Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 5

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I was charmed by the outpouring of affection for Linda Pastan on social media, most of us not realizing how many other Pastan fans were out there until she died. Judging by the size of the reaction in my feeds, she was at least as popular as Charles Simic, which might surprise a critic or two. So Pastan appreciation bookends a digest full of new book and manuscript news, strategies for writing better or more regularly, and the usual weird and wonderful assortment of essays, reviews, and poems. Enjoy,


I am still in shock that Linda Pastan has died. I liked knowing she was in the world. We first met when I was sixteen and she visited my high school library to give a poetry reading. 

Twenty years later we met again at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She was the one that suggested I return to graduate study for an MFA. As she hugged me goodbye at the end of the two weeks, she asked me to keep in touch with her so she could follow my career. I looked over my shoulder sure she must be speaking to someone else. As a creating writing professor now myself, I’m stunned by how much power that one sentence had to change my life. And yes, reader, we did stay in touch. I last saw her when she came out to Seattle with her husband for a reading. […]

I wonder what it means to write one superb poem after another but not to win the Pulitzer or become Poet Laureate, to not be given the gold ring by the powers that be? Pastan did not take multiple lovers (as far as I know) or commit suicide; she did not behave badly. I remember telling a professor in my graduate program that she had been an important influence and I could sense his dismissiveness. I’ve since heard that same story from several women poets who wanted to study her work. Why not Eavan Boland was weirdly the response.

I am hopeful that someone organizes a book of critical essays on Pastan’s work or perhaps is already at work on a biography. Perhaps that will be me…

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan (1932 – 2023)

In the Belly

As a woman carries an insect, unconscious
of the sign it shapes with diplomatic footfalls
across her skin, she carries me. As a lake
lifts the sky’s image, all burnished admiration, or
proffers a crushed cup, a leaf, a rainbow slick
of grease. […]

“In the Belly” is one translation of Imbolc, a.k.a. St. Brigid’s day, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time for lambing, spring cleaning, and many blessings, including lengthening daylight. I’m no expert on Irish, pagan, Christian, or any other kind of festival, but this seasonal turn matters to me. I wrote the poem above around Imbolc years ago, when a sensation of being held up by a benevolent force arrived suddenly and very strongly. I perceived the feeling itself, and the poem accompanying it, as gifts.

Lesley Wheeler, She carries me

It is strange how an absence of weight makes me feel heavier rather than lighter. Her warm, black-furred body, usually pressed against my hip all night, has been replaced by emptiness when I reach out for her in the dark and fall into a depth of grief I thought had passed. Perhaps that one small grief for a cat calls out to the others that are still sheltering in my heart. And maybe all they want to do is shake off their sleepiness for a while, take a walk around my bed. Still here, they say, proving to me, once again, that grief is the proof of great love. But this addition of a cat’s life to the parade seems, for now, almost unbearable. This will pass, I know. We owe it to ourselves, the living, as well as to the memory of the dead, to turn our faces to the light of the world, remind ourselves of the joy we have gathered, the joy there is yet to be gathered. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem ~ When cats curl up in your heart and fall asleep there

This year, as I thought about the feast day of Saint Brigid, I thought, I could make a woven cross. Sure, I don’t have reeds or rushes, but I have cloth. I have so much cloth. Just a year ago, I didn’t have enough to even think about a small project, much less a bigger one. But now I have enough cloth for several large projects and any small project I might want to do. […]

I am glad to have had this experience, although it took longer than I thought it would, about an hour from start to finish.  I tried to do it meditatively, giving thanks for women like Saint Brigid, who founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare.  She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination. 

Now let me go out for a walk.  We got our first dusting of snow last night, and it’s beautiful to look at from inside.  Let me go get a closer look.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Saint Brigid’s Cross in Cloth

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

Dick Jones, OLD MAN’S TEARS

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet, A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands – roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts – that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of ‘The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group’ provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two.

Matthew Stewart, The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer’s A Separate Appointment

Weekend mornings are for writing, and submitting writing, and keeping the coffee hot and topped off. This morning, I’ve supplemented that routine with the read of an interview, the listen to a podcast, and a read of an article written by poet friends; each piece as diverse and wonderful as the thinker writers behind it. Worth your time to read and listen and marvel. Thank you, Eric Coughlin Hollowell, Lisa Stice, and Vivian Faith Prescott.

Kersten Christianson, Untangling by Beach, Military Poetry, and Salmonberry Dreams

snow
the lights of the houses
on the river

Jim Young [no title]

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?

There are loads of roles writers can take on. Amanda Gorman took on a public role with her inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb.” Jericho Brown and Ilya Kaminsky seem to be part of larger discourses that go beyond poetry.

I often remind myself of all the Archibald MacLeish books that lined the book aisles of every thrift store in America I’ve ever been to. We’re all writing in a historical context about things that address very specific historical contexts. If we’re lucky one or a few of pieces might speak beyond that, but that isn’t really up to us.

I recently read Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre. I think poets translating poets is an essential role that those of us who are bi- or multilingual should consider. It’s a service to the craft.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Harrison Horton

The other evening I was in Lewes listening to Jackie Wills and Grace Nichols being interviewed by Mark Hewitt. One of the topics they discussed was the idea of having a ‘personal canon’, in other words those poets or poetry collections that have either been formative influences, or that you dip into regularly for inspiration. The talk was of how important it was to remember that poetry is very much a matter of personal taste, and that it’s pretty difficult for everyone to agree on ‘the poetry canon’, except perhaps for Shakespeare and a handful of other ‘greats’.

It made me think of the huge variety of ‘exemplar’ poems you come across in poetry workshops. On Grace’s list were Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath. She very cannily declined to mention the names of any living poets, for fear (she said) of upsetting anyone, since many of her contemporaries are her friends.

I started wondering who would be on my list.

Robin Houghton, A quickfire ‘personal canon’

I was especially pleased to hear Pat Winslow’s poem ‘As for the owl’ which carries a dedication to the late, much-missed Helen Kidd. By a strange coincidence, Helen was one of the members of the Old Fire Station Poetry Workshop (led by Tom Rawling by in the 1980s) ) about which I talk in my piece.

I also talk about growing up in rural Wiltshire in a house with few books. My years spent pursuing science – beginning to study medicine at Guys Hospital in London – then my drastic shift to studying Philosophy and English at Lancaster University, where I worked with the Scottish poet, David Craig, on one of the first Creative Writing courses in the UK. At Worcester College, Oxford, in the 1980s I was writing a DPhil thesis on the poet Shelley while also attending poetry workshops with WN Herbert, Peter Forbes, Pauline Stainer, Keith Jebb, Anne Born (and Tom and Helen).

Kathleen also asked me to say something about the poets I go back to and I talk a little (and read from) Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and WS Merwin. Trying to pick contemporary poets to highlight is an impossible task but, on this occasion at least, I speak about Marvin Thompson, Nancy Campbell and John McCullough.

Martyn Crucefix, Interviewed on ‘Poetry Worth Hearing’

Can’t force a poem,
only invite it.
Like spring.

Keep the door propped
the circuits open
bag packed

for when
Elijah arrives, singing
better days coming.

Build a perch
for the goldfinch
from painted willow.

Even if
it’s hard to believe.
Especially then.

Rachel Barenblat, Open

If nuclear winter were just a long dream of spring.

If clocks took an occasional time out to give us more breathing room between good times and the grave.

If lies wore prison stripes and could be easily recognized.

If police brutality was nothing more than that song talking about how early one morning, the sun was shining,

and everything was tangled up in blue.

Rich Ferguson, Blue

Throughout my reading of Year of the Murder Hornet I kept marveling over Cane’s ability to linger over the spaces in between things. Specifically, the choice to include additional white space within the lines of each poem emphasizes both how stalled shifts in the pandemic can make us feel as well as how necessary it is to take our time. By take our time I mean in terms of reading the situation — whether it be assessing what the reality behind phrases like “the new normal” actually is like, to preparing (mentally, physically) for the changes brought on by decisions at our jobs or by the government which we have no say in.

The poems “Essay on Gentrification” and “Minority Report” also work in this vein and are good examples of how this collection takes its time interrogating the nuances of life during a pandemic, nuances that are often lost in debates and political discourse.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Year of the Murder Hornet by Tina Cane

Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fifth volume of poetry, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), was named a “Best Book of 2019” by the New York Public Library, selected as a poetry Finalist in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, cited as a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Honoree in Poetry, and was named one of the “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections in 2019” by Book Riot. She is the author of four other volumes of poetry […]

What are you working on?

I’m currently in the process of finishing up my sixth volume of poetry, a manuscript titled Kaze no Denwa / The Wind Phone. While conducting research for my prior book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, I learned that a man named Itaru Sasaki had placed a phone booth with a disconnected rotary-dial phone in a hilltop garden overlooking Otsuchi, Japan—a century-old town decimated by the 2011 tsunami. Sasaki originally used the phone to process his grief over the loss of a beloved family member. He described these conversations as phone calls made “on the wind.” After the tsunami, survivors who’d lost loved ones started visiting Sasaki’s phone booth from all along the Tohoku coast—making pilgrimages to speak to their dead on what became known as the kaze no denwa, or “wind phone.” Apparently, visitors would share their daily news, or express their regrets. Sometimes callers would plead with their deceased to please come back, or beseech them to look out for one another. Sometimes they’d simply say that they were lonely. In the most heartbreaking phone calls, callers would apologize for not having been able to save their dead. 

Needless to say, I found these accounts of the wind phone resonant and incredibly moving. But also, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intersections of loss (environmental loss; personal loss; parental losses due to aging, death, and dementia; losses due to trauma; losses due to disasters such as COVID-19 or climate change), I began to ask myself what it might mean to write a “wind phone” poem. And so I began drafting direct-address elegiac poems that speak to these types of grief, putting them in conversation with one another: my father’s death, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, extinction, climate change, COVID-19, as well as psychological and emotional losses due to abuse, illness, or trauma.

These direct-address poems are interspersed with poems written in five parts that circulate associationally and linguistically around a single word, or concept. I’ve been thinking of these poems as “mappings.” I also wanted to set these mappings in dialogue with an ancient Japanese map called “Jishin-no-ben.” “Jishin-no-ben” represents an ouroboros, a dragon eating its own tail, circling around a geographical area in Japan. This map was apparently meant to serve as a visual explanation, or warning, for the earthquakes and tsunamis that had occurred there. These are poems in which I map out a larger context for the disasters creating the griefs, or losses, that are spoken on the wind. Each section also contains a hybrid prose poem/lyric flash essay “notes” piece that unpacks some of the related psychological underpinnings, or fallout, of trauma. 

Thomas Whyte, Lee Ann Roripaugh : part one

It is one of those mornings when I put my fingers on the keys and stare a few moment at my hands. The pattern of blood vessels on the back of each. Ropey and bluish, like a coarse crochet work. There are still things these hands will learn to do, or learn to do better. They are the rough beauty of solid machinery. They are their own “back in the day” and still going.

They are the touchstone for earned wisdom. Sometimes offering the touch that frightens young and old alike. Where bones become stone, and foreshadow everything overwrought in our poems.

As here.

I wonder what it would be like to live without mirrors – without looking at oneself, or pieces of oneself, as a constructed and staged other.

Ren Powell, Can We Look Away?

I haven’t felt like writing lately. I mean, as in I don’t even have the desire nor does it bother me. Or does it? I saw a call for micro poems this morning which closes today and began looking through my files. But that’s done writing, not to-be-done writing, so it doesn’t count. I keep seeing calls for submissions and think should I try to write something? but the thought flows away like a cloud with another destination. I have made some minor changes in the essay I’ve been working on from time to time. I have a vague feeling I’d like to sub it here but I don’t know that I’ll make the deadline. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is a general malaise or a rebellion. (Isn’t that a provocative statement?)

Charlotte Hamrick, Reading and Eating

A few days ago, realizing that the daily haiku practice was reminding me of why I stopped last year, I changed the task on my daily to-do list from “haiku” to “write something.” That’s what I’m trying to do each day. It doesn’t need to be a haiku or a poem or a story or any specific thing. I just need to write something. I guess I mean something more than a photo caption or a tweet. Something that exists for its own sake, if that makes any sense.

Most days I’ve written something. As time passes, I’ll probably come up with a stronger feeling about what “write something” means to me. For now, though, I like that it’s nebulous. The idea is to just keep using my brain and heart via the medium of words. The rest will work itself out.

Jason Crane, Write something

They say when the migratory cranes come to the
Phobjika Valley, they circle the monastery three
times. They fly around it again when they leave
after winter. The places we go to sink deep into
our bones.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 32

It’s been a challenging few months for poetry.

I don’t know of another art form that is subjected to such frequent death threats. When have you heard someone proclaim the death of music, dance, or the visual or performing arts? None of these seems to inspire the type of fury that poetry does. As Muriel Rukeyser wrote in “The Resistances,” the first chapter of her essential book The Life of Poetry, “Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center.”

Erica Goss, Poetry Survives Latest Death Threat

The road from spark to book is long. Longer than you would guess. For some writers, that moment from inspiration to finished book can span decades. My newest collection, Corvus and Crater, was a year in the writing and revising. That’s pretty quick, even for a poet. After you finish the manuscript, there is the long road to publication – and well, that took three years. But I’m very excited to announce that Corvus and Crater will be released next month by the wonderful publisher Salmon Poetry.

Corvus and Crater sprung from my fear that with the weight of responsibilities of my beloved work at Storyknife Writers Retreat and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference I would just never write again. That I would become a full-time arts administrator, zero-time poet. A past poet. So, on my birthday in 2019, I set myself an assignment: write a poem each day with fifty-four syllables – six lines of nine syllables apiece. There was no end destination – it was just a way to keep myself going.

The limits of the form really pressurized my writing, and the poems became a conversation with myself and with the books I was reading and the ideas that I was surrounding myself with. And because they were all written within a one year period – they held together as a manuscript. Here’s the description I wrote for the book: the enigmatic poems of Corvus and Crater explore a single winter though the eyes of Crow. The wheeling constellations, seasonal rituals, and Alaska’s charismatic landscape feature in a struggle to claim home and bodily agency, to control the myths and stories that form us. Composed of fifty-four sestets of fifty-four syllables apiece, Corvus and Crater resides in the tension between gleam and darkness, introspection and outward conflict, the self and the world.  

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Introducing Corvus and Crater

Here’s a bit of glad tidings. My manuscript The Red Queen Hypothesis won the Prairie State Poetry Prize and will be published before the end of 2023–maybe even by the end of this summer! It’s thrilling to have won an award like this.

In fact, I should be jumping up and down with glee that RQH finally will see print, as it has taken me numerous submissions, two acceptances that did not come to fruition, and a considerable number of pauses to reassess the manuscript. But my initial feeling is more of relief than elation. Relief that now I can turn all of my focus to newer work: a manuscript nearly completed and one that I’m just starting to collate and imagine. Well–not all of my focus in those directions. There is the work of promoting the new book, work that I find difficult and challenging because it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Highland Park Poetry is a tiny independent non-profit press and doesn’t have the resources to do much promotion; Jennifer Dotson, Founder & Creative Engine behind the organization, runs several contests, produces a newsletter, and hosts a Facebook page of contributing poets. She also hosts a poetry podcast and at least one reading series…a busy person, working on a small budget. People like her and Larry Robin are the guardian angels of poetry in the USA. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’ll do what I can to promote my book.

Ann E. Michael, Book news!

Well, this week held a happy surprise: three boxes of books arrived at my door yesterday morning! Since the book’s official release date is several months down the line in spring, I was happy but also felt that I was suddenly behind on everything related to the book.

The book is bigger and more square and substantial feeling than all of my previous books (which should make shipping more interesting), but it felt absolutely terrific to be holding a book that was six years in the making—and contains some of my most vulnerable work, from the most challenging time in my life.

I tried my hand at making videos again (this time, a short unboxing video) and took pictures of the cats with my book. I was so overwhelmed I felt literally light-headed!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Early Arrival of Author Copies of Flare, Corona (!!!), Celebrations with Poet Friends, Fun Videos, Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day/Groundhog Day and the Sun’s Slow Return

In school, I was struggling with forming perfect letters, but at home, I was filling notebooks with things only I could decipher. When we mastered printing and moved on to cursive, it was better, though I was still not as neat as I would later be, when in high school, I modeled my perfectly slanted penmanship after my French teacher with her perfect little crossed sevens.  I still continued my brand of writing even after I was learning how to actually write–it was faster, less laborious, and really no one was reading it anyway, not even me. […]

My mother, in her later years, once remarked to a stranger, at a reading they accompanied me to at a university, that she always wondered what I was doing, hiding in my room with my pen scratching across some notebook, or writing hunched over the coffee table cross-legged on the floor, even in summer when I was not studying. Only now she saw the fruits of it in the poems that I read and published (this was 2008 or so). That she finally got it–what I was doing all that time.  What I continued to do. 

Still, I love a pretty notebook and occasionally buy one just for the beauty of it, even now when so much of my writing happens through the click of keys. I also decorate my notebooks much as I did in high school to keep them identifiable according to which writing job they’re for. They sit in a stack underneath my monitor, though I do, at least, throw them out when they’re full.

Kristy Bowen, on graphomania, or for the love of notebooks

When I was a little left-handed kid growing up in Ireland we used fountain pens and I always smudged the letters as I wrote. I was really happy when I began going to Hebrew school and found out that Hebrew is read from right to left—the opposite of English. I could write clearly while all the other right-handed kids smudged their writing and got ink all over their hands. This was electric: this idea that language could be turned around. That it could make you look at things differently. Your inky hand. The page. Your way of being in the world. I know that in the modern world, in modern Israel, Hebrew is used to ask for an oil change or go on the Internet and order socks, but for me, my first association these particular letterforms, the Hebrew alphabet, the otiyot, was that it was the language of my ancestors, the shape of my people. Ancient, mysterious, and numinous. Not that they didn’t speak of socks and B.O., but for centuries, it was a sacred, but not an everyday language. Its shapes: thick lines of black-and-white each ending in a little curl like a black flame rising. Was this flame something to do with the temple? With eternal light? Or perhaps an arcane Kabbalistic alchemy of words. The prayerbooks in the shul of my childhood were musty and worn, like the old tefillim of the praying men…or the threadbare carpets. The prayerbooks had been shaped by use, the way an old tool takes the form of the hand that touched it. And it seemed like the Hebrew letters had also been shaped this way: They had been worn over millenia by the touch and speech of those who had muttered their sounds. And Hebrew, at least in the traditional shapes, seemed to preserve the motions of ink and brush, the motions of a scribe not writing so much as drawing the letters, his hand floating above the surface of the parchment like a hovering bird.

Gary Barwin, BROKEN LIGHT: THE ALEFBEIT AND THE MISSING LETTER

One thing I noticed about painting stripes onto paper is how much more difficult it is than I had imagined. For instance, I couldn’t go ahead and paint each sonnet in one sitting but had to, instead, wait until each stripe was dry to prevent the colours bleeding. Sounds blooming obvious, doesn’t it, but not to me! I’m conscious of using a lot of paper for this project so I’m grateful to have in my possession a box of different sizes, types and colours of paper that were left on the pavement of a neighbour’s house. They originally belonged to a lady who died, and her family gave away some of her belongings rather than discarding them when they sold the house. I think about that person each time I make a poem using some of her paper. I hope she feels my gratitude, wherever she is. As well as painting, I’ve also been pattern making, using Sharpie pens, and I’m going to cut into these patterns to make more visual poems.

Josephine Corcoran, January Update

Wednesday was the biggest day of action for decades but the government didn’t care. They appear to be only interested in ruining the country. But enough of the public school educated elite who are not interested in the people they are supposed to represent, I found an old poem the other day, one I had forgotten about. I rearranged the layout and changed the odd word.

DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

He can think photographs
scry alternate worlds

He holds the light sensitive paper to his forehead
his thoughts embellish it with another life […]

Paul Tobin, DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

In the adjoining room a man from Missouri is proud that, according to the radio station KCFZ, four of the thirty-four greatest poets who ever lived are from Missouri. He tells his seven hundred and sixteen followers on Twitter about this and waits excitedly at his laptop for replies to come in, for retweets and likes. After twenty minutes he walks into the communal kitchen to make himself a coffee but there is no milk and he can never understand people who take their coffee without milk. He returns to his room. Still no replies. His day has taken a morose and bitter turn. He tells himself: Somebody, somewhere, will pay for this.

Dolores tells Edith, who helps her with washing and dressing: Dance until the bagpipes kill the sheep. That’s what you must do. You’re young, my dear, so very young. And after all it is forbidden to climb the steps of the pyramid of Kukulcan and Avian Flu has been found in otters and foxes.

Bob Mee, DANCE UNTIL THE BAGPIPES KILL THE SHEEP, SHE SAID

Moths tuck themselves
into drawers, where they
work out their hidden
citzenships in scripts
of perforated silver.

The taut threads
of the hammock loosen;
day loses to night,
and night again to day,

Who was I
before the earth
shook my world to pieces,
before parts of barely formed
history were buried along with beams
of a house that no longer exists?

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear Exile

how far from her moon shall the sleeper wander

how far from water can one drown

when all that is dust returns to song
where will i be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I shared in December, I’ve planned a kinder, gentler approach to my creative life for 2023. The new approach is like sensible shoes: not quite as sexy but less pain, more mileage. At least that’s the idea. And so far, so good!

I’ve been keeping up with art and writing by doing at least one small thing each day.* Some days, I’m happy with what I get done. Other days, it’s hard to believe that these small efforts will reach critical mass. And on both types of days, I’m trusting the process. Overall, that means less fretting, so that’s an early win for the self-imposed shake-up.

It’s also helping me reconstruct the idea of myself as a poet and artist, and I’m shamelessly nurturing that both on my “regular”/poetry Instagram (@carolee26) and my visual art Instagram (@gooduniversenextdoor).

Carolee Bennett, the shake-up is shaping up

Even if one reads the haiku merely as an expression of curiosity – that the moon has appeared to align its bright white roundness into and with the roundness of the glass’s bottom – it is still a magical moment, like the alignment of planetary bodies.

A more cynical reading might be that including ‘the well / of’ enables the haiku to fall unobtrusively into a 5–7–5 pattern and provides an alliteration with ‘whisky’. For me, though, the addition truly enriches the poem. This haiku is the exception to the rule that 5–7–5 haiku in English are generally too verbose and therefore need trimming: here, cutting back to a 5–4–5 would diminish the poem’s effectiveness.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by John Hawkhead

I spoke to a new writer the other day. They were rosy-cheek-excited about how they were writing right along, happily, regularly. They also mentioned they’d signed up for a course at a community college about how to get published.

I groaned inwardly. (It’s possible I groaned outwardly.) I know the way excitement about a creation leaps quite readily to trying to put that creation out in the world. (I fall prey to it still all the damn time.) I also know how people are happy to take your money to tell you some handy things without mentioning the other stuff, specifically, in this case, the waiting, the doubt, the rejection after rejection after rejection. (I may have mentioned to them that last item.)

What I didn’t mention that maybe I should have , or maybe not, not quite yet, is that vital, hard-won, takes-a-lifetime-to-learn, oft overlooked middle step: the revision step. The put-your-tender-darling-in-a-drawer step. The read-read-read step, which means not just read slaphappily, but read as a writer. Which means read with questions in mind: what is pleasing me about this work, displeasing me, and why, and how can I apply any lessons learned to my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, The real thing come and the real thing go; or, The Bad News About Revision

I have finished my poetry manuscript. “Finished”? I finished it last April, too, and sent it out, then withdrew it from several contests. I couldn’t say why it didn’t feel ready, it simply didn’t.

A friend suggested that I not think globally, condemning the entire ms, but to instead focus on individual poems. What I actually did was ignore it. I took a class. I worked on my send-out practice. I (finally) returned to my mystery novel. Then, in October, I finished the rewrite of the mystery.

And the poems were still sitting there, muddy and neglected, their unwashed faces looking up at me.

I again found useful distractions. A short story re-write, notably. Then, I broke my arm and was unable to type.

Bethany Reid, Where You’ll Find Me

As with many writers, I’m better known outside my community than within it.

Sure, a couple dozen of my poems have appeared on signs at local events, and yes, the people in charge of the events liked my work (thank you so much! <3), but I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know me connected the poems with the poet. (In one instance, someone looked at one of my poem signs and actually turned to me and said “Who is Bill Waters?”) So I’m hoping that an article in the widely circulated Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine (pictured below) will serve to introduce me to readers where I live.

It’s not that I’m seeking attention. It’s just that local publication will add greater credibility to my reputation so that perhaps I’ll have an easier time getting people interested in future public poetry efforts. “Have you seen this article? Here are the kind of poems I write,” I’ll say in a way that’s both enthusiastic and modest. (In my dreams! In real life, I’ll probably just stammer something out and then wish I were someplace else.)

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine

This is one of a couple of poems that I can date fairly precisely — at least in terms of the year. I was working in London and living in Luton when I found an online poetry forum called Crystal Lake Poetics. It ceased a long time ago, and it was pretty small, but this was the early days of the internet — before the social media world that we are familiar with today. The forum was based in America, and it had a chat box where I chatted most nights to a couple of girls from Denton, TX, and one from Stockton, CA who had lived in Denton. The time difference therefore was pretty substantial! And that is what made me think of portraying these conversations like the scene in Turandot, where Princess Turandot has decreed, as related in the famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), that none shall sleep that night until the unknown prince’s name is known.

We really were like shadows nattering back and forth, talking about everything and nothing; occasionally I’d start something poetic based on these discussions. I remember a favourite random acronym that got flung into the chat window related to tacos with extra cheese and lots of mayo, though I can’t remember it exactly enough to recreate the acronym!

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry On Stage

I don’t know about you, but sometimes a poem just hits hard and is the right thing to read at the right time. It’s been one hell of a week at work and in life. Despite the wonderful news this week that I now have a publication date for my Red Squirrel pamphlet and that work can now begin in earnest on it (not that it hasn’t already, but you take my point, I hope), the week has been dragged down by the continued decline of our eldest cat, an unexpected and unwelcome outlay on a new washing machine, and a hectic week that has barely allowed for a moment to pause.

So when I sat down to read my copy of Pearls this week after it had made its way to the top of my TBR pile, I found myself being absolutely smacked round the chops (in a good way) by reading the poem above. I felt Philpott’s pain. I was there with him in every sentence.

Mat Riches, Pearls before sauces

What burdens would you let that abyss
of worn satin swallow?
And what would you tuck away
in the place of honor, that one-off
disfigured, awkward pocket
where you stash your favorite secret
like a stale and stolen butterscotch?

Kristen McHenry, Baggage

Judith‘s large-format Buttonhole binding is made from a huge charcoal drawing done in 1989, torn apart and machine-stitched onto washi paper. The charcoal cover and pages are sealed with beeswax polish. The book smells wonderful! […]

Here are some photos of my Buttonhole binding. On cotton rag paper pages dyed with vegetable waste I have handwritten a found poem written on a dreadful day when I avidly consumed the news on BBC Radio 4. The silk for the book-cloth was alum-mordanted and dyed with red cabbage leaves and onion skins. The cover is lined with a piece of marbled paper that has been lying in a drawer for years.

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2023

Weren’t we lucky, once?

I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of the impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.

Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.

Rita Ott Ramstad, And don’t it feel good

I had taken these still life photographs at about the same time I learned about the death of Linda Pastan. I knew she had written a poem about still life, so I looked that up. I read her obit in The Washington Post, finding it interesting that she placed first in a contest in Mademoiselle magazine where Sylvia Plath placed second. She was 90. Poets always feel so timeless in their work so this was a surprise, too. In short, I did all the things I always do when a poet I’ve read and admired died. Took her books off my shelf. Read a few dogeared poems.

It never seems enough, but there it is. […]

I recently picked up Diane Seuss’s Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I’ve honestly just opened it up and read a line or two here or there and you know that thing where something is so freaking good you just can’t? Yah. I mean for sure I will read it, but also, it’s hard when it’s also your big subject and likely this writer did it so much better :) But that’s GOOD too, right?

Because, here is the big secret of the writing life. We can all do it. Some people will get more acclaim and some will deserve it and some will maybe not quite so very much but none of that actually matters. The writing matters. Your life is going to be made so much more amazing by doing the writing you do, or whatever art you make. So just persist and be rigorous and joyful and delight in the whole beautiful ridiculous mess of it, sometimes rubbish, sometimes chocolate cake delicious. Laugh at your successes and laugh at the rejections and your bloody anonymity and be graceful and humble and raise your eyebrows at times and take such a deep and wonderful delight at everything that everyone is making. Because it could be fucking otherwise? You’re here. This is your time. Make whatever things you have always wanted to make. Please. Trust me it’s all worth it. You’ll look back some day at your little pile of books or stacks of paintings or files of photographs and go, huh! And really, ain’t that pretty cool?

Shawna Lemay, Still Life and Learning to Abandon the World

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 4

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: digesting terrible news, labor vs. work, an ode to irritable bowel syndrome, Mandelbrot images, Scots poetry, ChatGPT poetry, and much more.

I feel I should say a few words about my decision to include Substack posts here, since I’ve just added the fourth feed from that platform to my roster. Although they wisely position themselves as a newsletter delivery service, they aren’t doing anything that you can’t do with WordPress, for example, or with any number of other home-brewed blog + newsletter delivery app combos; they’re just making it a hell of a lot simpler and more affordable. I also like the emphasis on making money for writers, though obviously I’m not going to include any posts that aren’t freely available. Critically—for my interest here—Substack blogs have RSS feeds, which means I can access them from the same Feedly dashboard I use for everything else.

If you do decide to start a Substack, please be sure to post about it at your old blog so I can find the link. (This may seem so obvious as to not need saying, but, well, I know poets. Self promotion is not always our first instinct.) Anyway, enjoy the digest.


I’ve been thinking how easy it is to write tragedy–and while necessary, how redundant: the cat plowed into her blanket fort beside us, purring; the first day of real snow unspoiled by rain and a thermos of cocoa; the secret languages and contexts lacking drama: those. Those deserve more poems.

JJS, Untrammeled: a sonnet

I meant this to be an upbeat blog post but it’s hard to feel upbeat and I want to be authentic in this blog. I was sick all week (hence the lack of selfies) and it was cold and foggy out, absolutely the kind of weather you don’t want to go out in. I had a strange harbinger—a beautiful juvenile red-winged blackbird at my feeder, which I thought was unusual (they don’t usually visit feeders). Then tonight I learned about the death of a poet/friend/editor of Menacing Hedge, Kelly Boyker Guillemette. She was also a Seattle poet, so it impacts this community that I live in. I was sad I didn’t get to tell her how much I appreciated her, or even get to have coffee with her, just to visit. This pandemic has been so isolating, I realize, that I’ve lost touch with friends I shouldn’t have.  

The news has been pretty relentlessly terrible, too. Outside today we had some sunshine, and I had been in bed, barely leaving the house even to get the mail this week with cold, miserable fog every day, so I took a short walk, but in the end, it was too cold to stay out long. I noticed how fallow everything was—all my usual walks, usually with some flowers or greenery even in winter, looked unusually barren. January is a hard month for many reasons. Anyway, readers, hug your friends and editors, tell them you appreciate them, buy them a coffee. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sad news about a Seattle poet, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Superhero Poems, and Some Vision Boards and Kitten Pics to Cheer Us Up

Don’t say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls,

incandescent as bullets boiled
in a crucible of darkness.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Loneliest Country in the World

In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces. These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet. After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit. Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in. And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone. Missing pieces. Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad? During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables. Also, I was observing my oral French. Somehow that mattered. A traveler’s exile ends in language. Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe. Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail. The open emptiness of cobalt blue. Pop pop pop.

Jill Pearlman, Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Even if you watch this country with the sound turned down, all the hate and hurt still bruise through.

So many derangements arranged in strange and familiar ways.

Intoxicated logic. Unmended melodies with not enough pills or winning streaks to take them to the finish line.

Even with the sound turned down, you can still hear a cry take hold in the throat and refuse to leave.

Rich Ferguson, A Gene for Tears

turning up Marquee Moon in the otherwise
quiet night of someone else’s house

wearing headphones because the world’s asleep
its madness closely contained in a thin layer
of clean-toned guitar riffs, slicing through

the flesh around the heart
no blood, so much blood

Jason Crane, POEM: for Tom Verlaine

whose sorrow heals as a wing

whose wound mourns the gun

when did my shadow first walk underground

Grant Hackett [no title]

Thursday was the first day of spring in the Hindu calendar, and I missed it. Saraswati is honored on that day, with lavender, saffron and turmeric. I wouldn’t have “celebrated”, but I would like to have known. There is something life-affirming in rituals, regardless of belief. There is something I envy.

A moment of envy can be an awesome thing. It is an admission – a recognition of desire. It’s humbling. It situates you clearly outside of the center of your own subjective concepts of meaning.

I just learned about the goddess Saraswati last month while talking to the theater director and artist Anupama Hoskere. (I am working on an article for Drama magazine, and will link later.) She explained the connection of education through the arts to the universal. She talked about means and desire, and about Dharma.

I am still letting all my thoughts bump up against each other. I don’t really want to put them down as sentences yet. Poetry, maybe. Poetry at the moment is an expanse of dark, open water.

Ren Powell, Calendars, Conductors, and 31 Dosas

You unwrinkle me on a table and try to understand the words but the ink is smudged into a language you cannot read. This is what you mean. The calligraphy of incomprehension. Meterless. Wordless. Endless.

A grave is a box. Death, a label. We must ultimately be nothing and everything and be labelled when we are not left to call. The herd of the dead in rows for the final migration.

This is what you mean. The inevitability of sameness. The primal stereotype. Beyond the pretence of resistance. The line. The blue river. The danger. The other side.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The box. The other side.

I had been thinking of a poem possibility before last night.  In the wee small hours of the morning earlier this week, I had awakened to the sound of someone singing.  Sounds travel in strange ways in this building, so I’m not sure who was singing or why.  I’m fairly sure it was a human singing, not a recording.

This morning, I turned my attention to my prayer book, as I do every morning.  I use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is rooted in the lectionary that comes to us from the ancient monastic tradition.  One of this morning’s passages leapt out at me:  “The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103: 6).  

It’s not the first time that a passage seemed chosen for our particular day and time, and I do realize that the beauty of the Psalms rests in the broad scope of them, everything from mourning/lament to joy to anger and all the emotions in between.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament

The hills
are dressed

for morning prayer
shoulders wrapped in wool.

Their winter tzitzit
are made of ice,

turn to tchelet
after the last snows.

Do our houses serve
as their tefillin?

We’re the tiny scrolls
tucked safe inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Minyan

Hurray! Spring is on its way! Well, the days are lengthening at least….It’s been a busy start to the year although I don’t seem to have got any poetry written. I’ve actually mostly been reading and researching a story which might turn into (whisper it) a novel – I know, I know, and me always saying I couldn’t write fiction. It may just be a nice break from poetry, something different and even energising, at least, that’s what Peter said when I mentioned it on the podcast. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying the process. If you see me please don’t ask ‘how’s the novel coming along?’ I’ll let you know when/if there’s anything to report!

Robin Houghton, Why I missed the TS Eliot readings, plus the good and the bad of January

It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit

Honestly, though, I’m finding the distinction a little fuzzy. How can it not be, when money is what we need to survive in our current world, and some labor is paid and some work is not? Yet it is clear to me that writing a blog–this kind of blog, at any rate–is clearly on the side of labor, and not work. It’s a labor I have been feeling ambivalent about.

What do I have to offer here? Do I have anything to say that anyone will benefit from hearing?

It’s a challenge to create a gift to the world when my instinct these days has been to retreat from it. Until now, I’ve had no choice about engaging with the world; continuing my existence required me to live deeply with it. Grading papers, planning lessons, submitting book purchase orders: These are all acts of work, and one can, I suppose, do the work of being a teacher or librarian without doing the labor of being an educator. But I never could, and laboring as an educator requires full immersion in the world. Now, I have a choice. Now, I finally have the resources I need to give myself to labor of whatever kind I might choose, and all I want to do is hunker down in my little shelter from the world.

I’d like to think it’s just a seasonal thing. Winter is a time of hibernation, of course. Or, perhaps, it’s a recovering from burnout thing. It feels like something more or different, though. The world feels increasingly foreign to me, and something with which I can’t keep up. Don’t necessarily want to keep up. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been wondering what it will mean to be a writer–or any kind of artist–in a world with ChatGPT.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Labor enough

An acronym close to that computer firm.
There are dress codes at IBM, I have you know.
Irritable? Yes, often. I’ve been pissed off,
imagine bowels as a curled-up, snarling cobra.

Syndrome is, I believe, where spectators
gather to see retired pilots take off
in noisy small planes. Banking
is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Fokkina McDonnell, Ode of sorts…

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

Allyson Whipple, New Year, New Home

skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

Dick Jones, islands

I love it when I find a poet I haven’t heard of before whose collection absorbs me and keeps dragging me with it through three or four readings. So it is with Alexandra Fossinger’s Contrapasso, which I bought a week or two ago.

She works with the in-betweens, the unexplained areas of experience, so it takes some work to get to its layers. I hadn’t read anything about Fossinger and didn’t notice the short biography at the back until after the second reading but it fits my initial reaction – She is mostly interested in the spaces between things, the tiny shifts in time, the overlooked, the unsaid. She’s Italian, from the South Tyrol near the border with Austria, lives in Germany and writes mostly in English. She’s done the usual round of magazines.

I don’t know the specific details behind the poems because she avoids telling us and concentrates instead on creating an atmosphere of increasing isolation. The drama is cumulative. It seems – and forgive me if you see it differently, or think I’m way out – that she is writing for a lover now estranged in time and distance, imprisoned somewhere, and so lost, except to memory and these poems, which seem to combine to form a message that deals with the experience of continuing to be fond of someone it is no longer possible to see or speak to, of where that experience can take a person over time.

In that so little is explicit, she is a demanding poet, but not obscure for obscurity’s sake. There is a real sense that she is trying hard to examine a particular experience of loss and come up with an appropriate way of communicating it. Yes, she could have been kinder by offering more easily understood facts, but it feels as if it’s the emotional experiences and not necessarily the physical facts that interest her.

Bob Mee, CONTRAPASSO – A COLLECTION BY ALEXANDRA FOSSINGER

As contemporary poets invent more and more forms for their poetry, it is perhaps surprising that the sonnet is undergoing something of a revival. Last year saw the publication of Hannah Lowe’s superb, award-winning The Kids , which demonstrated so well how this traditional form can be used for current content and now we have Paul Brookes’ Shakespearian sonnets in is latest collection, These Random Acts of Wildness (Glass Head Press, 2023) , which treat a range of enduring issues such as our experience of being alive and the nature of the natural environment.. His use of the form is as adept as Lowe’s, often concluding in memorable rhyming couplets, such as: ‘We collect the wild as ornamental/ Domesticate, put on a pedestal’; ‘My hard weight tames the uneven and wild/ makes it all proper, gentle meek and mild’; and ‘The wild dance of the swifts amongst the dead/ reminds us life goes on restless to be fed.’ The sonnet is clearly alive and well and has much to offer poets today.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’

I was very pleased to hear of Chicago-born poet Jessica Laser’s latest, Planet Drill (New York NY: Futurepoem, 2022), recalling how struck I was by the work in her debut, Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides (Seattle WA: Letter Machine Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here]. The poems in Planet Drill are predominantly shorter, lyrically-compact first-person examinations, each line constructed as a kind of self-contained statement, set as a layering of poem-shaped brick-works. In certain ways, she constructs her poems around the shape of what otherwise couldn’t be seen without staffolding, allowing the poem to exist as the absence around which her poem draws. Listen to this stretch in the middle of the two-page poem “PLUMBER,” that reads: “I kept along my secret, plumbing / for keeps. State-employed, / I’m hungry, have glory, now money, / now sadness, now none, concern, / joy, fear, grief, / humility, anger, pride, peace, / I’m happy stricken, afflicted / with so deep a burning / of which ice is and can’t help.” There is a playfulness to her lyric of indirect direct statements, one that offers wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek swipes. “Nothing in pride but a flower.” she writes, to open “POEM WITH LIES,” “Nothing in a stare but glass life. / No fruit but a spore / and silent nectar. To remember / this is to bear all things. Life bears / no fruit but of too much color, stands / for taste where sun and taste ally.” Laser’s poems blur between surfaces and depth, moving in and out of focus at remarkable speed, and employing a precision that both illuminates and contorts. “A sad girl a sad alas is.” she writes, to open the poem “CRENELATIONS,” “Best to forfeit disposition. / All exposure. Best / Not to make / A judge love you, / Particularly / You.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Laser, Planet Drill

Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.

In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.

Ann E. Michael, Admiration

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. […]

The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Finished reading Deathbed Sext by Christopher Salerno, 2020, Two Sylvia’s Press.  This was a winner of TSP Chapbook competition. There are some remarkable lines in this poetry. It is rich with dissonance (something I love) throughout the book.  Personally, I felt its strength was in individual poems and not so much as a cohesive manuscript, but that was just my opinion. 

Michael Allyn Wells, January – Birthday – Fountain Pen

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing program’s Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It’s a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but it’s still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It’s still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren’t going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what it’s like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | january 2023

There was a lovely range of ages in my first workshop, a few younger siblings joined in, as well as parents, grandparents and carers. We talked about pattern, repetition, shape and rhyme in poetry, and how that might be represented visually. We also learned that George Crabbe wrote long narrative poems, predominantly in the form of rhyming couplets, and I showed the group some of my own visual poems, where I’ve used the same flower at the end of each line to represent a rhyme, and more recent poems using photocopies of fallen leaves.

Then the group spent time with George Crabbe’s herbarium, carefully handling specimens (all kept under clear protective covering to preserve them) and selecting the ones they wanted to work with. Hannah, from Trowbridge Museum, photocopied the chosen specimens, then the participants set to work, cutting and pasting photocopies of flowers, or drawing and colouring them, or making 3D models of flowers and a garden landscape, or a combination of all of this. One workshop member had a go at writing rhyming couplets in the style of George Crabbe. We talked about how Crabbe included common wildflowers in his collection and the group was very knowledgeable about the insect-enabling, pollinating benefits of flowers and plants, incorporating bees, butterflies and other insects into their creative work, a few samples below! [Click through for the photo documentation.]

Josephine Corcoran, Flowers, visual poetry and George Crabbe’s herbarium in a workshop at Trowbridge Museum

Thank you Matthew Paul for reminding me about The Iron Book of British Haiku. You can read his very detailed and engaging post about this book here – a real insider’s account of how this book came together. I’ve featured the poem on the back cover (above) [“Morning sneeze / the guitar in the corner / resonates” —Dee Evetts] as a gentle reminder to myself to get back to the guitar! It’s been a marathon month of blogging, and it’s really helped me focus on the poetry, but I’m well aware that it has also taken up some of the time I would normally have spent practising the guitar. My aim was to post every day in January, and we’re almost at the end of the month, so February should be, by rights, a month where I pick up the guitar every day. Let’s see how that pans out!

Julie Mellor, the guitar in the corner …

It’s Saturday morning and I’m doing everything except writing although my mind keeps going back to writing. I’m watching a documentary right now called “Laurel Canyon” on Prime but in the back of my mind I’m restructuring a creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for a while. […]

The main thing that impressed me was the mystique of Laurel Canyon itself, as a community, at that moment in time. I felt like I was watching a lost world that will never be again, a world more personal than the one we live in today. People trusted each other, didn’t lock their doors, wandered in and out of each others homes. Their lifestyle was free, innocent, expansive. It seemed it was a community that shared, without envy and competition. It’s hard to believe in our current world that this ever existed.

The landscape itself was verdant, moody, primitive, even dangerous in the way beauty often is. I can imagine being bewitched, living there at that time in such a richly creative, beautiful, and nurturing environment. It oozed creativity that came through in the old home movies and photographs. It really cast a spell on me for several hours. I can relate to how music and art is inspired by being immersed in the natural world, how the peace of it empties the mind of chaos, replaces it with wonder and a calm that allows creative ideas to grow.

Charlotte Hamrick, Creative Communities

The second poem for this week comes from Fergus Allen and his first collection, The Brown Parrots of Provedencia. I think I’ve mentioned his work before, and may have shared a poem, but if it’s taken me two years to get to Katie’s book, it’s taken me about 25 to get to this one. I’ve had this since my days working at Bertrams and have hauled it with me wherever I go, but if I have read it it didn’t land with me, or perhaps I didn’t have the tools to comprehend it, but now I”ve started it I am enjoying it. It looks like my three Fergus Allen books made it to the TBR pile a couple of years ago too, so I really am getting down into the sub-strata there. I’ve now discovered that a) he’s dead b) there are two more books I don’t have of his c) Brown Parrots came out when he was 70 (wither the definition of an emerging or developing poet argument) and d) this is an interesting interview with him.

Mat Riches, Attitudes, Anteaters, Brown Parrots, and early kicks offs for the Eliots

I’m so delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Eemis Stane, a primarily Scots language publication. The team is just brilliant and so helpful with getting the Scots in my poems jist richt. I’m still learning, so it’s been great to work with them and to be included, though Scots for me is a learned language, rather than a native tongue. The scope of the magazine is amazing and global even though it’s focussed on a minority language, from a sample of Catalan translations of a Scots novel to a whole collection of great Scots poems and a review of a book of Scots translations of Chinese poets. I feel like I’m a small part of a new vitalising movement. 

Gerry Stewart, The Keeking Light

I’ve excited to announce that my next collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, winner of the Jack McCarthy Book Prize and forthcoming from Write Bloody, is now available for pre-order! Books will ship in April, order today!

***

Her Whole Bright Life is a collection of poems that weave together the trauma and exhaustion of a life lived with disordered eating and the loss and grief of the death of the poet’s father. Love and hunger intertwine and become inseparable as the poet grapples to find, and listen, to both. With a distinct and feminist voice, this collection delves into a life now lived without a beloved parent, while trying to survive a pandemic, and battling demons that have lived inside her for most of her life. With both fierceness and tenderness, we see a woman trying to find her place within her own body and within an ever-changing world. This collection of poems is both an elegy and an anthem – praising both those who’ve been lost and those who remain.

Courtney LeBlanc, New Book Available for Pre-Order

I am amazed to see that I have yet another review of my new chapbook (The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants)! I think this is a testament to the hustle of my wonderful editor at Belle Point, Casie Dodd (thank you if you are reading!).

Erijo Edward writes, “The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.”

Masterpiece?!?! I am really flattered!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, reviewed in The Poetry Question

I was thrilled to receive an acceptance this week for some poems I submitted to an upcoming anthology. I haven’t submitted work in a very long time, and I had forgotten the rush of good feeling it gives me to be granted a “yes” on my work: Someone thinks I’m worthy! Someone likes what I wrote! Approval is a powerful drug, and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good dose of it. Most of the time these days I go around seething to myself, “If you want to tell me about all of ways I’ve disappointed you, you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else.” So being given the Nod of Worthiness felt pretty darn good.

Kristen McHenry, Emotional Wins Hot Streak

One of the joys of social media (and there are plenty of aspects of them that are less than joyful) is that occasionally a notification pops up from an unexpected source and when you check it out there is something really worthwhile to be found. This happened the other day – via Instagram. Someone called Matt McGettrick had tagged me. I don’t know Matt, but he is a student on the BA course in TV and Radio Production at the University of Salford.

Matt’s instapost said he had recently created a soundscape based on a poem I published in 1990, in my first book from Enitharmon Press, called Beneath Tremendous Rain. It’s unlikely that the poem was found in that book itself, but I remember it was selected more than 10 years later by Sean Street to appear in an anthology called Radio Waves: poems celebrating the wireless (Entharmon, 2004). There, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Auden, Brecht, MacNeice, Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. Sean – whose is a poet, broadcaster and recently retired Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University – had divided the anthology up into sections variously titled, Music Radio, Talk Radio, Weather, Listeners and Signals. My piece was in the section called ‘In the Car’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Air-Waves’: poem as audio soundscape

The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.

Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic.

Giles L. Turnbull, Patterns Amid the Poems

it’s the fag isn’t it
chomped in the blown corner
making way for the mouthed words
exhaled frown yet to crease that young brow
where the fish words garner thoughts
that glow and fade
drop like blown ash
his mind as far away as the fields
in the tobacco shop on st helen’s road

Jim Young, dylan thomas in a chair with a fag

In the bright frosty days when rain paused I remembered how sparrows spring clean as nesting time approaches – sweep sticks and feathers from hiding places in the eaves. Foxes are mating and calling. Something of that fever got to me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent hours online rooting through names on my mother’s side of the family.

There are few narratives attached to these names, other than the streets they lived in, the churchyard they’re buried in (masses of them in the same one) and occupations on census forms – agricultural labourer, laundress, unpaid domestic duties. Interrupting these, a house painter, groom, a charcoal burner, gardener. Unsurprising handholds in the story that kept mum’s family in the New Forest for generations, mainly around one village. For a while they lived in Silver Street, which the New Forest Explorers’ Guide reckons is a corruption of Silva, meaning road to the woods. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll take the beauty in that name as truth. Just as I was delighted to find a female ancestor called Martha Candy.

Jackie Wills, The forest ancestors again

I hear of two so search for the third
as death always comes in threes
this is a hard and fast law
my mother steered our family by such stars
bad things can happen any time
tea leaves held clues
and she interrogated every cup for omens
but none were as accurate as
Coop Indian Prince Assam

Paul Tobin, TEA LEAVES HELD CLUES

The photos in this post were taken in Rome in November. And it was such an interval of pure play. At first I was disappointed that the carousel was draped in the protective tarp. But it started to seem a bit symbolic. The messages and words written on the plastic in the dust. Someone had torn away a bit of the plastic so you could see in a little but largely the carousel animals were a murky blur. The fun part was obscured. Still, the decorative top was a visual feast. I can’t tell you how many photos I took of this and Rob off to the side patiently just letting me do my thing. At the time I couldn’t even say what drew me to this but I was COMPELLED. Now it makes sense to me but I knew enough to just go with it and enjoy the play. To just delight. I remember taking some pains to line up the angels on the carousel with the angel on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the bird perched on the lamppost. […]

As most creative people know, when you’re just playing around, goofing about, that’s often when neat stuff happens. You’re open to it, it’s open to you. Who knows. In the next two frames, a couple of birds began to play. You could tell they were riffing off of each other, taking turns perching on the horse. Delightful, yes?

It helps, anyway, is what I’ve found, to just go and play at something (in my case photography). Then when you come back to the day job or whatever work you have to do, it’s easier to find that comedic distance.

Shawna Lemay, Participate Joyfully

Like many people, I’ve been experimenting with using AI tools to write. In one way or another, AI has been part of my writing practice for decades. I begin using Ray Kurzweil’s “Poet’s Assistant” ages and ages ago after hearing Christopher Dewdney speaking about it. You could feed it a corpus of a poet’s work (I liked Blake’s) and then add another corpus (I’d feed it old manuscripts of mine) and then you could get it to generate entire poems, or, even better, to complete sentences. I found it particularly interesting to prompt it with words or phrases that confounded it. “Underwear” isn’t in the Blake poems, for example.

I’ve often used Google Translate, and an N+7 generator, running next through them multiple times and generally trying to exploit the strange corners of the software.

Lately, I’ve been exploring ChatGPT and GPT-3. With any AI, the trick is to figure out how to give it productive prompts which cause it to respond in interesting ways and hopefully generate something of use. I’m not a purist–I’m happy to take output and edit it. The first example below (and set to music in the video above) The Ocean was created without any significant editing — a couple of tiny nips and tucks. The second piece, The Leaves was more substantially edited and I merged two different GPT-3 prompts and results together. I love the idea that you give a prompt to an AI and then the result is kind of like a prompt back to you.

Gary Barwin, The Ocean, The Leaves and AI

How many times
do two words go

bump-bump
before it means

something,
the old monk asked.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (389)

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a ghost, sometimes with a joke. Although before that, before the immediate inciting incident, there is a slow and steady accumulation of fragments: overheard phrases, unbidden ideas, resonant texts, facts that scream to be made into metaphors. I spend my time moving through the world and collecting these little fragments, jotting them down in notebooks, suspending them from the rafters of my brain where they can sway and sing together.

And then, the inciting incident: A hypothetical question about eating your clone, for example. That gives the fragments something to coalesce around. It gives them a shared premise. It illuminates their similarities, heightens their differences. They all begin casting light and shadow on one another, melting into one another, gesturing toward other fragments, morphing into strange new entities with many faces. It’s all quite chaotic. 

So what you need to do, then, is find that line or phrase to anchor them – like binding a spirit to a cursed object.

Matthew Kosinski : part five (Thomas Whyte)

but when I stop and listen

I realise I am not
the only interruption ~

a passing train, the cries
of children in the yard

of a school half a mile away
and then in the next moment

the peals of the school bell
calling us all to order

and I am a child
in another schoolyard

in another landscape
bouncing on my heels

turning towards this future
I have yet to imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ It is so still today

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: surreal squirrels, underwear mindfulness, insouciant exclamations, missing hearts, the beyondward, and more. Enjoy.


The mind leaps. The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window. Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest. Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

Jill Pearlman, How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

I have placed stones on gravestones. I’ve also lifted stones, cupped them in my hands, felt their heft, that they are made of the earth as well as archetype. Something bigger. Whenever I lift a stone I think of history, of those who have died, perhaps buried beneath headstones, of those who have been lost. Sorrow turned to stone? A petrified ritual? Charles Simic evokes the mystery of a stone in his famous and mysteriously named poem, “Stone”: I have seen sparks fly out/When two stones are rubbed/…Just enough light to make out/The strange writings, the star-charts/On the inner walls.”

When I lift a stone, I think of those who have no headstone, those who are buried beneath stones only in unmarked earth. The parents of that great-grandfather after whom we named our son, my great grandparents, were shot in a small town outside of the city of Panevėžys, Lithuania during the Holocaust. Through archival research, I found details of their death in a registry. The name of the town. The approximate date. My grandfather was told about their murder years later by a drunk guest at a Bar Mitzvah in South Africa, came home and told my teenage father. Simic: “Let somebody else become a dove/Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth./I am happy to be a stone.”

Gary Barwin, RACING FUTURITY

ivy berries
the snow birds are shitting
on a blue buddha

Jim Young [no title]

There are loads of recordings of Alan Watts on the internet, so I’m not quite sure where I got this from, except he’s talking about haiku, and how good haiku exhibit ‘the virtue of knowing when to stop’. Having looked at some notes I’d hoped would become a haiku, I realise that I don’t need to keep reworking them, trying to substitute ‘abreuvoir’ for trough for example, or adding the description ‘galvanized’. What I actually need to do is leave the poem alone!

The problem is, even as I write this, there’s still something seductive about the word abreuvoir!

Julie Mellor, The art of knowing when to stop

Why dialect? This is the only sonnet in the collection written throughout in dialect. Others hint at the Northern way of speaking through their grammar. The tradition has been to write humorous verse when you write in dialect. I want to show that dialect can be used for weightier subjects, too. I use it for its immediacy, the sinews of its storytelling, and knack for conveying emotion. It gives a sense of belonging, of history. The alliteration at the beginning hints at the Norse origins of the language. It stands witness to the event. It gives the sonnet an authenticity and a sense of place.

Nigel Kent, Drop in by Paul Brookes

David’s interest in wordplay began at a very early age. “In first grade,” he told me, “I dropped the ball on my first show-and-tell and forgot to bring anything to class. But I had just read a book about palindromes and loved them, so when it was my time to stand in front of the class I talked about that. Afterwards my teacher took me to see the principal… because he loved wordplay too. And he showed me some wordplay puzzles from a GAMES magazine he had in his office. […]”

In my end of year reflections last year I wrote about the positive aspects of Twitter communities. An enthusiastic and welcoming community has formed around David’s Scrabblegram posts, including a monthly challenge and contributions by wordplay enthusiasts from around the world. 

David makes writing Scrabblegrams seem effortless, but they are, I’ve discovered, very hard! If you don’t have access to a set of Scrabble tiles, there’s a helpful online tool; even so, I’ve spent hours and hours trying to construct a simple, coherent, Scrabblegram. 

Write one now for fun – radiate humour, be quirky, odd, imageable, erotic, sad, scintillating, zany, deep, explosive. Just have a go!

Marian Christie, 100 letter tiles – the joy of Scrabblegrams

“Excitement comes from being lazy and fun loving. O’Hara worked hard, but he also took it easy. His Collected Poems are a manifesto of the high aesthetic rewards that accrue from a life—albeit a tragically abbreviated life—of taking easiness as the gold standard. Like Warhol’s professed love of easy art (or art that was easy to make), O’Hara’s love of easeful production stood in ironic contrast to the uneasy intensity that electrifies his work and complicates its every emotional posture, threading melancholy and ambivalence and the threat of self-loss into the most apparently insouciant exclamations.” 

That’s from a lyric essay by the poet-scholar Wayne Koestenbaum. I just taught it, asking the students to choose quotes they wanted to discuss, and the above paragraph was a favorite. O’Hara, like Allen Ginsberg, made his name in the 1950s, when poets were especially interested in improvisation, process, and generally distinguishing themselves from Protestant-work-ethic-obsessed besuited capitalist businessmen. I realized, as we discussed O’Hara’s poems and Koestenbaum’s take on them, what a far cry this is from how I hear any poet discuss poetry today. Poets talk about being busy and stressed; about how disrespected we feel by markets that pay nothing and send us belated, cold-hearted form rejections; how complex our craft is. At least, my friends and I do. Even first drafts, which once came easily to me, don’t seem to, lately. I’m interrupted by self-questioning. Am a digging deeply enough into difficult emotions or ideas because, as O’Hara agreed, this can be a terrible world? Are the stakes of this piece, I ask midstream or before even starting, really high enough for me to spend so much time on it? (What a tellingly economic verb for devoting time: spending it.)

Lesley Wheeler, Easy poetry

“What is a guinea?” a student in my seventh-grade English class asked recently. We had just read that the rich old lady Miss Havisham was giving the young Pip twenty-five guineas as a premium for apprenticing him to a blacksmith in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I explained that a guinea was one pound and one shilling. There was much more that could have been said, but I did not know then that the name of the coin was directly derived from Europe’s economic exploitation of Africa, in particular West Africa, through extractive capitalism. 

And even if I did know, would I have paused our study of this great Bildungsroman to take my students down this sidetrack of European colonialism? There are so many wonderful details, of plot, character, and language, in Great Expectations to lavish our attention on, and there is so little time to look at them all. The guinea is not an unimportant detail if we remember that Miss Havisham’s fortune came from not only landed property but also the family brewery, the same business that kept the English working class sloshed and servile. Indeed, Pip grows up and redeems his sin of ambition by working in ship insurance in Cairo to lubricate the sea-lanes of the British empire. Class oppression is joined with imperial domination in the guinea.

This is a constant dilemma when teaching an Eurocentric text: because it transposes an important history into minor details, a teacher seems to need special justification or to pursue a special agenda if they dwell on the margins of the text, whereas the main “story,” of bourgeois personal development, appears to be free of ideology. By not spending a minute on the guinea, I have missed the opportunity of teaching my students to read more critically. More, I have missed the opportunity of showing my students the importance of reading texts that do not center Europe.

Jee Leong Koh, What Is a Guinea?

Both Kevin and I had manuscripts accepted by Salmon Poetry at the same time, circa 2000.  His first collection The Boy with No Face appeared in 2005.  Though he went on to publish many more books, both poetry and essay collections, it is this initial one that still resonates for me the most, as it is the most personal in terms of my own memories of him.  So many of the poems in that collection I knew first from the poetry readings, the little magazines, the work shared around the bar or lounge or coffeeshop table.  We remained in touch over the years and decades.  Kevin and his partner Susan DuMars hosted me for an Over the Edge reading (the series they cofounded in Galway in the early 2000s).  I attended others at which I did not read.  Our communication had long since become warm, its tone familiar; we were old friends who, even if we did not talk or email regularly, could immediately lapse back into a mutual understanding.  That kind of friendship, rooted in but going beyond our investments in poetry (and politics), is rare indeed.

I last saw Kevin just this past November (2022), in his room on the Claddagh Ward of University Hospital Galway (“the Regional, to the old heads,” as Kevin clarified as we were making the arrangements of day and time).  In his battle with leukemia, complicated by sarcoidosis, he was stalwart, braver than I imagine I could be, still deploying his very wry sense of humor, but also so sincere at the same time.  At this point, there was much hope; he was doing better.  It was a great two-hour or so conversation.  I will miss him deeply.  One thing I will say is that I think he would want his memory to stir us to action and to work, to write and to agitate, to fight against, as he put it in “The Leader,” “the sort of man who hasn’t read / Mein Kampf just yet. But he’ll be here, / like the old man buying The Racing Post / who growls about ‘invaders’ or the skinhead / with the petrol bomb whose hour is striking now” — or against, as the title of another poem in The Boy with No Face has it, “The Hidden Hand” of free-market economics, the capitalist interests which underlie both liberalism and the resurgent Right, whose hour is indeed seemingly striking now.

Michael S. Begnal, i.m. Kevin Higgins

Scene: the Brookline High School Library, many plastic chairs set out in rows for this special event.

It was 1973 or 1974 and there was a poet in the library! Could you be alive and still be a poet? I remember thinking that she looked like she could be someone’s mother (she was) and I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed by this realization.

That is, until she started reading her poems. 

I remember being amazed at how clear each poem appeared in the air, as in: shimmering with layers of nuance. Linda Pastan made it look so easy! I was sixteen years old and just beginning to consider poetry I might write (sadly, over my desire to be a novelist).

I met Linda Pastan again at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1993. Twenty years later I was still flirting with a life in poetry. She was the poet whom I asked to study with and she was the poet that I was lucky enough to meet one on one.

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan: My First Living Poet in the Flesh

2023 marks 25 years since Peter Mortimer’s Iron Press published The Iron Book of British Haiku, still available on the Iron website, here. It was co-edited by David Cobb and Martin Lucas, both of whom are no longer with us. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it sold over 5,000 copies. It certainly found its way into many bookshops and for years was usually the only English-language haiku book available.

It contained 73 haiku poets, including two of the four who participated in a kasen renga which was appended after the individual poets. Of the 73, I reckon just 14 are still writing haiku and at least three of those 14 have ceased seeking publication for their output. A good few of the others have since died – Norman Barraclough, Seamus Heaney (!), Ken Jones, Stuart Quine and David Walker among them. That’s unsurprising, because in those early days of the British Haiku Society (BHS), which had only been founded eight years before, the average age of the membership must’ve been well over 60, and I was usually the youngest attendee at events.

At the time, I was chuffed to bits to be in the anthology, even though I only had two haiku (both about snails!) in it. I went to the launch at a bookshop whose name and exact location in London escapes me, and which was memorable for a hypnotic reading by Mimi Khalvati, one of three poetry ‘heavyweights’ (alongside famous Seamus and Anthony Thwaite) who were shoehorned into the book to add some clout. Of course, haiku readings are mercifully brief.

Matthew Paul, On The Iron Book of British Haiku

Friendship is the theme of this year’s Poetry Week, celebrated in The Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium through 400+ events. It starts on Thursday 26 January. Miriam Van Hee (B) and Hester Knibbe (NL), two poets who have been friends for almost 40 years were commissioned to write five poems each for a book. In a recent interview they said that trust and curiosity are key elements for a friendship to endure and last.

Anyone who spends over 21,50 Euro on poetry books during Poetry Week will be given a copy. It’s not hard to spend that sort of money, as poetry books are expensive in The Netherlands!

Fokkina McDonnell, Friendship

I walk peripheries to the half-way mark where he meets me,
having done some joyous, icy laps, and we go back together
across the deepest parts. I listen to the ice beneath his wheels,
my feet: how mostly there is safe hush, how sometimes it slushes,
or creaks, crackles, even, and trust in skill does not obviate frisson
of fear, the need to move to more solid spans. Sure, metaphor, easy;
but also literal—we know can break through, hypothermic in seconds,
unable to save ourselves, or each other, if we are not smart: no iteration
of water can be underestimated. The cold is a bright expanse, a fixed
and green translucence of inches, miles.

JJS, Between the Woods and Frozen Lake

I’ve been watching John Vervaeke’s new series, After Socrates. I appreciate Vervaeke very much, and I’m finding the series very worth watching.

My problem is that I roundly dislike Socrates, and have from the moment I met him. He is a humble-braggart and a busybody, minding everyone’s business but his own: on his own showing he neglected his family and let them fall into poverty while he spent his time gadflying about town and picking quarrels with anyone reputed to be wise. What kind of conduct is that? 

And so often, such pettifogging, nitpicky arguments! Such sophomoric glee in mere triumphs of words! That sort of thing is forgivable in an undergraduate, but a man in his prime ought to have moved on. He should be listening to the heart by then, not to the words: and he should care more about the person he’s speaking to than about scoring points in a debate. But Socrates just loves to win arguments, and to rub his opponents’ noses in their defeats. I have been trying to read him fairly. Starting again, and making every assumption I can in his favor.

Dale Favier, After Socrates

It took me far more time to start running again than the surgeon had suggested, undoubtedly a response to grief as well as physical healing. And it was only a year after Mam died that I woke up one morning, suddenly lighter, able at last to process the details of my post-surgery pathology report, and, after more than a year, to feel grateful again, for life, for each day. A gift. 

I’m back to my pre-surgery level of running now: 7 and 8 miles with my women’s running group. Aiming to build this year to 10. Running on my own a couple of times a week too, along the fields and lanes of the Kent countryside, or across the beach and mountainsides of Port Talbot. 

Those solo runs feel as if I am freeing my mind from a leash, letting it roam into the landscapes around me, and, at the same time, watching it settle, internally, to understandings and insights. Sometimes answers. Sometimes more questions.

And sometimes those runs give rise to words that feel worth sharing: I run/write. 

Lynne Rees, run/write

I was getting along fine with my new year’s routines of morning yoga, coffee, reading & writing, work, random housework, and various meetings and commitments, when I became mindful of my underwear drawer. It was looking pretty sparse! Hadn’t I just laundered the bedsheets? Um, yes, but then days/weeks went by. So how mindful am I, anyway?

But you know what? I have already sent out two poetry submissions, and it’s still the middle of January. I don’t think I got going on poetry submissions until February of last year. So, poetry or clean underwear, which will it be?

Kathleen Kirk, The Yoga of Laundry

I thought when I finished my course (I finished my course!!!) and handed in that last assignment I’d have more time to do things that had been shuffled aside these last three months and for most of 2022 really. But here I am three weeks later and I feel like I’m still struggling to get on with things. I’m unsure if it’s a lack of motivation, the lack of a whip encouraging me to move forward or the fact that we’re still buried under a dark and snowy winter here in Finland that’s holding me back. […]

I have a pile of poetry books to read, but they require more focus than I’ve had recently, so I hope to get back into reading them more now that my course is out of the way. 

2023 is a year of getting back into the things I love. The course was for my work. I enjoyed it, but it was more to help me move forward in my job and do better for my school kids. Writing is for me, so I hope to focus on that more. A few plans are crawling into motion, so I’ll see how they pan out and keep looking for new opportunities. 

Gerry Stewart, 2022 Writing Review

There’s a terrific poem up at The Spectator today (see here) by Ian Harrow, a poet who’s new to me. However, the shocking detail was the appearance of brackets after his name. A quick google led me to another excellent article from the same journal, written by him in February 2022, titled The Delicate Business of Writing Poetry (see here), which states..

Living, as Clive James put it, under a life sentence, and having refused chemotherapy, I find I respond to the time issue in contradictory ways.

And then a further google brought me to his website, with some examples of his poems (see here). Moreover, it also explains that he published several collections and pamphlets in his lifetime, while…

Since the mid-70s his work has appeared in a wide range of periodicals and magazines including the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, Oxford Magazine, Stand, Poetry Wales, Other Poetry, Literary Review, London Magazine, Archipelago, Poetry Ireland Review, Shop Magazine and New Walk.

All this has made me reflect once more on the fleeting nature of poetic fame.

Matthew Stewart, Ian Harrow, poet (1945-2022)

She doesn’t believe that the dead can’t hear her.
Don’t they live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
Who lay with her on satin sheets, who wed her?
Fish in the shallows, moths in the net of a lamp.

Luisa A. Igloria, Repetition Pantoum

The Harm Field opens with a prose sequence, ‘Leavings’ a memoir of sorts in three parts, the first focused on experiences of hostility in London in, I guess, the 1970s, the second primarily memories of childhood and the third a looking back on Ireland from the same position of exile that informs Terra Terra, a ‘homesickness for places that were never yours’. A new element that intrudes here is the question of language, and specifically the loss or lack of Irish as a native tongue, as in a mamoty of the narrator’s mother teaching him and his brother ‘the numbers’:

…a-hain, a-doe, a-tray, a-kather, a-cooig, a-shock, a-shay, the rest escapes me. Lisping in numbers. The road dips and turns, if I remember right, the architect’s modernist bungalow dominating the bend. I left on the ferry and come back by plane. Sometimes I think the language that I never learnt still weighs on my tongue, thickening my Ts behind my teeth.

Again, the reader is struck by the complex web that lies behind this apparently simple memory: the striking conjunction of modernism and the rural belies any straightforward narrative of unsophisticated home versus cosmopolitan exile; this contrasts with he clear evidence of change in the narrator’s fortunes (ferry/plane); the rich inter-relationship between the language not learnt and the language that is the narrator’s professional concern. We are, as in Terra Terra, in a world of necessary ambiguity.

Billy Mills, Terra Terra and Bar Null by David Lloyd: a Review

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection that has the climate emergency firmly in its sights, but it’s not a didactic, handwringing swansong that writes humanity off completely. Politicians are fair game, their reluctance to make real, lasting change explored through satire. Oil swaggers in and drifts out like Trump. Julian Bishop seeds hope. It’s not too late (yet). We can each make small changes to bring out larger wins. It entertains.

Emma Lee, “We Saw It All Happen” Julian Bishop (Fly on the Wall) – book review

Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing! Edited by Julie E. Blomeke and Dustin Brookshire, the volume contains 54 poets (including yours truly) rhapsodizing over the cultural icon. 

I’ll be giving my first in-person reading in nearly two years at the Atlanta launch of the anthology on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. hosted by Georgia Center for the Book at the Decatur Library. Please join us! 

Collin Kelley, Let Me Say This; A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology out now!

Set in three lettered section-sequences—“A,” “B” and “A’”—lyrics of her latest, Pink Waves (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2022), exist in a kind of rush, one that nearly overwhelms through a wash or wave of sequenced text; a sequence of lyric examinations that come up to the end of each poem and retreat, working back up to the beginning of a further and lengthier crest. The first sequence, for example, offers an accumulation of eight poems, each opening returning to the beginning, with the line “it was a wave all along.” Each piece in sequence builds upon that singular line as a kind of mantra, rhythmically following repeating variations of what had come prior and adding, akin to a childhood memory game. As the fourth poem of the opening sequence begins: “it was a wave all along // a passing moment reveals itself to have cued the long apology // i sat with a friend and the loss of her child // sliding between the heat of now and surrender [.]” The repetitions, something rife throughout her work to date, provides not only a series of rippling echoes throughout, but allows for the ability to incorporate variety without reducing, and perhaps even expanding, the echo.

rob mclennan, Sawako Nakayasu, Pink Waves

I love the escape TikTok offers me. I turn to it for laughs — full belly laughs — and deeply love the comical way TikTok-ers highlight our flaws as human beings. People are creative, funny and often generous. And, when carefully curated (as is the case with all social platforms), I find it delightful.

After downloading the app and joining a couple years ago, I enjoyed TikTok exclusively from the sidelines, scrolling but never posting. However, in August I took a huge leap and published (gasp!) several videos. You can check out my profile here: @caroleebennett_poet.

At age 50, I’m ancient for the platform, so why (dear god, why LOL) did I do it? One word: community. As with this blog and my other social media accounts, I was interested in creating and supporting literary community — and having a little fun along the way. In that same spirit, I want to share some intel with you, including what I’ve found there (so far) in terms of writing community and how I personally use the platform.

Carolee Bennett, poetry tiktok: writing community, lit mags, presses, tips and more

I was talking to my little brother this week and he asked me what my goals were for my upcoming book. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, because honestly, I hadn’t really thought a lot in those terms. Isn’t creating the book, finding a publisher, and helping the book get into the world enough of a goal? But of course, my little brother is very practical and ambitious and wants to know what I want to happen with Flare, Corona. I guess when I close my eyes and dream, I hope to connect with a bigger audience, hope to have some good reviews in good places (whatever we think those are right now), hope to, yes, have some book sales (part of that whole reaching a bigger audience thing). I hope that people with MS or difficult diagnoses will find some comfort or fellowship in these poems. I hope it wins a big book prize, too! Do we dare to hope for big media coverage—a radio or television appearance, or being picked by a big book club?

I actually posted this question on Facebook and heard lots of people’s views on whether or not we should even have goals for our poetry books, what they might be for each person, and how overwhelming it can be for poets (who often want to separate the art from the promotion part) to even think about what they are actually hoping to have happen. It can feel overly ambitious to even dream of some of these things. Some just want to focus on the work, which I totally understand, and totally reject even the idea of having goals for a book. But I think it helps me to imagine a future for my little book, that goes beyond just me and my friends and family. And my little brother’s right in some ways—if you have no goals, do you think you might act differently? Plan differently?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in California Quarterly, Book Galleys/ARCs, Winery Book Club Report, and Setting Goals for…Poetry Books?

There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Returning to the Light

What I want to
say is caught like
wind in the grasses,

the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (386)

Yesterday I got my hair professionally cut for the first time since 2020, cut and highlighted.  The hair stylist also blew it completely dry and straight, which is unusual for me.  I was surprised by how much lighter and bouncier my hair felt when we were done.

As with all activities that I once did pre-Covid but never resumed, it felt a bit odd to be back.  It was a morning appointment, so it wasn’t as packed as it could have been.  There was plexiglass around the hair washing stations, which I hope they keep.  The woman next to me coughed, and it was nice not to worry about that.

While I waited for the highlights to sink into my hair, I read Celeste Ng’s latest book.  Later, when I finished it, I made this Facebook post:  “If you need a novel that reminds you of the power of words and language, that convinces you that you do believe in the power of words and language, I highly recommend Celeste Ng’s latest, “Our Missing Hearts”–it also will remind you of the power of love, the power of perseverance, the reasons why librarians may yet save us all, and how poetry can surprise us. And it’s an interesting commentary on modern life, even as it reads like a dystopia, in the time honored tradition of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler.”

It is an amazing book.  I read it because my mom had checked it out from the library and saved it for me, knowing I would be here and could finish it.  I’m so glad I did.  One of the main characters is a poet, the kind of poet that most people are, having one slim volume of poems published by a very small press, not much in the way of sales–until it all blows up in so many unpredictable ways.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Back to School

Ah, the challenges of staying organized! I spent this morning finally starting the process of reorganizing my poetry files–the paper ones, which I keep in various arrangements of document boxes, accordion file boxes, and an index card box. This is stage one of a project I have procrastinated on for far too long. The digital files will be the next step, assuming I actually complete this stage. Being something of a Luddite when it comes to digital organization methods, I have no idea how to manage that stage yet; paper documents, however, I understand.

January’s tenor usually strikes me as a bit dull, damp, chilly, dark, and generally unmotivating. My mood concurs. It’s therefore rather heartening that I find myself up to this task–and that the task itself has given me a sense of accomplishment in more ways than one.

Ann E. Michael, Oh, the mundanity!

This week, I was able to finish up the last of the poems for the smallish series I started at the end of last summer after not touching it for the last few months of the year. It’s a strange, surreal little romp through romantic history and intimacy and kind of just a little bit of humor and nonsensicality I appreciate.  it also goes dark a few times, but I love it all the more for it. I considered possibly sending some of them out into the world, but realize that my desire to send out work is even less than normal. To write it, yes, that is returning, but I also feel like I serve it much better by just sharing things on social media on occasion.

This may no doubt change, since my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the literary world, or at least the space I personally inhabit in that world, my little corner of it, changes on the day to day. One one hand, I love journals–both publishing in them, reading them, and for their sense of community building. On the other hand, I get impatient with the process of building submissions and waiting (not even the rejection part really, since that is woven into the process) but just the work of it for very little gains even when you’re successful (and paid markets, while they exist are still tiny bits of income at best.)  Ie, the rewards are nice and one of the major building blocks of community, but I begin to feel less and less over time that they are worth the energy, especially when time is short, of researching guidelines and keeping track of open reading periods and keeping tabs on submissions, to the point that there is almost a sense of relief when I don’t have anything out in submission to fret over or keep track of.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new projects

Why is poetry important?

For me, poetry – and all art, really – is about possibility. It’s about expanding possibility in the world by introducing new forms, new ideas, and new experiences. I’m not really interested in poetry as a form of self-expression; I’m interested in it as a site of ongoing public cultural and intellectual invention. A site of communal, continual meaning-making. 

I have this concept of something I call “the beyondward.” It’s essentially a metaphorical, metaphysical realm representing all the possibilities and meanings that exist beyond our immediate realities. We are hemmed in by a capitalist economy, by sham democracies, by debt and alienation and ideology. Mark Fisher called it “capitalist realism,” the sense that there is no alternative to the world we’ve constructed.

But I think there is an alternative, and it exists in the “beyondward” – the epistemic space that houses all the other ways we could arrange our lives. And I don’t just mean our personal lives – where to work, who to spend time with, what matters to me – but also our public lives – how to arrange the economy so everyone’s needs are met, how to build a truly free and fair system of governance, what matters to all of us together on this planet. 

I think poetry is important because it’s one of the ways we can all contribute to the beyondward, to the stock of possibilities and meanings available there. By playing with language and pushing it to new places, we can create opportunities for ourselves to encounter the world in new ways. We can invent forms that help all of us think new thoughts and feel new things and arrive at new meanings. Those new thoughts, those new encounters, can expand our horizons of possibility. And then it becomes easier, bit by bit, to believe that the world could – and should – be different, better. 

Look, I’m a socialist, and that heavily informs my ideas about art and poetry. And being a poet informs my politics, too: It is because poetry pointed me toward the beyondward in the first place that I began to think a transformative politics was possible. 

But I need to emphasize that I don’t think poetry is important only because it serves a political project. Rather, I think it’s important because it – and all art – is one of the ways in which we human beings build a shared intellectual world together – i.e., my “beyondward.” It’s important to have that world and to tend it carefully. The more thriving and full of possibility our beyondward is, the more thriving and full of possibility our own lives are.

Matthew Kosinski : part four (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

To our astonishment a sleek black car with tinted windows and diplomatic numberplates stopped to give us a ride. The driver was an Italian returning to work at the embassy in London after a visit home. At Calais we bought our ferry tickets and shared a sandwich for lunch. The amiable diplomat, with us two dirty hippies in the back seat, was waved through Customs and Immigration at Dover. He dropped us off at an Underground station in central London. The record time for hitchhiking from Istanbul to London was said to be three days. We were happy to have done it in five.

We arrived at Martin’s parents’ house in Woodford Green late that afternoon, heads full of stories, pockets empty.

[image] This is a book of twelve Turkish map-fold pages that I made to contain the story. I later gave it to Martin, my travelling-companion.

Ama Bolton, Twelve Border Crossings

On the walls of Angkor Wat, the
extraordinary comes alive. A confluence of art and
faith and the subtlety of being. A place of worship.

A place of submission. Of belief. Of hope. All that
is vulnerable inside us is on display. All that we are
capable of, surrendered to a greater abstraction.
At dawn, colours are smeared across the clouds
like a child’s finger painting, the temple inverted

in reflecting lily pools.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 30

In Bangalore, it seemed that nothing was in stasis: things were either under construction or deconstructing themselves. Huge buildings going up one brick at a time. I watched a man hanging from a harness placing one brick after the other. It looked like slow, meticulous work. I can’t fathom how many bricks it would take to complete the high-rise apartment building. I’ve never considered him before: the bricklayer. How long will it take? What goes through his mind, brick by brick, day by week by month. Does he look down at the people, the cows, the tuk-tuks? Can he hear it all from up there? Does he feel a sense of ownership when the work is done and the millionaires move in?

There were buildings still standing, but their edifices had been sheered away somehow, like full sized doll-houses. The loose wires and fibers holding chunks of concrete reminded me of damaged spiderwebs, or heirloom lace too fragile to use, too laden with memories to let go of.

Running to the lake, I sometimes pass some relatively new apartment buildings. Along the path there are remnants of old piles that probably propped up a previous railway track. They outline flower beds; they are trimmed like trees, restored as “ruins”. I have never considered before the inauthenticity of their decay. The affectation of urbanity. A prettied-up representation of the “past”.

Most of all: the illusion of a current state of stasis, the illusion of a period of decay that is the “past” – we are the present continuous.

We don’t contemplate a foreign future.

I can’t imagine the future because I am trying so hard to make sense of – to take control of – to understand the now.

Ren Powell, So, not Artaud’s spurt of blood

I think about the light that bright orb contains, the orange. I think about my skull, and all the light in there. The way an orange casts a shadow, the way it glows. I’m thinking about the importance of staying calm in the chaos. I’m thinking about your urgencies; I’m thinking about mine. I’m thinking about opening up my heart like one opens up an orange. It has to be this way, the light, the opening, the shadow cast by the skin cast off. The clear moments. Then the darkness, again. But the light.

Always the blisters of bright juicy light.

Shawna Lemay, Equanimity and Oranges

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 2

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: trees, ghosts, good questions, dead poets, and more. Enjoy.


Two trees stand out like postcards I might have posted to myself from nearly a year ago if I’d listened to the prophesy. 

The bulbous ends of pollarded trees used to fascinate me when I was a child and the woman’s head, so sculpted among the stumps, is wise and collected. She maintains her calm. 

The ghost tree was in a wood below ramparts built high on a hill in one of those small towns in Provence that defy cliffs and sheer drops. The trees around it were conifers, evergreens, but somehow this silver birch grew into a landmark by a bend in the path. Comrade trees, I report to you that bend in the path and all who look after others who are standing there. 

Jackie Wills, To comrade tree

I awake to dread, and the cold winter light
walking its fingers down the wall. 

There is a little comfort in the thought:
maybe God has called you to this task

not because you can do it, but because you can’t.

Dale Favier, Comfort

I was on a journey, a memory check. After a poetry reading in Baton Rouge, I drove back to Missouri by way of East Louisiana State Hospital. Most folks just called it Jackson, same name as the nearest town. Many weekends during elementary school and junior high, Daddy and I drove there to visit my mother. It seemed to take hours to get there—turns out it’s just 33 miles from our old house. I don’t know how often or how long we stayed. This trip, I hoped the visit would help me with details. I can’t ask Daddy. He just says the place was torture. Sometimes he cries.

I’m still not sure how much I want to know. But when Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022), my first book, was accepted for publication, I knew I wanted to read the poems in Baton Rouge and stop at Jackson. The collection centers on my mother’s mental illness, which was diagnosed within a few weeks of my birth. The poems explore our relationship—tender yet volatile—as well as psychiatric treatments of the latter part of the 20th century. She was diagnosed in 1959. Mama narrowly missed the ice bath, insulin coma, lobotomy. But she was just in time for (what I consider) rudimentary electroshock therapy and Thorazine. Lots of Thorazine. That I was angry at psychiatry rather than my mother surprised me. Not until I was preparing the manuscript did I fully recognize the shift in my emotions.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Old Colony 5 Road

In the city at the end of her mind it’s minus forty-five degrees.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you
there are rules for walking between trees,
rules for carrying a spider out of the fire, how
laughter fades under the weight of the heavy water of desire.
One by one pilgrims leap into the hole in the frozen lake.
As they fall they make the sign of the cross.
Atonement. At one ment. Take what you need to be free.
She remembers the priest called it debauchery.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you trees know
what they’re doing, know how to move, which way to sway,
until it’s time for them to fall.
We become forgettable, forgotten, she says.
Inbox Zero, even if there’s a signal.
There never were any heroes, not then anyway, just
urgent whispering at the top of the stairs.
What did they want? she says.
I never found out what they wanted.

Bob Mee, THE CRACKS IN THE EARTH (IN EVERYTHING) SCREAM PLEASE FORGIVE ME

On its own at the end of a line, “missing” invokes the ongoing history of femicide along the US / Mexico border. Then the latter “missing / fingers” rings out both in its evocation of a musician’s physical absence but also its implication of violence.

Even without knowledge of Juárez, one reaches the end of the poem with a haunted sense of something more than music being lost here. This haunted sense is what grounds the poem in its urgency. All the distancing through image and metaphor makes the city and its history all the more present, and offers the speaker a chance to voice the ultimate difficulty implied via the speculation of the title.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 011223

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?

All my books, in their own way, dwell on and participate in a variety of concerns, from identity to violence to ecology. I find it close to impossible to read any work of literature and not uncover such concerns, if not simply see them on the surface, the exception being those writings that go out of their way to demystify just about everything—and even then, they still speak to something outside the work itself.

I’ve read and taught ancient literature for many years, and those works reveal that our many of our concerns today are old as dirt. Some are new, obviously, but if they are described generally enough, it becomes clear that we’ve been dealing with similar problems as the ancients, just differently. I’m not 100% sure, for example, that my children, if they choose to raise children of their own, can even live where we now live. Another way to state this concern: our world is falling apart, is fragile. We live in Houston, and there’s a strong possibility that in a few decades, the geography will change so dramatically, because of the climate crisis, that the city as we know—portions of it, at least—may not be inhabitable or else may be too dangerous, too unpredictable to live in. It already feels that way. Only a few years ago, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on parts of Houston—that’s 33 trillion gallons of water, in about a week. Places that have never flooded, not since records began being made, were under water. That’s a concern. But is it new? No.

I’ve also always been very concerned with political violence, the history of which has unfortunately touched the lives of my family all too closely. And that kind of violence, from the perspective of the last few decades, seems ever more likely. It was always present in my family’s homeland (Lebanon), and in my hometown (Detroit), and it seems to be more pervasive today, more spread out, targeting more people, more groups, and the rules have changed, the technology on which violence thrives has become more sophisticated.

The list of concerns goes on and on.

What I won’t do, as far poetry goes is allow the concerns to take the reins. I’m not writing theory, I’m not writing newspaper stories, or history, or memoir, or political manifestos. Yes, genres blend. Yes, disciplines inform each other. Yes, the boundaries are porous, and at times they disappear. But I write poetry, which is to say that’s what I have in mind when I am making a poem. This informs not only what I do and how I do it, but also what I knowingly resist.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Hayan Charara

At the heart of the poem is the symbol of ‘fire’, which is as important to other poems in the collection, such as The brown berries have turned black, Amazon and Ashes. The symbol is developed by Clive in such a way that it resonates with a rich complexity of meanings. Fire he suggests has the capacity for good: it is one of the bounties of nature. It brings us warmth and safety from danger: ‘the campfire … keeps the dark at bay/ as it prowls, hungry, indiscriminate, waiting to eat us’. It can also guide us or direct us, like a ‘beacon, a torch, / a mighty Pharos raised to guide ships to harbour across tumultuous seas raised against us.’ Yet in humankind’s hands it has become destructive: ‘sacred groves we now cut down/ to feed the fire.’ In our hands it destroys because is fed by ignorance and greed. We are blind to nature’s beauties and bounty because our minds are ‘filled with smoke and fire’ so that ‘we have stopped being able to see miracles’. The effect of this is to think ‘it is reasonable to consume each other as indiscriminately as we consumed the world around us/ with no regard for what we damaged or destroyed along the way/…this is the way of things in the age of fire…/as the fire consumes without replenishing its source’. There is both greed here and a recklessness, a disregard for the consequences of our actions. We have the knowledge and understanding to be different and to help us find a more productive way forward. Yet this type of  ‘fire’ is directed towards serving the consumption of goods and the pursuit of material wealth (‘the fire was honed until it became hot/ and narrow enough to cut through metal,/ great metal sheets with which we clad the ships of our mind/ as they traversed new realms of knowledge/ welded fast and tight’) and to engaging in conflict (‘we choose to see a fire/in the same we  choose to see a blade/ hidden in a lump of virgin flint/ see the shaft of a spear in every pine.’?

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the end of the age of fire’ by Peter Clive

Every once in awhile a book comes along that makes me totally rethink my received or assumed knowledge by shaking up the usual perceptions. The most recent book to have wrought such a rethinking on my part is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The effusive blurbs–and there are many–on the MacMillan page the preceding link takes you to strike me as accurate; on every page or two I find myself saying, “I have to look that up! I never heard about that! I need to read that book/author/article!”

Beyond the illuminating information, though, what excites me most about this book is how revelatory it is concerning human possibilities. These authors (unfortunately Graeber died in 2020) are drily funny and unrepentantly anarchists among the scholars of so-called pre-history. The research they gather and present, and their theories based upon what we now know about ancient peoples, upend the evolution of human society that I was taught and that seemed so logical I never thought to question–the foragers/hunter-gatherers/agriculturalists/city-makers “development” of human societies and cultures that Rousseau’s philosophical state-of-nature idea essentially founded. I was aware that archeological discoveries have been found that challenge the narrative, but I wasn’t aware of how many of these are being examined and the amazing data they reveal. I was aware that views of indigenous peoples, past and present, are most often through a lens of “Western civilization” and tainted by the assumptions of researchers but was not alert to my own blind spots and received assumptions.

Which makes me pretty much a human being, right? We do tend to short-cut to our beliefs and accept the “logical information” we learn from parents, teachers, and other authorities. Then, we use that framework to test out the logic of other assumptions. Sometimes that framework is not as strong, correct, or universal as we thought. And it feels marvelously disruptive, sometimes, to buck the system, make art, behave differently–illogically–and find that new ways of thinking about the world can be fun.

Ann E. Michael, Received assumptions

White erasers in different sizes and shapes are indispensable tools for charcoal work – they allow you to erase large areas, for sure, but also to go backwards and forwards, working with both the charcoal and the eraser. The main use is to lighten areas or pick out highlights and create texture. And you must work on good paper that has some “tooth” to catch all the little particles of charcoal, but will stand up to scrubbing and both the buildup of dark areas and the erasure of others.

Beth Adams, Working in Monochrome

Sometimes the words
want to go right
through the paper,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (102)

I got an opportunity from the Arizona Commission On The Arts to do a reading that incorporated projected images throughout the performance.

So I was able to put together a show at one of the iconic Phoenix venues The Trunk Space with some of my favorite artists and we called the night Jackalope In Retrograde.

JJ Horner was doing live painting. 

GOHNE opened the night (new band project from Lonna Kelley and Jay Hufman)

Writer Erik Bitsui came down from Flagstaff.

The Necronauts played as a two-piece and were also joined by Rocky Yazzie for a set.

Most of my images were Jia Oak Baker’s photographs from our collaborative book Gravity & Spectacle, but we also had some bonus content, videos etc. [Click though to view photo documentation.]

Shawnte Orion, Jackalope In Retrograde

Beginning in 2007 with four books and no intention to publish more, CBe has been humming along fine for 15 years: here a prize, there a shortlisting, quite often semi-silence but every one of the books was more than worth publishing.

It’s now 2023 and print costs have been escalating and postage costs too; there are other small presses who can sell X’s new novel or Y’s book of poems into bookshops better than CBe can; and I’m into my 70s and getting smaller. From this year CBe will concentrate on publishing, perhaps exclusively, small A-format books, the model being the three books published last year in that size and with covers with image on white card (Agota Kristof, The Illiterate; Caroline Clark, Own Sweet Time; myself, 99 Interruptions). This will mean goodbye to the brown covers (those books are more expensive to print: retro costs). It will mean hello to more short books: if prose, fiction or non-fiction, say 10 to 20,000 words (rough guide only). And poetry, yes: Cape Editions did poetry in A-format, and so now do NYRB.

Charles Boyle, Plan B

Part of my hesitancy to leave full time work was fear. I’d had the same job for 21 years.  I was never really entirely sure how I’d been lucky enough to land that job in the first place.  At least in the beginning.  Because I was scared to try something new, I stayed longer than I should have.  In fact, under different circumstances I may still have hesitant to leave.  I’ve heard friends say this about bad relationships. It wasn’t working. or he was abusive, controlling, but they were afraid of making their way in the world alone. And while I admit I stayed in bad relationships for a number of reasons (usually impulse control, masochism,  or thinking I could change things) this wasn’t one of them. I’ve had entirely single spans, most of my 20’s, in fact. But then, later, when a relationship was in the death grip, there were other people and things to occupy my time. I was okay with alone, but rarely was I actually without something going on in that arena, even if it was just a crush I wanted to become something more. 

And this is true of art and writing.  The years where the words were more fallow were some of the best years for art, and maybe vice versa. Even now, I don’t get much time to spend with collage or painting, but I do spend a lot of time making video poems and designing covers.   I like having many options, especially when some options are more fleeting than others.  Other things have to earn their way into your daily practice. Or seem like a good thing for awhile but then you move on. 

There’s a lot of talk these days on the potential harm of the gig economy and people working multiple jobs to make ends meet–driving uber or deliveries–and actually not getting the sort of stability of things like paid sick days, insurance, etc that traditional employers provide. But then again, you have a certain amount of freedom and discretion you don’t get being beholden to one workplace, so I totally get it.   Everyone, coming out of covid lockdowns, wondered where all the workers went.  Could it be that many of them were willing to trade certain securities for lower pay, but more freedom and more eggs in many baskets. That when you decide you’re getting screwed, you can find somethings else. When the alternative was sometimes tyrannical bosses, unwieldy shifts, unsafe workplaces, and toxic corporate culture. Could be. 

Kristy Bowen, eggs and baskets: on jobs, art, and love

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been engaging with poetic audiobooks. There is something really special about listening to the poet narrate their work. I recently listened to The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. I love the audiobook experience because I can hear the intended emphasis in the poet’s own voice. It’s magic to be able to push a button and have Dionne Brand read to you. I’m also reading a few paperbacks—Tend by Kate Hargreaves, which I am loving. I’m always in awe of poetry that can rile me up and then make me laugh on the next page. I have Victoria Mbabazi’s FLIP on my side table. I was hooked on Mbabazi’s work after reading chapbook and look forward to reading more. I’ll be lined up for all future work by Mbabazi.

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part five

I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.

Kristen McHenry, Poetry of the Practical

I also practice my balance by 1) putting on pants 2) putting on shoes. Sometimes I try to stand like a crane, one leg straight, one leg bent, to put on each shoe. This morning, by chance, Facebook offered me a picture of the flamingo sculpture at the Tampa airport, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog! Also, I dreamed of putting on a shoe. And often I write poems while walking, a different kind of walking meditation.

Kathleen Kirk, Balance

With the thwack

of a cleaver handle, I sever
the drumstick joint just above
the ankle so I can work it free

of meat and muscle. I stuff it
with a mixture of pork, ham, and
hard-boiled eggs before patting it

back into shape and sewing it shut
with twine. What I have then is what
cookbooks describe as a farce—

Elaborate comedy of illusion, the lengths
we’ll go to keep an appearance intact,
armor over the soft jelly of flesh inside.

Luisa A. Igloria, Farce

In one passage in the 1663 diaries, they have a blazing row, and Pepys calls Elisabeth a ‘beggar’ because she brought no dowry to the marriage and she responds by calling him ‘pricklouse’ (which vexed him) referring to him being the son of a tailor. A cracking insult. Since I read this altercation I have seen her in my mind’s eye, mad as hell, sitting on the bed with balled fists fuming at him. I wonder what else she was mad at. Pepys records how often she fell out with servants and lady’s maids, probably because she saw his eye turned to them. What a precarious thing it must have been, to live at that time and to be owned and how did those women create a life within the prison of their husband’s lives? I wonder what she would think of me, remembering her and her flung insults, 360 years after she flung them. She died of typhoid in 1669. Pepys had stopped writing his diaries by them, but there are letters to naval captains excusing himself from work for a good four weeks because he is so devastated. After her death he was in a long term relationship with Mary Skinner, but never married her. When he died he was buried next to Elisabeth.

The diaries can be quite challenging; they are, after all, written in a world very different from our own. But at the same time, there’s a thread of human behaviour which simply hasn’t changed and I love that. That the complexities of human behaviour are still complex, that marriage and love and this short span of life in which you try to do your best, and fail and win, that hasn’t changed. Mrs. Pepys, Elisabeth, today I remember you and your life; as a person separate from your husband, though I don’t know you but through your husband’s diaries, I acknowledge your life and your anger and your love and the short span of life you spent on the earth.

Wendy Pratt, Remembering Elisabeth, Pepys’s Wife – Reading the 1663 Pepys Diaries

This is what we were made
of, soft skin and paradise and the bouquet
of unbearable desire. This is what we can make
of soil and water and endless sky. This is what
bubbles in the orange shaft of light that falls
upon my empty couch. I watch, I inhale, I
shiver, I hide, inside a perfumed shadow.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This is what

Dan Brady’s “Songs in E–” was winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry. It has an intriguing premise, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” translated into Portguese and then back into English via an unreliable internet translator and the resulting material reshaped into “Songs in E–“. A similar process was used for the latter half of the book, “E–‘s Song” which used Robert Browning’s “One Word More” also dubiously translated into Portguese and back into English and then reshaped. […]

It’s no surprise that the poems in the first part are recognisably sonnets. None contain the most famous lines either. This underlines the value of translation is not just about fluency or vocabulary but an understanding of what’s being translated and a sympathy to the aims of the writer. Barrett Browning only pretended her poems were translations to distance herself from them because she thought them too personal to publish. The poems returned via the translation process have become so generic as to be almost impersonal. Most of them seem to have lost sight of the originals being love poems.

Emma Lee, “Songs in E–” Dan Brady (Trnsfr Books) – book review

Yesterday as I quilted, I watched two movies, each one about a nineteenth century woman writer.  Mary Shelley was compelling; I wrote this Facebook post:  “The weather has turned gloomy, so one needs an appropriately gloomy movie to keep one company while one stitches. I’ve chosen the 2017 movie “Mary Shelley,” which takes some liberties with the biography. I love its depiction of writing and creativity, and the costumes and sets warm my Brit Lit heart. But the movie does make me feel ancient. I see Mary and Claire Clairmont making a terrible mistake in running away with this cad Percy Shelley who has already ruined one woman’s life (his wife Harriet), and I want to talk some sense into them, even as I know that talking sense into these besotted girls is impossible. Sigh.

Enter Lord Byron–oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

I also watched A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson.  While I appreciate aspects of it, parts of it were slow, slow, slow.  While I can appreciate what Cynthia Dixon went through to inhabit the role, did we really need to see the extended scene of her shaking because of her kidney disease?  And there wasn’t just one scene of her shaking either.  I also got weary at the end of the movie substituting voice overs of poems instead of dialogue–that part seemed to go on for hours.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scrapping Plans

This trip happened back in 2005 — far too long ago to remember the nitty-gritty as I write this blog post in 2023. The one thing I do remember well, and which features in the opening of the poem, is that it matters what you have on your feet! My friend Fliss, editor of Splinter, and I were emerging from a London Underground station. Fliss was wearing flip-flops … and it was raining!

I liked the idea that, at least for women, a day can be different choices of footwear that features at different times of the day. In this poem we’ve got the inappropriate flip-flops in the daytime, followed by an elegant pair of heels in the evening. Before Dressing Up (the pamphlet) had been one of the Cinnamon Press pamphlet winners, a day-job colleague had kindly adapted a ShutterStock image that I’d paid for into a cover that, I felt, would have been perfect for the cover of Dressing Up. I later learned that there wasn’t the possibility of using cover art, so the cover never got used … but I’m delighted to post it here to brighten your day.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Naming

Turning 50: I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone instead of dreading it, so I’m having a party on my actual birthday. Do I look 50? Am I dressing correctly for a 50-year-old? Also, can I still have pink hair? The rules are different now than they were when I was a kid. I do know that I see living this long as a real victory, for someone who has been told she was going to die by multiple doctors not so long ago. Hey, every year above ground is a good year.

Launching a book (still) during a pandemic: so, how does one plan a book launch when there’s still sort of pandemic conditions and you worry you’ve forgotten everything about doing book promotion (are there still book festivals, for instance? If so, which are disability friendly? Can I do college class visits virtually? How much travel can I do as someone with MS and a junk immune system before the body crashes? So many questions…and the first phase of 2023’s publicity efforts for Flare, Corona will really start soon. (In the meantime, check out BOA’s new book page for my book, with blurbs and a sample poem!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Healthier Kittens and Sicker Me, New Hair and Imagining 2023: Re-Entry Fears

冬空や猫塀づたひどこへもゆける 波多野爽波

fuyu-zora ya neko hei zutai dokoemo yukeru

            winter sky—

            a cat can go anywhere

            walking on fences

                                                Soha Hatano

from Haiku Saijiki electronic version edited by Kadokawa Shoten, published by Kodansha Sophia Shuppan, Tokyo, Japan, 2018

Fay’s Note:  Soha Hatano (1923-1991)

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (January 10, 2023)

Those of our readers who live in Las Cruces, or who were contributors to Sin Fronteras Journal may remember Joanne Townsend, an active poet in our circle since she and her husband Dan moved down from Alaska in 2005, with several poems in the Journal.  She hoped to produce a collection of her poems in her later years, but when she died two years ago, she left a pile of poems in hard copy with no indication of a possible order.

Thanks to Joe Somoza for his ordering skills and Ellen Young and Christine Eber for following up with the details, a manuscript was created and has now been published by Cirque Press.

Sample, from “Ponder, Partake”

On the church grounds, a single white iris,
its velvet petals calling
wind from the west.
Speak, Memory  Nabokov insisted.
Crimson spilling into parched throats –
Wine.  Poetry.

Poetry was central to Joanne’s life.  Between Promise and Sadness” is available on Amazon via the Cirque Press website: From Promise to Sadness

Ellen Roberts Young, Joanne Townsend: Between Promise and Sadness

I have bought this book several times as it seems to always be disappearing. In the early 90’s, I had never seen a book with this color on the cover, I’d never read a prose poem, or heard of Joseph Cornell. This all seems impossible looking back, but this book was a unicorn. There was no other American surrealist that I had ever heard of and the ekphrastic tradition of poets finding inspiration in the visual arts, was, if not exactly frowned on, it certainly was not in vogue. I read and reread this book. I still do.

A friend of mine had a husband who had studied with Simic at the University of New Hampshire and adored him. This week’s piece in The Yale Review by Megan O’Rourke gives a moving homage to her mentor, friend, and dinner companion. (You can find it here)

Oh, yes, and of course, Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I just found this video of Simic reading his poem “Stone” and for a moment, he comes alive again. 

The great poets I grew up on: Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Derek Walcott, and now, Charles Simic, are all gone now. The people, not the poems. 

Susan Rich, Thinking about Charles Simic

I also recalled the joy of singing along, badly, to various songs on the drive down, and the fact that I was about to go and see more friends. All of the travelling and visiting, etc meant that I was quite late to seeing the interview with Don Paterson in the Guardian last week. When I did see it I thought it was all fairly nondescript, but there seems to have been some “discourse” of late about a comment he made about poets and not being able to drive. It all seemed quite throwaway to me, but some of the reactions showed just how seriously some poets can take things and themselves. I was more reminded of Wendy Cope’s poem about Typically Useless Male Poets.

Oh well. In other news, where do I file my copy of Don Paterson by Ben Wilkinson? The book is a brilliant look at the work and themes of DP’s life. Do I put it under Don on my shelves or with Ben’s books???

I was reminded again of Don Paterson when I saw the news this week that Charles Simic had died. Simic is a poet I admire, but don’t know brilliantly, despite reading his Selected once. I make the connection with Paterson as I once saw them on the same bill at the Southbank. I think it was when DP was making his famous speech about leaving poetry to the proper poets (or words to that effect), but I could be wrong about both. I remember being enthralled by both, but not quite getting Simic. I’m still not sure I do, but I like it. That seems to be enough.

Mat Riches, Disappointing Baguette

This book is full of memory, and mysticism, and God speaking the world into being in Her own inimitable way, and Reb Nachman with his tears under the table pretending to be a turkey.

Fallen leaves recite kaddish. The infinite arrives on lightning feet. Every word is broken. Only the hidden can burst forth. We forgot what we were yearning for. Every one and every thing is for you.

I’m cheating: that paragraph is a pastiche of Rodger [Kamenetz]’s lines. If that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what would. I want to start a new commonplace book so I can copy these lines in my own hand.

Rachel Barenblat, Finding The Missing Jew anew

[Jonathon] Cott explains that the journalistic interview was a nineteenth century invention and that the word comes from the French entrevue meaning, “a meeting.” And then this word is derived from entrevoir, meaning “to glimpse, to catch sight of, or to get an inkling of.” Cott then connects this to Martin Buber saying, “all real living is meeting.” And then, he also quotes the psychologist James Hillman saying that “the interview itself is a kind of love…How can one do an interview without love, without imagination working…”

So, if you’ve read Everything Affects Everyone, you can probably see why I was so excited by Cott’s words. I’ve not read every interview in the book, but I started off with the Bob Dylan one, which is so honestly wonderfully weird. Cott quotes Dylan saying, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?” There is a point where Dylan says: “Music attracts the angels in the universe. A group of angels sitting at a table are going to be attracted by that.”

Shawna Lemay, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?

street light
half moon
half awake

Jim Young [no title]

Not sure where I’m going with this blog but, inspired by Patti Smith’s A Book of Days, I wanted to try and post something every day for a month. I wanted to reflect some of her generosity, her reverence for things, but I also wanted to consider what makes me ‘me’, my influences, my surroundings. So, there will be some random stuff I suspect, which is a bit of a disclaimer, but at least you understand the thinking behind it.

Anyway, this photograph was taken on a walk to Heptonstall last summer. I like the fingers pointing in opposite directions, challenging me to decided which way to go. Could be a metaphor. Early January is the period when we take stock, try to figure out where we’re going, where we’d like to be. I’m trying not to think too far ahead though, to be present. I tell myself it’s okay to drift a little, to take in what comes along rather than push myself to find new things. So, forgive the random stuff. It comes with good intentions.

Julie Mellor, Slanted landscapes II

Wondering…what it means to be a poet (or anything, really). In the context of a conversation this week, a co-worker of my daughter’s said to me, “You’re a poet, right?” and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Later, she and I debated my answer to the question. Since I rarely write poetry now, I don’t really think of myself as a poet. She says that, since I have written and am still capable of writing poetry, I am one. Which has me thinking about the labels we attach to ourselves and how we use them. Am I still a teacher? What about a librarian? Am I still a grand-daughter, even though I have no living grandparents? Was I a skater all those years (45!) I didn’t skate? If I’m not the things I used to be, what am I now? (Is this a question we need/get to keep answering until we die?)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Following serendipitous breadcrumbs

who remains when all that is silent is said

who arrives when death is a seed

how deep within the breathing pine
is sky and open sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This first week of the year saw many bloggers recommitting to blogging, among other resolutions, hopes, and reflections about the new year. The weather and food also figured prominently, as one might expect.

I’ve added several new bloggers to my feed reader, as I usually do after Matthew Stewart posts his annual Best UK Poetry Blogs list (here’s this year’s). Theoretically, the more blogs I read, the more selective I can be, but enthusiasm always gets the better of me, so look for these already long digests to get even longer in 2023. Happy New Year!


the air thickens as we work.
steam mists over the white-sheeted windows,
fog forming indoors from the flying sweat
& heavy exhalations of the class.
January, but someone opens the door anyway;
cold air gasps in.
[…]

This poem describes my first (or second?) real experience with Hatsu-Geiko, the martial arts tradition of a vigorous practice on New Year’s Day — the first lesson of the year, the first practice of the year. This was at Chicago Aikikai back when they were located on Howard Street. There was literally so much sweat in the air it was hard to breathe. The flower described was an anthurium.

I was recently cleaning house and found an old printout of this poem, in dot matrix print on yellowed paper. I’d been looking for this one, and for another about sharpening stones in water sounding like crickets. Finding this gives me hope that the other one isn’t lost forever. I wish I’d written more poems about martial arts when I was young and vigorous.

PF Anderson, Falling Into Focus

This is why             we bundle: freezing rain, a loss of pitch. The accuracy
of this ink white sheet. Forecasts                     one might reach by water.

Schools closed, pajama days; suspension                              of a letter.
Our small children                      abide. This day, separated

by music, returns    to earth.

rob mclennan, Short poem for a long winter

Happy New Year, everybody! I do hope 2023 will be a good year for us all, walking out of some of our woes and into more of our joys. I’m very aware of people’s losses and changes and the lingering trauma of these pandemic years. We’ll be walking together, won’t we? We got to spend Christmas with our kids in Portland, Oregon, where they both were, amazingly, able to buy houses this fall, after a wild real estate market began to settle down a bit. It was great to see them in their new lives and neighborhoods! We hiked the snowy trail to Tamanawas Falls, and saw the waterfall rushing over frozen sections of itself, misting up into the air and gently raining down on us and the heaps of white snow and blue ice. Just lovely. A magical trail of snow and ice laden trees (primarily cedar and Douglas fir), alternately silent or accompanied by the rushing creek, depending on the bends in the trail. That was Christmas Day.

Tuesday morning we visited a charming patisserie, Champagne Poetry, for breakfast. We had delicious treats, coffee, and tea…but, as it was breakfast, no champagne. It’s all in shades of pink with a rose wall and neon wings, as evidenced by the wacky picture of me and cooler picture of my son! Back home before New Year’s Eve, some of us had a wee bit of champagne before feeling sleepy by nine p.m. But yay for those who made it to midnight!

Kathleen Kirk, Champagne Poetry

I love this time of year. Anything is possible and perhaps, even probable. There are all the poems in the world to write, and all the poems on the computer to send out to journals. This season of beginning fills me with optimism. And so, after an epidemic, a new book, and some epic times of wonder, I’m here again. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to balance more poetry writing with more poetry community.I know I need a vibrant and diverse group of poets around me. 

The classes I teach and the Poets on the Coast retreat I run are both for the poets that come to the events, but they also feed me. Something inexplicible happens when we write in community—as if the air we breathe is filled with even more poetry than usual. Somehow as a group, we are more than a sum of our parts. Or maybe it’s something even simpler, when we share a safe and creative space, the poems come in new shapes and forms. We surprise ourselves.

Susan Rich, My New Year’s Resolution is to Write Poems and…

A paradox this, in an age of over communication,
there is too little with any meaning. Like packing waste,
deleted texts find their way to a landfill, their tasteless
apathy never decaying. How do you relearn sustainable
conversation, biodegradable, returning to the earth to
bloom flowers? Somewhere in the middle of the day,
your message pings. You send me an AI generated
poem about hope for joy and prosperity and success.
I feel a dark kinship with the fish at the bottom of the
sea that has never set eyes on a human, still dying of
microplastics. Happy (and on this I insist) New Year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Earth 2023: A poem for the new year

I’m holding onto a quotation I found in Italo Calvino’s memo on “Lightness” in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It’s by Paul Valéry: “One must be light like the bird, not like the feather.”

I’m holding onto words that I previously has as my WOTY (word of the year). Uplift, amplify, calm etc. I’m going to continue to go where the love is. I’m going to continue to cultivate Marina Abramavic’s directive to “elevate the public spirit.”

I’m going to try and be useful. I’m going to read this list of 20 helpful things I made recently and try to actually walk the walk.

Rather than a word this year, I’m going with the phrase “my ALL.” Which is borrowed from Sophie Calle whose book with that title is an inspiration for my work in progress. This is my year of my all. I mean by this that I’m going to use all my talents and gifts and I’m going to claim my expertise. I am not going to waste my energy and I am not going to squander.

Of course, you saw how I got on last year, but I think this really will be the year of my ALL. Please feel free to also have a year of your ALL.

Shawna Lemay, Some Practices for 2023

I had intended to write a cheery Christmas post but I put it off because I wanted to share a  new poem that went live at Quartet Journal (USA) on January 1st. The poem is titled ‘Mary Ruefle is Right: Menopause is Adolescence All Over Again’, and it pretty well sums up my preoccupations in 2022. Quartet is an online journal of poetry by women fifty and over. I admire the work in Quartet very much, and am really pleased to have this particular poem accept in this particular journal. CLICK HERE to read my poem and all the other super poems in Quartet’s Winter 2023 Issue.

Caroline Reid, I Just Wanna Wish You Well

A new thing that I have been doing since delving into the new year is keeping track of word counts in addition to income tallies each writing day. Partly, this is just for my own curiosity, but also, as I take on new jobs, helpful in figuring out what to charge for my time. I quickly realized I was running around 5K per day the past several days, which set my slow, little poet heart aghast. Granted, some days one piece is like 2500 if it’s longer, and lessons tend to be 1000 or more, with everything else slightly shorter, so it’s actually easy to hit. I’ve often speculated I don’t have the endurance for writing long things like fiction or novels, but these counts are promising, though I imagine creative prose, like poetry, is a little tougher going. I can write a 1000 word lesson or article in the same time I write a poem around a hundred words, each using a different part of my brain and a different set of creative muscles. That poem, like they always have, takes much more out of me. Sometimes I need a nap even though I’ve only been up an hour. Last summer when I was writing some fiction I could get maybe 1000-1500 words out of a block of several hours.

Kristy Bowen, word counts and strange weather

Looking at my yearly stats, I can see that I write more poems when I write fewer flash pieces. And my stories often involve episodes (epiphany moments in particular) that might otherwise have become flash pieces.

Sometimes I look through my journals/notebooks to find fragments that will inspire me to write. More often I wait until 2 fragments link up. This inspires me to write a first draft. I then sweep through the fragments again, to find ways to bulk up the piece. Once I’m writing a short story it sucks in many little details and observations.

So I reckon that a flash piece costs a poem. A story costs at least 3 flashes or poems.

Tim Love, How many poems does a story cost?

I was delighted to be asked by Trowbridge Museum to create and facilitate some visual poetry workshops for young people (aged 7+) working with the museum’s extensive herbarium collected by poet, botanist and clergyman George Crabbe, who lived and is buried in Trowbridge. These free workshops form part of a programme of events Trowbridge Museum will be running this year called ‘Retold: Trowbridge’s Past as Told by its Future’ and are part of the museum’s participation in ‘The Wild Escape,’ a major new project (led by Art Fund_ and funded by ACE) uniting hundreds of museums and schools in a celebration of UK wildlife and creativity. Free places on my workshops, which will take place on 21 January, 18 February and 18 March, can be booked here.

Crabbe is nowadays, perhaps, most often associated with Benjamin Britten who based his opera Peter Grimes on a character from Crabbe’s poem The Borough. However, in his day (1754 – 1832) he was read and admired by many leading writers, artists and thinkers of the time, including Jane Austen, Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Johnson and others. He mostly wrote long narrative poems in rhyming couplets and was noted for the way he scorned an idealised image of the countryside and wrote instead about what life was really like, especially for poor people in rural areas.

Josephine Corcoran, Visual Poetry Workshops at Trowbridge Museum

The last batch of one-point-of-interest reviews for 2022 were published on Sphinx yesterday, here. They include my reviews of pamphlets by: John F. Deane, here; Clare Best, here; and Mark Wynne, here.

As ever, though, there are lots of reviews, by and of a diverse range of voices, to enjoy and pique your interest.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2022 and happy New Year!

Matthew Paul, OPOI reviews of John F. Deane. Clare Best and Mark Wynne

In an earlier post this year I shared that I had a goal of 100 rejections in 2022. I didn’t make it. I heard a firm “no” only 71 times and among those I had a number of encouraging notes and invitations to resubmit. (It’s all good, in other words.) A large number of poems and about 4 essays are still out, some from as long ago as February, 2022, so I could (conceivably) get to my 100 rejections.

Of course it’s way more fun to look at the acceptances. I’ve shared a few of these over the year, but recently the mail brought my contributor copy of Catamaran, a journal which, if you don’t know it, you should. As their banner says: “West Coast themes, Writers and Artists from Everywhere.” My poem, “A Mask of Forgetting,” is paired with art by Elizabeth Fox, and the whole thing is beautifully put together, well worth the trip.

This month I also received a contributor copy of Peregrine, from Amherst Poets & Writers. They picked up two of my poems: “Reading Andrew Motion’s Biography of John Keats,” and “Every Cell of Me.” I appreciate all the on-line journals now encouraging writers, but it’s still a treat to get a copy of a real, flesh-and-bone journal.

Bethany Reid, Giving Thanks for 2022

stairwell
which is Purgatorio
when everything’s on hold

save the blue and gold
for heaven
three stitches for a rune

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2023

The sunset on the 2nd January 2023 was stunning. I have been discussing it with the Secret Poets. We have been exchanging photographs and thinking how we must write something. I have not written anything over the festive period and this morning the words did not want to come. […]

Black Stalin, the esteemed Calypsonian died last week. He will be missed. I leave you with Burn Dem.

Paul Tobin, WORDS HAVE FLED

Proposition. A song is a song and a poem is a poem. They share words but they don’t share function. I wrote this as a poem and then Steve Moorby of MoorbyJones, the band we share with his daughter Gemma Moorby, set it to music and we recorded it. It’s due for release imminently and I’ll link to Spotify when it’s out in the world. And then, if the proposition has value for you, gentle reader, you may judge!

Dick Jones, STAND UNDER FALLING WATER

The fact is that the book is Dylan writing about 66 songs that he felt moved to write about, and criticising him for not writing about other songs is missing the point by a mile. One more quote seems apposite. In the essay on Pete Seeger’s ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’, he tells the story of how Seeger’s performance of the song was cut from the Smothers Brothers TV show in 1967 (Seeger had been excluded from television for his political leanings) because it was seen as critical of the Vietnam War. A year later, the tide of opinion was turning and he was invited back to sing it on the same show. The point being made is that in those days, everyone, pro, anti or indifferent to the war, tuned in to the same programme. Dylan bemoans the fragmentation that has replaced media forums where we were exposed to lots of views and kinds of cultural performances:

Turns out, the best way to shut people up isn’t to take away their forum – it’s to give them all their own pulpits. Ultimately most folks will listen to what they already know and read what they already agree with. They will devour pale retreads of the familiar and perhaps never get to discover they might have a taste for Shakespeare or flamenco dancing.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Billy Mills, The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan: A Review

I am honored to be one of 47 poets in this anthology to raise funds for Ukrainian Refugees. My poem title was also used as the anthology title. The anthology is published by Black Spring Press Group out of Westminster, London. 100% of the sales profits will go to the Sanctuary Foundation which is a charity that helps Ukrainian people to safety and homes in the UK.

If you would like to help refugees from Ukraine who are victims of this terrible war, please consider buying this anthology (and maybe another for a friend).

Carey Taylor, Poets Support Ukraine

The Other has been running in Manchester since January 2016. Michael Conley and Eli Regan organise the event where writers are put in pairs to read and perform each other’s work, with plenty of time beforehand to prepare. It is a fascinating idea.

During the pandemic The Other moved online and I took part in a memorable Zoom session where I was paired up with Adam Farrer. The Other is now ‘live’ again. Dates are on Facebook and Twitter. Sessions also raise funds for Manchester Central Foodbank.

Fokkina McDonnell, The Other (Michael Conley)

I’ve read the words
and heard them read
searching for someone

to whom I can
address these lines.

Yet again I speak the question
into existence.

Yet again I listen
for the answer.

Jason Crane, POEM: Margaret

TSP: Suzanne, we have been fans of your work since your first book, Lit Windowpane (2008), now your new book Fixed Star has JUST been released from Jackleg Press! (Congratulations!)  How have your poems or writing process changed since your first book, and in what ways did you stretch yourself in Fixed Star?

SF: That’s so kind of you to say! Thank you so much. It’s very exciting to have a new book out in the world. These are great questions. Both Lit Windowpane, and my second book, Girl on a Bridge—for the most part—are collections of spare, lyric poems. In Fixed Star I wanted to write against that inclination and write longer, lusher poems. You will still find lean poems in this collection, but the two sonnet coronas in this book helped me write longer poems, and something about writing the prose poems lent itself to lushness for me.

The other way this book differs from my two previous collections is that it’s the first book I’ve written with an intent. I knew I wanted to write about my heritage and to do that I had to immerse myself in research. A little background — my father was a Captain in the Cuban Revolution, and my parents met when he was transporting arms for Fidel Castro through the border town of Brownsville, Texas, where my mother lived. Once Castro took power and revealed his true intentions of dictatorship rather than democracy, my parents boarded a plane to the United States, where my father ultimately became a US Citizen. Cuba was rarely spoken of in our home for fear it would upset my father and as a result, I learned very little about my heritage. To write Fixed Star required learning about Cuba’s history, the United States’ history with Cuba, the Cuban Revolution, and The Special Period. In the process, I came across Cuban poets, writers, artists, and musicians. I reconnected with extended family, and I traveled in search of answers. I definitely didn’t have to leave town to write my first two books.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Interview with Suzanne Frischkorn from Two Sylvias’ Weekly Muse

Recently, I put together a list of “the best fantastical and frightening books about women reclaiming their own power” for the Shepherd website, which aims to help folks discover new books. Generally, I balk at using the phrase “the best,” since there are so many more amazing books in the world that I had yet to read. However, this is the format the website uses.

As per the request of the editors, I specifically picked books that felt connected to my collection of prose poetry, Twelve.  This means that I wanted to include a mixture of prose and poetry books, as well as focusing on books that are connected to fairy tales and/or folklore. And truthfully, I love each and every one of these books and I hope many other folks come to love them, too.

Andrea Blythe, Fantastical and Frightening Books About Women Reclaiming Their own Power

Heavy and beautiful.

That’s my 3-word review of the anthology [The Best of Tupelo Quarterly: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation].

It’s a thick volume — over 350 pages of gorgeous work, including poetry, literary criticism, prose, collaborative and cross-disciplinary texts, literature in translation and visual art (some printed in full-color). And I suppose “heavy and beautiful” also works for the challenges and themes the anthology aims to tackle — getting it right, expanding what’s possible, challenging the rules of society with new beliefs about what texts are legitimate.

I agree with Darling that this is “necessary work,” and while much of it does fall to gatekeepers, it also falls to individual readers (and reviewers) like myself. There’s always room to do better, but I try to read and champion work from diverse authors and to challenge my own ideas of the kinds of texts that “work.” (I recently confessed, for example, that I’m new to embracing different types of poetry.)

As I noted in a blog post on inventive poetry forms, unconventional work often presents topics that should challenge the reader, and there are some poems and voices to which editors should give special attention by creating spaces where they can be celebrated. TQ, as showcased in this new anthology, appears to be such a space.

Carolee Bennett, “electrifying experiments”

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Billy-Ray Belcourt for sure. When I read NDN Coping Mechanisms, I thought holy crap, you can do this with poetry?! Incredible. Belcourt’s work is so visceral and beautifully humble. It inspired me to get to the bottom of who I am (an ongoing process) and how I need to show up in my poetry and writing life for those around me. Adebe DeRango-Adem and Andrea Thompson are two other poets that continue to blow my mind. They edited an anthology called Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out and it was life-changing for me. That sounds very cliché, but it’s true. The book is packed with contributions from many creatives with mixed heritages, including pieces by the two editors. Reading Other Tongues was the first time I ever felt like a book was speaking directly to me and a lot of its power was in the multiplicity of voices sharing their stories. It was a whole community of people reaching out to me. I started having success publishing my work after I figured out that I didn’t need to write about the fancy trending things that I thought I needed to include or explore. My story was interesting, and before I could go outward with my writing, I needed to go inward and do some excavating. This was a fundamental shift in my understanding of how I should and should not occupy space with my work. 

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part four

When I was a graduate student at San Jose State University, I stumbled across a rolling cart (literally stumbled—I tripped over my own feet and almost fell) displaying the tempting label “Books $1 each.” That’s when I found 50 Contemporary Poets, the Creative Process, edited by Alberta T. Turner. In spite of its slightly sticky, caramel-colored 1970s-era cover, I paid for it, stuck it in my backpack, and limped to my next class.

That dollar is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. This book has provided me with a wealth of ideas for writing, teaching and understanding poetry. In this book, I discovered Peter Everwine, Gary Gildner, Nancy Willard, and Vassar Miller. It’s filled with Professor Turner’s wise and witty observations about poets and poetry, i.e., “Any poem successful enough to be noticed will be analyzed, categorized, and explained—by those who had nothing to do with its making.”

The book is based on a questionnaire that Turner sent to one hundred poets.

Erica Goss, Visualize the Reader—or Don’t

Two Christmas presents from my husband this year, a bottle of Tullibardine, and this beautiful book, Patti Smith’s A Book of Days. When we saw her perform at The Bearded Theory festival last May, she began her set by reciting the footnote to Alen Ginsberg’s Howl, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, and she spoke it with such conviction the poem could have been hers. Everything is holy … ‘Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!’

Julie Mellor, A Book of Days

Claire Booker takes readers on a journey over the Sussex Downs, a range of chalk hills which include 37 sites of special scientific interest that stretch from coastal cliffs to inland grasslands. There are diversions into family life, paintings, motherhood and childhood memories. […]

“A Pocketful of Chalk” is firmly rooted in its Sussex Downs location, exploring the landscape’s environs and raising concerns for climate change and what could be lost. There are also very human concerns: motherhood, intergenerational relationships and grief. All approached with the vitality and empathy of a poet wishing to share her concerns and love for the topics covered.

Emma Lee, “A Pocketful of Chalk” Claire Booker (Arachne Press) – book review

6. The alphabet is connected to the mouth, to the tongue, to the place where the sounds, particularly the consonants, are formed. Teeth invoke speech, the primal experiences of reality, childhood, and the oral, but are also resonant archetypes from a parallel alphabet. There’s a connection between teeth and the alphabet, between teeth and the keys of a typewriter. 

7. A lost tooth is a letter, a sound, a meaning extracted from the mouth, fallen. It is a sign out of place, removed from the locus of signification, from the place of utterance. It becomes itself, its own talking head. It is a tiny megalith, a dental henge, a miniature inukshuk. A prize from the Kinder Egg of the mouth.

Gary Barwin, TEETH ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS

Who stirs the pot
remains calm —

which explains
the universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (373)

I read a Chinese folk tale of a boatman 

who lost his way and wound up in a village fenced
        from time, suspended in peach blossoms—

The story says, everyone who forgets what such
        happiness is like, loses the chance to be immortal.

I also know a poem that gave me a peach before I ever 
       bit into the actual flesh of one: that traced its provenance 

before a boy at a roadside stand dropped them, 
       still warm from the sun, into a paper bag. And thus 

I learned how words, too, conjure the same 
       sugar and skin, how they dapple in both 

shadow and sunlight.

Luisa A. Igloria, Stone Fruit

Perhaps perceiving my no as code for “we can’t afford it,” the woman suggests we keep the pastry for free.

I tell her no thank you.

This time she insists. Her kindness floors me.

She’s selling hotdogs on the street to keep body and soul alive but offers the pan dulce, no charge.

Her intentions are bold and clear as a diamond. To decline her generosity feels like it would be an insult, an unshining of her jeweled gesture.

My daughter and I say, Thank you. Gracias. We share the pastry, which no longer feels like an excess treat, but manna from above.

Wherever that woman is, that saint dressed in white, come rain or shine, bless her.

Rich Ferguson, A Saint For All Days

I am the border agent who looks
the other way. I am the one
who leaves bottled water in caches
in the harsh border lands I patrol.

I am the one who doesn’t shoot.
I let the people assemble,
with their flickering candles a shimmering
river in the dark. “Let them pray,”
I tell my comrades. “What harm
can come of that?” We holster
our guns, and open a bottle to share.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Epiphanies Past and Present

I crossed the invisible border into 2023 while in India. The occasion: my son’s close college friend, Rish, is from Bengaluru and wanted to show us the country. The Christmas break worked well for this bunch of students and teachers; the only other break we have in common would be summer, when heat is extreme. He ended up heroically organizing a complex trip for nine people: Rish himself and two families of four (my family plus the family of their other college friend, Neville). It was a rich and intense adventure I’ll be processing for a long time. I’m not a TOTAL ignoramus–I listen to people, read a lot, follow the news–yet the barrage of new information, sensory and otherwise, put me in a constant state of awe.

We arrived in Delhi at 2 am on the 24th, and by 10:30 we were already on the move. Our very first stop began to open up histories that were unfamiliar to me. The Qutub Minar complex, mostly built around the year 1200, is in the Mughal style but provides glimpses of many versions of Delhi and the conflicts that shaped this palimpsest of cities: it contains a mosque, minarets, and cloisters built with the stones of earlier Hindu and Jain temples. I’d read up a bit on the Mughals before traveling but seeing so many forts, mosques, and monuments made that history more vivid, of course–and uncovered some layers within contemporary Indian cultural conflicts that I hadn’t understood. Even just talking to tour guides is revelatory, because each describes the history through different lenses and sometimes biases. And why didn’t I know that the Taj Mahal, commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz, is roughly contemporary with the British renaissance? What an important thing for an English professor to understand!

Visiting the Taj Mahal was a metaphor as well as a lucky experience. It was magical watching the symmetrical silhouette of the marble mausoleum take shape in the mist (we arrived before sunrise, at 6:30 am). It was amazing in a different way to get up close, where all that whiteness yields to complex detail: much of its surface is carved with flowers and inlaid with precious stones or painted in Quranic verses. Proximity to the past changes you.

Lesley Wheeler, New year, old places

Time feels like an endless sea at the beginning of all our holidays, all our love stories; we float and play in it with nothing but delight because all we can see is water. We know there is a shore and that the waves are taking us relentlessly toward it, but it’s so far away. Until it isn’t. Eventually, always, the calendar turns. Something ends. Someone leaves or dies. The tree comes down. But that there are always endings means that there are always beginnings, new versions of us to fall in love with, new waters to dive into with joy.

As the fire burned down and we talked about all that we love and have loved, the room began to feel a little more full, and I began to make peace with the changes in it. Or maybe my eyes just began to get used to how it is now, as they always do. We’d planned to cook dinner at home, to make a good new memory in our favorite place, but we were both tired from the day and couldn’t bear the idea of cleaning up afterward. Instead, we went out for Chinese. “It’s still the holidays, right?” he said, and we laughed.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Epiphany

Friday afternoons in January I run a poetry group, a small band of poets seeking the same thing, I think: a way into poems, the promise of absorbing the craft, of finding voice and finding paths through the words. This is how I work. I like to work with others in the same way. This week while the writers were working, studiously, heads down, involved in their own internal world, I drank my earl grey from my wide rimmed cup with the blue hares running round it and allowed myself to sit and watch the sky. The sun was setting, the jackdaws were leaving to their overnight roost. One day I shall seek out the evening roost. In that moment when i could feel the joy in my chest, watching them stream across the frame of the window, I realised I had found the peace I was looking for.

Even if this all changes again and I no longer have the privilege of seeking peace through my working day, I have it now. You have to love the things you have, in this world, and if you don’t then you either change the things you love, or you change your life until you love the things that are in it. I feel like I have been far out at sea for years, and now am resting on the shoreline I was seeking.

Wendy Pratt, Seeking Mid-Winter Peace

Several significant U.K. poetry publishers appear to be constantly bringing out new books, month on month, and their skeleton marketing teams can barely keep pace with the revolving door. Is it any surprise that in this context the sales of many full collections from prestigious outfits struggle to reach three figures?

And what about the effect of social media and newsfeeds? We all scroll so quickly, a new book becoming an old one in the space of weeks, pressure everywhere to be constantly publishing or be left behind.

A number of poetry people whose opinion I value have long held that poets should allow at least four years between collections, firstly to enable the previous book to garner and gather a readership that gradually builds and accumulates, and secondly to allow a poet’s customers to have a rest from shelling out on their wares, not to feel there’s something nearing an annual fee to keep up with their output. I myself am still encountering new readers for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, which was published back in 2017. I’m not sure that would be the case if I’d brought me second collection out a couple of years later.

Matthew Stewart, The Poetry Publishing Machine

How can you be sure you’re doing enough for your book? The answer is, even with a team, you can never be sure. If you’re a workaholic and achievement oriented, it can be overwhelming. I’m hoping not to have that stress this time around. I hope that I’ll have info after this that will help me write an update to the PR for Poets book! Will Twitter still exist when I publish the next version of the book? Will all book promotion be done on a platform that doesn’t exist yet? Stay tuned!

Anyway, if you are like me and in the middle of getting ready to launch a book during a pandemic, please leave your comments, complaints, and helpful tips. It’s been some years since my last book, and a totally different world!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Week of the New Year, Cat and Weather Dramas, and Prepping for the New Book in a New Year

I was recently honored to be invited to submit some poems for an anthology about a particular subject, the only problem was that I didn’t have any ready-made poems on said subject, so I have to write some. Its been an interesting process. At first I had certain ideas about a sestina, but try as I might I couldn’t make it work. A whole other poem was in me that had its own ideas and wanted its say. Once that was out of my system, I found myself going back to the sestina, and low and behold, it’s working. It’s interesting how both have emerged and how one needed to get in front first. It’s also interesting how little control I have over the process. I don’t believe that anyone “channels” writing, but sometimes it feels close to that for me. I’m also really enjoying the process of writing a sestina, which is one of my all-time favorite forms to write in. I think it’s a quite a brilliant and elegant form, and I may one day write an entire chapbook of them. We’ll see how it goes after this next one.

Kristen McHenry, Game-Induced Verbal Tic, Diamond Update, The Glory of Sestinas

It feels like time to look at some new poems–but new is a relative term.  Most of these are recent, but some are just new to me, poets whose names I’ve known but haven’t read at all or haven’t read closely.  Poems from recent books by poets whose previous work I do know.  New ways of seeing and hearing, of taking in the world and giving voice to it.  Most of these are new to the blog.  Poets are always torn between reading new work and re-reading long time favorites, and of course we do both, shuttling back and forth between them, sometimes resisting the ones new to us, arguing with them, then seeing what they mean, all that they open our hearts and minds to.

Sharon Bryan, Some Recent Poems

This November, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of James Schuyler. As readers of this blog will know, he has become something of a go-to poet for me. And while I know I am not alone in being a fan of his work, I somehow feel that he is not as fêted as his illustrious friends in the New York school, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. Leaving the scientific veracity of this to one side, a centenary is still worth celebrating, no?

This is, therefore, an open call to anyone who would like to write a guest blog post celebrating his life and work. Jacket 2 did a splendid special feature on Schuyler a few years ago, and this might be a good place to start in your search for inspiration in writing about him.

What am I looking for? Close readings of and responses to poems; readings of his prose, including his art criticism, the novel he coauthored with John Ashbery, his diaries; reappraisals of his work in the context of his aforementioned friends, including the New York poets that followed him; readings of his long poems; readings of his short poems; how he wrote about friendship, love, art, other poets; his elegies; his writing about the natural world. You will not run out of things to say.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler: Centenary year celebrations

and now these days
when it snows
there is a blizzard
all across the twitter sward 
images 
one need not imagine
anymore 
other than the words that speak
of the invisibility we seek
are we not all falling now
like the snow

Jim Young, blizzard

We’re made of weather — electrons twirling
like tiny twisters, blood-tides rushing and pumping.
How can anyone predict how we’ll blow?
Or what will come of our combative forces —
disease, health, madness, illumination?
Wild planets with fierce cycles of emotion,
we wobble on elliptical trajectories
toward idealized destinations,
subject to massive buildups of uncertainty.

Rachel Dacus, Why I Like Weather – a timely poem

Right now it’s starting to snow again, so the scene is even whiter and more ethereal than in this watercolor sketch, completed only an hour ago. Color fades to the barest hint of itself; the indistinct horizon blurs even more and comes closer; trees and rooftops lose their sharp edges. 

Today’s view feels chalky, and I’m looking forward to trying to capture it in pastels, but in a little while the sun will have gone down, so that may have to wait until tomorrow — when who knows what the sun and sky will be doing? 

Beth Adams, New Year in a New Neighborhood

Through New Year’s open doors
a host of voices echo, Say Yes!

Back then, I was weary of Non: 
Don’t run down the stairs! Don’t cry!

OUI! Formed in France where I broke apart 
and transformed, child in my belly, “I” to “we.”

 The exquisite shell of myself shattered by my own egg.
A future lifetime of “we.”  As we all should be.

To the new year, OUI.

Jill Pearlman, OUI/WE

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Weeks 51 & 52

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

For this final wrap-up of 2022, with two weeks of material to go through, I had the proverbial embarrassment of riches. It was especially tough with those bloggers who had a good solstice or Christmas post AND a good year-in-review post, trying to choose just one. But in the end, I feel, both sorts of posts are well represented here, along with the usual off-the-wall reflections and reports. Enjoy! See you in 2023.


Gilded horses with wild eyes and gold-painted manes, real horsehair tails groomed to silk and fanning in the breeze. Riderless on their barley-sugar twist poles, gliding by, up and down on an invisible sea, the afternoon sheened with drizzle and yellow light as the horses pass, and pass again, Coco, Belle and Princess, fettered and unloved, evoking an image of childhood that never really existed.

chestnuts in a paper bag
we stamp our feet
to keep warm

Julie Mellor, Carousel

I find Christmas more enjoyable, whatever its shape, whoever I’m with, however the food turns out, if it’s accompanied by Handel’s Messiah. It’s often sung at this time of year because of its distillation of the Christmas story into quotations from the bible, the first part focusing on Unto us a child is born.

I listened to the first section yesterday as I ran round the Quarry Park in Shrewsbury for my 80th parkrun, sporting my Santa hat. I was somewhere behind Mr Yule Log, and amid 700 or so other Santas, Elves, Christmas Trees and even, I think, a Christmas Pudding. […]

This work of Handel’s has survived its own popularity. This is song that can be sung in any season, even this one with its ugly-beautiful mix of religion, commerce, greed, altruism, cynicism, hope, loneliness and partying. I do not experience this work as a sermon, but as a poem. Similarly, parkrun with its accommodation of logs, fast runners, walkers, dogs, puddings and all – I don’t experience it as a race, but as a temporary community with volunteer marshals encouraging us on every step of the way. 

Liz Lefroy, I Snap A Picture

It’s become a private tradition to read poetry in this wintry span of time between the end of one academic term and the beginning of the next. I think it’s because poetry helps me center myself, dial down stress, and look away from my inbox. I’m definitely hit at the end of the calendar year by guilt at my to-be-read stack–but I think a craving for calm matters more. I’ve used books my whole life as a mood regulator, and probably built my career around them for similar reasons. As I put it in “Oral Culture” in my book Heterotopia, poetry is “work and joy and religion.”

I just posted at the Aqueduct Press blog about the speculative edge of my 2022 reading, noting that this was a difficult, distractible year during which certain books sunk in deeply and others skated past.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry in 2022 (work & joy & religion)

I leave the house and walk to the train station. In the afternoon, I walk home from the station. I could live anywhere.

Except I don’t. I miss the city. Any city. The pressure of anonymous, noisy humanity. Like a weighted blanket.

It’s the individual voices, the steady, thin drip of snark, and the randomly-focused vitriol that hurts. Vitriol is an interesting word. I wonder why it isn’t used more often. It gestures, in a graphic way, to petrol and by extension to all things caustic.

In the fall, there are leaves along the edges of the trail that have withered into fragile lace-like structures. The midrib and the netted veins remain as a kind of mid-stage artifact of life.

I missed the fall this year. It seems I’m waking up in the middle of death. And it’s not quiet, as we tend to describe it. It’s the percussive slaps of melting snow, flung by the tires of passing cars. Browning from the edges, like a rotting artifact of hope.

Ren Powell, Post Long Covid Torpor

Shimmer and cyclone of snow-breath clouding off pine pinnacles tall as wild hope; this ridge will burn, sooner than we can imagine, but now it diamond-glints and showers sprays of spirit-shaped creatures who rise as often as they fall, lit gold.

Vermont says Vermont things, secret. Always held between the mountain and the flesh, what is whispered here. A single glove left behind, or maybe both. Soft, warm, the shape of what was once held. Breathless from it, the cold; from what was in hand.

JJS, contranym

It’s that time, when foxes appear on Christmas cards. There’s a path made by foxes from the hole in my hedge to the fence on the other side of the front garden. My neighbour, who has a webcam, has counted at least ten different animals, plus two badgers and a hedgehog. 

I hear the foxes most nights, from about 8.30/9pm, chattering or screeching and of course the dog goes mad, throwing herself at the window. The cat doesn’t seem to hear, or doesn’t care. When I come home late, there’s usually one on the path. There used to be one that slept by my front door. 

Jackie Wills, Time of the foxes

The slow unpeeling of a lemon 
on a painter’s canvas will not convince us
to mind our decadence.
Time does pass — that’s why we celebrate.

Jill Pearlman, Mellow the Morning After

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (indie link) by Jenny Odell
The author reminds us our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. As she writes, “If we have only so much attention to give, and only so much time on this earth, we might want to think about reinfusing our attention and our communication with the intention that both deserve.” This book doesn’t rail at us to renounce technology and get back to nature (or our own navels). Instead it asks us to look at nuance, balance, repair, restoration, and true belonging. She writes beautifully. Here’s a snippet.      

“In that sense, the creek is a reminder that we do not live in a simulation—a streamlined world of products, results, experiences, reviews—but rather on a giant rock whose other life-forms operate according to an ancient, oozing, almost chthonic logic. Snaking through the midst of the banal everyday is a deep weirdness, a world of flowerings, decompositions, and seepages, of a million crawling things, of spores and lacy fungal filaments, of minerals reacting and things being eaten away—all just on the other side of the chain-link fence.”    

Laura Grace Weldon, Favorite 2022 Reads

Even the glass frog, smaller than a postage
stamp and almost as gelatinous as a gummy

bear, still confounds science—asleep, its organs
hide the blood, rendering it if not completely

invisible, then barely perceptible. Pasted
against a leaf like a wet translucence,

an outline of itself; with nearly all cells
carrying oxygen packed into the liver’s

styrofoam box, how does it even
keep breathing? And yet it does.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait as Glass Frog, or as Mystery

A BBC website piece on the international appeal of Detectorists, available here, provides some instructive reading, in how superb writing can transcend supposed barriers: that, far from obscure cultural references being deterrents, they can actually possess intrinsic appeal because of their obscurity.

I’ve had similar thought when reading We Peaked at Paper, subtitled ‘an oral history of British zines’, co-written by Gavin Hogg and my friend Hamish Ironside. It covers fanzines devoted to all manner of obscure subjects, including, to my delight, A Kick up the Rs, about the mighty QPR. What’s evident is the passionate energy which the founders brought to their individual fanzines and it’s that which is important, surely, in enabling niche content to reach beyond those who might already be converted. I can’t recommend the book, which is beautifully produced and available here, enough.

Matthew Paul, On obscurity

It feels bad to be a downer. It feels bad to not participate. It feels bad to be there but absent. It feels very bad to miss these years of grandchildren growing up, miss getting to know each unique, amazing personality. I have had, and hope to have more, time with them. I cannot be a regular grandma, certainly not a storybook grandma, but to the extent I can I would like to know them and for them to know me. 

But most of all, I want as long as possible with my friend and lover and husband while we are both able to fully appreciate our time together. This late romance was an unexpected gift. My illness is not its only burden, but so far we have held together. I hope we can keep doing so. 

Sharon Brogan, Why I’m Not There

The list of books I read in the past year is the shortest in memory, partly because of all the things that happened this year to disrupt my reading time, but also because it contains three very long titles. Most of my reading was connected with my zoom book group, and we began the year reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That occupied us during most of the cold months last winter, appropriately enough. It was my third time through, and I feel like I got even more out of it, especially by virtue of the close reading with astute friends. Among us, we read several different translations, and this also added to the depth of our discussions. I was the one who had pushed us to read it, and so it was a delight to watch the group engage with and, at length, fall in love with the book and its characters, and appreciate Tolstoy’s tremendous gifts as a novelist. The biggest gratification for all of us came at the end when several members who had been reluctant at first, or who had tried previously and never gotten through it, expressed their feeling of accomplishment and happiness at having met this monument of literature, which everybody agreed really does deserve its rating as one of the greatest novels of all time.

We then drew a deep breath, and decided to read a number of short works, of which the two by César Aira stand out particularly, along with Aristophanes’ comic play The Birds.

Beth Adams, Book List, 2022

I’ve been forgetting to post poems on the blog, as more people tend to read them via links on twitter or facebook these days, but here are the out-in-December ones I can remember (alas, I’ve had to rush away from home and don’t have access to all my records.)

New poem in First Things: The Mortal Longing After Loveliness This one not “about” but is oddly apt for the Christmas season. I wonder how many poems Xerxes has marched into…

New poem in Willows Wept: Summer’s End (page 53) I’d forgotten this one; poets are moody, it seems!

And if you have a subscription to print-only journal Blue Unicorn (they’re very rare, those lovely, melancholy blue ones), you’ll find one in there this month as well, thanks to a bit of delay on an issue.

Marly Youmans, Wiseblood, Seren, poems

The concerts are over – Sunday’s Lewes Singers event was a major thrill, and it was lovely and amazing to see Claire Booker there – of all my local poet friends, none has ever been interested in coming to hear beautiful choral singing, so Claire is a real one-off!

As the year closes out I’m reminding myself all the good things – as well as the music, there’s Planet Poetry which has just has just signed off for a wee break, although we’re back in January with Peter interviewing Mimi Khalvati. I’m really looking forward to it, especially as Peter and Mimi knew each other back in the day. […]

In the post yesterday came the long-awaited new edition of The Dark Horse. The front cover somewhat dauntingly announces it’s a ‘Festschrift for Douglas Dunn – Poems, Affections and Close Readings’, teamed with ‘MacDiarmid at 100’. Despite my initial reservations I soon found myself enjoying very much the various recollections and essays about both of these (clearly eminent, but in different ways) poets. I’ve already been persuaded to order a copy of Dunn’s Elegies. And already I’ve spotted some lovely poems by Christopher Reid and Marco Fazzini, the former’s ‘Breaking or Losing’ I read to my (non-poet) husband who found it very moving. I like the way The Dark Horse is both a serious magazine and also warm and real – heavyweight contributions abound, but it’s never overly academic or esoteric.

Robin Houghton, Festive reading and giving

As I look back on the past year, at first I felt as if I didn’t get as much accomplished as I wanted to—as I could say of all the pandemic years—and was weighted down with too many doctor’s appointments and not enough fun stuff. But productivity is only one way—and a narrow one—to measure a year. I made new friends at a beautiful new farm in Woodinville – where I spent a lot of time wondering through lavender fields – and started a book club at a winery—where I hope to make more local friends. I got to go to La Conner for the Tulip Festival AND the Poetry Festival, and caught up with old friends, and did my first live reading at Hugo House since the pandemic with wonderful poets. I did podcasts for Writer’s Digest and Rattle. And of course, I worked this year with BOA Editions for the first time, on copyedits, covers, blurbs, and putting together all kinds of information. So in some ways I accomplished important things. So I guess I’m hoping for more time in flower fields, more time with friends, and more time away from doctor’s offices.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holidays: Solstice and Christmas Traditions, Flare, Corona Full Cover Reveal, New Kittens, Winter Storms, and Planning for 2023 Already!

Quite unseasonally perhaps, here is an image of a gazelle – gazella dorcas – the kind of one Rilke is writing about in my translation below, with that ‘listening, alert’ look. The other extraordinary image that Rilke includes here is of the hind legs: ‘as if each shapely leg / were a shotgun, loaded with leap after leap’. This is one of the New Poems, written by Rilke under the influence of the sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Rilke learned from Rodin’s insistence on ‘looking’ closely at a subject, as well as his impressive work ethic! […]

This is one of five new translations which have just been posted at The Fortnightly Review. Click the link below to see the others – ‘Departure of the Prodigal Son’, ‘Pieta’, ‘God in the Middle Ages’ and ‘Saint Sebastian’.
Five poems from ‘Neue Gedichte’.

Martyn Crucefix, Five New Rilke Translations in ‘The Fortnightly Review’

Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with how I use this blog in conjunction with social media. My point of departure was a quick analysis of the differing temporal nature of blogs, Facebook and Twitter as a poet’s main means of communication with their readers. If a blog post often gathers pace over the course of days and weeks (and sometimes even months and years if Google takes a fancy to it), Facebook posts accumulate likes over a period of hours and days, while Tweets find audiences mainly in minutes and hours.

This is why blogs are losing impetus. But it’s also their possible saving grace. Rather than viewing my blog as a separate entity from my social media use and lamenting its decline as a fading anachronism, I’ve begun to realise that my blog posts could acquire a crucial function on Twitter and Facebook. And as a consequence, the viewing stats for Rogue Strands have increased once more.

Matthew Stewart, The future of poetry blogging

Forever and always books save me – they bring me refuge, they carry me away, they provide entertainment and escape. Books for me are the ultimate entertainment and because I don’t watch television, most nights you’ll find me curled up on the couch with my dogs and a book. In fact, Piper loves the smell/taste of books and will often lick the pages and try to nibble at them, and Cricket, in her obsessive, smothering love, will force me to maneuver around her to hold my book because her favorite spot to lay is on my chest.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2022

I meant to stay away from this space until after the new year, thinking I’d want to spend my time in other ways, but this morning Jill of Open Space Practice shared an article on Facebook about the choices of a man dying of glioblastoma–which are the choices all of us make, every day, whether we know death is imminent or not.

This man, who chose to begin an important creative project (knitting a sweater for his son) even though he knew he might not finish it before dying, made me think of a conversation I had this week with an old (from college) friend. We acknowledged that we are moving into a new stage of life, one in which time feels short in ways that it never has before. “I find myself wondering what I want to do with what remains,” I said to her.

It brought to mind, too, a piece that Kate shared on her blog this week, The Satisfaction of Practice in an Achievement-Oriented World, in which the writer, Tara McMullin, makes a case for doing things for the experience of doing them–not for accomplishment or some byproduct that doing the thing might provide, but simply for whatever benefit we get in the moment of doing. She advocates for the value of practice over achievement.

This is a different thing, in some important respects, from the man who hopes to finish knitting a sweater, but it also isn’t. Both are about letting go of outcomes–starting the sweater even though you might die before it is done, taking up running because of how it feels while you’re doing it and not because you want to lose weight.

Talking about the article with Cane, I recalled how I felt the morning after my book of poetry won an award–how I understood, for the first time, that I would from then on write–if I wrote–for the sake of writing itself and not for accolades or publication. The accolade was nice, but fleeting, as was the feeling I’d had when I first held the book in my hand. It wasn’t enough to sustain me or the effort it took to write while parenting and teaching full-time.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The gifts of time

How does a poem begin?

Poems begin in my body. I’ve often compared it to the sensation just before a sneeze. Sometimes, a feeling comes over me and it’s luckily often combined with an opening or triggering phrase. I spend a lot of time hiking in the hills behind my house with my dogs, and I will often find that a phrase comes to me that leads me into a new poem. I find that if I pay attention to this confluence of feeling and sound, if I stop what I’m doing and write it down, a poem will flow fairly easily onto the page. 

Thomas Whyte, Subhaga Crystal Bacon : part five

Yesterday, visited a place that I had always wanted to visit since I heard about it: Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, or Casa Azul. It was a beautiful compound of house and garden. The great paintings were not there, as they were scattered in the world’s museums, but the material remnants of one’s life were. The wheelchair in front of the easel in the artist’s studio. The mirror above the beds in the day and night bedrooms that enabled the artist to paint while lying down in excruciating pain. The artist’s ashes in an urn in the shape of toad, to recall Diego’s nickname for himself, the toad-frog. The corsets—medical and decorative—that held the broken body straight. The song written by Patti Smith, painted on the garden wall, inspired by Noguchi’s gift of a display case of butterflies to Kahlo. Famously, when Kahlo had to remove her gangrenous foot, she said, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”

After Casa Azul, we walked to the lovely neighborhood of Coyoacán, taking in the busy Mercado de Coyoacán and the street artists in a small square. I regret not buying a small painting there. An ink painting of a man and a woman entwined in sex, the woman sitting in the man’s lap, on top of the text of a poem by (?), translucently covered by a yellow wash.

Jee Leong Koh, Flying in Corsets, Dancing in Bars

For several days in December, 2022, Adelaide and surrounding areas swarmed with large dragonflies, that have bred in the very wet spring we’ve had this year. In this video, I’ve used a frame echo process to track and digitally illuminate the flight paths of the dragonflies as they fly around our garden in Belair, South Australia. […]

Dragonflies have some of the most accomplished aerial abilities of any animal, with both high speed and high manoeuvrability. Associated with this, they have an advanced visual system, capable of seeing a wide range of colours as well as polarised light with very high resolution. Moreover, the part of the eyes that look up towards the sky have different optical properties compared with areas that look down, as befits the different environments in each visual domain.

Ian Gibbins, Dragonflies swarming

Today in Portland we are hunkered down with temperatures in the 20’s, sleet on the ground and freezing rain in the forecast. We are fortunate. We have food in the cupboards, the electricity is still on, and all my family are safe, unlike so many around the world, especially in Ukraine.

May you use this season to reflect on all you have and be grateful for it. May you find it in your heart this season to help others who are less fortunate. May you appreciate the fleeting moment we exist and make the time you inhabit this earth matter.

And find joy. In the birds at the feeder, in the neighbor’s soup, in a child’s laugh, in a beloved’s voice, in the music we make and the poems we write.

My wish for each of us is to create a world filled with peace, love, kindness, good health. Be the light someone can find in the darkness.

Carey Taylor, Peace be with Us

I admire the achievement of Amnion as a sustained project, the way the author is able to bring to life and combine complicated histories with her own present-day story. Stephanie Sy-Quia’s book is an exciting advertisement for fragmental writing and the possibilities it offers poetry and hybrid literature.

Scenes from Life on Earth (Salt, 2022) by Kathryn Simmonds is also biographical in part, addressing the author’s experience of parental bereavement and parenthood as well as poems of the natural world. Reading both books in close sequence, I couldn’t help noticing my own reactions to the texts. I felt more of an emotional punch reading Simmond’s poems, and wondered if this was because I connected more with the book’s themes, or was it because the brevity of its poetic forms compresses extraneous information the longer line of fragmental writing allows? Is the condensed form more immediately powerful? Whatever the answer, several of Simmonds poems moved me to tears and thoughtfulness and made me feel foolish for not buying her earlier books.

Josephine Corcoran, My End of Year Books

For the holidays, I’m sharing the November recording of my reading with the fabulous Carine Topal and Cecilia Woloch. This was my first reading in nearly two years and features work from the forthcoming Wonder & Wreckage. Thank you again to VCP SoCal Poets for hosting us!

Speaking of W & W, the manuscript sequencing is complete and I’m just tinkering with a few of the ‘”new” poems for this new & selected collection. Early in the new year, I’ll be sitting down with my friend and go-to book designer to work out the final cover. I’m pleased with the selection of work I’ve chosen for this book, although quite a few favorites had to come out to keep the flow. Still killing darlings after all these years. However, I do have a plan in mind to compile the “discards” into a special, very limited chapbook. More details as I hatch this plan.

On Feb. 2, I plan to put in my first live appearance in over two years at the launch of Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology at the Decatur Library. My poem “Roosters & Hens” is in there. Co-editors Dustin Brookshire and Julie Bloemeke along with Madvillle Publishing have done a tremendous job and I’m in fabulous company.

Collin Kelley, Wrapping up 2022

2023 will, I hope, be a more productive year. And a better year for everyone and everything. It’s hard to recall good points of 2022 when it all feels quite bleak here and abroad. I’m sure there are thing that will come back to me.

However, 2022 has been a year of less running and less submitting. The former has been because a mixture of injury and illness. the latter was partially driven by the first half of the year being about working on poems for the book, many of which have already found homes. This has, in turn, meant I’ve written less new stuff to send out. There’s also been a general malaise about me that I’m slowly emerging from. I’d also argue, and I don’t have the stats for this, that I’ve written more reviews this year and that has also had an impact.

Mat Riches, Charts (Hah) (What are they good for?)

So what does the new approach to writing goals look like?

I think part of the point is that I don’t need to know exactly. I’m simply going to focus on positivity and pleasure. I’m aiming for encouragement, support and satisfaction. I’m interested in building on what I’ve already learned about who I am and where I can imbue my process with possibility. […]

So much of this effort will be framed in “what is possible,” and returning to discovery mode — letting a process or project surprise me — is the perfect medicine right now. I can easily see that in any given day, the list of wants above will come in handy in a very practical way. I’ll just need to pick a small thing that supports something on the list… and do it. And celebrate it.

More to come on that once we get underway in January!

There will still be snow then. (Probably lots of it.) But also maybe more writing and art.

The kind that comes from joy.

Carolee Bennett, a new approach to writing goals

and here you are
rocking in the breeze
zero ballast

your shirt your sail
tack into the wind
above the pavement

there is now no rule book
all will become clear

Paul Tobin, ALL WILL BECOME CLEAR

It’s nearing the end of 2022 and I’m on Winter Break. I’ve spent the morning reading the newest SheilaNaGig Winter 22, Vol. 7.2 and am overjoyed to have a couple of poems included in this issue. I’m humbled to have my work included among the work and pages of such poets as George Franklin, John Palen, Marc Swan, Jeff Burt, Laura Ann Reed, SE Waters, Dick Westheimer, and more. Thank you to editors Hayley Mitchell Haugen and Barbara Sabol for leaving the lights on and offering writers such an amazing space to publish. I am quite sure the candle burned at both ends to send this out to the world on Christmas Eve and the reading is just the gift it was intended to be. If you like poetry with stars, this is the perfect issue to read. Dick Westheimer’s chapbook, A Sword in Both Hands: Poems Responding to Russia’s War on Ukraine is soon to be published by SheilaNaGig Editions, so of course I’ve pre-ordered a copy. Note that both editors have newly published collections this fall, Mitchell Haugen’s The Blue Wife Poems (Kelsay Books, 2022) and Sabol’s Connections (Bird Dog Publishing, 2022 and in collaboration with Larry Smith).

Kersten Christianson, Top 9 of 2022

Orbis magazine invites readers’ votes and brief comments. I never have voted, though I’ve been tempted to offer comments. I tend to assess in various contradictory ways. Over-simplifying, and depending on the situation, they include –

  • Bottom-up – I give points for various features (use of sound, etc) or (as in diving) combine degree of difficulty with performance
  • Top-down – I first decide whether I like the poem or not, then I list its obvious features showing how they support my opinion: e.g. if a poem has tight integration of form and content I can say that this reveals technical prowess (if I like the poem) or that the poem has stifling predictability (if I don’t). A poem may be understated (if I like it), or lacking verve (if I don’t).
  • Emotion – a piece may move me though I know it’s not a good poem – it may not even be a poem, or I know I’m moved only because it describes something I’ve experienced.
  • Learning resource – a poem may open my eyes to new poetic possibilities, inspiring me to write. It may not be good.
  • Best bits – it’s tempting to judge a poem by its best (often last) lines. Sometimes (“Lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm in Pine Island Minnesota” maybe?) the last line justifies the ‘blandless’ of the rest of the poem.
  • Good of its type – however good some poems are, they’re restricted by the type of poem they are.
Tim Love, Assessing poems

Born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa and then Washington D.C., San Francisco Bay Area-based poet Adrian Lürssen’s full-length debut is the poetry collection Human Is to Wander (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2022), as selected by Gillian Conoley for the 2022 Colorado Poetry Prize. As I wrote of his chapbook earlier this year, NEOWISE (Victoria BC: Trainwreck Press, 2022), a title that existed as an excerpt of this eventual full-length collection, Lürssen’s poems and poem-fragments float through and across images, linking and collaging boundaries, scraps and seemingly-found materials. Composed via the fractal and fragment, the structure of Human Is to Wander sits, as did the chapbook-excerpt, as a swirling of a fractured lyric around a central core. “in which on / their heads,” he writes, to open the sequence “THE LIGHT IS NOT THE USUAL LIGHT,” “women carried water / and mountains // brought the sky / full circle [.]”

The book is structured as an extended, book-length line on migration and geopolitics, of shifting geographies and global awareness and globalization. He writes of war and its effects, child soldiers and the dangers and downside of establishing boundaries, from nations to the idea of home; offering the tragedies of which to exclude, and to separate. “The accidental response of any movement,” he writes, to open the poem “ARMY,” “using yelling instead of creases as a / means to exit. Or the outskirts of an enemy camp.” Set in three lyric sections, Lürssen’s mapmaking examines how language, through moving in and beyond specifics, allows for a greater specificity; his language forms akin to Celan, able to alight onto and illuminate dark paths without having to describe each moment. “A system of killing that is irrational or rational,” he writes, to open the poem “SKIRT,” “depending on the training.” As the same poem concludes, later on: “It is a game of answers, this type of love.” Lürssen’s lyrics move in and out of childhood play and war zones, child soldiers and conflations of song and singer, terror and territory, irrational moves and multiple levels of how one employs survival. This is a powerful collection, and there are complexities swirling through these poems that reward multiple readings, and an essential music enough to carry any heart across an unbearable distance. “The enemy becomes a song,” the poem “UNIT” ends, “held by time.”

rob mclennan, Adrian Lürssen, Human Is to Wander

Some would scream in exasperation that this is not poetry. Well, the poetry police are everywhere, aren’t they? Often they don’t write it anyway, just yell that if it doesn’t rhyme in iambic pentameters, then it’s prose, or worse, just nonsense. For them I had fun writing The Poetry Hospital.

I love inventing narrators, situations, whole worlds, producing believable fakes like The Cholmondeley MacDuff Spanish Phrase Book 1954 and Ezra Pound’s Trombone In A Museum In Genoa – well, why not? I mix in real stuff too – as in the poem Autumn which is a careful recollection of the events of a day. Does it really matter which part is real? No, Ezra Pounds trombone is not real. Yes, I can and do skin and butcher a deer the gamekeeper leaves for me. What’s the difference, as long as each poem holds together and says something about how we cope with life?

The point of each poem, or of the poems as a group, is what lies beneath. Which takes us back to the beginning – to anger, love, passion, the sense of how absurd and lovely and dangerous and horrific the world is as we go through it day by day.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN SOMEONE ASKS ‘WHERE DO YOUR POEMS COME FROM?’

I once heard a senior British poet warming to a riff during a reading on the topic of the acknowledgements pages in recent collections of poetry. He had noticed that there was a ‘trend’ for these to conclude with long lists of thanks to other poets. ‘Whatever happened to autodidacticism?’ he asked. The disapproval in his voice was unmistakable.

My own view is that allies are essential in any walk of life. Why should poetry be any different? All that seems to have happened is that poets (though novelists do this too: look at the generous list of thanks in all of Ali Smith’s novels and short story collections) are now more transparently open about naming their friends and networks of support in print than was the case, say, twenty years ago.

The allies in my writing life are a really mixed bunch. Distance and time being what they are, I rarely see all of the people I am about to thank in the space of one calendar year. As the old joke goes, I see most of them around once a century. (Some, I have yet to meet face to face.) The key to my knowing the weight and grace of their support in my life is that, visible or not, they are there, somewhere on my shoulder, or just behind it, as I write. Some, I will speak to on the phone. Some, I will text. Some drop me the occasional email. However infrequently we make contact, they all need, in Robert Pinsky’s phrase, ‘answering’, albeit fleeting, and not always directly. What I do know is that I could not write (let alone do this) without the feel of their friendship.

Anthony Wilson, On having allies

Like clockwork, every once in a while someone dusts off the very tired mantle and declares poetry dead.  It happens in little magazines, blog posts, facebook/twitter rants, and sadly on platforms for the normies like The New York Times Opinion Section.  Suddenly, like a bunch of rats feeding on the corpse, we are all illuminated by a set of headlights for a moment, all of us who consider ourselves poets or poetry lovers, then we scurry back into the woods or behind a dumpster or into our notebooks and word docs until the next article comes looking for us. […]

But the thing is, and perhaps this why articles like the NYT’s one infuriate me, is that if you ask any one of us, poets that is, what is a good poem, we may have (will have) entirely different answers. This was a pivotal scene in a workshop I once took, where the teacher had us go around and tell everyone what we thought was most important in a poem, and I think with one or two exceptions, in a room of around 15 people, no one had the same answer. Also,  young poets may be astounded that there really is no singular poetry world, but more like an overlapping map of constellations of aesthetics and influences and presses/journals. It might seem sprawling and chaotic, but it makes room for everything, including underheard and underrepresented voices. For visual poetry, for language poetry, for more traditional verse. For insta poetry and verse epics and strange word collages like mine.

Poetry, on one hand is Rupi Kaur and her innumerable fans that while not my taste, has brought “poetry” as a word to the lips of younger millennial and gen-zers. It’s also amazing poets who get some recognition like Ada Limon, who was finally a US poet laureate whose work I already liked.  Or Claudia Rankine, who I was aghast one day when a friend who knows nothing of poets said she was reading Citizen on a bartender’s recommendation. It’s also me and my fellow poets who are writing their best work to date and have like 5 dedicated readers. While poetry is something like Poetry Magazine or the American Poetry Review, it’s also tiny indie presses and journals that are publishing (at least for me) the most exciting work. On the other, performance poets and cinema poets and open-mic poets. It’s also the girl writing bad poetry in her diary as much as it is the crochety “established” poet writing crappy poetry during his sabbatical already under contract with a major journal. Or the girl writing really good poetry on her tumblr and the guy who writes poems on his phone but never shows them to a soul.

So when you declare poetry is dead, I ask which poetry? Which beast?

Kristy Bowen, not dead, but waiting to be born

I saw him read this at Dodge Poetry Fest. The slow cadence imbued with humility and vulnerability.

These exquisitely tender moments, these carefully tended to everyday beauties given love syllable by syllable.

It seems much of American poetry is better at it, while Canadian poetry is more bent towards dissonant traumatized cacophony. Perhaps also it was more common in the previous century as an acceptable expression, to be timeless and bound inside a lovely moment.

Pearl Pirie, Loved Then, Loved Now: Early in the Morning

The journey to getting poetry published is hard enough as it is that to suggest there might be some benefit to having your work turned down may sound perverse. Increasingly, though, I feel as grateful to the editors who say no as I do to those who say yes.

That thought was initially prompted by something I read the other day and now can’t remember, but I was reminded of it by two recent blogs in which poets offer sideways looks at the poetry-publishing-machine. In Beyond Submissions, Naush Sabah questions just how much store poets should put in the validation of an acceptance from an editor they know little about. Some poems might be best shared by other means, without all the hassle and anxiety. Or not shared at all: it’s not an exact comparison, but think of the number of sketches a painter produces before the final picture.

In (Avoiding) Poetic Ecological Collapse, meanwhile, Jonathan Davidson suggests that a constant rush for publication may not only be unsustainable for our own writing but a distraction from all the other ways of engaging with words which the art needs to flourish. What happens when we see ourselves as custodians of the ‘commonwealth of poetry’, rather than toilers in our own private furlongs?

Writers sometimes see editors as gatekeepers and it is easy to see why. Rejections feel like being held back: if only they would let us through into the green pastures of publication! (You can blame Jonathan for the pastoral metaphors). But editors – and, increasingly, arts administrators, competition judges, mentors and funding bodies – also decide when to let the poet through, and in what form, and this inevitably shapes where they go next. Less gatekeepers, more shepherds. It is a big responsibility.

Sometimes I think it is a responsibility we don’t talk about enough. I have come across several books in the last few years – highly-acclaimed first or second collections from prestigious publishers – where I couldn’t understand why the editor hadn’t encouraged the poet to slim the collection down, or even wait until they had a stronger set of poems to work with. Perhaps they already had.

Jeremy Wikeley, Shepherds at the gate

I’ve always told myself that writing poems is how I process my emotions. But it’s more than that. If processing were all I needed, a notebook would be just fine. I do more than that, though. I post them on my blog, on TikTok, on Instagram. I put them in the places where the people they’re about might see them. And I do this even though a poem has never, not once, fixed any relationship I’ve been in.

Moreover, I post them where other people might also see them. People not connected to the situation, but folks who I want to have a good opinion of me, to think of me as a caring, expressive person with his heart in the right place.  

I know next to nothing about Lord Byron, but I’ve always had this picture of him as a person who used his poetry to manipulate. To woo. To brag. To paint a larger-than-life picture of himself. And at the risk of a ridiculous comparison to one of the most famous poets in the English language, I do worry that I might be doing the same thing. Tainting the value of what I produce by using it the way I do.

Jason Crane, Deploying poetry

As if the universe slides
into the seat next to mine and pours a drink.
As if we clink glasses. As if the silence is raw,
like sand on skin, like hard shell against a
naked sole. As if there’s nothing but me and
ocean all around — the meaning of freedom,
the meaning of captivity. Again, we don’t say
anything. We have never learnt to speak each
other’s language. At this rate, we never will.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 27

So I’m tired of hearing people start their sentences with “So” on podcasts and the radio and TV, “so” a verbal tic, a word instead of “um,” which serves the same purpose but admits, more humbly, of uncertainty, which says I am pausing to gather my thoughts before speaking; whereas “So” sets up an explanation leading to opinion or argument, or so it seems to me.

So I’m sitting on my back porch even though it is late December, clouds gathering over bare trees. I hear woodpeckers deepening holes in trees, a rat-a-tat drill, and white-breasted nuthatches loud along the woodlot, and I ponder emerald ash borers and climate change and how to handle human aging in a capitalist society.

So what I wonder is “Am I afraid?” Some questions possess a looming quality, I guess this is one such. In my wicker chair, in my own backyard, no. Not afraid. The mood’s serene, no tightness in my chest no racing heart, not even facing death–as we all must do, though most of us refuse. Where are you going with this, Writer?

Ann E. Michael, Solo endeavor?

In her beautiful poetry collection, The Smallest of Bones, Holly Lyn Walwrath uses the skeleton of the body as a means of structurally shaping the collection. Each section begins with a poem of various bones, from the cranium to the sternum and beyond. The poems that follow explore love, sexuality, gender, religion, and death, among other aspects of humanity and the supernatural. It’s a gorgeous collection with crisp, clear, and lyrical language. […]

This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko is a stunning collection of poems centering around Minidoka, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans built in Idaho during World War II. The author blends history with myth and folklore to explore how the scars of the past carry through generations — from grandparents through to their grandchildren. The wounds caused by racism and hate continue on through memory and story. These poems are evocative and beautiful, providing an important memorial for an aspect of American history that should never be forgotten.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2022

we take the storm
and make our storm against it
pull away from its undertow
shoulder the thrusting
the rage of the pebbled feet
the split lipped salted rime
damn the bruises you you
come back here now you you
horizoned opinioned beast
here i am 
steadfast

Jim Young, wild sea swimming

It’s the time of year when many people will be making resolutions and self-improvement plans. I am done with planning. After a year of constant pivoting, I am going to spend the next year basking in joy. That’s more likely than losing 20-50 pounds or running a half marathon/10K/5K or eating 5 servings of veggies each and every day. I will write poems, as I have always done. I will think about book length collections, while realizing this year is likely not the one where I put together something new. I will be on the lookout for new opportunities, new ways to bask in joy.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, My New Year’s Resolution: To Bask in Joy

I am satisfied with my writing accomplishments for this year–I ended up writing and publishing my chapbook The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Belle Point Press), an it turned out truly beautiful.

Doing the month long poem-a-day challenge in April really jump started that progress, and I think that I will attempt to do that challenge again in the spring.

I was also able to place poems in 14 different literary magazines this year, and I made significant revisions to my work in progress, WOB.

I think I could do more to promote my books that came out / are coming out this year, but I had trouble incorporating that in while still writing as much as I did and teaching some online classes (and homeschooling, and parenting, and and and…). Next year I need to work on promoting my work a bit more, though I am glad that I was able to do a reading this past March at Trevecca U, and I was lucky enough to already get a review of my chapbook, Commonplace.

Renee Emerson, 2022 Writing Goals Update

Before I settled in for the night, I spent some time with a book I’ve been reading about infinity—it’s taking forever to finish—and, naturally enough, it talks about transfinities, the infinities beyond infinity. I love that one type of infinity is aleph-null, a seductively Kabbalistic Borgesian science-fiction-y term. ( It refers to infinite cardinality as opposed to just counting forever, which is ∞) And that you can multiply infinity by infinity. Aleph null by aleph null, and, like multiplying 1 x 1, you get what you started with. What happens if, when you’re sleeping, you dream you are sleeping? This feels like another kind of infinity, another kind of sleep.

Sleep and infinity are related. Because you can never get enough of either? It’s more that they both have the sense of venturing into a limitless place. What is the shape of the place that is sleep? It’s edgeless, borderless, with no ground or sky. The composer Schoenberg imagined writing music that was like heaven—in this music, up, down, backwards and forwards would be the same because heaven had no direction and was thus entirely symmetrical. An angel has no upsidedown no matter how drunk it gets. I don’t remember if Schoenberg spoke about time, but music that is symmetrical implicitly plays with time. If it is the same backwards and forwards, it doesn’t operate in Newtonian time.   

Gary Barwin, WIDE ASLEEP: NIGHT THOUGHTS ON INSOMNIA

Whole lotta life keeps happening. It’s the main reason I’ve been quiet here. Like today, my partner has been out with a migraine for the greater part of the day, now evening, and I’ve been in the silence that comes with caregiving.

Well, the not-so-silent because my cat, Semilla, is here with me.

I’d like to share some recent highlights and publications before the year is through:

  • I was excited to contribute a short write-up for Poets & Writer’s series “Writers Recommend.” I riff a bit about inspiration as well as shoutout the work of Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and Cristela Alonzo.
  • On the Rotura (Black Lawrence Press) front, I am deeply honored to have the book reviewed recently. Thank you to Staci Halt who wrote this insightful review for The Los Angeles Review!
  • Thank you also to Angela María Spring for including Rotura in their “10 New Poetry Collections by Latinx and Caribbean Writers” over at Electric Lit! Means a great deal to be included among such a powerful set of books.
  • And looking ahead, I am excited to share in this space that my debut creative nonfiction collection, Ruin and Want, was chosen as the winning selection during Sundress Publications’ 2022 Prose Open Reading Period! This lyric memoir was a revelatory journey to write, both personally as well as craft-wise. I’m excited to have it find a home at such a great place!
José Angel Araguz, dispatch 123022

2022 was a welcome quiet year for me, my family life largely keeping me from writing – no new books, and few poetry publications outside of haiku magazines. I was able to set time aside to write a number of essays on writing, though. It was something new for me, which I found I quite enjoyed. Essays appeared in the aforementioned Resonance anthology, EVENT, Canadian Notes + Queries, the League of Canadian Poets poetry month blog, The Tyee, The Tyee again, and Brick.

That last essay, in Brick, is the most personal for me – a reflection on what Steven Heighton taught me about life and writing. Steve’s sudden death in April shocked me, as it did so many, and even now hardly seems real. I was so glad I was able to talk with him in-depth about his writing for our Walrus interview, something I’d considered putting off for one more year until my time freed up (needless to say, it didn’t). The issue only just came out, and if you get a chance to pick up a copy, I very much encourage you to do so. (It also features a tribute to Steve from Karen Solie, which Brick has posted online – it can be read here. And a heck of a poem about swans from 2022 interviewee Sadiqa de Meijer.)

Rob Taylor, the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

To offer a prayer for the lost, a devotion to what is found and what lasts.

To write words of encouragement to ourselves on the palms of our hands with an ink that never fades.

To become one with the stars dazzling a carnival-colored night.

To embody equilibrium amidst insanity.

To sing for you, atom by atom, all the songs gathered within the oxygenated orchestra of breath.

To unbutton rainbows from the sky and forever wrap you in the many colors of amazement.

Rich Ferguson, For Doug Knott, RIP

I think I was seven or eight, and my parents were having a New Year’s Eve party in our tiny apartment.  There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people, but it was crowded and festive.  I’d been allowed to stay up, and to come to the party to pass around the cheese and crackers and candy, so I was feeling very grown up.  Then someone said, “Well, that’s almost it for this year, ” and I suddenly panicked.  I realized that soon I’d be writing a new year on everything, and that I had only a few minutes to write the old one while it was still true.  I could write it later, but it wouldn’t mean the same thing.   I set down the plate I was carrying, ran into my bedroom to get a pencil and paper, and wrote the year over and over until I’d covered both sides.  I didn’t understand what I was feeling, I just knew it was urgent.  Now I’d say it was an early glimmer of saving things by writing them down.

Sharon Bryan, Poems for the New Year

I’ve made some surprising discoveries. In the book my co-leader assigned, Jill Duffield’s Advent in Plain Sight: A Devotion through Ten Objects, the first object is “gates.” I love that—I did a little digging and learned that the word “gate” appears 418 times in the King James Bible. In my introduction to the poems, I talked about how a gate can seem to be a barrier, but it’s really an invitation. A gate marks a path to be followed.

Poems, too, are gates. In my college teaching career I often encountered students who hated poetry. They saw a poem as a gate with a “no trespassing” sign hanging on it. But isn’t a poem, like a gate, an invitation? Open this. Walk through. See the world the way I see it. The first poem I brought was Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” and the study group climbed onto the bus with me. “There’s communion here,” one participant gleefully noted. And another: “it’s a story of the good Samaritan!”

Bethany Reid, Winter Solstice Greetings

This afternoon, while wrapping
gifts, I wept because my Uncle John
died three months before I was born,
and I’ve never heard him sing.

The barn cat hunts down the birds
that winter here. His coat spreads ropy
into the air. This year, he circles my legs,
grateful that I no longer have a dog.

In my head, we are slow-dancing
to Christmas songs in the kitchen. In reality,
you are cooking dinner, I am writing
at the table, and this is the loneliest I’ve felt all year.

Allyson Whipple, Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

In between reading work for Spelt, research papers and research books for my current work in project, journals and magazines, I managed to get through fifty poetry, fiction , narrative non fiction and non fiction books this year. In a year that was challenging at times as I dealt with grief around the death of my dad, books became my friends and my escape once again. Thank you to every writer who courageously puts themselves on the page, who creates something amazing out of the sparking of neural pathways in the brain, thank you to those who quietly wait for their books to be noticed, thank you to those who shouted from the roof tops, I salute you. You make the world a better place simply by doing the work that you love.

Wendy Pratt, I Like Big Book (lists) and I Cannot Lie – The 50 Books I read in 2022 and My Top Five

2022 has drawn to a close and I don’t really have a list of accomplishments to offer, but I do have a couple of highlights in poetry-world.

In February, the wonderful poetry journal Bad Lilies published my two poems ‘Brilliant cut’ and ‘Yustas’. They appeared in the journal’s sixth issue, entitled ‘Private Universe’, alongside a host of other great poets and poems. 

A few years ago I first discovered the work of Julian Semenov (or Yulian Semyonov). He was a Russian and Soviet thriller writer who is little known in Western countries but whose impact in Slavic countries, and regions formerly in the USSR and its sphere of influence, was profound. Most famously, Semenov wrote a book called Seventeen Moments of Spring, which was published in the late 1960s and a few years later was adapted into a television series of the same name, which is probably the most famous Soviet TV show ever made. This spy show is really only known in Western countries to those who are deeply interested in world spy films, or in Soviet or Russian culture. My own interest came mainly from a curiosity about what the USSR was doing with espionage fiction and film in the early 1970s, but watching Seventeen Moments of Spring also led in a very direct line to my starting to learn Russian in 2020. 

These two poems, specifically inspired by Semenov’s works, were published in late February. Less than a week later, Russia attacked Ukraine and beyond the fact that the news was shocking and overwhelming, it didn’t feel like an ideal time to be blogging about Russian pop culture (although “Soviet” is more accurate here than “Russian”, for what it’s worth) – hence the very long delay. Strangely, though, Seventeen Moments of Spring and Semenov’s books can genuinely be said to have slipped the considerable constraints of their origins. Today they are still relevant (even to the current moment), open to a wide variety of interpretations, and of course entertaining. The Seventeen Moments series was specifically intended as propaganda at the time of its release, part of a campaign to improve the KGB’s image. But the show’s surprising subtlety allowed many viewers to interpret it as a comment on the Soviet Union itself and the pressures of working inside, and against, a powerful oppressive system which keeps everyone under constant surveillance. Stirlitz, the double-agent hero, has inspired an endless stream of ironic jokes which continue to be instantly recognisable in countries formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. And since February, I have often seen clips and quotes from the show online used as criticism of the Russian government’s actions.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Year-end: poems in Bad Lilies, and Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2022

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I struggle with the cold dark days at the turn of the secular year. In high summer I sometimes have to remind myself not to dread the winter that is always inevitably coming. And at this season I seek comfort in all kinds of ways, from warm-tinted lightbulbs to blankets to braises, but I still have to work hard to avoid the malaise of SAD. 

The best mood-lifter by far that I’ve found this winter is… being terrible at Arabic. To be clear, I’ve never learned Arabic, though ever since the summer I spent in Jerusalem I’ve aspired to someday be the kind of rabbi who speaks some Arabic. (Someday. Later. You know, when I have time.) And then I read R. David’s Why This Rabbi Is Learning Arabic (And Every Rabbi Should), and I thought: ok, I’ll try.

It’s engrossing. It feels like it’s working a different part of my brain — learning new characters, trying to train my ear to distinguish new-to-me sounds. Maybe best of all is that I am an absolute beginner. I know nothing, so every little bit of learning is progress. Remembering the initial, medial, or final forms of any letter feels like victory. And maybe that’s part of what lifts my spirits.

I’m using Duolingo. And before anyone objects: yes, I know all the reasons why that isn’t ideal. I should take a real class. I should find Arabic speakers with whom to practice. I can’t do those right now, for all kinds of reasons. What I can do is keep a tab open on my computer, and instead of doomscrolling, work on parsing a new-to-me alphabet. (It’s also great instead of doomscrolling on my phone.)

I can practice sounding out syllables while my kid’s brushing his teeth. Remind myself of letter-shapes over morning coffee. Short digital bursts are not pedagogical best practice — and yet I am learning, bit by bit.

Rachel Barenblat, Arabic: a remedy for the winter blues

falling snow
beyond the window . . .
our cat
curls deeper
into himself

Bill Waters, Our cat

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 50

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the weirdo lottery, wild forms, snowball poems, hermetic research, a loner’s manifesto and more. Enjoy.


I don’t make people comfortable very often. I think that’s why I turn inwards for long stretches of time. If making other people comfortable is the measure of my existence, maybe converting to a religion that offers me long stretches of solitude is my only option if I want to stay “sane”.

Solitude can be the privilege of the artist, of course. But there’s the committee that will decide whether you (or them, or I) make what society deems art. Or whether we are just deluded. It’s the weirdo lottery.

There’s no safe bet for the outliers.

Just juggling the social pressures as the holiday shifts them. Thinking a week in my library is as good as a cave.

Ren Powell, Pulling Inwards

As of the implementation (application) of the system (entity)
to increase efficiency of output and streamline to improve (better serve) workflow portability and redundancy reduction and to seamlessly integrate, store, access, analyze, harness productivity, and increase ROI with a complete suite of capture tools, your efforts will be un-measurable.
You will no longer need
to view your stacks grow thinner as you’ll become so
efficacious there will be no results. Therefore you may come
to dream of butterflies, which may rise up
from a field of lilacs on 8½ x 11
wings of bright white acid free paper of ten percent post-consumer content that will not yellow or
crumble over time, and will land
expertly in green hanging files alphabetized in rows.

Kristen McHenry, Paperless

Elee Kraljii Gardiner sent me a post by artist Laura Kerr referring to the lungs of the blue whale. Whales are mammals like us, but there is something inspiring, otherworldly, planetary about how large they are and how the things that they do (like breathe) is both like and unlike us. And the fact that live in regions so foreign and mysterious. Also, they have songs and they communicate across vast distances. How they communicate, are alone, travel in pods. Their lung volume is around 5000L, about 1000x a human lung, and enough air to inflate about 2000 balloons! The 5000L of air in the lungs can be replaced in around 2 seconds.

Gary Barwin, Inwhale

Pantoums are a nice form. I think I’ve said before that I like repeating forms. I like them because a lot of my work is about the overlaying of self over self, the seams between past versions of self and current, the way that times move in a non-linear fashion and often life events feel like they have just happened. This is, obviously, a difficult concept to capture in a poem. Any big concept is difficult to capture in a poem. Structured forms can help in that regard. Where free verse is structured from the inside, structured forms are containers, or exterior scaffolding of the poem. They can shape how the reader comes to the poem and a poet can use a structured form to enhance the content of the poem. Which is what my aim was for the pantoum sequence.

The pantoum form is derived from the ‘Pantun’ which is a Malay form, an oral poetry form thought to be older than written language. The idea that I can capture my own poem, about my own experiences, in a poem form derived from a form that was passed mouth to mouth in a part of the world far, far away, and that there is a link there; between the timelessness of language and story telling and more – humanity and our need to communicate via art, it gives me goose bumps.

Wendy Pratt, Pantoums: The Boulder’s Dream

Restraint is out of fashion, along with linguistic control. And few poets trust us to probe beyond what’s left unsaid. But these are precisely the qualities that make Hilary Menos’ poetry so convincing.

My review of ‘Fear of Forks’, Hilary Menos’ new pamphlet from HappenStance Press, is now up at Wild Court (read the piece in full via this link).

Matthew Stewart, My review of Hilary Menos’ new pamphlet on Wild Court

Guelph-based poet and paramedic Candace de Taeye’s full-length poetry debut is Pronounced/Workable(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2022), a collection composed as sketch-notes during work-shifts. “Two thumbs on the lower third of the sternum with fingers,” she writes, to close the poem “BLS STANDARDS -OBSTETRICS,” “tearing into that croissant, cradling cappuccino. / Encircling the chest and supporting the back. / Promoted off the road at your discretion, or it’s / been determined that birth is imminent.” Through a progression of first-person lyric narratives, de Taeye writes directly into the nuts-and-bolts of her work and experiences as a Toronto-area paramedic, offering description and commentary, or simply the jarring effect of pure detail. And yet, de Taeyre’s poems read with a particularly casual and deceptive ease, as though composed in mid-thought, mid-stride, and everything in-between, even through utilizing an array of formal techniques, whether the pantoum, list poem, call-and-response, open lyric or sonnet-sequence. “And service providers from being subjected / to,” she writes, in the opening poem, “PREFACE TO BASIC LIFE SUPPORT STANDARDS,” “always remember that resuscitation is one part lullaby. // Provide verbal and where deemed appropriate, tactile / comfort and reassurance. That you have mistaken my hunger // for sadness.” She works through formal structures almost as a way to sharpen each poem’s focus, hold each mess of language, experience and realization together as she attends to medical emergencies and the chaos of working on the front lines of medical trauma and recovery. The chaos is held, it would seem, precisely by and even through such formal techniques.

rob mclennan, Candace de Taeye, Pronounced/Workable

I’ve never wanted to
make anything too

big for fear it might
collapse on me,

the old monk said.
This explains all

my short poems.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (363)

In the past, I’ve been guilty of skipping over poems that are formatted outside the “norms” of stanza and line. I’ve sometimes struggled to find my way into these poems, assuming they required an intellect or brilliance that evaded me. I would have told you I couldn’t understand what they were doing.

But then I found Natalie Diaz’s “My American Crown” (linked in the list below) in which Diaz uses diagrammed sentences in place of sonnets. It clicked for me: These inventive poetry forms are an invitation to participate in the poem in ways that are important and necessary.

Encountering the diagrammed sentences in “My American Crown” takes me back to a very specific place: a sixth or seventh grade classroom in a small paper mill town in northern Maine. Mr. Russell stands at the chalkboard. He wears a V-neck red sweater over a button-down dress shirt. I am sitting in a row of desks, where I try to understand the parts of speech and learn other basics about the world, like how we’re “supposed to” see it. What a perfect space to breakdown American history, as Diaz does in this crown!

As grown-up me worked to piece back together the sentences (and harmful sentiments) Diaz had chosen to deconstruct in this crown of nontraditional sonnets, I struggled to make them make sense. And that’s just one of the many experiential layers of metaphor embedded in Diaz’s inventive form. It also hits home the way history had carefully composed these racist nuggets in the first place. Their authors had labored. The work in this country to “other” indigenous populations was an active crafting and shaping. And now, we are tasked with exposing the structures behind that work.

Through “My American Crown,” I started to understand inventive poems as opportunities for heightened reading experiences, chances for something to travel from my brain (the intellect) to my body (all those cells).

Carolee Bennett, 15 wild poetry forms for writing inspiration

Worse still are those workshops where the dominant voice or voices have decided that poetry needs to be poetic and can’t possibly be in that dingy alleyway that collects windblown carrier bags or drunkenly swagger home after a hazy night out or lie in the spill of oil reflecting the moon. Their poetry lies in miraculously unindustrialised farmland, in the feminine voice of a torch song or looking up at the moon, in lyrics untainted by ugly crying, a hacking cough or even swearing.

All these commentors are falling into the same trap: they are imposing their own expectations and ideas onto a poem and making it conform to their rigid ideas of what a poem should be. Instead of engaging with the poem on its own terms, they have brought their own agendas to the poem and found it lacking.

It would never occur to them that their judgment might be lacking. That breakup poem doesn’t want to be tidied into a constrictive form, it wants to be ragged and breathless and spilling on the page. That tanka is never going to be compressed into a haiku. Sonnets need a volta, but even Shakespeare had to reinvent the rhyme scheme because English lacks the access to rhyming words that Italian has.

Emma Lee, Reviewers must not have an Agenda

It’s Solstice season, and I’m thinking harder about my life, what I want to keep and what I want to let go, about my relationships too, with my family, with Glenn, with my friends, what I want in my life as a writer, how I can help my health, both mental and physical…envisioning what’s been problematic in the last few years (besides the pandemic), and how to envision a better, more satisfying life. I had a dream in which Santa (yep, that Santa) told me “You always plan for the worst. Why not plan for the best?” And for a minute, this familiar positivity mantra made sense to this admitted skeptic.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Holiday Happenings and Lights, New Book (and New Kitten), and the Big 50 on the Horizon…

My new studio is very small, but efficient, and the north light in it is beautiful. I was really worried about fitting myself into it, and got rid of everything I could in order to make it work; that meant some steely decisions about equipment and studio furniture I’ve had all my working life, as well as weeding out a great many books, supplies I either didn’t need or could easily replace, and even a good deal of artwork and project samples. I photographed things, and let the objects go. It wasn’t easy, especially at first: I felt like I was giving up my identity and admitting to being much older than I feel. But as we found homes for our things with younger people who would use them, we both felt better.

Beth Adams, Of Studios, New and Old

The poems unfold against a Wiltshire backdrop of henges and standing stones and reflect a time when my life was interrupted by grown up children leaving the nest and returning home in a global pandemic, the natural world in crisis but still finding a way to cling to its wonder. I’m still thinking about a title for this short collection – ‘Last Chance, Strawberries’, a title of one of the poems, is a temporary name badge until I make a firm decision.

When I heard the news that I’d won pamphlet publication, my lovely family sent these beautiful congratulatory flowers but I should be the one sending flowers to them since they feature in some of these poems and I couldn’t be a writer at all without their patience, understanding and support.

Josephine Corcoran, A new pamphlet in 2023

I have a couple of poems in the latest issue of Stand Magazine, a couple of poems in Ofi Press issue 71 which you can read here. And, I’m particularly pleased to have a poem in the latest issue of The Manhattan Review.

Quite probably the last poems in magazine publication from my next poetry collection, Look to the Crocus, before it is due out in Springtime (may Spring come quickly). 

I’m going through various drafts of my forthcoming collection, editing and cutting poems from it. I have way too many poems. It’s a pleasant process to be absorbed in, particularly in these wintry cold days. 

Marion McCready, And then it was December…

So I guess that concludes my year of literary events. I’ve seen Zoom-only, hybrid (in-person and remotely), in-person, and residential (a weekend). People are in the main comfortable with the technology now (few “can you hear me?” interruptions) and the all important chit-chat aspect is catered for, whatever the delivery method.

Organisers of future small events have decisions to make. Some people can only attend remotely. Others like the in-person vibe and interesting venues. Hybrid might sound like the best option but it’s the most challenging technologically and organisationally. Some groups are planning a programme with mix of in-person meetings and Zoom meetings. This risks splitting established groups (which may be small already) into 2, but at least it keeps most people happy most of the time.

Tim Love, Future Karaoke #2

I’ve finished a novel and will see it published on December 27 of this year. Attending to a lot of the homework of promoting a new book, I find myself yearning for a new long-form story, wading through many plot, character, and title ideas, and yet frozen as the leaves that remain on the trees in this wintry month. I can’t summon energy to write scenes and do plot outlines, so I fall back into my home turf, poetry. Every image and moment of this month and the cold snap that has gripped the San Francisco region slows down my creative process, chips off excess words like breaking icicles off a roofline. I am as bare as the trees, as windy and skeletal. And that’s a good place from which to contemplate.

Rachel Dacus, Poetry as a Winter Sport

What are you working on?

Funny, if you’d asked me this a month or so ago I would have said nothing at all, and then all of a sudden, after a long barren patch, something clicks and you start writing again (though it has to be said, I’m not writing as prolifically as I used to and that’s a strange space to be in). I’m working on a new sequence of snowballs, a form I’ve worked with before. Snowballs are perhaps most associated with Oulipo and usually have ten lines. Typically, in a snowball, line 1 has one letter, line 2 two letters and so on until ten letters in the tenth line. Rather than letters I’ve changed the form by increasing the amount of words per line. There’s a lot of flexibility in the form and it shares a similarity to the sonnet in its effects. A few months ago I finished editing my collection it is like toys but also like video taped in a mall, which is out with Pamenar Press. I’m really pleased with it. It’s a series of 201 two-line minimalist poems, which took around five years to write and edit.

Thomas Whyte, James Davies : part two

This week has seen a long serving star of the scene, someone that always delivers, but has yet to win the ultimate plaudit and accolade finally achieve the pinnacle of their chosen field.

No, not Lionel Messi and Argentina winning the (Men’s) World Cup—at the time of writing that isn’t guaranteed, France have just pulled a goal back. Christ, now they’ve equalised—where else do you get live commentary, eh?

No, I mean Matthew Stewart and his appearance on the final Poetry Planet podcast of the year….I’ve loved all of the PPP’s to date, but go and have a listen to this one. Matthew makes a lot of sense…and says the word “Exactly” a lot.

When you’ve heard that, it would be worth spending some time reading the following.

Bad Lillies. Issue 11 is out now. I can’t lie, I’ve not read it yet, but the line up looks very strong, so I reckon it can’t fail.

London Grip – I did read this all yesterday, and despite theme of poems about poems and mothers, what stood out for me was Glenn Hubbard’s Heron poem. I think it resonated because I saw a heron on the roof of the house behind mine this week.

Mat Riches, A Bat(tlestar), Galactico from Heron in

I drive with the sunroof open
increased petrol use wind in my branches

I eat for two in autumn
in preparation

my thoughts sluggish this second winter
as the tree on my head slumbers

Paul Tobin, A TREE ON YOUR HEAD

Like wearing my coat and hat indoors, like bringing a tree into my living space, like eating big meals at the wrong time of day, like speaking and writing to forgotten relatives, like listening to other people’s music, like a World Cup at the wrong time of the year, like a baby born to the wrong family, Christmas, the thing I love/hate/can’t wait for/want to skip/can’t do without, comes to me dressed in unfamiliar clothes, disrupts my life and my complacency and holds a steady mirror to my consistent inconsistency.

Anthony Wilson, Advent meditation

When I started the newsletter in 2018, I wasn’t sure how long I would continue it. I didn’t really have a plan beyond making sure that I wrote the best possible reviews about the books poets sent me. Now, over sixty reviews later, I’m committed to continuing the practice for as long as I can.

2022 brought a wealth of incredible books from poets who wrote with depth and compassion about the times we’re living in. They wrote about relationships, death, love, the vulnerability of the planet, politics, and simple survival, which, as it turns out, is pretty complicated.

More people than ever are finding solace and inspiration in the art of poetry.

Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones: 2022 Book Covers

One thing I did realise, though not until after the pamphlet was published and I started performing this poem at events, is that I use the word, card, three times in the last two stanzas, which is too much. When I perform the poem I try to remember to change library card to library ticket; this is, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, a perfect example of why it is important to read your work aloud because you might spot something that didn’t spring out at you when you looked at it on the page.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Awakenings

I do love when I find snippets that an artist has said about their own work, a poet’s backstory of a poem. I figure that information, freely offered, is fair game. (Also, of course, suspicious, as when do any of us really know what we’re up to, in the moment?)

But aren’t we all dancing to the rhythm of the tinking and clanking of our own griefs and oddnesses? You may not hear it, literally, you watcher, but you can see it in my dance. I just feel uneasy at this tendency to eyeball the dancer extricated from the dance, to look at a poem through pathology’s lens, to insist on biography as part of someone’s art. Do I need to understand the entirety of a suicide’s artistic output through the suicide? I’m just asking. I do have my DSM right here, just in case, though.

Marilyn McCabe, Put on my my my…; or, On Poetry and Biography

Recent read: Party of One: A Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus, a book that I would have found enlightening if it had only been around when I was 18 years old. But many things were as yet unwritten 45 years ago, and even if this book had been–I might not have discovered it. Rufus celebrates social loners, decrying the myth that people who prefer time by themselves to socializing are by nature dangerous and threatening. That knowledge would have been a great relief to me when I was young; but I eventually learned on my own that the “loner myth” is, indeed, a mistaken idea perpetrated by too many so-called experts in our society. Through my lifelong bookworm habit, I learned a great deal about people who chose to be alone, chose small circles of friends, or chose to keep friendships going by letter rather than through visits. […]

Loner, introvert, eccentric, moody, artistic, creative, sensitive, weird–at my age, I don’t need a manifesto. Experience demonstrates a person can be friendly and funny and easily-tired and sometimes withdrawn and able to speak in public and irritated by too much noise or novelty and can dance at parties and laugh too loudly and a thousand other things that are contradictory and not simple to pin down. (And capable of polysyndeton!) But if you know a child who is content being by themselves and who may feel pressured by well-intentioned adults, I recommend Leo Lionni‘s Caldecott-winning book Frederick. It is a story I loved as a child, and now I realize why. The quiet mouse who is off on his own while his busy community harvests food for winter proves valuable to his mouse-society by offering them poems and stories that ease their discomfort when they are cold and hungry.

In some ways, that has been my lifelong dream.

Ann E. Michael, Alone not lonely

This lovely little stack of AUTOMAGICs arrived in my mail room on Wednesday and I can’t quite stop staring at them. The exterior turned out even more lovely than I imagined as I was designing it over the summer. While the release, which was expected around Halloween was delayed due to my dad’s passing, I was able to finalize the tweaks that were in progress and order a set of copies to make available at the end of the month. One of the biggest blessings of self-publishing of course being that flexibility in scheduling and timelines. The manuscript itself had been finished for a year when I first started the editing project to make the book a reality and I appreciated the space between finishing the last section of the poem in spring of 2021 and starting those edits this summer. Even though some of the segments were chaps and zines previously, its good to spend some time away from work and then come back in with fresh eyes, another benefit of creative control on a project. 

Kristy Bowen, the self publishing diaries

I realized during the fall term that there was a recent book on H.D.’s intense relationship with the occult: Astral H.D. by Matte Robinson. I have an idea for a hermit crab essay that depends in part on what kind of tarot deck H.D. used. Could it be among her papers at the Beinecke? The finding aide says the collection contains astrological charts. Robinson’s book is very useful, but I need to triangulate with an older book, Susan Stanford Friedman’s Pysche Reborn, as well as read a lot of other materials published since I was last deep in H.D.-land. Anyway, no luck so far, but Robinson describes H.D.’s readings of Jean Chaboseau, who designed a deck that’s partly pictured below, so maybe his? I can’t find a duplicate deck of Chaboseau’s; his book about tarot is rare and might not exist in translation. In other words, these hermetic materials are hidden from me, so far. My research into H.D.’s occult research is getting very meta.

But I’m about to cut off this poking around because we’re going to INDIA Thursday for a 12 day trip. I’ve long been sorting out immunizations, visas, what to pack, etc., but at least my grades are in, so I can now get a jump on January tasks. The new term will start less than a week after I return in early January.

We took yesterday off for a short post-grading hike in a wetlands park. I’m appreciating the winter palette perhaps more than usual because I’m about to temporarily depart it. I’d also never done this particular walk with the leaves down and didn’t realize the upper trail had mountain views. Even though plenty of 2023 is occluded from sight, it’s nice to glimpse or at least imagine a vista beyond this school year’s work grind.

Lesley Wheeler, H.D., tarot, & occluded vistas

So recently I submitted groups of poems to magazines once again. Not this time just to a selection of the excellent little known publications that abound on the internet, but to the best known and most highly regarded ones. I have much less time in front of me than there is behind so it’s now surely that this man’s reach should exceed his grasp! And in reaching further I set myself up, of course, both for almost inevitable rejection and its corollary dejection. 

No surprises, then, that to date Poetry London and the members’ page of Poetry Review have said no thanks. However, with that grasp in mind, I’m delighted that London Grip is taking two poems for next spring. But even on the back of that success I’m far from optimistic that the other poems are going to find landfall and I regret greatly not having pushed back harder a long time ago. Maybe had I spread the words more energetically and celebrated success more loudly , then I’d be occupying a bit more shelf space now! 

Dick Jones, POEMS: IN HERE AND OUT THERE.

The difference in how I work, now, is striking: I used often to hit a wall — if I was lucky, not till mid-afternoon — beyond which I was utterly unable to push myself to do anything more. This happened daily; and there were days when I never managed to work at all. That just doesn’t happen to me now. I get tired, sure, but if I look at a stack of work that will just take an hour more, and make tomorrow much easier — I just do the work. No fuss, no bucking or shying of the mind. This is intimately related to restraining my eating: it’s subjectively obvious that the virtue that enables me to proceed with work is the same one that enables me to refrain from eating what I’ve decided not to eat. I’d call it fortitude. Psychologists call it self-regulation. The general public calls it will power. 

I really think fortitude is a better name. Because it’s not a matter of one part of me dominating the other parts: it’s a matter of holding fast to a larger understanding of what’s going on, and a matter of the various constituents of my spirit being better aligned. Self-regulation and will power suffer all the ills of despotism: blindness and caprice and grandiosity. And they’re prone to sudden catastrophic failure. Fortitude is the opposite of that. I don’t try to not to be tired, or not to be hungry. I just do what needs to be done anyway.

There is not much glory to this progress. I am well aware that this is remedial work. Many people were trained up in fortitude, as children, or at least discovered it early. I came to it late: so I’m celebrating triumphs more appropriate to a nine-year-old than a sixty-four-year-old. But it was the obvious, first thing that I needed to do, and I’m doing it.

Dale Favier, Because I Think I’m Making Progress

I’m still wearing dresses for Dressember. Really, to raise awareness and protest human trafficking, I should be posting pictures of myself in dresses and starting a campaign page to encourage donations, but I am not good at those things. I am better at supporting people and causes through words, human contact, and moral support. I am pretty good at wearing dresses, too. They have patiently waited for me in the closet, and tolerate my winter layering–long sweaters, scarves, multiple slips, tights, boots–so I can wear them (the dresses) to work. Today I am wearing a sort of fancy black-and-white floral dress, three-quarter length sleeves, not really a summer dress but for an indeterminate season, with a white sweater and a black pashmina, so I can go out to dinner with my husband (and a friend in town from Chicago) for our 33rd (legal) wedding anniversary. Forty-one years of togetherness, but who’s counting (correctly)?*

*math-challenged me

This afternoon, and yesterday afternoon, too, I have been reading and revising poems I wrote in spring. (I’m in a dress! How could I do housework after regular work? OK, I did go down into a cobwebby basement to retrieve boxes of Christmas ornaments for my mom and dad.) I fiddle, I make notes to self, I set them (the poems) aside (electronically…the files are open in various windows, even now). Yesterday, I actually managed a submission. There are December deadlines… When, if ever, will I bake the pumpkin bread?!

Kathleen Kirk, Anniversary in Dressember

It’s terrifying to read a book set during a time called “the Great Depression,” a time synonymous with darkness and poverty and pain, and see in it the familiar sights and sounds and stories of our era, more than eight decades later. This is a book to be read from the safety of your own home or apartment, the novel propped on your tummy as a cup of tea cools on the end table beside you. To read it when you yourself are in a state of turmoil is to add fuel to a fire that would be better extinguished.

This is all sounding quite dramatic, I’m sure, but I’m feeling quite dramatic. My life has slid rapidly downhill in the two years since my partner and I split up and I started living in a van, and no amount of pithy Instagram wisdom or TikTok psychology is enough to paint a rosier picture. On my best days I can imagine the little studio apartment I’ll have in some small, warm town where I talk on the radio and meet someone who cares about me. But a lot of the time I feel like the Joads, looking toward the promise of endless fields of fruit and cotton but finding that you’ve just taken the hardship with you.

So look, I’m not really telling you not to read The Grapes of Wrath. I’m just saying that it’s a heavy book and if you’re not careful it will make it hard for you to breathe. Perhaps that’s the best compliment I can pay to Mr. Steinbeck. Consider yourself warned.  

Jason Crane, Don’t Read The Grapes Of Wrath

This is the part of life when
a great silence approaches;
if not, then a chorus will burst
from unimaginable mouths.

You don’t believe when I say you
are a thought I carry every day, a seed
I scoop out of a hull of green, hoping
its heart returns to green.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Spell

Long ago I shed the parts of the holiday season that make it most stressful.  I do only the decorating and the baking that I want to do.  We don’t do much in the way of gifts anymore.  So far, I can manage the holiday grief that sometimes comes when I think about people who are no longer with us, the past holidays that I miss, the children (including me) who have grown up.

So in some ways, my Christmas is a bit more minimalist this year.  I decided not to put the ornaments out.  I won’t bake cookies, particularly not the ones that need to be rolled out and cut into holiday shapes.

This year, though, there are some elements I haven’t had in past years.  It’s chilly, downright cold!  I know that I may get tired of cold weather in months to come, but right now, I love it.  I love walking through the beautiful neighborhoods around the seminary, enjoying the decorations both in the daylight and in the dark, when the lights shine.  Yesterday I went to see the therapy dogs; the seminary brings them to campus several times at the end of a term to offer some self-care and stress relief.  I wasn’t feeling the same stress that the end of the term sometimes triggers, but it was delightful anyway.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Season’s Enchantments: Santa Lucia and Small Stoves Snippets

The midrash says when the invaders left
they carried off the golden lamp as loot.
The absence of the lampstand was an ache –
without its light, reserves of hope ran low.
We had to improvise with what we had:
the iron spears our enemies had dropped.

We made our Ner Tamid that year with trash,
repurposing the implements of war
for bringing sacred light. How about now?
The planet is our Temple – and it burns.
We can’t just close our eyes. We’re all
indicted by the plastics in the seas.

Rachel Barenblat, Recycling (first published in The Light Travels)

It doesn’t matter how many times I read this poem, I feel it. The slant rhymes, the eh, eh, eh going through the poem like muffled cries themselves. The helpless sense of being witnesses to each other and at the same time unable to do anything but bear witness.

Pearl Pirie, Loved then, Loved now: My Neighbour

I’m feeling a bit of sadness, too, some longing for holidays of years past. Today some of my cousins are gathering, but I won’t be joining them, much as I’d like to. They are too far away, Cane has to work tomorrow, and we are limiting our contact with others to increase chances that we’ll be healthy for a visit to my parents in the week after Christmas. We haven’t seen them since the summer, as illness keeps canceling our plans. The last time my extended family gathered was the Christmas of 2019. We ate the food we always eat together (Croatian spaghetti, kroštule, scotcheroos), and after dinner we sat at the table and played Apples to Apples. It was normal, familiar, comfortable, unremarkable, wonderful. For much of my life we gathered every year, around my grandmother’s table, but that year was the first time we’d been able to do so in several. We said then that we needed to make sure we didn’t let so much time pass, that we would need to make sure to meet again the following year. We had no idea what was coming at us in 2020, or that it would be years before we could gather in such a way again. Writing these words, I can’t help wondering if we ever will. How many years can we go before a tradition that had already frayed breaks completely?

I’m doing my best to let that sadness sit beside different kinds of comfort and joy–to accept that a long life is a thing of constant inconstancy, a coming-and-going stream of people and places and things that we love, a rich amalgam of grief, abundance, loss, gain, and surprise of various kinds. (We never know what might happen in any given day, do we?) This year we have my daughter with us, and her husband will be joining us from Sweden. We are looking forward to good food, a fusion of Swedish and American holiday traditions, and a day designed for introverts. I am sure there will be a year in the future–if I’m lucky–in which I will look back on this one and miss the parts of it I no longer have.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Tidings

If only we could sing tombstones back into sand.

The sand to build castles by seashores, where oceans sing us to joy.

Rich Ferguson, Working Backwards From That One Particular Moment in Time

cold swim
the dance of my hands
all the way home

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 49

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: epic eels, commonplace misfortunes, fog advisories, St. Nicholas communicating in sign language, and much more. Enjoy.


i leave the earth
in steam even
under a winter sun
i become a cold-
shouldered cloud
uneven inconstant
i hide the sky
and you wonder
will we ever know
blue around
our heads again

Dick Jones, waterdrops

This past Monday night in Toronto, Mansfield Press hosted an evening of book launches, including five poetry titles—Amy Dennis’ The Sleep Orchard [see my review of such here], Anton Pooles’ Ghost Walk, Candace de Taeye’s Pronounced / Workable, Corrado Paina’s Changing Residence: New and Selected Poems and Stephen Brockwell’s Immune to the Sacred [see my review of such here]—as well as my suite of pandemic essays, covering the first one hundred days of original Covid-19 lockdown, essays in the face of uncertainties [I also have copies available, if anyone is so inclined]. It was a very good night! Although the lighting was odd, and more than a wee bit distracting (it kept changing colours, which meant the lighting shifted, and we all each stumbled a bit during our individual sets, finding difficulty with seeing properly). And yes, most if not all of the crowd were masked (unmasking only to read, obviously). And our dear publisher, Denis, was even good enough to post a small report on the event, as well as a lovely post referencing me, my book, and some of my own ongoing reviewing and interviewing work.

Everyone gave stellar readings, naturally. It was particularly interesting, as I hadn’t actually heard most of these writers read, so that was good. And there were plenty of folk there I hadn’t seen in some time, from Stephen Cain and Sharon Harris, Andy Weaver, Jennifer LoveGrove, Phlip Arima, Carol Harvey Steski and Catherine Graham! Stephen and I travelled to Toronto by train, only staying overnight, but managing to catch a good amount of breath after a flurry of other recent activities and events. […] And I even manged to convince Stephen to play pinball with me! Right at the end of the evening, last to leave (naturally). Oh, and did I mention we saw David O’Meara on the train ride back home the next morning?

rob mclennan, report from the mansfield launch, toronto: mclennan, brockwell, dennis etc

hen did WordPress begin to offer a writing prompt on the blank post page? Have I been gone so long?

It feels intrusive. It’s an offering that probably feels like a service to the giver, but feels like a tiny condescension from this end. Now wild animals are creeping around the edges of my thought, disturbing everything.

Or maybe that is just where my head is today after dealing with the “city pastors” yesterday, who apparently have a mandate (not quite sure from whom) to wander the school building and talk to students who are sitting alone. My students were sitting alone in the library working on an assignment. One of the pastors started “chatting” with my student about his project on Oedipus Rex. I am kind of thinking that is not within his mandate for so many reasons.

The church and state haven’t been separated in this country for very long, but this seems like a weird reactionary move on the part of the school system.

I am inclined this morning to seek this guy out and have a proper discussion with him about the Dionysian festival, about parallels with later Christian tropes and iconology. I have always wondered how lambs usurped goats. How highly sexualized androgyny became asexual. So much really to muse about. I do have a lot of questions and am curious about a lot of things, but there is a time and a place.

My mandate is to teach theater history in that building.

Ren Powell, The Tyranny of the Gift

I have to share this generous and thorough review of my forthcoming chapbook, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Bellepoint Press, forthcoming).

Megon McDermott writes, “Overall, Emerson gives a relatively understated experience of grief. Again, her title is informative. “Misfortunes,” as a word, seems to indicate a companionship with smaller griefs than the death of a child. Despite the chapbook’s understated quality, the poems don’t come across as repressed or cold. Instead, its subtlety suggests something about its purpose. I don’t think these poems mean to fully immerse us in the experience of a parent’s grief, which is perhaps too holy and sorrowful a thing to enter.”

To read the rest, hop on over to Trampoline!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, Reviewed!

The state of the UK now, under this most clapped-out and uncaring government, is at its worst since the days of that trip to Guildford. The despair they are inflicting is insidious, infectious and deadly – they’re even reviving the coal industry which their forebears used all manner of state-inflicted violence and subversion to kill off. Finding glimmers of light among it all is far from easy.

I’ve been much less active on social media, because that too is infinitely deflating. However, thanks to a Tweet by Roy Marshall, I’ve read a 2020 interview, available here, with Jane Hirshfield, a poet whose output I’ve warmed to slowly. (My favourite collection of hers is probably The October Palace, 1994, which contains as high a count of poems which I really like as any collection I’ve ever read.) Just the first sentence of her response to the interviewer’s second question alone is extraordinary: ‘Beauty unweights the iron bell of abyss, letting a person hear that even that iron bell, lifted from ground-level, can make a sound our human ears thirst to know.’ Hirshfield has followed a Zen path since the early Seventies, so it’s no wonder that her gnomic utterances sometimes sound intensely profound.

Being able to rise above pessimism and sorrow, and be sufficiently within the moment to appreciate fleeting beauty and be at one with it, is a gift; and one that, as Hirshfield has written about, informs the best, most resonant haiku. In some ways, I wish I still wrote haiku with the same level of productivity that I managed 10 or 20 years ago; but these days they very rarely form in my mind, and I’m old and weary enough to know that forcing them out would be utterly self-defeating.

Matthew Paul, On disillusionment

where the river
meets the sea
remembering
my parents

Lynne Rees, Haiku

[Hannah] Hodgson’s collection [Queen of Hearts] particularly startled (and then sank into) me, not because she is a palliative care patient who brings an unusual, difficult and inspiring perspective to the big subjects like life, death, love, and dildos, but because her imagery, pacing and sheer clarity of thought are just so arresting (“We specialise in living when we shouldn’t. / Death between our teeth, a cold black flag.” she says in ‘Colonel Mustard is Waiting in the Dining Room’). Somehow, Hodgson manages to create a surreal world from hospital and house interiors, where the psychological turmoil of her family comes through as clearly and movingly as her own – perhaps more so.  

While the physical pain of her condition is not ignored (‘Last Night, I Finally Remembered the Screaming’ is a shocking journey into the agony behind the anaesthetised mind) neither is it highlighted or played for pity. And as for fear – surely there must be fear if you live in such a position – but if that is part of Hodgson’s experience, when we look for it (and this is one of the marvels of the pamphlet) we find in its place fury and humour, the former sharpening the latter, and the latter leavening the former. 

Chris Edgoose, The Body as Anarchist and Anchor 

In my efforts to embrace a season I am not really feeling, J and I hit up a Christmas choral concert at DePaul his friend was performing in. I’d brung a mask, but we ended up on some of the extra chairs in the back and not too close to others, so I didn’t really need put it on. But still it was nice to be out, and the church at DePaul was lovely, a surprise since I hadn’t ever been in there, even in my grad school years. Despite my reluctance to go places and do things, sometimes I feel better in general when I have–whatever those things are. This was true prior to covid, the difference now being that I am less tired and weighted by wanting to be home not working full-time, and also having my nights free to spend as I choose, a luxury I’ve lacked most of my adulthood.

If any week needed a break in the routines, it was this one, which because of slew of cloudy days, and just being so close to the equinox, has felt unusually dark and heavy. I wake around noon and then work through the afternoons, which are so short right now it kills me. I’ve put up my tree and garlands and wreaths, which provide some interior lights along with the star lights hung near my desk, but the I groan a little every night when I am forced to turn on lamps at 4:30.  I keep telling myself it is only temporary.  In a week and a half, we’ll hit the darkest day and then it’s all downhill, very slowly though, through late February when you start to notice the days getting a little longer. 

Last week, to cheer myself, I ordered some dresses, one for Christmas Day–a plaid smocked peasant dress, and then a burgundy velvet spaghetti strap number for New Years, which I am determined to do something with to close out this year that has been equal parts awesome and terrible.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/10/2022

little pots of ammonia
all round my garden with a listening stick
they send a rat down with a camera

kites flying from the roof
birds on springs
a revolving door

build the Sagrada Familia
looking like gold
a library of dreams

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2022

In this week’s installment of our story, parashat Vayishlach brings us the night-time wrestle between Jacob and the figure tradition names as an angel. This is the encounter from which we get our name as a people. The verse explains the name ישראל / Yisrael as shorthand for the phrase שרית עם–אלהים / sarita im-Elohim: striven or persisted (“wrestled”) with God.  

He comes out of that wrestle with a new name and a limp. Life’s challenges (and sometimes injustices) leave most of us with a limp, spiritually speaking. Our task is to persevere. To say to our struggles or losses or grief, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And then to live into the new name, the new chapter of who we can become, granted to us by our struggle with what’s been hard.

So what is this new name about? What (else) does it imply?

One of my favorite tools in the rabbinic toolbox is the use of anagrams and wordplay. Spiritual life can also be playful! So here’s some holy wordplay I learned this week from the Kedushat Levi. The name Yisrael contains the letters of ישר‎ / yashar / “upright,” e.g. moral and ethical.  The letters in Yisrael can also make ראש‎ לי/ Li rosh / “head” and “to Me,” in other words, a mind turned toward God.

The name Ya’akov contains the word עקב‎ / ekev / “heel.” Name changes in Torah are always spiritually significant, and this is a prime example of that. The name change from Ya’akov to Yisrael symbolizes a profound internal change, a kind of spiritual ascent.  His name used to mean “heel,” and now it implies God-consciousness. He’s shifting from feet in earthly dust to the highest heavens beyond the stars. […]

Last week we heard my son teach about Jacob’s dream of the ladder, and how he woke with awe but then forgot it. How Jacob lost sight of the “wow” — how we all lose sight of the wow, all the time. As a people, we take our name not from Jacob, whose name means more or less “the heel,” but from Yisrael who lived in awe and could maintain consciousness of God while doing ordinary things.

Rachel Barenblat, From Dust to Stars (Vayishlach 5783 / 2022)

I have friends who are struggling, and I struggle to give them the encouragement and cheer they need. Charities need more money as layoffs proliferate in our area. If you believe in the original Christmas story, it was really about two poor kids who couldn’t find food and shelter during a winter in a strange town, a baby born among people who didn’t care enough to make sure he was born safely, who had nothing. It’s a reminder to take care of each other in a world than can seem cruel, cold, and uncaring, especially to the unhomed, the unwealthy, the unpowerful.

So if your holiday isn’t going exactly as you planned, you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself. Not everything is within our control, and the holidays can bring up extra family stress and expectations that can’t possibly be met. Do the things that feel important to you, like watching your favorite holiday movies (whether that’s the extended Lord of the Rings series or Shop Around the Corner or the Holiday), maybe eating the way you want for a change, and cancelling the things that aren’t really actually necessary. “Christmas magic” often falls disproportionately on women’s – often mothers’ – shoulders. But maybe it’s okay to have a little less magic, and a little more mental health.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, AI Self-Portraits and When Robots Take Creative Jobs; When Things Aren’t Merry and Bright at the Holidays: MS Flares and More

Just before dusk this afternoon, I stood at my window and marveled at the dense cloudiness of the valley, at the stark bare trees snaking their way up through the pale damp air. I felt a twinge of European Romanticism: Caspar Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” and all that. The view was analogous to my fusty mind. All sorts of possibilities out there in the mist, nothing to strike toward, no path, potential risk. But beautiful in its way. I thought to myself, “There is something hidden in all this, and among the hidden-ness, things that are dear and familiar to me, not just fearful unknowns.”

The garden is there. The deer. The beech tree, some of its leaves still clinging. The bank voles and the red squirrels, the holly bush, the daffodils underground that will emerge in April. My fog will clear.

Then darkness overtook fog, and the coyotes called their carols in the moist air.

Ann E. Michael, In deepest fog

I do feel a little blurry these days, despite my new glasses (trifocals) and updated prescription. There were days of dense fog here, and then rain, and then After Rain, that melancholy book of short stories by William Trevor, also mentioned yesterday, and then I stared and stared at poems I’ve been writing, wondering 1) how to revise and/or 2) where to submit. Often there was a foggy feeling of, “I wrote that?” or “When did I write that?” but it was easy to track down, as I had included dates and prompts, etc. I began to feel great empathy, in ways I hadn’t before, for people who don’t send out their work, or dawdle at it. I am foggily dawdling at it this Dressember. Now I will go stare at my closet.

Kathleen Kirk, Dressember

It is the howling hour when dogs find that perfect pitch in music where to lay their pain.

The hour when wolves lower, when each offers a unique cry to lend to the choir.

Certain burdens are laid down by the river, others at the intersection of rosary and cold sweat.

Some are left tongue-torn and speechless after their communion with knives.

Others sound like electric guitars banned from the Bible,

searing the air with psalms and scorch unimagined by powers above and below.

Rich Ferguson, The Howling Hour

To be honest, I was just thrilled to catch HAD’s submission period for once. I usually miss them since they open and close so quickly. I came back to my office after a Friday morning class, opened my laptop, and saw the call. The theme: Endings. Well, that’s my specialty these days (years) I suppose. I raced to send some poems before they reached the cap. I was so surprised to get a message from Mitch Nobis later that day saying that he loved “Matter and Antimatter.” It’s a heavy one, so I’m extra grateful for the love. I wrote it in response to a news article I read last year.

Katie Manning, “Matter and Antimatter” in HAD

Eventually something beckons the eel back to the sea. Although it has been yellow-skinned while living in fresh water, once it’s ready to go back to the sea it transforms again. Its skin thickens, stomach shrivels, eyes enlarge, head streamlines, and its color changes to silver. It embarks on a many-month journey back to the place of its birth. According to The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World (indie link) by Patrik Svensson, it navigates using olfactory sensitivity, perhaps also by sensing the Earth’s magnetic lines, and keeps to extreme ocean depths for safety. The journey back is brutal. Eels are weakened by pollution, eaten by many predators, prone to infection and infestation, and even at journey’s end can be blocked by damns and other constructions. If it arrives, here it will mate. Or presumably mate, as no one has seen mature eels in the Sargasso Sea. These final mysteries conclude the eel’s lifespan.

But if an eel, determined to make the final trip back to its birthplace, cannot make it to the sea it will switch back from silver to yellow and wait. And wait. This may serve many of them well. Branches blocking a waterway or pipes blocked by debris may eventually clear. Eels trapped in freshwater have epic patience.  

Åle, the eel left in the well, had no way to make this return journey. It simply waited for its pathway to the sea to reopen. It waited as Samuel grew up, then waited as generations of Samuel’s family were born, lived, and died. Occasionally the local papers wrote about Åle. Eventually another eel was tossed in the well as a companion. The long-lived Åle gained notoriety in Sweden. It was featured on television and in children’s books. It lived longer than Pute, an eel kept in a Swedish aquarium for 85 years. It lived longer than any eel on record.  

Duing that time, adult eels suffered from overfishing and eel larvae became a delicacy in some Asian countries. Waterway pollution and habitat destruction added even more pressure on the species. The population of these hardy creatures declined by 90 percent and they were put on the critically endangered list. Åle remained in the well, still waiting to swim back to the Sargasso Sea. That little creature waited as humanity went on into the space age and into a time of worsening climate change.

Åle might be living still, who knows, if not for an unfortunate incident when the well water got so hot that the elderly eel died at the purported age of 155. His eel companion, age 110, is said to still wait for its route the sea to open.  

I don’t know why I’m captivated by eels. Åle’s life, and much about these enigmatic and misunderstood creatures, seems like a mythic tale where one’s destiny is so vital that nothing can get in the way—not despair, not loneliness, not even mortality. It reminds me of those who wait a substantial part of their lives to let themselves be who they want to be. Or even to discover who they are becoming.

Laura Grace Weldon, Epic Eels

Well, how long has it been? Maybe more pertinently, who am I? You may well ask! To answer those questions in turn, it was the 19th of April, 2020 that I last posted on the blog. Shameful I know, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’re reading this brand new post in November 2022. Just to remind you, my name is Giles L. Turnbull, and I began blogging here in 2016, talking about poetry and blindness matters.

So why the absence? The honest answer is that I had poetry burn out. Writing forty poems for my Creative Writing MA dissertation really drained me. I really liked the nineteen monologue poems that formed the first half of the dissertation; but I wasn’t really convinced that the second half of the collection really worked — or maybe the two halves just didn’t seem to comfortably co-exist. After graduation, I did ponder attempting to publish the poems as a full collection, or the monologues as a pamphlet and the other poems as a separate pamphlet … but after much deliberating, I decided to put the project on the back-burner. […]

An Die Ferne Gelibte is Beethoven’s only song cycle. It is scored for a male voice and piano, and it is a setting of six poems by Alois Isidor Jeitteles. The title translates as To the Distant Beloved, and I first came across it in roughly 1989, as a simplified piece in a book of piano solos for intermediate pianists. Here is a recording of the great baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

The text was written by a physician named Alois Isidor Jeitteles, probably at Beethoven’s request. Jeitteles had published several short verses, economic in style, in Viennese magazines or almanacks, particularly Selam and Aglaja, and was making his name as a poet. He was an active, selfless young man who later distinguished himself by working tirelessly for his patients during a dreadful cholera epidemic and mortality in Brno. Jeitteles’s poetic sequence An die ferne Geliebte was written in 1815 when he was 21.

(wiki article)

I like the phrase, to the distant beloved. It covers anybody – human, animal, object or creation that we are physically separated from but still have deep affection for. I feel that applies to everybody who used to read this blog, sometimes commenting or liking the links to it which I posted on Facebook or Twitter (where I was, and still am, @Bix_cool); it covers my poetry which, despite being on an indefinite hiatus, is still a form of writing that I love; and it includes the large number of poetry friends who I follow (and who follow me) on Facebook and Twitter.

Giles L. Turnbull, The Distant Beloved

Whole universes erupt beneath your mask.
Ancient skeletons shift in the permafrost of your sleep.

Opposite the great cinder mountain
rises a spring that will cure scrofula and dropsy.

The stench of the bone-stores will seal itself into the earth.
It’s the weather for maggots.

Take your time, think it through.
Maybe try another church?

You sit in the prison of your experience,
watch daylight fade through yellow windows.

Cafe Mistaken Identity is open to all.
Think of the girl you left standing there.

Bob Mee, TWO OLD POEMS REVISITED

S. T. Brant is a Las Vegas high school teacher. His debut collection Melody in Exile will be out in 2022. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Honest Ulsterman, EcoTheo, Timber, and Rain Taxi. You can reach him on his website at ShaneBrant.com, Twitter: @terriblebinth, or Instagram: @shanelemagne

What are you working on?

Everything and nothing, it feels like. I’m trying to make a point to review more work, so I have a few poetry reviews on the docket. Otherwise, I have a poetry manuscript in the works. Life Between Transmigrations. That title will change but for now it helps me keep track of the idea. It’ll be the first note in a big song. Told through a series of dramatic monologues and narratives, an ‘epic’ in psychic fragments, traversing mythical, literary, historical personas, the same soul’s journey from the origin when he broke off from god to now, the day it All ends, and he confronts his exiled source. We’ll see what becomes of it. I have a few things written for it now. But it may wind up being multiple volumes because I also have a gnostic treatise of epistles written from one of Paul’s rivals going, St. Brant, which was supposed to be part of that manuscript but has seemed to take on a life of its own. These poetic works are supposed to complement the dramatic as well. Like O’Neill’s plan to write a huge cycle, I have a Vegas cycle: Meadow the Shadow of Golgotha. Also a title I’m not married to but helps keep me grounded to the concept. To turn Vegas into Dublin, that’s the plan, and be synonymous with Sin. Plays and poems: those are the projects, with the littlest bit of critical prose to help fight off the indolence. These ideas probably sound like unpublishable hodge-podge (most journals agree with you!), but hopefully not. If I get it right… that’s the thing… if I get it right, it’ll be Great. 

Thomas Whyte, S. T. Brant : part one

This post has been lingering as a draft in WordPress since mid-October, and I’ve been frustrated by its inertia all these weeks. Only today did I realize how hilarious it is to procrastinate on a post about losing ambition.

So here we are. Irony is a place you can live.

There’s also this: I’ve embraced productivity as a synonym for writing success for so long that it’s hard now to accept my desire for something else in its place. The delay in finishing the post came, in part, from not knowing what to say.

What even makes sense after your main drive ceases to be interesting?

Carolee Bennett, what comes after ambition

The leitmotif of my social, political, and personal life: we don’t know how to live. At one point I was thinking: you know, Dale, maybe all you mean is I don’t know how to live. There’s a great deal of profit in mulling that one over, and I’m not done doing it, but I think I’ll stand by the first formulation. This is not just my problem. This is our problem. 

It’s a political problem in the local and immediate sense that until we know how to live, our opponents have not the slightest reason to listen to us. If we’re not offering a better life, why should they? We consider ourselves just reeking with virtue and goodness, but of course so do they, for equally flimsy reasons. Given that we can’t and won’t talk to each other, what else could we ground our choices on? Each of us looks at the other and thinks, “well, that looks like a petty and stupid life.” And we’re both right. So. Impasse.

It’s our problem, not just mine, also in this way: I can’t work it out by myself. I can’t unilaterally start living a different life. I need people to live it with. And, more importantly, I need people to work it out with. Hegel (I’m told) said of Kant, “he wants to learn to swim before he gets in the water,” and that’s what I think I’m doing when I try to figure out how to live before I have a community to live with. That’s not how how to live works. But I’m so imbued with individualist doctrine that any whiff of community panics me. I might be circumscribed! Horrors! As if this present life was freedom.

Dale Favier, How to Live

I miss the fig’s abundance, wild
until the sun turned the fruits

to stone. I long for a life
I don’t completely have

but that edges close every time
I sink into the periwinkle of a book.

Every square of bathroom tile
reminds me of how much work

it takes to purge each spore
of nostalgia from any memory—

I’d prefer it to work like a flashlight
beam in an attic crammed with boxes.

Luisa A. Igloria, Entering Winter

I mentioned online that I’m getting into street photography and I tagged photographer Reuben Radding, who shared my post. That led to folks recommending documentaries for me to watch. Last night I watched Finding Vivian Maier, a film about a street photographer whose work was unknown during her lifetime. It was complicated and moving. This afternoon I watched Everybody Street, which served as a great overview of many different photographers. Other docs that people have recommended but that I haven’t yet seen are Everything Is Photographable, about Garry Winogrand, and Elliott Erwitt: Silence Sounds Good. Before this, the only documentary about a photographer I’d seen was the wonderful Bill Cunnningham New York.

Today I walked around downtown State College with my phone set in camera mode and held to my chest. I used the volume button to snap photos as I walked, and I didn’t see the results until I got back to my van. […]

I have a tendency to get really into things for a while and then move on. But I’ve been taking photographs nearly every day for years, so this is less about adding a completely new practice than about refining a practice I already have.

Jason Crane, Trying my hand at street photography

England felt old and familiar in the way that
America seemed new and strange. April grey,
like a blurry photograph, literature and history
popping out of the incessant drizzle, scratching

the learnt distress of a colonial past, a question
stuck at the back of my throat. I straddle zero-
degree longitude, splitting myself between east
and west. Isn’t a line both a meeting and a

separation? Both imagined and real? I file past
the Kohinoor like a thousand others, in silence. I
stare at a white peacock in Leeds. In Shakespeare’s
garden, a bust of Tagore stares back at me.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 24

I know I’ve written the first and or only reviews of certain books, and that the review is just one part of getting your book out there. We, as writers, need to be hustling as much as we can to generate sales. If we don’t, we can’t complain when we don’t sell. As much as I’d love to not engage in the murky world of commercial practices, publishers want to sell, poets want to be read, publishers can’t do it all (especially in poetry world) and we can’t all be like PJ Harvey and sell poetry off the back of a successful music career. Reviewing space is tight, etc…All the same stuff you will have heard repeated in a thousand articles about the state of poetry and poetry reviewing.

(NB Not having a go at PJ Harvey. I love her music and haven’t read the book, and I totally get why the press, etc promote her over a “smaller poet” as she will drive clicks, etc. Getting isn’t the same as condoning, obvs)

However, a word-of-mouth sale still generates the same sale price as a review, but where did the awareness come from for the word to leave the mouth in recommendation?

I’ve now started thinking about a poetic version of the Net Promoter Score. NB I’m sure you’re like me and marketing scholars like Mark Ritson and think NPS is an utterly pointless metric…issues with the point and timing of the collection, the fact that perfectly acceptable scores like 7-8 are coded as neutral scores and thus ignored, the fact that it’s often asked about ridiculous subjects like recommending a banking app, or I think I was once asked about recommending a leading DIY retailer having purchased a bag of sharp sand. I didn’t respond.

So while NPS isn’t great, perhaps things like sharing screenshots on social media might be a new form of NPS…is it copyright theft??? Probably, but it also feels, for the most part, like an endorsement. I try to avoid photos of poems to avoid copyright infringement, and it’s not possible to endorse or share everything, but for example, I had to share this week’s The Friday Poem entry by Richard Meier because I loved it instantly. And it’s already out there in the ether, so it’s easier/safer to share. In fact, that’s almost the point. What an odd state of affairs we find ourselves in when we can share stuff posted online, but not a copy of a printed page.

Mat Riches, Bontempirary Poetry and the Poetic NPS

I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!

More recently, a new favorite Saint Nicholas image, courtesy of my cousin’s wife: [click through to view]

In this image, Santa communicates by way of American Sign Language. As I looked at the background of the photo, I realized Santa sits in a school–the sign on the bulletin board announces free breakfast and lunch.

The photo seems both modern and ancient to me: a saint who can communicate in the language we will hear, the promise that the hungry will be filled.

In our time, when ancient customs seem in danger of being taken over by consumerist frenzy, let us pause for a moment to reflect on gifts of all kinds. Let us remember those who don’t have the money that gifts so often require. Let us invite the gifts of communication and generosity into our lives.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

you drive down the M5
we talk
the sun sets behind us

across the wing mirror
a web flexes
vibrates in the turbulence

I think of my own anchor points
how little it would take
to send me tumbling in the slipstream

Someone said of Burning Music, my first collection, that it was all rather accessible, as if this was a bad thing, no cryptic verse to worry over long into the night. At the time I was upset by this, thinking the act of producing a book was akin to climbing Mount Everest. Now I wear my accessibility as a badge of pride. 

Paul Tobin, TUMBLING IN THE SLIPSTREAM

It’s been one helluva year for writing for me. I won the Jack McCarthy book prize and wrote poems that are included in my forthcoming collection, Her Whole Bright Life. I spent two weeks in Crete, writing and soaking up the sunshine. I spent eleven days at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, writing and working on poetry-related projects. And this year I filled five journals with poems: [photo]

Last year I filled seven journals and in 2022 I filled six journals so while I filled fewer journals this year, I feel like it’s been a wildly productive poetry year for me.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2022

The conversation went much the way Masutani’s poems do. When a student would ask him a question, his answer – often preceded by a length of silence – was short and to the point. If he didn’t have a good answer to a question, he simply reply, with a smile, “I don’t know.” (How different from other writers – like me – who’d fill that space with panicked babble.) When an answer came, though, it was as precise and open as his poems, and very useful. 

During our talk, a storm on was raging on Denman Island, where Masutani lives with his wife (the star of many of his poems), and his connection was cut on a couple occasions. I was lucky, in those moments, to be able to circle back to what had been said, and record some of Masutani’s very quotable replies before I’d forgotten them. Here are a few of his many observations, which I think are great reminders for poets, both aspiring and mid-career: 

On why he writes poetry: 

“Most of my friends are great talkers, but I’m not, so I wrote poems instead.”

On working with his family and publisher to make his book: 

“Making a book is a collaboration. I’m just a part of it.”

On the importance of writing in a writer’s life: 

“Life is more than just literature.” 
 
On translating his own writing into Japanese: 

“I know more than the words about these poems.”  

On receiving edits to his poems: 

“It was difficult, but I knew these are not the last poems I’ll write.”

I’ll have to paraphrase another one of my favourite quotes, as I didn’t get it down, but when asked about the audience he writes for, he said he writes for his wife, in hopes that he might make her laugh. I can think of few more lovely ways to approach the page. 

Rob Taylor, Matsuki Masutani on Writing

reading the poets
not to write like the poets
but like myself

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve got a lot of thoughts and feelings about the sources of my chronic stress and complex trauma, especially those that relate to working for 3+ decades in public education. The thoughts are barely formed and if I tried to share anything right now, it would just be a big word vomit. But I can say this:

Things are not the same as they were when you went to school. Our teachers and students are under constant stress, and it’s different than it was 15 or 20 or 30 years ago, and it’s not sustainable. We have got to find better ways, because a society full of traumatized and under-supported people is going to look…well, a lot like the one we’re living in.

Despite that dire last paragraph, I am feeling hopeful in ways that I haven’t in decades, and the hope is a tremendous gift. Now that I have it, I can see how long I didn’t, and what impact a lack of hope has had on me. For many weeks now, I have not been attending to much other than my health. I go to various appointments, I go skating, I make nourishing food, I tend my primary relationships, I run our household, and I rest. All of that adds up to a full-time job. I haven’t had much time for writing or any other creative work (other than the small curriculum job) or other kinds of things that have typically filled my tank (for example, dates with friends). But I’m OK with that. This isn’t the season for me to fill my tank; it’s the season for me to repair the holes in it. I’m playing a long game here.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On tanks, the repairing and filling of them

Magenta?  I swoon, no matter how much naysayers insist I should pay attention to the end of the world.  Pantone may have anointed Viva Magenta the color of 2023, but I’ve been living in that color since the cusp of adolescence.  In a series of evolving poems, I’m exploring the how, what, why of colors.  Here, from childhood memory, are some lines with jolts of pure precision about self-construction:

streams of plastic beads in orange and pink
over my childhood window,
wall of color, and what of the palette I made of my skin,
vocabulary of my first identity
a bolder version of girl that I envisioned

black-haired, black-eyed, skin olivy (my mother
called it green) 
Picasso glazed a green girl before a mirror
Manet working magic with black 
I did magic with magenta, painting a hot-pink babe

Jill Pearlman, Viva My Magenta!

who can find their way with a broken flame

who will breathe when there is only moon

shall too many words leave an empty tomb

Grant Hackett [no title]

construction site —
even in the dark
the fragrance of lumber

Bill Waters, Night haiku

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 48

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, an exceptionally varied gathering of posts as the semester winds down and the holiday season is upon us, ready or not—a “stripped, dry, testing time at the end of the year” as Beth Adams calls it, a time that seems to prompt writers to look and think more deeply about their lives. Enjoy.


I found this portion of a poem in Etel Adnan’s Time (trans. Sarah Riggs): “… In the splendor of the/gray morning,/in the death camp/of Beit Sahour,/with a little dew/and a handful of clay,/we created/life…”

And then this snippet from Martin Amis’s Sweet Tooth: “…ultimately reality is social, it’s among others that we have to live and their judgments matter.”

And I think about the poem I was trying to write about a kingfisher, that quickblue and chittering presence I value so much when I encounter it, and why it is an image in my mind just now, as I rail in my way against my own petty sufferings. Yes, I see you, self. What ails thee? And I find myself finding myself rich in the presence of other minds.

Marilyn McCabe, I been all around this world; or, On Thematic Convergence

We have raked our leaves toward the street–but not into it, which is bad for the storm drains, etc.–and they await the second coming of the great leaf-sucking machine. We’ve had glorious warm sunny weather for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I took long walks, alone and with friends. I took a notebook with me on the long walk alone and was grateful to have poems tumble out. I stopped at various benches to write them down. At one I found a key and a dog leash in the leaves underneath, attached the one to the other, hung it over the bench, and moved on to the next. A woman came by, looking at her feet. “I’m looking for my keys,” she said. “I found it,” I said, “a single key, and a dog leash.” “That’s it!” she said. Yay! 

Kathleen Kirk, Leaves, But No Leavings…

I would have called you
today to tell you this, 
on what would have been 
your 90th birthday. Instead

I am holding this jar, a gift, 
and proof of something 

I am struggling to find 
the right words for

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Pulse

Poetry in general feels not at all important but maybe then that’s when I need it the most. That when I am not writing is maybe exactly when I should. I looked at the very pretty proof copy of the book yesterday and felt the weight of sitting down to make those final edits.  To even care about releasing a book when I do not feel like reality is quite real anyway. Or that poetry life and real life are not even meeting each other. Not to mention the drag of December when I swear yesterday it was well on its way to darkness at 3pm. 

But then again, barring the heft of all that has happened, this feeling is always here, the uncertainty of December, especially without even a glimmer at the end of Christmas, which is less bright this year and sort of murky in the distance. I will hopefully snap out of it by New Year’s–all of it, the holiday funk, the SAD depression, the writing fallow ground. Or at least I hope so.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/2/2022

Maybe then I’ll get back to writing? I hope so. I miss it, truly. But the words seem stuck inside/between endless spreadsheets and Zoom meetings and oh my god the emails. (This is not about my students. I love teaching them.)

Is it any wonder my synapses are scrambled?

But painting is not stuck. Painting un-scrambles me in continually surprising and energizing ways. I am excited to paint almost every day. (Will I ever feel this way about writing? Did I? Is it even possible to?)

My son recently discovered he likes watching World Cup soccer. This is surprising. Shocking, even, to all of us living in this totally un-sporty home. But he’s delighted and I told him I was so glad he allowed himself to be open to discovering this about himself.

That’s what this year of painting has been for me. An incredible process of discovery.

I had no idea how much I needed it.

I can’t imagine my life, now, without it.

Sheila Squillante, Still at It

This graduate class was a beautiful gift. Maybe it wouldn’t have been if I was submersed in a regular semester of teaching at the community college, but I kind of doubt that. There’s something to be said for students who show up ready to learn … whether it’s from me or each other or the work that we’re reading and discussing. There’s something to be said for older students who have shaken off the cloak of high school and undergraduate nonsense and are present because they’re in possession of themselves as people in the world.

To be clear, I’m also really appreciative of my students who are decidedly NOT in the world. Students who don’t really know what they want to do or where they want to be — I love having honest conversations with them and acknowledging that sometimes not-knowing is part of the process. But it takes a particular kind of energy to engage like that — and after almost two decades of that kind of engagement, I’m happy to try something different.

The difference comes down to the students who wrote some really cool prose and poetry this semester. And some of them failed in their aims, but it was awesome to see them try to meet those aims, and to hear them speak about what they learned in the process. AND to hear them talk about their “final projects” in terms that made it clear that the projects themselves aren’t over, aren’t final, aren’t anywhere near complete.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Lessons & Gratitude

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A couple of years ago, I asked one of my poetry mentors this same question. She chuckled and told me about how she recently dug up the Microsoft Word file of a poem that was published many years ago and started editing the poem again, because she “felt like it.” That was incredibly liberating for me. My relationship with poems became much more fluid once I understood that a poem may never be finished and instead, I could aspire for the poem to be good enough. 

Thomas Whyte, Jaeyun Yoo : part two

So Peter and I managed to get the latest episode of Planet Poetry edited and up last Thursday, featuring Peter’s interview with Sarah Barnsley on her first full collection The Thoughts. It’s an excellent book, in fact it’s one of my recommendations in the forthcoming edition of Poetry News. The poddy is going well. Now all we need are <unsubtle-hint> a few kind donations to help us pay the costs of the recording and hosting platforms! </unsubtle-hint> We were especially chuffed to hear that Kim Moore (who we interviewed in our Season 3 opener recently) won the Forward Prize! We bask in the reflected glory! Our Christmas episode is coming up on December 15th, featuring my interview with Matthew Stewart plus party hats, carols and bloopers. Don’t miss it!!

Meanwhile I’ve just sent out the updated spreadsheet of poetry magazine windows, and although I’ve lost patience with a few of the mags that seem to be permanently closed and/or never updated, there are some interesting additions. Even one journal that’s finally open for poetry after I took it off the list some time ago because it was never open and didn’t respond to queries. Perhaps poetry mags never die, they just pass out for a while (to nick a line from Prole).

Robin Houghton, Subs, pods and mags

This morning I read Anne Helen Peterson’s latest newsletter offering (linked above), on reading, and so much hit so close to home. I miss reading the way I once did. I keep trying to find my way back to it, and it eludes me. I then spent a good amount of time deleting apps from my phone. I’d already deactivated the dumpster fire that is Twitter, which I rarely used anyway, but I’ve put both Instagram and Facebook in timeout. I really love some Instagram accounts I follow (e.g., poetryisnotaluxury), but I would rather be the kind of reader I once was. I’m not sure this will do the trick, but I’m willing to try it.

Not much in store for today. I’m sitting at our dining table in the living room, on new-to-us old chairs we bought and recovered last weekend, watching snow blow out the window. The weather app tells me it’s supposed to be rain and 37 degrees, but my eyes tell me those are snowflakes and that they are sticking to the ground. I’d rather believe my eyes than my phone.

Rita Ott Ramstad, ’tis the season…

There is something curious about how so much poetry out of Vancouver is centred on movement, whether [Edward] Bryne’s compositions while riding BC Transit, on bicycle or on foot, comparable to Meredith Quartermain’s walking [see her 2005 collection Vancouver Walking] or George Stanley riding a similar Vancouver bus route [see my review of his 2008 collection Vancouver: a poem here], to George Bowering thinking his way through Duino Elegies via Kerrisdale. In comparison, there aren’t many poems I’m aware of composed overtly across the lines of the Montreal Metro, or Toronto’s GO Trains, let alone their expansive subway system (although bpNichol famously spoke first-draft thoughts into a hand-held tape machine while driving the distance between Coach House and Therafields). In certain ways, there’s almost something comparable to Vancouver’s transit-poems to England’s handful of poems composed on foot, responding to the uniquely-English meditative tradition of walking vast countryside distances [see my review Mark Goodwin’s 2014 collection Steps, for example, here]. Frank O’Hara may have composed a collection of poems during his lunch break, but, more recently, Mary Austin Speaker composed her 2016 collection, The Bridge, while riding daily commuter distances across New York’s Manhattan Bridge [see my review of such here]. How much, we might begin to ask, has literature been shaped through the physical requirements of each author’s particular geography? As Byrne offers as part of “MORNING SONGS”: “I saw Kirilov / fifty years ago / on the Barton Street bus / and again this morning / on 6th Avenue // One of us hasn’t changed / in all those years [.]”

rob mclennan, Edward Byrne, Tracery

Once I had writing habits, some that worked better than others.  This past year has given me one disruption after another:  job loss which might have opened up extra time, had I not broken my wrist, coupled with a huge move mid-summer and a smaller move at the end of the summer and a heavier class load than in the past.

Next term, I will try to set up some writing habits that will result in more writing time.  What will that look like?  I don’t know yet.  Let me think about it before 2023 gets away from me.  For now, I’m trying to keep my poetry legal pad close to me, and to go ahead and start writing, even if I only have a glimmer of an idea.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast about the end of Byzantium.  I thought about the Yeats poem, and as I read it, a line came to me:  This is no country for young women.  I decided to write it down and to keep going.  I decided to have something inspired from the Yeats poem in each stanza. […]

I will continue to work with the poem–one of my habits that has developed in the past few years is that I write a draft and don’t return.  I’d like to actually finish a poem, type it into the computer, and send it off to see if anyone would like to publish it.  But more than publication, I want to have the joy of having crafted a rough draft into a more finished draft.  These days, I often end a writing session without a complete rough draft.  I write a few lines or stanzas and drift away, thinking I’ll return when I’m more inspired, and I don’t return, not yet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sailing from Byzantium: Process Notes

Downtown, counterfeit angels wander dark streets drop kicking smiles for kicks.

Mispronounced junky dreams fumble through alleyways, mistaking fentanyl for sentinels.

All across the city, many spend their time waiting for something great that comes a little too late, like winning the lottery while on the way to the electric chair.

I press an ear to a cloud to listen in on the heavens.

I hear someone say a kiss is fluent in all languages.

Rich Ferguson, When Pondering the Language of Salvation

A while back I wrote a series of poems about Amy Winehouse. I’ve always been a huge fan of her music and her second album, Back to Black, will forever be one of my favorites and I listened to it on repeat when my first marriage fell apart so those songs and these poems weave together a lot of emotional topics: her untimely death, disordered eating, dysfunctional relationships.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the poems – they didn’t fit in my forthcoming collection but there weren’t enough for a chapbook. After thinking about it for a while, I decided I would handmake a microchap of the Amy Winehouse poems. Of course, I just had to figure out how to do that…

I spent an afternoon figuring out how to format the pages correctly. Then I spent $500 on supplies – paper, an awl, book binding needles, heavy duty thread. Once I had the supplies I spent another afternoon printing all the pages. I decided I wanted to make 100 copies. Which seemed ambitious but still doable. Famous last words? Maybe…

Courtney LeBlanc, Your Hands are Going to Ache

I’m just back from a very wintry dog walk with my very slow and elderly dog. There is something to be said for the slow walk and the honesty of bad weather, how a really good soaking freezes you so deeply it’s like it’s cleaned the very bones of you. And going so slowly allows for a close examination of the landscape; not just the valley and the hills around you, but of the landscape with a small L, the place where we exist every day, the areas that, in some ways, become background. I think of hedgerows like that. Hedgerows are a constant in the landscape, acting as dividers, boundary lines, shade for livestock. They sew the lands together, tracking across the countryside and lining the lanes. The hedgerows around my village feel timeless, and some are in fact likely to be boundary lines going back a thousand years or more. Hedgerows are like that – timeless, ancient, magical. Even the name – hedgerow, feels old and rounded with time, so close to the old english hegeræwe I can feel the weight of all those years in my mouth as I say it. I like the way you look at a hedge and see its history. Here’s a picture of a hedge in my village that has a history of being maintained in the traditional way, in which the living Hawthorn is cut down through the stem almost to the ground and then bent over and woven through the other stems to create a living fence. This is called ‘plashing’ and the bent part is the plasher. It’s an ancient technique that is lovely to see still in use. Sometimes you might see a lovely old hawthorn on its own and you might notice that it has a strange ‘elbow’ shape to some of its lower branches. That is the history of the tree, its brethren all gone and only the angle of its branches telling how once it was part of a hedgerow, a living fence that kept sheep in.

Wendy Pratt, The Winter Hedgerow

I’m delighted to announce that The Wind and the Rain, my sixth collection of poems, will be published with Blue Diode Publishing in June 2023.

The Wind and the Rain is a book of loss. It combines personal and environmental grief through the metaphor of rain.

You can read recently published poems from the book by following the links here.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain – due in June 2023

I was gathering strangeness, like little stones. Tossing
them into a jar, waiting for the water to rise to the
top. A thirsty crow, negotiating with the universe.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 23

According to a 2006 study funded by the Poetry Foundation and the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, the sneak attack is the best approach when attempting to reach people who say they don’t read poetry.* Non-readers of poetry were more likely to read or listen to a poem when they were exposed to one in unexpected places. These unexpected places include billboards, public transportation, events, and the newspaper. 

I wonder if this willingness to tolerate a poem is due the nature of the encounter. If a person doesn’t like poetry, and knows she’ll have to sit through one at an upcoming event, she’s probably already prepared to tune out. But if she happens to glance up while driving on the freeway and pass a poem in giant letters on a billboard or see one while riding the subway, the surprise might just startle her into a new appreciation.

When I was Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, I decided that the most important part of my job was to increase those chance encounters with poetry. I tried my best to put poems in places where people were forced to stand or sit for undetermined lengths of time: the bank, grocery store, cleaners, coffee shop, hardware store, dentist’s office, etc. 

My hairdresser hung a short poem by Hafiz on a wall in her salon, framed like a painting. She told me that people would look at it, first thinking it was a picture, and then, puzzled, ask her about it. I also organized a “Poem in Your Pocket” day, where volunteers handed out poems to unsuspecting members of our town. The reactions were varied—some people seemed delighted, some confused, and a few shrank back in horror. I also conducted holiday-themed poetry events (Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day), which were surprisingly well-received.

After three years of being the town’s self-appointed poetry sniper, I was worn out, happy to retreat back into my previous persona as a private person. But every once in a while, I’d come across a tattered poem printed on mint-green cardstock, taped to a cash register in a local business. And I would smile a secret smile of satisfaction. 

Erica Goss, Poetry: the Sneak Attack

One cool perk of blogging is that occasionally complete strangers contact me out of the blue and ask if I would like to have a book. My answer is always, Yes! Book, please!

This week’s mail brought me a chapbook of poems from Atmosphere Press, a debut collection by Damian White, of Columbus, Ohio. When I receive poetry books, I often set them aside until my April poetry blogging binge (a book a day), but I Made a Place for You was just released, and I told Damian I would blog about it right away.

The poems are short—“language poetry crossed with gospel,” as one reviewer puts it—but they well up from the poet’s own life and are a testament to how dire circumstances (in White’s case, homelessness) can be “channeled … into poetry to heal a fractured identity.” Predictably the poems are often ontological, a chronicle of a spiritual journey.

Bethany Reid, I Made a Place for You

the urn is light but heavy
weight upon his shoulders
unscrews the lid

grey ash onto white water
tips three times
on three outgoing waves

shakes the canister
grey motes on the air
retraces his footprints

Paul Tobin, GREY MOTES ON THE AIR

I had the pleasure of being on library shift with Wakefield’s Village poet emeritus, Phil Cohen. Phil started in New York City, went to MIT in engineering, and somehow ended up Quebec by 1984. […]

Phil’s a big deal in town, with his birthday celebrated as part of February’s Dragonfest. There’s a DVD of his poems in tribute. He has at least 2 books. One of his poems was the source of the name of the TaDa arts fest.

He says there are big P poets who do it for a living, small p poets who do it seriously and no p poets like him. He says poetry is in the living, and in involvement in the community.

Pearl Pirie, Village Poet

As it is poetry manuscript contest season, and I’m once again finding myself reading manuscripts, I thought I’d offer some “notes from a manuscript reader.” These are all just my opinions, and your mileage may vary.

  1. If you’ve never heard this before, make sure your first five poems are doing a lot of heavy lifting for the book—and then the last final poems. Because you know what? Tired and (mostly) unpaid readers are probably not going to sift through every single poem unless you’ve already hooked them.
  2. This is for contests that allow acknowledgements (some do not, so just ignore this if that is the case.) Do acknowledgements matter? Well, if you have none, it might. I think if you haven’t done the work of submitting individual poems for publication, you’re probably not ready for the work of publishing and publicizing a book. I don’t really pay attention to number or the names of the publications, but having none or only one or two acknowledgements kind of puts you in the danger zone. Now, if I still loved the poetry, I might still put it through. Just know that getting individual poems published shows you’re trying, you’re part of the literary world, and you’re trying to build an audience—all things I’d care about as a publisher, and as an extension, a reader.
  3. For books leaning heavily on one historical period or incident—this can work for or against you. I’ve read terrific books done in this way, but also a lot of boring ones. If you choose this route, make sure you vary voices, styles, and forms to keep the reader’s interest.
  4. There is a weird sameness of tone in the manuscripts I’ve read this year—and granted, it’s just a portion of submissions from one publisher—but there’s a monotone in the manuscripts. They’re not poorly written, but they lack emotion, power, passion. I wonder if this is possibly the effect of pandemic fatigue—it’s flattened out our voices, our writing? Anyway, don’t be afraid to be a little weird, out there, or show you care about something or someone. It’ll likely jolt the readers – which is usually a good thing.
  5. Good titles never hurt you. Once again, don’t be afraid to be a little weird.

I hope this was helpful! (And not too cranky! Anyway, as I said, this is just one person’s opinion.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Snow (with Power Outages, Haircuts and Holiday Things), Pushcart Nominations, Notes from a Manuscript Reader

Because we’re about to embark on our other family Xmas tradition of watching a film together on a Sunday evening in the lead up to Xmas (Mainly Xmas films, obvs), time is tight today, but I do want to post a poem—especially as I have permission to do so from the poet themselves.

Given the last thing we put on the tree was the star, this poem feels even more timely. It’s Each Star is a Sun by Jo Haslam from her second collection, ‘The Sign for Water‘. Sadly, the book appears to be out of print, but it’s one of the earliest poetry books I can recall buying in Waterstones, Norwich. I hadn’t read the book in years, but stumbled across it on my shelves last week. I knew I had to post something from it, and asked Jo’s permission. Out of the two I suggested this was her preference, and it’s the perfect choice.

I love the way the poem contains an element of the magical, and alludes to the way that we know the science of things, but still ascribe some sort of magic to the light that reaches us from such a distance. The way the lines of the poem seem to expand and contract like a galaxy and the universe seems entirely right.

Mat Riches, It must be a sign (for water)

Someone kept
watching the stars.

They were always
watching the stars.

They kept listening.
That’s how we

got here today,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (354)

Issue 59 of antennae – the journal of nature in visual culture is now out on the theme Microbial Ecologies. It is an extraordinary collection of multidisciplinary practices, approaches, methodologies, and conceptions to help us see and value the microbial worlds that until recently have remained invisible. As editor Giovanni Aloi says, “It is only by recognizing and engaging with microbial agencies that fuller networks of interconnectedness will enable us to tell the stories we truly need for our time and for the future.”

I’m delighted to have a piece in this edition. Ferrovores: the iron eaters is an extended version of the text of my video The Ferrovores.

Iron is the most common metal on earth. Indeed, it forms much of the molten core of the planet which in turn generates the earth’s magnetic poles. The red soils of the world are due to iron. At a biochemical level, iron is essential for human life, amongst other things, making our blood red. In the societal domain, iron is essential for manufacturing, electricity generation, and much more. Certain bacteria can derive energy for life directly from dissolved iron compounds (“rust”) rather than from oxygen as we do. Perhaps, at some time in the future, we, our descendants, the Ferrovores, may need to do the same.

Yet the Ferrovores are a product of digital code: generational, mutating, synthesising. Even so, the environment collapses around them, as they mine the language of pre-industrial times for reassurance and comfort, dreaming of the days when manufacturing really was handicraft and shared skills.

Ian Gibbins, Ferrovores: the iron eaters in Antennae

In her book Index Cards, Moyra Davey quotes someone saying that everyone should take a one year sabbatical — the person dares her listeners to “imagine what that would be like.” And I think the word “dares” is meaningful here, and maybe now especially. Because it did feel even quite daring to take a month (especially during a pandemic, admittedly). The idea, Davey says, is that everyone in their time on earth should get to experience an interval of just freaking joy. Just as Cixous talked about fecundity being the natural state for writers, I believe that the state of feeling joy and being delighted on a daily basis is a basic human right. Which of course is so hard to attain. But there it is.

And I don’t think we’re likely to feel delighted and joyful all day long or anything like that. But in my month in Rome, doing whatever we wanted every single day which included looking at amazing art, writing, photographing, being creative, really reset my beleaguered pandemic brain. For the last couple of years, I have not felt myself. I’ve hit some distressing levels of depression. I know I’m not alone in that.

And so, to live a month in utter happiness, contentedness, joy: I can tell you that it rewired my brain, reset my soul. Obviously, I want to keep those good vibes going. How? So that will be my ongoing quest.

Shawna Lemay, A Month in Rome

Friday: Late fall in the north: this is the stripped, dry, testing time at the end of the year. Short days, distant pale sun, bare trees, and an increasingly penetrating cold. Ironically, when there’s more snow covering the ground, it often seems warmer, and easier to be outside: during these current weeks, though, the landscape feels like a bed without a blanket. We are all driven more and more into the interiors of our homes, and of ourselves. 

I swam, early this morning. Sleepy and not in the best of moods when I pushed myself into the elevator, into the locker room, on with the suit and cap and goggles and into the water, the rhythm quickly took over and after five laps I was already feeling better; after twenty-five I felt renewed, at home in my body in spite of its creaky and achy parts, ready to face the day.  A couple of afternoons ago, I rode down and walked back up the many flights of stairs to my apartment — this is something I should, and could, do regularly. And while swimming does stretch and use most muscle groups, some yoga focused on balance and strength would be good this winter too.

For someone who tends to be pretty consumed with thoughts and words, I know that I can’t live entirely in my head, or let myself become distracted and immobile for hours on end. I need to use my body to make music, make art, knit and sew, chop and cook, move from place to place. It helps to feel my lungs breathing and my heart pumping blood. I think that one of the problems of living in harsh winter climates, especially as we get older, is the feeling of enclosure and constriction which can lead to a lack of embodiment.

Beth Adams, Squalls

“Hope is a Silhouette” is a contemporary, empathetic look at life, particularly love and desires. Lana McDonagh explores how hope can become two-edged if ill-defined: it can keep a gambler hooked on his downfall, it can make a building look like a home, it can consume lovers and trick them into isolating themselves from a wider world. It can be as in/fallible as memory. Slender but thought-provoking, like a song you somehow keep noticing in the bar, on a passing car radio, an advert’s anthem that becomes a soundtrack to life.

Emma Lee, “Hope is a Silhouette” Lana McDonagh (Wordville) – book review

Often enough, I don’t fully understand the origins of what I write until long after. I had a funny correspondence with a high schooler a couple of months ago, not long after “Prescriptions” was published in Poetry. She asked, “What does it mean?” I knew that I’d drafted “Prescriptions” shortly after my mother’s death; that it was originally longer but I had to pare it down; and that while I was grieving as I wrote it, I was also relieved for my mother that she got to shed some of the harder aspects of her life. It consoled me to imagine her moving back to a state of openness and possibility. As I tried to distill all these thoughts into a short email, I realized there had been a more specific trigger: the hospice nurse advising us to tell our mother that it was okay to let go, if she wanted to; that we were grateful for her years of caring for us but we would be all right without her. She was unresponsive by then, but my siblings and I did, one by one, speaking to her privately. She died that night.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted Matisse & packing light

surface ripples
the songs my mother
knew by heart

Almost as soon as I’d pressed ‘publish’ on my previous post (in which I mentioned I had a poem forthcoming in Tinywords, ) the poem was published. So, here it is (above) a little more abstract than I’m used to writing, but hopefully it works!

Far more important than my small poem though, is this bit of news: let’s celebrate Kim Moore winning the Forward Prize for best collection. What a fantastic achievement. I was fortunate enough to read alongside Kim when we both had pamphlets published by Smith/Doorstop in 2012. She is hugely talented, and also incredibly hard-working. Since I got into haiku, I’ve been a bit out of the mainstream poetry loop, but luckily I had 6 Music on the radio on the way home from my guitar lesson today, and there was Kim, being interviewed by Cerys Matthews. So, congratulations Kim. I’m so happy for you and I know there will be more prizes to come! You are an amazing poet who works incredibly hard and your achievement is testimony to that. Hats off to you!

Julie Mellor, Surface ripples

May the leaves continue 
to open their pores and soak up carbon 
          emissions. May we reward the industry 
of their green and saffron, their ruby 
          and bark. May we bring the parched  
envelopes of ourselves and be filled with
          the languages of all we love, at tables 
overflowing into the end of the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prayer in Aid of Continuance

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: gratitude, humor, radiance, pain—it’s all here. Enjoy.


I expected to feel sad. After all, my characters never got to dance through the dramas I invented for them or which, more accurately, it seemed they dictated to me. I expected to feel guilty too. In my busiest years I got up early or stayed up late to write hundreds of thousands of words, yet still didn’t have sufficient attention span or vision to finish writing those novels.

Instead I am simply relieved. The silent weight of these must-get-around-to manuscripts is gone. Once, the secret worlds of these novels accompanied me so closely I felt I was living several lives simultaneously. But no more. Time to let them go.

I dumped the books in the recycling bin without a farewell wave, not even a tang of nostalgia. Turns out the freedom to give up on projects feels liberating. I like to believe I’m making space for projects closer to my heart. I’m going to let those ideas stretch out into this new space and see what happens.

Laura Grace Weldon, Freedom Of Giving Up

There’ll also be days bright as fresh flowers in old graveyards.

Days when your brain-dead boomerang gets an anti-lobotomy and returns to you zinging and singing.

When your collide and collapse comes back new and refreshed.

When it feels like you can crawl into the womb of a feather, and be reborn as something lighter than air.

Rich Ferguson, Black Friday

Funds are tight, so I interlibrary loan poetry books as often as I can, and lately I came across Maryann Corbett, a poet who was new to me but not new to poetry.

You know how you can be in the car with a student driver or you can be in the car with someone who REALLY knows how to drive? When you are in a Corbett poem, you are in capable hands. I’m reading Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, a relatable collection of poems of the everyday (but of course with more than the everyday beneath the surface).

I admire how her poems move–the form never feeling too forced or stiff, but rather inevitable. If you want to read a few of her poems for yourself, the title poem of Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter can be found HERE.

Renee Emerson, reading Maryann Corbett

Because I don’t enjoy reading the crowd-pleasing poems that tend to win.

Because competitions implicitly and involuntarily encourage poets to write crowd-pleasers.

Because I write poems that are apparently simple, that accumulate layers, that would never stand out in a mass of fireworks.

Because I don’t write to win competitions. I write for my potential readers. I write for the conversations that individual poems strike up among themselves and with those readers in the context of a magazine or a collection.

What about you…?

Matthew Stewart, Why don’t I enter poetry competitions?

This year has been an extraordinary one. I decided to quit my part-time job and commit to writing full-time. It was a thrilling and scary decision, a long time in the making. Then, as if I needed reminding that life is short so I had better get on with it, my mother died on January 12th, while I was in hotel quarantine. Two days before my mother’s funeral I got a phone call from the UK informing me that my poem ‘A Poem To My Mother That She Will Never Read’ had won the International Mslexia Award for Poetry. That was one of the most poetic moments of my life. Poetic because the poetry that resonates best with me always makes me feel more than one thing.

Being published online meant I was able to submit it to the Woollahra Digital Literary Award for Poetry in Australia. It was announced last night that it won that award.

I am humbled, grateful, proud, teary, sad, elated. Thanks to Woollahra Council & Libraries; Ocean Vuong for the title inspo; all the poets whose work has inspired me; my Ma; and Judge Ali Whitelock, who engaged with the poem in all the ways I hoped a reader would, and articulated it so brilliantly.

Caroline Reid, Winner, Woollahra Digital Literary Award for Poetry

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was in elementary school in South Korea, we were required to keep a diary which was reviewed regularly by the teacher. I used to procrastinate until the day before the deadline. I remember my mom looking stern but slightly amused at my scramble to fill the pages, then suggesting: Why don’t you write a poem for a diary entry? It would be shorter but still meaningful. 

So I first engaged with poetry as a “shortcut.” It quickly became fun and special to me. As I became more intentional about the elements of poetry, it often took longer than writing narratives!

Thomas Whyte, Jaeyun Yoo : part one

Remarkably, after nine years of trying to face down his cancer’s spread, [Oliver] Sacks could still describe himself as “intensely alive” and even “lucky” and, perhaps more important, “grateful” for being able to “choose how to live out the months” that remained to him. “I have to live,” he wrote, “in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.” That he did, publishing in the short time left to him five books and “nearly finish[ing]” others, all while completing his memoir, On the Move: A Life, published in the spring of 2015. Declaring his “detachment” from daily news and politics and issues of the day, he turned his focus “on myself, my work and my friends.” His was, in every sense, lived life.

This Thanksgiving, having crossed that threshold that places me among the old, though not the old old, I find inspiration in re-reading Sacks’s op-ed, to consider and affirm, as he did, what an “enormous privilege” it is to be of this world, especially to “have loved and been loved,” to “have been given much” and “have given something in return.”

Note: Sacks’s essay and three others comprise his slim volume of reflections, Gratitude, published the year he died.

Maureen Doallas, On This Thanksgiving

If you’re familiar with Polly [Atkin]’s work you’ll know how her poems fold you into them, how they open worlds. If you ever get a chance to see her read, do it, don’t hesitate, do it. I’ve been lucky enough to have her read as part of a course I ran and double lucky in that she has run a zoom course for Spelt, which has been a big hit. I read this one in January. I read a little bit each day and each day it was like being given a gift. She’s an extraordinarily gifted poet. Much With Body is Polly Atkin’s second collection. These are poems that explore the connection to nature, in particular the authors connection to her own place in nature, in the Lake District. There’s a thread of found poems running through the collection that use Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary entries to explore the body through the lens of chronic illness. Every poem in this collection pulls at something in the brain, every description captures something unusual and special. I can’t recommend it enough. Pour yourself a cup of tea and settle in, you’ll not be able to put it down.

Wendy Pratt, Shelfie Stories: Five Books to Curl Up With on a Wintery Sunday Afternoon

The neighborhood where I used to live, Plateau Mont-Royal, was predominantly French, rather entitled, and somewhat closed-in on itself. Our new neighborhood, Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, is the most ethnically- and linguistically-mixed in the city, with some 48 languages spoken regularly in homes. In the elevators of our 12-story modern condo building, we hear neighbors speaking French, English, Chinese, Spanish, Yiddish, Russian, Italian, Arabic, Filipino, various Indo-Iranian languages, and many others. English, rather than French, is the most common language people use to say good morning and wish each other a good day. There is a huge Asian grocery market across the street, a Romanian charcuterie and bakery, and an eastern European/Russian/Ukrainian market around the corner; nearby on Victoria Avenue is a big kosher bakery, and that street is lined with Indian, Vietnamese, and Jewish restaurants and shops — to name just a few – while in other directions the concentration shifts to African and Caribbean, Iranian and Turkish, Portuguese, Greek and Middle Eastern, Mexican and Latin American. Not only is this mixture invigorating for all the senses, it encourages me to learn some words in more languages and try to connect with the Chinese butcher, the Ukrainian woman behind the prepared-food-counter, the Romanian couple who run the charcuterie, the Israeli pharmacist, the Lebanese dry-cleaner, the Muslim car mechanic, the Filipino cleaning woman whose schedule is the same as mine for the pool locker room, the Greek fishmonger. But even more than that, living this way is a daily reminder that the people of the world actually can co-exist, and help each other to thrive.

Beth Adams, Present Moments: Our Own, and Others’

In the afternoons, fascists gathered in the park. One November, I put on my coat and mitts and hat—it was cold and windy—and I showed the fascists pictures of the minimalist paintings of Agnes Martin. Instead of trying to attain a forcibly monolithic, regimented nation under the control of an autocratic ruler, try these, I said. I figured each minute thinking about Agnes was a minute not being fascist. And it worked. One guy in an armband told me that her paintings show a commitment to exalted subject matter. Yes, another guy holding a torch said, she transforms the seen environment into the language of painting which gives the works their aura of silent dignity. And frankly, a jackbooted woman said, I like the grids.

Gary Barwin, HOW I TAUGHT THE FASCISTS

I read a lovely new book of poetry from a poet I’d never heard of, Adrienne Raphel’s Our Dark Academia. Raphel has a great resume – MFA from Iowa, a lectureship at Princeton, published in Paris Review, Poetry, all the big names – but this was a fairly small press, Rescue Press. One reason could be some of the poems were a bit untraditional – one was in the form of a Wikipedia entry, another in the form of a crossword puzzle, another was paper dolls – but I found myself enjoying the poetry and the quirky forms. The reason to shop at in-person bookstores is to find little treasures like these on the shelves. This one was thanks to my visit to Open Books last week.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, Family Visits, A New Poem in Prairie Schooner “The Girl Detective,” and Doctor’s Orders to Relax

First, I’d like to celebrate Luke Hankins’ new chapbook Testament (Texas Review Press) which is now available for pre-order. I had a chance to spend time with this collection early and wrote the following statement:

“Testament shows Luke Hankins deftly at work in a ‘small glory’ of a chapbook! Whether addressing the troubled country that is America or bringing the reader into the prayer-like intimacy of resonant daily moments, Hankins’s poems here create spaces of presence and awareness that are refreshing and which reward rereading. Testament evokes its title by speaking the facts of the self in such ways that we can join Hankins in loving ‘the broken world better / that has broken me.” (blurb for Testament by Luke Hankins)

My second note of celebration is for the recent loss to the poetry community of Bernadette Mayer. Check out her poem “The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica” and join me in being “strong” in the way such poets and poems show us to be.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 112422

On a recent morning, I heard them say something about Patti Smith’s photography and a new book project. “Book of photography” caught my ear as much as anything. It seems so extravagant and, as much as I abhor the word, quaint.

Another word came, too: necessary. It arrived from a place I haven’t visited in far too long, the part of me that needs slowness instead of scrolling. And honestly, that’s all I’ve been offering it, even as it pleads, “Woman! Please… please… send love and light. I’m dying in here.”

And even if it were “just” extravagant, don’t we deserve some extravagances? A fat book to place on our laps or hold in our hands. Quality paper. Dozens and dozens of images curated by a fellow human being and meant to be, as it says on Patti Smith’s website, “a coherent story of a life devoted to art.”

While we are blessed to connect with one another in any way at all (yes, even in our phone’s miniature windows), there’s something this book reclaims. There’s something it opens. It says, in part, “Wait just a minute: You know this stuff is real, right? Its impact — it’s real. This sky, this dog, this trinket — they’re real. They take up space in our lives and our bodies.”

Carolee Bennett, “i see us” (a patti smith appreciation post)

As you travel further into the rubble, you leave the outside world behind. Turn left at the ruined shop that used to sell gravestones.

The shape of the earth alters day by day.

In the photograph a little boy shows another one a dandelion he has found. They sit cross-legged by the barbed wire. The caption on the photograph says they were both gassed a day or two later.

A woman writes on social media I find men’s socks too big for my feet.

Bob Mee, RANDOM LINES ON A SLEEPLESS NIGHT IN NOVEMBER

In October I enrolled in another Hugo House poetry class, again with the amazing poet, translator, and teacher Deborah Woodard. The class focused on the work of Fernando Pessoa, born in Lisbon in 1888. Our main text, Fernando Pessoa & Co., edited and translated by Richard Zenith, gathers together work by Pessoa and three of his heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos. Pessoa created entire biographies for these alter-egos and considered them mentors and colleagues. […]

Pessoa prided himself on being impersonal, even invisible, a crossroads where observations took place. He deplores philosophy and metaphysics. I had difficulty caring about him for almost the entire stretch of the course. But…as usual…as I read and considered (and attempted to write my own poems), I began to feel curious about this poet, writing in another language, in another time, and living in a place I have never been. I have a feeling Pessoa would have approved of my journey, both the reticence and the curiosity.

Bethany Reid, Give Thanks

If you have some quiet hours this week, I hope you’ll read the amazing poems in the new issue of Shenandoah. Hot-flashing in your Thanksgiving kitchen? Ann Hudson has you covered. Missing green horizons? Look at Oliver de la Paz’s Diaspora Sonnets. Craving something funny-dark? See Kelli Russell Agodon and Julie Marie Wade. Want a poem that’s a doorway, a dream, a marathon, a shopping expedition? Step into Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “Coronillas,” Akhim Yuseff Cabey’s “Complex,” Lucien Darjeun Meadows’ “Mile 11–,” or Jane Satterfield’s “Errand Hanging with Emily Brontë.” Ned Balbo’s poem talks to a firefly. Emily Pérez recreates a writer’s desperateness to produce-produce-produce and illuminates what a mess that mindset can make. Grief poems by Leona Sevick and Destiny O. Birdsong just devastated me. There’s more in the buffet, too, as many poems as we could cram into one issue (and pay authors for).

As far as my own literary news, this little plot of earth is dormant. I have one lyric essay I’m nudging along, but mostly I’m feeling uncomplicated happiness over others’ success. Just in my English department last week, a student won a Rhodes, a colleague published a short story, another colleague won sabbatical funding, and yet another was offered her first book contract. Term is winding up and it looks like a few of my students have learned a few things.

Lesley Wheeler, Word-feast

Today was not a normal day of work for me. Instead of teaching my amazing students, I chose to participate in the UCU industrial action over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions.

I have blogged about this issue before, in 2018, which included a series of poems about work and working.

Today, in support of the strike, I collect them all in one place for the first time. [Click through for the links.]

Anthony Wilson, UCU Strike: a list of poems about work

Yesterday after church, we went to a concert, the kind of concert put together by a group of skilled musicians who live in the community and have found each other.  My spouse knows two of the musicians because they all sing in the church choir.

Yes, there are days here in western North Carolina when I feel like I’ve fallen through a hole in time:  “People still do this?  How cool!”  Of course, I went to many small symphonies and chamber orchestras in south Florida too.  I love these examples of creative types who aren’t trying to break into big time in the big city, that aren’t posting TikToks of themselves in the hopes of getting the notice of huge masses of people.

I like a symphony orchestra that isn’t afraid to put animal ear headbands on when they play Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”  I like a symphony orchestra that’s raising money for an animal rescue, and so they’ve chosen an animal theme that threads through the 4 pieces of music.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Joys of a Local Chamber Orchestra

it was love at first note
the wind and the bass solo eloped
straight out of my car

[I was crossing the bridge at the time
but this is their story not mine]

seven miles out bopping on the sea
the notes rearrange as they please
delighting the dolphins with their atonality

Paul Tobin, DELIGHTING THE DOLPHINS

My recent video palingenetics has its world-premiere screening at the 2022 edition of Festival Fotogenia – Poetryfilm, Videoart, Experimental Cinema, Avant-garde films run out of Mexico City. This is one of my favourite festivals: it has broad, inclusive remit, and it is incredibly well organised with a strongly supported sense of community. Through participation in previous festivals, I have built a network of friends and colleagues not only in Mexico, but across the world. Along the way, I have been learning to make Spanish text versions of the videos, such as this one (with help from the DeepL AI translator and a good dictionary).

Ian Gibbins, palingenetics at Fotogenia…

It’s been what can only been described as an absolute kick-bollock-scramble at work of late (no, there are no other phrases that work. I’ve tried them all), and that has left me struggling to keep up with reading journals, emails, books, road signs…anything really. And that starts to build up a pressure, a feeling that I’m not reading enough, not being engaged enough. That is likely entirely wrong, and very much a pressure of my own making, but it’s there and if I stop I worry I may never start again.

That won’t happen, but it can sometimes feel over-whelming trying to keep up with the journals that arrive, the books to review, the books I’ve bought and want to read, the music to listen to, the films and programmes to watch, the articles to consume…

Every new thing to read/listen to, watch, probably smell, maybe even touch that arrives can feel like email at work does, sometimes. Each one responded to begets another one and so on and so forth. Each journal sends me off to explore new poets, work by poets I know already, but may to have read, new albums, new shows, etc…

Mat Riches, Magic Darts

How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book Material Girl didn’t change my day-to-day life much because I was a broke grad student when it was released and couldn’t do much to get the word out about it, but over time, the book found its audience and connected me to other writers and thinkers who I eventually felt I was writing with and for. Material Girl now feels like a digest of my influences at the time, a very New York School inflected-book about living in New York, montage-y, talk-y poems. I think my new book Making Water tries to make a new form, one that is maybe less inherited and more my own. My poetics up to now have been grounded in geographical place, and I wrote Making Water while living in North Carolina, which is a little bit urban, a little bit rural, and a little bit suburban all at once so I wanted to write something that really reflected the experience of moving through this new swampy viney parking lot-filled landscape. I think there’s an idea from people who live in major cities that moving to the south is giving up on being part of culture, or something, but what I found in living here was that having more time and space for study gave me the capacity for an expansiveness to my writing that I has lacked living in cities. I reflect on this in the new book: “Give it up for space // transmuted into time // By year three // Memory will become // Imagination tall as // loblolly pines

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Jaramillo

“Crow Funeral” looks at the darker underbelly to maternity and motherhood. The pressures on mothers to be perfect, to be self-less and centre the lives of their children even when they lack support and dare not seek help due to stigma and fear. The use of nursery rhyme is appropriate and interwoven within other poems, a reminder that fairy tales and rhymes for children also have a darker side: behavioural advice for a dangerous world. Kate Hanson Foster writes without judgment or sentimentality. These are loved and desired children of a mother doing her best not to lose herself but to find a way of combining being a self-less mother while also retaining individual personhood.

Emma Lee, “Crow Funeral” Kate Hanson Foster (East Over Press) – book review

Sister Margaret John Kelly died last night at age 88.  I was blessed to be with her when she died.

She had been my major professor for English during my college years; a wonderful teacher. She also was an alumna of my college, fourteen years older.  She suffered greatly through the last three years, battling against the dementia which left her without speech, and without independent movement.

She loved poetry.

Anne Higgins, The bare sun, skinned, slides through the grass

The iambic spin off is a comfort. As is the rhythm itself. And for a decade or more I carried the original poem in my pocket as an antidote to the despair of depression. To it I’m grateful for its help as a bridge.

As I encountered it first in the 80s, it was only the first two stanzas and marked as written by anonymous.

In fact [Robert] Harkness (2 March 1880—8 May 1961) wrote it. He was an Australian composer, musical genius, and pianist on the Revival circuit. […]

Much like Emily Dickinson poems can be sung to the Yellow Rose of Texas, this can map a regularity like the heart. And how can you unlove anything you once loved?

Pearl Pirie, Loved Then, Loved Now: In Jesus

“The colorists get it entirely wrong: nature is colored in winter and cold in summer, there’s nothing colder than full summer sun.” Tell me more, Camille Pissarro!  Tell me, French landscape painter, about winter’s color, now that leaves now lying dry in piles, like potato skins or paper bags, light, giddy in the wind, when the pale tones of sky seem colored by remainders.  What am I, color addict, missing — what can I see better?

Oh, the brave red leaves still bright on the chokeberry! 
Oh, the clouds, neatly and darkly swirling as I leave the wine boutique, seemingly curated for a consumer outing.
No, those eruptions of drama are too easy, low-hanging fruit.

Pissarro was sure of his paradoxes, having meditated on painting, perception and landscape with a young Cézanne.  (I’m reading T.J. Clark’s “If These Apples Should Fall.”).  As I unravel this, I see that Pissarro was a consummate stylist suppressing the tick of giving humans what we want and need from nature, of pressing human eros onto landscape.  Instead, he gives us nature without desire. Instead of our narratives of drama and excitement, he gives us a swath of everything without hierarchy or privilege, the totality in concert.  It’s less a harmony than monotony, a stretching of a country moment, as Clark writes, “unique, noticeable, difficult unrepeatable persistence.”  

Not beautiful because of a hidden light, but because it is stubborn.  Winter’s long contemplation.

Jill Pearlman, Colorists on the Brink of Winter

Step through the narrow
fissure that opens— a glass waistline
where sparkling particles of sand suspend
in the space between the country prior to
this one and the country it will become
after anything passes through it. Believe
there’s a time and place where not everything
has happened yet, where somehow there might
still be lessons to learn from the not dead trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Learning to Flow