Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets wrestling with linguistic unease, Pentecost, the place of rage in poetry, an invented form of English, the language of science, British Sign Language, and other challenges. But how to keep writing when so much in the news is so grim? Read on for some ideas.


Someone I know was pondering a fancy floral table centerpiece she was designing. She showed me a photo of it and said she wasn’t really happy with it. It was a series of vases holding spring flowers, all sitting on a mirrored plank. It was colorful and lively but it did seem a bit over the top. I said that I wondered if the mirror was the problem. She said, “But my intention was to blend contemporary with traditional,” i.e., the mirror was contemporary and the lovely spring sprays traditional. And I thought of the many conversations about poetry in which something similar was said in the face of suggestion or critique: oh, but my intention was X, X = the very thing that seemed not be working. I’ve said it myself many times, and the conversation always gives me pause.

What should win: intention or what was actually created?

I realize my loyalty tends to be with what was actually created. The created thing has its own life, and I tend to think we creators should honor the inadvertent creation rather than try to haul it back into what we thought we intended. I value the misintentions and the subconsciousness of what was actually created, and mistrust the perhaps overthought earnestness of intention.

Marilyn McCabe, A mighty pretty sight; or, On Intention and Creativity

Any reviewer of Denise Riley who has read her 2000 book The Words of Selves, proceeds if not with caution, then with a definite sense of unease. There are two principal reasons for this. One is that Riley’s work is difficult; she is known as a poets’ poet for good reason – her poems contain a lot for those knowledgeable about poetry to get their teeth into, but on a first reading many can appear a little like crossword puzzles to be solved, codes to be broken. And this is intimidating – to review and misread her work would be to expose oneself as an inadequate reviewer. She knows this, and comments in The Words of Selves, specifically on the interpretation of literary references: “When reviewers interpret a poem, they may confidently misconstrue an allusion. Often they’ll think up the most ingeniously elaborate sources for something in the text that had a plainer association, a far less baroque connection, behind it.” (p.74) So there is the concern of making a fool of yourself by over-reading (something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of in this blog more than once); that’s the first reason. The second is that much space is given in The Words of Selves to questioning and problematising the lyric I, and Riley is skeptical, even scathing, of biographical ‘selves’ in contemporary poetry: “Poetry can be heard to stagger under a weight of self-portrayal…Today’s lyric form (is) frequently a vehicle for innocuous display and confessionals” (p.94) And yet, for Riley’s reviewer, the fact of her son’s tragic death and the fact that she has written in prose and poetry about this, leaves the poet’s biographical self very close to the surface, and (the reviewer might feel) liable to breach at any time. How then to know at what point the real Denise Riley steps back and an imagined subject takes over? As one of Riley’s great philosophical concerns is the means by which language creates the Self, the uncertainty that Lurex (Picador) creates in the reader around what is being said and by whom, is unlikely to be coincidental.  

And this sense of unease is not entirely out of place. Riley herself writes of the “linguistic unease” of the writer, and so there is some solidarity perhaps between these two unequal partners in the generation of a text’s meaning, the writer-poet and the reader-reviewer. If we can proceed together with a joint feeling of guilt and inadequacy, the job of searching for meaning might not seem so lonely. 

Chris Edgoose, Dark yet sparkly – Denise Riley, Lurex and ‘the flesh of words’

My life has been a wonder of surprise and intention. Not so unusual, right? We all experience unexpected events and make decisions. But wonder is hard to remember and easy to lose. I’m lucky—poetry requires wonder. I think my Poet Sisters would agree.

In 2016 I took an online class through The Loft in Minneapolis. That alone was strange because I’d lived 45 minutes away for five years and didn’t sign up until I moved 450 miles away. The instructor, poet Amie Whittemore, guided us to give kind and specific workshop critiques. She helped us build community. By the end of the class, several of us had formed a bond and decided to continue workshopping poems.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary as a group. I don’t remember who came up with Poet Sisters. It sounds like a gathering of oracles or perhaps muses. Sirens, even—calling one another to days of writing and reading poetry. Our structure is simple: share one poem a month for feedback via email. We’ve been able to meet in real life, once for a one-day workshop and another time at a writing retreat where we shared a cabin “up north” in Minnesota. We’ve had video-chats during the pandemic. Sometimes we share submission calls, poets and poems we love. We encourage craft and a belief in ourselves as writers. We cheer every acceptance and accolade. Since we’ve begun this journey together, one of us has become her state’s associate poet laureate, three have books in print or forthcoming, and another has a full collection ready to go.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Sisterhood of the Raveling Poems

We practice separation. Disentangle the cold

waves. The wind pauses, faithless. I marinate days in nights filled with
brine. What happens when an unexpected transformation lets us in

on its secret? I read the poem again, sticking my voice on the words.
Love waits. Silent. ‘Leaving’ sounds the same in every language.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, One of them is real

Words have failed so profoundly that I’m out in the garden instead, or indoors cleaning my bathrooms or reading books. Books–always my solace when my own words fail.

My latest good read is David Crystal‘s 2004 The Stories of English, already out of date in its last chapter–a fact I’m sure he gleefully acknowledges. I adore his love of how language evolves and find his non-prescriptivist approach refreshing and necessary if we are to keep literacy and communication alive. This book gave me so much information, enriched the knowledge I already have about our language, and made me laugh, too. Granted, it is word-geek humor…but that’s how I roll.

And I needed a few laughs this past week or so. My heart aches; I am sore afflicted for more reasons than I care to explain at present, though the headline news certainly has much to do with my mood. Crystal’s book got me thinking about the course I teach (come fall) and how I’ve already toned down the prescriptiveness in order to convince my students they can write and can be successful with written communication; that they are not “wrong,” just that their audience for written work differs, in college, from high school and from text messaging and other forms of writing. Crystal says we who teach English need to get over the concern about split infinitives and pronoun antecedent agreement and focus on clarity and genuine expression. I have no argument with him there–but many people I know would quibble and complain. And the English lexicon offers us so many options for how to say we disagree!

Ann E. Michael, Words fail, & yet–

calm lake
holding a stone
forever

Jim Young [no title]

Today is one of the big three church holidays; today is Pentecost. For those of you who have no reference, Pentecost is the day that comes 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus goes back up to Heaven (Ascension Day). We see a group of disciples still at loose ends, still in effect, hiding out, still unsure of what to do.

Then the Holy Spirit fills them with the sound of a great rushing wind, and they speak in languages they have no way of knowing. But others understand the languages–it’s one way the disciples argue that they’re not drunk. And then they go out to change the world–but that’s the subject for an entirely different post.

You may be saying, “Great. What does all that have to do with me?”

I see that Pentecost story as having similar features to the creative process that many of us experience. If you replace the religious language, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Often I’ve felt stymied and at loose ends. I think back to times when I’ve known exactly what to do and where to go next. I find myself missing teachers and other mentors that I’ve had. I may wallow in feelings of abandonment–where has my muse gone? Why don’t I have any great mentors now? Have all my great ideas abandoned me? What if I never write a poem again?

And then, whoosh. Often I hit a time of inspiration. I get more ideas in any given morning than I can handle. I jot down notes for later. I send of packet after packet of submissions.

Some times, it feels downright scary, like something has taken possession of me. But it’s a good spirit, and so I try to enjoy the inspired times. I’ve been at this long enough that I know that these inspired times won’t last forever.

The good news: those inspired times will come back, as long as I keep showing up, keep waiting, stay alert.

That’s the message that many of us will be hearing in our churches today. And it’s a good message to remember as we do our creative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pentecost for Poets and Other Creative Souls

Chaplets of roses grew threadbare
like linen; all night a bee drowsed as if stoned on the edge
of an ivory blanket. What else crept under carpets of clover
toward our trim hedges? Every night we went to bed
like apostrophes folded into each other. That is to say,
even in sleep our hands spasmed in terror or prayer.
Call it anything but casualty, accident, or fate
— none of us grown wiser for turning away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Collateral Damage

I have a poem, ‘Accommodation Strategy’, in the second issue, here, of Public Sector Poetry, which is a rather niche journal for people like me who work in the public sector and also happen to be poets. The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time. It just goes to show that local government is rather more fluid and dynamic now than when I started it in an eon ago.

Matthew Paul, Public Sector Poetry

Now I’m no huge Eliot fan but I do dip into the Four Quartets every now and then. I’ve never got to grips with The Waste Land, but I’m a sucker for manuscripts that show different versions, crossings out etc. It’s like getting into the poet’s head. And this edition shows every page, with annotations from both Ezra Pound and Valerie Eliot. It’s extraordinary. And I’m now enjoying going back to the poem armed with more insight into its genesis.

Meanwhile our Planet Poetry guests continue to challenge (and delight) me – in the last episode I talked with the effervescent Caleb Parkin and his excellent book This Fruiting Body, and my most recent interview was with Fiona Sampson. I admit I was nervous, interviewing a poet with such a formidable CV (29 books for starters). But Fiona was delightful and fascinating. I’m not sure yet when the interview will ‘air’ but it’ll be worth listening, I guarantee.

Robin Houghton, Currently inspired by…

Yesterday, I woke up to a mild sunny cusp of June day and was greeted with already a dozen or so submissions waiting in my inbox of new things I can’t wait to read. Yes, it’s that time again, the open submissions window for the dgp chapbook series, and one that feels a little less overwhelming now that my inbox is less of a morass and there is a bit more time weekly to devote to the press operations (including hopefully being able to read things throughout the summer as they come in and not just in a mad dash in the fall.)  

Today, I devoted an entire day to cover design exploits on handful of books that are in layout stage and it was nice to be able to actually finish what I was intending to do without running off to do other things like work or errands.  While my weekend will be focused on my writing and the next couple days devoted to freelance work, I at least will return to editing work mid-next week not feeling quite as behind as before and a couple new things are almost ready to start printing.. Tuesdays are for author copy and order fulfillment and shipping things. While initially I was doing a bit off all things each day, I find I am more productive if I center my days in a certain kind of task, even if it takes the majority of the day.

My enjoyment of different parts of the process has increased, even rather staid unexciting things like copyediting and typesetting feel more focused and grounded now that life is a little less hectic and subject to daily chaos. Or if it’s chaos, it’s more definitely orderly and self-guided chaos. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | june 2022

PP: Your poems are dense and agile, pivoting yet holding together in leaps. Do they come together assembled from pieces or come out of a passionate stream-of-consciousness?

SW: They tend to come out in one fell swoop. But it’s messy! I edit very slowly and very particularly. Have you heard that quote? A poet will move a comma in the morning and a comma at night and say, Oh what a day’s work! My friend’s dad told me that. But sometimes there are new waves hiding behind commas, cracks in the rocks, pieces hiding behind other pieces.

PP: Do you have writing rituals that help you into the writing frame of mind or do you write in stolen moments?

SW: Definitely stolen moments for poetry. Middle of the night, subway rides, grocery stores. I want to try the writing desk routine life someday but that day has not come yet.

For editing or prose, I can sit at a desk or in bed and crank something out. But my poetry is much more chaotic. Like catching sight of a bird and having to drop everything to chase it before it’s gone.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Sanna Wani

I will just continue to spread out flat, letting all the knots work their way out of my body and mind: a pretty little map of thoughts, lyrical as loops of string caught in school glue.

School glue in an amber bottle with a rubber tip, that would open like an eye when pressed. Or a mouth. Or a seal’s nostril.

There was a smell that I can’t quite remember, no matter how hard I try to conjure it.

It is inexplicable what sticks in my memory and what doesn’t. Last night, trying to sleep I remembered when E. was small – three or four – and while his older brother pinned my legs, E. sat on my chest and leaned over my face, inhaling so that his nostrils pinched shut again and again, like some kind of amphibious, alien creature. I laughed until I peed my pants a little.

Isn’t that something? How a memory of uncontrollable, full-body laughter can make you cry?

That school glue I used in elementary school didn’t work well. Nothing ever stayed put. I’d get home and the string had come loose in spots and created its own patterns. I guess it was an early life lesson: everything unravels, falls apart, and reconfigures according to its own mysterious will.

Ren Powell, An Amphibious, Alien Creature

I travelled to London by train and as I approached Wellington, near Taunton in Somerset, I saw an abandoned factory with most of the glass missing from the windows. This set me thinking…

summer project

we broke all the glass
in all the windows

no one stopped us
it took time

but the sounds were so addictive
the crack and cascade of glass

eyeless in autumn
the snow went wherever it would

when summer came round again
there was nothing to show it had ever been there

Paul Tobin, EYELESS IN AUTUMN

I love reading poetry anthologies.

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea–there is something to be said for reading a collection in one voice–but I feel like it’s like being in an MFA classroom again–all these different voices mingling together, bouncing off each other. I love that I find new-to-me poets in anthologies–I always keep a list of author names from the poems I loved best, then look up their collections to read next. I love how it takes a theme and looks at it prismatically, through many different perspectives and cultures.

One of my favorite anthologies is Joy, edited by Christian Wiman. I also enjoy The Child’s Anthology of Poems ed. by Elizabeth Sword (I use this book with my children, but it is good for anyone). Recently I’ve read some anthologies ed. by James Crews, Healing the Divide being the most recent.

Renee Emerson, anthologies

Winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award, as selected by poet Darcie Dennigan, is California-born Massachusetts poet and research scientist Angelo Mao’s full-length debut, Abattoir (Portland OR: Burnside Review Press, 2021). Constructed as a suite of prose poems, lyric sentences, line-breaks and pauses, Mao’s is a music of exploration, speech, fragments and hesitations; a lyric that emerges from his parallel work in the sciences. “They have invented poems with algorithms.” He writes, as part of the untitled sequence that makes up the third section. “They can be done with objectivity.” Set in four numbered sections, the poems that make up Mao’s Abattoir are constructed through a lyric of inquiry, offering words weighed carefully against each other into observation, direct statement and narrative accumulation, theses that work themselves across the length and breath of the page, the lengths of the poems. “The first thing it does / Is do a full backflip,” he writes, to open the poem “Euthanasia,” “Does the acrobatic mouse / Which rapidly explores / The perimeter comes back / To where it started / To where it sensed / What makes its ribcage / Slope-shaped as when / Thumb touches fingertips [.]” This is a book of hypotheses, offering observations on beauty, banality and every corner of existence, as explored through the possibilities of the lyric.

rob mclennan, Angelo Mao, Abattoir

In May 2019, we spent three weeks in Sweden. While there we went on several boat trips in the Stockholm area and along the west coast. I took quite a bit of video footage with no particular project in mind. But when I returned home, it came together in this video A Captain’s… using audio samples recorded in an old windmill on the island of Ölund.

The text had been published a while back and uses an invented form of english that captures the sound and feel of old nautical terminology. It imagines a captain trying to justify his privileged, colonialist position, while facing the immense and unknown dangers of the ocean.

The title comes from Australian rhyming slang: “A Captain’s” = “A Captain Cook” = a look. Captain James Cook was the celebrated English explorer who claimed the eastern seaboard of Australia for the British Empire in 1770, almost totally ignoring its long-standing occupation by First Nations people.

Ian Gibbins, A Captain’s…

The language of science is often mysterious, especially to non-scientists, of course. But there’s also often a richness of imagery and sound that feels related to the poetic. A mouth feel that is satisfying. A rhythm that makes us notice and relish in its language. My friend, the film maker Terrance Odette, posted the title of an article noting that “poetry is everywhere.” Well, that’s a challenge I couldn’t resist. So I made a poem playing with the sounds of this title. I mean, sure, heteropoly acid negolytes could enhance the performance of aqueous redox flow batteries at low temperature. Obv! That’s what we’ve all suspected all this time, but isn’t it true that “Follow-through is a poor bedfellow for the beauty of this testimonial”? Right? We poets bring the truths.

Gary Barwin, Poor Bedfellows of Science

Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night has bothered me for many years.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It bothered me more when, in my 30s I sat with my dying father. All my dad wanted in his last days was release from pain. Imagine the sheer tone-deaf selfishness of that injunction in his ears. All I can hear is a young man’s impotent rage against the loss of his father. It makes me wonder about rage and poetry. Among other things. […]

Rage makes you incoherent. Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting. The gift is to find the right channel. I thought I’d cool my head and calm myself down by reflecting on the the rage I feel about the apparently untouchable sense of entitlement that characterises the last ten years of the contemporary Tory Party in power, and then how more or less by accident, I found a way of channelling it. The answer for me lay in the Greek Myths, the stories of the Greek pantheon, and particularly the version created by Garfield and Blishen in The God beneath the Sea. 

John Foggin, All the rage

My touchstone here is something I learned in the 1980s, during my junior year at Stony Brook University, when I took my first poetry workshop ever with June Jordan. Both in class and in the individual conferences she had with me, Professor Jordan spoke about what poetry was in a way that touched deeply the part of me aching to tell the truth about my life. I do not remember her exact words, but these two quotes, from her introduction to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, capture the essence of what she said:

You cannot write lies and write good poetry.

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.

This does not mean, of course, that writing essays is not political, that essays cannot also be about discovering the potential in telling the truth, but it’s hard to imagine an essay rescuing a love affair or preventing a suicide, at least not in the way Jordan seems to be talking about here.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Deciding whether something should be a poem or an essay

I’m writing these words in the dead of night when destiny is busy sharpening its knives, and the sirens are sleeping.

There is a place we can unname and unweight our burdens, a place we can dig down deep into the ash for those unspent remains of humanity.

In that space, certain syllables defy gravity. Defy bullets and burning.

Hope is one syllable that comes to mind. Dream, another.

Rich Ferguson, When Destiny Sharpens Its Knives

On the one hand, I’m wary of trying to be too focused: one of the things that makes a blog a blog, if it’s just you writing, is that’s it’s unplanned. On the other, the blank screen is as intimidating as the blank page. It helps to have a sense of what you’re trying to do.

Also: however personally fulfilling it might be, keeping all your options open tends to be a pretty inefficient way of finding readers, who tend to want to know what to expect.

On reflection, there are a couple of themes I keep coming back to.

The first is simple: personal responses to individual poems. These are what got me blogging to begin with. They continue to get more hits than anything else on here: so there’s a demand. The truth is they are somewhere between a response and an analysis, which may explain why people go back to them (they’ve Google-searched the poem).

But they are personal, too, if only because I’ve chosen to write about these poems. I increasingly think sharing your enthusiasm for individual poems is central to what this thing called poetry is, and probably the best way to keep the love of it alive (if you believe E. M. Forster, the only way). I enjoy them, too.

Jeremy Wikeley, Back to Basics

I walked into the middle of a Ted Hughes poem the other week. An early morning dog walk, like any other, except that suddenly I was looking at the most enormous fish, the fish of legend, the fish of myth, a fish I had met before but only in my mind’s eye. It was put there by Hughes’s own reading of the poem, from the flock wallpaper Faber and Faber cassette shared with Paul Muldoon. It’s also in my ancient copy of River, the original coffee table edition with photos of the Exe and Taw and Torridge.

But here it was in the flesh, on an ordinary Tuesday, the film of the words I had driven to, cooked and made coffee to, happening actually yards from where I stood in a Devon field not a mile from the city centre. The poem is clear: this is an October salmon, not mid-May. But I swear the fish was the same. It all came back, as we say, flooding. The fish is dressed by death in ‘clownish ceremonials, badges and decorations’, its ‘face a ghoul-mask, a dinosaur of senility’, its ‘whole body/ A fungoid anemone of canker’. As Seamus Heaney has said, to hell with overstating it! Sometimes that is what is required.

Other lines quickly joined them as I stared, daring to inch the phone out of my pocket for a surreptitious photo, lest I spook the moment. ‘Ravenous joy’ (‘The savage amazement of life,/ The salt mouthful of actual existence,/ With strength like light’) ghosting a dying fall (‘This was inscribed in his egg’). He was probably hatched in this very pool. Fundamental accuracy of statement (Pound), never weighed more.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: An October Salmon, by Ted Hughes

DL Williams’s “Interdimensional Traveller” explores dimensions, particularly the two dimensional world of poems on a page and the three dimensional world of sign language. There is a QR code link to the YouTube channel where the poems appear in BSL (eventually all of them will) and also QR codes with some of the poems that links to the individual poem. This is not done in a binary spirit, where sign language is put in competition with English, but as a translator and interpreter, building links between these dimensions. An early poem, “Bilingual Poet’s Dilemma”, will be as familiar to translators as to sign language interpreters,

“What’s beautiful in a Sign
is boring in a line;
what’s pretty in a line
is confusing in Sign,
and if the twain should meet,
wouldn’t that be a feat?
So tell me, please,
which language should I use?
Which one should I choose?”

British Sign Language is not English in signs, or Sign Supported English, but a language in its own right with grammar and sentence structures that differ from English. Sign language is not universal, each language has its own version. In languages, words rarely stand alone with the same meaning each time, but pick up meaning according to the context used. A word such as ‘beacon’ may mean light, warning or hope and an interpreter has to judge whether to only translate ‘beacon’ as light or whether one of the other meanings may be appropriate. A phrase in sign language that looks like an elegantly choreographed ballet for hands, can be rendered simplistic and boring on a page. A sentence that starts in the present tense and moves into the past tense to signify a memory, is tricky to render in BSL. These issues throw up dilemmas for interpreters. However, if you are bilingual and can move back and forth between languages, how would you choose one over the other? If decide to use the best language for the poem, how will an audience react if some of your poems are in BSL and others in English? How can you interpret for the part of the monolingual audience who need interpretations?

Emma Lee, “Interdimensional Traveller” DL Williams (Burning Eye) – book review

extracting birdsong from background noise

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 May 2022

I have to admit that I love all the written aspects of writing poetry, of publishing work, but I still fret at the idea of organized readings, even after all the opportunities I’ve had to do so. The idea of talking for 15 minutes still makes me balk initially until I resettle into the reality than time flies when I’m reading, really reading, my poetry. And usually, before I know it, I’ve cleared 15 and am headed into 20. The thing of it is though is overcoming that block, “Oh, I can’t do that,” and instead jump in. When it comes down to it, I’ve never had a negative experience in a reading, in fact it becomes one of those moments in which I’m truly present. There’s great beauty in that, but also in the look-around the room and seeing who is there to hear you read because they want to be there, be it friends, writing group, fellow writers, teachers past and recent, even someone you’re sweet on. There’s a sweetness to it all that can’t be replicated under other circumstances.

Kersten Christianson, Tidal Echoes 2022

Last week’s post on First Loves led to a wonderful discussion during Fridays at 4. This week I want to continue that feeling, but with a later poetry love of mine, the work of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (Vee-ZHWA-vah Zhim-BOR-ska).  I can read her work only in translation, and the general agreement is that the best are those by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislav Barańczak.  Their versions are the ones that appear below.

I was completely smitten the first time I saw these titles, and then the poems that followed: “Notes from a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition,” “The Letters of the Dead,” “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself,” “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” on and on.  What drew me?  The tone of voice, that speaks about mortality with matter-of-factness, even humor.  The moments she chooses to write about, from dramatic (“The Terrorist, He Waits,” ) to the minute, the daily (“The Silence of Plants,” “A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth”).  That she writes about writing poetry, something not typical of American poetry (“In Fact Every Poem.” “To My Own Poem,” ‘The Poet’s Nightmare,” “Some People Like Poetry.”)  The surfaces are deceptively simple, the depths infinite.

Sharon Bryan, Wisława Symborska

I had a good conversation with a friend who just had a book come out. She has been doing a ton of readings—both in person and on Zoom—and was just two weeks into her book’s launch, but was feeling overwhelmed. When is enough enough?

My attitude towards this, when I talked about it in my book PR for Poets, is that no one will ever say “you’re doing enough” so you have to decide. If you love doing readings, or social media, or sending out postcards, do that. Poetry has a longer shelf life than most things, so don’t worry if in the first month you haven’t gotten to everything – interviews, podcasts, blog posts, readings, etc – all of it takes it out of you, especially in the third year of a pandemic and people are just starting to go to bookstores in person again. So be kind to yourself, set boundaries. Don’t say yes to everything. And try to celebrate the small wins.

As I am finishing up my final version of Flare, Corona for BOA Editions, a lot of anxieties have come up. Is this grammar okay? Why did I leave punctuation out of this part of the poem but not this other part? Have I forgotten people I need to thank (probably!) or acknowledgements for poems that might have slipped through the cracks? I really do need to turn it in to typesetting but there is so much you want to all of the sudden fix about your manuscript. Since this is my sixth poetry book, I can say yes, this is also a normal part of the process. I get very insecure about my book right before it goes out into the world. I loved the book so much while I labor-intensively (and money intensively) sent it out to publishers. I loved it when it was taken. But now, I see nothing but flaws.

I also got a few acceptances this week that would normally be big deals to me but it felt hard to celebrate with so much other bad stuff going on. The world feels very dark and dismal (and it’s not just the abnormally cold rain, though that hasn’t helped). If you are struggling, please reach out for support and take good care of yourself. Please remember you are making a difference in the world, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe take a break from social media and news. A friend of mine reminded me to submit poems (which I hadn’t been) and give myself time to write (which I also hadn’t been doing much of). Put at least one positive thing on your calendar just for fun. Wishing you as good a week as possible.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Three New Poems in Bourgeon, How to Cope with a Rough Week, Talking Publicity Efforts and Finishing Up Manuscripts and Other Poetry Things

But magazine can also mean
a chamber for holding cartridges
to feed automatically

into a gun, which reminds me
of the article I don’t need
to re-read — the one where

a radiologist describes
the slim silver line sketched
by an ordinary bullet,

versus the way
one fired from an AR-15
ripples waves of flesh

like a cigarette boat
traveling through
a narrow canal

turning any part of us
into smashed overripe melon,
nothing left to repair.

Rachel Barenblat, Magazine

We are sad on the ground, but still, our messages need to get out, we writers, we artists, we citizens. I don’t know that we will change this world, but our messages matter, they exist and are relevant all the way into someone’s near future. (“Someone told me / of course my poems / won’t change the world. // I said yes of course / my poems / won’t change the world.” — Patrizia Cavalli

Your art isn’t the phone. Poetry isn’t a text message. “Don’t use the phone,” says Jack Kerouac, “People are never ready to answer. Use poetry.”

I’m currently reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds, and loving it. (Will write a longer post on it next week if all goes my way). In it she says, “A poem makes a lousy telephone.” Instead, she says, “by reading a poem, you’re entering a transportation device. You interact with the text to get somewhere, but it has a mind of its own and will match its will to yours. Rather than efficiency, you choose a complex, unpredictable experience.”

The message is, Keep sending your messages. Your words are wings; your wings are words. We are living in complicated times. We are living in times where the language and rhetoric of disinformation, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, racism etc are overwhelming. In the recent past, I have thought to myself, what is needed is more nuance. And yes? but also, I was re-reading Rachel Blau Duplessis’s Blue Studio in which she asks, “Can one be rigorous and empathetic? Antisimplistic, but with clean lines? Can one illustrate opacity and confirm clarity at one and the same time? You’d better believe it.” Can we appeal to the larger crowd out there with a message of community still? With a message of doing right? I really don’t know.

Shawna Lemay, Of Messages and Messengers

The three children smiling in the photograph are buried in the kindergarten garden.
A woman tends her allotment to the sound of explosions and sirens.

An ant crosses the table in the garden where I write.

I walk to find peace.

Old bikes propped on bay windows in tiny, slabbed front gardens.

You are somewhere close to the border now.
Yesterday they bombed the tracks.

A pigeon stops singing the way pigeons do
as if they forget the point of the song.

Bob Mee, BLACK WATER

Dream fluff shadows a thousand
skin lathered summers,
whispering sea spray, waxing
ebb shine,
an urge of fingers in hair
and salt on tongues.
Oh summer, bare your dreams
on the wind,
Crush on me again

Charlotte Hamrick, Riptide

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: gloom and doom and blooms. Nightmares and hobby-horses. Biophilia and bibliophilia.


How does it begin? Wasn’t failure the first consciousness, wasn’t death the first precept. We know these things like the taste of our own mouths. Not as a taste, not as knowing. Still, we elevate their antonyms — a god, a love, a lover, a time — we embellish them with the infinite, the eternal, one thing containing the other, with victory. How else should we process our own defeat?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, How does it begin?

how you are
lonely in a crowd
like the moth
inside the cage
of hands
and each wingbeat
sheds more
of your powder
and you can hear
the calm voices
and the shared
laughter and
they think that
you’re with them
out in the light
but where you are
is entirely dark

Dick Jones, how you are

Busy times in my body and brain. Attended the funeral of a young co-worker yesterday. Heartbreaking. I loved learning about, and hearing, the country music songs she loved. 

In the afternoon, I helped to pot tree seedlings to be planted in the fall. Part of a big tree-planting surge: 11,000 seedlings (stick stage) were planted this spring. These that have budded and begun to leaf need to wait for the fall. Hot, fun work, in good company, outdoors.

Then, there was a Zoom discussion of Book VII of Paradise Lost with an international bunch of people–mostly Chicago and Canada, but some were actually in Portugal for earlier Books, and some were walking El Camino in Spain while we were between Books.

Kathleen Kirk, Wild Columbine

I read somewhere that someone
thought eukaryotes anyway would make it through a nuclear winter.
And from there the game could begin again. We’ve still

got billions of years: plenty of time. Though I’m sorry about the cats.
So then I think: do I care what happens to the creatures
who finally make the leap? Make it for real, I mean? And I thought

well, I do if they’re good. And there I paused: a new scent
was on the wind. If they love what’s beautiful and worry what’s true:
well, sure I care. And I wonder how to leave them a message, and then

I wonder what message I would leave? “Be careful, dears, there’s
a tricky part that comes when you industrialize”? “Put your house
in order before you learn how to burn it down”?

Dale Favier, After Winter

Dear false future, the shells of seeds
you crack open with your teeth make
a small, damp pile in the trash can. Each
is a world you pried open to extract
its only treasure. How many martyrs lie
buried without headstones? Meanwhile,
your blind mother and your bloated
father have their hair washed twice
a day, their organs flushed and pickled,
pearls sewn into their thumbs.

Luisa A. Igloria, Election Results

I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would ban all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.

Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.

She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.

My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m full of fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.

Christine Swint, The Yoga Teacher Guides the Women in Camatkarasana In the Season of Fetal Heartbeat Bills

These years are wilderness
and sometimes I struggle to hear
the still small voice
calling me forth
from my armchair, calling me

into humble not-knowing
and into the splendor
of not making myself afraid.
This work isn’t new, and
we won’t complete it: that’s ok.

Yes, there were leeks
in the beforetimes. I miss
them too. But then I remember
not everyone got to eat
even then. We can do better.

It’s all right to feel fear
as long as we put one foot
in front of the other.
There is no path to Sinai
other than this.

Rachel Barenblat, Not Knowing

I spent the better part of yesterday sorting books.  It is clear to me that we are moving into a phase of life with more moves and less book shelf space, so it’s time.  I started the day feeling a powerful sense of catharsis as I sorted through books, and I ended the day in tears and exhaustion. It’s a strange process the sorting of books. Let me record a few reflections.

–I used to keep books thinking that I would reread them, but it’s become clear to me that I usually check out new books from the library rather than read my old books.  I used to think that I would have complete collections of authors’ books, and in my 20s that seemed perfectly reasonable. Now that plan will require a lot of bookshelf space. All of this to say, I’ve been hanging on to a lot of books that I no longer need to hang on to.  Getting rid of those was the easy part. […]

–I am now comfortable getting rid of books even though I once spent lots of money on all these books. I supported individual artists by buying the books, but it doesn’t mean I need to hang on to them forever.

–Along the way there were sadnesses as I looked at inscriptions and thought about the people who once bought me books as presents. I tried to feel gratitude for all the people who have loved me in this way while also letting those books go.

–Every so often I saw the handwriting of people who had borrowed my books, people who had permission to write in them. One of my best friends, who has since died, borrowed my Norton anthologies when she returned to school to finish her BA, and her writing is all over the books. Those are tougher to let go.

–A lot of these books represent hopes and dreams, even though I’ve moved on to different hopes and dreams. There’s a sadness to seeing them, even though I’m fairly satisfied with how my life is turning out. Those books are going away. Perhaps they will help someone else who has those hopes and dreams of my younger self. […]

–Part of what makes letting go of books so hard is wondering what will happen to them. I’ll take them to the local library where they will probably end up in a friends of the library sale. I want to believe that readers will find them. I wish the library would keep them but I know that they don’t really have room for the resources that they have right now, and the move is on to more electronic resources and less paper.

–It’s the largest sadness: realizing that we are not part of a culture that values books very much and an even larger sadness in realizing how little we value ideas, book length ideas.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Sorting of the Books

And so what every library worker knows and works toward, and really this is one of my life’s main raison d’êtres, is the perfection of the reference interview. Which is ever unattainable, a work in progress, the holy grail of library work. Because, as in most conversations, a lot of what happens is sidelong. Sure there is often the straightforward person who comes in wanting X book, asks for X book, and walks out with same. Wonderful, that! But often the person arrives looking for something that they can’t say, or don’t know how to say, or want to say but are too uncomfortable to say, or don’t even know that they can ask for this thing that they need. So, it is this really delicate back and forth, that must be purely openhearted, and orchestrated to not presume, to not overextend, to probe but with good intent, with a mind to privacy, a mind to empathy, and with a great deal of instinct, as to when to be blunt, or ask the really dumb or super open ended questions, when to be silent, when to nod. It’s an exercise in hope and humility and curiosity and must be filled with a genuine interest in the human before you.

Shawna Lemay, The Imaginative Listener

We disagree over documentation: starlight at noon, 
a crescent sun, too many back-shadowed moons. 
Trees fall. Embers singe our concentration, 
re-ignite our concerns amid the smoke screen.

Yet we see no conflagration, feel no coals against
our backs (perhaps only rosellas carry flame, 
only crows transmit distress). Moths, bees, ants
swarm around our feet, now rain graces our lips.

Ian Gibbins, An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses

the sound of
data processing
house sparrows

Jason Crane, haiku: 13 May 2022

Sometimes I wonder if collecting useless facts is a form of hoarding. Controlling. Yesterday I listened to a podcast while I ran (the first time post-covid infection). I listened to Lulu Miller read her own brilliant essay titled The Eleventh Word [podcast ]. She explores the idea that our naming things actually creates an environment of fear: that by naming things, we create the illusion of control, but when that inevitably proves false we feel disoriented and afraid.

She gets this idea by observing her son as he acquires language and fear of the unknown at the same time. While I’m no neuroscientist, I think it’s more likely that the child’s brain develops the ability to predict and reason at the same age.

But the correlation here is fascinating and her argument poetic. There may even be some truth to her idea. I remember reading a long time about research that said there are emotions we don’t experience until we know a word for them. I remember it was all very controversial. But I suppose that would support the idea that we would be fearless without language?

I do know there are all kinds of research about using a second language, and the relative emotional/objective value of doing so. I have had students who keep diaries in English and tell me it is because they feel distanced from the difficult subject matter. It’s easier to think about it.

This is especially interesting because when I taught younger kids, I noticed that their “imaginative” language was English, though their day-to-day language was Norwegian. They would tell me that they were more creative in English: it was “easier”. They credited the language itself, not their relationship to it. I’ve always thought that was interesting. At first, I thought it was because they simply lacked the critical skills to evaluate their creative work. They felt freer because they felt an innocent sense of competence (invariably these kids were better at English than their parents and teachers, for example). But I think it is more than that.

Ren Powell, A Little Clutch of Deceit

Not just smoke and mirrors, but smoke and mirrors watched through another mirror, and another, and so on until the reflections themselves become a new reality, and there you are, lost, lost, lost. You can spend your lifetime feeling your way through the reflections one at a time, until you get to the end at last, and it is just a barren field. But is it? Look closer, the field isn’t barren at all. Small things do live there, rodents and insects, small plants missed at harvest, left ungleaned. There is life among the small things, life upon the dirt, and that, my friend, is where you can start over. 

James Lee Jobe, No one tells us that life is often a barren field.

after travelling
to the secret garden
it was no more
but the path went on and on
perhaps that is the secret

Jim Young [no title]

Not far from the city centre, down Mill Road, you’ll find The Bath House. It was built in 1927 as an amenity for the poor who lacked their own facilities. In 1969 a sauna was added. In 1975 when it was about to close, baths cost 10p. It’s mentioned in the odd biography and in literature – see for example Matt’s Simpson’s poem, “The Bath House”. It became a community hub where I spent much time in the Friends of the Earth office.

From the Bath House follow Gwydir Street nearly to its end and you’ll come to this shop front. The faded sign at the top reads “Roll on blank tapes”. It must have closed decades ago because it sold blank cassette tapes. I think I might have bought a tape there. Whereas the concept of a bath house might be understood by the youth of today (from Roman history perhaps) the notion of tape may puzzle them. Part of my first job in Cambridge was to do computer back-ups onto a foot-wide reel of half-inch tape.

Tim Love, Old Cambridge

How often do you consider changing your horizon? Since travel has been off the table for many of us during the pandemic, the way to change one’s horizons is considering a new hometown. For us, we’ve been thinking about moving to a smaller town – La Conner, Washington is this week’s pick.

We scheduled a time to look at a house whose best feature was its outdoor space – lots of landscaping flowers, lots of birds, and a backyard that looked onto protected land. Sitting out in those gardens – with a view of the water – was heaven. Talk about the temptation to impulse buy! But this is a house, and a big time town change, so we can’t just sign on the dotted line because the flowers and birds were showing off. There was also a guitar festival going on – and there is a local poetry festival that happens every two years – I mean, artistic and culture scores are pretty off-the-charts for a small town. Plenty of art galleries, a Northwest Art Museum, and cute shops and restaurants along the water, the Swinomish Channel. Woodinville, known for its wineries and restaurants, is no slouch in the food and wine departments, but lacks that grass-roots deep community caring about music, visual art, and literature.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Changing Horizons, Considering New Hometowns: La Conner Edition, Moving Forward with Flare, Corona, and More Birds and Blooms from Woodinville

The Planet Poetry podcast has kept my busy lately, I think Peter and I have settled into a relaxed schedule whereby we try to produce a new episode every three weeks but if life gets in the way then four is no biggie. It’s very satisfying to research possible new guests, read their work and prepare questions we want to ask them. Then there’s the editing and then recording all the other segments of the ‘show’ in which Peter and I chew the cud and usually go a bit off-piste (interesting mix of metaphors there, are we Tyrolean cows?) If you’re a listener, thank you! We’re certainly chuffed with the quality of guests we’ve managed to ‘bag’. Last week it was J O Morgan. Apart from numbers of downloads, there’s not really any way of measuring the pod’s ‘success’ or otherwise. Ideally we’d like to get mentioned on the BBC Radio Podcast Hour, so if you have any contacts there, let me know.

I’m at a slight hiatus as regards writing. I’ve stopped fiddling with the ‘collection’ poems for now, having had some very useful feedback. Now I need/want to move onto new material. I’m doing a fair bit of background reading at the moment. The other day I was deep into an article about lighting and ventilation in British offices from 1950 to 1985. I know! But it’s actually very interesting. Then there’s the book on Roman Britain. What on earth is on the boil here? We’ll just have to wait and see. I have booked myself onto a untutored week at the Garsdale Retreat in September, during which I want to be planning and writing for the next book.

Robin Houghton, Chewing the cud & going off-piste

I’m getting very close now to the launch of Poetry’s Possible Worlds and therefore working hard on Poetry’s Possible Publicity. The task is a supermassive black hole tugging at my effort and energy, most of which will vanish without a trace–but I still believe in putting it out there. As Claudia Emerson framed it to me a million years ago (she was a visiting prof here long, long before her Pulitzer), promoting a book is part of the respect and caretaking an author owes to the writing itself. I labored over the book mightily for ten years; I can spend some more hours giving it its best chance. […]

I’m setting up events for summer and fall and would very much welcome venue ideas and news of other soon-to-launch books that might resonate with mine for a bookstore event. Poetry’s Possible Worlds describes reading poetry during a time of crisis, so it’s memoir, criticism, and an exploration of the effects of reading on our minds and bodies. It’s also a speculative book (about poetry’s genre kinship with fantasy), a grief book (beginning with my father’s death and ending with my mother’s final illness), and a story of real and figurative travel (my Fulbright to New Zealand, among other journeys). At one point this constellation of topics bewildered me–how do I pitch this monster of a book? Mostly, now, it feels like an opportunity for connection.

Lesley Wheeler, Countdown…and teaching ideas for Poetry’s Possible Worlds

I have an e-chapbook – Magnetite and other poems – out now from Wild Art Publishing. It collects bird-themed poems from my three full collections along with a couple of newer poems, and matches each piece with superb bird photography from Rob Read (the man behind Wild Art), David Tipling, and others.

Most of the poems that I’ll be reading at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival reading next Monday will be from the book, so come along to the (online) event and get a taste of the book.

Matt Merritt, New e-book out now!

First off, thank you to everyone who has shown support for Rotura (Black Lawrence Press)! Whether you’ve snagged a copy, read some of the poems online, or heard me at a virtual event, the support and connection mean a lot.

Speaking of poems online, happy to share that three poems from Rotura were featured in last month’s issue of Poetry is Currency.

Continuing the Rotura-related thread, I am excited to share this interview for Mass Poetry’s “Getting to Know” series. I share a bit about origins and influences as well as insights about the new book.

Lastly: poet, scholar, and dynamic human being, Urayoán Noel, was also kind enough to include Rotura in his article “‘La Treintena’ 2022: 30+ Books of Latinx Poetry.” Honored to have Rotura featured alongside recent collections by Raquel Salas Rivera, Rio Cortez, and Darrel Alejandro Holnes among other essential, vibrant voices.

José Angel Araguz, updates & sharing

Well, I was really chuffed when this was published in The North .67 and finally in my new collection Pressed for time. Which brings me back to May 3rd when we had a live launch for the collection in the lovely venue which is Brighouse Library and Art Gallery . For a week before, I was awake nights wondering if it was true, and if, because I’d done it before I could still do it. I was absurdly nervous about the whole thing, apart from the usual business of wondering whether anyone would turn up. I was nervous enough to write a script for my bits of the reading. These days I’m usually in bed by 9.00pm. Would I have the energy? I haven’t read aloud to a live audience for two years and more…….and so on. 

What actually happened was that twelve Calder Valley Poets rocked up to do support readings; former students and ex-colleagues from the 1970s (Northern Counties College) and 1980s (Boston Spa Comp) turned up out of the blue; poets and friends I’ve not seen in yonks came along; eldest son, daughter in law and grandson came along (and filmed it all); we sold a shed-load of books. It all went like clockwork thanks to my editor Bob Horne’s careful planning. To top it all, my friend, mentor and inspiration Kim Moore arrived (a five hour round trip from Barrow!) and read three of my poems from the collection, so I heard them as if I’d never encountered them before. Wow!

Nervous? The script went out of the window. I’d forgotten what a live audience can do. I’d forgotten how it feels, the buzz, to be flying. There’s an electricity that energises you, that overrides two years of lockdown and chemo, and I thank my stars for it. I was reading a Facebook post today from Gill Lambert, the Leeds/Airedale poet who launched her new collection A small goodbye at dawn in Haworth. She’s flying, too. Suddenly there are launches everywhere. We’ve been let out. We know how the Mole felt. We’re learning the synergy and language of company again, the sound of voices. 

John Foggin, Reading allowed or The Company you keep

I am still paused in my next writing exploit and plan to give  myself until June 1 to figure out what I am doing, what exactly I’ll be working on over the summer.  Will it be more of half completed unnamed mss #14 (I kind of have a name, but am still trying it out in my head). Or will it be the epic project, which as its name suggests, feels like a huge undertaking I am not sure I am ready to embark on just yet. Toward the end of the summer, I’ll start working on edits and finalizing automagic, which I would love to release around Halloween given its spooky, Victorian feel. However, I am still recovering from the final sprint that was animal, vegetable, monster. Over the last couple days,  I excitedly sent off signed copy orders that are still filtering in. If you haven’t ordered, keep an eye out this week, since I’ll be doing a 3-in-1 sale with other recent books.

I’ve spent this week knee deep in furniture styles (Jacobean, French Provincial, Victorian, Eastlake) and architecture details, as well as another assignment on vintage vending machine cards (this time devoted to TV westerns.) On Monday, I was downtown and thought I smelled lilacs, but realized they were the hyacinths in the planters around the perimeter of the Cultural Center.  I was able to sit in the park a little more comfortably than last week under a rein of white petals from the trees, that are now filling in everywhere you look.  I swear to god a week ago it seemed like spring would never come, but then it always does in a just a couple of warm days and spreads like wildfire. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/14/2022

I wrote the first draft of this poem many years ago, when I was a new mother with a full-time teaching job who struggled to find time to write. At the time, my self-respect seemed to be directly correlated with my ability to produce perfectly finished poems, which rarely happened. Hence the constant state of frustration, tiredness, and befuddlement. Oh, and I should mention being saddled with an undiagnosed blood disorder that cast its own pall over pretty much everything I did. It took another decade to sort that one out. I think I may have sleepwalked through months at a time during those years, because there are whole stretches of my life that I cannot account for. But I’m grateful for this poem, which is like a little anchor I hold on to, a reminder of who I used to be, this younger endearing self I still carry inside me. I wish I could have told her, “It gets better, just wait. Keep writing.” […]

Fingers and palms are the best
to write on: phone numbers,
directions, arrows

to a lover’s heart, poems,
like now, when you’ve run
out of paper, tablecloth, napkins.

Wave good-bye
to your vanishing hand
with your writing one.

Romana Iorga, Writing Yourself Out

I wrote 30 poems in 30 days, and here are my take-aways:

1. When you write a poem every single day, you look for poems everywhere.
Interesting words, phrases, situations–everything could be the “moment of the poem” for that day.

2. You learn how much time you Actually have for writing during the day.
Turns out, most days I do have writing time–the days that I didn’t, I made the time.

3. Your poems become less precious.
Yes, many of my poems were throwaways! And that is ok–not every word leaked from my pen is pure gold.

4. You find veins of interest / connections in poems.
For me, I found a vein of writing interest about mid-month that I’ve followed, and I think could turn into a chapbook at some point.

5. You learn the value of a writing buddy.
If I didn’t have a friend to send my poems to each day, it would have been so much easier to give up! Having a writing community or even just one writer friend to cheer you on can make a huge difference.

You don’t have to wait til April to write a poem a day!

Renee Emerson, What I learned from writing a Poem a day during NAPOWRIMO

Everything about Garden Time entranced me: Merwin’s sure hand at meter and enjambment, the lack of punctuation that made his poetry seem simultaneously innocent and wise, and the way he was able to inhabit his environment without enforcing his will on it. The book foreshadowed a series of tragedies: with his eyesight failing, Merwin dictated the poems to his wife Paula, who died a year after the book was published. Then Merwin himself died peacefully in his sleep two years later at the age of 91.

The first draft of the poem that emerged as I was reading Garden Time sounded like a bad Merwin imitation: unfocused, weirdly enjambed, and self-consciously metered, as if I were trying to write a free-verse Petrarchan sonnet. But the seed of what the poem might become, if I paid enough attention to how Merwin’s poems operate, with their subtle movement and emotional distance, kept me going. 

Somewhere between the fourth or fifth draft, the presence of my late father arrived; I gave him a Merwin-esque temperament and allowed him to say a few wise-yet-innocent things. In keeping with Garden Time, I set the poem in a garden, one of my favorite places on Earth: Tilden Park Botanical Garden in Berkeley, CA. A memory surfaced: thirty years ago, when I lived in Los Gatos and he lived in Berkeley, I took a day off work and met him there, and we spent the day wandering the paths of the garden, pausing every now and then to read the plants’ captions. I remembered, with a stab of the most overwhelming nostalgia, that it was an astonishingly beautiful summer day and that the California native rose, rosa californica, was in bloom,and that my dad pronounced the day “perfect.”

On the strength of this memory, the poem took off, zipping away from its roots as a heavily-influenced piece of writing and demanding its own voice. In early drafts, I’d refrained from adding any punctuation, but now inserted commas, periods and ellipses where needed. I double-spaced the poem and let the line lengths meander, some long, some short. The finished poem still contains its Merwin influence, but it’s a whole new entity unto itself.

Erica Goss, Embrace Influences

How would you describe poetry’s role in your life? As a job, a hobby or a vocation?

For me, it’s definitely not a job. However, the fact I don’t use poetry as a means to generating my primary source of income doesn’t mean it’s any less important to me, nor does it mean my own poems are any worse (or better!) than stuff by people who do. Moreover, in my own personal case, viewing poetry as a job would kill off my capacity to write. This is because poems are ring-fenced in my mind as one of the few parts of my life in which I can do as I please without worrying about the fallout!

But then the term ‘hobby’ makes my hackles rise immediately. It insinuates I might be playing at being a poet, categorising my writing alongside stamp collecting or trainspotting. And it also gives the impression that poetry plays a secondary role in my life, which isn’t true.

And what about ‘vocation’? There’s a concern it might sound pretentious or feel like a pose, but it’s the word that works best for me. It doesn’t mean I necessarily spend umpteen hours a day writing poetry, but then I’d argue anyway that the genre doesn’t require or even benefit from lengthy periods at a desk. Instead, poems are often better for being filtered through lived experiences. My life feeds into my poetry and my poetry into my life. And that interwoven relationship is the reason why writing poems is a vocation for me.

Matthew Stewart, Job, hobby or vocation?

Don’t get too
comfortable

on the mountain —
that’s not what

it’s there for,
the old monk told

his students.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (201)

“Rookie” selects poems from Caroline Bird’s previous six collections, “Looking Through Letterboxes” (2002), “Trouble Came to the Turnip” (2006), “Watering Can” (2009), “The Hat-stand Union” (2012), “In these days of Prohibition” (2017) and “The Air Year” (2020). The last won the Forward Prize for Best Collection and she’s previously been shortlisted for The Polari Prize, the Costa Prize, the T S Eliot Prize, Ted Hughes Award, Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and has won an Eric Gregory Award and twice won the Foyle Young Poets Award and Dylan Thomas Prize. Bird was one of the five official poets at the 2012 London Olympics. The selections run chronologically. […]

“Rookie” is a carefully curated selected, showing Bird’s progression from teenage poet to mature adult. Underneath the successful humour, serious points are made about finding one’s place in life and dealing with the external highs and lows along with the aspects of your own personality you don’t want to put under a spotlight, but you also know if it weren’t working overtime backstage, the bits of you that you’re happy to put centre stage wouldn’t exist. It’s a great introduction to Bird’s work which is packed full of substance.

Emma Lee, “Rookie: Selected Poems” Caroline Bird (Carcanet) – book review

17 – If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Oh dear, I think I’m pretty good at teaching. I can’t imagine doing something else. But that’s different from being a writer. It’s a dream to be a writer who can live on one’s publications; that’s not common as a poet. If I “had not been a writer,” I would be a different person. I’d like to think that I would do work for women’s rights. I would have ended up being that strange woman who lives alone in the woods, and people say, Stay away from her. She’s reading and talking to herself.

18 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

There is no choice. Writing is hard, relentless, absorbing, possessive. When I’m working on a book, I feel bothered by it, “bothered by beauty,” as John Ashbery wrote. “No layoff from this condensary,” as Lorine Niedecker writes. When I’m writing, I’m also at my most happy—being alone and thinking and worrying over words. I often wish I wasn’t a writer; I have a naïve fantasy that I would be happier and calmer if I wasn’t. To have one job. I’m not good at other things, such as playing the flute or singing or surgery, so I’m sticking with poetry.

19 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The last great book I read was FIGHT NIGHTby Miriam Toews. Hell yeah! That is book is a force. I loved it with all my heart: its characters, its style, its structure. The last great film I saw is The Apartment, the Billy Wilder film from 1960, which I had never seen. I love Jack Lemmon’s physical comedy, his nervy, earnest, wiggly energy. I loved the pristine secretaries battling for dignity and love within the patriarchal structure of the office. I loved the lightning-fast banter, the comebacks, the Tiffany lamps and Modern art stuck to the wall with pins of his apartment. Most of all, I loved Shirley MacLaine’s performance. Her wholehearted longing, her honest tears, her warm demeanor in the Elevator Operator uniform. I feel like we all still work at Consolidated Life.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Camille Guthrie

We aroused and blaze-glazed cartwheeling denizens of equanimity, fierce galaxies of harmony in our hearts.

Idealistic and unjetlagged, we kung fu lassitude until it mimics the nimble ongoings of a poem’s quintuplets.

We residents of Shakespeare-tilted universes all verbed-up, whirlwinding and willing to xerox our unrestrained yodels

to create playful new zodiacs of zest.

Rich Ferguson, How we roam the alphabet’s wild jungle

I know a woman who once hated her ex with such fury that she soothed herself by imagining all the ways she might kill him. She and he did the acrimony dance through lawyers long after their finances were left in ruins. Somehow they both believed they spared their daughter, having agreed to remain cheerful in her presence. The girl surely saw the grimaces inside their smiles.

Their loathing simmered for years until their child, at nine, was diagnosed with cancer. Both parents went to her appointments and treatments. They cried and prayed and hoped together. Their daughter survived. She grew up smart and strong. She recently got engaged.  

My friend is happily remarried and her ex lives with a much adored life partner. The two couples have been vacationing together for years. They laugh, they reminisce, they dance in ways that give each couple space. They talk about buying a big house or property with two homes so the four of them can move in together. They imagine a backyard roomy enough for their daughter’s wedding. Imagine it scattered with trees perfect for their someday grandchildren to climb. They message each other real estate listings all the time.

I think of countries around the world that were once at war, but are now on friendly terms. They read each other’s literature, savor each other’s cuisines, celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Tourists visit parks where war memorials stand under flowering trees. Suffering and loss can decompose over time into something nourishing, as nature so patiently shows us.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Hate Is Biodegradable

The girl is thinner, lets the water of the river drift through her tiny hands.
What can I tell you that you don’t already know?
There are explosions somewhere close.
The girl looks up at her mother.
Aristotle tends his bees somewhere in the future.
People clear away rubble.
Some even make music and dance.
I’m sorry this is not enough.
That old line again:
Give peace a chance.
This poem is for you, about you.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING IN A TIME OF WAR

talk to the wasps
trapping ideas
hunting for the impossible

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2022

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 13

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, with the start of Poetry Month in the US and Canada (and everywhere else that poets join in trying to write a poem a day), I’ve decided to highlight what people are reading and how we’re thinking about that, as well as sampling from the various writing projects that bloggers are taking on this month. (Me, I’m doing a diary of sorts, inspired by some of my favorite poetry bloggers. We’ll see how confessional I actually manage to get, though. Probably not very much.)

It’s sometimes tricky to know whether or how much to excerpt from people’s NaPoWriMo exercises, since some will undoubtedly get unpublished, re-written, and submitted elsewhere. So please do let me know if you’d rather I not post excerpts from your poems this month. Regardless, enjoy the digest.


As we begin National Poetry Month’s twenty-sixth year, my thoughts turn to the tiny bit of extra attention poetry and poets receive during this time. In April, Poets Laureate revel in their brief moments in the sun, coming up with creative ways to force poetry into the attention of unsuspecting citizens. When I was Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, I asked local businesses to display poems on cardstock in their windows, and roped some volunteers into handing out poems printed on slips of paper to people on the street.

When I look back on those activities now, they seem less like fun and more like desperation. I’ll never forget the looks on people’s faces when I walked up to them and asked if they’d like a poem. Most were polite, a few enthusiastic, even touched, and one man backed away from me as if I’d tried to hand him a dead rat.

Erica Goss, Some thoughts as we begin National Poetry Month #26

Every April I challenge myself to read one poetry book per day—tackling all those books I’ve impulse-bought or been given by friends over the past year. Last year, I went all-out at the blog (see my post about Kathleen Flenniken for a great example), contacting many of the poets and asking questions about how their books were created. This year, I’m scaling down, but I still want to share with you what I’m reading, and at least a poem and some links for each poet. Rather than a review, you might think of these as “appreciations.”

Bethany Reid, It’s National Poetry Month!

This weekend we celebrate National Poetry Month at my church with Poetry Sunday, a sharing of favorite poems and original poems by members of the congregation. We’re a small progressive church, a safe place for all kinds of seekers, and a good bunch. We’re in between pastors right now, with guest speakers from all kinds of places, plus us, so, as one of our resident poets, I’m helping out and have chosen poems for all the readings, recitations, and prayers. Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Christina Rossetti,  James Wright, Louise Gluck. If I’m brave enough, I will also share a recent poem of my own, about the day my dad had a heart procedure.

I’m still writing a poem a day for Lent, and, now that April has begun, another for that, in an annual poem-a-day-in-April tradition. I’m glad I will have a jillion drafts to work on all year, plus the handwritten poems in a notebook that keep surprising me by even existing. Also reading a lot of poetry, as usual, most recently Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars, pictured above (cover art: Darn by Mary McDonnell) and available at Terrapin Books, here. Part way through Blood Weather by Alice Friman. These two poets will be reading at my local library, via YouTube Live, on Tuesday, May 17, 7-8 p.m. central time! Join us! And the library has acquired these two books. Perfect for our ongoing Adult Reading Challenge, as April’s challenge is to read a book of poetry. Beautiful array of them, along with April raindrops, on display on the main floor!

Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Sunday

When it first came out, I read Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, but probably wasn’t in the right place for it at the time. I’ve just re-read it and have finally found myself in the right place to appreciate it. I’m still not in a position to argue over the merits of reading this ‘poetic translation’ over reading the original. Heaney covers this in his introduction (as well as the experience of students studying it at university – I was not alone.)

What I have done this time is loved the language and the story, and seen how the best works transcend time, and in the following passage, I think you’ll see what I mean

‘A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.’

Sue Ibrahim, Beowulf today

Shakespeare collaborated, in this play, with an impecunious young playwright by the name of Thomas Painte: Shakespeare was to take a couple of the silliest romances of the age and write the poetic speeches for them, and Painte was to fill in some touches of continuity and plausibility. But poor Painte died of a sudden ague before the work had fairly begun, and — King James having hinted that he wanted something new — the play was rushed to the stage without Painte’s work. “Never mind,” said William. “The audience will never miss it. I’ve got some songs that will knock their socks off.” And so we have Cymbeline.

A ghostly Spring comes: faint clouds of new green appear, in some lights, around the bare branches; fruit trees and tulip trees lay out enormous sums on gorgeous designer outfits, which will be ruined by the first good rain. None of it seems real to me. Here, too, we miss the work of young Thomas Painte. One thing was supposed to be connected to another. One Spring was supposed to promise another. Winter was supposed to yield, not to vanish. At any moment Summer is going to stumble onto the stage with his wig askew, blurt out a few lines, and exit, pursued by wildfire. 

Dale Favier, The Death of Thomas Painte

The outlandish pink trees
shake their stiff crinolines
and the whole theater stirs.
The audience feels
loved like brides
in a world of divorces.
Too frilly,
too old-fashioned,
the critics huffed.
The management closed the show,
closed the whole theater.
Only the caretaker
sees the pink trees dance.
They still dance,
so out of hand,
so outlandishly beautiful,
to the wind’s applause.

Anne Higgins, Our college reunion is coming up this weekend

I remember being introduced to Charles Wright’s poetry in Intro to Creative Writing. Those enigmatic long lines, phrased in such a way that almost everything sounds so wise, like haiku.

I’m rereading A Short History of the Shadow, and I still enjoy his poetry. I think that there’s this kind of Tennessee drawl to the long lines, a pausing and repeating that you can hear in the dialect. Feels homey to me.

Two things I wonder about his writing though—1. Why does he bring Italy into everything, like a Hemingway expatriot, instead of just letting Tennessee be, with all its Tennesseeness. 2. Why the heavy repetition of syntax / lineation patterns in multiple poems throughout his work—is just style or a rut.

Obviously, Charles Wright’s writing works; else he wouldn’t be Charles Wright. If you haven’t read him, you should! (but be careful not to read one more than one of his books in a row—he’s one of those writers that stains your hands if you’re a poet too.)

Renee Emerson, Reading Charles Wright

The latest from poet Mikko Harvey, following the full-length debut, Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2018) [see my review of such here] and collaborative chapbooks Idaho Falls (with Jake Bauer; SurVision Books, 2019) and SkyMall (with Ashley Yang-Thompson; above/ground press, 2020), is the full-length Let The World Have You (House of Anansi, 2022). A Canadian poet living in Western Massachusetts, Harvey predominantly composes poems in first person lyric narratives that float across the boundaries of concrete image. “Wherever you are is a country.” he writes, at the mid-point of “Wind-Related Ripple in the Wheatfield,” “Touch it softly / to make it stand still. Your hair getting caught / in my mouth all the time, like a tiny piece / of you calling – like a tree trying to speak / to a rock by dropping a pinecone on it. / It is my intention to listen, but my hands / keep giggling while reminding me / I don’t get to be a human being / for very long, as if this were the punchline to a joke / whose first half I missed. I arrived too late.” There is an odd melancholy throughout, and Harvey’s is a lyric of held breath, and structurally echo a loose thread of lyric narratives I’ve seen over the past few years from American poets including Bianca Stone, Hailey Higdon, Hillary Gravendyk, Emily Kendal Freyand Emily Pettit: sharing a consideration for long, single stanzas, and their subversion of the short phrase. “I don’t / want you / to be / nervous.” He writes, to open the poem “For M,” “Maybe / thinking of / a walrus / would help.”

rob mclennan, Mikko Harvey, Let The World Have You

Mikko Harvey’s wry observations and surreal vignettes pose recognisable situations that ask indirect questions about what the reader notices and decides to take away. There are no wrong answers, but at its heart “Let the World Have You” is concerned with connections, how readers move and relate to each other and their environments, real, imagined and psychological.

Emma Lee, “Let the World have You” Mikko Harvey (House of Anansi Press) – book review

On a spring day as far from ‘late in dour October’ it would be harder to imagine, James Schuyler’s The Bluet surprises and delights. It’s the poem that has kept me going these last few desperate weeks, and not just because it features the bright blue of the Ukrainian flag.

At first glance it is a poem of escape, a wander through the woods to get away from it all. But as Carl Phillips has argued on the Poets House blog, there is more than enough in the poem’s manoeuvres to link it with Schuyler’s familiar presentation of the world as essentially social: the tiny bluet flower is a ‘Quaker lady’; ‘the air crisp as a/ Carr’s table water/ biscuit’; leaves that ‘are deep and oriental/ rug colors’.

But the word that catches my eye is ‘stamina’, placed at the end of the poem’s first line. Stamina seems so unlikely an epithet for a tiny blue flower.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Bluet, by James Schuyler

I’ve been turning over in my mind what it is I mean by ‘my kind of poetry’. Because there was a time when I wouldn’t have thought that today’s guest was ‘my kind of poet’. Indeed, there was a time, not all that long ago when I would have been puzzled by the idea that poems could be ‘life-saving. Bear with me.

For years and years poetry was always on the periphery for me. There were exceptions. When I was 16 it was the Metaphysicals….sardonic, clever, witty, sexy. Everything I wanted to be and wasn’t. At 18 the Augustans spoke to me. Clever, cool and witty. And I like the craft of couplets. At 20, briefly, it was Hopkins. What they all had in common was visible craft. At 22 I heard Robert Speaight’s recording of The Wasteland’ and it opened my ears and mind to TS Eliot. You can listen to it via YouTube in all its melancholy thespian RP musicality. It jars in a way that it didn’t, 57 years ago. Our ears become accustomed to different vowels and stresses. It occurs to me that it also opened my ears to Shakespeare, for which I shall be eternally grateful. […]

And so it went. As a teacher I liked the textures and evident emotion of Hughes and Heaney, but as  a reader it was mainly documentary and revisionist history that spoke to me: ballads and broadsheets, social realism. The 19thC Novel, Orwell. When I was asked to read Robert Lowell I fought it. I wasn’t interested in introspective, reflective late Romanticism (as I saw it). It wasn’t for me. I thought it was self-indulgent. Which is ironic, now I come to think. Anthony [Wilson] notes something in his post that chimes : 

“I have also been reminded of Seamus Heaney’s dictum in The Government of the Tongue that ‘no lyric ever stopped a tank’.”

I used to think that was an unanswerable argument to a question I never fully worked out. But now I say of course it can’t. And your point?  No tank ever made me happy or illuminated a mystery. A wren landed on the window sill earlier today, and just for a second it stopped my heart. So it goes. The thing was, what I wanted in poetry was stuff that could fill a room, like Shakespeare, that was memorisable and memorable. Most poetry was never ‘lifesaving’, and what I wanted was unlikely to be understated and quiet. We didn’t match. I didn’t miss it. I just didn’t get it..or it didn’t get me.

Something changed, about 15 years ago. Something shifted and if you wonder about ‘my kind of poetry’ it’s what the great fogginzo’s cobweb has been sharing for the last eight years. What strikes me is that while I’ll never have the apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of/familiarity with contemporary and 20thC that Anthony Wilson shares with you in his wonderful book Life-saving poems I’ve gradually being made more open to voices that one time I’d have dismissed. Life changes us.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Anthony Wilson’s “The Afterlife”

Alaska poet Keriann Gilson launched her brand, spankin-new collection of poetry today, places I never want to see again (Gnashing Teeth Publishing, 2022). It’s this beautiful road-rambling follow of a relationship’s ebbs and flows. I appreciate Keriann’s experimentation with haibun, especially its form and how it meanders down the page. She also explained today that the enjambment is a clue into the relationship. When lines flow and haiku are more elegant, the relationship is at its zenith. In contrast, the existence of short, choppy, stilted lines suggests there are problems afoot. It is a fine read, one that should land on a lot of bookshelves for a future reading once it’s been savored. Cheers to Keriann, and not only for this fine read, but also earning her MFA. Exciting news all around!

Kersten Christianson, You Gotta Get This One!

Karen Paul Holmes: I’ve dog-eared so many pages in this beautiful book, A Cartography of Home. Please tell us how this collection came about. I note a thread of homestead/weather/growing things that almost feels pioneer-like, but in a modern sense. And you do, after all, live on a farm. But there are other-located poems too: mini-market, hotel, church, for example. What can you tell us about the sectioning of the book into four parts? How much of the choosing and ordering of poems throughout the collection was purposeful and how much intuitive? Did you write any of the poems for this book specifically or did you assemble poems already written?

Hayden Saunier: I’ve been thinking about place for a long time. I’m a southerner who moved north into cities for theatre opportunities, but I grew up attached to a rural landscape and with an awareness of the innumerable lives that have inhabited a place long before me. Moving to the farm where my husband grew up reignited that deep connection to a particular landscape, but I also wanted to expand on the ideas of home and place to the those “other-locations” you mention (superstores, mini-markets, churches, press conferences, customer helplines) that have become our current and shared cultural landmarks. And when you walk the same fields and woods every day you are confronted by how time is stacked up in layers in a place, like tree rings and soil, so writing about place and home naturally becomes writing about time. That’s been given as an argument for art: It’s a means to stop time. Or a means to enter a single moment and that feels like stopping time.   

I love sectioning a book because I think a reader needs a place to rest between poems. I know I do. The way a bench is situated on a walking path to allow a moment to consider the view or tie your shoes or just sit. In A Cartography of Home, the first section begins with concrete considerations of home and habitation, and then those ideas ripple outward in the second and third sections, returning to the concrete and actual by the end. The way a walk works when the mind loosens and makes wider associations between the fixed points of beginning and end.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Karen Paul Holmes Interviews Hayden Saunier

Yesterday morning, I went to a local library to attend a writing workshop on the theme of ‘home.’ […]

I found it hard to say where my home is. Maybe it’s imaginary? Portable? I used to daydream about living in an Airstream trailer. Though I’d need a second one just for books… […]

Which brings to mind something one of the workshop attendees said about feeling at home in a library. Several of us nodded in agreement, and he added that the library–the public library–functions as a kind of matrix. I would add that’s true for one’s private library, as well, books providing a kind of collage of interests and influences and teachings that can be seen as a kind of matrix to the book-collector’s consciousness, loves, and interests. Speaking strictly for me, in this case.

The house I have inhabited for nearly 25 years now, the house my Beloved and I designed, helped to build, inhabited, raised our children in: this is as close to a ‘true home’ as I have ever had. And yet: is it my home, my rooted place, my last place, the dwelling-in I must have to feel stable and secure and surrounded by love and nature? I’m not so certain about that.

It’s beautiful here, especially in springtime. Yet as I consider friends and students and strangers who have had to pick up and leave on short notice, possibly never to return–it would be hard, but I could leave home. And, for now at least, I still have a choice to go or stay.

Ann E. Michael, Home is where?

Visiting the Azores has a strange fusion of ‘Here I am’ and ‘Where am I?’.   Call it a confused familiarity.  Our host on the island of Terceira presented us with a golden loaf of sweet bread  — kissing cousin to the sweet round on Ives Street at the Silver Star Bakery!  Back home in Fox Point, Azores banners hang from car mirrors, fisherman sell me their silvery catch from the back of a truck.  Living in RI, we’ve been imprinted with the nostalgia of others, our largest immigrant population from Madeira and the Azores.   

But the encounter with the archipelago has its own suspended reality — nuit blanche, arriving without a night’s sleep in the middle of the Atlantic on an unknown island.  Under the airport roofs birds were singing.  A city called Angra do Heroísmo, low church bells intoning.  Misty bay, veils of rain.  Whatever I was expecting, (small villages, old men and women collecting vine cuttings, tending their fig trees) was superimposed on an impeccable, chromatic seaside capital.  White and pastel houses alternate, holding each other from tumbling into the sea.  Air playful, soft, doing little arabesques over the dashing Atlantic. A man was etching in the sand a giant heart with the words Ukraine atop.

Jill Pearlman, Azores, Déjà Vu and Olà

I don’t know myself, but it’s not the result of an unexamined life. On the contrary, it is a life so examined that the fabric has been teased apart. I am a collection of discrete elements. And I am trying not to panic.

I recognize something in the line above; I am a loose collection from a poem I wrote in 2016. From the book I wrote wherein the translator described the poetry as my “late style”. I read that as a curse.

How have I survived rattling around these past years? Wide-open, and pinched simultaneously. A sack of bones.

At 4 am yesterday I was focused: writing. At 4 pm I crashed and splattered like a water droplet. Every time this happens I wonder if I will walk away for a day or two. Or for a year or two. Or more.

Identity is a complex issue. Language. Nationality. What they call the “formative years”. The America that shaped my formative years is not the America of today. I have lived here for more than half my life. For more than thirty years. And yet when people meet me they still ask me where I am from. As though answering that tells them anything about me.

I am from roach clips, milk lines, and Stranger Danger
I am from paisleys and bean bags, tv dinners and moon pies
I am from fire & brimstone, and inappropriate touches
I am from kerosene lamps and cinderblock walls
I am from scholastic books order forms and second-hand clothes
I am from guns and gophers and bloody chickens
I am from photographs cut carefully around the shapes of bodies
I am from sudden disappearances, fresh starts, and new names

But I say something like, the West Coast mostly, I moved around a lot. Then they tell me about all the times they have visited America, or the relatives they have there, or how much they love or have much they hate the culture. “Americans are…” and they begin to shape me.

And I go home and dig a little more deeply into the ditch that separates me from the world. I am still too easily twisted by casual contact.

Ren Powell, A Loose Collection of Mixed Metaphors

It’s been one year since my cancer diagnosis and I had a checkup with my surgeon this week. He said everything is looking good but it might be another nine months to year before I see any results from the nerve graft in my face. There’s another procedure that could be done, which requires taking a length of muscle from my thigh and threading it through my face to help restore symmetry, but that sounds horrific. I might explore botox. The droop face really is depressing. 

My six month cancer scans in December were clear, but I’ll be having more in June. Fingers crossed for the continued “all clear.” I think I’ll feel and even bigger weight of my shoulders when those results come back.

I’m slowly but surely getting the new & selected together collection. Publication is planned for September 2023. 

Collin Kelley, A new poem and a health update

Tuesday morning, the moon startled me on my morning walk.  It was just before dawn, and the moon as it was rising looked huge in the very dark sky.  It’s at the end of a waning phase, so it looked hollowed out.  As I walked, I came up with some lines for a poem, and I repeated them throughout my walk, so that I could remember.

Wednesday morning, I wanted to see if I could see the moon again, but because it’s a day later, moonrise was later, 6:28 a.m.  So I headed to South Lake, where I thought I would have a better view of the moon as it rose.  South Lake looks out towards the part of the beach with fewer highrises.

I got there at 6:34, which I thought gave me a good chance of seeing it, but at first I didn’t see anything.  I walked slowly around the lake, and just when I was about to give up, I saw it, a narrow sliver of a moon in a red-orange sky, just before sunrise.  It looked much more apocalyptic than it did when it was in a darker sky.  

I stood and stared for a moment.  If I hadn’t been paying attention, I likely wouldn’t have noticed the moon–it was just too close to sunrise and too cloudy.  I walked to North Lake where I could still see the moon, but it was barely visible as the sky had gotten much lighter.

I have all but ceased sending out poems just now, so let me post the poem that I wrote after my moonwalk mornings.  Is it done?  My younger poet self would have put in a lot of references to social justice issues.  My younger poet self would have made every connection glaringly obvious.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Moonwalking

It looks like that,
the old monk said,

because that’s always
how you see it.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (61)

Speak to any writer and they will tell you that it is difficult to force creativity, especially poetry which is a medium of translation – events, pain, love, happiness – into art. I feel I have burned myself out through striving to get to a place that is perhaps non-existent and more about my need to be recognised as valuable, than about my need to create. All the striving has, though, allowed me to climb high enough that I am now on a platform that I can, to a certain extent, control. I can sit on this platform and grow into myself and my writing. Right now I am working on myself. I feel like I am undoing myself, peeling away long papery layers of habit and compulsion and sitting with each version of myself, asking her what she needs and what I need to do to validate her. I’m addressing all sorts of things, both personally and in my writing. I mentioned recently that my next collection has been put back a year, which feels like a terribly long time but, actually I feel this might be fate playing a hand for me. Without the pressure of the imminent end of year deadline, I have been able to allow the poems to come when they come. I’ve used the last of my Society of Author’s work-in-progress grant to take the time to write when I need to; a change from what I initially planned, which was to set a big chunk of time aside to write write write, which just didn’t work for me. I always felt I worked best under the pressure of a finite time scale, but it turns out that my procrastination is a lack of confidence, the ‘working well to a last minute deadline’ is a way of avoiding having confidence in myself and my work, a way to ‘trust the gods’ and have an excuse if I didn’t do as well as I wanted. The truth is, we don’t always do as well as we want, that’s just part of it. Some things work, some things don’t.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Slow Life

I’m trying to write a poem a day, since I haven’t been writing as much lately, and seeking inspiration inside the world that’s still in a pandemic and a war. So I wanted to connect with some friends via phone and explore neighboring Kirkland, which has a beautiful waterfront with Lake Washington, and seems buzzing and friendly, at least when the sun shines.

I’m not healthy enough to travel or get in big crowds yet but I am, as you may see, making an attempt to get back into the world while covid levels here are low enough. As the UK and Asia struggle with another surge, I’m sure one is coming this way too, but for now, I’m getting out when it’s sunny (even when it’s not warm) and enjoying the flowers. I’ve enjoyed talking to friends this week about AWP as well as their travels and travel plans. Being immune compromised, I can’t be quite as adventurous, but I’m glad to get the news of the outside world, adventure by proxy. Meanwhile, I’m exploring different neighborhoods, capturing signs of spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy April – National Poetry Month (and My Birthday Month,) and Seeking Inspiration

Everything feels unfinished. Every thought that comes to mind is a sentence half-spoken. I jot down one clause — “the death of a parent casts a long shadow” — and then I don’t know where to go from there. 

Pesach is coming sooner than I think. I start a seder menu, then my efforts trail off. I’ll have one vegetarian, one picky eater, and one diabetic. I can’t think of a good main course to suit all of us.

I open a book I’ve read before, Black Sea, by Caroline Eden. It’s a travelogue with recipes. She writes about how surprisingly Jewish the food of Odessa is. Tsimmes and forshmak are Ukrainian foods.

She describes sunny afternoons, the still air of quiet museums, pastel-colored architecture slowly decaying, literary stories of ice cream. Today the streets are filled with sandbags and barricades

At the end of the Odessa chapter she offers a recipe for black radishes and carrots with caraway and cider vinegar and honey. I have those things! But what to eat them with? I run out of steam again.

Rachel Barenblat, Unmoored

In 2017 I launched a collaborative performance practice called the Improv Poetry Orchestra (IPO). It’s a simple enough set-up – a poet writes improvisatory poetry on a laptop at a desk onstage, which is projected onto a screen behind her. Musicians onstage read the writing as it’s being generated, and they improvise in response to—and in tandem with—her. […]

Improvisatory writing—and any form of creative improvisation—can be a profoundly connective process. It draws disparate people and/or ideas together (connective), and it’s centered around the act of creation (process) rather than around artistic intentions or a final product. 

And unlike other skills which you must master from the ground up, you already have a lifetime of experience with improvising. Each day when you have a conversation with another person, you generate sensible, interesting statements spontaneously. Creative improvisation is similar—it just requires a little courage to be both nonsensical and unimpressive (yet occasionally amazing!), a few tools, and some practice. 

Improvisatory Poetry: Making it up as you go along – guest post by Elisabeth Blair (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Like most people I put up with Zoom readings and events when it was the only thing allowed, and I hadn’t realised how much I loathed it until I started to contemplate the horror of online poetry events becoming a permanent thing. The ‘Zoom factor’ is having a detrimental effect on my decision about whether to return to the University of York to finish my MA later this year: as long as there is any chance whatsoever that seminars will be moved online, I can’t honestly contemplate returning.

Ironic really: twenty-five years ago, as an internet newbie I was basking in the excitement of what the Web had to offer, online for hours every night (this was in the US, where it was free!) and making friends across the globe (yes, actual people – some of whom I got to know in real life). I then spent the best part of twenty years working in online marketing and speaking, teaching, advocating and writing books about the power (and brilliance) of the internet for business, for communities and for communication generally.

And now? After nearly three months ‘resting’ from Twitter, I’m wondering just how much I missed it, if at all

Robin Houghton, At last, some (a)live poetry events

I have always maintained that the raw material for poetry is all around us but that most of the time we don’t realise it. A poet is a person who sees the possibilities and who tries to respond to them. Last Saturday I had the idea that the air is teeming with poems, they circle like airplanes waiting to land. This is what I did with that idea:

Poems Are Everywhere

a complex holding pattern
keeps the free range poems airborne
invisible they circle the world
we are oblivious […]

Paul Tobin, FREE RANGE POEMS

On a day when engaging with the world feels too much like loving a damaged man, I stand underneath our willow’s blossoming canopy and look up. It is like being in another world, one with a sky made of flowers, and I remember that this is how it is:

There is only one world, and we stay because of moments such as this.

We stay because leaving means leaving all of it, not just its barrage of bad news, and we cannot give up spring afternoons when the sun is the right kind of warm and tulips are leaning toward us as if we are the light and passing strangers smile and tell us how lovely our corner of it is. We stay because we see how it might be, how it could be, how, for brief moments, it is, and we let ourselves believe that–if only we love it carefully enough–it can be (it will be) like this all the time.

That we are wrong doesn’t make the moments any less beautiful or true.

*****

This week my students and I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Making a Fist” together, from which I borrowed a line to use as the title of this post. I turned away from much of the news this week, but I made myself stay with “Inside Mariupol,” which also contributed to this micro-essay.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Clenching and opening one small hand

I have almost forgotten childhood now. Sometimes I’ll remember something that happened when I was a boy, but I am not sure if I really remember it, or if I have told the story of it enough times that it is really only the story I remember, and not the thing itself. What happens next? Will I also forget how it was to be a man? And then when I die, will I have had a life at all? Memories of memories. Perhaps I was never a boy. Perhaps I was never a man. I could just be a random thought in time and space. Friend, what a wretched thing it is to be getting old and not even know what is real and what is not. 

James Lee Jobe, the forgotten childhood

or how at certain times in my life parts
of my body went numb in spring the black
tailed deer chewed honeycrisp apples in the snow
in front of my house her body
the color of elephant tusks

on Shrove Tuesday I ate the cake purple
and gold straight through to the plastic baby
clack clack on my tooth and kayakers
dotted the Stillaguamish River 
like swift primary flags like standards
bright narrow countries
yet to be discovered

Rebecca Loudon, April 2.

Euridice’s footfalls so quiet on the rocky path. We should have sung together. I could have listened. What singer needs sight to know?

My Euridice. Dew on early morning lawn. Sandwich meat in the ancient world’s most beloved deli. Lips like an asp bite. Joke maker. It was she who charmed them, though I was a good opener, with my lyre, sweet rhymes, my boy pretty face.

Her ironic bright-light grace. Even when alive she seemed a beam, glinting, as if she’d passed between Lucretius’s atoms as through a beaded curtain or the rain. Euridice, bioluminescent in the dark deep sea.

Gary Barwin, over-the-shoulder beholder: SOMETHING ORPHEUS SAID

Have you seen the dancers who talk while they
dance, no, who talk with their hands, oh, so loud,
in unison, dancing deaf Greek chorus?
How goes the war? Did they clear the streets

of the dead? How many did they silence?
What are the words that stab, cut, slice, fillet?
What are the words soft as the edge of feathers
of steel […]

PF Anderson, Questions

I gather together all the foolish words I’ve uttered.

Give them baths, scrub away the grime, wash their hair, clean away the dirt behind their ears.

I brush their teeth, check their eyes, bandage wounds, provide blood transfusions when needed.

Then I dress them in cleaner clothes, offer each a pat on the head and send them back out into the world—

hoping my words will serve me better next time.

Rich Ferguson, Second Skin

You could open
many things
with a fragment

How easily
it slips into
your hand

Beautiful
detritus
Vascular

scoria
of tiny hidden
cavities

In each one
a constellate
a branching

Luisa A. Igloria, Bricolage

You sense the famine in the empty veins of leaves. Bone-birds summon you from frozen wires. Your restless need for banquets may not be logical, but you understand the hollow tuck in their frail and downy wings. You carry smoke and bells with grace. When faced with complex factors, you draw down mica and paint spirals on all locked gates in sight. Your friends call you ghost orchid, amethyst, cleric of water wheels and bright fat plums. Some are puzzled by your sprawl of bread and lilacs, but still consume your bounty. It’s your nature to know the genus of every hunger, to shimmer in the distance without effort. For you starvation is abstract. If necessary, you will grind the hulls yourself.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Themes

a sunbeam
sliding down a cobweb
coffee time

Jim Young [no title]

The author was born in a rainstorm, the sky raven dark. The clouds thick and winged over the midwest. The author couldn’t sleep, at first, for all the thunder. but under the author, the forest writhed in moss and peat. Tethered itself to the author like ship. At night, she’d sail it through and the trees. The author, at first had no mother, no father, only the thin lip of daylight at the horizon. Only a slip of wind to guide her. She’d stack the broken limbs and build a fire and the ghosts would gather.  The author would rest, but only in the heart of of an immense, hollowed out oak, where she’d play house with the dark and marry it again and again.  Would carry its children up and down the ladder each morning. Would hush them to sleep, each night.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #1

A woman is killed as she tries to feed starving dogs.
I try to shake myself free but the image
and my imagination growl and tighten their jaws.
This is not about me, I say, it’s about the dead woman.
The woman is dead, says the image.
You can do nothing for her now.
Her death has invaded your life.
You must live with it.

We pass the cottage where the old couple lived.
In winter they came out one at a time
for they shared the same pair of shoes.

Now it’s home to a woman with winter-coloured skin
who paints a poem called Still Life With Anger.

In the distance we see the towers of the city.
The Government buildings, grey as rain-clouds
where people stand in line in the hope of leaving.

Bob Mee, THE REUNION AND OTHER POEMS

if i return to rest in a seed :: won’t my fields come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 9

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 found many poetry bloggers wrestling with some variation on the question What good is poetry in times of war? And several linked to Ilya Kaminsky’s interview with Leah Asmelash on CNN, which I also highly recommend.


This morning, an unseen wind illuminated by an unseen light source manifested as a great bright spume of snow lifting from the peaks across the bay. The mountains lay, as they always do this time of year, like a pale bulwark against a sky that starts indigo and brightens. Wind has smoothed the snow-covered mountains, filling vast folded valleys. The morning was quiet except for the sound of melt water sluicing through the creek below my home.

Almost five thousand miles away, Ukrainian people were (and are) fleeing from an invading force. Lives are being destroyed, uprooted, shorn. This is not invisible. We can watch it happening. And yet where I was, quiet. One thing does not blot out the other. Holding two dissonant thoughts is a challenge. The world can be beautiful and people can do violent, horrible things.

What can we do? We can stay open, we can hold two things. And we can try to help.

One of the things we can hold is that the violence in Ukraine is wrong, but also wrong is the violence in Palestine, the violence that is perpetrated in this country against Indigenous people and all people of color. We can help the people in Ukraine in many ways. We can also help other people who are being systematically harmed. Our hearts can accommodate caring for many people.

Another thing we can also do is breathe. Watch each day’s amazing light show. Go for walks. Plant a garden.

And read the work of many people who are telling of their pain. Open your heart to loving many people so that you cannot look away. Let your heart lead you to support others in whatever way you can.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Holding two things

radio talk
what sort of spring is it
where bombs fall

Julie Mellor, what sort of spring is it …

From Warsan Shire’s brand-new book Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, a stanza from a poem called “Assimilation”:

The refugee’s heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother’s unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office,
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus–yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I’m teaching Twenty-First Century Poetry to undergrads right now under the theme “Spacetime,” and we’re reading some Black British poetry next to Jahan Ramazani’s arguments in “A Transnational Poetics” that English Studies too often siloes literature by authors’ nationalities (and by period, as in “Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry,” which I’m teaching next year). Plenty of people writing in English have deep affiliations with multiple regions and nations; they do hybrid and border-work through their powerful poetry, in conversation with other authors who do NOT write in English. Professors do have to carve the massive sea of writing in English into related chunks to design courses and curricula, but as Ramazani says, we don’t have to imitate immigration and border officials–might there be other ways of grouping books? […]

I didn’t know, when I devised the syllabus long ago, how these poems would resonate within and against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s also true that atrocities are always happening. Sometimes U.S. media covers them with insight, inspiring people to feel with and maybe eventually even help the victims–and sometimes it doesn’t, especially when the refugees are brown and black and poor and queer. I’ve been struggling with how to frame my response to that media coverage, because while what is happening to Ukraine’s people is heartbreaking, it’s not a country whose government I can admire. Check out what Amnesty International says, for instance, about Ukraine in the last couple of years: “Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly in police custody, continued. Security service officials responsible for secret detention and torture in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 continued to enjoy complete impunity. Attacks by groups advocating discrimination against activists and marginalized minorities continued, often with total impunity. Intimidation and violence against journalists were regularly reported. Domestic violence remained widespread…” (This is true of the U.S., as well: how many of the countries claiming to be democracies really are?) Russia is run by a dangerous lunatic, but there are other, insidious kinds of violence he and others have been perpetrating, without most people calling them emergencies.

Someone said to me yesterday, “I changed my syllabus to teach Ilya Kaminsky today, of course,” and I fell silent. Aside from receiving it as passive-aggressive–ah, academia–I found myself thinking that this was not the only right response to the invasion. I love Ilya Kaminsky’s work. It’s amazing and everyone should read it. But I was glad I was teaching Warsan Shire. And I’m so glad to finally have her first full-length collection in my hands. It looks amazing, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading Warsan Shire during a Russian invasion

There are shoes in the streets
of Kharkiv, feet herding

to shelter, children in pink
snow suits handed off

to strangers for safekeeping,
the speech of goodbye tears

breaking the silence
that follows the shelling.

Occupied and occupier

cleave the meaning
of war in Kharkiv,

break it down
into fragments of sound —

one, the whistles of rockets;
one, the louder testimony of loss.

Maureen E. Doallas, War Language (Poem)

It continues to be hard to concentrate.

I’ve been reading little but poetry and the news this past week. We are familiar with the lines by Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen.” But “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Have you read the interview with Ilya Kaminsky? I would highly recommend it if not. […]

Poetry can hold nuance so well, it can hold irony, it can hold joy right beside horrifying loss. And isn’t this what our lives look like right now, those of us safe and privileged, witnessing from afar but also maybe dealing with our own private anguishes, illnesses, difficulties (or maybe just relatively minor discomforts)? Today I took a book off my shelf, by Julia Hartwig. (A case for owning poetry). In Praise of the Unfinished is the book, the poem I opened to is “Who Said.” It begins:

Who said that during the massacre of the innocents
flowers weren’t in full bloom
the air breathing intoxicating fragrances
and birds reaching the heights of melodious song
young lovers entwined in the embrace of love

But would it have been right for a chronicler at the time
to describe these and not the street flooded with blood…”

Does our watching the news and scrolling twitter change anything? Does reading poems change anything? Does witnessing in this way change anything? How is it possible that we can have one line of poetry about the massacre of innocents and the next about flowers? But of course we can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Poetry

In the context of events elsewhere, my thoughts turn to Auden’s statement, made in 1939, that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. Leaving aside the potential layers of nuance that we could read into his statement (e.g. whether he’s implying that it shouldn’t have to do so), it’s an important point of departure for any discussion of the relationship of poetry to war.

Like any theme, poets (and by extension, readers) can meet it head-on, in political and moral terms, or they can come at it aslant. Both approaches are valid, of course, but I personally prefer to find emotional refuge in poems that at first glace seem to have nothing to do with war.

At first, in the opening days of the war, I felt guilty and self-indulgent for admitting this to myself, for sharing poems on Twitter that appeared far removed from the context of Ukraine. However, as these poems lent me their support, I realised that reading them wasn’t an act of cowardice, nor was it turning the other cheek.

Instead, by treasuring the human significance and ramifications of simple, everyday acts, we implicitly celebrate love, which is the counterpoint to war. And therein lies one of the key roles that poetry can play in our lives, reminding us of what makes us who we are, of the values that keep us sane and might just lead us out of this mess.

If poetry helps us keep our humanity in the face of evil, its importance is beyond doubt.

Matthew Stewart, On reading and writing poems during the war

I think of the watches in Hiroshima that stopped at 8:15…what
does war do to time? That it is frozen, yet flowing? I look up at

the sky. A black kite circles, a cloud waits, the late-morning sun
slants at deliberate angles. 200 miles to either coast, then open

sea. There is nowhere to go. A second kite enters the frame.
They float together. Orbits only they can see. A student is dead,

far away from home, in a battle he wanted no part of. Still. Yet
moving. The cloud stretches. Straightening. A shroud. A moment.

The news is incessant. Time reaches for it with long arms. Have
you heard a kite cry into the quiet? Like a whistle. Like a siren.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Black Kite

Lent begins today: the Christian season of repentance, reflection, and renunciation. I went to the noontime services at the cathedral, and when the priest came down the aisle with the bowl of ashes, I rose — but only reluctantly — to receive them. It probably would have been more honest to stay in my seat.

After two years of a pandemic that has taken so many to an early grave, and convinced most of us of our mortality if we didn’t accept it before, I felt resistance to this reminder, symbolized by the ashes and the accompanying words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In a time of aggression and horrific war, I do not need a reminder of the human lust for power and too many rulers’ disregard for life. When we are told that we come from the dust of the earth, and will return to it, I already know all too well the intense pressure the earth is under because of human behavior, and what the future is likely to hold because of climate change.

Furthermore, all of these things are related. Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the failures of institutions and governments, as well as the behaviors of individuals, for two years now. I’ve felt helpless, and also tried to see where I could be of help, extending myself to others, and feeling immensely grateful for the people who have extended themselves to me. Many of us have tried to do this, and a lot of those efforts have been successful: building and nurturing supportive relationships and groups who have met and sustained each other in creative new ways.

What we do not need right now is guilt, and unfortunately Lent tends to go either in that direction, or toward the superficial, as if giving up chocolate is really going to melt human hardness of heart. Sincere reflection on how we can be more courageous, more loving, more open to each other, and more aware of the interconnection of all living things is always needed and welcome. But as I looked around the sanctuary today, the people I recognized in the pews were people who already do this, and try to live their lives responsibly and lovingly.  These are not people who think vaccines should be withheld from poor countries, or people who don’t recycle and drive massive vehicles, or who support white supremacy, or think that despots who want to overthrow legitimate governments are admirable.

And yet these are precisely the problems we are facing, along with many others. What would make me feel some movement this Lent, instead of turning to individuals and saying “This is on you, admit your faults, repent,” would be to hear our institutions and governments say, “We have been reflecting on how we have failed in our tasks and our mission to you. We have been self-serving, short-sighted and hypocritical, and we want to repent, to reform, to change, to do better.”

Beth Adams, Ash Wednesday, in this Time of Perpetual Lent

Photos of chirpy milkmen
in the Blitz: ciggy in the corner of the mouth,
stripy apron, delivering pints;

photos of the children of Aleppo
and all the other cities under the sun,
the sound of planes high up, the crumpling
of exploding shells a distance off, where people
go about their business among broken stones
in the footings of lost civilisations

and somewhere in a corner
there will be rugs and carpets,
tented blanket walls, and women
who tend small fires, shape flatbreads, patting
soft discs of dough from palm to palm,
and somewhere there is a call to prayer,
and always small boys intent on a football.
In repetition of small things
is our salvation […]

John Foggin, Pressed for time….

A lot of us approach Ash Wednesday as a kind of wake up call, a reminder that we all die in the end, and so we better get on with what we plan to do with our lives.  Because we live in a secular culture that wants us to forget this reality, in many ways the Ash Wednesday message that we’re returning to death is an important one.

But the pandemic has driven that point home in a way that the symbolism and sermons of Ash Wednesday services never quite managed to do.  Almost everyone I know, from all walks of life, is making different life decisions than they would have made three years ago.

The eruption of war in Europe has shifted our attention to the ash part of Ash Wednesday.  We may be thinking of the futility of all that we do, when it will all end in ash and decay.  With nuclear saber rattling happening and mass bombings in Ukraine, do we need to emphasize the “Remember that you are dust” message of Ash Wednesday?

Our church will have a prayer table with candles to light as we pray for Ukraine, and to me, that’s a potent Ash Wednesday symbol too. We are asked to remember that we are dust, but we are not told that our descent to ashes gives us license to forget the tribulations of the world.  Many of us are old enough to have seen that iron curtains can come down, that freedom fighters can emerge from prisons and go on to win national elections. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ash Wednesday in a Time of Plague and War

In July 2011, a terrorist detonated a bomb in central Oslo before travelling to the island of Utøya to commit a mass shooting. That day 77 people lost their lives (8 in the bombing and 69 on the island) and a further 209 were injured. Many of those killed were teenagers. “Utøya Thereafter” is a collaborative project using court documents and other research, with concrete elegies from Harry Man, where each poem takes on the shape of a portrait of the person the poem is about, and “Prosjektil”, Endre Ruset’s poem presented bilingually in its original Norwegian and English translation, plus a conversation between the two poets. The aim was to foreground the victims and survivors. On the island itself the learning centre has 69 columns of wood as a tribute. Not all of the 69 poems are included here so the names are not used. […]

Endre Ruset observes, “Watching the trial and listening to the names of the victims and the places being read through, all in the order in which the victims had died, it was incantatory, like poetry, but the saddest, most profoundly awful and gut-wrenching poetry that I had every heard. It went right through my nervous system and into my body. I had a bodily reaction to it.”

Poetry is a natural response to extremes of emotion. It can carry the heft of trauma in a condensed form and offer a sense of controlling what seems too vast to grab or get a handle on. Harry Man’s portraits and Endre Ruset’s litany of trajectories offer a respect exploration of the resulting grief and trauma from that day for both the lives that were stopped and the ones that continue, bereft or surviving. “Utøya Thereafter” is packed with compassion and tributes that rightly centres the victims over and above the perpetrator. A remarkable achievement.

Emma Lee, “Utøya Thereafter” Harry Man and Endre Ruset (Hercules Editions) – book review

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

In some ways, I think public-facing writers have a huge responsibility and if your platform is large enough, you can really enact change in people’s hearts and minds. Reading is a great creator of empathy. But I also love the idea of writing being a personal process. Even if it just changes you from the inside out, I think there’s still a lot of power there. I come back a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr College speech from 1986, in which she says, “People can’t contradict each other, only words can: words separated from experience for use as weapons, words that make the wound, the split between subject and object, exposing and exploiting the object but disguising and defending the subject.” We can only write from our own personal experience, but that experience can transcend space and time, a great dark gulf, to get to the reader.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Holly Lyn Walrath

Times like these, all your tongue wants to do is coat itself in white-out and go hide out; permanent hibernation in a din of white noise.

Times like these, bad juju in a pretty dress seems a far safer bet than that horoscope you bought at the 99-Cent store and ended up using as a brokeass drink coaster on the coast of unmagical thinking.

Should you say everything feels so heavy, it’s not hyperbole.

These days, the clouds above look more and more like battlefields than a case of the feels.

Rich Ferguson, The Feels

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the booksellers’ street in Baghdad on 5th March 2007. I was not able to be at the reading/badgemaking event on Thursday at Bower Ashton campus, organised by Sarah Bodman and Angie Butler, but thanks to Sarah I was able to Zoom in and sit for an hour on a book trolley. I read the poem below (from”Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq”); the city is Baghdad, but it could be anywhere. The threat of bombardment never goes away entirely. A ceasefire may last 20 years but is not the same as peace. I made a quick collage at home while those present in person made badges on the theme of Reparation and Repair.

Ama Bolton, Remembering Al-Mutanabbi Street

I’ve been reading the work of a Polish poet whose mind ping pongs, Czeslaw Milosz. A witness of multiple 20th century cataclysms, Milosz followed the tortuous turns of his fractured consciousness.  After he arrived in Berkeley, California, he wrote, “Who will honor the city without a name/If so many are dead and other pan gold/Or sell arms in faraway countries?” He was remembering his hometown, Vilnius, then in Lithuania, later a part of Poland in the poem, “City Without a Name.”  

Blink in the poem, then ask where are we now? We’re in Death Valley.  We are lost in wonder.  Also at the zero point for the imagination.  A place of not extinction but a low buzz, imperceptible murmur, desolate, alien.  A place of immersion. As is true with all darknesses, it is alive with potential. 

I thought of the zero point as Orthodox Christians were celebrating “Forgiveness Sunday.”  To be a fly on the wall in the Orthodox churches! Imagine the buzz inside the heads and consciences of Russians and Ukrainians alike. What are Russians murmuring to themselves? I imagine a descent down to a void, wildness, to experience the howl, a cry of anguish. Radical insight, a shock of recognition.  To be a fly that could make a swerve, a turn in action. The small voice longs to be heard. 

Jill Pearlman, The Ping Pong Mind

You’ve also felt sad and as if incapable of wonder, piteous
and needy in your everyday suffering; forgetful of those
small, uncountable deliverances that came just in the nick
of time when you wished for a door, any door, opening with
the clarity of early morning— But what does one do
with so much grief? O countless hands, pressed
against train windows. Overnight, fields turn into plots
for burying. Smoke billows from wreckage of buildings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Czeslaw Milosz

As Ilya’s piece shows, poetry can stay important even in a time as fraught as ours. I’m currently reading Dana Levin’s upcoming book from Copper Canyon, Now Do You Know Where You Are, for a review and her work is apocalyptic in its own way and it delves into her move to St. Louis, where my father grew up. Of course, with the title, I immediately staged a photo picturing Sylvia the kitten going on a road trip with the book as reading material. Ah, some of us have different ways of dealing with stress!

In a way, reading her work was able to transport me and made me think about what poetry is and isn’t able to do. I’ve been writing poems about nuclear war, about the Doomsday clock, about being in a pandemic as a disabled person. Are these poems that will help other people? I can’t tell. But I can say they are what I need to write right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding My Way with Poetry and Trumpeter Swans in a Week of War and Anxiety, A Change in Perspective

Life in hills and farms goes on
more quietly than before,
difficult situations held
as they usually are
like a straw between teeth.

The last things lost
are nonetheless changed:
a bounty of curls
on the pillow of a once-shared bed
turns grey.
Linen closets, kitchen cabinets,
the child’s pale room
have altered, become simpler,
more desperate.

When infrastructures fail—
rails, roads, electricity—
we are merely afraid;
it’s when simple things leave us
we have lost all our wars.

Ann E. Michael, What poetry says

fence dances
in the wind
sun on my hat brim

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 March 2022 (#2)

What has changed since my last blog in January? Well, the world has changed dramatically, hasn’t it, but, here in my small corner of west Wiltshire, the news is less distressing. Since I last wrote here, there have been two in-person Trowbridge Stanza meetings, after a break of two years. Our monthly gatherings, on first Saturdays at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, have started up again. It’s been a treat to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

In February we viewed and talked about the selected drawings in the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize and, on 5 March, we met to share the beginnings of poems some of us had written in response to the exhibition. We also had the chance to hear artist and novelist Roma Tearne, one of the exhibitors in the prize, talk about her creative process which often begins with an image, a found photograph or drawing, picked up from flea markets and stalls. Roma shared some of her notebooks, spilling over with lines of text, sketches, and pasted in photos – beautiful objects in their own right.

Josephine Corcoran, Towards Spring

Old barrel keys are heavy in the hand. Most have a round or oval bow, though two brassy ones sport criss-cross shapes instead. All have rounded shafts, pin holes of varying diameter, and idiosyncratic teeth. Shaped entirely unlike the keys I can get copied for a buck-fifty at the local hardware store. One is stamped J. MICHALIK PRAHA. Did that key travel with my mother and her parents in 1939? So did the sideboard where I keep china, the one with a cabinet to which I long ago lost the key. I try every key twice, but the Czech cabinet remains locked. Maybe it’s better that way. I know it contains the silver goblet from my wedding, a marriage long ago undone. No one gets to know what else might be inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Keys

This week in teaching my Latinx Literature class and discussing Rhina P. Espaillat’s poem, “Bilingual/Bilingüe,” I found myself musing briefly on how this poem is a microcosm of some of the controversies surrounding Latinx poetry and the different practices in publishing work in both English and Spanish.

Specifically, I have learned and seen over the years within the Latinx community arguments for and against italicizing Spanish words in a text; arguments for and against including definitions and/or translations with a bilingual text; arguments for and against even mixing the two languages. These arguments hold a nuanced weight and the conclusions are different for each writer because they strike at the core of one’s identity and agency.

In terms of identity, there is much to be said about representation, how having un poco de Spanish can make one feel seen, a little less alone among a sea of English. A decision to include or not include Spanish is often one that factors in audience. Who is this work for? Who has access to it?

In terms of agency, being able to represent one’s full authentic self on the page is essential. More importantly, having the power to make that decision is key to feeling respected as a writer. Often the decision to italicize Spanish used in a text is the choice of an editor or publisher; when this happens, a writer feels othered, made to feel different and exoticized. One need only look at the unquestioned, unothered use of Latin and French phrases in texts to see how these feelings naturally arise.

José Angel Araguz, Latinx Poetry: opportunity and some thoughts

We (myself and Steve Nash) are currently reading submissions for issue five of Spelt Magazine, the magazine I founded just over a year ago. Spelt is a print magazine in which we seek to celebrate and validate the rural experience through poetry, creative non fiction, author interviews, columnists and writing prompts. We’ve made it through a whole year, which is a huge milestone, and we are excited about our second year, which will involve further growth, more platforms and, hopefully, some extra funding. Starting and running a magazine, especially a print magazine, is definitely a labour of love. But It is also incredibly rewarding. It’s a thrilling feeling to be part of the writing and publication journeys of other writers, and to provide a platform for people, and to create something that is so very aesthetically pleasing, it is a great source of joy for me, and something that we are very proud of. It seemed crazy to start this magazine during a pandemic, but it really has helped to give purpose and stability in times when there was none. if you are thinking about starting your own lit. mag, here are ten things that really worked to help us reach our goals and stay motivated.

Wendy Pratt, Ten Things That Really Worked to Help me Set Up a Literary Magazine

I see that more and more magazines are in trouble: closed for a year or more while they deal with piles of submissions, getting more and more aggressive in an effort to discourage wrongdoing (‘any work sent outside of the reading window WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT BEING READ’). On more than one occasion I’ve approached editors of magazines I admire, but that are clearly struggling to cope with submissions, and offered to help them put in place some really simple, cheap/free systems that would benefit both them and those submitting. Or even offered to be a reader, to help reduce the slush pile, or just help with the dreadful feeling of overwhelm. I have never had a reply, not even ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I’m no expert at running a magazine. But I know about marketing, systems, time management, delegating and customer service.

I understand that running a poetry magazine is often one person’s dream, and they want to do it their way. But if the ship is sinking, why not take an offer of help, however modest? More importantly, why not approach (or even just observe) how other journals do it? Not everything is down to funding. Some of the smallest publications have methods worth emulating.

It looks like this is turning into a rant aimed at magazine editors. I don’t mean it to be – some of the nicest people I know edit poetry magazines! And I wouldn’t get so exercised about it if I didn’t care. But I’m asking the question generally. There are many magazines doing a brilliant job; I just don’t understand why there aren’t more.

Robin Houghton, A little tough love for poetry magazines

As presses close and lit journals shutter, especially post pandemic when everyone has been struggling,  there is much talk on the internets about what happens to our work when the things that used to seem inviolate–publishing houses, presses, lit mags–are in flux all the time. I’ve had two presses fold on me, one after publishing one book and accepting a second (girl show, which later found a great home at BLP ) and another (little apocalypse) that made it to the final proof stage and the press, which had published another project, had to close.  (that one I do eventually intend to put into print, but right now, it’s just a freebie read on my website.) My young poet self would have been frustrated with all the uncertainty of this world we call publishing, but now I just figure the work is also fleeting and shifting. There’s a certain amount of responsibility I feel l should take in making my work available if other avenues fail or end. 

There are, of course, poems in the fever almanac I cringe to read, mostly ones that seemed ever so brilliant at age 30 that seem kind of unspectacular now.  But then again, sometimes I cringe when things are published and later soften toward the work.  I remember hearing poets talking about how your work of any given period is simply an example of what you were working on during a give span of time. If it’s not perfect, and you’ve thrown it out in the world, it’s still important in your development and scope of artist.  Even if you hate it sometimes.

Kristy Bowen, her daughters become diction

This is quickly becoming one of my favourite techniques: running a poem multiple times through Google Translate in a variety of languages — sometimes chosen by their first letter, their region, jumping around to unrelated languages, or randomly. What comes out is often very interesting. I then sculpt the results, tinkering with phrasing and images, but usually there are several surprising and arresting images that have turned up and my job is to highlight them, or get the less interesting stuff out of the way. Sometimes I do a little associational thinking,such as changing the line to a line that has some of the same sounds through a kind of homophonic translation, or else changing images so that they rhyme with each other. In the poem below, there were some lines about olive oil and some word beginning with M. I cut out the olive oil line and changed the M word to “Merlot.”

I find this technique very generative. It jumps me into a place where I am exploring and playing and also, feeling this kind of creative looseness. This enables some interesting and surprising form and content but also opens me up to putting in things that are hanging around in my mind or in the zeitgeist. I guess because my role is to “find” the poem in the text that I’ve generated, I’m open to what that might be—what it might refer to and what it might look like. Also, I’m piggybacking on the backs of giants, or at least their word choices and their forms and structure. I’m not tied to either but all of a sudden I’m in conversation with them. And my sense of the original, the sense of the writer, the sense of moment all get folded into it. I find this a very fruitful place to be.

Gary Barwin, After Hopkins

When I was eleven years old, a friend of my parents gave me Diane Wakoski’s 1968 poetry collection, Inside the Blood Factory. Needless to say, the poems were far over my head, but some of the lines stood out to me, even at that young age—from “House of the Heart:” “The sun is being born / with shaky legs, slender as new beans” and from “Rescue Poem,” “You have an invisible telephone / booth around you.”

When I was older, I read the book again, and some of Wakoski’s other work. I was struck by the tone of the speaker in the poems—that of a slightly baffled outsider, trying to negotiate a generally hostile world with opaque laws (I admit, this is how I feel much of the time). Wakoski writes in uneven lines—some short, some long, wrapping across the page, some indented. Her phrasing is unmistakable, original, and still seemed fresh as I read the poems again after all those years.

I would not recommend reading Wakoski to anyone under the age of thirty. Her poems are rich in lived experience, deeply personal, and long—many span pages and require dedicated concentration. It’s difficult to write a poem that keeps the reader’s interest over more than one or two pages, but that’s one of Wakoski’s skills. Her poems weave a powerful spell, and, in spite of their length, seem to end quickly.

Erica Goss, Diane Wakoski: An Appreciation

Robin Rosen Chang: I loved The Feast Delayed, Diane. Congratulations on this gorgeous book. While reading it, I noticed what I consider a tension between the act of living and the act of grieving. On one hand, poems such as “The End of Grief” or “Last Day of September” offer the idea of hope and moving beyond grief, whereas in “Orientation,” the speaker, who is married to an astronomer, reflects about living “in a state of constant orientation.” Is acceptance of where one is oriented at a particular moment, even if it’s somewhere painful, a central concern in The Feast Delayed? Of course, this also relates to the notion of “the feast delayed.”

Diane LeBlanc: I’d love to turn that question back to you because your collection, The Curator’s Notes, particularly the title poem, reflects on the dynamic tension between living with wonder and grieving. Reflection ideally examines the past, analyzes experience, and imagines how we respond to new experiences based on the past. The tension in “Orientation” is between hyper-awareness of where I am and the confusion caused by lack of orientation, or living in rooms painted the same shade of white that blur into one another. So in a way, yes, acceptance of where one is oriented is a central concern. I wrote many of these poems between 2015 and 2020, when the U.S. political landscape shifted, science deniers influenced public policy, and I no longer understood who I was in the changing narrative of America.

Throughout the book, I explore responsibility and my place in a web of being, hoping to measure how my choices move or disrupt other strands of the web. Perhaps the feast is delayed, but the poems find agency in doing things to salvage and to disrupt.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robin Rosen-Chang Interviews Diane LeBlanc

I remember my publisher referring to books as “ferske varer” – produce that goes quickly out of date. And I get that – in our market-driven system – that is a fact. But I figure there has to be another way of approaching art. A way to avoid being swept up in the attention economy, the consumerist throw-away society.

I don’t think I am advocating preciousness. Just attention.

This is my problem. I’m not making blanket statements about the state of the arts.

I know there are artists who strive to make that one beautiful thing. And there are artists who are driven by other (legitimate) impulses. I think that I have spent years waiting for inspiration, in the sense that I have been expecting that the outside world would cause a worthy reaction: “The artist responds to their culture”, “Art needs to be relevant”. Relevant to who or to what? My culture – our culture changes so quickly. Maybe change itself is the only thing one can honestly respond to.

I need to slow down. Step away from social media’s armchair generals, and the what-I-ate-for-dinner photos. I need to turn off the podcasts I’ve been listening to for hours a day. I need quiet.

Ren Powell, On Not Being a Reactive Artist

I was going to write something about how Flo had finally picked a poetry book up off my bookshelves. It was the collected work of Dannie Abse. However, it turns out she wanted something to help her with a sore back while she stretched out on the floor. Still, he was a doctor, so there’s that.

I was going write something about how it’s possible to construct a fairly helpful poetry writing/performance tutorial from the lyrics of American Music Club’s song, Johnny Mathis’ Feet. (check the song out. Mark Eitzel is an amazing songwriter).

But I didn’t, and now I probably never will.

So much has happened in the last few weeks, the world is all at once a different place to the one we inhabited a month ago. It’s also entirely the same (and that is both good and bad). There’s nothing I can add to the news coming out of the Ukraine (other than solidarity with the people of Ukraine and condemnation of President Putin for his actions) without it sounding like sub-GCSE-level politics, so I’ll spare you that.

I will point you to the work of Charlotte Shevchenko Knight. She is a British-Ukranian poet. I was lucky enough to read on the same bill as her at a Resonance poetry evening, and really enjoyed her work. I will also point you at the evening of Poetry for Ukraine fundraiser she is part of next week. Go, sign up. Donate.

Mat Riches, Clearing The Decks

It’s quite possible that kindness is the answer to everything. Human beings, driven like nails into moldy, rotten wood, into boards that exist for no reason at all. The old, cataloged and hidden away, where the not-so-old don’t have to see what it is that they will themselves slowly become if they can only avoid death for long enough. The young are taught lies and half-truths in order to ensure conformity and compliance. The talking snake, the virgin birth, the resurrection. The white Jesus. The white heroes. Loaded weapons, lying in piles in the streets for anyone to use. Death, at a wholesale price, a bargain rate, or even free. Life, lived at half-mast. Not emotion, but token emotion. Not strength, but anger. Rage. Turn out the lights, it will be better for us to sit in the dark, it will be better if only we can reach out without needing to see, if only we might clasp our hands in the darkness. 

James Lee Jobe, the answer to everything

this morning
the sun is early again
fat buds

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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: redefining productivity, being formless, emulating crows, stealing Jesus’ wallet, beginning with the stone in the shoe, writing like you believe your voice is worth hearing, painting the chaos, joining a drum circle, feeling the winter blues, building synagogues in Minecraft, learning Japanese, celebrating William Stafford, and more.


snow drifts, thick
and slow past
the window

each day
the death count
rises

i am glad to be old
to not witness
what is coming

Sharon Brogan, even in sleep

Time is of the essence: not a premise to justify acceleration and a headless chicken rush towards mindless ‘productivity’, but one to frame a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity. A form of active resistance to the commoditisation of everything we hold dear, not as a draining effort or a daily grind, but through reflective thought and meditation. Better things must result from careful consideration; the ongoing, permanently panicked emergency-response mode of the 24/7 switched-on mode only leads to collective burn-out and shortcircuits any important projects’ goals. This is more a mission statement than a new-year resolution; an ambition more than a promise. To make more space where there is little; to re-own the time perpetually robbed from us.

A type of via negativa for personal and professional life (because it remains important to separate them, particularly in fields such as higher education, or the arts), where that which we don’t do leads to positive, productive outcomes. To define ourselves also for what we decide not to do, rather than for all the things we do, or for doing all the things. This would mean re-defining “productive”, and, importantly, resisting auto-exploitation. Auto-exploitation is never purely individual- overperforming hyperachievers do also create more labour for others who are likely to be in less privileged circumstances, and who are already overwhelmed within their own exploitative conditions of production. Less can be more, much more, in a different sense to usual quantification. A different way of being with ourselves and the Other would require to stop turning ourselves and the Other into means to ends. We need to start from our own positions.

Ernesto Priego, Switch It Off and On Again

My student is researching wolves for a role I wrote for him. He tells me that wolves howl as a form of grieving. I don’t know where he read this, or if it is true, or how we could ever know if it is true. It does make sense to me. The sound tugs up a fear for us because we recognize the vulnerability inherent (probably a prerequisite) in grief.

Loss. Aloneness. It is all a matter of perception, really. The recognition of our disconnection. Nothing is really lost. Except perhaps the illusion of having had. What do we ever have/own/possess? We experience, and cannot possess experiences. We can’t even possess the memory of experiences, because memories are also impermanent: morphing and reassembling, like metal shavings following a magnet.

I am formless at the moment. Even memories of my former selves are formless. I’ll run now and something within me will howl at the moon. Something in me will change shape, pulled by the earth’s magnetic field. Every cell in motion, rearranging, experiencing the morning before dawn.

Ren Powell, Butterfly Goo and Moonlight

Because dawn comes as I write 
and in the stillness before the first bird 
there is a restlessness, and the trees rock, and trail their fingers
over the fence tops; and the last bit of moon 
is eaten up by cloud.

Dale Favier, Because The Tuning

Outside the crows are cawing, cutting up a ruckus amongst the magnolia branches. Squirrels are on the ground eating peanuts, laughing at the crows in squirrel-talk , chitchitchit = hahaha!

Crow flap their large black wings, fanning the flames of outrage to each other, Can you believe this shit? Caw!

Crows leave nothing on the table. They take the dishes, forks, strawberry jam and biscuits and throw it all up in the air, clatterclatterclatter = listen to me!

Were that we all were like the crows. Letting it all out, leaving nothing inside to fester and mold.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Crows

It’s been a strange week here in the UK. The pantomime that is our political system appears to be thoroughly broken. The government seems to be totally incapable of doing what they tell us we must do. Perhaps it is due to that sense of entitlement public schools appear to imbue these second raters with. Some Catalan friends of mine were saying how funny the actions of our crime minister and his troupe of clowns are. I had to reply that they do not have to live with the madness that their actions generate.

A poem about stealing Jesus’ wallet. It arrived nearly fully formed.

lifting Jesus’ wallet you confessed
was easier than you ever imagined
the real mystery was locating it amid those flowing robes

you continued by describing the contents:
four crisp ten shilling notes
a religious medal of St John the Baptist
a return tram ticket to Barrio Alto
various coins of different denominations and epochs
all too perfect to be kosher

I began to wonder if He
had let you steal it so
you would have something to worry about in the night

Paul Tobin, SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IN THE NIGHT

“Poets dwell on death,” some fool will say.
Because they are blind.
And so the evening passes,
And one by one or two by two the people leave,
And so return to their own eternities,
To the depths of their own being.
Finally it is just you and your death.
And neither of you speak.
The silence is magnificent.
And then, with a tired sigh,
Your death stands up and walks toward you.

James Lee Jobe, The Grand, Wide Evening of You and Your Death.

Back in October, when I decided to play a bit with some short fiction writing, I told myself not to worry about poems. I was, after all, between projects, having wrapped up the collapsologies manuscript with the grimoire poems.  I toyed with a couple new things that are still on the horizon, but I wanted a shift.  I also wanted to figure out my life and writing poems wasn’t on my top list of things to be worried about in the grand scheme of things.  I gave myself permission to sit October out on my daily writing.  Then November. By December, I had taken on some freelance writing, which I was trying to squeeze around my regular obligations to see if I liked it, so my mornings, what time there was (it’s harder for me to get up early-ish in winter) was devoted to the drafting and research necessary for that.  I actually extended my poem vacation through early February, when I would then be working on my own and my schedule (and concentration) much kinder.

I wasn’t going to write poems, but then Monday night, somewhere between washing the dinner dishes and going to bed, I had a first line and just went for it.  For one, it was unexpected to be writing at all, especially in the evening, when my brain is usually on low battery power.  Granted, I’d been home all day for MLK day and mostly just folding chaps. Also, odd when specifically I said I would not be writing poems, and yet, there I was. I went back in once before bed and tweaked some things, but haven’t looked at it to see if it’s any good since. It may be the start of something, though it may also just be a snippet of a dead end, but as I wrote it, I realized how much I missed it.  This is, of course, after whining all summer and into fall about whether or not poetry felt worth it, or whether anyone was even reading, or why I kept doing it, even thought the effort / compensation  ratio is kind of dismal.  That maybe I should focus on writing for paying markets. Or who the hell was reading any of this anyway?  I always long to be one of those writers for whom process is all important, audience be damned, but I actually want readers, however they get there. As someone who, in the fall, was adjusting financial income streams, poetry seemed a  poor place to fixate my efforts. Especially now, when I should be seeking out things that actually allow me to, you know, pay rent.

And yet, like the ex that occasionally shows up at 3am, there she was. A poem.  Maybe not a good one, but still.  I think I’ll keep her. 

Kristy Bowen, poeting in winter

I love drab birds and in winter I love the trees, sugar frosted.
Coffee and milk. Moss in the forest, the cool shady spots where it grows.
Morning light. Pink-apricot rose petals.
Daughter’s smile. So many poems.
Leather sandals. Pale blue sky. Suitcases. Home.
The chair in my garden where I can sit and no one can see me.
Daydreaming and night dreaming —

and poem dreaming.

Shawna Lemay, I Love, I Hope; I Hope, I love

So this is a bit spooky. All week I had in mind these marvellous final words from Lucille Clifton’s poem of grief and acceptance ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’. They’ve been going round my head for a while now. Last year I came close to using them as an epigram for the collection I was working on. They gave me the wild idea (it’s January, grey and cold and I am still grieving) to do a riff reminding myself of the things I love, both in poetry and the real world, and the overlap between them, just, well, because.

And then Shawna Lemay goes and pretty much writes the blog post I wanted to write. Which isn’t just fine, it’s great, because Shawna is the best and one of the main reasons I keep going. But just to add to the love and the hope, if I may, for a moment, here are some of the things, as in things that I love and need to have near me just now:

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Anthony Wilson, The things themselves

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

Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

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

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

David Cooke’s poetry might be rooted in anecdote, but those roots are simply his point of departure for words that reach up towards the light. In this respect, his new collection, Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press, 2021), builds on his previous work.

Many of these poems, all written from the perspective of a U.K. resident, were probably crafted prior to the consequences of the fateful referendum. However, their openness to Europe now grants them a fresh impetus in the context of Brexit. At first glance, excellent poems about gardening and DIY might seem geographically limited and limiting. In fact, the opposite is true.

Matthew Stewart, A reflection on who we are, David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants

Just a quick note to let you know that the new issue of Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction arrived in my mail today. A loooonnng time ago — in my writing group — I shared a poem called “The Rule of Three” about an encounter I had with a student/veteran (some of you may remember). It’s one example of how I always learned as much or more from my students than they ever did from me.

No, it’s not on-line, but I may be persuaded to share it with you. Constellations is now open for submissions.

Also — drum roll, please — my poem “Even in Winter, You Must Marry It,” will go live January 19 at Cordella.org. Look for it under “Field Notes,” or click on the poem’s title (above).

I first learned about Cordella when I was searching on-line for poems by the late Jeanne Lohmann. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, follow this link to read a sampling. It’s an honor to have my poem published at the same site.

At this rich on-line venue, you’ll also find Cordella’s newest issue: Kith & Kin.

Bethany Reid, Poems, poems, poems

We read words but we also hear silence. This is what I love about poetry, those two things at work. The word works with and against the word next to it, and above and below it, but also with the silence laced through the poem by punctuation and breaks, and sometimes the imposition of        

Ha! See what I did there? I’m not saying anything new, of course. And there’s much more to be said and that has been said on rhythm, on how words rub up against each other to create emotion. I just felt moved to share again my wonder about this stuff. How we bundles of chemical equations and biological impulses have this crazy thing called emotion that is conjured up out of relations: one note to another, one word to another, one silence to another, you to me.

Marilyn McCabe, Looking at the river, thinking of the sea; or, On Poems and Blank Space

“Extended Release,” now in Guernica, is one of those poems that came to me in a rush, the kind that writers sometimes refer to as a gift, in that it arrives in near-final shape. I jotted in a dim living room during my mother’s last weeks, when she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as we sought a diagnosis and, we hoped, a cure. I had been taking care of her in the house she shared with my brother when she suddenly couldn’t hold a spoon steady. I called the home nursing service; they said to call an ambulance. My mother’s reproach when she saw the EMTs–“Oh, Les, what have you done”–will haunt me forever, I’m sure, as well as the difficulty of negotiating treatment for her pain. I think she trusted me to be ruthlessly kind, if you know what I mean, and she was disappointed that I didn’t catch on that she could have slipped away without fuss that night. Days later, I would be the person who discovered her death, and I have a gut feeling she waited to let go until I was on watch because she thought I could take it. She always told me women were stronger than men and seemed to think I could endure anything the world would throw at me. I guess I have, so far–not that I’ve had the hardest life by a long shot, but I’ve kept plowing along. Maybe that’s just what I need to believe, that she thought I was strong.

The balancing force to my regret was our exchange about what comes after pain. My mother was spiritually all over the map, sometimes describing her many reincarnations and other times saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But she really did talk, as I recount in the poem, about what people wear in heaven. We compared notes on what heaven might be like, for us, if it existed. That was one of the best conversations we had during those last difficult weeks. She seemed peaceful and curious. It was a gift to be there and mull over possibilities with her. People’s kind responses to this poem have been gifts, too. So many people have been through this with loved ones. I wonder if it’s any better when someone dies suddenly, without that month of pain and uncertainty. I suspect not.

Lesley Wheeler, Literary sources and afterlives

Working on my collection of poetry Church Ladies, I sometimes would read through poets who do similar work (persona poems from the perspective of women of faith…it is a little niche), and then that little nagging voice says “oh why even write this, This Poet does it better!”.

Let’s be totally honest: maybe they do.

However, they don’t do it the Same.

Unless you are straight-up plagiarizing them, you do have a unique voice that will come through on the topic, whether you want it to or not. I’m a believer that voice doesn’t have to be found so much as it needs to not be suppressed.

So when you are finding it difficult to write because So-and-So and their perfect iambic pentameter on the exact subject you write about in less than perfect somethingmeter, just stop it. Stop it! Turn off the social media, skip out on workshop (if you aren’t in a class that is), and just buckle down to work on your own stuff. Maybe take some time to read poets who have completely different obsessions from your own writing. Then write like you believe your voice is worth hearing too.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Eyes Forward!

Just an image:
an old man,
thinner, his
trousers loose,
belt tightened
as far as it goes.
An old man
in a check shirt
open at the neck,
one hand on
the door frame
the other raised
in a wave of
farewell.
Is he smiling?
It’s up to you.
The image began
as mine but
it’s yours now.

Bob Mee, IS HE SMILING?

sweaty plaid dad had a gadabout

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 January 2022

Sometimes you can’t
get far enough

away to see it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (111)

I propped my watercolor box on the chair near my knee, and started painting directly, laying down one color after another, as quickly as I could, to try to capture the energy and chaotic over-crowding of the scene before me. The terracotta pots and wooden table gave the picture a little bit of unification and structure, but basically there wasn’t any overall composition to be had. Nor were there strong shapes – just the big fleshy leaves of “Fang”. The geranium in the background, the butterfly-like triangles of the oxalis, the succulents, and the busy needles of the rosemary plant were all similar enough in size to compete with each other, but not stand out. I just kept at it, adding brushstrokes, dashes, lines, dots. Once all the color was on the page, I went back with a pen and sketched in some loose shapes and lines, and finally added the vertical window blinds in the background with watercolor.

The only solution, it had seemed, was just to go for the visual clutter. Feeling dubious, I posted the image on Instagram, with the slightly apologetic comment, “Once again, fascinated by the busyness of plants.” A little while later, my friend Michael Szpaskowski and I had this exchange:

Michael: “And that that ‘busyness’ becomes the compositional imperative here is great. Both truthful (I’m not saying that artistic truth is always of this nature of course) and very beautiful.”

Beth: “It is both the compositional imperative and its greatest obstacle. The urge is to bludgeon the busyness into some sort of submissive order, but that wouldn’t be true. So then what do you do?…I like aspects of it, but it still doesn’t entirely work for me. Tonight I was thinking maybe if I tried it from a high angle, the ovals of the tops of the pots would give a compositional rhythm that might unify the picture a little more. But not sure if I have the energy for another try!”

Michael: “Oh it is precisely its ‘awkwardness’ that I find so winning!”

This was a very helpful exchange, because when I studied the image again with his words in mind, I realized that it was actually OK not to have a strong and obvious composition or structure; instead there’s color and life dancing all over the image, and the loose horizontal and vertical lines do just enough work to hold everything within the frame.

Beth Adams, Making Sense Out of Chaos

the chaos is real
tangled inside and out
you try to iron it like a shirt
but it creases against skin
over every warp, every scar,
over the forgotten, the elapsed —
like the delusion of stretched blue sky
that turns as it comes closer,
into viscous cloud, into grimy light,
dead stars falling into unopened eyes:

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Chaos

What is it about January? You have to trust that living things are asleep and not dead. The garden is brown and damp. In January I examine any magnolia tree I come across, looking for buds: signs of life. Even though days are getting longer it happens so slowly. Generating every extra minute of daylight seems a huge effort for Gaia.

On the other hand, I was in the British Museum recently looking at the Parthenon marbles, and I was so struck with the energy and verve that still shines from these 2,500 year old carvings. Despite the difficult relationship between humankind and the natural world, I’m uplifted by the way that the creative energy of humans channelled into art can endure, and still have the power to amaze and inspire people hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future.

Here’s a bit of joy in a dark month: this evening is the online launch of Sarah Barnsley‘s excellent first collection, The Thoughts (Smith Doorstop). I’m a bit biased as Sarah is a good friend and a Telltale Press buddy – I’m proud to say we published her pamphlet The Fire Station in 2015. The Thoughts is compelling, and a bit of a page-turner (if poetry can be described that way); it’s formally inventive, sometimes a painful read and sometimes painfully funny. I’m so pleased to see Sarah’s name up in lights. She’s a fine poet and it’s so well deserved that she’s been picked up by Smith Doorstop. Buy, buy!

Robin Houghton, Nature sleeps. Thank goodness for art

I was delighted to get a surprise call this week from my long-time poetry mentor. Long story short, he encouraged me to start sending out work again, so the plan of publishing new works on this blog has now transformed into a plan to write and submit one new poem a month. I’ll still post a previously published poem once a month, but I’m going to save the new work for sending out. It feels like a strange journey to be embarking on again after all this time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why and when I stopped sending out submissions, but at some point, I just lost patience and got sick of the gatekeepers jealously guarding their insular little lit mags that are only read by a niche group of other poets, all bowing to each other in their exclusive mutual admiration circle. I want to write poetry for the people, man. Seriously though, I never had any patience for the snobbery and academic parochialism that pervades the poetry world. There is a reason why most non-poets are fearful and distrustful of poetry, or just plain find it incomprehensible. First off, the way it’s taught in school is awful. For people who do not naturally resonate with metaphorical language, bashing them over the head with a “gotcha” about the meaning of a poem is just cruel, not to mention unimaginative. And these weird little “schools” that proliferate for the sole purpose of encouraging incomprehensible poetry that only other academics can understand is the height of pretension if you ask me. The bottom line is that normal people want to read musical, ear-pleasing, relatable work that has a surprise or two thrown in. Maybe one day I’ll start the lit mag equivalent of those jumbo crossword puzzle books and call it “EZ Poetry.”

Kristen McHenry, EZ Poetry, Busted Bubble, a Vision of Vision

I’m struggling with
my clown ear

and on the other side

I’m also struggling
with my clown ear

Gary Barwin, Need to Know & Clown Ear

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it’s on the night of the full moon, which means that if I’m in class, I can’t go.  If it’s rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn’t have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn’t need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn’t matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It’s a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Full Moon Drumming

snowflakes
falling through
my open hands

Jim Young [no title]

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson’s, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels “done.” It’s not quite despair but a kind of retreat into “winter blues.” He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the “What was I thinking?” stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, no doubt.

Kathleen Kirk, My Heart Keeps Breaking

In my son’s Minecraft world
there is no pandemic.
No one spits at nurses
or lies about elections.
No one’s father has dementia.

My son thinks I’m playing
for his sake. I build
shul after shul, and in each
I pray for a world
where evil vanishes like smoke

like the mumbling zombies
who go up in flames
every time the blocky sun rises,
gilding the open hills
and endless oceans with light.

Rachel Barenblat, Tending

The one good thing about being sick all week is I caught up on my reading! Pale Horse, Pale Rider is Katherine Anne Porter’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the 1918 flu as a single journalist in Denver, when the hospitals were overcrowded and they couldn’t just order an ambulance as they were too busy. Her vivid hallucinations while sick for a month with the flu are unforgettable (she sees the nurse’s hands as ‘white tarantulas’), as is the ending. I also read Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Garden Party,” about an upper-class family organizing a party as their poorer neighbor falls down dead in front of their house. Again, feels so relevant.

To add to the cheer, I’m also reading Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human with my little brother, and though it is bleak – written in 1948’s Japan, about an individual who suffers multiple childhood sex abuse traumas,  grows up to be a cartoonist, tries to commit suicide, is put in an insane asylum – my brother made the astute observation that it shares a lot with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s been read historically as thinly-veiled autobiography, but I’d argue it’s more ambitious than that – it’s Dazai’s attempt to embody the suffering, corruption and dehumanization of Japan during the WW II years.  It’s the second-best selling book in Japan of all time, and you can see why – despite the bleak subject matter, Dazai’s writing is stunningly beautiful, even in translation (he writes with a different pronoun that the Japanese “Watashi” for “I,” except in the prologue and epilogue, but that can’t really be translated into English, which is a shame). If you want to discover Dazai but want something a little more upbeat, read his warm and funny collection of modernized fairy tales in Blue Bamboo. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for almost a year now, and I’m sad that I’m still not fluent, but I am starting to pick up a little more on the slight variations of words – pronouns, seasons, puns. Some part of me wish I’d picked something easier, like Italian, but Japanese literature is kind of an obsession of mine, and I’d love to read these books in the original, eventually. Or at least be able to have a really simple conversation in Japanese.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is that my NEA application is in and done. I mean, I did it with a fever and on a lot of cold medicine, so it may not be the best application I’ve ever done, but it is finished! I was in isolation while waiting for my PCR test (two of my doctors told me that I for sure had covid, based on my symptoms, so better safe than sorry) and the only thing that is good for is reading and getting grant applications done. Wishing you health and safety this week, but if you do get sick – either this nasty flu or covid – I hope you have a good window view, a stack of books, and someone to bring you unending soup and hot tea.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Signs of Spring, a Week of Illness – Covid or Flu?, Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Deer, and the NEA application

I wonder why there are far more books than time to read them.

Or if forgiveness can ever be given freely, or is it only offered on the installment plan.

I wonder if miracles ever need manicures or what happens to the many thoughts and feelings of those who pass away.

I wonder what weapons will look like in fifty years. Or our government, or how we’ll relate to one another.

I wonder what wonder will look like in fifty years.

Rich Ferguson, World of Wonder

Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst.

Luisa A. Igloria, Greenhouse

I have long thought of myself as an apprentice to light, which also means, I am an apprentice to darkness. Not opposites but a necessary union.

I suggest to students that in their poetry there must be joy in order for the sadness to have depth. There must be love in order for loss to have meaning. Shadow gives shape to light.

And so I remind myself.

I am an introvert, an introvert’s introvert. And yet to keep that solitude from being overwhelming, strategic forays into community. This week, it was a bright evening as one of the featured readers for a celebration of William Stafford held by the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Friends of William Stafford. For anyone feeling that poetry makes nothing happen, I suggest listening to the tenor of those lovely people reading poems by a beloved poet who has been gone almost thirty years.

And then wave after wave of sadness for the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh on Friday.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A Handhold

Not so fast, walker
on the winter beach

under a shrouded moon.
Desire far outstrips

your first unsteady steps.
No sight, no fixed points:

Recalibrate. A roar answers
your question before it’s asked.

Jill Pearlman, Le Noir (Winter Beach)

i beheld a bell breaking into light :: but what did the sleepers hear

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 was especially rich in thought-provoking essays. I also noticed a lot of fear and foreboding, but with plenty of bright notes, as well. As I write this, here in central Pennsylvania we’re getting our first big snow storm of the year. The woodstove is roaring in the next room, and behind me in the kitchen, I can hear what may be the last of his clan tugging at the peanut in the mousetrap. It doesn’t go off. For some reason I breathe a sigh of relief.


The devil’s daughter has been dreaming a long dream about a castle of arguing horses. People who stare at her from below her apartment don’t see a woman but just some slow moving dashes of the colour terracotta, black, and gold. The devil’s daughter is a beautiful sloth, who has been sleeping in the warm sunlight of the flamingo city for the past two years. No one knows, not even herself, when she might wake up. A Tamil fisherman on the coast of Trincomalee saw one of her fingers move in another dream two weeks ago. He woke up in silence, terrified. He knows that when the devil’s daughter wakes up, she will erase the tender writing from thousands of wasted pages and write, in her own hand, the enchanted fatal phrase.

Saudamini Deo, The enchanted phrase

It has been by inch and trickle that the continued isolation and stress of COVID has covered the person I want to be. The person who has friends and laughs a lot and has time to walk on the beach. The person who feels hopeful and creative and connected.

Now we’re heading into another year of rampant COVID and I live in a community where vaccination rates and mask-wearing are low. Another year when I wistfully look at pictures of travel, readings, conferences, and art openings, but feel like I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was the person who passed on COVID to someone who got really sick. It happens. People infect their beloved grandmothers or friends undergoing chemotherapy. Since March 2020, 836,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID. […]

So, I’m back at this small corner of the web with some thoughts. A little life ring buoy thrown out into rough and dark seas. A lone candle in the window. A chance to talk about poetry a little, life a little. Perhaps to strategize on how to find my way back to a life when I truly felt like I was “being poetry.” I hope that I’m able to commit to being here with you.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isolation and Poetry

It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution–I do not bother with those–but I have promised myself to spend more time on poetry again following a fairly long interval, not exactly a hiatus, but…

Serendipity, then, to learn of Two Trees Writing Collaborative‘s poetry workshop that is taking place online in the early months of the year when motivation’s most welcome. As well as a chance to meet other writers where they are as the pandemic limps along. This online workshop is facilitated by Elena Georgiou, who was one of my advisor/mentors when I was in graduate school at Goddard. Feels like old times (not. because modality-virtuality-experience much altered). I have drafted four new poems, and the process is fun though the output has been mediocre so far; well, one must sometimes prime the engine.

I’m also reading Anthony BurgessNothing Like the Sun, wildly Shakespearean rollicking-with-language, a novel that reads like iambic pentameter. I’m thinking of poetic cadence, which is a craft aspect of poetry that has not been much on my mind until renewed by this novel. Not that rhythm is unimportant to my work, but thinking about it hasn’t been foremost. I have been thinking more about lyricism lately, it seems my default mode.

And I’m thinking about winter, and snow.

Ann E. Michael, Winterwords

To my surprise, ahead of my self-imposed schedule is the first poem from the Poem-a-Month series—a simple rhyming ode to mangoes, one of the few fruits I have found I like since embarking on my goal to add more fruit to my diet. I bought a mango for the first time in my life a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know how to slice it. I had to look it up on YouTube.

The hardest thing for me about diving into writing poetry again has been learning to embrace the crap. I wrote pages and pages of utter dreck this week and had to remind myself that the dreck is essential. It’s the fertilizer from which the good stuff grows. And who do I think I am anyway, that every word flowing from my pen shall be transcendent perfection?

Kristen McHenry, Learning How to Be Bad Again, The Illustrious Mango

In my desire to challenge my own anxiety and to research for the book/s I’m writing and to reconnect with myself and the landscape, I have been taking some solo walks. I’ve been listening to the trees.

I’ve been back up to the beacon and the bronze age cemetery and I’ve been out to Star Carr and I have been finding myself and my life in these places. This week, as part of Spelt’s ongoing workshop series, we had RM Francis running a workshop on ‘Topological Presence’. I didn’t attend the workshop as Saturdays are the day in which most of the Spelt work gets done, so I had to go to the post office. But I knew it would be good. I caught little bits and pieces of it as I was going about my work and picked up on one comment from Judi Sutherland, whose book Following the Teisa has just come out. She described feeling like writing poetry about landscape was a way to connect to the place she was in, having moved around so much. It struck a chord with me, for a different reason. I have always lived where I am, the landscape and the stories embedded in that landscape are embedded in me and are part of my personality. But I have never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere. It’s been a long journey to recognise my nerdy, quirky, not-pretty, not-slim self as entirely valid. In fact, it is this embracing of that nerdy quirky, sensitive person that allows me to write, so no wonder I write so much about the land I live in and how I fit into it. because i do feel like I fit in when I am out walking, or out in nature in general. I feel like I fit in when I am with animals or in nature, and also, mostly, when I am with creative people. They are my tribe because I think most creatives have that sense of not quite belonging in one way or another. This sort of thinking allows me to write, allows me to give permission to myself to writer, from my entirely valid point of view. I find that the new poetry collection is very much about that sense of roots and belonging that nature and landscape give. It’s not an easy collection to write, it s so different to the very personal stuff I’ve been writing with Horse, it’s difficult in another way, but I find I am enjoying that exploration, that challenge.

Wendy Pratt, A Sense of Belonging

So I’m having my bubblebath, this little self-care ritual that is really just a drop in the bucket of self-care that we all need, but at least it’s something, and I’d been wondering about how one even goes about collectively or as a group thinking-things-through these day when we’re all so separate. And then one is dropped into this profound conversation courtesy of podcast technology and bath bubbles. So that even if it wasn’t group think, at least one feels part of a conversation, somewhat. It’s something, right? It’s something.

And then [Jane Hirshfield] says: “I have been given this existence, these years on this Earth, to accept what has come into my lifetime: wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness. I must take them. I must find a way to live in this world. You can’t refuse it. And along with the difficult is the radiant, the beautiful…” Which is a bit of an answer. How do we go about living in the fullness of the world when we’re all apart and gathering isn’t easy. You have to live everything, you can’t refuse it.

I suppose this is why I’m finding the act of blogging even more important than before. (And if you’re interested in doing same, please check out Kerry Clare’s Blog School). So back to the “trail detour” sign. Maybe we’re not gathering in rooms and having conversations in the old ways, but what are the new ways in which we can still engage? And maybe it’s just something to even start asking ourselves the question, what is our conversation? In a 2007 book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett quotes St. Augustine who said, we keep speaking in order not to remain altogether silent. And she says that in her conversations she’s been able to fill her head with “many voices, elegant, wise, strange, full of dignity and grief and hope and grace. Together we find illuminating and edifying words and send them out to embolden work of clarifying, of healing. We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.”

Shawna Lemay, Thinking-Things-Through

Write Bloody has long been a dream press for me. I first learned of them back in 2013 – Megan Falley was on tour for her first book with the press, After the Witch Hunt, and she did a reading in DC. I went to that reading and fell in love with her words. A few years later, I took a one-on-one workshop with Megan and fell further in love, with both her writing and the press.

I bought other books from the press and fell in love with the poetry they published – Jeanann Verlee, Jon Sands, Seema Reza, Clint Smith, Arhm Choi Wild – and so many more.

I submitted to Write Bloody for the first time in 2016. I was rejected. I submitted again in 2017 and 2019. Rejected and rejected again.

I applied to, and completed, my MFA in poetry. I had two chapbooks published (both now out of print) and two full length collections published, Beautiful & Full of Monsters and Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart. I kept writing and submitting. I took workshops with Jeanann Verlee and Seema Reza and Jon Sands. I kept writing and writing.

And then in end of 2021, Write Bloody opened their submissions again. I sent in my poems. And then in early January, they announced their finalists and my name was on the list!

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming

Very cool to see that our book was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  Thanks to Tolsun Books for figuring out how to combine Jia Oak Baker’s photographs and my poems in convenient paperback form exactly how we envisioned but better.

Since all of my celebrations are virtual, here are a few more of those “Poetic Distancing Reading Series” video sessions that I did instead of whatever book tour I was planning before the pandemic.

I almost had to give up on this one in the canal because every take kept getting ruined by screeching jets from the nearby airbase. Another example of the Military Industrial Complex budget squashing local arts. I will edit together a bunch of these outtakes that feature me cursing at the sky as if those pilots might be able to hear me. 

Shawnte Orion, Metaverse Book Tours for a Southwestern Book Award Finalist

This Sunday is going to be me celebrating the publication of my poem Phantom Settlements over at The Friday Poem. I am overjoyed with the kind words that Hilary and Andy said about it.

We chose Mat Riches’ poem ‘Phantom Settlements’ as this week’s Friday Poem because we love its playfulness and humour, and his obvious love of language. Riches ranges far and wide to tantalise, amuse and intrigue us, leaving us a trail of clues starting with the title and sub-title. But he demonstrates a deeper intention too, as the poem brings up issues of authenticity and truth. Definitely one for our front page.

I especially like it as it has a neat symmetry with the poem I mentioned above in The Alchemy Spoon as that has a line in it about ranging far and wide. Well, the final version says “ranged”, but an earlier version said far and wide too. You’ll have to wait for the Complete Poems of Mat Riches to be published after my death to see that though. (Yes, I could just put it up here in a few weeks, but let me dream about a Complete Poems for a bit longer please.)

Mat Riches, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a four-door hatchback

Now, with those professional years behind me, it’s still the way I tend to organize my time, but I also get distracted because although I finally have more time to do my own creative work, there are also more people around me with needs and desires which are important to me. So I find it’s even more crucial, if I want to get anything done besides the daily tasks of ordinary life, to be intentional about certain areas: reading, music, language-learning, writing, making things, exercise. I don’t make task lists, I don’t have a daily schedule, and I don’t make resolutions. I just have certain things I try to do every day (exercise, language practice, some reading, ongoing correspondence and/or journaling); some I do more or less weekly (write a blog post, for instance) and others that I just try to move forward incrementally, not necessarily all at the same time (drawing, knitting or sewing, piano/music, larger writing and publishing projects). Hopefully, there is also some unstructured time to dream, relax, think and meditate, and to be social.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because of two things.

One: a friend asked me what I’m addicted to, and after thinking a bit, I answered “accomplishment.” By that I didn’t mean the sort of accomplishment that results in praise, but a sense of having done something with my time, having learned, having grown a little, and having contributed to others. If I don’t feel that way, I can get discouraged, angry, even depressed.

Two: the pandemic has insisted that I see myself as the age that I actually am, and that age is no longer young. Mortality has been in my face, and in the face of everyone over 60, whether we like it or not. Regardless of how young and energetic I feel or appear, I’ve been forced to face the fact that life is finite, and my own time is running shorter.

Beth Adams, Incremental

Tracing-paper pages show hairline cracks
in their creases. In-between, the arthritic limbs
of a Photoshopped tree glow like a bone x-ray.
Your desk is flecked with gold paint.

I think of the traces of gold in our bodies, how all the gold
on earth was forged by stars; how you read that its glitter
is caused by the speed of electrons in its orbit,
the relative slowing of their time;

and of the crazy idea you had
that the point of death was like falling into
a black hole’s event horizon, where you could cram
a lifetime of thought into a second.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 8 – Event Horizon

It’s been a cold, dreary January here in Seattle, and Omicron is peaking across the US. Our state’s National Guard has been called up to aid hospitals and testing sites. Schools in my neighborhoods are mostly going virtual. I have to say my anxiety is worse than it has been during most of the pandemic; it’s been hard to get out of the house to get fresh air or exercise, I’ve seen lots of vaccinated friends and some family get covid and even get hospitalized.  It’s not been fun.

So one day, when the rain and snow gave us a break, we went out in the fog to birdwatch, and got these shots of sunset with fog and cormorants, and a few Wood Ducks. It was good to get some exercise, even in the chilly gray day. Being immersed in nature is excellent for anxiety, even if I needed a lot of hot tea and a shower to get warm when I got home. I also taught an online speculative poetry class yesterday; it was a lot of fun – thanks to everyone who came out for that!

It’s been tough to keep my spirits up. I try to be optimistic; I try to be pro-active, I meditate and do breathing exercises, and I’m trying to distract myself with positive things (see my last section below) but I saw a quote: “You can’t self-care your way out of a pandemic.” You also can’t ignore the deaths of 850,000 in your own country. In February, it will be two years since the first US cases of covid appeared in Kirkland, a few miles from my house. So I’m submitting more, researching PR, reading, organizing. Waiting for spring…and hopefully more good news.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Dreary in Mid-January, Interview with Water~Stone Review, Distracting Myself with PR Research, Submissions, and Organizing Projects, Birdwatching w/Towhees and Wood Ducks

The stars are
already conspiring

to make the next
universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (107)

Last January, at this time, I was sleeping 18 hours a day and quarantining in my basement away from children and husband, battling a second round of COVID-19 (probably Delta?) and feeling like absolute garbage. When I finally emerged from my psuedo-coma on the futon, joints aching and fifteen pounds lighter than I’d been in 2020 — having subsisted on little other than broth and Gatorade for three straight weeks — I developed tremors. I shook so badly I couldn’t drive. My handwriting was barely handwriting — which didn’t matter much anyway, since my brain was still fogged.

The way every other member of my family struggled isn’t my story to tell, of course, so I’ll just say that it’s been eye-opening and humbling — what happens when two people struggle to keep themselves and their partnership intact, when parents are so beset with problems that it becomes difficult for them to parent, and to guide and help their children, who suddenly have developed their own serious problems, challenges I never would have imagined my children would face pre-pandemic.

We always imagined disaster and apocalypse to look very different than this, didn’t we? I mean, I’m not walking down I-95 toward Florida in a cold gray landscape, evading roaming packs of cannibals and scraping subsistence for my children from abandoned farms. There’s no hellfire falling from the sky or radiation pulsing through the air (that we *know* of), but survival is still a preoccupation.

When I write the words survival and apocalypse I’m not intending to be hyperbolic. Rather, I see a very particular world coming to an end. It’s not happening under a curtain of falling ash, and for the most part the sky is still a beneficent sky and the earth provides and nurtures — but something has been destroyed, and with finality.

And when we look at the old life, pre-pandemic, why are we so keen for *it* to survive? What fire from the old life are we carrying into the next life, and is that new life worth this trouble?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Something Has Been Destroyed (But Maybe That’s Okay)

It’s not that the well’s run dry.
The walk feels too far. It’s uphill
in the snow both ways, and
who has the strength to carry
those dangling buckets balanced
on their shoulders now? I’ll stay
on this secondhand chair, wrapped
in my mother’s holey shawl.
Make another cup of tea, stay quiet.
Grief sits with me by the fire.
Out the window, tiny birds track
hieroglyphics across the icy ground.

Rachel Barenblat, The well

2022 isn’t starting on the best foot. I’m in quarantine with my four kids, two have tested positive and we’re just waiting to see if any of the rest of us get it. Some of us will already miss one day of school/work when we go back next week, so I’m hoping we can hold out and not miss any more. 

I’ve gotten lots of little home projects done but missed the chance to catch up on things like buying new clothes for my constantly growing kids, picking up a few replacement items for the home. We’ve cleaned, played Uno, sledged, listened to music, read lots and spent too much time on screens. But we haven’t killed each other yet. Two years of social distancing has helped to prep us for proper quarantine, though I’m desperate to get back into the world.

But this post is to look back. 2021 was a good year for my writing. I’ve had more work accepted than ever before, some for magazines I’ve been trying to get into for ages or for projects that actually paid or offered wider exposure than previous I’ve been involved in. 

I’m not writing every day, but I have learned to focus the little time I have on writing. Saturday is currently my writing day, though that will happen less as my course starts up. I write, edit and submit to magazines on that day, totally immersing myself in writing. I will miss having that much time for just my writing, so I don’t expect to see such great numbers next year.

Gerry Stewart, 2021 Writing Review

The clean blue field protects me from
accidental eye contact or conversation
with the person across from me.
It enforces, with its institutional cerulean,
the subtle separation between me
and the student working on a paper;
the elderly woman filling out tax forms;
the stubbly man reading a mystery.
I sip from my covered beverage (allowed)
and find an excuse not to look down
at my laptop. Instead I let my gaze linger
a moment longer, lost in the artificial sky.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Clean Blue Field

To live in a world where birdhouses are built atop gravestones, where gardens are planted in the hearts of the lonely, where lightning bug halos are forged for one and all. To live in a world where we burn rage, burn tears, burn what we don’t need, anoint those ashes across sky’s forehead, create better weather for our lives.

Rich Ferguson, better weather / whether better

It turns out my jumbled mind has pulled itself together via the stars. I read two books recently with stars in the titles and on the covers: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue, about the 1918 pandemic as it affects a maternity ward in Ireland, and Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves, poems by David James. Both provided quiet moments of focus on something other than work tasks, home tasks, caregiver tasks, and memorizing lines. My mind moved back into its jumble rather easily any time I slipped in a bookmark.

For example, I actually reviewed the poetry book for Escape Into Life, as David James is one of our EIL poets. I set up the post to publish automatically…on Wednesday…and then forgot about it till Friday.

Caregiver tasks included visiting my folks several times and accompanying my dad to a doctor’s appointment, where I was shocked to see a woman sitting in the waiting room completely unmasked. I reminded him to keep his mask over his nose, and I was double-masking (medical + cloth), but I couldn’t understand why the medical receptionists hadn’t reminded or cautioned the woman. Later, I saw her in her mask, so maybe it was just a memory lapse…something I understand. I had forgotten till I read it again in The Pull of the Stars that “influenza” actually refers to the influence of the stars, once thought to cause that illness.

Kathleen Kirk, All the Stars

Have you calculated
the ultimate question of life, the universe
and everything? Hell no. You’re the milk
you sniff after the sell-by date and decide
it should work fine for coffee; the wad
of paper towels you re-use for wiping
down a couple more counters. And you’re
always attuned to the twinge in the gut
which lets you know you’re not yet
a lesson beyond loss, a grief beyond
mourning. A speck of grit, a smart
in the eye; a mouth for rounding
a string of vowels at the moon.

Luisa A. Igloria, Short Bio, with Lines from a Sci-Fi Cult Classic

When I opened my laptop at the end of December, determined to post to this blog once more before the close of the year–well, that’s how I found out Betty White had died. I thought, Nope, see you in 2022. I closed the laptop’s cover. If you’ve struggled with social media for this past year, I get it. I’ve needed to go silent for long periods. That’s particularly painful when the pandemic hasn’t given us a chance to connect in other ways, because it can feel like damned-if-you-do, erased-if-you-don’t. But I’m grateful because when I look back at the second half of 2021, I spot bright glimmers of living, of pleasures taken, seized in a time that felt dark. 

Sandra Beasley, January Jump

For several weeks before Christmas I had these words from Ian McMillan’s peerless ‘Stone, I Presume’ rattling around my head. During my teaching, walking the dog, reading, even when I was watching the telly.

One day I heard myself saying them out loud: ‘It’s all a bit twist and reek, isn’t it?’ What was I talking about? I mean: what was I talking about? The 10 Downing Street party crisis? Keir Starmer’s suits? Chelsea’s injury list? The current edition of Really Great Poetry? All of these, and none of them. They are all twist and reek.

Twist and reek. Not twist and shout, twist and reek. What does it mean? a) I have no idea, and b) Whatever you want it to. I mutter it under my breath in meetings when the same person makes the same point for the third time without realising they are doing it. (Sometimes this person is me.) Climate change deniers can be twist and reek. The Conservative Party has been twist and reek for years. Poetry readings can be twist and reek. (That’s yours as well as mine.)

The poets who are never twist and reek are definitely Frank O’Hara and absolutely Ian McMillan. Martin Stannard is never twist and reek (unless he chooses to be, in which case it is always deliberate and therefore acceptable). There are others. (Check out Lifesaving Poems to find more!)

Anthony Wilson, Twist and reek

Both these podcasts tackle a poem or 2 per episode, but in different ways.

Frank Skinner is a well-known UK comedian with hidden depths. He does a good solo job with a range of poems old and new, some of them rather challenging. His target audience includes people who don’t usually read modern poetry – he’s aware of which aspects they may disapprove of. He’s enthusiastic, not pretentious, and doesn’t hesitate to reveal aspects of his personal life if it helps illuminate the piece. In his most recent episode he talks about 2 poems from Caroline Bird’s “The Air Year”, making me realise I’d missed some points – e.g in the title poem “the mime scene” alludes to “the crime scene”.

In “Poem Talk” an avant-garde poem is discussed by 3 or 4 American academics who help each other try to understand the piece. A recording by the poet is played. They often come to no firm conclusions. I learn much from their comments, which at times seem very generous. They’re fairly honest about their puzzlement though they never go as far as blaming the poet.

Tim Love, 2 poetry podcasts

These days, with a few exceptions, I prefer pigs to poets.

I bear no ill-will to those who see the poetry scene as one gigantic performance or who feel energised by the social whirl of it. I just prefer to spend time with my pigs. I talk to them. They talk to me. I feed them, clean out the muck, keep the straw dry. They grunt happily sometimes, grumble at others. We get along fine.

This week I saw the propaganda surrounding the T S Eliot Prize, the point of which is a little lost on me. Is it important? What does it do, exactly? If you went to the handing out of the prize or the apparently glitzy reading event, I hope you had a nice time and that the free wine flowed freely. I looked at YouTube and found a poem by the ‘winning’ poet. Seemed like a decent piece of writing to me, read clearly and cleanly. Yes, I liked it.

But was it worth the sycophantic outpouring that the awarding of the prize provoked on social media? Somebody even quoted slavishly the winner’s words in some book or other on, I guess, ‘How To Be A Poet’ or similar, when she said: “To write a poem is an act of resistance. To perform it is a revolution.” It’s a good sound-bite. It’s also white-noise nonsense. But don’t let me stop you becoming a disciple, please, if that’s your thing.

Frankly, though, I had a better time listening for half an hour to a band of Mongolian throat singers doing their ethereal stuff and another half-hour watching Uyghur people dancing and singing songs of love. I normally avoid the tales of ancient Greece but it did fascinate me also earlier today when I ‘discovered’ that Aeschylus, who specialised in writing tragedies, was killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.

Bob Mee, PIGS OR PRIZE-WINNING POETS? THE CHOICE IS MINE

I had thought that the phenomenon of western poets adapting someone’s translation had vanished. I would argue that it did disappear for a few years from English, only to return at the hands of poets, not translators! Translation has become ‘cool’; in some way its popularity speaks of the failure of a liberal intellectual class wrestling with the rise of Western fascisms. It rejuvenates their monolingual diction and imagery, it fits in the tenure dossier, it rescues the Third-World poet who is always imagined as a singular voice against the savage masses; as if the Cold War has never ended, or God forbid, hasn’t been won by the United States. Translation today, as scholar Dima Ayoub argues, is seen not only as a necessity but also necessarily good. What makes translations a must? Where does this blind faith in translation come from? Doesn’t translation act also as unconditional access, as surveillance, as an expanding force of the global capitalist market of literature? 

Mona Kareem, Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations

Looking to pad my coffers a little before I set sail into the wind, I’ve been doubling down on some of the freelance work, and alternating between art and literature projects to keep my brain from getting overwhelmed. Still today, I began the day with the Hudson Valley school and, when something else came back for edits, swiveled to Artemisia Gentileschi. Thus today, I have had one foot in the Baroque and one foot in American Romanticism most of the afternoon.  (With a detour on Caravaggio a couple days ago, and my sights on Millais. ) Yesterday’s work on Gentileschi was followed by Dickinson–a more general piece than the beast on one on Guinevere as literary figure prior, but I couldn’t help but start thinking about her and Artemesia, how both are, in most internet articles, mentioned first for their biographical details, and only second  the ways their work was innovative.  

Artemesia’s rape trial defined her for many, not her painting.  Emily’s life of seclusion and white ensemble similarly leads in when people start talking about her.  Only if you are a a painter or a poet, do you progress beyond those things.  I keep thinking about Sylvia Plath, always, and how her death overshadowed her work. And yet, in my limited previous knowledge of Caravaggio, I did not know that he was not only a convicted murderer and hothead, but a multiple murderer. As in more than one person.  This seems to be, for him, a side note.  A tiny piece of trivia when you dig into biographical details. Kind of like how very few people talk about William Burroughs killing his wife. 

I guess, what gets remembered about us as artists, who knows?  How history defines us, completely beyond our control.  It made my head spin a little bit.  Why do women’s biographical detail lead the story, while men’s are footnotes to their supposed genius? 

Kristy Bowen, painters and poets, oh my!

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Because I am working in found/collage form, there is a slight urgency to getting something, once it has taken form, glued down. Otherwise, the tiny, precariously placed scraps of paper with each word (or letter) on it become subject to breeze through an open window or my cat jumping on the desk. That being said, it can take weeks before the scraps start to come together into a poem—though once they begin to, it happens rather quickly. The unique thing about the process is that, once the collage is glued and the poem is in it, there is no revision! No way benefits to workshopping a poem beside asking what I can do differently next time. There was one poem that I tried revised, which was actually very very cool. I had left a good deal of space between each line, so ended up adding 2-3 lines between each original piece, making sure each new line picked up where the previous left off and could also segue into the original predecessor. It grew from 8 lines to 15.

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

The impetus of The Fever Poems was to make cards I card send to friends. I cut up a couple magazines then found something more interesting—a book that I was tired of holding onto for sentimental reasons that I could turn into something else. It had illustrations too! I made one card with a few words cut out and pasted onto it and then suddenly was writing full lyric poems in that way. Also suddenly, there were more than forty poems. I am working on a new project now that is very much a self-contained book project, replete with an extensive reading list for research and piles and piles of notes on what it aims to explore.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kylie Gellatly

Tell us about your new chapbook, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota. How did the idea of using invasive species to explore the connection between ecology and human nature come to you?

When I started (and finished) writing this book I was living in a very small apartment in downtown Minneapolis with my husband and our two dogs. So it seemed really important to get out and to green spaces in my free time when I could. The Twin Cities area is really great for that, with a state park and a national wildlife refuge right on the train line, and of course all the lakes. And like a lot of writers I was of course writing about what I was seeing.

The first couple I wrote weren’t imagined as part of a bigger project, they were just some fun little story-poems. I liked writing about invasive species because they turned the purpose of a lot of standard field guides on its head — the ones that are about helping you spot desirable species. They don’t take into consideration many of the plants and animals you actually see, since typically the nature spaces we enjoy aren’t truly a wilderness, they’re all some degree of impacted. Choosing only invasives became a way to write about real climate change, real ecological concerns but also tell these very misfit, weird stories.

As you started to realize these little weird poems would be part of a larger project, what was your process for pulling it together into a cohesive whole? How did you decide what needed to stay and what needed to go?

After I had 4-5 finished, I decided I wanted to take this in a much bigger direction. I made a huge list of potential species candidates, trying to evenly include plants and animals. Some of them were really easy choices — ones I had experience with removing as a volunteer, some we covered when I tutored environmental science, like buckthorn, Ones I saw slowly destroying some of the biodiversity of the lake by my grandparents, like trapdoor snails. Earthworms, because I participated in spreading them without realizing the problems they caused. Anything I had a real visceral connection to was an easy one to write about, to include.

Some I dropped because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how beautiful a name “Tree of Heaven” is or how sensory stick bugs are, I just couldn’t find a good hook to attach a poem to. Others I dropped because they weren’t really relevant. Wild boar, for example, would have been really fun to brainstorm about, but sightings are rare and almost completely unconfirmed. They just aren’t actually a driver of habitat loss or a signal of climate change, or anything with a large effect on the land. And I wanted those topics, albeit in exaggerated and fantastical forms, to be the core of the poems.

I also clearly remember sitting on my floor with printed copies of every poem in front me, ready to tackle the incredibly nitpicky and difficult task of trying to figure out what the punchiest order would be. Before I really got into laying them out and sliding them around like terrible tetris blocks I asked myself “What if I just try to do it alphabetically?” and ended up very happy with the start, the ending, the pacing. It was a nice reminder that just because poetry is sometimes really hard, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

One of the things I love about your book is how each poem is paired with a botanical illustration. Was this a concept that you thought about early in your process of writing the book? Or did it come about later as you were working with your publisher?

Both, actually! I had printed a version for myself once because I wanted to practice making artsy little zines and learn different binding stitches, and just for fun I included several old public domain illustrations. I don’t think anyone but me ever saw that version.

But early in the editing process, Holly at IFP asked me if I was open to including illustrations with the poems, to make it more like an actual field guide. Of course I was! It was like she read my mind. And it was an early sign that I was working with someone with similar tastes and interests, especially in books as artifacts.

Andrea Blythe, Amelia Gorman on ecology, invasive species, and weird poetry

With closed eyes the world
disappears inside us,
time shrinks and hides
behind the soft skin of our eyelids.
Eleven years, twenty years ago,
forty, the day we were born;
we’ve learned the trick from the very start.
A membraned border, our fine veil
between seeing and looking,
or a wall out of stone
when pain is involved.
Just before we fall asleep,
just before we cry,
just before we give in to madness.

Magda Kapa, Timeout

The collection returns to the climate change theme towards the end. In “Passerine”,

“Meanwhile in another timeframe
the future, which is now,
we are not ready
toilet paper, sanitiser, neatly stacked
in a cupboard with a big sack of rice
which hopefully won’t be dumped
moth and weevil zigzagging
while fantails move happily
through the understory, a reminder
that nothing lasts.”

Passerines are perching birds, a hint at the precarity of their existence. It could also be a metaphor for the pandemic, where humans were reminded of their own precarity. As well as lack of preparedness – the toilet rolls and large sack of rice won’t keep a virus at bay and it looks as if the rice will go off before it gets used. The wildlife, however, gets freedom of movement. Although the wildlife doesn’t get chance to recover, it just reminds humanity that nothing lasts.

The poems in “The Density of Compact Bone” explore personal issues and the climate emergency. Magdalena Ball’s deftly constructed poems work as multi-layered explorations of her themes, underline how humanity has contributed to its own woes. There is a sense of helplessness as if there is no time to mitigate the damage or take action. They overlook the imbalances of power: one person diligently taking all possible steps to limit their impact will never have the same effect as a large corporation stopping air travel, holding solely online meetings and using recyclable materials. She is very conscious of her place as a daughter, as a mother, supporting and upholding both roles and the inheritances they bring. Her concerns are about what kind of world her child will grow up in, how there needs to be a world for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “The Density of Compact Bone” Magdalena Ball (Ginninderra Press) – book review

I’ve always found titles quite hard to come up with. I’ve been through all kind of exercises to try to break the back of it. I look at other people’s titles to see which ones jump out at me (or not). And I remember Carol-Ann Duffy once reading the title of a poem and exclaiming ‘Now that’s a title that gives me confidence in the poet!’

I know there have been various trends over the years: the Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Title is still popular, (especially when it comes to competition entries) although I wonder if it’s waning. I’ve done a few of those myself but can’t help wondering if the title can end up being more interesting than the poem.

The good old basic single-word title is surely a classic. But the first line had better be AMAZING if the title is ‘Daisies’ or ‘Evening’ or whatever.

How about the first-line-as-title? I confess I quite like this arrangement and have used it a fair bit – in the sense of the title being the actual first line, so that the poem runs on from the title (rather than repeating the first line, although this is also possible of course).  But it doesn’t suit every poem.

And what about collection titles? I know we’re commonly advised to use the title of one of the poems, or use a phrase or a line from one of the poems. Sometimes Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Titles are more memorable. When it’s come to pamphlets, I’ve always gone with the title of one of the poems, with the exception of ‘Why?’ which I wanted to call ‘Was it the Diet Coke?’ but that didn’t work out, for fear of a certain mega-company based in Atlanta coming down on us like a pantechnicon of canned drinks.

Robin Houghton, Thinking about poem and book titles

I recently published reading notes on Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens by Corey Van Landingham. It’s a spectacular poetry collection, and I jumped at the chance to review it ahead of its release. I have great affection for Van Landingham’s work. Going back seven or eight years ago, I spent a December writing only sonnets. One of those sonnets started with a line from Van Landingham’s “The Louse”: “I name every injury like it was a comet.”

I remember vividly the energy that line gave my own writing and am grateful all over again. I’m also inspired to let myself be, well, more inspired in the coming year. I spent the bulk of last year attending workshops, but somehow got mired in the left-brain aspects of them: being a good student, gathering information, reading, offering critique, considering new approaches, etc. I didn’t use them for writing inspiration as much as I wish I had.

To be fair, it felt like a difficult year to loosen up and let things in. 2021 began with the insurrection and ended with amped up prioritization of capitalism and the economy over public health. And in between? Also a total shit show. I had my guard up (aggressively), and it impacted more than my mood. It also locked down my creativity. (To see what I accomplished — and where I missed the mark — click through to last week’s post about revisiting 2021 writing goals.)

2022 is unlikely to be any better as far as the state of the world is concerned, and so my task is to be more selective with what I consume: more comets and sonnets, less circling the news/social media drain. As such, my poetry goals for 2022 limit external impulses (readings and workshops, for example) and focus instead on the ritual of quiet time to generate new work and revise manuscripts.

Carolee Bennett, 2022 writing goals: more comets and sonnets

there’s something over there
this nearer that
something in the dimness
that which is this but further

this nearer that
this indicating the difference
that which is this but further
only twilight knows which

this indicating the difference
this where you find me
only twilight knows which
twilight where I write

this where you find me
that which is this but further
the twilight where I write
this nearer night

Gary Barwin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTOUMS

Black being such a glorious color, it’s unfair to see it maligned in the season of light.  During those holiday weeks of celebrating “light,” all those little pinpricks stung me and made me think, in a Baudelairean way, about its other. I was thinking about how to decouple darkness and its sometime extension “blackness” from the metaphors of sin and ignorance of the age/soul.  I thought about how to decouple part of the daily cosmic cycle and a radically beautiful color from centuries and millennia of role play, poetry and language games.  How might race relations have been different if the color of sin had stayed in the red zones, stains of blood and sex as they were in the Hebrew Bible?  But new color games came along, Christianity codifying and equating Adam and Eve’s “original” sin to death and to the color of death.  In a much, much longer story spanning centuries, black came to mark dark ecstasies of sinners, devils, and sadly, Ethiopians.

I was listening to a magnificent sermon of Martin Luther King at Riverside Church, from 1964.  Was I surprised to hear him use the metaphors “terrible midnight of our age” and “it’s midnight, a darkness so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn”?  When he preached, I believed his midnight, his condemnation of moral relativity, hypocrisy, lack of compassion.  He doesn’t say blackness – he says darkness, and midnight.  Deep dark holes of moral/Christian failure, using the full weight of age-old cultural symbols.

The title of this speech, “A Knock at the Door,” is a midrash of a parable of Luke, which in itself is a midrash of “The Song of Songs.”  When a stranger, lover or needy person, which could be divine or part of ourselves, comes knocking at our door, we are unprepared, we hesitate, or play or hide.  The desire and demand of this other breaks in on our lassitude; it erupts, interrupts our borders.  There are so many “colorations” here, but there is a pattern.  Certain things cannot be explained, but we know to be true. Color breaks in, uninvited, irreducible, not standing for anything except itself.  

Jill Pearlman, The Values of Black

whose eye shall fill my light with sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Chosen,

poured into, lips meet
my rim. I brim,
a hand around me,
through me, and I hold
what I am given.

Offering up my sweet
entirety. Until emptied again,

submerged, taken
to a dish towel’s
efficient caress.

Renee Emerson, “Mug” from Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing)

I prefer to rise before dawn, when the air
is cool and the light is thin, and the muscles
of night finally relax. Often my dreams
are still with me, and I wonder if I should whisper
them to you, but I never do. I put these dreams,
now slender things, into a box, and I place
the box on a shelf. This shelf holds many boxes,
each containing more dreams than the one
beside it, and so the dawn passes. You rise
later than me, and I say nothing except
for a slight greeting, no more than one
would say to a stranger passing in the street.

James Lee Jobe, I wonder if I should whisper

frost
on a station platform
tomorrow is late

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

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, a special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 45

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, though I tried to avoid finding common themes, they found me nonetheless—a recurring focus on time, several posts on Covid poetry, and a lot of wrestling with writerly dilemmas such as “Why write?” and “How do we survive?”


I have so much to say on days I can’t make time to sit here in front of the computer. So much to say while I’m running on the beach or sitting on the train. All these thoughts pressing to be sorted and seen. And most days if I can’t catch them, sort them, form them and pin them down in a way that later will seem both true and strange, I worry that I will never have really existed. I will have let myself slip through my own fingers. Wasted time.

Ren Powell, Following a Lead

What is it that peeps from the book at the shelf?
A slip of the sky to mark the page: a day in early
November, winter dormant between sepia covers.

Uma Gowrishankar, A Window

Reader, I have contracted it. All for a few luscious days away on my birthday, not a moment of which I regret. We went to Bristol on the train, revisited Nick’s old university haunts, explored the Georgian terraces and the harbourside, had a lovely day in Bath, ate and drank well. We’re now two days off finishing our ten-day quarantine. We’re both feeling tons better than this time last week, even the sense of smell is gradually creeping back (starting with smells I’m not keen on, like coffee, maddeningly!)

Someone on Twitter commented that ten days enforced isolation gives you all the time in the world to write – but frankly I haven’t really felt like it. I have done some reading and research in preparation for the forthcoming collection. At the moment the difference between a planning a pamphlet and planning/producing a full collection feels like the proverbial yawning chasm. I can do this! And yet I keep printing off my notes, usually with headings that might motivate me, like ‘Why I’m interested in writing about X’, and ‘Key themes and identifying the gaps’, then staring at them with nothing to add. Meanwhile all the new poems sit there looking up at me like baleful dogs desperate for a walk. I try to tell myself they have promise, even though they seem tired or lacking in originality. And then I go back to reading, avoiding Twitter or wondering if I need to just do a bit of yoga.

Robin Houghton, Notes from the sick bay

[Rob Taylor]: Writers seemed to divide into two camps during the first year of COVID-19. One group wrote prodigiously while the other wrote little or nothing. You’re certainly in the former group, writing all these new poems (especially, of course, your thirteen-part crown sonnet, “Corona”). What drew you to writing about COVID-19 head-on and with such energy? 

[Barbara Nickel]: The “Corona” sequence was the main work I completed during the first part of the pandemic. With the exception of four other poems written in 2020, most of the book had been written years before.

Maybe I was poetically prepared for the series when COVID-19 came along because I’d already written a sonnet corona for Domain; the “room” sonnets you’ve mentioned formed a sort of circular foundation to my book about the reach of my childhood home. Like so many households across the planet at the start of the pandemic, ours was stressful and chaotic. Suddenly everyone was home at the same time and space felt limited. Computers (including mine) were in high demand. I was constantly washing my hands and reading the news and stressing about it.

The idea of writing a “corona for the Corona” had been simmering for a little while. Looking at images of the spherical virus with its spiky crown, I knew that these physical and poetic shapes would need to merge; how couldn’t they? Then late one night I couldn’t sleep for desperately itchy hands (from all that washing), and I decided enough is enough, this project needs to begin.

Rob Taylor, That Prism of Perspectives: An Interview with Barbara Nickel

Rather than worry about all the inevitable books about the pandemic, it might be worth thinking about the books which won’t be written, because nothing else is on people’s mind, or because what they had been going to write doesn’t make sense to them any more, or even because their whole life has changed and writing doesn’t seem a priority right now.

To put things very crudely, again, we are good at remembering wars, but perhaps less good at remembering their aftermaths. We see the casualties, but we don’t always see the long-term impact on the people left behind. I don’t think Britain likes to see itself as a war-torn nation: war is something that happens only to soldiers, and only in other places.

I don’t think we like to see literature as circumstantial, either. It is more gratifying to talk of stories or poems as things which change lives, rather than something made by them: it gives both the writer and the reader more freedom. Think of all the Covid books implies a kind of (understandable) despair that the pandemic ever happened. It did. But we can still chose how to respond.

Jeremy Wikeley, What’s next?

I find myself captivated by Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays (New York NY: Astra House Publishing, 2021) by Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Born with cerebral palsy in 1976 in Hengdian village, Hubei Province, China, Yu Xiuhua was, as the book copy offers, “Unable to attend college, travel, or work the land with her parents, she remained home. In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry.” The collection opens with the now-infamous poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You,” a poem that became an “online sensation” in 2014, and thus launched Yu’s career as a published writer. “Fucking you and being fucked by you are quite the same,” the poem begins, “no more / than the force of two colliding bodies, a flower coaxed into blossom [.]” I’m fascinated, as well, by how this book is structured, offering, after the opening poem, essays by the author as section-openers, which allow the possibility for more of the author’s own thinking around history, language, morality, suffering, disability, politics and poetry, and of exploring the possibilities therein. I don’t know if this was structured by the poet herself or her editor, but it allows for a collection built as a singular unit, incorporating the essays in conversation with the poems; as an essential part of the text, instead of the usual offering of including them at the end, almost as afterthought.

Set as eight essays, six of which open sections of poems composed as abstracts through direct statement, as the author writes her own way into being. “Yes, it can’t stand on its own,” she writes, to open the poem “Dust,” “so it leans west in the wind [.]” There is a meditative and even wistful clarity through these poems, as well as a self-deprecating humour, through a poet who writes of the erotic, of love and the land, and of her immediate and imagined landscapes. She writes with a clarity and a humility, offering her meditations in line with the nature poets, attentive to the movements and shifts of the world around her. There is something quite compelling in the way Yu writes, through Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s attentive translation, against such forces that would erase her voice, whether through her disability, her poverty, her gender or as a divorced, single mother. Through these poems and essays, she claims her own space in the world with an openness that refuses to be contained, while remaining a humble and quietly attentive observer, even of her own life, thoughts and experiences. As she writes to close the essay “I Live to Reject Lofty Words”: “I am desperately in love with this inexplicable and obscure life. I love its conceit, and the haze that surfaces at low points in my life. I am grateful for being well and alive, and all because of my lowly existence.”

rob mclennan, Yu Xiuhua, Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays, trans. Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Loneliness
and its blessings
so fill my hut
I can barely
move around,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (58)

I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week. The weather has been a series of emergency alerts: wind storms that knock out power, rain that brings flooding and mudslides. Absolutely no outdoor time for me this week, even on my deck or to get mail. My computer (six months old, too expensive) is on the fritz and looks like it needs replacing already. I’m worried about my parents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, many of whom had health crises this week: falls, hospital trips, illnesses, house problems. The news isn’t so cheery these days either. Three snow leopards at a Nebraska zoo died of covid. Damn it covid, stay away from our snow leopards! A GOP school district in Kansas banned books by Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Alice Walter, among others. Book burnings next? Yikes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Gloom: Too Many Storms and Rejections

Today the skies are heavy. Rains come and go, as do high winds. I suspect the autumn leaves we marveled at yesterday are on the ground now, beginning their journey toward becoming mulch. Challah dough is rising, soon to be shaped into a spiraling six-pointed sun or Jewish star.

I wonder whether we will look back on these years as the end of something, or the end of many things. The end of when we could have stopped the global warming juggernaut, the end of the myth that “red” and “blue” America actually understand each other — or even want to try.

I think about climate grief and rising authoritarianism and mistrust. I’m so ready for Shabbat, for 25 hours of setting worries aside. All I can do is trust that when I make havdalah, I’ll be ready to pick up the work again. That the fallen leaves will sustain growth I can’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Leaves

Tell them that the winter is here.
If they want to visit,
they must wear their thick skin,
forget about the virtues of the sea,
and wait until the fog clears
for the surprised birds to sing.
Tell them we are here.

Magda Kapa, Windows

As we consider Climate Crisis and other world issues, such as Covid-19, we become acutely aware that it is in many senses only now that we have the opportunity to make things change. The past has happened. Tomorrow is uncharted territory.

Caroline Gill, Thoughts on conferences, COP26 … and birds

I have been thinking a lot this week about a line from Tomas Tranströmer’s masterpiece, ‘Alone’. (I have also blogged about it here.) Driving alone at night, the speaker’s car spins out across the ice and into the path of oncoming traffic, with its ‘huge lights’:

They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew – there was space in them –
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

Just as everything slows down and sound goes missing from the action, as in a film, ‘something caught: a helping grain of sand/ a wonderful gust of wind’, and the car breaks free.

I have been trying to practice gratitude this week for the helping grains of sand in my life: the kindness of a colleague talking me down from the tree when I fail to understand the new digital platform we have started using; the kindness of a poetry editor friend for helping me make my work half-way presentable; another poetry friend getting in touch with an encouraging email; an old school friend writing to update me with his news; a meal with friends; Simon Parke’s blog; a blogger from the other side of the world writing to say hi; the colleague who listens to and sees me; The Joy of Small Things, by Hannah Jane Parkinson.

There are other perhaps more famous grains of sand, William Blake’s or Wislawa Szymborska’s for instance, but the helping kind is what I am reaching for this week, behind the wheel or not.

Anthony Wilson, A helping grain of sand

A book with a thousand minds. Counting backwards through a thousand dreams. Why are you crying? I don’t want to tell you. You won’t have me around if I show you the teeth of the dog. A thousand dogs, hermanas y hermanos, and each dog has a thousand teeth. Growling and howling. A poem with a thousand hard lines. The most cruel blows on the flesh of the most quiet child. Why are you running? I have to run. Something is after me. Music that brings death. Not joy. Death. The face of the priest that melts into the face of the devil. Do you pray? God isn’t watching the sin as it happens. Just after. When it is far too late. We all have free will. Then what do you do? I run, I cry. The dreams are sometimes ugly, and I record them all in this book.

James Lee Jobe, a thousand minds

My editor helped me locate and rewrite the crisis moment Susan Forest describes. At the outset of Unbecoming, the main character, Cyn, refuses to recognize her own strength, magical and otherwise. And when you don’t admit the power you have, others get harmed in ways you could have mitigated, or maybe even headed off, if you had your wits about you. Cyn does come to terms with power and its consequences by the end, but the choices she makes about how to use her magic are problematic: some good, for sure, but some ethically questionable, to put it mildly. The problem she faces lies in the nature of magic–by definition, power is inequity, right? The MOST ethical thing is to give up your magic/ privilege, to redistribute it, but that’s ALSO hard, for a million different reasons. In short, I’m sympathetic to Cyn, but I don’t entirely like her.

A book of poems creates characters, too, some of whom are strong or strongly-written. Eric Tran visited campus this week, and while his poems seem intensely autobiographical, he emphasized their fictionality, how many of them rely on invention rather than personal history. One of my favorite’s of his is “I Tell My Mother About My Depression” (scroll down at the link and you’ll find it), and, interestingly, that was the one he chose as an example of writing in persona–not what I would have expected. Yet all poems fictionalize, even when they hew closely to fact. How you experience your life, after all, changes all the time; the you who writes the poem won’t exist in the same exact way tomorrow. I often feel distant from and critical of earlier poetic selves. Some of the poems in my most recent collection, The State She’s In, like “The South,” involve a version of me looking back at an earlier mindset and telling Former Lesley off.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing/ being a “strong female character”

Time, you beckon. Before
you were a proliferation of billboards;
double-armed streetlights rising
                        from a continuous median,
evenly spaced parade of réverbères
going down a crowded avenue.
Checkerboards of light fell
                        out of buildings where, in each
square someone was working
or doing sums at a table, someone
was reading a book or ironing
                        a shirt, washing potatoes
in a colander, or singing
a child to bed. Today, I watched
a neighbor load bag after bag
                        into a van, and still
there was more—a lifetime’s
accumulation of things.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Neruda

Sometimes that heady frenzy is the point, and it’s enough just as it is. Maybe you’ll walk away from it, grateful for some thing it helped you see or know or remember. Maybe it was just an itch you needed to scratch. Maybe it was nothing, and you can see that and it’s fine, just fine. It was what it is. You go back to walking the dog and buying groceries and picking up library books, perhaps more primed to notice the world’s glances that come your way, that spark that could turn into a real poem.

Sometimes, though, you know it’s the beginning of something more than words scrawled through some feeling’s heat. It’s something you could sustain, that could sustain you. So you turn toward it and hold on.

Rita Ott Ramstad, How to write a poem

I am starting to write again, after losing our unborn son Shepherd a few months ago. It has been slow going–a few minutes here and there, a long, very long, time spent on a single poem. Writing has always been a helpful way for me to process and take note of my emotions, to process what happened, to understand it. But I have found myself avoiding it for a few months, not ready to get back into it again. I didn’t actually–it came back to me in the waiting room for a follow up appointment. There have been so many times I have said, Well, now is the time I will stop writing, but it does always come back.

Renee Emerson, writing while grieving

The birds gossip to the breeze.

The breeze buzzes to the trees.

Tree roots chitchat to the earth.

Earth’s deep dirt talks to coffins.

Coffins, in their quiet way, discourse with the great unknown.

And well before we’re born, the great unknown whispers into our seed of an ear.

Sing a song for the living, it tells us. Sing a song for the dead.

Rich Ferguson, Hum

My grandma, Ethel, who went deaf, who sat
with her head in the swelling horn
of the wind-up gramophone.

Listened to the scratchy tinnitus
of brittle shellac records until
they hissed like the sea on a shingly shore.

Who drowned herself, a poor Ophelia,
in the beck that ran hot from dyehouses,
than ran blue and plum and crimson red.

John Foggin, Armistice Day

Veterans Day 2021, the second year of a pandemic, when I can feel case numbers ticking up, as surely we all knew they would once colder weather arrived and people went indoors to breathe on each other.  I think about the forces that shape society:  disease and war and random terrorism that catapults a culture onto a different trajectory.

Before Veterans Day was Veterans Day it was Armistice Day which celebrated World War I, the war to end all wars.  Except it didn’t.  Research the amount of death in World War II and try to process that many humans gone in just a few years.

Will we some day say the same thing about these pandemic years?  Which is the more efficient killing machine, war or disease?  They so often go hand in hand, so it’s hard for me to know.  And I know it depends on the war or the disease.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Veterans Day in the Second Year of a Global Pandemic

Your ceramic bird fell and shattered like our dreams of a long, shared life. I didn’t mean to drop it – my fingers went numb. As numb as I’ve felt since you announced you were leaving. You opened the bedroom door and I quickly shoved a few pieces under the sideboard, fluttering wings beating in my chest. I am exhausted after hours of my tears and your tantrums, your shrill recriminations keening through the house. I am bombarded yet I stand here clutching a ceramic shard in my palm. As you brush past, I grab your arm and raise mine. A sharp blue feather flies to your heart.

Charlotte Hamrick, Clipped Wings

If you’re a writer, artist, musician or other creative, how do you get noticed? Is it enough to be good? How will people find you?

One way that’s become popular in the age of the Internet is to send out bits and pieces of your creative process, sharing the project as you work on it. This approach claims to be an alternative to the more direct forms of self-promotion, and even has the potential to help the viewer, or reader, or listener with their own artistic projects. (Austin Kleon wrote a delightful book about it called Show Your Work.)

With this method, you give others access to your process with the aim of building a following of fans who are just dying for the next sketch, chord, or draft.

I used to think this was completely fine, even innovative, but lately I’ve changed my mind.

This sharing/showing, meant to create a group or fan base, is still a lonely and energy-draining endeavor. You, the creative person, must constantly curate what you’ll share with the world, which not only adds to your workload, it drains your creative energy. It obliges you to explain and answer questions about what you shared. It gives the impression that you’re available for discussions about what you’ve shared, especially if you’re posting about your process on social media.

Not only is it harmful to you, the creative person, in terms of time and concentration, to share these tidbits with others, it might even be harmful to those who come across your shares.

Erica Goss, Should You Show Your Work?

falling
into a bed of emojis 
forty winks 😉

Jim Young [no title]

In my efforts to rekindle my enthusiasm for just about everything in life, I often find myself sometimes thinking about 2001.  I was 27 and had been living back in the city for a year. Why this year as opposed to others?   Why then and not, say 2002? Or 2003? When things really began to happen in terms of publishing and doing readings, and starting my MFA studies?  2001 was sort of this strange calm before the storm, a period of time when I was just discovering online publications and starting one of my own.  A time when I was creating my very first websites and learning about design while working the night shift at the circ desk.  A time when, having no internet at home, I was still mostly offline much of my life otherwise. At home, I’d read and journal and write late into the night. I still drafted every poem by hand on yellow legal pads or spiral steno notebooks then typed them into my e-mail at work. 

It was also the first rush of excitement to be connecting with people through poems.  Those online publications–the really nice fan letters that sometimes appeared in my inbox. Every online journal publication would find me printing out the pages and tucking them carefully between plastic sheets in a binder for safekeeping (a practice I eventually stopped.) I didn’t start a blog til 2003, so my journaling happened in more private spaces. Since we were years before even MySpace, most of my interactions with writers happened on discussion boards and listservs. Later on blogs.  

It feels a little more pure though, since it was very much a space unpolluted by some of things  that later muddied my waters. Mostly, I thrived on writing and sharing.  On finding readers and placing poems in journals. I’m not sure I would have persevered or written half as much as I did in the vacuum of print journal culture, which seemed to put so much distance between writer and editor, and even more between writer and reader.

Kristy Bowen, twenty year itch | 2001

Thanks to the Madwomen in the Attic (out of Pittsburgh), I recently had the opportunity to hear Denise Duhamel read from Second Story (her newest collection) and to participate in a craft talk/Q&A with her. As a result, I took a walk down memory lane to 2009 when I was still a baby poet attending a generative workshop Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City.

The hope I tended back then about who I may become as a writer and what I may accomplish is a sure cousin to the self I pictured in Tucson and BFF to the writer who opened this blog post with a question about why we keep writing.

I haven’t achieved half of what I imagined back in 2009, and that’s ok. I still hold a flame for that earnest girl. The self I love now is the self who creates for its own sake. I still want to publish book after book after book, but for me, in this dreary world, it’s enough to make things new — to discover new selves and new worlds in which she may live. The self I’m constantly chasing is intoxicated by wonder and tension, by words and bodies, by questions and heat. That self can’t contain curiosity and passion. They spill onto the page.

Like you were being saved.

Carolee Bennett, why do you keep writing?

Raindark woods and the step of deer. Coyote arias. There has to be a way forwards but I can’t find it: all I know to do is tell the truth, if I can find that. It sits, I guess, at the center always, but sometimes even Cassandra can’t read, even peregrine can’t see, even jaguar can’t feel: I’m scoured, food makes me sick, I cannot swim or smile, there is no thirst, no light. I ask for compassion, not instruction: just let me fail to be a superhero for a minute, I say. Trauma stacked so deep I can’t see over the boxes full, piled too high and I’m stuck in the center. Hopeless, I scour: am extracted, everything used, for no hope of reciprocity. Somehow stacked so deep I don’t care anymore: I try to, I say it’s wrong, state what is right, but I need the paychecks. After they strip me, I expect to be discarded now. Everywhere I look I’m a temp. Clouds of anger form, dissipate rapidly into grief again, cirrus wisps over yellow November moon. There must be a way but I do not know what it is. There isn’t even silence. Just a cold snap, bone and branch fallen underfoot.

JJS, pit

We sat in her apartment in the assisted-living wing and arranged the flowers I’d brought. Then we spent 20 minutes in a kind of conversation, to which I’ve become accustomed, during which she tries to convey information about something she needs to have done. In this case, after much of the usual (really, rather humorous at times) confusion, I deciphered that she wanted some sweaters taken to the dry cleaner.

Such minutia. And yet, so difficult to get across, across that divide of language and cognition. The incredible concentration and effort it takes her just to dial a phone number to call her ailing sister. To tell the nurse aide that she needs more yogurt. Anything.

Then she surprised me. She pointed to my forehead and then to her own. “This,” she said. “Is wrong. For you. What?”

Was she reading a crease in my brow? I told her I had not been feeling great. She wanted to know, so I told her details, the way one tells one’s mother. Even though I am never sure quite how much gets through.

“Lie down. Take off the peaks.” By which she meant shoes. Why not comply? We both took off our shoes and spent the visit relaxing. We even indulged in a glass of wine because she loves to offer wine to her guests. Never mind it was 11 am. My mother has lost that rigid cognitive sense of time that the rest of us spend our lives obsessing over. There’s something valuable in that loss, though it is a loss.

She’s still teaching me things. Other ways to live with loss (my dad, her “normal” brain, mobility, words…).

Ann E. Michael, Getting through somehow

where is the grave of the autumn :: from which i never returned

Grant Hackett [no title]

they come to the flower bazaar

for jasmine, for marigolds, for roses —
for funerals, for weddings, for worship —

at night, the unsold flowers
become this city’s story
of all that did not happen

Rajani Radhakrishnan, City Cherita – XII

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: blooming continuously, breaking poems, working without a safety net, talking to the underworld, building an honest nest, and more. Enjoy.


I’ve been thinking of enchanted forests.  I’ve been thinking of a cottage in the woods and what happens to wicked witches who mellow.  I’ve been thinking about herb gardens and ovens that bake bread, not little boys.

This morning I thought of the Bruno Bettelheim text, once classic not discredited, The Uses of Enchantment.  I thought of all those children using fairy tales to process the scary, incomprehensible stuff going on in their lives.  Am I doing the same thing for my mid-life fears?

Yesterday I took my daily walk by the tidal lake, as I do each day.  For the past several weeks, the lake has been jumping–or more precisely, the fish have been jumping.  I’ve seen a dolphin here and there.  I’ve seen lots of little fish skittering out, as if they were members of a water ballet company.  Yesterday, the word “enchanted” came to mind.

If we grew up hearing stories about enchanted lakes instead of enchanted forests, would our imaginations function differently?  Would we do more to protect bodies of water?  Probably not.

I think of the orchid on my office windowsill, the one that has bloomed continuously since July of 2020 when I got it from colleagues at work.  

Orchids are not supposed to bloom continuously for 15 months, but this one has: [photo]

People come into my office and stop at the sight of the orchid.  They ask me my secret.  I say, “Every day I pour the dregs of my cups of tea into it.  Maybe it likes the tannins.”  I try to beam my best swamp witch radiance when I say things like this.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Uses of Enchantment: the Mid-Life Edition

and so yes the jaguars still make me work, they are not gentle teachers you know, not always, not jaguars,

this isn’t self-help-soft-focus-someone-else’s-stolen-story this is my own bone and muscle and blood and death and dream,

and so when I wrap my body around his so determined to protect him fully this time, even from death,

I am quadruped and black as he, low bunched muscle and claw and teeth, and I will bite through the temporal bones of any who try for him and cast them off neck-broken into underbrush

JJS, the search

For much of the year, I’ve been breaking poems–trying different forms, writing into and out of different tensions. Not just deleting my darlings, but investigating them. Trying to play, knowing that I can always go back.

And then this past week, I read Tony Hoagland’s essay “Tis Backed Like a Weasel”: The Slipperiness of Metaphor, and the part about some people just not having the gift of metaphor made me sad, because I suspect that I might be one of those people. So I decided to pair play with the idea of deliberate practice. Maybe, despite what Aristotle says, I could become stronger at writing metaphors. I can play at what I’m trying to improve. And it was fun. To really practice, I should probably have written a full page of them, every day. But I don’t like the word should, and it doesn’t sound like play.

Joannie Stangeland, Spelling Bee and poetry

experiments with iron
liberating the colours
a mad book of masks

Penelope Circe Ariadne
alive in spite of everything
my missing grandmother

the word was made song
wayfaring lines
stop and look

a tidal island
dark brown and ancient
the pink elephant moth

weeding and mulching
preparing the ground
everything changes

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2021

It has also been a long time since I gave anything resembling a public reading. But last Sunday afternoon I travelled with poet, Hilary Davies, out of London to Kimbolton School, north of Bedford for an actual in person book launch! The book was the sumptuous new anthology, Hollow Palaces, published by Liverpool University press and edited by John Greening and Kevin Gardner from Baylor University in the USA. The book is the first complete anthology of modern country house poems, including over 160 poets from Yeats and Betjeman to Heaney, Boland, Armitage and Evaristo.

The venue was fittingly grand. Kimbolton Castle is a country house in the little town of Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire and it was the final home of King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Originally a medieval castle, it was later converted into a stately palace and was the family seat of the Dukes of Manchester from 1615 until 1950. It now houses Kimbolton School and this is where John Greening taught for a number of years (alongside Stuart Henson, another poet represented in the anthology).

With the declining sun streaming in through the opened French windows, looking out across the school playing fields, after an introduction from Kevin Gardner, we each read a couple of poems from the anthology. So – amongst others – John Greening read ‘A Huntingdonshire Nocturne’ about the very room we were assembled in, a subtle take on English history and education, Ulster and Drogheda. Hilary Davies’s poem rooted in Old Gwernyfed Manor in Wales, was a fantasy of lust, sacrifice, murder and hauntings. Stuart Henson’s compressed novelistic piece mysteriously described the murder or suicide of a Fourteenth Earl. Anne Berkeley remembered childhood isolation and bullying at a dilapidated Revesby Abbey. Rory Waterman re-visited the ruins of an old, tied lodge-house his grandmother once lived in. Lisa Kelly’s chewy foregrounded language (‘O drear, o dreary dreary dirge for this deer’) shaped itself into a sonnet. Rebecca Watts looked slant and briefly at Ickworth House, a glimpse of bees in lavender. Robert Selby was at Chevening, considering the clash of perspectives between the tourist’s casual gaze and the realities of tombs, time and history.

Martyn Crucefix, We’ll Meet Again/Well Met Again: my first public reading since lockdown

The full moon was rising, casting a shine on the water, casting a spell on me. Cypress trees hulked in their super power, long gnarled fingers sunken into the briny bottom, waiting patiently, so patiently. What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? 

It felt like entering a womb; warm, languid, swaddling. Your white dress ballooning like a ghostly Datura, your hair a raft of floating silk, my fingers woven in its strands, my lips mouthing your secret, tender name…

Charlotte Hamrick, Those Dead Shrimp Blues

Patrick Dougherty makes large-scale sculptures from sticks, twigs, stripped saplings. You can enter into the worlds of these structures like a creature, like wind. He said this about his medium, “I feel that materials have rules, they tend to have sets of possibilities….Sticks snag and entangle easily…so they have an inherent method of joining….For me sticks are not only the material of my structures, but are lines with which to draw.”

I love thinking about language in this way, words and syntax as tangling elements, sentences as lines drawn across and down the page. Multimedia artist Tara Rebele said to me once, “Everything is text.” This idea both confounds and opens me. It’s the possibilities inherent in half-heard conversations, street signs, the way shadows stripe the winter woods into zebra, the several zebras that have been at large for weeks in some Maryland suburb.

Marilyn McCabe, Isn’t it good; or, On Word as Material

It’s been a dreary week with record cold days (with the records of cold going back to the 1800’s!) and record rain. To cheer ourselves up, we visited the local farm stands, so we had fresh corn to make salads with and sweet baby peppers and apples and squashes of all sorts. We made pear soup (don’t know if I’d recommend) and baked cranberry apply bread and generally tried to stay warm. Glenn also had a physical on Monday and his third Pfizer booster shot. By the end of the week, not just Pfizer, but all the boosters had been approved.

After our weekend plans to visit my little brother and a friend over the water were ruined by problems with the ferries, we decided to make the most of the warmer day and partial sunlight and visited a brand new but beautiful pumpkin farm near our house, JB’s Pumpkins in Redmond, and Kirkland’s Carillon Point to find roses on the water still blooming, and went grocery shopping in person (something we rarely do) at Metropolitan Market. Plentiful produce and flowers, but other shelves – frozen aisle, dry goods, paper goods – were empty. A little unnerving, like we were having a hurricane that we didn’t know about. But everyone was in a kind mood – even friendly – which seems like people responding to lowering covid levels and, of course, the nicer weather after a very dark cold week.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Harvests (with Record Cold and Rain,) A Poem in Bellevue Literary Review, A Meditation on Boosters, Ferry Snafus and Shortages

It’s been a crazy week, but then, I expected it.  One deadline was moved forward a couple weeks, which offered a little reprieve, but the end of this one found me hanging an exhibit over the span of two floors, meeting with the college paper for an in-depth interview about it, and  giving an hour long academic talk about zines (thankfully, even paid!).  All the while trying to do, you know, my regular duties in the library, so things felt a little sideways as the week wore on.  Yet still, this morning, I was awake early with coffee and a delicious raspberry danish, making plans for the coming week and settling into a day of chapbook making on new titles. It was so chilly, I had to close all the open windows–a first this season–so it does seem we have moved fully into autumn. It’s two weeks til Halloween. Three weeks until that weird first week of November anniversary that plagues me even four years later. My dreams get weirder as we move through fall, sometimes involving my mother, sometimes not.  Last night, I dreamed I was harboring a small horse as a pet in my apartment.  Shit gets strange.

Sometimes,  I feel like the day to day vacillates between dead ends and possibility. Ways in and ways out.  I don’t have a plan any more than I have a possible trajectory over the next few months. A way of traveling I hope will lead to better things. It’s scary to be working without a safety net, and yet, if you rely too much on the safety net, you never learn to balance.  I’ve been on a break from poems, a little bit to work on the fiction I’ve been dallying with, also just because my head is full of so much, there is less room for words.  I am also hovering between larger projects, so there is a moment of pause as I choose where to go next.  I feel like I am missing the motivation I used to have for certain things but gaining in others. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/16/2021

[Dobby] Gibson shows how our routines distract us from pending disaster, how — instead of compelling us toward action — our daily routines compel us to repeat our daily routines. The poem even mimics this uninterrupted cycle: We’re with the speaker as he consumes reminders of the crisis then goes about his day as planned. We claim to be awake to the danger (the poem opens, “Once awake”), but then we go about our business. We get on with the sameness. Its repetition is a sedative: “When I asked you what day it was, / you said the day after yesterday.” Our inability to stop mutes our response to climate crisis. Awareness is a dull weapon. Our habits are stronger than our fears, more reliable than our desire.

I think immediately of Rachel Zucker’s book the pedestrians and jump up to grab it off the shelf. I’ve written before about the power of that book, which evokes the experience of how painful it can be when things (relationships, life, etc.) become humdrum, how lack of feeling, or maybe appropriate feeling, can be extremely painful. Inattention is gut-wrenching. Indifference is unendurable. For example, Zucker writes, “Many days passed. Many nights. The same number of days and nights. They slept in the smoke-drenched bed or rather the husband snored and sputtered and she lay awake and unseeing under her chilled eye mask.” In its willfulness, the word unseeing gets me every time. And this, as well: “They were sitting on the deck having that same difficult conversation they had every few months no matter where they were or what else was happening.” Zucker captures the harm in doing what we’ve always done just because it’s what we’ve always done. Do we know how to make space for change?

Gibson’s poem evokes in me that same question, along with some others: Do we deserve to hope? Do we care, really? What does it say that we see what comes next and then let it happen anyway? The poem strongly implicates all of us. Take a look at the vase near the end of the poem: “No matter where we move the glass vase, / it leaves a ring.” We’re marked by evidence of our coveting, but instead of interrogating it, we’re distracted by what’s inconsequential: the ring vs. the container or what the container holds. The language Gibson uses throughout the poem builds up to this moment of profound distraction. He makes the objects in the poem far sexier than “survival.” He describes his smartphone as a “terrible orb” and animates the barbershop’s combs, which are “swimming in little blue aquariums.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about climate crisis

‘Awful but cheerful’ is the final phrase and line of ‘The Bight‘, by Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve always felt that the poem was like the lesser-played song on a double A-side single. ‘At the Fishhouses‘, its sister-poem of coastal life, seems so much more elemental, necessary, and, well, likeable. […]

And yet, in these strange and troubling times, it is to ‘The Bight’ that I find myself turning more often, and to its ending in particular, with its dying fall cadences, its note of things going on because they have to and in spite of. Isn’t this where a lot of our lives are lived, in ‘awful but cheerful’? From queuing at the supermarket (or for petrol) to waiting for chemotherapy drugs which may or may not arrive; from hoping for a climate miracle or just for a good night’s sleep: awful but cheerful is where I am at right now. I sit with it and watch the tide going out, knowing it will be back again soon. As Peter Carpenter once said about a goal being scored, the music of the line feels both inevitable and a complete surprise. This is why I read poetry.

Anthony Wilson, Awful but cheerful

I call myself agnostic mainly, atheist occasionally, but I pray sometimes. I don’t discuss it much: saying you talk to the underworld is likely to concern religious friends on behalf of your soul and skeptical friends on behalf of your brain. But while praying the way I was taught in Sunday school felt terrible–addressing formal words to a pale and distant father in the sky who never answered–connecting imaginatively to soil and rock settles me. I even get good advice sometimes. Yep, what’s returning my calls may be a deeper part of myself rather than an outside force, yet I have an inkling that the inside-outside distinction is wrong-headed anyway, so I don’t worry about it. I’ll take whatever help the universe is offering.

Lesley Wheeler, Currents and circuits

Reasons to weep
are as numerous as the stars.

Every bodyworker knows
the muscle that cries out

is the victim: something else
has tightened into immobility.

But when it’s the heart
that cries out —

how can I delaminate
years of fused-together sorrows?

Rachel Barenblat, Tight

All the small hells beneath our tongue crumble. To no one in particular, we say how we are grateful for this shining breath and our next one.

Night whispers back how we are not alone. The skin of its voice soft to the touch as it tells us it will not leave us.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Coyote Night

I’ve also long had an interest in the poetry of work, and so when I saw that Krista Tippett shared an interview from 2010 with Mike Rose, it got me thinking again in old ways (by which I mean independent of the pandemic). Sure ordinary life is different, but it’s still ordinary life, we still work, and we need to look for the joy in that. From On Being: “I grew up a witness,” Mike Rose wrote, “to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This then is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work.”

Isn’t it uplifting when you run into someone who does the thing they do with an enthusiasm, a precision, a care? And when they do it with delight, it IS a delight. Wow!

There is a book of conversations I love between Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber where MCG talks about the vulnerability one needs to write, and “the fact that it takes a lot of love to write.” And I think, it’s like that with everything, really, whatever work you do. HC says, “In the end, love is very easy. When you love, it’s easy; all that is difficult is easy. Because you are continually paying yourself…” I’m sure some people wonder why the heck I do this blog for little fanfare or acclaim or cash damn dollars. I always come back to this answer, that I love it and so I am constantly paying myself. Don’t get me wrong I also love dollars, but I can’t think about them, I just have to think about what I love. I rather foolishly and brilliantly put most of my faith in doing what I love. I am continually paying myself.

Shawna Lemay, Life I love You

When the book gets accepted, everything is awesome.

THEN, you start editing it and realize the book is awful, actually awful. There are so many mistakes and also so much just pure awfulness.

THEN you have to ask for blurbs.
Oh Lord Have Mercy.

There are some really wonderful people who say Yes!, but there are some that say No (for various good reasons, but still. NO.).

THEN when the book comes out, some people read it and review it (Oh again Lord have Mercy!) and some offer Critique and not just nice-things (the nice things though are really, really nice to hear).

OR no one really reads it, and that is probably even worse.

All that to say, it is still totally worth pursuing publication. I’m not one of the three poets that America is interested in (Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Whoever Is Big on Instagram), so I don’t expect to reach more than a Poetry audience.

And I write religious poetry. From the perspective of a woman. So that just slashed readership in halves and halves.

(and I don’t really like it when people who know me read my books. If you know me, and you haven’t read my books–GOOD. Let’s keep it that way. I’ll maybe write more on this some other post.)

But sometimes I have people who read my book and really like it, and that is really nice.

Kinda makes it all worth it nice.

Renee Emerson, if you think publishing a book will make you feel super validated and great, then you are in for a surprise!

It’s good to crawl out from under the thin and watery blues with some good news. Hotel Almighty has been chosen as having one of the best-designed covers of 2020 by AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Artists! This is really a thrill. Back when I used to sojourn over to the Frankfurt Book Fair to do book-cover slide shows for one of my company’s publications, I used to pore over this very list swooning over good design.

The cover of Hotel Almighty was designed by Danika Isdahl and Kristen Miller at Sarabande, who suggested the cut-out method I use with various collages in the book. I made the cover collage in a dank basement in the Austrian Alps two summers ago. I mocked up three ideas and they liked this one. And I did too. I couldn’t be happier. It’s a good cover and a good ambassador for the book.

Sarah J Sloat, A Design Winner

It [is] very moving to receive a Jewish award for a novel about the Holocaust, particularly one that draws deeply on the story and experiences of my family and their history in Lithuania.

Literature can offer connection, empathy, understanding and consolation between those of vastly different experiences. It explains ourselves to ourselves but also to others. 

And my book makes connections between the Shoah and Indigenous genocide. Once, the remarkable Metis writer, Cherie Dimaline said to me that “we’re genocide buddies.” Jews and Indigenous peoples. That’s brutally true. And important.

Since I first encountered them as a teenager, I often think of these lines from Marvin Bell’s poem “Gemwood.” “Now it seems to me the heart /must enlarge to hold the losses /we have ahead of us.”

 To me this means that while we must be ready for what the future brings, we must be also be ready for the extent of the losses of the past and present as we continue to learn. Like the universe itself, both past and present never stop expanding. That’s one function of writing. To expand but also to encounter that expansion, those stories.

Gary Barwin, Canadian Jewish Literary Award and new paperback cover for NOTHING THE SAME, EVERYTHING HAUNTED

Although I’m on a year’s leave of absence from the University of York, I’m actually still plugged in to Dante and also Chaucer these days, and find myself referring to notes I was making on my core course module last year. I’m loving Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Purgatorio, incorporating characters and language from the present day, although I suspect it might be sniffed at in some scholarly circles!

As regards submissions to magazines, I’ve decided to step away from them for bit. I have half a dozen poems out at the moment, but I’m not sending any more for now. I have a few reasons for this.

Firstly, I don’t need to, in the sense that I have a track record of publication now, and I’ve nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. I think I’ve found my level. It would have been nice to be have published in The Poetry Review or Granta, but it’s OK to accept that it’s not going to happen. I could kill myself trying to write the ‘right’ sort of stuff, or I could write what I want to write, and enjoy honing it as best I can.

Secondly (related to the first point), I have a publisher for my first collection. I don’t have the collection yet, but I have the freedom to complete it, knowing it will have a home. This is a very privileged position to be in and I want to enjoy the moment, not fret about why Publication A, B or C don’t want any of the individual poems. Plenty of high profile poets have told about how the individual poems in their (successful) collections were consistently rejected by magazines. Or even that they never submitted them to magazines.

I can’t swear that I won’t submit the odd poem here and there, but I’ll be very happy not to be constantly putting my work up for possible rejection. I think the course at York has opened my eyes/mind to a lot of things. Perhaps a leave of absence makes the heart grow fonder – I’m starting to look forward to going back, which is quite a turnaround.

Robin Houghton, Readings, decisions, fresh starts

Now, in the wake of Covid, doing something only because it’s the way we used to do it feels like a thing of the past. We are reminded frequently of all that our students have been through and of what they are still enduring, and many things seem up for reconsideration.

Now, I strive to ground all of my practices in authentic purpose and true care. When I could see that some students were submitting assignments in the middle of the night, I told them that I never want to see that they’ve turned an assignment in after 11:00 pm. I’d rather they sleep and turn it in late. It doesn’t mean I don’t have due dates. I do. Every time, many students meet them, and some don’t. When they don’t, though, our conversations are not about the points they’ll lose. They are instead about what barriers are keeping them from getting their work done and what strategies we might use to remove them. No one seems to care that someone who turned the assignment in late gets the same full credit as someone who turned it in on time. Maybe it’s because we’ve talked about how grades should reflect what we know and can do with regard to our learning standards (rather than our behaviors), or maybe it’s because they like knowing that, should they need it, they will be given some grace when they can’t meet a deadline. (Because things happen to all of us, eventually.)

To be honest, I don’t know why they’re responding differently. I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter.

It is so freeing to teach this way, to be this way. It feels so much more humane. There are some natural consequences when deadlines are missed (say, when progress report grades are due), but I am driven much less by plans and deadlines that I’ve created and much more by what all of us need. The grace I extend comes back to me; when I explained to my students that some assignments wouldn’t be reflected in the progress report grades because I hadn’t had time to grade them yet, no one grumbled. It’s just how we are now, it seems. We trust that the soup will get made eventually, and some nights we eat take-out pizza because that’s all we can manage if we want to be OK. We’ll all live.

As I rest from this week and begin turning toward the next one, I’m wondering what more I can let go of, in order to free my hands for other things to hold on to. This week, the more I let go of ideas about some days being for work and others for the things I want to do, the more work became a fulfilling thing I wanted to do, and the more peace I felt about whatever I could and couldn’t accomplish in any given day, either in my school life or my home life.

All of this pondering about plans sent me back to the Burns poem alluded to in the title of this post, and re-reading it I focused on things I never have before, such as its line about Man’s dominion breaking social union. I realized how much our pandemic has been like his farmer’s plow, and how much I’m coming to think, like the farmer, that in spite of the sudden and unwanted destruction we’ve lived through (those of us who are still alive), it might be better to be the mouse than him, who looks back at prospects drear and forward to fears. Even though I know it could be upturned at any moment, I’m much preferring the honest nest I’m building now than the one that gave me false security before.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Best laid plans

Four Loblolly Pines—also called Sea Pines, Frankincense Pines, Southern Pines—send their straight trunks through the North Carolina humidity. In a tangle of pine boughs, two hawks have built a nest you might mistake—as I have—for a squirrel’s. Under these pines, under the weep-like hawk cries circling their nest, is my house. In a back room on the first floor, the door closed against the sounds of my children’s play, is my desk. I think of the pines above me as I write, needles brushing the house, pinecones falling with a thunk against the roof. When the wind blows, you can hear the needles blow with it. I welcome the pines’ presence, even when I imagine one falling in a storm’s high winds, as one did through my neighbor Waverly’s kitchen, a few years back. If a pine wants in, it comes in—that pine made a skylight out of Waverly’s kitchen ceiling. Waverly says it took months to fix properly, and several contractors. The tree removal service for a single a large pine like a Loblolly can run you upwards and above a thousand dollars—one lesson here is that it costs to lower something, to haul something pine-sized away, to mulch the evidence of branches.

That the pines do not fall on our house I consider a daily mercy, and the hawks nesting in the pines a grace—especially since I own no chickens, unlike my mother and her grandparents, the majority of our Southern family tree filled with squawking fowl.

Han VanderHart, Learn from the Pine

He had finally stopped sweating. For once
Nixon didn’t look like he was trying to sell
us a ’65 Ford Galaxy with an off-color
hood. His body jerked and flipped as
wolves, in winter, tore long, dry strips of
flesh from Nixon’s carcass, chewing on
sinew under the moonless sky. Nixon’s
internal organs were already gone and
his bones hung like sugar skeletons inside
his skin. When the grizzly meal was finished
the wolves trotted off, their almost silent
footsteps fading into the trees.

James Lee Jobe, Nixon’s Body, Dug Up By Wolves

In New Jersey, 2021 was the Summer of Love — for the 17-year cicada. ;- )

My wife Nancy Fischer Waters and I collaborated on a prose / poem piece that captures a moment from that crazy-short time when the air was abuzz with cicadas. Talk about speed dating! […]

nothing to lose!
the way we danced
when we were 17

Bill Waters, Seventeen

The latest project translated by Montreal poet, editor, translator and critic Erín Moure is Uxío Novoneyra’s The Uplands: Book of the Courel and other poems, a bilingual edition with Moure’s English translation alongside Novoneyra’s original Galician “with an Erín Moure poem from Little Theatres, a dictionary, an essay, an introduction, and dreams” (El Paso TX: Veliz Books, 2020). As the back cover offers on the work and life of the late Galician poet Uxí oNovoneyra (1930-1999): “He was an eco-poet before the concept existed. Maybe he even invented it. He wrote and rewrote one great book all his life, Os Eidos[The Uplands], from which most of these poems are drawn.” […]

It has been interested to watch Erín Moure’s ongoing explorations through translation over the past two decades-plus, and it would appear that for Moure, translation isn’t purely a singular project or trajectory, but an extension and continuation of conversations that run throughout her work as a whole. One could point to the use of multiple languages and stitched-in materials throughout her own poetry collection to her early book-length translations of poetry from French into English (Nicole Brossard, for example), before eventually extending further, to engage with Portuguese and  Spanish, and Galician texts, beginning with the work of poet Chus Pato. Moure has long been attentive to both translation and what she calls transelation, attending to shifts not simply between and amid language but the possibilities themselves, of which there are so often more than a simple, single one. Her overlay across and into the work of Pessoa, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2001), was a particular high point in her evolution as and through translation, and the ways through which she seems to approach the work of Uxío Novoneyra furthers the possibilities of what might be possible. Her notion of translation appears to be one of polyphonic conversation, writing out not but a singular definitive thread or perspective. It is her openness that allow for multiple elements in the original text, interacting with her own approaches and considerations, their equal weight.

rob mclennan, Uxío Novoneyra, The Uplands: Book of the Courel and other poems, trans. Erín Moure

[Rob Taylor]: You’ve translated the poetry of Wacław Iwaniuk and Andrzej Busza, Polish poets who, like yourself, immigrated to Canada soon after the war. Could you talk a little about how translation and, more broadly, Polish poetry and the Polish language, have influenced your own writing style?

[Lillian Boraks-Nemetz]: Translation influenced my English writing hugely. J. Michael Yates, an American poet teaching a creative writing course at UBC, noticed that I had a knack for translation and encouraged me. I was also encouraged by a British Poet at UBC , Michael Bullock, also known worldwide for his German translations.

I come from a broken language. I wrote in Polish as a little girl, then I was told when we came here that my past did not exist, only my English future. When I saw a Polish poem translated into English, I saw the possibility of my own writing. Here no one understood my harsh imagery, nor anything else I wrote about, and my work was rejected. A Polish scholar and a German poet told me once that when two animals fight with each other a third emerges. That was my version of English poetry.

Rob Taylor, A Third Animal Emerges: An Interview with Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

As I said, I’ve chosen to concentrate on poems that place themselves where the sky is enormous and isolating and where the landscape inevitably ends in a shadow line like the numinous dividing ‘lines’ in Rothko’s great canvasses. The collection is in six sections, or chapters, and each one contains a tidal river, or a sea shore, or saltings or estuaries reedbed and marsh and the dangerous unstable effulgent light off such places. As though you find yourself in a Turner that’s suddenly become live and cold and dangerous. This first poem is the opening poem of the first section, and and contains whole millennia of refugees. […]

I found it next to impossible to clear my mind of the appalling image of the fleeing being dragged down by all that had gone before, drowned by the clawing hands of history. Who can tell if they escaped in that wild boat, or who may plunge down with the cormorants ‘folding themselves like paper‘ into the detritus of the jettisoned and abandoned and wrecked.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Ruth Valentine’s “If you want thunder”

There you are in the garden, amazed
at how the time moved so quickly, a stone
that finally learned to lightly graze

each watery crest
instead of sinking with the weight
of its own resistance—

The crepe myrtle trees shed
their tattered tissue but you don’t know
if they’re entering or leaving their grief.

You yourself pull at threads: weft
and weave, your soul still anxious
about stitches and holes—

A thimbleful of seed,
a mouthful of feathers, a box
filled with all the words you remember—

Luisa A. Igloria, Weaving

Even when you cross it out
that doesn’t mean it’s gone,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (36)

Stop doing something, then start again to incur wonder. I.e., travel! You give your suitcase to strangers and pick it up on a Mediterranean island? You fly in the belly of a mechanical bird? Suddenly you’re above the clouds where the sun streaks pink, you look out the window again and you’re in darkness. You fly over a sepia city, small beads sewn into a warm fabric, a ground. There is a sinuous line dividing dark ocean from coast, dark wash of the Atlantic to urbanscape. This is night, do they never turn off the lights? It could be any city, but this is Lisbon, the first stop out of three. It’s 5am. Men shine in their fluorescent green vests, joking as they unload bags from the belly of the bird.Up and away to Rome, descending towards Rome. How stunned the ships, becalmed toys in the Mediterranean. What is that jagged shark…if not our plane’s trailing shadow. Flying over land, that cluster of reddish structures has the brush of the antique. Get closer, there’s a Roman amphitheater in the middle of weeds and industrial blocks. Made it to stop three. Welcome to Palermo, Sicily!

Jill Pearlman, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…Travel Again

shiny rock
many silent feet
before me

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Weeks 37-38

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. I’ve spent all afternoon and evening catching up on two weeks’ worth of poetry blogs — an embarrassment of riches. I found posts about the changing seasons, poetry and music, diversity and the immigrant experience, and much more.


Last night I dreamt myself into a poetry reading
before an audience of hundreds – outdoors,
sunshine, cheers and applause before
I’d read a single word and a quickening
around my heart that carried both
anxiety and excitement as I leafed through
the books in my hands trying to find
the marked pages, the poems I’d already chosen
but knowing at the same time all that mattered
now would be the choices I’d make in that moment
and the next. And I looked up. I smiled. I spoke.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ All that matters

It’s an effect that’s easiest to see on a wet winter night, with a streetlight shining through a tangle of bare tree twigs: the surfaces that most directly reflect the streetlight to the observer form a circle around it, a halo of streaks. Each streak is itself more or less straight, but they’re arranged in a circle, a sort of crown of thorns. It moves as you do, tracking with the light.

You don’t usually see it with the sun, I think because the sun is just too bright: if you’re looking that directly towards it you’re too dazzled to see anything else.

The week of the fall equinox, though, the rising sun lines up with the east-west streets, and if you happen to be walking east on a tree-lined street at exactly sunrise, and the trees are wet from the recent rains, you can see the sun’s version of it: a brilliant circle of golden fire. A doorway into a world of unbearable light.

You can’t look at it for long, of course, and when you turn away and close your eyes, the negative image turns with you, in bruise purple and dark green. Within seconds, what you saw is replaced by what you wish you had seen; with fragments of Dante, with words for light. The golden apples of the sun. Mithraic altars built by homesick legionaries in godforsaken, rainswept Britain; Byzantine mosaics in candlelight. What did you really see? What door did you fail to open?

Dale Favier, Equinox

This week I gave my students an assignment to read the academic standards to which we will all be held accountable. “What is a ‘grade level band of text complexity’?” they asked, their tongues tripping over familiar stones arranged into an unfamiliar pattern. 

I laid the system of my classroom bare and invited them to choose how they will operate within it. “What does it mean to you, to do well in school?” I asked. They live in a viral world of devious licks and Likes, but also one in which a person might grow their own food. 

Later, after the sky lightens, I let the dog into the backyard and pick pears from our tree. Fruit fallen onto the sun-scorched grass is half-eaten, and I wonder what kind of animal we are feeding. When I wash my lunch dishes at the sink, warm water running over my hands, I think of a woman I once worked with who always washed her dishes with cold. “Hot water is too expensive,” she told me. I was in college, and it had never occurred to me that a person could wash with anything other than warm or that heat could cost too much. I remember her as happy, in love with her children.

What does it mean to live well? I type later, sitting in a chair at a table in front of a window, in the middle of a day in which I could choose to do anything, or nothing.  

The closer I get to the end, the more I find answers in memory, in poetry, in tomatoes.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fall Equinox

Six months have passed in a frozen moment that was something like a swift slap to the side of an television set to stop the vertical roll. But the world is never frozen entirely. Things shift imperceptibly until they are perceptible. You step back and find yourself in the middle of a new program.

I know that is an archaic metaphor. I know that. And I wonder what all these technological changes in the world have done to people like me, who’ve straddled a revolution that seems like magic. That encourages magical thinking?

I think about those years of my slowly-twisting fingers on knobs. These still slowly-twisting fingers that make me self-conscious. Age-conscious, which is nothing more than death-conscious. I think about the last six months, and what has happened along the edges of the bones in my left shoulder. The build-up of minerals within my body. I try to make sense of competing metaphors. My turning to stone, my falling to dust.

Tomorrow I head back to the physiotherapist who will press a bit of metal against my bruised shoulder and send invisible shockwaves through the skin to shatter the build-up of calcium that is biting into my tendon every time I lift my arms into a sun salutation.

Ren Powell, Acknowledging Medusa

Another birthday. This is my first photo post surgery. Good lighting and a strategically placed hand do wonders to hide the scar and effects the cancer surgery has had on my face. I’m feeling stronger, but some days I still feel like absolute hell. 

Over on social media, my dear friends and fellow poets Julie E. Bloemeke and Steven Reigns started a Go Fund Me account to help pay off my astronomical medical bills. While I have good insurance, it never pays everything. Between the fundraiser and private donations, the $15,000 goal has almost been met.  I am – as the Brits say – gobsmacked by the generosity of friends and even folks I don’t even know. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

I’ve started writing again. Five new poems in various stages. After more than six months,  I finally cracked open the file on the new & selected collection. Slowly but surely. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 52

I am sitting deep in a garden after the sun has moved on; surrounded by trees thick with leaves, I feel like I’m in a well of grass. The atmosphere is swimming with filtered light, blue green, yellow green. The trees are budded, bonded, arabesqued, with fir needles and cypress needles, massive oak and holly. I look up from the bottom of their shadow ocean, as ripples of light toy with things, as shadows fall from forms onto grass. They spend their time leaping and teasing, suggesting that if you try to catch them, it will be a dizzying game.

Jill Pearlman, Games of Shadow and Being

all morning
the shadow of a birdcage
moves across the wall

Jim Young [no title]

This is the story about a woman who has so far made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed but who has been changed by now in more ways than she will be able to set down in a simple blog post on the internet. Perhaps you are also this woman. This is a woman who was wont to say before the pandemic, I believe in stories and fundamental goodness and that understanding is worth working for, and that beauty might not be exactly the secret to the universe, but maybe it’s near it or beside it. This is the story of a woman who now regularly says, I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I believe in this or that any more. I want to but I’m not sure.

One of my favourite essays is by Leslie Jamison and it begins, “This is the story of a layover. Who tells the story? I’m telling it to you right now.” I love her writing because it’s big hearted, but it’s dogged and not sentimental and she never lets herself off the hook. I love the way her mind works, and the way she works to get to know her subject, and gets to know herself, and say something larger in doing so. About strangers, she says, “Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything; because he fought and I didn’t, because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life — like everyone else’s — holds more than I could ever possibly see.”

From time to time during the pandemic, I’ve started to write a document that I always call, “Impact Statement.” And then I end up deleting it, because a lot of the things that have impacted me have impacted others with much more force. I delete it because it’s full of things that are confidential or because the story of my impact would reflect badly on someone else. I delete my impact statement because who really cares? I delete my impact statement because some of it is embarrassing. I delete it because at first I weathered the storm quite well, and then I did not for a while, but I pretended quite convincingly to some people (though not all) that everything was fine. I delete the Impact Statement because I really want to put it behind me. I deleted my Impact Statement Document because at the end of it I’m always alive and in reasonably good health, and right now that seems to be a huge blessing. I delete my ISD every time because I don’t want any of those people who participate in the fuckery of the world to think that they’ve got anything over me.

Shawna Lemay, This is the Story

I’m planning to recharge my batteries. That’s the priority. Chemo knocked me for six; I wasn’t prepared for that. But I’ve started going for walks again. The first one was a shock to the system inasmuch as I only managed a mile of easy walking; but in the last couple of weeks, egged on by my partner, it’s getting to be 4 or 5 Km, and the target is to be doing it every day until it’s no longer painful.

And this brings me to stocking fillers. I’ve been posting on Facebook about being introduced to the remarkable variety of field paths that start pretty well at my front door, and which I was almost totally unaware of until a couple of weeks ago.

There’s one that starts when the road I live on becomes a bridle path, and then a field path that eventually links to a path that leads you over the River Calder, under a railway line, and finally to the canal, beside which you can (if you want) walk for miles and miles. I’m no fan of towpath walks, mainly because no matter how far you walk you still seem to be in the same place. But I knew the path…and thought that it was the only one. It’s a popular path, part of the Kirklees Footpaths system, and for 30+ years I’ve been aware of groups of walkers passing our front window. To my shame I wrote a stocking-filler  about what I thought was their being kitted out as if for hard walking in the Cairngorms, as opposed to having just come a quarter of a mile from the town centre. I poked fun at their Goretex, the OS maps slung in pastic wallets dangling round their necks, their Brasher boots, their air of being on a risky expedition.

Today I went for a walk in the sun, and I had boots on. And I had two walking poles. I beg absolution.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [8] On prohibitions

I’ve just been editing an interview I did with the wonderful Kim Addonizio recently, for Planet Poetry. I’m a huge fan of Kim’s and in my keenness not to sound like a goofy fangirl I’m slightly worried I wasn’t complimentary enough or warm enough. Which is probably silly. But there was something very reassuring about hearing her say (when asked what are you working on now) ‘I’m just trying to write the next poem’.

The other day I queried a magazine about a submission I made in March, only to be told the poems had been rejected months ago but for some reason I never got the memo – they were extremely apologetic, which makes it worse in that I couldn’t feel annoyed with them! So that led me back to my submissions record, and the realisation that I’ve had 31 poems rejected by magazines this year so far and only two accepted. In my defence, I’m not sending as many poems out as I used to, because I’m writing more of what I think of as ‘collection’ poems, which don’t necessarily stand alone. I know that placing poems gets harder all the time as the sheer number of poets submitting to mags keeps increasing (and hey! I’ve done my bit to help that! I must be mad!) but I also know that good (enough) quality will out. It’s just hitting that good enough sweet spot is all. And all a poet can do is just try to write the next damn poem.

Anyway, all this takes me back to poets like Kim – both her poetry and her wise words on the craft. Her Ordinary Genius is never far from my desk. When I find snippets that really speak to me I collect them and stick them on the wall: ‘the language we reach for first is the language we know’ (not a good thing, in case that wasn’t clear!)…’if a poem goes nowhere it’s dead’ …. ‘write colder’… And then there are her witty, eye-opening, multi-layered, highly original poems with all their many, many ‘I wish I’d written that’ moments.

Do subscribe to Planet Poetry if you’re interested in hearing the interview (and interviews with tons of other great poets). Look for it wherever you get your podcasts.

Robin Houghton, Trying to write the next poem

Besides the changing temperatures and sudden deluge of rain, there’s change in the air metaphorically as well as physically. I am losing a lot of my mainstay doctors (another one quit – so much burnout in the industry, which I understand) and so I’m rethinking how I manage my health.  I’m also considering applying for more things – not just grants, but jobs and residencies that I might have thought before were too hard for me – energy and health-wise. Have I been setting myself too many boundaries, I wonder? Shutting down my own horizons? During the pandemic, I’ve had repeated dreams about traveling to Paris. I don’t know exactly what this symbolizes but I think I should pay attention since it keeps coming up. Paris could represent art, literature, a life of the mind, maybe?

Rita Dove just announced she was diagnosed in the late nineties with multiple sclerosis, which made me feel more hopeful about my own future – after all, she was the United States Poet Laureate and still does public readings. I just got ahold of her Playlist for the Apocalypse and am looking forward to reading it. Rita Dove has been one of my favorite poets since I first read “Parsley” in a Norton anthology when I was 19. She is an inspiration.

I’m also reading a fascinating book about women in an experimental program for middle-aged “gifted” women in the sixties called The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty. The book focuses on how friendship, camaraderie and institutional support made a huge difference in the lives of five midlife women: Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Marianna Pineda, and Tillie Olsen – in the 1960s. (They called themselves “The Equivalents” because the program required a PhD or “equivalent” artistic achievement.)

What do women need to succeed as artists now? Well, things haven’t changed all that much – we still struggle to get institutional support, to get paid and respected, to get our work reviewed and in the public eye – and to make friends with women who can inspire, support, and push us forward. I know a lot of men my age with fewer books/accomplishments than me who walked into tenure-track jobs without much effort. A lot of the people doing the hiring, the grant-giving, and the publishing are still men. How can we midlife women put change in the air in the literary and art worlds? Definitely something to think about.

Anyway, change isn’t always a bad thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fall Arrives Early: A Failed Surgery, Visiting with my Nephew, and Applying for a Big Grant

if you were a star
you’d resent it too. that bright
existence at a distance from loss.
so much freedom and nothing
to wish for. how you’d welcome
a comet as a sign of imminent death.
an asteroid the size of a bus as the child
you’ll never have. how you’d open
the pit of your stomach to swallow
the waste of the universe. how
you’d liquify it into light.

Romana Iorga, astronomy 101

I was an avid letter-writer once, a great correspondent, a reliable pen pal. In return, I received long, descriptive letters from far-flung friends and relished every trip to my mailbox to discover what had arrived that day. A letter from a friend? A poem rejection? A poem acceptance? A postcard from a family member off traveling? Critique and feedback from a poetry-colleague on a series of poems? Junk mail, bills…

These days, my mailbox mostly disgorges junk mail and bills. The few friends who write lengthy correspondence usually do so by email (which I do, truly do, appreciate). My keen interest in other people’s thinking, and my opportunity to acquire perspective into their lives, must now be satisfied by other means. That’s why I follow blogs and other “long-form social media.” (I thought I had coined that term, but apparently it has been in the lexicon awhile.)

Is a letter just a blog written for an audience of one? Is a blog a diary written for an imagined public, or is it a letter to the world? What purpose do private journals serve for those of us who keep them? And what’s behind the urge to keep old correspondence? The discovery of a cache of letters features in many novels and in a host of memoirs and histories, so there’s some kind of human-interest frisson resonating there. Perhaps the simple fact that such writings were intended to be private–that audience of one–piques curiosity.

For me the hardest aspect of letting go of past correspondence is that so many of the people to whom I wrote letters have died. In my attic, there are boxes of letters from these departed friends…suggesting a different meaning for the phrase “dead letter.” In a similar vein, there certainly exist blogs by now-dead writers that remain in the cloud, hanging stuck in the interwebs. Are these memorial pages, or are they digital ghosts, and to whom do they belong?

Ann E. Michael, Why don’t you write?

If you called would I go back? Of course. But that call is never coming, no matter how many state lines I cross. “I think I’m getting over it,” I told my sister. As if it ever goes away. We add each tragedy to our nervous system like an organ transplant. The body never rejects these phantoms. It’s only too happy to pump blood into the past. There’s a trail of red in my rearview mirror.

Jason Crane, phantoms

Are we there yet, asks the speaking donkey.
Evidently not, if animation extends only to a 3D screen.
Meaning after the statues have come down
there are still dark, haunted histories.
Meaning we are in the throat of a moment
that hasn’t completely spat us out yet.
We’re working as hard as we can.
We can be as rust-colored fishbones,
as calcium stones, a mouthful of marbles
refusing to translate their brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Post-

Excited to say that our book is now available at Stinkweeds Record Store if you’re ever in Downtown Phoenix. This is especially cool because back in high school, I used to drive out to Kimber Lanning’s original shops in Mesa and Tempe to buy import bootleg CDs. I’ve also seen in-store performances by folks like Jello Biafra and Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion over the years.

Since Jia’s photos and my poems were heavily influenced by some of our beloved Phoenix bands, we’re proud to have this book available in that same iconic record store for less than it would cost from Amaz*n (in keeping with Kimber’s local indie-first ethos localfirstaz.com).

Shawnte Orion, Stinkweeds Record Store and the Academy Of American Poets

In an average week, I guess I read two poetry collections (and/or journals), but I rarely get so engaged with any of them that I read them straight through again immediately after. That happened to me last week, though, when I read Country Music by Will Burns, published by Offord Road Books. It wasn’t that (m)any of the poems were so individually brilliant that they jumped out at me; rather it was their cumulative power, how they are beautifully crafted to cohere with one another and form a whole. At their best, they have that quality which Michael Donaghy’s poems had, of seeming both impeccably honed and effortlessly natural. Like Donaghy, Burns is a bit of a muso (the Chilton of the Chilterns perhaps?) as attested by the title of his collection, his collaborations with Hannah Peel, and his appearances on the eclectic bills of Caught By the River shows. His poems make reference to the late great Townes Van Zandt, Chet Baker, Warren Zevon, Merle Haggard (twice) and Elvis. I especially enjoyed a trio of sonnets – ‘Bastard Service’, ‘True Service’ and ‘Wild Service’ – which convey an unexpectedly edgy edgelands feel to (presumably) Buckinghamshire. Above all, there’s just a simpatico, warmly melancholic tone about his poems which makes me enjoy them so much.

Matthew Paul, Autumn almanac

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

Poetry got into my mouth. The simple physical pulsations and clicks of it. My mother says that as a small child whilst on the back seat of the car I’d natter to myself and chunner along. Just the feel of vowels flowing through the rub of consonants. I do love a good story, and I love film … and I do actually make fiction. But it’s the scraping of one word against another, or indeed the cracking open or snapping of words, without knowing how many sparks or what colours they will be or where or how far they will fly … that is what really makes me want to make. It is the picking up of sound and … handling it! But it is also the translations, and transformations of sound into marks & patterns ona page … and the materiality of the alphabet and how it can be manipulated withinthe frame of a page, or through the space (place) of a page … or of course, across a carefully placed series of pages … […]

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I am a maker who speaks, as well as writes, in various ways. Making the sound of poetry is essential for me. And so is intercreativity – seeing others listening and then feeling them pick up those sounds and also make with them as I speak is … well, one of the most satisfying and thrilling things in my life.

Unfortunately (and indirectly related to Covid-19) my hearing in my right ear is now impaired, in that certain frequencies and levels of sound are unpleasant. It is improving, and I hope it improves enough for me to be able to speak out loud again to an audience, and also perhaps for me to begin again making field-recordings and sound-enhanced poems … something that has been a vital part of my practice.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark Goodwin

Yesterday, I recorded a new autumn poem with my writers group, Helsinki Writers this weekend as part of a Superwood Festival project a local university has organised. It’s one of a series of poems my group is providing as audio for a forest walk. I was nervous about professionally recording. It’s almost ok in my quiet house with no one watching, but reading in front of my friends and a handful of students was a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s a well-paid gig, so I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun to work with the other writers and come up with separate poems on a similar theme that worked with each other. I’m excited to hear the final project. 

Even though it was a bit strange to hear my voice played back to me, they made it sound pretty good, even in the raw form. And the experience wasn’t that scary. My poem was one of the longer ones, but I managed to get through it twice and had one small mistake early on for each of those versions, so it wasn’t too bad. They managed to take one line out of one version that was said with better emphasis and put it in the other take which was better overall. So I’m happy with my end.

It was interesting to write a poem that I knew would primarily exist in audio form, to think about what I could say easily and what could be understood from sound alone rather than the words on the page. I made a lot of changes once I started to practice reading it aloud, words and phrases that became tongue-twisters next to each other, images that would be lost unless given space to breathe. Hopefully, it will work, but it’s hard to know until hear the poems next to each other, cleaned up. 

Gerry Stewart, Take One: Recording Poetry

While walking in the park with my daughter yesterday, she wore a sweet voice-knitted melody on her lips.

It came to her naturally as breathing.

It wasn’t a song I’d ever heard before; she was making it up on the spot.

It poured softly from her being, the sonic manifestation of her at that moment.

As she grows older, I hope she builds an inner song garden that can withstand the darkest moments.

I hope she has anti-gravity running through her veins, so falling doesn’t hurt as much.

My daughter continues singing.

Inside the song, outside the song, she wears her melody perfectly.

Rich Ferguson, At the store of perpetual optimism

Then the silence
then the silence
then the silence
the old monk said,
pounding the beat.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (10)

Within the constraints of the format of a blog, it’s difficult to do justice to the complex simplicity of M.R. Peacocke’s poetry. As a consequence, rather than offering up a condensed review of her excellent new collection, The Long Habit of Living (HappenStancePress, 2021), today’s post attempts an in-depth analysis of an individual poem from the book in question. Peacocke’s work very much lends itself to such close attention, rewarding the peeling-off of her delicately applied layers of potential sense.

The poem in question, titled ‘The Path through the Wood’, feels especially significant because it comes to represent something of an Ars Poetica and, by extension, a vision of life itself. The opening lines of ‘The Path through the Wood’ immediately set out the co-existence of opposites. This is achieved via their juxtaposition:

Through the little gate. A breath in, a breath out
measured the interim between is and is not…

‘In’ and ‘out’, ‘is’ and ‘is not’: both these opposites are interconnected by inhabiting the ends of consecutive lines. And then there’s the use of the word interim instead of interval, which might at first glance seem more natural. Peacocke’s choice underlines the provisional rather than the inevitable, the relative rather than the absolute.

As the narrator of the poem progresses through the wood, so conventional vision has to be put to one side:

…One sense became another: sigh of an odour,
taste of the darkness, fragrance of touch. My eyes found rest…

In other words, the absence of sight means that other senses have to work overtime. The consequence is transcendence via unexpected perspectives and sensations. Is the poet referring to a fresh understanding of the world around us or to a creative process whereby experience and anecdote are turned into poetry? Or to both?

Matthew Stewart, A close reading of M.R. Peacocke’s The Path through the Wood

Rob Taylor: Early in eat salt | gaze at the ocean you wonder “how to write about zombies: / when you’re a generation / removed from the soil”. Your parents immigrated to Canada from Haiti, and you were born in Montreal. Did writing this book bring you closer to your Haitian culture? In writing and publishing this book, what insights have you learned about writing about a home you weren’t born in?

Junie Désil: I can’t say that writing this book brought me closer necessarily. I think the fact is I will always be removed from “home” and “culture.” There are ways of being and knowing that I can attribute to my culture and upbringing, but at the end of the day there is a sense of loss at the interruption, whether it’s my parents immigrating to these territories as a result of the political atmosphere in Haiti, or the larger interruption of the collective “Black” history. Certainly, that not-home/un-home feeling informs my writing and, in particular, this collection. I think it’s something you’ll note in many of the Caribbean diaspora writers.

Haiti is there whether I speak to it or not. I suppose it’s like loss, you don’t get over it, it’s always there, it imparts a gauze on your lens, and you either make peace or not. For myself, I found it organized my thoughts and feelings on the subject. It forced me to confront the things not talked about in my family. As a result of who I am, where I was born, the choices my parents made, the choices I’ve made and continue to make, there will always be unknowns and the unresolved. I suppose then that the insight is just that writing about “home” will always be an unfillable hole.

RT: Let’s move from “home” to the other half of that quote: zombies. “How to write about zombies” speaks not only to your distance from Haiti, but also the trickiness of writing about zombies within a Canadian/American cultural context (earlier in the same poem, you list zombie movies you’ve watched: I Am Legend, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, etc.). Was it daunting to write about Haitian zombies through the fog of American media representations? Do you think the gap between Haitian traditions and pop culture is bridgeable, and if so, was it important for you to try to bridge it?

JD: It certainly was fascinating (appealing to the nerd part of me) and daunting for a number of reasons. The information and the directions I could go with zombies were so vast; I felt inclined to write a dissertation of sorts! I think what was overwhelming was realizing how much heavy lifting the zombie imagery does. For a moment it left me bereft. I know this sounds dramatic, but hear me out. The zombie is a metaphor for the condition of slavery, and here this very metaphor is still “working” across the screen, across various narratives, to be what we need it to be. It’s seeing how this symbol in Haitian culture has become American culture. That even in death/undeath Haitians can’t catch a break. 

Anyway, it was more important to share what zombies mean and that zombies aren’t what we’ve grown up knowing; that zombies have been misrepresented. There was also the thrill of understanding and re-discovering what zombies meant to Haitians, and more so the thrill of discovering that Zora Neal Hurston, a writer whose fiction, essay and anthropological work I long have admired, was also interested in Haitian folk tales, zombies, etc. She really put her whole self into the study of zombies and Haitian spiritual and cultural life.

Rob Taylor, I’m Not Supposed to Be Here: An Interview with Junie Désil

Moving away from such eminently valid individual attestations of the importance of poetry, two particular texts come to me that further articulate the power that poetry can have.  One is Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977), which I return to frequently.  While I realize that I am not Lorde’s primary audience in that essay, with my own position(ality) in mind I am nonetheless always struck when she writes,

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.  It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.
 …
The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am.  The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.  Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.
(38)

Here, not only does Lorde delineate the power of poetry as personal, political, and beyond, she also critiques those very same Enlightenment values that the Western chauvinists invoke in their quest to uphold white supremacy — the notion that “logical” debate is an inherently positive value (i.e. rather than one that historically tends to benefit white, male, privileged property-holders).  Actually, while Lorde skillfully exposes the tyranny of rationality (here expressed in the Cartesian mind/body split of “white father” thinking), she goes on to identify the fusion of thought and feeling as the best framework for approaching both poetry and political action, and her essay is one of the best I can think of that expresses why, as her title argues, poetry is not a luxury but a necessity in the lives of many.  (Even Auden, in his poem, went on to assert that poetry is “a way of happening, a mouth.”)

The other text is Gary Snyder’s The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-79 (1980).  In a 1977 interview, Snyder responds to the Auden line by pointing out that poets “are out at the very edge of the unraveling cause-and-effect network of a society in time” (71).  For Snyder, poets do have a social and political function (and what is “power” if not the function of politics?), though it might be out of the mainstream discourse and thus unrecognized as powerful.  Snyder goes on to elaborate that poets are also

tuned into other voices than simply the social or human voice.  So they are like an early warning system that hears the trees and the air and the clouds and the watersheds beginning to groan and complain a little bit. . . . They also can hear stresses and the fault block slippage creaking in the social batholith and also begin to give out warnings. . . . Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people’s dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change.  A poet would be, in terms of the ecology of symbols, noting the main structural connections and seeing which parts of the symbol system are no longer useful or applicable, though everyone is giving them credence. (71)

For Synder, poets are (or can be) a kind of advance platoon (even a century in advance) of cultural experimenters who critique existing certainties and in their work register the limitations of dominant narratives.  Both Snyder and Lorde see poetry as existing at least partly in the realm of the dream, and thus point to non-Cartesian, non-rational means of making meaning and even making arguments.

In a way, this is the true sense of the term “avant-garde” — to make that new meaning through new forms of art and modes of living (rather than avant-garde in the mere sense of now-recognized stylistic departures) — Lorde’s “dream and vision” and “skeleton architecture.”  What is becoming increasingly clear, wherever you stand in the recent Rose/Barren-related exchanges (and again, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation), is that political systems and social values, no matter how much “everyone [supposedly] is giving them credence” (per Snyder), which privilege a dominant class and thus inherently oppress others (whether classes of people or even non-human animals and nature), should no longer be given such credence — in poetry or elsewhere in the social discourse.

Michael S. Begnal, Poetry Controversy, “Free Speech” Debates, and the Power of Poetry

Obviously, if you go through the effort of doing the mostly unpaid labor of curating a literary project, you can publish whoever you damn want.  This may be why we do it.   Our own collection of poets like rare birds. Like stones in the hand.  And obviously I too have published people I know, mostly because in knowing them–the reason I know them usually–is BECAUSE I am interested in their work. However, do this too much and it seems a little circle-jerkish, no?    I’m not saying the task of the editor is to be impartial, or front that the quality of the work, or THEIR judgement of it, is objective.  I obviously publish things I like.  Things that excite me for some reason (and those reasons vary from project to project.) I make no claims otherwise, no gestures of superiority as a gatekeeper. Publishing is not The Hunger Games (though some people act like it is.)  

But I also think we have, as gatekeepers, and obligation to promote new voices.  More diverse voices–to seek the out. Voices that aren’t getting published everywhere at once. I’ve been thinking of this tonight as I dig further into the summer dgp submissions for next year.  What I am looking for.  What I am particularly excited by.  And while I spotted a half dozen past authors amongst the offerings (who I will always make room for if I like their project–because I like supporting the authors who support me), I was most excited by the people I had never seen work from before. Some of them writing for decades.  Some of them still in undergrad and just beginning to send out work.I want to see these manuscripts, even if they are not for dgp, because I want to know who to look out for next. If something doesn’t appeal to me but is promising, I will ask them to submit again next period. I would never want to be the press that just keeps publishing the same coterie of poets over and over again.   You will  of course, find some familiar faces next year, but I try to publish a much larger ratio of poets I know nothing about. Who have somehow found this little press and think their work might have a home and harbor here. Judging by what I have read and earmarked for second reading, next year will be amazing and contain quite a few surprises and new authors.  I can’t wait to share them.

Kristy Bowen, notes from the submission wilds

I know there are issues with the reviewing world, that the review tend to lean towards white men writing about white men (yes, yes, not all reviews, etc, but the balance is still far from being even close to right, despite the amazing work being done by the likes of the Ledbury Poetry Critics).

However, whoever they are written about or by, if reviews don’t help sell then it’s hard not to think Well, what is the fucking point of them then? I know they are helpful for the writer of the review—well, they are to me. They help me to engage more. I suspect there is a massive difference in impact (whatever that is) between reviews in the national press (as column inches dwindle there). I know there’s an argument that reviewers pull punches these days, every book gets a prize like it’s some sort of primary school sports day….this article by Dorian Lynskey was an interesting read (and I am a big fan of Ted Lasso). I’m guilty myself of writing some puff, but it’s done trying to find something positive in everything….

I wonder who the audience is for reviews these days, in most types of art I suspect it’s largely fans and the like, but I suspect most poetry reviews are read by poets…I have no idea, it would be nice to think it’s non-poets as well, and that they are all likely to buy the books they read reviews of.

I hope so, this came into stark reality this week when a review I wrote of Patrick Cotter‘s Sonic White Poise was published this week in The High Window (I think I mentioned this a few months ago). Obvs go and read the others too, and the excellent poems in this latest release. However, I emailed Patrick to tell him the review was up and he replied to say thank you—which is lovely to hear, but that it’s only the second review the book has had. That’s quite scary and I guess true of so many books. This reminds me of this article I saw linked to this week, where an author talks about his book getting lost in the pandemic..Again, this must be true of so many authors/writers/artists, etc (and not just during the pandemic).

It’s almost enough to make you wonder why we bother, any of us. Thankfully we all know why. I’d love to hear about the books (or anything else) you’ve bought off the back of a review.

Mat Riches, Review, review…electric blue

The words like warm blankets, “human rights” and “discrimination” should have been keys to open border locks and offer safe passage. Instead the locks resist and become gatekeepers. How do you produce evidence when you only have what you could carry? What can you do to guide or speed bureaucratic processes that will creak along at their own speed when you need shelter and food and trying to speak in a rapidly-learnt language that is still unfamiliar?

The legacy of what was left behind, doesn’t stay behind. After stories of her grandmother’s fear of never opening the door, the poem “Knock Knock” includes,

“here I stand,
one side of the locked door,
noticing how my heart
is racing to open the latch
while my head is pounding
leave me alone,”

“Here I stand” roots the speaker by the locked door. Even though she’s not lived her grandmother’s stories, she still shares that experience of the fear of the knock. She’s caught between the need to open and welcome whoever’s outside while knowing that the outsider could bring danger. It’s not a reaction that can be shaken off. […]

“An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” explores the liminal space between inherited culture, language and traditions and life in a new country where those inheritances are woven into the fabric of a new traditions and cultures. Angela Costi’s poems are a quiet celebration of small, but important steps taken, while not shying away from the reasons that prompted this new life. Readers get to see both the intricacy and delicacy of the top stitches as well as the thumb pricks and calloused hands that made them.

Emma Lee, “An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” Angela Costi (Spinifex Press) – book review

My review of My Mother’s Language/La langue de ma mère by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated and introduced by André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry Translation Centre, 2021), is online at MPT magazine.

This is a generous selection of poems (in a neat, pocket-sized French/English edition – perfect to carry with me on a recent train journey) from a poet widely acknowledged to be one of Morocco’s leading writers, published by the Poetry Translation Centre’s World Poet Series.

I wasn’t familiar with the poet’s work so I was glad of a succinct introduction by André Naffis-Sahely, and an afterword by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, to provide contextual background. The poems are from across Laâbi’s fifty-year writing career, so a wonderful introduction. The English translation is directly opposite each page of poetry in French, line by line translation, so this is also an ideal book for anyone interested in poetry translating, or, indeed, in general translating from French to English. My French is reasonably good, having lived there for three years, although I am mostly self-taught with regard to grammar. It was often fascinating to read André Naffis-Sahely’s word choices, and made me appreciate the creative work of poetry translation. There is, of course, no need to have any understanding or familiarity with the French language in order to read and appreciate these poems.

In addition to poems that witness Laâbi’s incarceration and torture as a political prisoner in the 1970s, there is a long extract from Casablanca Spleen, published in the late nineties, a poem of fragments, diary entries, notes and observations made when Laâbi returned, as a visitor from exile in France, to the country of his birth.

Josephine Corcoran, My review of a new selection of poems by Abdellatif Laâbi

Two poems per month.

Like I like to say when I’m running, “That is just as fast as I go.”

Writing lately has been in what I like to think of as my “plodding along” pace.

It feels especially slow compared to the breakneck novel-writing marathon I did this summer, or when I’ve really hit a vein of inspiration (whether that is research I’m excited about, or heart-wrenching grief that makes me want to die).

I’ve also been journaling more, reading more, touching up my manuscript Church Ladies (forthcoming next spring!) and my middle grade novel (WSMMLTRAB for short. Maybe needs some title work…)(also forthcoming!).

The truth is life is really busy right now. I used to worry that I would give up on writing during times like this–that it would just drop off the to-do list and never claw it’s way back on. But I know now that it is too much of a part of me to drop away, even when I’ve thrown it to the ground and tried to shatter it.

So, two poems a month.

Better than none.

Renee Emerson, slow & steady

I’ve been thinking about external validation, that siren, that false friend, that bastard. I was in one of my usual and cyclical can’t-get-a-g’d-thing-published-why-do-I-suck writhings. I knew it and was just sort of standing around waiting for myself to be done with it. In the meantime, I finished a project I had developed with both myself in mind, but also some others, including and especially one audience member, for whom I created one specific aspect, thinking that person would love it. The response was tepid. That on top of my see-above-phase devastated me. Which gave me pause.

I refuse to be ashamed at seeking external validation, which popular psychology has given a bad name. As with all things: moderation. One of the things insidious about external validation and what has given it a bad name is that essentially it cedes control to someone other than yourself with regard to your perceived worth or the worth of your work. Whatever worth means. So the trick is to not allow anyone’s opinion to exert that much control over you. To seek external as the central strategy of life is a losing game. To seek it as part of the ongoing, layered, multifaceted, mutli-faced, multi-pie-in-the-faced, many-armed slapstick that is life, well, who can’t?

We all need a “good on yer” to come our way, early and often. And as much as I have a horror of feeling disappointed, have made elaborate mental games to avoid feeding the hopes that disappointment can smithereenize, I think maybe I’m old enough now to learn how to feel disappointment, give it too a little nod of validation, and move through.

Marilyn McCabe, Want you to want me; or, On Validation and Creative Work

This week I have done almost zero writing. Instead, I have been focussing on getting ready to run the courses I have planned for October – two with the York Centre for Lifelong Learning and one under my own ‘brand’. One of my York classes is accredited, and it will be the first time, except as a day retreat tutor, that I have taught an accredited course. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also very excited.

I did all of my degrees part time, two of them distance learning. I was a mature student when I studied for, and obtained, my degrees. I worked full time around my degrees. I come from a working class background and this isn’t an unusual thing. I found my way into poetry and literature through the fantastic Open University and I did my Masters distance learning at Manchester Met. I think it is important that high quality learning opportunities are available for people who work full time and/or are coming to literature, poetry in this case, later on in life. Part time learning shouldn’t be any less quality than full time education and I try to keep that in mind when I am putting course content together. It sometimes means working more hours for less money, because freelancers in teaching tend to be paid fairly crap wages. And that’s possibly why the literary arts and teaching are not areas with strong working class representation, but that’s a soap box for another day. Teaching and workshop facilitating take a lot of time and preparation, so this was a week I was happy to give over to that work, in the hope that when I start teaching again next week I’ll be prepared enough that I can carry on writing on a morning and working in the afternoons. Ha! Famous last words.

Wendy Pratt, A Teaching Prep Week

My first full week of teaching was exhausting, full of positive feelings about my students but inflected by pandemic fears, too. Cases are rising fast here. We’re in person, masked, but students are having tons of unmasked encounters–let’s call them encounters–in residence and dining halls and, I presume, at parties. Prepping for and teaching 6 90-minute classes is as hard as I remembered, even before the grading starts; things are high-powered here, with smart students chewing through material fast, something that’s both lucky and sometimes a major challenge to keep up with. And there are all the extras like advising, reference letters, department meetings and consultations, university-wide meetings and events, etc etc. I’m beat.

Yet I’m having fun, too. I’m prepping Sedgwick’s essay for a senior seminar called “Taking Literature Personally”; during that session we’ll try some paranoid and reparative reading of Frank O’Hara’s poetry (no spoilers, but my lesson plan involves crayons). For yesterday’s class, we read the poem “Philomela” and the essay “Nightingale” by Paisley Rekdal as well as the Ovid tale for background, which is infinitely darker material though just as powerful. Whatever the literature at hand, the flow experiences of rereading then planning discussions feels really good. I wish I had more time to linger in it, but I’m being strict with myself about stopping work when I’m tired. I’m an introvert who HAS to recharge and a grown-up person who HAS to rest and sleep. I’m doing okay at it for now.

Lesley Wheeler, Rereading Sedgwick, or, Oh Yeah, I Like Teaching

Friday night, my step-mom-in-law asked, “What do y’all do for fun on a Saturday?”

I tried to remember.  It’s been awhile since we felt like we had an empty Saturday that we could fill with fun.  We’ve been in the process of life changes, as we’ve been in a downsizing project, downsizing our housing expenses if not our space.  We’ve spent the summer season sorting and packing and moving to a condo we’ll be renting for the next 2 years.  We then pivoted to getting the house ready to go on the market, which it now is.  And now, we’ve been pivoting to the paperwork phase of the project.

But I have hopes that we’ll be in a position to have fun soon.  Will I remember what that looks like?  What is more likely is that about the time the house sale closes, my spouse’s additional classes will start, and we won’t have huge expanses of time to have fun.  

I am recognizing a pattern.  I am also remembering what many a creativity consultant has advised:  don’t wait until you have huge swathes of free time before you do your creative work.  You’ll be waiting forever.  Similarly, I should probably plan for fun in smaller units.  We are unlikely to have a fully free Saturday any time soon.

When I think of what would be fun, I think of pumpkin patches and apple orchards, which I can’t do easily down here.  I need to adjust my thinking to a smaller scale, both in terms of having fun and in terms of creativity.  I’ve been feeling like I’m not writing poems regularly enough.  I worry that in gaining seminary, I’m losing poetry.

Let me remember an idea I had for a poem:  Noah’s wife sells the house.  I’ve been using the Bible story of Noah to explore modern ideas of climate change.

And let me remember that I don’t need a huge chunk of time to write a poem.  Let me do that more often. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Free Time and Fun

I am still reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter an essay each week or so — and I just came across “The Beast in the Book.” She got me thinking about animals and how we share the world with them, not very politely, and how rich children’s literature is with animals. As Le Guin puts it:

The general purpose of a myth is to tell us who we are — who we are as a people. Mythic narrative affirms our community and our responsibilities, and is told in the form of teaching-stories both to children and adults.

Le Guin doesn’t find it at all curious that children learn to read by sounding out the words in “Peter Rabbit,” or that they weep over Black Beauty. She finds it a shame that as we grow older we lose our facility to identify with animals. I loved this paragraph, about T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone:

Merlyn undertakes Arthur’s education, which consists mostly of being turned into animals. Here we meet the great mythic theme of Transformation, which is a central act of shamanism, though Merlyn doesn’t make any fuss about it. The boy becomes a fish, a hawk, a snake, an owl, and a badger. He participates, at thirty years per minute, in the sentience of trees, and then, at two million years per second, in the sentience of stones. All these scenes of participation in nonhuman being are funny, vivid, startling, and wise.

I think it’s that “sentience of trees” that really made that paragraph stick for me, as I’ve also been reading Peter  Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees

Bethany Reid, The Autumn Equinox

Sitting in my sukkah this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what endures. That might seem counterintuitive: after all, a sukkah is the opposite of that. It’s temporary structure. Its roof is made from organic matter, casting some shade but also letting in the raindrops and the light of the full harvest moon. A sukkah begins falling apart almost as soon as it is built. And yet…

And yet the sukkah will be rebuilt, next year. And the year after. The practice is perennial. When I sit in my sukkah on my mirpesset, drinking coffee and lifting my etrog to my face to inhale its scent, I remember every year I have ever sat in a sukkah. I think of generations before me who built sukkot. I imagine the generations after me who will do the same. […]

One morning in the sukkah this year our conversation veered into American politics.  I used to believe that the structures of democracy would protect us from demagogues. I thought it was generally accepted that government’s function is to serve everyone, to protect the vulnerable, to ensure and uphold human rights and dignity. That structure feels fragile now.

The American experiment is only a few centuries old — an eyeblink in the span of human history. It may prove to be temporary. Some argue that it’s already over, that our constitutional crisis is already here and democracy as we have known it is already falling to gerrymandering, insurrection, cult of personality, and the terrible persistence of the Big Lie.

I think of the later stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Orsinian tales, where her fictional European country has become an Eastern Bloc nation. In those stories the government can’t be trusted. Privations are the norm. And yet people continue to live and love, even when multiple families share a single apartment, even under surveillance. Isn’t that what human beings do?

Rachel Barenblat, What endures

drinking coffee black and reading
the poems of osip mandelstam
the ground quivers and shakes
is it an earthquake
or just fine poetry?
now the coffee is finished
and the morning sky is blue
like my grandmother’s eyes

James Lee Jobe, just fine poetry?

Walking night woods, noticing: tired. This one spot smells so strongly of cedar it might be perfume this rotting tree casts into my face. My back hurts, from lack of daily water. I ate too much chicken and rice. Fatigue beyond poor sleep. Uncertainty beyond circumstances. I do not have to settle, I have to root. There must be fertile ground: there are many fertile grounds. Choices of paths.

In the powerline cut, a raptor cry.

In the dark trail, scatters of imminent fall. The awake time.

I plan another lake swim, before it is too cold. A life, too. I wait for enough information. An owl calls.

The compass needle slows, after years of spinning, but I cannot yet read north.

JJS, attendance

will the poem i am buried in :: be the weave of my last words

Grant Hackett [no title]