Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 25

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: midsummer nightmares, turning into a woodpecker, an idea of wrongness, a flat-bread moon, and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, 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 at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week, the summer travel season is underway, with blue domes, a country of murderers, the Essex muse, an economy based on beauty, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: meaning in fog, emergency language, an inconvenient cemetery, a home make-under, World Poetry Day, the spring equinox, and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: active hope, the anti-ship of Theseus, knocking the brain off its pedestal, smutty Persephone poems, slow stitching, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, the season of lights was in full effect, along with that other holiday favorite, the year-end book list. Plus many other things. Enjoy.

I’ll probably skip next week and be back on New Year’s (Eve or Day) for the final edition of 2023. See you then.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we embrace the miscellany: the poetics of wrongness, chaos and magic, love and rage, untethering, unknowing. Enjoy.


This one is 17×57. It’s tentatively called “A Mother Who Loves Books,” because I was thinking of my mother when I made it, and the text is a poem from Let it Be a Dark Roux, “My Mother’s Perfume.” It’s linen, and I am loving how unfinished linen looks like on the edges. I’ve been working on a few more, unfinished, pieces using torn linen, and I can’t imagine tiring of the tearing for awhile. There’s something powerfully, almost…archaic about linen that’s unraveling a bit at the edges.

Sheryl St. Germain, Color Dreams

Last week, I attended the launch of Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press) and Mat Riches’s Collecting the Data. The latter, available here from Red Squirrel Press, is Mat’s long-awaited and excellent debut pamphlet. The launch itself was a joyous and merrily raucous occasion, with readings not only from the two launchers, but also some mighty fine guest readers – Eleanor Livingstone, Hilary Menos and Maria Taylor.

There was a lot of love and affection in the room for Mat and his warm, witty  and well-crafted poems.

Matthew Paul, On Mat Riches’s ‘Half Term at Longleat Safari Park’

And it’s only now that I’ve managed to really sit and think about the fact that I have an actual book out there in the world. I’m not 100% convinced I will ever truly come to terms with it. There’s certainly a feeling of well, what now…? The poems are out there, people actually own them in a book. I’m not there to read them to them with an intro. That’s quite a strange feeling to come to terms with, but I’m getting there. What do I write next? When? How? For who? All good questions, but not for today. And not a question for this book.

I’ve found myself sitting and staring at it whenever I’ve had a spare moment. It’s a beautifully produced thing, just looking at it as an object it astonishing.

Mat Riches, Dating the collective

Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”

“How come?”

I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.

There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.

“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.

Rita Ott Ramstad, It’s been a lot

this room this bright quilt
winter waits on the other side
of these dark windows
elsewhere cities
in dust and rubble
everywhere cities

on fire all this has nothing
to do with me the naked child running
through fire has nothing to do with me
these buildings become dust
have nothing to do with me
I sit on this bright quilt

blue and white and red
patterns of flowers and thread
I drink from my modern porcelain
blue and white cup a pale
version of Italian cappuccino
what is true? who is to blame?

Sharon Brogan, there is no good news

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?

A poem usually starts for me with a bit of language that I overhear or receive subconsciously. Many poems start with my wife, the poet Kodi Saylor, saying something incredible. I’ll often respond, “That sounds like a line of a poem,” and she’s usually like, “Well, go and write it then.” Usually that little snippet of language has some rhythmic quality that suggests a next line. That’s usually enough to get started. I let the rhythm and associations of sound and image suggest themselves and just go with it. The poem emerges. I try not to overthink it, but of course I do sometimes. Currently, I’m much more of a writer of short pieces that accumulate into a larger project. The stakes are lower for me that way which is important for me to combat the voice of the perfectionist that lives inside me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matt Broaddus

My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA.

“Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road.”

All sale proceeds go to Singapore Unbound, the NYC-based literary organization that envisions and works for a creative and fulfilling life for everyone. You can find the book on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

Jee Leong Koh, Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

[The Poetics of Wrongness], published earlier this year, is made up of four sections of newly edited texts originally delivered as lectures as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series (2016). Publisher Wave Books calls it [Rachel] Zucker’s “first book of critical non-fiction” and refers to its sections as “lecture-essays of protest and reckoning.” It says the poetics of wrongness itself — the list of anti-tenets Zucker offers as a new poetics — offers a “way of reading, writing and living that might create openness, connection, humility and engagement.” […]

This book strips off the itchy robe of what’s presumed to make poems successful (“Oh, teacher, I say you are wrong,” p. 8) and streaks through the halls of academia and publishing. It jumps over gates. It walks on the grass. It picks locks. This book encourages a build-our-own poetics. This book is a middle finger to the tools of the patriarchy embedded in so many of the “rules.” It disturbs the universe that makes oppressors comfortable and offers renewed, modern senses for beauty and time.

Carolee Bennett, my love letter to “the poetics of wrongness”

tonight i will show you
one thing. here is the bowl of whipped cream.
here is the spoon i use. here is
the way my stomach feels full of clouds
when i am done. here is how
i try to lick the last tastes of sweetness
from the bottom of the bowl.

Robin Gow, 11/11

One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don’t suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange worlds. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, etc. how does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen? I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, but what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. So we will see how I fare.

Maybe it’s chaos. And maybe it’s okay that it’s chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won’t. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won’t. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It’s terrifying and sad. But it’s also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.

Kristy Bowen, chaos and magic

In 2000, friends of mine saw [Stanley] Kunitz read at the Dodge Festival. They both witnessed him helped to the stage and from their seats, they could see nothing but the crown on his balding head. But then something incredible happened. As Kunitz began to read, he became taller, his face appearing above the podium. It was as if poetry (they said) had restored his youth. Reading his poetry to a receptive audience brought him more fully to life. I have never forgotten that…

Here is a stellar interview I discovered today between Gregory Orr and Stanley Kunitz taped when Kunitz was 88 years old. He reads “Father and Son,” a poem written when Kunitz was a young man, giving a hard and uncompromising vision of his dad. Orr offers that Kunitz is the first poet to write of his father in this way. Kunitz shakes that accolade off but he has lots of important things to say about poetry. He also reads, “The Portrait,” a kind of self-portrait, perhaps one of the first pieces that has led to our preponderance of self-portrait poems today.

GO: What purpose does poetry serve?

SK: Poetry is most deeply concerned with telling us what it feels like be alive. To be alive at any given moment….Before the poets we had no idea what it meant to be a human person on this earth.

Wow. Kunitz lived to be 100. He won the Pulitzer prize when he was 63, became Poet Laureate at 95. He is an incredible example of poetry being a life long pursuit. When it was an incredibly unpopular thing to do, Kunitz consciously chose to elevate domestic experience in poetry. This was before Roethke, before Lowell, before Plath.

Susan Rich, Stanley Kunitz on my fridge, in the garden, and the joy of surviving.

Are your dreams shuffling
like cards (a random draw
flashing in the dim light),

stretching like strange cats,
or climbing upwards,
clutching to rockweed,

stiff salt stalks of kelp
guiding seaworthy
travelers from weight

of the waters to
the weightlessness
of approaching stars?

PF Anderson, Dear You

Writing is noticing, but it can also be the song of oneself. It can speak of who you are. And it gives you the opportunity of declaring it in your own voice and in your own words.  As UK writer John Berger writes, “Nobody knows exactly why birds sing as much as they do. What is certain is that they don’t sing to deceive themselves or others. They sing to announce themselves as they are.”

We can speak of the experience of others. We can speak of the experience of ourselves. In writing, you take agency. It is your story, your words and you are saying them when you want to. And writing imagines community. Perhaps you imagine sharing your words with another. Of creating a connection. Of being in this—all of this—together.

There’s an iconic poem called “Motto,” by Bertolt Brecht that you perhaps have heard:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

What does singing about the dark times mean? If we sing a happy song in a dark time, we know we are singing in the context of that dark time. Maybe it is a defiant, subversive act, a refusal to despair or be cowed by the darkness. If we sing darkly about the dark times, we name what is happening. We name what we are experiencing. We remember our humanity, our shared humanity. Our story may be dark, but we are the ones telling it. To tell the story is to have agency. […]

As a small child in Ireland, I remember hunting around my dad’s office and finding a little box that perfectly held a hundred blank index cards. The box seemed so magical and full of possibility I knew I had to write some magic spells, some mysterious incantations. I snuck the box into my room and immediately began writing on the cards. I didn’t know any spells but I wanted to capture the feeling of magic so I just made up a script. No one could read it, not even me. But that wasn’t the point. I filled all the index cards with this cursive hoodoo. My goal was to create a feeling, to use the form of spells and the loops and swirls, scratches and knurls of my invented script. I was whispering to life itself. We were connecting. My writing put me at the centre of speaking. In the middle of secrets. 

Gary Barwin, THE SONG OF OURSELVES IN THE SHADOW OF NOW, a speech about the importance of writing in dark times

This poem had its genesis in my move from London to the village of Rottingdean on the south coast of England, where you can stand on the South Downs and listen to the sea at the same time. Words and images often float up when I’m walking here, and I type them into my mobile app before they disappear. Then, when there are enough of them and they’ve had time to ripen, I sit at my computer and see what happens.

Winter shadows are accentuated in open spaces. When there are contours too, you get shadow magic, where you see your shape, or that of others, distorted, elongated, living a separate existence. Much of A Pocketful of Chalk is about seeing the ordinary from a different perspective, finding new aspects of yourself in the full glare of nature. We create mechanical things such as a windmill to harvest nature, and perhaps, because of this, become giants in our own minds. By the end of the poem, however, I’m insubstantial, ‘I float in the beaks of birds’.

Drop-in by Claire Booker (Nigel Kent)

At the terminal’s

edge, sunset outlines a row of cranes so they look
like a fleet of otherworldly sentinels, snouts

scouting the air. And I can hardly bear to watch the news:
for instance, today, a father wept as he dug, in vain,

for his children’s bodies. Around the bombed ruins of homes
can we say it is by luck or grace the living grieve? Even

the youngest ones can’t stop trembling: this word, from
the Latin tremulus—pertaining to the trauma of a wound.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremble

My first purchase from Trickhouse Press was the inaugural Oulipo Puzzle Book (Spring 2022), one of a series of four delightful anthologies of poem puzzles that are informed by various constraints. In your introduction to Issue 4, you write:

‘My secret belief about Oulipo, in poetry and otherwise, is that the joy of Oulipo lies in the crafting of an Oulipo work moreso than in the reading of one…. What I’ve attempted to begin with this series of puzzle books is to put the pen in the reader’s hand, quite literally, and create spaces for readers to engage in Oulipoean thinking themselves. An Oulipo puzzle isn’t just a puzzle or a word game – it can also be a writing prompt, a springboard, a summertime, an autumn leaf, or a winter wondering land.’

Can you expand on this, with particular reference to your own relationship to poetry – as a reader, student, editor, and writer?

Dan [Power]: When I was a kid I was obsessed with wordsearches and mazes – actually I still am – and I liked making them and drawing them even more than trying to solve them. It’s very satisfying when you’re putting together a wordsearch or a crossword and you find the perfect word that intersects with the other words you’ve put down, and fills the space you’ve got left. Similarly with Oulipo, I like the challenge of writing under a constraint. I’m not great at it, and I think the things I’ve written that I’m most proud of came about from writing with absolutely no constraints, but it’s much more satisfying to complete an Oulipo poem because it has a kind of finality to it – there’s set rules, and a task to be completed within those rules, and eventually you get to a point where you can say for sure that it’s finished. There’s no finality with an unconstrained poem, you can keep editing and changing it forever. I thought of Oulipo writing as a kind of problem-solving, and a puzzle book working with Oulipian constraints seemed like a logical thing to make.

The idea for the Oulipo puzzle books came a few years ago when I was trying to get my head around how cryptic crosswords work, and I realised they had their own pretty consistent sets of constraints, and I wanted to see what other kinds of puzzles were possible by placing different sets of constraints on different kinds of puzzles. I also liked the idea of Oulipo as a method or a process, and was always more interested in the process of creating an Oulipo work than the finished work itself, trying out different combinations of words, exploring all possible avenues, tracing all possible connections… placing constraints on a piece of writing really makes you consider all the different detours it can take! As I said in the quote you mentioned, the puzzle books are about trying to give the reader that experience. The unfinished puzzles aren’t the poems, and the solutions aren’t either, they’re more like prompts – the poetry is going on in the reader’s head, it’s the thinking and the problem-solving itself.

Marian Christie, Anything could happen – An Interview with Dan Power of Trickhouse Press

The launch event for the Hastings Stanza Anthology last month was standing room only, and we were thrilled to raise several hundred pounds for the brilliant Refugee Buddy Project. Copies are still available (ask me) and since we’ve covered our costs all sales income now goes to the Project. The cover features a painting by the multi-talented Judith Shaw and there’s lots of lovely work in this book as you can see from the below.

I went to the London launch of Clare Best‘s new collection Beyond the Gate last month and it was a super evening. Unfortunately, having to leave to catch a train while Clare was still surrounded by a crowd of acolytes, I was delighted when my signed copy arrived in the post. It’s an excellent collection. I do love Clare’s work.

Also on my ‘to be read’ pile: Isabel Galleymore Significant Other (Carcanet) and Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe), both poets I’m going to be interviewing soon for the podcast. Jane’s book was shortlisted for the Forward Prize this year and is on the TS Eliot shortlist. And I’m pretty sure Isabel’s collection was on the shortlists a couple of years ago.

Good news on the submissions front – Pindrop Press has offered to publish my collection next year and I’ve signed the contract, so I guess it’s official.  I’ve been so impressed with editor Sharon Black’s communication and enthusiasm. I feel very fortunate indeed, and in safe hands.

Robin Houghton, Currently reading, plus an anthology & a contract

I find it impossible not to feel guilty that I’m living a life without hardship and pain when others are not. But guilt is a pretty useless emotion, isn’t it, and rather self-indulgent. I have allowed myself to switch off the news and to think of other things once I’ve written and donated and done the small empathetic actions available to me.

On Saturday, I met with others from Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, and I ran a workshop centred on the Penned in the Margins anthology Adventures in Form. There were ten of us, reading about, trying out exercises, writing and sharing fragments of writing that might become poems. The session was quite tiring but fun and stimulating, according to feedback!

Josephine Corcoran, Guilt and Empathy

We stand on the street corner
for those whose streets run red
with blood and fire.

We stand on the street corner,
praying to awaken
from our collective nightmare,

to discover it was all a dream,
that we are safe in the arms of loved ones,
that all we hear are birds

and the laughter of children.

Jason Crane, POEM: Vigil

It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Peace, Peace! They Say but There Is No Peace

gale force
how the shadows gesticulate
on the morning wall

Jim Young [no title]

“Where” was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who died in October 2000 after suffering from both cancer and Alzheimer’s. The poem began with a realization that what I wonder about more than where she is now, after her death, is where was she then, at the end of her life. Watching a loved one deteriorate is heartbreaking, and witnessing my vibrant grandmother lose access to her own memories—to her own life and sense of self—rocked me to my core. It was a formative experience for me as a human being and as a writer. I don’t think it’s an accident that so much of my work is concerned with memory.

I found myself, early on, testing the elasticity of the opening sentence. How much could it hold? How long could I extend it? The unwieldy nature of that first sentence reflects the difficulty I was having grappling with the subject matter. How best to articulate something that resists articulation? Then again, this is the work of poems, and—I think—work that poems are uniquely suited for. I think the commas create tension; those pauses that slow the reader down while at the same time building momentum because many of the sentences go on and on, and they’re loaded with repetition.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Where”

I’ve read many memoirs and non-fiction books about cognitive decline and living with a beloved person who has a neurodegenerative condition; from Oliver Sacks to the recent biography of Terry Pratchett and many of the books we’ve read in my “morbid book group,” information in these texts connects with the personal emotions involved in deeply complicated human ways. There are also quite a few poetry collections themed around this type of loss, and I ought to compile a list one of these days, because poetry has been helpful to me as my family and I contend with elders dealing with forms of dementia (and there are many forms). That fact has led me to wonder whether readers even need another poetry collection centered around cognitive loss. Since so many of my poems during the past four or five years intersect with or explore that topic, I have considered making a manuscript of them. I hesitate. Too much sadness?

Yet while the circumstances that evoke such poems are usually sad, the disease progression differs, as do the personalities of the persons with cognition loss and the personalities of their loved ones. Perspectives on the persons and the diseases also vary a great deal. Similarities exist–enough to make a reader feel recognized–but situations and value systems mean there are as many ways to write about dementia as there are to write about anything else. […]

These days, my mother sometimes seems unmoored from the present moment, but not absorbed in memory either–just kind of lost in the ozone. Self, language, memory…sometimes they slip away from her physical body. In this process, though, she has things to teach me. Just as my hospice patients do, and as their families do, by helping me to widen my understanding of human beings and how we get by in the world. Or how we flounder differently from one another. Or how we rescue one another.

I take this gradual loss into myself–that’s what most of us do–and it’s hard, it’s painful to keep myself open to learning and love when what I first notice is untethering and loss. But yesterday when visiting my mother I noticed she has a cobbled-together notebook in which she sometimes writes (in tiny, indecipherable script). Some pages she had divided into three columns, some have scraps of letters or newspaper clippings stapled to them. Are her pages a record, or a practice? She cannot tell me. Yet it was kind of amazing to realize she does this with apparent intent. She has her reasons, if not her reason in the classic sense.

Ann E. Michael, Untethering

I came across the most astonishing gentleman on YouTube this week named Troy Hawke. His entire shtick is dressing up in a ridiculously ornate suit, complete with an ascot, and walking around in public complimenting people. It’s really quite magical. I believe he is bestowed with a Godly gift. His compliments aren’t random or insincere, they are extremely incisive and show that he really sees the people that he compliments. In complimenting people, he shares a moment of joy and recognition with them. For example, he stops by a bench where two friends are chatting and says, “You look very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a lovely way to be with another human.” They light up with with delight at their friendship being seen and appreciated by another human being. I find his videos light and humorous, but also truly uplifting. And who doesn’t need some of that in the midst of what the world has become?

Kristen McHenry, DP Progress Pics, I Baked Bread, Compliment Man

I had a brain-wave a couple of months ago when I was out walking. Using my copy of Mammals of Prince Edward Island (And Adjacent Marine Waters),  my plan is to respond to entries in the book with a poem and a sketch. It’s a winter project for my personal enjoyment but I’ll share what I make on this blog. Please excuse my rough drawings – maybe just maybe, I’ll get better as I do more of them. Here’s my first poem and sketch.

E.E. Nobbs, The Flying Squirrel

It’s World Basking Shark Day. Airplane Mode Off.
Text Predictions On. Personal Data Up To Date.
I read your diary from before you knew me.
Bombs fall on refugee camps, hospitals, schools.
Ten thousand dead in a month. Save Draft.

Bob Mee, ON WORLD BASKING SHARK DAY, I READ THE BEEKEEPER’S BIBLE

I’ve been trying to prepare a 15-minute talk for my winery bookclub this Wednesday. We’ll be discussing the late Louise Gluck’s terrific book, Meadowlands.

I’ve taught classes to veterans and disadvantaged high school kids and college students, but I thought since I usually teach creative writing, I would instead talk more about how to write a poem than how to read one!

I know what I don’t want to say—poetry isn’t supposed to be an escape room, it’s supposed to be something enjoyed or appreciated the way a piece of visual art or music. Poetry isn’t autobiography—it can be memoirish, but it can also be fictionish.  But there are some tools poets use that non-poets might want to understand or know about, so I thought I’d talk about those—tone, diction, punctuation, sonics, images, metaphors, etc.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, How to Read a Poem, In Between Holidays, and Galloping Toward 2024

Yesterday I tried to take some old wooden rabbit run panels to the tip. It turns out that the tip is closed on Wednesdays, which I knew but thought, inexplicably, that it was already Thursday. I’ve not been well this week, which might explain my confusion. I’ve had a stupid a virus; which has been bad enough to make me uncomfortable and a bit brain-foggy with a cough and a heavy, liquid feeling in my lungs, but not bad enough for me to cancel work. I hate feeling vulnerable. And illness makes me feel exposed, and miserable and like my body is not my own. I have, however, enjoyed my work this week which has mostly been running early morning writing groups. There is something particularly special about the dark morning turning to light as you sit quietly, writing with others. It’s one of my favourite parts of being a facilitator, and of being a writer. I’ve fallen into a pattern of working from 6.30am until about 9am and then going walking with, and sometimes without, the dog. We don’t go so far anymore on account of the dog being quite elderly. But last week I walked up to the river which runs along the edge of our village. The river Hertford is a strange river, it rises just outside another nearby village, Muston, and despite being just a mile from the sea, it flows inland, down the wide, glacier carved valley where I live, where I have always lived. On the day I walked up to it I’d seen a fellow dog walker in the lane. I stroked the long muzzle of his lovely greyhound and we passed the time of day, talking about the ash and the beech leaves and how autumn had arrived so suddenly, how it seemed to do this every year, and that each year we were surprised. His dog waited patiently. My dog wound himself around my legs. He told me he’d been up to the river and had seen a king fisher for the first time in ages. I had never seen one, though had been with people when they had seen one. It seems I have often had my head turned the wrong way when the king fishers appear. On the day we; the dog and I, walked up to the river, we were lucky. We arrived on the wide metal bridge and stood patiently, or rather I stood patiently, but the dog got bored and started winding round my legs and trying to get into the river and then suddenly, out from under the bridge, there was the kingfisher. It was the colour of an Egyptian amulet, jewel-like, the most beautiful, bright blue I have ever seen, completely at odds with the brown, draping, wet landscape. I watched it flit down the length of the river and away and stood with my mouth open in an O of surprise. Perfect.

Wendy Pratt, If the Landscape is a Body then the Hertford is a Wound

Can we pray for rain yet?
Has time stopped?

Are we still family
even if we disagree?

Where is everyone else
in this cloud of unknowing?

Rachel Barenblat, Unknowing

I have been immersed in quilting since Wednesday afternoon.  It has been strange to resurface, strange to do other things.  I’ve gotten my reading responses done for tonight’s seminary class.  I’ve thought about other writing that I haven’t been doing, the writing that always slips to the bottom of my to do list when I have a chance to immerse myself in a retreat.

I’ve also been thinking about poets and quilters, wondering if there are similarities to what I’ve seen and experienced.  At the risk of talking in huge generalities, let me muse a bit.

–I am a person making it up as I go along.  I’m more in love with the fabric than with the quilting process.  I create quilts because it gives me a reason to collect fabric, but then I have to do something with it.  Once I might have thought about making a living with this art–even more reason to collect fabrics!  But now, I’m happy to be in my own corner of the world.

The same is true of writing.  Once I wanted to make a living with my writing, and if it should happen, I won’t complain.  But I want to do the writing I want to do, not what is likely to sell in the wider world.

–This week-end, I’ve watched many quilters working from kits.  Not only do the kits come with instructions and pictures, but they also come with pre-cut fabric.  There are designers out there that not only design the finished quilt, but they also design the fabrics.

I look at the pictures that come with the kit, and I think, no, I’d do it this way.  Nope, that color choice is all wrong.

In the writing world, the kit might represent an MFA program or a literary journal–that hope that there’s one way to do things, that we can unlock that one way if we go to the right school and get the right publications.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilters and Writers

The mixed-use heart.
All warmth and passion

or is it all red fury? 
Red Alert – a love or war 

emergency? 
Blood as in beating and alive,

or draining on a sidewalk?
We are unhappy people

in a happy world.  I heard
it said.  And it wobbled

in the red, fully lit garden.
Something will happen

We just don’t know what.

Jill Pearlman, Code RED

I talk to the birds about complicity
and courage. How both need wings.
How both burn red. How both grace
and macabre defy gravity. If only,
briefly. They come every evening.
Pied Wagtails with homes somewhere
I cannot see, to hop around on the
tiles and sing from the terrace walls.
All. All things can be obliterated in
moments.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -9

It’s a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, sunny, with bright fall leaves blowing down and gray clouds massing in the distance, after days of rain, and that’s a peacock on the roof. I came here to help my daughter have a baby, and that has indeed happened. A beautiful baby named Lola, 8 lbs, 12 oz, 22 inches long. So far, she likes to sleep in the daytime and keep her parents awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., like lots of babies who sleep while the mother is active by day and kick around nocturnally. I am happy to hold this baby and stare at her. The activity that rocked her to sleep in the womb included a daily neighborhood walk that I got to do with the family a couple times before the birth, and that’s where the peacocks come in. Just as there is a flock of wild turkeys back at home, or trail turkeys, since they walk the Constitution Trail as well as the neighborhoods, here there is a flock of wild peacocks. Or you might say a pride of peacocks, a muster of peacocks, or an ostentation of peacocks. Although these local peacocks are quite modest and unostentatious. Shortly after getting this picture through my son’s window, I got to witness this one fly gently down to earth.

Then time stood still, as they say, suspended itself, and we had days of labor in a hospital room. The baby was born, and then my mother died, as if she had been waiting for the baby to come into the world before she went out of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Peacock on the Roof

立冬や椅子一つある古本屋 西生ゆかり

rittō ya isu hitotsu aru furuhonya

            beginning of winter−

            a second-hand bookstore

            with one chair inside

                                                Yukari Saisho

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (November 9, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

Kristy Bowen, darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe

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

Years Later

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Snatched: the Means and the End

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

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

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

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

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

PF Anderson, Dear You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Favier, I Am Rebuked For Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

R. M. Haines, New Chapbooks Available!

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

death of depth
we dare call heaven

milk makes a prison
of skin

tears of grace
original face

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, A little bit of a week

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

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

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

can whisper to the unremarkable night […]

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A day of choices

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

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

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

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

Maya C. Popa, Why Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fokkina McDonnell, Austere beauty

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

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

Bethany Reid, Louise Glück, 1943-2023

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Emerson, Tribute to Louise Gluck

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Poets, horses

Neither the calls of zebra doves nor the down-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Arts and humanities in annular eclipse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, A Childless Woman Approaches the Menopause

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

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

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

Caroline Reid, POETRY SLAM PERFORMANCE: Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Just put the map down for a minute – eh?

Ren Powell, Oh, the Negative Capability

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

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

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

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Being part of the world without shouting

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

Robin Houghton, All kinds of poetry news and shenanigans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martyn Crucefix, New podcast discussion on Between a Drowning Man

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

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

Bob Mee, Untitled

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

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

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

Jim Young, rumours

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

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

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

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

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

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

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

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

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

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

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

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

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

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

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

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

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

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

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

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

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

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

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

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

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

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

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

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

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

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

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

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

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

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

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

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

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

Kristy Bowen, webs

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the transition to autumn, Labor Day and the meaning of work, Sealey Challenge results, a book-burning, and more. Enjoy.


Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive — one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.

It’s California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents’ generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment — why not gathers such crumbs as fall? — I’m content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now. 

Dale Favier, Interregnum

The months inspire their own sort of synesthesia, don’t they? I can feel, taste, see, in flashes of associations, each one, its distinctive personality, color, shape. Still, September carries a particular presence. Wallace Stegner spoke of that “old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air…Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” That may partially explain it—the month is forever colored by notebooks, pencils, early wake-ups, and autumnal routines after an indulgent, restorative summer.

Maya C. Popa, Poems about September

It’s the time of year for making still lifes, anyway, isn’t it? The flowers won’t last much longer. Bring some in, make a still life won’t you? Then make your way to the couch.

There’s a short poem I love to read at this time of year by the Italian writer Patrizia Cavalli (translated here by Gini Alhadeff):

“We’re all going to hell in a while.
But meanwhile
summer’s over.
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!”

Shawna Lemay, A Whole Life in Every Day

Today is rainy and cool, and we tidied the house, I organized and put away my summer clothes, and we started to really prepare for fall. We bought the last doughnut peaches for cake and made barbequed chicken and cornbread with the last good corn. I lit a couple of pumpkin coffee candles. We paid attention to the cats, who felt they had been very neglected the last few days.

I did a few submissions this week in a bit of a daze, because submission windows can be short and demanding, even when life is chaos. I also tried to catch up a bit with my reading—even picking up a few new books to start (ambitious, I know, but fall seems like a good time to acquire new books—especially important when you’re spending a long time at the hospital with a needle in your arm).

As the seasons transition, a few of my friends noted the stress of the change, the return to different rhythms. In Seattle, we pretty much say goodbye to the sun and hello the “the long dark” of the next nine months. I’m hoping to catch a few good days to visit the pumpkin farms, to pick the Pink Lady apples from the tree in my front yard I planted at the beginning of the pandemic, and even a few figs from the fig tree I planted two years ago. Fruit from new trees is always a good sign—last year we got neither apples nor figs—so I hope my trees will stay healthy until next spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Supermoon, a Surgery, and One Perfect Fall Day, Plus the Importance of Joy and Healing

Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I’m old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day.  My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day.  In terms of weather, I’ve always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.

Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it’s a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I’m thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.  I’m thinking of our creative work.  There’s so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.

I’m thinking about our attitude towards work too.  I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online.  Here’s my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism:  “Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, ‘What work am I called to?’ we might ask, ‘How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not ‘How does this work cooperate with material creation?’ but ‘How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?’ Not ‘Am I doing what I love?’ but ‘What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?’”

And here’s a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, “Teahouse practice means that you don’t explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She’s not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn’t say, “This is the Zen teahouse.” All she does is simply serve tea–but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it’s just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups” (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Labor on Labor Day

I’m fascinated by American poet and lawyer Mary Leader’s fifth full-length collection, The Distaff Side (Shearsman Books, 2022), a curious blend of a variety of threads: the needlepoint the women in her family held, dismissed as “women’s work”; her mother’s refusal to learn such a thing to focus on poetry, and publishing in numerous journals yet never seeing a collection into print; and her own engagement with these two distinct skills, articulating them both as attentive, precise crafts. “My mother couldn’t sew a lick.” she writes, to open the sequence “Toile [I],” offering her mother’s refusal to learn as something defiant across the length and breadth of women across her family, “But that was a boast to her.” As the following poem reads: “1950, 1955, / 1960. What girls and women got up to / with distaffs flax spindles standards / happles and agoubilles was not called ‘their art.’ Not remotely. Needlework / was no more ‘creative’ than / doing the dishes, and trust me, / doing the dishes was not marveled at, [.]” That particular poem ends: “And my / mother’s hobby morning after / morning after morning, every morning, / every morning, was reading and writing / poetry, smoking all the while.” There’s a defiance that Leader recounts in her narrative around her mother, and one of distinct pride, writing a woman who engaged with poetry. A few poems further in the sequence: “I have / the typescript of what, in my judgement, / should have been my mother’s first / published book, Whose Child? I have / here the cover letter she labored over.” I’m charmed by these skilled, sharp and precise poems on the complexities of the craft of poems and needlework both, stitched with careful, patient ease.

rob mclennan, Mary Leader, The Distaff Side

It seemed to me all around me was a message: “Work. Look.” I wrote that in my journal. That night I’d had a dream in which I was trying to develop an artistic goal for the immediate future, which morphed into me stating that I was going to memorize one song on the piano and play it for people, which morphed into me explaining excitedly how I was going to make scones to bring to their party, but the host approached me and said, “Please don’t bring them. We don’t like them.” And I woke devastated. When I finally shook off the devastation and entered the day, I was fascinated by how that urge to focus creatively ended up with that dream that no one liked what I was making. How powerful is rejection, how powerful the pull of external validation.

Marilyn McCabe, I have heard you call; or, On Creative Work and the Inner Voices

Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.

Jill Pearlman, Age, Relatives, Lo-Lee-Ta

I learned, while teaching college freshmen the past few years, that many younger adults do not know how to write or even to read script. Many children never get the lessons in handwriting in the second through fourth grades the way I did. Instead, they learn keyboarding–a skill I got to in my junior year of high school but never really have mastered (yes, even now I use a self-developed version that’s sort of an advanced hunt-and-peck method). It’s hard to believe that reading script is a task that will be relegated to specialists in years to come, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. To many of my college age students, handwritten script in English is almost indistinguishable from the marks of ash borers. They don’t see the need for that particular skill. Handwriting is going the way of letter-writing.

Perhaps we live in a post-script world?

I have been thinking about the handwritten word recently because of a recent incident while visiting my mother. She received a small refund check from an insurer, and though she understood what it was and that she no longer uses her checking account–we siblings take care of that through power of attorney–she was confused about what to do with it. “Sign it, Mom,” I told her, offering her a pen. “We’ll deposit it for you.” I turned the check over and pointed to the line for signature on the back.

She wavered, pen in the air. “I don’t…I don’t,” she said (her aphasia has advanced past the point of expressing full sentences). It took me a moment to realize that she could not recall how to sign her name. I placed my hand around hers and helped her start with the capital B.

I didn’t cry, but the experience hasn’t left me alone. I suppose there may be a poem in this incident, but if so, it’s a sorrowful one.

Ann E. Michael, Script, postscript

Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother is
what kids today might describe as #fighting, A month in the hospital
and she’s rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once,
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light.

Luisa A. Igloria, Talisman

Somewhere in time there’s a darkened room with just enough light to see a circle of grief. In the center of the circle is a woman in a hospital bed. Sharp angles under white sheets. Cool, pale flesh stretched over forehead, cheeks, chin. Weeks of a vigil fading into the past. A decision has been made, connections have been unconnected. It is silent in this room except for sighs and sobs. One of the grieved takes the woman’s hand and begins to sing a sweet hymn to accompany the woman from the room, from the earth. This is a moment that lives forever for those who loved this woman.

Charlotte Hamrick, Mood #2

whose skin has not awakened to green

whose heart is blind with eyes

where are there hands to bandage the sky

Grant Hackett [untitled]

One of the most menacing things about depression is its elasticity — its way of suddenly receding, swinging open a window of light, only to return just as suddenly with redoubled darkness, just when life has begun to feel livable again, even beautiful.

On September 16, 1962, a voice unspooled from the BBC airwaves carrying an emblem of that cruel elasticity.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — who spent her life living with the darkness and making light of the barely bearable lightness of being, until she could no more — had composed the poem a year earlier, shortly after moving to a quiet market village in Devon. For the first time, she had a room of her own to write in. “My whole spirit has expanded immensely,” she wrote to her mother as she filled the house with “great peachy-colored gladiolas, hot red & orange & yellow zinnias” from the garden, that great living poem.

Within a month, in the fading autumn light, her spirit had begun contracting again in the grip of the familiar darkness. One night, unable to sleep, she tried a meditative writing exercise: to simply describe what she saw in the Gothic churchyard outside her window. That exercise became one of her finest poems and one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature.

Found in Plath’s indispensable Collected Poems (public library), it comes alive with uncommon poignancy in Patti Smith’s planetary voice — one of her regular poetry readings from her online journal.

Maria Popova, The Moon and the Yew Tree: Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s Haunting Portrait of Depression

old pond
old frog
waiting

Jason Crane, haiku: 30 August 2023

Today was a full press day (no freelance work) since there were quite a few things that needed final corrections before I start printing.  I have only dipped a toe into submissions, which wrapped up Thursday in a final flurry of activity, so will begin greater forays into reading next week likely. I still have a couple delayed books in the works, but am now working on the set I accepted for this year. Amazingly, since I planned to start those in August anyway, I am only a month behind schedule for 2023 accepted titles. This year’s inbox is a little unruly, since I was once again allowing sim subs after a few years of not. This means some things have been withdrawn in the time since they were sent b/c they found another home. Logistically it’s rougher to keep track, but I feel like I take a little too long in responses sometimes, esp. for things I am interested in–so it’s only fair they have other opportunities when I am slow. 

As for my work, I had a brief flurry of activity on new poems, but then told myself I should take a break and return when fall arrived officially, which I suppose it has now, at least according to the meteorological calendar if not the celestial one. Since I really need to be working on recording and editing the videos for villains right now, I may just hold off til the equinox to get back to daily poeming, completely reasonable, but I do get itchy if I go too long without writing much at all, so we’ll see. I won’t be submitting much in the immediate future, so am going to share snippets of the poems I’ve written this summer on Instagram, so keep an eye out there. 

The decor and lifestyle stuff is turning out many fall and spooky season offerings like this, this, and this.) A gig that I had initially turned down earlier in the summer b/c the pay-per-word count (writing literature study guides) actually came back with a poetry-specific offer that is shorter guides but still the same pay, so I will be doing a couple of those every month going forward. Since the AI poetry thing ghosted me and didn’t work out, and any poetry lessons for the online learning site I already write for are few and far between, it will be fun to write poetry-specific things again after a few months of other subjects like dance, history, and visual art. While denser and more time-intensive than the decor, food, and restaurant stuff, the researcher in me loves them nonetheless.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/3/2023

You can link to my London Grip review of Katharine Towers’ superb chapbook by clicking here.

What I didn’t adequately suggest in the review itself was how beautifully the booklet is designed and produced by Philip Lancaster and the The Maker’s Press. Everything except the Tasting Notes is printed in a way that combines visual clarity with softness (the paper is a very pale ivory rather than white). The Tasting Notes are shaped as concrete poems and printed in a pale slightly greenish grey, which to me suggests the elusiveness and obliquity of attempts to describe nuances of flavour. It’s altogether a remarkable physical production.

Edmund Prestwich, Katharine Towers, let him bring a shrubbe – review

I had to double check myself re an idea I had about Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches (Faber & Faber 1993). So I Googled, and yes, I had remembered it correctly. The 30 fourteen-line poems/sonnets in the first section are each, supposedly, meant to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn. I guess the clue is in the opening stanza of the first poem:

“My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life —”

Well, you just have to, don’t you?! My first match burnt out after a few lines and I realised the draft from my writing room door that opens onto the garden was to blame. My second attempt, different poem, had a second or two to spare. My third one had me squealing and blowing it out as the flame licked at my fingertips a couple of lines before the end.

But gimmicks apart, I like the poems in this collection. I like Armitage’s command of form and language, of rhythm and rhyme, and how none of those ever dominate the poems, only contribute to their music. What he has to say always transcends the engineering work. I feel he understands that the audience matters. He’s a poet that cares about his readers. The work can be both playful and serious. Serious but not solemn.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge – Simon Armitage

When August started I was on a fantasy novel kick.  Patricia Briggs, Megan Bannen, Neil Gaiman, and Andri Snaer Magnason, Kimberly Lemming and Sangu Mandanna. Sure, I could do those and continue poetry, right? I often alternate between poetry binges and novel binges but I could do parallel binges. Push more through the head, why not.

Sometimes pushing through the slog of hard-to-understand is good for stretch goals, to push past normal comfort. Part of Sealey Challenge is to read different and to share the love of what you uncover. Stretch is the theme. (I shared some of what I read as Poem of the Day at bluesky and instagram and in past posts here.)

So it’s September and I’m still standi— er, still sitting.

Reading causes writing sometimes so I wrote more novel scenes, and a chapbook. Was it more than normal? Not sure. I’ve done 50,000 words over the last 4 months in poetry, not counting scraps of paper and convenient but not in the right folder files.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge

I believe in the general theory that one should finish what one starts. However in my real, practical life, that’s a different story, as evidenced by a plethora of uncompleted crafting projects, poems started and never seen through to their final form, and books began but never finished. Today I shall provide you with a glimpse into some of these of unfinished titles, as well my justifications for putting them down early: […]

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I complained about this book in a previous post, but at the time, I thought I could get past the atrocious degeneracy of its characters because the writing was so beautiful. It turns out I can’t. The beautiful language just isn’t enough to carry me through this one. I don’t care about any of the characters, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that Daisy is some tragic pre-feminist figure. I think she’s a brat. I’ve never been able to figure how this book became such a literary darling, until a bit of shallow research informed me that it was an initial failure. Years after it came out, The Council on Books in Wartime distributed free copies en mass to soldiers serving overseas during World War 2, thus exploding its popularity.

Kristen McHenry, Book List of Shame

In my second published poetry book, I have a poem called “In the Left Breast”. I wrote it after I’d found a lump (turned out to be nothing). I was in my early 30s.

Thinking about this made me wonder if we are really ever unprepared for possibilities? There is another poem in that same collection that questions whether “imagination is a good thing.”

In my mind, it is all about staying flexible enough to adjust. Adjusting is a response to the world. Sometimes it’s positive. In the context of my world view, a positive attitude is not the same thing as a positive outcome of a response.

I don’t believe celebrating a possible future outcome manifests that outcome.

This morning I am thinking about singing. Last week I sang with the radio while I was driving. It had been a very long time since I was in that kind of space. I remember now that magic spells require chanting, or singing. That’s a kind of effort, too, so I will leave room for that in my world view.

Right speech. Right action.

Right diaphragmatic effort.

Ren Powell, After a Week Not Writing about It

My phase of reading nowt but historical novels is over (for now) as I get my poetry head back on in preparation for Season Four (gulp!) of Planet Poetry.

First up, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Leontia Flynn‘s brand new collection Taking Liberties (Cape). It’s wonderful work and I’m feeling quite energised by it (meaning: it’s inspired me to write something that may be a poem.) I’ll be interviewing Leontia on the pod, really looking forward to that.

Also on the ‘to be read’ pile is Caroline Bird‘s The Air Year (Carcanet) which picked up a whole ton of awards in 2020. I’ve not yet been hit by the ‘Bird Love Bomb’ that many others speak of, so I shall read it with keen anticipation.

I was a fangirl in my teenage years of Brian Patten, and I’m still hoping we can coax him onto the poddy. In the meantime I’ve been loving, loving his Selected Poems (Penguin 2007). Even lovelier is that having bought it second-hand, I discovered it’s a signed copy, ‘To Liz’ – the name I was given at birth. Spooky!

Robin Houghton, Current poetry reading and podcast prep

You mentioned on Instagram that After Curfew  was inspired by Rowan Beckett’s Hot Girl Haiku. Can you say more about that inspiration, and how it helped you write and shape your collection?

Rowan held an online launch party on Facebook for their book, Hot Girl Haiku, in May 2022. My friend, haiku poet Susan Burch, reminded me to attend. I’d never been to an online launch party. It was fun! Rowan had posts and videos set up on a schedule. One of the prompts was to write our own “hot girl haiku.” It brought me back to that time in early adolescence and young adulthood when I wanted so much to be a “hot girl” but I was more of a “geeky girl.” I wrote this in the comments:

face-first
in a stranger’s lap—
tequila shots

Joshua Gage, of Cuttlefish Books, wrote back that he’d like to hear more of that story. I said there wasn’t much to tell — I didn’t think I had too many “hot girl” moments. But it got me thinking, which led to writing the collection. 

On a related note, I read online that you wrote most of After Curfew in one sitting. Do you usually write in big spurts? How was creating this collection similar to or different from your usual process? 

I rarely write in big spurts! This was very different than my usual plodding along. I just felt inspired. It was like Rowan gave me permission to write about my past. 

What was your editing process like? Did you have to cut any haiku? Was there a point where you found yourself needing to add some to supplement the original poems? 

I wrote the poems quickly at first, jotting them down as they came to me. When it came time to order them, I wanted to tell a cohesive story: of first love, of loss, of moving on. When I realized that I really did have a collection, I wrote a few poems to fill gaps in the narrative, and I dropped a few that didn’t fit. Originally, I had a few tanka in there too.

In English-language haiku, poets are often instructed to focus on composing from the present moment. After Curfew is written in the present tense, but concerns the past. Did you make a conscious decision to keep the poems in the present tense? Or did that emerge organically during the writing process?

I think the present tense brings an immediacy to haiku — writing in past tense puts some distance between the reader and the poem. I’d like to say something profound about how I wanted the reader to share in my awkward moments, but the truth is, I was reliving my memories as I wrote them.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Julie Bloss Kelsey

Here are a couple of Annie [Bachini]’s haiku in the book which I especially like:

faint breeze rolling a scrunched paper bag

waiting room
the rhythmic squeaks
of the cleaner’s shoes

The one-liner is a concrete haiku of sorts, in that the bag is rolled horizontally with the text. What I especially like about it, though, are that the word ‘rolling’ is used transitively, rather than the much more common intransitively, and that the movement is engendered by a faint breeze. Yes, it’s a fairly straightforward ‘cause-and-effect’ poem, but it’s subtly done. The highlighting of an item of litter may or may not be seen as an incidental comment on today’s selfish society. And which reader wouldn’t enjoy the sound of that ‘scrunched’? The way in which the wind is interacting with a thrown-away item reminds me of that strangely captivating scene in American Beauty in which the camera follows a plastic bag through the air. The haiku is very neatly done.

The three-liner is equally fine, not least in how it makes art out of what, in lesser hands, could be a mundane observation. The waiting room might be at the doctor’s, dentist, train station or wherever – though probably one of the first two – but it’s the attentiveness of the second element of the poem which beautifully commands the reader’s attention. It’s an exemplar of how a well-chosen adjective can add so much: as well as providing visual and sonic balance, ‘rhythmic’ implies so much. The cleaner, it seems, is doing a thoroughly professional job, as perhaps they’ve been shown how to do. We might intuit, too, that the cleaner is taking pride in their work, but earns very considerably less than the professional in the consulting room. That it’s the shoes which the poet draws our eyes and ears towards makes this, for me, a real masterpiece.

The book, rather prosaically entitled Two Haiku Poets, is available from Iron here.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Annie Bachini

THE BOOK BURNING

was everything you’d expect it to be.
Self-righteous men, always men,
directing the children, laden
with armfuls of the banned, damned books.
Casting them into the inferno
with a wide eyed giddy intensity,
ecstatic in this act of vandalism
we are burning books!

and the air is full of charred letters.
Stray words set free
from carefully constructed sentences.
The ink knows as it sizzles,
that every book is a temporary alliance
of print and wood pulp and glue.
If the men had been more patient
eventually it would have returned to dust

Paul Tobin, STRAY WORDS SET FREE

I don’t think I have read a poet like Susan J. Bryant before, so it’s impossible to give readers a steer through comparisons to better known contemporary poets. The best I can offer you is to say that her work is clearly influenced by the formal satirists of the past for Elephants Unleashed is made up of biting poems in beautifully handled forms, such as villanelles, triolets, sonnets and ballads.

Nothing is safe from Bryant’s critical eye. The institutions of Church, Government, Education and Royalty are all subject to her cutting wit. Politicians are given a particularly rough ride. TONGUES SPIN AND WEAVE is typical in both theme and style. She writes: When syrup-dipped toxicity/ Disguises vile duplicity/ With evil veiled in virtue’s flower/ Your liberty they will devour./ Perceive, beguiled society-/ Tongues spin and weave.’ There’s something of a modern-day Pope here, both in sentiment and the music of the form, the rhymes working hard to give emphasis to the destructiveness and danger of politicians and those in power, who disguise their true intentions with feigned morality.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Elephants Unleashed’ by Susan Jarvis Bryant

It seems
AI is writing our poems
and books
and we can’t tell
the difference

All this is normalized
All this consumed
All day, all night

Our ruin is streamed
on all kinds
of devices

It seems
we can’t bring ourselves
to care

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What’s Going On?

[Months have gone by] and what have I been doing? Not writing. Sadly. I am beginning to wonder if I’m sliding into dementia. I have some of the symptoms: Lack of energy, isolation, loss of interest in things which used to interest me. Having trouble retrieving names of people and sometimes names of books or other objects. Then, again, in other ways I am fine and even perky. The garden absorbs my mornings and evenings. Watching British murder mysteries on my laps. I was completely alert and energized on a recent very long drive to Evansville INdiana. I am also somewhat addicted to watching short videos of horses , deer, birds, and babies on Instagram. I recently realized that as an only child of older parents, I was hardly ever around little babies, those under the age of two. I am fascinated by their faces, their eyes, the thinking that is obviously going on. Maybe this entry will break through my inertia.

Anne Higgins, Months have gone by

In early spring it’s wild ramps,
dark blades of onion-scented grass.

Then come the fairytale eggplants.
On the cusp of fall, tiny plums.

In winter I splurge on clementines
though citrus won’t grow here, at least

not yet. Sometimes I treat myself
to marzipan at Christmastime, though

almond trees are struggling.
We’re running out of groundwater.

How long until the memory of coffee beans
will be implausible as the days

when silvery cod were so plentiful
we walked across their backs to shore? 

Rachel Barenblat, Impulse buys

This morning the air felt crisp. There was a certain blueness to the sky that made me think of frosts. The fields were so dewy I got soaked walking the dog. This was the first day where it’s been too cold to wear shorts from the off. But by lunchtime the sun had burnt this faux autumn off and it was sunshine and warm air, except in the shade. It’s difficult to admit that the summer is nearly over, and I’ll miss my days of bare skin and sandals, but all things must pass, and there is so much to love about autumn. Now though, and for the next two or three weeks we are in the liminal place between seasons. It is a place of change. It is a place where we are not quite experiencing the riot of reds and oranges and crispy leaf walks of autumn, but not quite able to experience the BBQs and patio drinks, the golden evening walks and thick green foliage of summer either. And all the time we experience this change, we are physically and emotionally in change ourselves.

The catalyst for the turn towards autumn for me, and my feelings around it is always the migration of the geese. The geese now fly over my house in thick lines, long lines full of voice and each time I hear them my heart is taken somewhere wintry and still, and it stills me to hear them. In summer I felt vibrant and colourful, in autumn I will feel calm and aware and I want my days to reflect that. I shall change my practice and my focus to fully embrace the season, to be connected to the world around me, the natural world.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer a Sensory Experience – The Colour of Summer

Although the mornings are sunny
the heavy rain that lasted half an hour around dawn
has left the grass wet.
Small oaks are springing up where I planted acorns last year.
Today I will dig up the next batch of potatoes.
Together we will pick blackberries.
I will look again at my fantasy football team.

Bob Mee, ONE OF THOSE ‘I DID THIS, I DID THAT’ RECORDS OF A WEEK

星月夜ホモ・サピエンスなにをしに 矢島渚男

hoshizukiyo homo sapiensu nani o shini

            starry night

            what are homo sapiens

            doing here

                                                Nagisao Yajima

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (August 30, 2023)