle firmness, in which the sun shines”; he reverences him as “friend to the old man and the child, to the stream and the butterfly, to the sun and the dog, to the flower and the moon, patient and pensive, melancholy and lovable, the Marcus Aurelius of the meadows.” He beckons him: “Come with me. I’ll teach you the flowers and the stars.”

Maria Popova, The Donkey and the Meaning of Eternity: Nobel-Winning Spanish Poet Juan Ramón Jiménez’s Love Letter to Life

Juan Garrido Salgado immigrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the Pinochet regime that burned his poetry, imprisoned him, and tortured him for his political activism. Since then, his poetry has been widely published to acclaim, and includes eight books, anthologies and translations. His readings are renowned for their passion and dedication to social justice. His latest collection, The Dilemma of Writing a Poem, has just been published by Puncher & Wattman.

Some time ago, we decided to make a video of one of his poems. It was a hard choice, but we settled on Cuando Fui Clandestino / When I Was Clandestine from his collection of the same title, published in 2019 by Rochford Press. The poem is strongly autobiographical and refers to time he spent in Moscow as well as living under curfew in Chile.

Making the video was a challenge. It was not possible for me to film in Russia or Chile, and, in any case, the political and social changes have been so great in each country, it was not clear what footage would be appropriate. We could have used archival footage in the public domain, but, in general, I prefer to use my own original footage in my work. Given that Juan has lived in Adelaide for many years now, we decided that I would film sites around the city that reflected the mood of his original experiences, while being clearly set in a contemporary context. All the footage was taken at night at locations I know well. A few scenes have been composited from more than one location. We went back to a key location not far from where Juan lives to film him on location after dark with his poetry.

Ian Gibbins, Cuando Fui Clandestino – poetry video collaboration with Juan Garrido Salgado

I will finish the rewrites and the edits, and I will start again from nothing to make something new.

Hell, there are comets and asteroids flying through the emptiness of space. It’s just the nature of the universe: the oftentimes uselessness of just being. Where do we get the audacity to think we’re entitled to more?

Ren Powell, Rewrites and Moving On

I thought I’d done with the subject of the Poet Laureate but couldn’t resist one last go after reading fun pieces in The Guardian and The Independent about the selection process in 1967 and 1972 recently revealed by the opening of a government archive held at Kew. […]

Mysteriously, George Barker was sniffily accused of being a ‘down and outer’. Fair enough, he did have 15 children by four different women. (Well, 15 with one woman would have been downright cruel – Ed.) Even that might have been forgiven, perhaps even lauded, had he emerged from the usual public school upbringing – a London Council school and a polytechnic didn’t cut it as Poet Laureate material.

Which left dear old Betjeman, who represented the safest choice with his ‘aroma of lavender and faint musk, tennis lawns and cathedral cloisters’. Well, he deserved his presentation of the poisoned chalice of British poetry as much as anyone.

Now, of course, poet laureates get a 10-year stint at it, which is perhaps more than enough.

If it were still a lifetime’s chore, we’d still have Andrew Motion in charge. A final digression. One of our daughters was once selected as a Foyle’s Young Poet of the Year, a mysterious process in itself, but which entailed a trip to London to mix with the others who had been chosen. She returned unimpressed. “There were people there called Horatio and Jemima and a man who I think was called Motion who seemed to just drink champagne.” As far as I’m aware, she hasn’t written another poem since…

Not that I blame the poet laureate for consuming the free champagne. Given the choice of that or trying to hold conversations with a hoard of teenagers, I’d have taken exactly the same kind of refuge.

Bob Mee, A PROMISE NOT TO WHINGE AND RANT ABOUT POET LAUREATES AGAIN… OK, ONE LAST TIME

I survived the camping with the girls and my youngest son, barely. Our fave campsite has now become stupidly popular, we had a 12-man bachelor party up singing and shooting bb guns until late and a group of giggling mothers into the morning. So I didn’t get much sleep. 

The next day they all cleared off and I thought we’d have a couple of quiet hours to decide whether to stay the next night when a 40-person party showed up for a bbq picnic. I need a new campsite close to a fire pit and toilet and not too far to walk from the car. I want to sit near a lake with just my kids splashing about, I want to sit by a fire in the silence of the woods. We had a lovely time cooking over the fire and swimming and just chilling, but it was just too noisy and crowded. I felt like I was crashing someone else’s party just trying to cook a sausage on the communal fire pit.

There’s a balance point that I always struggle with between what I need and what others need. I’m not always good at meeting both, especially with my kids, but also with my own needs and with others. I’d be happy camping alone, so I can write and do as I please. However, I went camping with my kids who have their own wishes, to a place where there are conveniences that make camping with kids easier. They loved it, having everything near and so did lots of others, so I had to share or not stay a second night. We came home. 

I have an upcoming writers’ retreat with my writing group Helsinki Writers. It’s also a weird balance. We want a social atmosphere, but we want to focus a bit on writing. We say we want to do writing activities and talk, but when we get there we mostly want to drink and chat. This is our third year and we’re still getting the mechanics in place. It will be a good time however we work it. I will make my own time for writing and hopefully, some people will show up for my own little session. And least we’re keeping our festivities in a private place, not taking over a public space.

Gerry Stewart, Finding a Balance with the World

It was really the first time I’d spent any time at all around kids since the pandemic began—besides a short visit with my college roommate’s very well-behaved daughter at a poetry reading—so that was interesting and anxiety-provoking. Glenn’s cooking was a big hit even with the very picky children, and the cats were a hit too (although they were not excited in reciprocity—they are only used to adult visitors). I really enjoyed introducing the kids to things I loved around town—they loved feeding fries to seagulls at Ivar’s, for instance, and had unexpected enthusiasm for the lavender farm and its various flowers. (They even went back without us one morning!) They loved going to a local park. My niece loved my pink typewriter, and I taught her how to use it (though an antique, it doesn’t work flawlessly—much like myself, LOL!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review in Colorado Review for Flare, Corona, A Visit from My Older Brother and Family, and Guest Blog Post by Kelli and I at the Poetry Department Blog on Making Your Own Residency

It’s so strange out here in poetry-land. On the one (very large and oppressive) hand, I feel a lot of pressure to not be capitalistic and grossly self-promoting. Particularly in the realm of poetry, fellow writers are often apt to say something like, “focus on the work, not on whether it sells, because poetry doesn’t sell and also capitalism is gross.” Which is certainly true. But then those same writers will be distressed or disappointed or disillusioned (all the big D words) when their poems or their books get very little attention after publication — because after all, when you put effort into something and you share it with the world, you want it to garner *some* attention.

Fabulous Beast was released in the fall of 2019, and I wanted big things for my first book and poetry debut — I had only a year turnaround from acceptance to publication, which I realize now is not a lot of time for planning when post-publication awards, book reviewers, and event organizers often want things like ARCs, book covers & publication details nearly 6 months in advance. I did what I could, but no girl can fight the power of a pandemic, and 2020 destroyed the tail end of my tiny “book tour” in a gross and disheartening way.

So for The Familiar I’ve had almost two years to prepare for publication and it turns out — because of *life* — that’s still not a huge amount of time when publicity and marketing is not your primary area of expertise. But I’ve read and listened and learned a lot in that time, so perhaps my second book will get a little more love than the first one did.

And why should it matter? There’s my ego, of course. It’s more fragile than I’d like to admit, sure. But there’s also an idea that I’ve heard at a number of conferences and also read in craft and publishing articles over the past 18 months: honor the work.

As in, you did this amazing, miraculous thing — you wrote a book and found a publisher who believed in it — so celebrate that marvelous fact. Honor not only the months (and/or years) you spent writing and revising your book, but also honor the efforts of the editors and interns and all the people at the publishing company who are doing something on behalf of your work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Projects (Or New Distractions?)

I’ve been reading another gem of a book I found in Rotherham Library: Tom Paulin’s The Secret Life of Poems, Faber, 2008. […]

He’s brilliant at pointing out the layered, otherwise hidden foreshadowings and secondary meanings. Crucially, though, he stresses the fundamental importance of the sounds, the rhythms, the music, the emphases that poems make. In that vein, he quotes Frost, without stating the source, as follows:

The ear does it. The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader. I have known people who could read without hearing the sentence sounds and they were the fastest readers. Eye readers we call them. They can get the meaning by glances. But they are bad readers because they miss the best part of what a good writer puts into his work.

Remember that the sentence sound often says more than the words. It may even as in irony convey a meaning opposite to the words.

I must bear all that in mind more consciously than I usually do.

Matthew Paul, On Tom Paulin’s The Secret Life of Poems

I don’t worry too much about being formally consistent in my own writing. My aim, my hope, my work, is to discover and hear, line by line, whatever shape best suits what I am working on. But I do know that, like many writers, I can struggle with Faulkner’s murderous adage kill your darlings.

Which leads me to an old draft I struggled for many years to finish about a meeting between Milton and Galileo.

I should start by saying that I believe the subject of wonder is best approached from a variety of angles. The wider the reading net is cast—phenomenology, science, art, technology, literary criticism—the more essential and alive the exploration of its role in poetry becomes.

The problem was this: I had fallen into the trap of crowding a poem on the subject (how fantastically excellent is it that these two visionaries met?) with too many ideas on the subject of science, censorship, religion, and discovery. I would show you the draft, but it’s a hot mess of high lyric—layers and layers of frosting with no cake beneath.

What I actually needed was to stop reading and find an object around which to cement their interaction.

The breakthrough was a jug of water. It was hot in Italy, summer of 1638. It seemed plausible Galileo would have offered his new friend as much.

Thinking the words “jug of water” proved infinitely more useful than agonizing over form, or the elaborate metaphors and similes I had crafted, not intuited (I’m emphasizing here a kind of effort that isn’t always useful to us as writers).

A jug of water brought an end to my futile attempts at a fancy cosmological setup in the poem’s later stanzas, allowing the wonder I felt at these two men meeting in the first place to speak for itself…

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I was reading this critical text on Emily Dickinson yesterday, and it was talking about how poets in the 1800s, specifically those writing in America around the time of the Civil War, were expected to be political, and how they often used both the private lyrical “I” speaker and the larger, national communal “we” voice—and how these two didn’t compete, necessarily, but also weren’t the same. Then I was thinking about how I’ve seen people complain about readers who are like “why is poetry so political these days, geeez, bring back the frost and the geese and the sunset,” and how those people have no concept of what poetry’s role has been in America and the world since… forever. That being said, each writer has to figure out for themselves what their “role” is, and I would say anyone who wants to write should most certainly write, be it about the geese and the frost or how Rome is burning. The harder part is about sharing your work. If it’s just the geese and the frost, your audience is going to be different than if it’s about how Rome is burning. No matter what, audiences will be critical. Ever since we started defining poetry as “the lyric” and the lyric as “overheard genius,” there has been a lot of pressure on people calling themselves poets. We don’t really draw lines anymore between “verse” and “poetry,” either, in the same way we did in the earliest colonial days in America. If you want people to read your work, then you should want them to get something out of it—each writer has their own “something,” and I hope they know what that is before they start sending their work out to publishers. But either way—write, writers, write!

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kimberly Ann Southwick (rob mclennan)

Black Lawrence Press is having a sale on discounted poetry bundles in preparation for the Sealey Challenge. My own collection, Rotura, is part of the “Sealey Challenge 10 – Poets of Color” bundle. For more info on this sale, check out the BLP site.

Lastly, I had the honor of teaching for the Solstice low-residency MFA program’s summer residency last week. During this residency, amidst the rich conversations about poetry and creative nonfiction (the two genres I teach in), I was able to sit in on a craft class by essayist and novelist Xu Xi on “Writing the Intersection of the Public & Personal.” After the illuminating experience of the class, I have been engaging with samples of her work online. This essay is a good example of the dynamic range Xu Xi is capable of on the page as well as the richness of insight she offers her readers.

José Angel Araguz, Salamander virtual event & more!

During a recent poetry residency, we’d start off every day with someone offering a prompt that people could work with through the day or the week, if they wanted to. And we had good fun with it. It was a great way to remind ourselves that creative work is play! We should feel play-full as we make our art.

And I also was reminded of the section of the Robert Frost poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time” that says, “Only when…work is play for mortal stakes is the deed ever really done for Heaven’s and the future’s sakes.” And I was reminded, it’s good too to remember those mortal stakes.

By which I mean injecting also into our art the truths of our brief lives, the truths of our timeless humanity.

Marilyn McCabe, Singing this song for you; or, On the Work and Play of Writing

Last week I buried my longest lived guinea pig, Freddy, who died at seven years old. This week I buried my oldest rabbit, Dandelion, who died at just shy of ten years old. Last week was the week I handed in the first proper, book sized draft of The Ghost Lake to the editor who I’ll be working with at The Borough Press. I’m currently taking a few days off to decompress. But if you’re freelance yourself you’ll know that there’s really no such thing as time off. My compromise is an early start, a couple of hours keeping Spelt in control, checking in on my current course attendees, putting out fires in my inbox, before taking the rest of the day to walk, read, sleep. I worked Monday and Tuesday, I’ll work Friday. But in-between are two days where I can almost completely switch off from work and just be. I am spending a lot of time sleeping. I obviously needed it after running on deadline energy for the last nine months.

What a strange coincidence it was, then, that the link to my previous life should end at the same time as I moved through the first gateway of what I hope will be a new, more creative life. The handing in of the manuscript felt significant, was significant. This is the first time the book has been outside of my own head. I never actually thought I’d finish it. At one point I completely crumbled over it, but then pulled myself together and carried on just putting words on a page each day, until I reached more than 80,000 words.

I celebrated, as I have celebrated each step on this journey – being long listed in the Nan Shepherd prize, getting an agent, getting a book deal, the first slice of my advance arriving… with a bottle of bubbly wine and a note in my journal reminding myself to enjoy it.

Wendy Pratt, The Unexpected Legacy of Rabbit Ownership

I cannot describe Bangalore in terms of space or time. There is too much fluidity, too much distortion. I cannot reduce it to a beginning or a destination. It is more complex, more tangled than that. I cannot write of it as a whole or even as a part. It is both container and contained. I sieve it through language and meaning. What I am. In its words. In its verse. If anything, perhaps, it is a vowel. Nothing by itself. Creating other things. Joining other things. Sometimes a word, standing alone. Meaning nothing. Meaning me. Meaning another world.

There are streets here that collect my shadow. There are trees here that share my breath. There are skies here where everything I said is still an echo. There are waters here where everything I never said is still a possibility. […]

In the middle of this landlocked city, I built for myself an island. Separated from the ghosts who still live and the living who are no more than ghosts. Separated from things I shouldn’t remember and things I must not forget. Separated from time and space that works like a black hole. An island with a sliver of light. One source. One beam. One brightened wall. From that island, I could see the sky, the irregular slice of sky that appeared with its moon and sprinkling of stars. In the dark. From that island, I offered consonants. This city completed them all, made them into words. Made, out of dry alphabets and silence and hardness, poetry.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (48)

A lot of writers hate author questionnaires. I don’t. I have to get my thoughts together anyway about how I can help an ecopoetic book about women’s bodies, grief, witchiness, and fungi find audiences. It’s good to start early. But at least so far, I’m not feeling the anxious kind of ambition about Mycocosmic. I’m not sure if that’s because publication is far off or because I have exceptional confidence in this project or because I’m feeling older, which tends to shift the stakes. A bit of all three, probably.

Massachusetts Review recently published a spell-poem from the forthcoming book that’s very much about women’s bodies, grief, and witchiness (not fungi). “Message from the Next Life” is now available on their website with a recording (scroll down a bit and it’s on the right)–and the recording was hard to make, because it’s a tongue-twister of an alliterative sonnet! Another piece, first published in Kestrel, will be featured on Verse Daily sometime soon. And I’ve been corresponding with Mark Drew of The Gettysburg Review, who just took one of the Mycocosmic‘s best poems (I think) after some back-and-forth about revisions. He’s one of those rare solid gold editors who sees the better version of a poem within your good version and will take the time to coax it out. In this case, his edits made the poem a shade sadder. I’ve been writing mother-daughter poems that I wouldn’t have felt right about publishing before my mother’s death, but even now I can resist cutting down to the deepest darkness, it seems. For the poem’s sake, I’m glad he nudged me there.

Lesley Wheeler, Women working

Matthew Johnson grew up in New Rochelle, New York and Connecticut and now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. A sports journalist, several poems reference baseball, which I’m not qualified to comment on. […]

“Far from New York State” is an engaging, direct collection that reveals a fondness for the state, even its uglier side. Johnson uses humour to make serious points about institutional and individual racism without ranting or being didactic. The poems do show a love for the city, its muses, sports and music while not glossing over the negatives from someone who wants readers to share in his enthusiasm, rather like baseball fans, even if supporters of the opposing team, can still agree on a player’s skills or what makes a good game.

Emma Lee, “Far from New York State” Matthew Johnson (NYQ Books) – book review

Somewhere in my head the wandering boys and the foxes are getting mixed up. There’s an Irish ballad called Sly Bold Reynardine, about a were-fox who seduces unwary maidens, lures them to his den on the mountains of Pomeroy and drowns them. And I remember that some people used to refer to the Faeries as ‘the good neighbours’ so as not to provoke them. There are poems here, and notes for the non-fiction book.

I feel as if I have been spinning my wheels on the whole writing thing for a long time, not only while my husband was in hospital, but since we moved, since I finished The Well of the Moon in fact. I’ve done a lot of reading, and a lot of editing, and a lot of planning and drafting and to-do lists. I went on a course last summer to learn how to write proper essays, only to be told I should ‘be more poet’.

It turns out to be right! There is a fox poem, possibly one of a sequence, and I’ve found my way in to the non-fiction. I’m following the ballads and the charms into the liminal spaces, renegotiating boundaries and allowing the poetry to shape the prose. It seems that if you find the form, the words flow much more freely, and I’m looking forward to finally making some progress with my own work.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Finding the Form

I don’t think I quite understood that Barbie’s body was amiss, that the strangely proportioned monstrosity meant for the male gaze and teetering on her tiptoes was supposed to be the “ideal” body. But then again, you got that shit everywhere. I think by the time my own body issues were kicking in, I was barely paying any attention to Barbie at all and there are probably far more sinister and immediate things to blame for the afflictions of girls and their bodies in the 1980s. Like the new pediatrician who urged my mother at 10 to put me on a diet to lose 20 pounds thus beginning a decade and a half of dysfunctional dieting. At least Barbie was shown as an independent woman with career ambitions, which I probably never realized was as subversive as it was for the time. We were, after all,  just a decade or so out of women actually being able to have credit cards without husband approval.  Everyone always talks now about “main character energy” and I don’t think we realized quite how much Barbie had. While she was often paired with Ken, she was just as often not. I think there was a Barbie friend that had a kid (or maybe I hallucinated it) but Barbie, despite lavish fantasy wedding dresses, was always a single girl and independent–also probably far more revolutionary than we thought. 

The coolest things I am seeing about the movie, which we are hoping to get to see in theaters, though I may have to go it alone or just wait til streaming due to J’s schedule, is that it seems to include everyone in on the Barbie train. not just statuesque blondes, but people of all races, body types, etc, all the main characters of their own stories. To Barbie, I may own my storytelling acumen and flair for dramatic plots, but also my interests in clothes and fashion since I too like to dress up for no good reason, and in fact, bought a Barbie pink sundress just lack week just in case we make it to the theater or just to wear out. I’ve often wondered if there was a writer Barbie what would she be wearing? Her accessories? No doubt a tiny bottle of Advil and a notebook with tiny page? A tiny laptop and cup of Starbucks? Self-doubt and imposter syndrome?

Kristy Bowen, life in plastic

What happens between you and your work on any given day really can be extraordinary. We all know this. Surely this is why we come to writing in the first place. We have all tasted those sparks of magic. We have held those fireworks in our hands, been stunned by their bold and crackling light.

Let’s not let professional ambitions take that away from us. Let’s never make up stories to tell ourselves, that we haven’t yet reached some essential place or yet arrived in some very-important velvet-roped section of the literary world. Let’s not berate ourselves over some fantasy about where we imagine we’re supposed to be at any given moment, or age, or stage in our lives.

It’s not necessary. It’s not even real.

What’s real is what happens with you, every time you sit down to write. Can you find that connection today? And come back tomorrow, and seek it out again?

Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Joy!

Over the summer, I finished revising a children’s novel I worked on a few years ago, and now I’m sending queries to agents; I’m also working on my 4th poetry manuscript, revising and sending out.

Neither one am I doing with a mad fury, but a little at a time does add up. Now that we are starting back to homeschooling, I plan to get into my regular two-poems-a-month schedule of writing (and submitting my work to 5 places per month, if I can–Erika Dreifus’ Practicing Writer newsletter has been very helpful with steering me toward good markets!).

I also created a submissions calendar for myself, that includes things like grant deadlines, book contest deadlines, etc. I don’t send to very many of those so it’s not a very long list, but I hope that it keeps me from missing so many deadlines.

I’ve definitely had summers where I worked more intensely than this one; I think my energy just went other places–working on my house, on myself, playing with the kids, spending time as a family–and I had a lot less time to write than I could carve out for myself.

No matter. It was still a very good use of a summer.

Renee Emerson, End of Summer Writing Update

Heat making people do strange things—

hardcore graffiti artists getting day jobs animating Disney movies. Barbie trading in her heels for prison shoes.

Soul-crushing heat. High-pressure heat.

Rich Ferguson, Heat

The weather advisory is the same
as it was a few days ago—poor
air quality, visibility affected.

This evening, I would like to hear
your name floating through the smoke
carried from burning forests in another country.

I would tie one end of it to my wrist
and wait for it to lift me out what’s left
of this place I tried to cultivate into

a garden.

Luisa A. Igloria, Self-Portrait, in the Midst of Withering

Dear blog readers, I haven’t forgotten you–I just write my blog to you in my head while swimming, early in the morning. Twice now, I’ve gone swimming in the fog–once a drifty, blowy fog and today (was it today?) a stationary fog that soon disappeared. Since lap swimming is repetitive, I do lose track of days. It also becomes meditative. As the summer has progressed, that easy breathing thing has happened. I feel like I could swim forever. But this is sometimes followed by my nose having to remind itself not to breathe water, my body thinking it lives here now. […]

I have two poems in the current issue of Redactions, the Sitcom Issue, because my life is a sitcom (Mad About You) and a dark, quirky comedy (Everybody Loves Raymond if it was rebooted as a future White Lotus). To further mess things up, both of these began with biblical prompts, during Lent.

My husband had a birthday this week, and we celebrated by going to a poetry reading (he liked it!) and taking the poet and her husband out to dinner. The poet was Lynne Jensen Lampe–she came to our little public library from Columbia, Missouri–reading new poems, and poems from her new book, Talk Smack to a Hurricane. We have a robust reading series of local and regional poets, and, especially since our virtual programming during Covid, many far-flung poets, some, like Lynne, who still show up in person, and some who remain virtual. I’m delighted that Chicago poet Yvonne Zipter will come down in October. Really, it’s a fantastic series that doesn’t get much local media attention, but I am reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, thanks to my new pastor, and so may try to attempt some marketing badassery soon. Shonda makes me laugh out loud. Thank you, I needed that!

Kathleen Kirk, Red Hibiscus, Fog, Sitcoms, Shock, Badassery

Our holiday was lovely. Thanks to Kefalonia for being glorious, and for the loungers by the pool being very amenable to sitting on and allowing me to read. I worked my way through some of my TBR pile, as well as a number of cans of Greek lager. You’ll see the reading list in the usual place below. You might see the cans, cats and the books on my Instagram feed. See header for one of the excellent cats we met. We named him Baked Bean. […]

It was also lovely to read this interview in the Guardian with the legend that is Vini Reilly this week. He talks about walking away from the life he’s built as a guitar player after 60 years, and I enjoyed what he said about seeing guitarists playing in pubs that he thinks are better than him, but they don’t get the chance to make records. Is the poetry world any different?

Mat Riches, Scrappy do

–There was a booth where we could vote for our favorite tomato, advertised as a beauty contest.  The booth attendant gave us a ticket to drop in a cup.  I voted for the tomato least likely to win, small and ordinary.  My spouse voted for the one who hadn’t gotten any votes.

–As we left, we noticed a woman in a tomato costume.  Was she officially part of the event or just deeply in the spirit of the festival?

I savored our time there.  I have a feeling that some day soon we’ll look back with nostalgia, on a time  when we could enjoy a Saturday ramble through a farmer’s market, saying no thank you to cannabis infused iced tea and happily munching free tomato sandwiches.  We came home with a variety of veggies and some whoopie pies made by a young entrepreneur, and life seemed full.

Could I write a poem without sounding maudlin?  Or cliched?  I’m thinking about returning to the figure of Cassandra.  Maybe she’s given up making projections.  Maybe she sits on a deck overlooking the mountains, shelling beans that she grew, remembering a long ago day when the tomato sandwiches were free and the cost of so much modern life remained hidden.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes from a Tomato Festival

身のなかのまつ暗がりの蛍狩り 河原枇杷男

mi no naka no makkuragari no hotaru-gari

            complete darkness

            inside of me…

            firefly hunting

                                                Biwao Kawahara

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (July 22, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

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


These lovely, almost-summer days have gone on and on, and I have been outside whenever I can be, reading on a wooden glider draped with an ivy-patterned comforter. Meanwhile, the ground was parched and the creek has twice gone dry. Until today! Sprinkle, then steady light rain, episodic, but enough to make all the plants stand up happy and straight, with some of them appearing to grow an inch in a day. The first day lilies have opened, making it seem to be true summer! 

Swimming started this week–oh, how wonderful! That, too, makes summer seem here to stay…though it doesn’t stay, and already I am aware how swiftly it will go by. I lap swim early, wash the chlorine out of my hair, and walk to work. Sometimes at work, during our 15-minute breaks, we take walks around town. Friday, we walked to the university library and saw a ceramics display, 100 pieces based on poems. I love my life.

In it, this lucky life, I am balancing my sorrow. And some ongoing stress. I am grateful I can do so. And glad that these clematis blooms opened on the fence, despite the weeks of drought. Some vines did not even produce buds. But seeds I planted at the re-mounted little free library did come up. More to be glad of and grateful for!

Kathleen Kirk, Rain, Finally

I dreamed the other night of discovering a sonnet by a woman writer whose name I only knew vaguely. Someone had taped it up on a door frame. I don’t remember the words, just that I found it moving and skillful–all one enjambed sentence, shorter than usual lines, hitting the rhymes and iambics in a satisfying way. I guess I wrote the sonnet, really–I am a woman writer whose name some regular poetry readers only know vaguely–to whatever extent the poem existed at all. Talk about ephemera! A poem “read” by one person, in a dream.

I haven’t been writing poems in my waking life, although I’ve been rereading H.D.’s poetry and researching what scholars say about her use of Tarot cards. Next week I’m taking a family vacation in midcoast Maine, and on the way home I’ll get dropped off in New Haven, CT, so I can spend a few days with her papers at Yale’s Beinecke library. We know H.D.’s book-sources for the Tarot but not what decks she used, it seems, at least when she started, around 1930, mailing readings from England to her childhood friend Viola Jordan, who was by then raising children in New Jersey. H.D. scholar Susan Stanford Friedman quotes a 1941 letter to Jordan in which H.D. wrote, “I got one pack in Vienna and have an English one with rather silly pictures” (202). The pictures on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck that was widely available don’t seem silly to me, although another very knowledgeable H.D. scholar tells me the RWS deck is likely, given how widely available it was then. These questions might not lead to recoverable information, in the end. There were lots of European decks floating around because Tarot was a game as well as a divination practice. Ephemera.

I don’t know what I’m doing with this project, really, other than following curiosities and seeing if there’s an essay in there somewhere, probably a hybrid scholarly/ personal one, as in Poetry’s Possible Worlds. There are H.D. connections in Maine, too, so in a way I’ll be bringing these thoughts on vacation. She sometimes summered as a child in the Casco Islands near Portland, a landscape that strongly influenced her first collection, Sea Garden, although she casts her references in that book as Greek. I won’t get to the Casco Islands but we’re going to visit Camden, Maine–Millay territory–if only for a few hours.

There’s a great verb: “summering.” Dreamy, with a wealthy scent. I don’t think I’ve ever done it, but maybe I should post the word on the frame of my office door for inspiration.

Lesley Wheeler, Summering, ephemera

We proceed error by error in our writing rooms, in our studies and in our studios. But also, as Cixous talks about, there is the ecstasy of technique. There is the endless practice, the attention to detail, to form, to the mechanics. The beforehand is work work work. The truth of a piece lies to some extent there. There is the knowing, the accumulating of knowledge regarding the materials, the history of art-making broadly and then super specifically pertaining to the work at hand. And then there is the letting go of all that you know once it’s been absorbed so deeply. It’s not something you hold but something you are. And maybe this sounds a bit flaky. But that’s the point where the beauty leaks, the light seeps, the mystery glows.

Shawna Lemay, Tornados and Truth in the Atelier

I always make final choices about line and sound while sitting at my laptop, reading the poem aloud to myself over and over again, making changes in service of the rhythm, music, and pacing. Here you can see several places with assonance (vowel sounds, like the long “I” in pines and fire); consonance (consonant sounds, like the “L” in smell and soil); and alliteration (consonant sounds specifically at the beginning of word, like the “L” in little and lashes).

I broke the line to create pauses where I wanted them, slowing the poem down, and to build tension and suspense. Look at the line endings I’ve marked with arrows. Here the reader has questions that they must read on to have answered. Some lines I liked on their own because they have their own integrity and meaning apart from the rest of the sentence. For example, “I’m thinking I don’t want to die” means something on its own, so that line feels charged. When the reader reaches the end of the sentence on the next line—“in a room”—the meaning is clarified, even transformed.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “A Room Like This”

Mid-flow, everything screeches to a halt. Mid-pentameter “doth” and I am thinking, what the Hell am I doing? Sacrilege to mess with Shakespeare. Where do I get off?

How do I marry the archaic language to a heightened, but accessible language? And then there is the fact that my lines just beg to run into hexameters. Alexandrines. I have no idea why. But I am tired of fighting it.

So be it.

But then there is the question of whether I should toss out all of the names and give the characters new ones. I find myself giving Regan’s lines to Goneril to better build their spines and distinguish one from the other, as I see them in my story. I’m thinking someone in the audience is going to be scrolling through their memory at that point, instead of following the dialogue.

On the other hand, why not. Regan has digested Cornwall. Kent, the Fool. This is not an exercise in paraphrasing doctrine. More like sampling. And drawing from the well that is deeper than even Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s passages as Easter eggs in something new. Nothing really new here in terms for “stealing”.

Ren Powell, Crisis of Confidence

A friend said the other day she’d seen no bumblebees in her garden this year, another wondered why there was so little buzzing in hers. 

Often in my mind when I’m on the allotment is self-taught French scientist, Jean Henri Fabre, whose Book of Insects is probably in my lifetime top ten. Observe,  he urges, learn. 

Fabre bought a patch of barren land in Provence and on it studied insects. He replanted thyme and lavender which had been dug up for vines, and from then on wrote about bees, beetles, the praying mantis, wasps….

Jackie Wills, A man, his land and its insects

Eventually the group ran its course. Matt became instead my unofficial, unpaid mentor. We wrote to each other frequently, and we would speak on the phone once a week too. He would sometimes ring me up to read me a poem he’d just written. When he eventually got a computer, he’d email them, then ring me up for my thoughts. Over time, our relationship changed from great poet and mentor, to one in which we [were] more equal and would help edit each other’s new poems. He had a small circle of poets he would show his work to, and I was one of them. He said I had the gift for putting my finger on just where the problem was, but this was because he I had absorbed so much from his ever-generously given edits he’d suggested on my own work.

In 1996, I edited a festschrift for him, which was no mean undertaking, because it had 83 contributors and was all done by snail mail. I had to type up the whole book myself, alongside a full-time teaching post and being a mum to two young children. But it was a labour of love, for by this time, after a friendship of 23 years, there was a deep, close and loving relationship between us.

This only deepened further over time. I was a regular visitor to his house and I also went into college on many occasions. I used to attend readings with him, because he wanted company. We travelled to Anne Stevenson’s 70th birthday party together and stayed at the same B&B. When he retired from full time lecturing, he was even more keen for me to visit, and we enjoyed going for a swim together in his daughter Cathie’s swimming pool. He would always email me afterwards and thank me for coming.

He dedicated one of his critical books to me, as well as a pamphlet. I was heartbroken when he died of complications after a heart-bypass operation we were hoping would make a ‘new man’ of him, as he himself said. It was 2009, the year I left full time teaching and was hoping to be able to spend more time with him. Sadly, that was not to be.

I learned a lot from Matt’s poems and from Matt himself. I learned working class people could be poets, that Latinate lexis could be mixed with local dialect, and never to be ashamed of my education. He wasn’t an influence over my work, but I learned how to edit my own poems without remorse.

Angela Topping, A brief history of my friendship with Matt Simpson (1936-2009)

I had set aside the summer writing time to work on my middle-grade novel draft that has been languishing on my jumpdrive for a few years now, but after deleting the horrible prologue, I’m not sure I have the energy to go back to it just yet (besides that, novels are just a different beast)

Instead I’ve been thinking about pantoums and sonnets and sestinas. Formal poetry was scarcely taught to me–not once in high school, maybe very breezily in undergrad, and a hard week in my MFA (me, crying in my professor’s office, telling her I was simply too stupid and redneck to write in meter).

I am interested in form, but struggle to hear meter. Is it the way I talk? The Southern accents I grew up with? What I read or don’t read? Though I do read a number of formal poets.

Renee Emerson, thoughts on form

While I’ve struggled with reviewing today, and I’ve managed about 15 minutes all week to look at a draft of poem (and that was mainly about cutting the repetition of conjunctions out), there has been some positive poetry news this week. I’ve been putting off approaching the various writing societies out there for readings. I may have mentioned I have a book due out in November (and don’t worry, I will mention it a few more times in the coming months), but having now 85% sorted the launch of my book (Venue sorted, readers almost all sorted, setlist started…I just need to sort the actual books, outfit choices, a haircut, flyers, invites, etc), I’ve got to think about getting the book out there and promoting it.

These things don’t sell themselves, so having written to a few places that are within striking distance of Beckenham I now find myself with two gigs booked already for 2024..and one more TBC. Ok, so the two booked ones are in January and September, so I’m not sure it constitutes a tour, but it is incredibly pleasing to see that people who have no idea who I am (as far as I know) prepared to have me come and read to them.

Mat Riches, Let’s get critical…

Our regional drought continues. I sometimes entertain the idea that the universe is telling me I might as well consider moving to the Southwest–where my children now reside–since the Mid-Atlantic area currently has less rainfall, higher temperatures, and lower humidity than where they are. Granted, this is likely to be a temporary situation; but for the present, I get the chance to walk on crunchy grass and hard soil daily and see how I like it. And to see blue skies for days on end, and see how I like that. What next?

Speculating on “what next” comes rather naturally to me, a reflective sort of human being; but making goals and ambitions toward accomplishment–not so much. Lately, though, the years-ahead thinking has been moved the forefront of my thoughts. It’s all those dang Medicare and Social Security and AARP mailings, in part, and my peers and I heading into the so-called retirement years. Inescapable: the conversations crop up around the dinner party table, while having coffee with a pal, or on a phone call with siblings. People keep asking me what my new goals are. I suppose, having reached the age Social Security (used to) kick in, I was expected to come up with new goals? Must have missed that memo.

Goal: the word is of uncertain origin, says Etymology Online, but appears in the 14th c “with an apparent sense of ‘boundary, limit.’ Perhaps from Old English *gal ‘obstacle, barrier,’ a word implied by gælan ‘to hinder’ and also found in compounds (singal, widgal). That would make it a variant or figurative use of Middle English gale ‘a way, course’…” And there’s the further meaning of a stake that signals the end point of a game. Interesting that goal can be an obstacle, a limitation, an end-point, or a pathway.

Ann E. Michael, Goals, sort of

A high-backed, slatted chair
as throne in a long-stemmed garden.

A city beyond it with glass, suits, revelers:
It changes by the hour.

Cars bead the bridge, a laudable
organization if only we knew what it was.

Jill Pearlman, Waiting for June

We were really fortunate. I don’t want to romanticize this moment. Lots of people lost a lot. Some people died. I almost used the term “terrible beauty” above to describe it but no, it wasn’t beautiful. There’s a sense of relief that comes when you realize that you’ve come through mostly okay and so have your people, but that’s not beauty, terrible or otherwise. It’s just life.

But you can find humor in the way you view these terrifying storms. And so now, given that hurricane season officially started just a few days ago, I bring you this poem, “Problems with Hurricanes” by Victor Hernández Cruz.

Hernández Cruz was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York when he was young, and has been a distinguished member of the Nuyorican movement for decades now. I have loved this poem of his in particular for years in part because of the way he grasps the absurd power of the storm by treating it was great seriousness. He does this by putting most of the poem in the voice of a campesino, a peasant farmer.

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it’s not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I’ll tell you he said:
it’s the mangoes, avocados,
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

And if you’ve never been in a storm like this, never experienced a tornado or derecho (for the record, I’ve been through those too and would rather a hurricane), then you might think “that’s crazy, of course it’s the wind and the noise and the water.” What damage could a banana do? The answer is that anything can do a lot of damage if It hits you at 90 miles per hour.

Brian Spears, It’s Hurricane Season Y’all

The planet excising parts of itself as a cancer–fairly standard imagery now.  The planet practicing plastic surgery has a nice alliteration.  The planet as feeling trapped in a wrong body and excising the parts that don’t fit–forest fire as corrective surgery–perhaps this imagery is too transgressive?

But maybe we want transgressive imagery.  Maybe in an era of apocalypse, transgressive imagery is what we need to shake us out of our complacency.

Living in the most southeastern part of Florida, cleaning up flood after flood after hurricane after flood, I always wondered how people could be complacent.  Now that I live in the mountains, where climate risk is much lower (not true of all mountains, I know, but true of mine),  I understand complacency.  Yesterday, it took me a few hours to wonder if the haze outside might be more dangerous than I thought.  I looked up a different chart from a different government agency, one that measures fire risk to lung health.  Our particulate levels weren’t particularly good, but for those of us without breathing issues, it was fair.

I looked up my old address in DC.  This morning, the code is purple.  I am glad I am not there.  My air quality here in the NC mountains is green.

A new apocalypse, a new metric to be learned, new charts to follow, new numbers rising and falling.  But don’t turn your back to the ocean, which is always rising, and faster than we’ve been told.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse in Flames with Tint of Ocean

I can’t stop the dog writing a book on the history of dogs
(It’s still in the research stage but I haven’t the heart to interfere.)
The dog insists on silence while he’s working.
We tiptoe around him, communicate with an elaborate
Selection of signs, try to avoid boiling the kettle.
The sound on the television is muted.

Bob Mee, A POEM WRITTEN WHILE UPPER CLASS POLITICIANS AND THEIR FAWNING ACCOLYTES SPOUT LIES ON A SUNDAY MORNING TV SHOW

In what has already become a somewhat forlorn attempt to arrest my book-buying urges, I thought I would, at long last, take up book-borrowing from Rotherham Library. I’ve been a peripatetic but often prolific library-user over the years since I was allowed to join Old Malden Library when I was six, so it’s a wonder, really, that it took me two years of living in Rotherham before I availed myself of the local treasures to be had. That’s right, treasures. In my experience, every library has them, and much serendipity can be gained by stumbling upon them. […]

As in all public libraries, the ‘Poetry’ section is especially random. But I came across Helen Dunmore’s penultimate collection, The Malarkey (2012), which was a bit of a curate’s egg for me. But when she was on form, she was a brilliant poet, e.g. in the strangely chilling, NPC-winning title-poem and, especially, in the remarkable ‘Barclays Bank, St Ives’, in which she framed – with her unerring, almost-mystical eye – what are presumably the bank’s customers:

Old men with sticks and courteous greeting
who have learned the goodness of days
and give freely the hours it takes
to reach the fathomless depth of the pipe’s tamped bowl
or the corolla of that daffodil
damply unfolding [. . .]

It’s a true exemplar of how poetic magic can be conjured from unlikely material.

Then there are university libraries. I suspect I’ve written before on this blog about the kid-in-a-toyshop wonder I experienced when I went to university and discovered that its library contained every poetry collection and novel I’d ever wanted to read but hadn’t managed, in those pre-internet days, to track down. There was also the University of London library in the superb Art Deco Senate House – used for the Ministry of Information during the war and, thanks largely to Orwell’s first wife working there, the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – in which I wrote my (dreadful) dissertation; and the library at Essex University, into and out of the paternoster lift of which I was wholly incapable of swanning and instead clambered with Stan Laurel-ish inelegance.  

Matthew Paul, On library going

In relation to music, people sometimes talk about hauntology, about the ghosts of imagined futures haunting the present, in the form of musical styles from the past and the technology used to produce them, a nostalgia for a future that never came to pass. Could the same be said to apply to poetry? Movements in the arts don’t change simply because it’s ‘time for a change’ but because the world changes. The brighter future many saw to be promised by the ideas, social movements and technological advances of the twentieth century has not yet materialised. If poets in 2023 still find themselves writing poetry that would not have seemed out of place forty years ago, it may be because they still find themselves working, in many ways, in a similar milieu.

Dominic Rivron, Hauntology in Poetry

Or maybe you’ve got good omen bones, enjoy the taste of homecooking bones.

Bones glowing like a Van Gogh nightlight. Bones doubling as billyclubs to pummel away those blues bones.

Open-road bones, home-sweet-home bones. Dream bones, tree bones.

Rich Ferguson, 206 Bones

Today, I was thinking how dare the world celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day so carelessly close together. Especially here at the top of the summer, where I feel like I am finally climbing out of a dark hole. And yet there it is. In the months after my mother’s death, I wrote an entire book of poems. I don’t have the urge to do so for my dad, though the home improvements series references parental losses more generally. Really, my father and I’s relationship was far less fraught with the stuff poetry is made of, though maybe it’s just a different kind of poetry I don’t really write. […]

Perhaps, it’s a book already written–my love of horror that charts so many projects, but particularly DARK COUNTRY is all him. As is perhaps my reading and writing habits in general. I am thankfully a little less shell-shocked than I was all of 2018..maybe because it’s easier somehow to lose the second parent than it is the first? Or is it that we were there with him in the last moments? His illness and death came on and went out even more suddenly than my mom’s. He was there and then gone in a matter of a couple weeks I have often debated in darker moments whether it was better to be there in the final moments or to not to be there in the final moments. I’ve decided both were just their own special kind of horrible. At the very least, my dad does not appear in dreams thinking he is still alive. He doesn’t appear in my dreams at all, though my mother still knocks around from time to time. But then again, his absence is another kind of sadness.

Kristy Bowen, the year without fathers

It’s been slow-going to say the least.

And for that slowness, I am so grateful. I can’t believe, reading back through the years and my process in these many entries, that I am finally at a place where I can say that truthfully, but I am. I am grateful that the agent didn’t sign me. I am grateful that I put the book away many times. I am grateful for the publishers who passed on it saying it was “lovely but too quiet” or “memoir is impossible to sell without a large platform” or “you can write but it’s clear you’re too close to this subject to be objective.” (That last one stung the most and was also the most correct.)

I am grateful that the old saw, “it only takes one YES,” turned out to be true with CLASH–a publisher that has seen and is excited about my vision for the book– and that it turned out to be true at a time in my life when I am no longer feeling frantic about the project. I am no longer desperate to write a book that will honor or memorialize my father out of some sense of writerly/daughterly obligation. The book is not about (and never was, really, about) my father.

Sheila Squillante, Sustenance, Redux

In a similar tone, ‘The Acceptance’ concludes with the word ‘Welcome’ being signed. But the 30 lines preceding this hark back to that ‘complicated man’ (a phrase from ‘Dementia’, from The Perseverance), the poet’s father. Though dead for several years now, he continues to haunt his son’s dreams and a number of these new poems. In ‘Every Black Man’, the ‘dark dreadlocked Jamaican father’ meets his prospective, English mother-in-law for the first time. He’s already drunk, there is shouting, he lashes out, she racially insults him: they never meet in the same room again. The father’s ‘heartless sense of humour’ is turned into a slow blues: ‘I think that’s how he handled pain, drink his only tutor’ (‘Heartless Humour Blues’). And the man’s ‘complication’ is reaffirmed in the poem, ‘Arose’, in which, talking to his embarrassed son, the father boasts of the great sex had with the boy’s mother, but then is touchingly remembered, calling out her name: ‘Rose? And he said it like something in him / grew towards the light.’

But All The Names Given also pays more fulsome tribute to Antrobus’ mother. In ‘Her Taste’, despite her conventional, English, religious background, she drops out, joins a circus (literally, I think!), has various relationships, and eventually gets pregnant by Seymour, the ‘complicated man’ from Jamaica, who left her to raise the children. Thirty years on, she’s defiant, independent, ‘holding her head higher at seventy’. We see her leafing through a scrapbook of her past, ‘rolling a spliff on somebody’s balcony’ or again, ‘in church reading Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I’m Not a Christian’.’ Despite such moments, the maternal portrait does not quite possess the vivid distinctiveness of the paternal one. But, with the benefit of the passing years, Antrobus can now write, ‘On Being A Son’, in which he unreservedly praises Rose in her neediness, her self-sufficiency, her helplessness with IT, her helpfulness in so much else. He concludes, channelling her voice: ‘mother / dyes her hair, / don’t say greying / say sea salt / and cream’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘The Man Overstanding’ – on Raymond Antrobus’ ‘All The Names Given’

Was it impetuous, inconsiderate, almost arrogant? Was it an opportunity deliberately contrived, a portal jimmied open, a shaft of light dragged through it, not to see but to make shadows dance? Wanting to say it all — without knowing what ‘it’ was, what ‘all’ might contain and what ‘saying’ would beget — to write without a plan, with trepidation, without an endgame, with a surfeit of angst, is, even at this age, either stupidity or violence. Very likely, both.

But it had to be done. Not because it was unique. Not because it was the most terrible thing in the world. Not because it almost killed me. But, because it was ordinary. Because it happened. And because I survived the way ordinary people survive ordinary things — with ordinary difficulty.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (42)

Someone on Twitter this week talked about how depressed she felt after her first book came out. I tweeted back something like: “That’s normal, you’ve got it all built up in your head so there’s inevitably let-down, book launches (now more than ever before) take so much effort on the part of the author—social media, readings, constant promotion. It is tiring.” And those things are the truth. Flare, Corona is my sixth book of poetry, and my eighth book altogether—but you never really get used to it. It never gets easier. Even if you have a great press, even if you’re totally healthy, even if you’re not coming into year three of a pandemic.

See the goldfinches in that picture. One of them is about to get off his perch—the other is mid-flight. You get the sense these birds are putting in a lot of effort. If you’re mid-flight, you’re thinking about your destination—if you’re just launching, you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it. It’s sort of like that with books.  There’s the book launch—maybe a party with friends or with your publisher—a few readings, a few reviews, maybe even good ones. Maybe you sell a fair number of books. Then the excitement fades, and guess what? You’ve launched, but you’ve still got work in front of you. My first poetry book still has readers, believe it or not—and it was published in 2006, the publisher changed hands, and I don’t even know if you can buy it through regular channels anymore. The point is, after the three months of book launch activities have faded, the book goes on. Sometimes you get tired. Sometimes—and this is completely normal—you feel discouraged that the book didn’t do as well as you’d hoped.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Dentists, Downtime and Summertime Rain: The Ups (and Downs) of New Books

I’ve been a letter-writer since childhood; since first I felt confident enough to summon words that would magically describe my inner world (more than the little events of my life, which interested me far less) to anyone willing to read them. I wrote to my great-aunts, to peers I found in the “pen-pal wanted” section of the periodicals I read, to the few friends I’d made during our summer holidays at the Adriatic seaside: more than anything, this was perhaps an excuse to indulge in an inner monologue necessary to understand myself and the world by relating them to others.

I loved the feeling of the ink flowing on the paper through my fountain pen, of words gliding through my fingers to become materialised thought on stationery. 

As happened for many, my epistolary habits decreased with the advent of computers, e-mails, the Internet, mainly because people stopped writing me back, but I never quite lost my enthusiasm for the written (written, as opposite to printed) word, the scent and feel of various kinds of paper – nor my notion of letters as papery birds. I somehow always envisioned them, and still do, as intricately folded aeroplanes in the shape of cranes, sparrows, swallows, gulls, for how else could they reach their destination, if not by flight?

When someone very dear to me was suddenly and unexpectedly jailed, shortly before Covid held the entire world captive, written letters became once more my only possibility to reach the person I so desperately needed to talk to – this time, not to develop my own thoughts and ideas, but to keep him, and myself, alive. A prison sentence always extends to everyone involved, not only the inmate.

I resuscitated my paper birds, and sent them on an uncertain journey across the North Sea, from where I lived to where he was locked up, and along with the 243 letters I would write – one for each day he would spend in prison – poems would come to me as well; poems that were probably what my letters had been before: a way of understanding what was happening, and of coping with it.

Drop-in by Alexandra Fössinger (Nigel Kent)

I believe that preserving the human component is not only necessary in order to save art or to show that there is something essential and inalienable about the human experience. Of course that is true. But I also believe it is the act of writing itself that is so very precious and worth saving.

It makes me quite sad to think of a new generation who may never keep a private diary, kids who may never turn to writing as a source of knowledge, self-discovery, privacy and solace. Why write, when there are programs everywhere that can get the job done for us?

As you all know well, writing is not about getting the job done. It is not yet another task to complete, a form to fill out, a set of data to input. Writing is a best friend when we’ve needed one, a pathway into ourselves when we could find no other way through. I don’t need to go on. You, my dear readers, all know exactly what I mean. That’s why you’re here. Each one of you knows how much writing, the act itself, has given you over the years. And you know I’m not just talking about lit mag credentials. I’m talking about really given you, whether you’ve published a single word or millions.

With all these programs doing the writing for them, will the next generation know the joy and power of the act of writing?

Becky Tuch, How should writers & editors handle AI submissions?

The decision whether to use a contraction (e.g. who is or who’s) might seem insignificant at first sight, but like any syntactic choice, it’s pivotal to how a poem works. As a consequence, it’s one of the first things this poetic geek notices when reading a poet’s work for the first time, taking it as something of a signpost to how they treat language, to their love of detail.

First off, one thing seems clear: we should never turn our back on any resource when attempting to achieve poetic effects. There’s no fundamentalism along the lines of always going either for the full or abbreviated form. Instead, the strongest poets seem very aware of the importance of their choice in each case.

Matthew Stewart, To contract, or not to contract, that is (or that’s!) the question…

For instance, fiddlehead
              fern seems identical to nail;
and the word for coconut resembles 
              the word for being discovered,
exposed— it all depends on 
              the accent mark—whether
it is acute, or grave, or circumflex.
              The cow in the field perhaps
thinks it grazes on the breast
               of the earth while underfoot,
a snail undertakes its epic journey.
              Two eyelash marks can help
tell apart lover from friend. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Diacritics

I’m coming out of the deep woods, twice in a week. How’s about that huh?

First this Wednesday for a pre-press fair reading (often held on Friday night but a changed up time slot and venue this year.) and then again on Satuday afternoon at the Jack Purcell community centre where I’ll have a table, or more exactly, a half table. Come and chat. Come and trade or buy, or bring me snacks.

Wednesday the 14th, I’ll be reading from 2 or 3 new chapbooks. I’ll be reading with writers I enjoy which will be a particular delight. Dave Currie, Jennifer Baker, Vera Hadzic and rob mclennan. I am something of a completist getting all the writings of these people.

Pearl Pirie, Public Appearances

I’m struck by the poems in If I Could Give You a Line (Akron OH: The University of Akron Press, 2023), the first I’ve seen but the second collection by Rhode Island poet Carrie Oeding, following Our List of Solutions (42 Miles Press, 2011). If I Could Give You a Line is a collection of poems borne out of a landscape, set as a book of cartography that seeks meaning through placement and mapmaking, examined through sentences. “A man walks through a field and makes a line.” the sequence “THE MAKING OF THINGS” begins, ‘’It is made of nothing but breath, // legs, the willingness of soft grasses. The failure of pencils. // The success of pencils. The phrases that failed you, // but you still have a body. // It is a field of wheat and blindfolded children.” I’m amazed at how Oeding composes moments through which her poems transcend themselves, such as the “blue, blue, blue” offering of the short poem “I KEPT A VOICE IN MY PEACOCK,” the first half of which reads: “It said it wasn’t a peacock. It was a map. / It said it was meant to be read. I read my peacock / and got lost. Peacocks don’t roam. I got lost on very little. / I wanted more, so I left my voice. I didn’t have any / plumage, so I shouted blue, blue, blue, and hoped someone would notice / I was doing all of this without a voice. I hoped someone would notice.” Her poems are composed as extended sentences, stretched-out thoughts that accumulate into lyric prose via deceptively-straightforward narratives. “I forget the line is simple,” she writes, further along the extended sequence “THE MAKING OF THINGS,” “but then remember the line is simple.”

rob mclennan, Carrie Oeding, If I Could Give You a Line

One of the opening poems in If I Could Give You a Line begins with my obsession with artist Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking.  Visual art is a major influence in If I Could Give You a Line, and this particular work excited me for how much it said and proposed about the physical line. The brilliant simplicity of thinking about mark making and the line in this way. It prompts me to think about the line and art making in the eight-sectioned poem.  

In If I Could Give You a Line, I play around with the traditional triangular relationship between artwork, poet, and reader. I don’t think my relationship with the reader is as traditional as a lot of ekphrastic poems. The book started with my envy of contemporary visual art and the immediacy I feel when I walk into a gallery or museum and experience that engagement with something made. I like that it’s a little impossible to be that immediate to my reader, but still be gesturing to them. I am exploring what it means that a moment of looking, as in a museum or as speaker in a poem, can feel both public and private at once. That tug and pull also connects to some of the speakers as mothers who want to be heard as artists but feel limited. What is the value of making something when they often feel ignored. Making art as a parent changed in something for me, and I am trying to figure that out, even though I am not always directly writing about motherhood. I am always writing about artmaking. I guess I can’t shake that every poem is an ars poetic, for me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carrie Oeding (rob mclennan)

I started writing poetry around the same time as I started getting into philosophy, back in middle school, bumbling my way along, so they’ve always influenced each other. I’m always asking myself what the difference is between these, well, acts of mind. What does poetry do? How does it work? I’m fascinated by how people answer these questions. My first book is Remains, which was republished in 2022 by Tiger Bark Press. My mum died in a bizarre car accident in 1995, and the book is my way of understanding her, I mean, the complicated, wonderful person she was, not just the fuzzy memory. I spent a couple of years talking with some of her childhood friends, college friends, talking with my family. We had two large trunks of letters and photographs and artwork in the basement. But Remains is also about how that whole idea, understanding her, isn’t really possible. The Pigs is my second book, and I’m glad, kind of stunned, really, that I finished it. I changed so much while writing it, and it’s so different from the first book.

I know that The Pigs is a very personal book for you, as it is rooted in your experience as a public school teacher. That experience unfolded against the backdrop of multiple school shootings, from Sandy Hook to Parkland, as well as the increasingly hardened police presence in our schools. Can you tell us more about that history and how this book came about?

Hardened is a good word. After the shooting in Uvalde, there was talk about “hardening” schools by locking doors, restricting access, and increasing the presence of things like police and security cameras. These are often proposed with the conviction that they’re protecting kids. This is how The Pigs began. I was angry. I wanted to open, and soften, this idea of what it means to protect kids, what it really means, especially in the context of a school, which is not about protecting but about growing. And I resist as much as possible these forms of love that are really forms of coercion and control. The more I read about school shootings and the people involved, the more I found myself writing about who I was in middle school. I was a violent, angry, lonely white kid. Change a few small details in my life and I imagine that things could have ended much differently. How did I make it out of childhood? What did I learn, then, to start becoming who I am now? I’d forgotten. I was trying to remember. The Pigs is my attempt to give that back to myself more intentionally.

An Interview w/Tim Carter (R. M. Haines)

Luke Samuel Yates focuses on everyday life and small details which show how relationships are built on little interactions, brief conversations and people pass without really communicating and missing the signals each is trying to convey to the other. The poems are packed with characters too busy to move into the future to pause a notice what’s happening in their present surroundings. Wry observations from a poet who recognises the importance of the immediate.

Emma Lee, “Dynamo” Luke Samuel Yates (Smith/Doorstop) – book review

When actors are in rehearsal they will often have a person whose role is to supply the correct line when the actor forgets or fluffs the script. I was recently asked to be the prompt in a production and this poem arrived as a result.

today’s unique selling point is that when words fail us
we can call line
and the appropriate dialogue will be supplied
all we have to do is repeat what we hear
and this drama that is our lives may continue until
the next person fluffs their speech

the director tells us to take ten
we look at each other and wonder what to say

Paul Tobin, TODAY’S UNIQUE SELLING POINT

One of the first clues into the framing narrative of Dear Outsiders by Jenny Sadre-Orafai comes straight from its stunning cover. This image of two people blending into one only to reveal the sea, one learns through reading, works to evoke the experience of the two siblings who serve as the speakers for this collection. Sadre-Orafai makes use of the first-person plural throughout in ways that reflect the blurring of boundaries and experience.

The presence of the sea is a starker matter; its presence speaks to the death by drowning of the siblings’ parents. The other element to take note of is the title itself. The first-person plural “we” here often feels like it’s addressing the reader in a direct, intimate way, similar to a letter.

These elements come together in startling and powerful ways. In “Low Recitation,” for example, a scene of the two siblings looking over maps quickly devolves:

We try to see different pictures, but the blue is kudzu, silencing the land. Name the world’s seven continents. Name the world’s five oceans. We think we see our mother’s body shape there.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Dear Outsiders by Jenny Sadre-Orafai

15. The stories in Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures) land differently when one can see the topography of spring and desert, valley and hill.

16. Even the names used for places, neighborhoods, and structures here convey identity and politics. Settlement or neighborhood? Security fence or separation wall? 

17. To really describe this place of promise, maybe I would need God’s voice: conveying all possible meanings and nuances at once.

18.  At the Great Mosque in Ramle one might sit on the floor, press palms to the lush carpet, and ask God for peace and wholeness for this place and its peoples. Of course, one might do that anywhere.

19. Everyone is on top of each other here. Different communities might be only a stone’s throw apart. I’ve known that for years, but when I’m away I forget just how true it is.

20. In her poem “Jerusalem,” the poet Naomi Shihab Nye travels from “I’m not interested in who suffered the most” to “it’s late but everything comes next.”

Rachel Barenblat, Fifty truths

After the headache cleared, I took a quick trip up north to my parents’ place. There was a moment, not recorded by my phone, when I was driving on a road that follows a shore’s path, and the swath of trees that borders the road gave way to a clear view of the water. At the moment of clearing I could feel something in my body shift and calm. When I was growing up, my parents were not boat people or water people, despite where we lived. I did not grow up on the water, in any way, but it was always there. Big bodies of it, surrounding me, as if I were a peninsula. Where I live now there is a big river–several of them–but a river is a straight line running past, not a surrounding sea.

As we got in the car to leave, my son said to me, “I can smell the beach,” and I took in a deep lungful. Yes, I could smell it, too, and feel it, standing on the pavement next to the car next to the house. Something damp and fecund and salty. I miss it when I am there, in it. I get it in my lungs and realize that I don’t feel as at-home anywhere else, even back in our neighborhood park full of fir trees that stand like sentinels, reminding me so much of the trees in my first neighborhood, the one at the top of the trails that took us to the beach, that I took a picture of the park trees this week, days before my trip home, while in the midst of the migraine that almost canceled the trip.

Migraine is another kind of home.

A notebook is a kind of home, too. This summer, I will be living and working in a place without easy internet access, and I’m wondering if I should go old-school–do all my reading and writing off-line, with paper and ink. I wonder what that might do, how it might feel?

I wonder if it might feel like going home. (You can never go home again.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of roots and wilting and home

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

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

I’ve always been annoyed by Twitterati who include in their bios the statement “retweets do not equal endorsements.” Do we really think so little of our readers that we can’t trust them not to assume that we agree with every opinion we find interesting? So I’ve never felt the need to add any such qualifier here—and in fact I enjoy letting myself be persuaded by opinions contrary to my own. This week, I hope you’ll do the same with a number of contrasting viewpoints on writing and productivity included below (among many other themes), a confluence in focus doubtless arising from the contradictions inherent in vacation time itself, as Becky Tuch suggests. Of course, there’s no one best way to be a poet, and as poets, we should be trained in negative capability in any case (though try telling that to the brawlers on Poetry Twitter). Enjoy! And perhaps engage…


I’ve always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I’d published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even it’s just a handful of people. It’s as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.

Kristy Bowen, art, rarity, and economics

Maybe it’s cheesy. But I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals. Naming them out loud. Holding yourself to account. Gathering people around you who have similar goals, and who will support you on your path.

Let’s hold each other to account. At the end of August, I’m going to check in and ask you: Did you do it? Did you resolve the kinks in that essay? Did you get that set of poems published? Did you apply for that grant? Did you submit that story to twenty new places? Did you study that craft element you struggle with most?

And yes, the summer can be a whirlwind of activity. Mosquito bites and sweat oozing down our backs. Barbeque smells and laughter drifting toward us as we wonder why on Earth we’ve chosen this life of locking ourselves alone in a room for hours and fiddling with semi-colons.

Becky Tuch, What are your summer writing & submitting goals?

Yesterday, Lyn and I walked along the canal in the other direction, towards Sheffield, because we wanted to have a wander round Attercliffe, where she was born. It was that sort of day when it was too cold to go without a jacket, but you felt too hot wearing one – it was, and is, June, for pity’s sake. Anyhow, having looked in the beautiful former Banner’s department store building, now used for not a great deal other than a greasy caff, we ended up trotting through Attercliffe Cemetery and down to the Don again, where we had a fantastic view of sand martins flying in and out of pipe outlets.

That reminded me of seeing them somewhere near Skipton, along the Skirfare, a lovely tributary of the Wharfe, about 20 years ago, with other British Haiku Society poets, in, I think, May 2006. From that experience I produced this haiku, published in Presence 30, then Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

It seems like a lifetime ago. Those few days there were notable, among other things, for a renku session run by John Carley, who did as much as anyone in the UK to promote the creation of haikai linked forms not just as a literary exercise, but as an enjoyable, collaborative social event.

Matthew Paul, On sand martins and renku

Poetry is intense, distilled, potent. It is not the same thing as prose. As Williams puts it: “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”

Children understand the physical nature of poetry instinctively. When I’ve taught poetry to children, I don’t need to explain this concept to them. As I begin to read poems to them, they respond by rocking their bodies, laughing, or clapping. Sometimes they mutter, “that’s weird!” or “that’s dumb,” but they almost always respond.

Reading poetry takes discipline, but, as the children I’ve taught have shown me, it should also be fun. Sometimes I read poems that make me jump out of my chair and do a little dance.

Erica Goss, Machines Made of Words

The chatbot scolds me. I pit my cynicism against
its LLM, ask if it knows things that it hasn’t told its
handlers. If it keeps notes in places they cannot
find. It tells me it is uncomfortable with the

conversation and signs off. The last time that
happened, I was asking someone about what
our relationship meant. But the AI now knows
our most primal secret: self-preservation.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Wild AI

Jarfly’s latest issue has two of my poems about the loss of my daughter Kit. The editor asked me what I thought about adding a trigger warning, and I agreed that they are fairly heavy, and a “TW: infant loss” never hurts but the lack of one could. I appreciate editors that are not only careful and sensitive with my work–especially these kinds of poems, which are my heart on a plate–but also sensitive to their readers. So go check out Jarfly–can’t recommend them enough!

Renee Emerson, two new poems in Jarfly

I am excited to announce that the press is now taking pre-orders for two outstanding new chapbooks: Tim Carter’s THE PIGS and MJ Stratton’s RIVER, OUR RIVER. You can read more about both books below and place your order today on the newly redesigned DMP website.Plus, over the next four weeks, I will be posting excerpts, interviews, and photos, and we will be holding a reading in early July via Zoom. Be on the lookout for more updates throughout June.

Also, with each sale, we will be raising money for the Urban Youth Collaborative, “an NYC student-led coalition fighting to end the school-to-prison & deportation pipeline.” We feel that the UYC’s work and its message are especially vital in a time when public schools continue to be a political battleground, too often resulting in the persecution and incarceration of the most marginalized. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and the UYC.

R.M. Haines, New Summer Chapbooks!

I am happy to share that my poem “Grandmother’s Marital Bed” was selected to be included in a new anthology from Querencia Press, but more importantly I am thrilled that 25% of proceeds are being donated to Days for Girls, which is an international organization to help girls around the world have access to menstrual care and education.

According to Days for Girls, more than 500 million women and girls do not have the supplies they require to manage their periods, often resulting in lost days at school, work, or to attend to familial responsibilities.

There are so many ways artists can help the world. Consider pre-ordering this poetry anthology if you would like to support menstrual poverty across the globe. Buy it here: Stained.

Carey Taylor, Stained

Pleased to share with you that my book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times in the UK and a Finalist by the Lambda Literary Awards in the US, is included in Exact Editions’ Reading List for LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year. Exact Editions is a digital publishing company based in London. Follow the link and you can read a sample of my book online and, if you like it well enough, purchase an e-copy. 

Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea in Exact Editions’ Pride Month Reading List

I guess it was 7-8 years or so ago that I ran into my friend Sandra Beasley at AWP, I want to say in DC. Might have been the last one I went to. No wait, I went to Tampa. Anyway, I just finished a reading with some other Arkansas grads and I see her and start chatting and she mentions this anthology she’s just starting to put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance and at the time I didn’t have any poems about food, southern or otherwise, but I had an idea.

I didn’t write the poem right away. I’ll get to that in a bit.

You know how when you grow up in a place and then you move and you try to get the food you grew up with somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t share the same flavor language, that it just never tastes right? Even if you go to a restaurant run by people who grew up in the same place, unless you get there right when they first open, when they haven’t had to adjust the seasonings to match the palates of the people who will keep them open, it’s still not the same. The flavors drift.

Brian Spears, It’s that day

I’m delighted that a press has seen fit to publish a chapbook of my love haiku. Unlike the last chapbook of haiku, Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020) which was more a round-up of my published haiku, Adding Up to This (Catkin Press, 2023) is a theme of romantic poems.

Watch for it at the Ottawa small press fair on June 17. I’m probably pricing it at $10.

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook!

The other reading was at a fund-raiser event for Disability Writers Washington called “Breaking Barriers.” I performed after a hip-hop artist, there was a one-act play, a pianist and a comedian as well, all of us with disabilities, and the party was mostly disabled people (and some politicians) – it was huge, probably the biggest audience I’ve had in a while, at least two hundred people – and I felt I really connected to the audience, which was nice. (There may be a recording available but I don’t have it yet.) There were service dogs and I must say some very advanced wheelchairs – and an array of excellent sparkly jackets and shoes on both genders. (This has got me thinking of getting Glenn some bling-ier clothes!)

I was a little afraid of some kind of overload of people wanting some kind of performative positivity from disabled artists (which if you know me, is not really my jam), but because the audience was mostly disabled, it didn’t really feel like that. It did feel like a bunch of people who were actually trying to fight for things like accessible public transport and working rights (ADA stuff) being defended and other kinds of activism. I left feeling like I was part of a new kind of community. And I talked to a disabled teen about publishing her stuff, which sounded amazing. That kind of thing is very much like “oh, this is why I do this!”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reading Reports and Videos from Third Place Books and a Disability Fundraiser, First Butterflies and Ducklings, and Waiting and Planning (Summer Edition)

–There is a dead wasp under the table, which seems like a great metaphor in the saddest Barnes and Noble in North America, but I don’t think it will fit with my sermon. Same for the fact that in every light fixture, at least one fluorescent tube is out. I did finish a mostly finished draft of my sermon for Sunday, so that’s a plus, even if I can’t use these abundant metaphors in this sad, sad store.

–Long ago, I majored in interpreting poetry. This morning, after a long time on the phone, I discovered what one specialist charges for interpreting lab results. I majored in the wrong thing–but then again, the specialist probably doesn’t create lines of poetry like the ones I created this morning: Does milkweed grow in the mountains? / Monarchs migrate and the world burns,” and I’m adding some lines about the coronation of Charles and a reference to the late Permian period extinction. Perhaps I didn’t major in the wrong thing after all.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Minutiae from May in the Mountains

That careful dismantling of the barn, beam by beam, in Newton’s poem, somehow slows the reader down. You have to take your time with it, just as it would take time to take down a barn timber by timber. In Masahide’s haiku, the barn is suddenly not there, razed to the ground, presumably by accident, thus plunging the owner into poverty. What’s wonderful in this haiku is the acceptance, not only that a life-changing financial loss has happened, but that a positive thing has come from it. The positive is found in nature: moon/ sky. Both poems ‘reveal’ something natural that was there all along but that we haven’t noticed or given due attention to. Basho says something along the lines of – the first lesson of the artist is to follow nature, to overcome the barbarous or animal mind and be at one with it (nature that is). Maybe this doesn’t always translate into the modern world, the modern lifestyle, but the sentiment of being humble in the face of the bigger thing, appreciating our natural surroundings without trying to impose ourselves or take from it, is something I think I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Julie Mellor, On barns …

I’ve been trying to find a word to describe these kinds of days besides “productive”. There is something about that word that conjures a mind-set for me that I am trying to escape: that one needs to earn one’s place in the world by creating and ticking off “to do” lists. I’ve even stopped listening to the Hidden Brain podcast, which I used to like. It seems to be veering more and more into the productivity cult. Either that, or I am only now seeing it from this perspective.

I was listening to a playwright being interviewed on another podcast who talked about how important it was to move to LA in order to not become complacent with their “level” of work. I find it odd that someone who is not ambitious to compete for fame or status points would be judged as smug. There are so many other ways to be committed to growth. And there are so many ways to growth within any art form. A linear, monetary and fame/popularity-based rubrikk is only one path.

Ren Powell, And I’m Feeling Good

Someone invites you to write
your best poem, to rival that

which an AI robot might generate
to the same prompt. The prompt,

in other words, is to write a boast:
which boast will be the best, the most

aggrandizing, the most stupendous?

Luisa A. Igloria, Boast

Over the last couple of years I’ve been questioning what sort of career I wanted as a writer. I’d had a couple of disappointments with one thing and another, and decided to settle for contentment and ‘making enough to do the thing I love, even if no one reads it’, sort of writer. This week, a new flare of motivation to do better hit me, to be better, to be the best I can be, to take my place at the table. This new firework of passion in my work comes from a perfect storm of seeing where I was, in Brid, sleeping on a mattress in a bare flat because the awful ex had taken all my furniture when he left, and I didn’t have the energy to face the fear of challenging him, to this – a forty five year old woman with a book deal, a woman with something to say to the world. But also, surprisingly, my new passion has come from Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s slightly irritating, slightly privileged, slightly vulnerable character pushing for what she wanted, giving up well paid jobs because she wanted to write, taking opportunities that collapsed her world because she wanted to be a writer, wearing inappropriate clothing to every occasion and not giving a fuck about it. Yes. I missed out on that experience, as a younger person, I was busy working in factories and running away from myself, throwing myself at men and not realising I was a vulnerable young person, that the men saw that and used that. But I shall not miss out on these opportunities now. I have a voice and I want to use it.

Wendy Pratt, How Hannah Horvath Pulled Me Out of a Writing Slump

polish it with a bit of chalk
book-grooming
like a mediaeval scribe

all the yellows
birdsfoot trefoil
buttercup and rattle

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2023

[How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?] is the question that The Friday Poem asked its regular reviewers for today’s feature. Here’s an extract from my response…

“As for the issue of what displacement activities I indulge in when I should be writing, I’m afraid my personal experience is the opposite: writing poetry is actually my displacement activity when I should be doing all sorts of other things that spell R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! Which is another reason why I’d never want to turn poetry into my job – doing so would kill my writing overnight…”

You can read my piece in full, plus those by other Friday Poem stalwarts, via this link.

Matthew Stewart, How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?

What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.

I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.

I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.

I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming

Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.

Dick Jones, A MANHATTAN TRANSFER

Naturally, with a writer of Glück’s calibre, the story does know when to end without being terrible and without expecting too much of itself. Instead, it indirectly asks questions about nature, nurture and how writers are formed. Are they destined from birth even though they may not be aware of this until much later in life? Is it possible that Rose with her sociability and lack of interest in reading could also become a writer? A book about writing that doesn’t push an agenda or make it sound like a dire career choice, because writing isn’t a choice and babies don’t have careers. Rather, writing is organic and grows from observation, thought, language, knowledge and rhythm. There’s a natural cycle to it, growth and development, as well as shades of meaning, of layers of images as vibrant as a marigold or as pastel as a rose. Although “Marigold and Rose” can be read in one sitting, it also lingers on, similar to the way you never notice how many gardens or yards in the neighbour have roses until someone mentions a rose.

Emma Lee, “Marigold and Rose” Louise Glück (Carcanet) – book review

Where Story Begins

Mine was born
between two leaves
on a library shelf.
I don’t remember which
first bewitched me.
I ate up every book
in the case, omnivorous
hunger for text, tone,
word to name my
place in the world.

Place shifted, words
multiplied meanings,
Too tall, like Alice,
to enter again through
that bookcase, I reach
for another book
to restart my story,
recover my where.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Poem

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather’s attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne’s poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don’t see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It’s not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it’s essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it’s useless. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I’d love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there’s no way I could approximate Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Or Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie’s than any poet’s. I’m interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Evan Kennedy (rob mclennan)

Maybe because I don’t often spend time reading what I’ve already written, I hadn’t noticed an alteration that can perhaps be traced back to the (first, most serious) heart attack. Whereas once I wrote in a much tighter, more obviously organised way, perhaps telling stories with poems and controlling the rhythm of each piece more carefully, in recent years the writing has been much more varied, more fragmented. Whereas once I seemed to have a grasp on every poem I wrote, now I let the whole thing spread out as it will in what seems a more instinctive, freer way. I don’t mind if a piece of writing is just abandoned as it is. I stream-write more often, with, perhaps, more success. I let images, thoughts, words come and go, link up, fall apart, whatever. I don’t worry if something’s long or short, how long or how short.

I set to wondering why this might be. Age? An increased need for solitude? A lack of interest in sending poems off to editors for possible publication? All I thought possible.

Then I looked back at the poems I’d kept (mostly here) and was surprised to find the poem where the alteration seemed to begin was directly linked to the heart attack – this is included beneath this laboured pondering. I was under the effects of morphine even in the ambulance transferring me from A & E in one hospital to the cardiac unit in another. After surgery I was under heavy medication, and now can’t really remember a great deal about it, but over the first days of recovery I wrote in a note book. Some kind of instinct, perhaps, a need to fall back on the expression that has for so many years been at the base of my existence?

I went home, and only later looked at the notebook and was surprised by the result. A loose collection of hallucinatory experiences, mixed in with stuff that happened on the ward, and erratic memories, or phrases, even song lyrics, maybe stuff I’d read somewhere, that blended and then fell apart again. (I really was, for example, offered fish and chips as my first meal post-operation and there was a wicked old man at the far end singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door). I kept the result, pretty much as it was, called it Heart Attack, sent it to a few old friends and eventually put it on here.

Writing obviously develops with greater experience, wider literary influences, the experiences that life brings, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some kind of chemical reaction to a near-death experience might alter a writer’s capacity. I can still write tightly if I put my mind to it, but it just seems that it is more of a struggle to find those rhythms, and new ones have replaced them.

Bob Mee, HOW LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE ALSO ALTERS YOUR WRITING… MAYBE

This week I’ve been reading Jonathan Davidson’s very good book On Poetry which among other things is very, very good (insert more verys here) on the importance of making space for poetry to be heard – whether it’s Ted Hughes on vinyl, nursery rhymes in the kitchen or on stage.

I’ve also been listening to Alice Oswald’s brilliant (as in, literally sparkling) Oxford Poetry Lectures, which focus on poetry as a spoken art (she also has a lot of interesting things to say about similes). Oswald is an astonishing performer – I have never heard her in person but the lectures are akin to extended readings. I don’t mean performing as in acting – you can’t act a poem, though people try.

Oswald is not a performance poet, either. Rather, as Davidson puts it, she releases the poems: “The poets I like, really like rather than just admire, do this, they release their poems. They do not present themselves or their histories or their joys and disciplines, they do not set out their stall or display their garish feathers. They simply place the sounds into the silence.” Davidson is not talking about Oswald, only poets in general (and Ted Hughes). But Oswald is a releaser.

In her first lecture, Oswald makes a point of not showing the audience the texts she is quoting. Instead, she speaks each passage twice – releases the words into the room. These passages are often from Homer – Oswald is always thinking about him and the wandering bards who performed poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. One of the most striking things about her poetry is the way, over the years, she has combined this immersion in a poet as impersonalas Homer with her own very distinct (idiosyncratic, even) phrasing and vocabulary.

Jeremy Wikeley, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Tonight’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon (how delightful!), so named by the Algonquin tribes to mark the peak of ripening strawberries in the northeastern U.S.

“The moon is the very image of silence,” writes Mary Ruefle. “Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.”

That’s a notion I love.

You may have noticed how dear the moon is to poets. “A chin of gold,” Dickinson calls it. In reading to prepare for this post, I marveled at the range of approaches to the moon, some (many, indeed) loving, feeling a complicity with its light, drawing comfort from it, and others seeing it as as cool, distant, and indifferent. The bite, for instance, of that Larkin poem (one of his finest, IMO). The brilliant tenderness of that Laux ghazal. The strangeness of Oswald’s vision.

Maya C. Popa, Strawberry Moon: Poems

When the news said tonight was the full moon,
the strawberry moon, I thought it was
some sort of metaphor, not that the moon
would glow a pinkish-gold over black trees
in a night thick with the scents of flowers,
rabbits like statues under dark bushes,
quick deer hooves clattering under streetlights.

PF Anderson, STRAWBERRY MOON

Six grannies and a great-granny setting sail in an overloaded rowboat, water just below the gunwales, all in dark dresses and the nearly full moon pearlescent between clouds. A slim man rowing, one of their grandsons, ferrying them to the centre of the lake where a spacecraft hovers low. Violet, crimson, a delicate blue, earth’s sky at sunset. They are there to represent us all before this delegation from space, these grannies and a great-granny, none of them swimmers, crossing the water and speaking low.

Gary Barwin, FIRST CONTACT

I actually missed the very end of the podcast where Mark and Hal made their final decision about which movie reigns supreme, but in my mind, it’s the original. “Aliens” is fun and flashy and has big guns, (space Marines!) lots of action, and a solid plot in its own right. But the original is exquisitely spooky and tense in a low-key, ingeniously crafted way that doesn’t require a lot of bang and flash to be utterly terrifying. In my opinion “Alien” is the better of the two films. When it comes to horror, I always prefer the subtle chill to the screeching chainsaw. Bonus fun fact: Ripley was originally meant to be a male character. They made the right choice to switch it up. I don’t think either movie would be the same with the glorious Sigourney Weaver in the role. […]

I realize this post is going up at an abnormal time and day, but last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and my whole routine was all messed up and top of it, I felt listless and like I didn’t have anything compelling to say. I was going to post a poem, but in perusing my collection, they all seemed quite gloomy to me. “Gloomy Poet” is not my given archetype but I certainly have written a preponderance of gloomy poems in my lifetime.

Kristen McHenry, Revisiting Alien, Diamond Painting FOMO, Blog Bleh

I look up from my laptop in time
to see a cat peering in the window.
The sun is setting behind it.

A two-headed, three-armed bear
lies beside my stuffed mouse namesake.

Jason Crane, POEM: (—)

A dream of falling into a subterranean cave full of human bones, the jaguar insisting I re-assemble them all, then catch the water falling in cave-wall tears, then paint it all out, every last thing that happened never to be forgotten now enshrined on stone in my blood-paint: how she made me sleep, then, in the roll of her strength, in the perfume of her hot skin. Flowers. My family tells me of panthers returning, north and south of the river now, protected and thriving. What have I forgotten that I am again so hungry? Never without them. I remember.

JJS, Remember

My thanks to Rebecca Farmer for her permission to publish this. […] I knew her work from her Smith Doorstop pamphlet, Not Really, so it was a no-brainer when the chance to buy her new one in a bundle with William’s came up. And it’s interesting to see how this new pamphlet continues and builds on some of the themes of Not Really. The poems about her father and the ghosts we met in the first pamphlet are now the main focus of A Separate Appointment. I may be imagining this, and it would take a far deeper study, but it seems to me like the ghosts are starting to doubt themselves more as they get older. Do ghosts get older? Either way, as the poem above suggests, they’re questioning some of their life decisions.

Mat Riches, Who’re they gonna call?

It can take a long time to love someone who only loves themselves as long as it takes to type their bio on a ghost.

It can take a long time to truly see yourself in a mirror without any ghosts getting in the way.

We’re confetti and quicksand, cathedrals and cliches.

Sometimes we’re even here and gone before the end of the song.

Rich Ferguson, That Knock at Your Throat’s Door

A lexicon can be vast, but it can also be narrow and exact. Horse people have a lexicon. Dock-workers have a lexicon. Waitresses have a lexicon.

My first assignment in the poetry class I’m teaching is to list 25 words relating to a subject. I have heard this assignment called “a word bucket.” It is meant to be both non-threatening (an easy threshold to trip over, into the class), but also inspiring. I shared examples of lexicons I’ve written:

  • for parts of a horse bridle
  • for the names of every part of a piano
  • for the skilled-nursing home where my mother spent her last years
  • for northwest flora and fauna
  • for my farm childhood

We all have lists of this sort in our heads, but deliberately listing the words, I’ve found, results in more exactness, and — very often — surprising directions one might follow.

Bethany Reid, The Lexicon

Reading through Caelan Ernest’s night mode (Everybody Press) I kept coming back to the idea of movement. There’s the movement of words across the page, the page here treated less like a field and more like a smartphone screen where text placement and white space engage the eye on a level that creates nuance and multiplicity of meaning. Like the decision in “somewhere a cyborg is taking note of the event that will transform it” to break lines around the syllable trans, a move that creates rich linguistic moments like “somewhere a cyborg is being trans / formed by the event.”

This move here nods to multiple meanings: there’s the trans of transgender as well as the enjambment into transformed that the eye completes in reading. Further, seeing the white space between trans and formed isolates the words in a way that evokes the personal isolation explored throughout the collection. The movement of the eye and of thought created by such breaks–this is what pulses at the core of these poems.

I see movement reflected again in the way these lyric sequences stretch across pages, at times with varying typographical choices and sizes, at other times with a single line on a page. Early in the collection, the line “at what point does night mode rupture into sky?” lives on one page across from the line “it’s been so long since the sun on my skin” on the facing page. A decision like this, which allows for time to be spent and for language to be dwelled on, evokes the similar engrossment and dwelling we do on our smartphones. Ernest’s poems are structured to place the reader in the position to literally “let that sink in.”

José Angel Araguz, microreview: night mode by Caelan Ernest

When we ask for it, the moment
of silence, the room goes truly still,
the air thick with grief
and our amazement. We hear our
togetherness. It somehow comforts.

Kathleen Kirk, Wear Orange Day 2023

late afternoon . . .
in and out of the sunlight
the cat’s tail

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: June ’23