Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 32

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. This week found poets wondering, worrying, meditating, communing, caring, grieving, raging, making, editing, despairing, finding hope, and reading other poets — a great deal of that, thanks to the Sealey Challenge to read a book of poetry every day this month (something I used to do in April, not realizing that the cool kids were doing it in August). Enjoy!


can you recall the first poem to see you

why is a luna moth in eclipse
beyond my grasp

how did the smell of rain arrive on earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

What happens in the night
Never stays there
Sitting on your shoulders
Breathing into your hair
A hitch hiker that won’t shut up
And you, the driverless car
Never reaching the horizon

Charlotte Hamrick, Worry

6:10 a.m.
three bells ring
I bow as I finish zazen
turn to find him sleeping
on the recliner behind me
he yowls softly as I scratch his tummy

Jason Crane, POEM: the dharma according to Norman

It’s the ripple and slip of underskin muscle, sometimes spasm sometimes grip;
more feline than sapien, love purrs tachycardic, a giant in bone cage.

In the forest, a mass of presence neither male nor female,
human nor animal, made me feed cats to the foxes
and their armies of weasels and minks:

see, it doesn’t have to hurt, though it has to happen, it said,
snapping tawny necks and passing limp muscle into sharp teeth.

JJS, (Sometimes, it’s a sharpening.)

As we come out of lockdown, I feel nostalgic for a sky free of vapour-trails and for air free of exhaust fumes. I resent the return of traffic noise from the relief road a couple of hundred yards away. I think fondly of the recent months when the no-through-road on which we live was not cluttered all day with the parked cars of shoppers and commuters. I can see local friends and meet my children and grandson, but I can’t hug or kiss them. As for more distant friends and relations – I wonder if I shall ever see them again.

I enjoy my long walks in the woods and fields, but I badly miss the dancing that was such a joyful and important part of life before lockdown. I have more time for writing, but a more insistent internal voice asks, “What’s the point?” I have a sense of being stuck in a broken-down train while the train I should have caught moves on into a different future.

A fellow-creature came into our lives on Thursday.

Hari Rama is a three-month-old Brahma hen, slightly disabled, socially isolated and very much at the bottom of a heartless pecking order. I have promised her that she will never be bullied again, and I shall do my best to give her a good life. She has the run (not that she can run!) of our small walled garden and is slowly beginning to find sunny and shady places to sit. Coincidentally a poem from The Paris Review appeared in my inbox the day we brought her home. I take this as a good sign.

From Pindar Says the Poet Must Guard the Apples of the Muses
by Antonella Anedda, tr. Patrizio Ceccagnoli & Susan Stewart

Pindar says the poet must guard the apples of the Muses 
like a dragon, but …

if anything, we need a hen,
the creature that hatches the egg of verses:
white for the void, yellow for the words.

Ama Bolton, Diagonally parked in a parallel universe, with a hen on my lap

I get leads on projects many different ways, but this is the first time that a neighbor–one with whom I trade cat-sitting favors–has given me a heads-up on a call for poets. Fast-forward to being on the phone with the organizer of an annual local outreach project that usually takes the form of four communal meals staged during the month of August. The Sunday Supper series would have to take a different form this year, due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The question: could I write six poems with one week’s notice?

The answer would usually be No. I’m not a particularly fast or prolific poet. If asked to talk about how I come up with a poem, I compare the process to an oyster at work

But I really wanted to take part in this project, to be staged in the Southwest Duck Pond adjacent to our apartment in DC. That’s the park I look out over, from our balcony; the park whose quacking ducks keep company on quiet summer days; the park we walk through on our loop to the farmer’s market. For me, the Southwest Duck Pond is the heart of the neighborhood, and I couldn’t imagine passing on the chance to have poems there. 

As I talked to the organizer, I was pacing our living room. My gaze fell on a copy of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. That was the solution, I realized: action poems.

Sandra Beasley, Necessity Is the Mother of New Poems

I’ve liked The Poetry Exchange’s regular podcast project Poems as Friends since I heard John Prebble and Andrea Witzke Slot’s conversation with Nicholas Laughlin the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books about the Martin Carter poem ‘Proem’. Laughlin’s disarming reading of this difficult-to-pin-down poem as he and his hosts notice things about it which have not struck him previously, his openness in accepting a level of non-understanding (“not an irresolute but not a resolved poem”) along with his insights into individual lines and a positioning of the poem in its political context struck me as a very healthy approach to poetry, and one which comes through in all these Poems as Friends episodes (there are more than fifty of them now). The idea of embracing a poem as a friend you wish to spend time with as opposed to a trophy you wish to hold aloft on social media as evidence of your great reading fits perfectly with the ideas around Responsibilities of the Reader that I posted about recently. It is also an approach which seems very anti-Cancel Culture to me, and while I think Cancel Culture is in some ways a misnomer for the phenomenon of principled people finding a voice for protest (let’s face it, there are aspects of Culture that can do with being Cancelled), it also has a knee-jerk, baby-out-with-the-bathwater side to it which Poems as Friends resists. The most recent episode, featuring actor, writer and director Stephen Beresford talking to Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer about Larkin’s ‘Vers de Société’, is a very good example of this warts-and-all friendship aspect of The Poetry Exchange’s philosophy.

Philip Larkin, of course, if he has not already been cancelled is, along with Ted Hughes, ripe for the cancelling. He ticks all the boxes for the problematic dead white male poet category, and it would be silly to deny that there are elements of his writing which are not only out of kilter with contemporary sensibilities but objectively snobbish, racist and sexist. It’s the misogyny, not to mention the intellectual snobbery, as Bennett and Beresford point out, which comes through in ‘Vers de Société’ in the line “…to catch the drivel of some bitch / Who’s read nothing but Which”. But Beresford says at the beginning of this conversation that for him “(this poem) is the friend that most other people don’t like, and they say the wrong thing, and there’s a WhatsApp group where people discuss how terrible they are…and because of their unpopularity, because they’re difficult, I find as I’ve got older I’ve more and more grown to respect them”. This is the real stregth of Poems as Friends. Some people will read an article like the one linked above and decide that Larkin lies on the wrong side of the good/bad divide, taking their relationship with him no further than that; but others will recognise the idea of an imperfect friend – one who you know well enough to be able to appreciate their good qualities, which stand side-by-side with their bad ones to make them a fully-rounded person. And it is hard not to acknowledge that sometimes the most difficult individuals can (in spite of and because of that) also be amongst the most talented, creative and profound.

Chris Edgoose, The Poem as (in a Pig’s Arse) Friend

Regular readers of Rogue Strands might recall my post last September (see here) about the National Poetry Library’s attempt to charge for membership, an attempt that failed on the back of petitioning from throughout the poetry scene.

Well, the situation has now worsened, not only with the temporary closure of the entire South Bank Centre due to Covid (which means no one could access the Poetry Library anyway) but also with the Centre’s consequent aim to make mass redundancies and shift to a far more commercial model. The question at this point, of course, is how the change will affect the library in both the short and long term.

I’m not against the idea of seeking out new revenue streams for arts ventures and venues through the use of their premises, so long as that’s combined with sensible public funding. However, this commercial process often seems to provide an excuse for ludicrous salaries in senior posts rather than making the most of those extra funds to generate high-quality, free artistic content for users who might otherwise be excluded.

Moreover, I do get extremely concerned when marketing people start producing word salads like the following quote from an excellent New Statesman article on the issue:

When we talk about ‘start-up’ we mean a ‘mind-set approach’: being agile, adaptable to change, moving fast, risk-taking, innovating, constantly learning, changing the status quo, learning from failure, for example. We are not re-modelling operationally as a start-up.”

This is just empty fluff. Of course, everyone’s aware that the South Bank Centre’s income will have dropped hugely and will remain at a low level for the foreseeable future. Neverthless, the current crisis shouldn’t be allowed to offer a perfect excuse for a permanent change in approach and the loss of one of the nation’s key cultural assets. In this context, central government must step up to the plate for once.

We need the National Poetry Library, we need its excellent staff and we need free access to its unique collection. Once again, we’re going to have to defend it…!

Matthew Stewart, The National Poetry Library and the South Bank Centre

I was speaking to my writing group about this question of self-belief in one’s writing I discussed in my last post and they pointed out that I was lucky to have a positive first creative writing teacher, positive early role models in general. They felt, and I now agree, that the first voices you hear as a child or young person about your self-worth stick with you. If those people, parents, teachers, mentors, were over-critical or negative, that’s the soundtrack that follows you throughout your life. If they were positive, it gives you a bolster of belief that could help support you when things are difficult. It’s worrying as a parent and a teacher to understand how much weight the words we speak to children have throughout their lives. […]

I joined the Helsinki Poetry Connection for an open mike night this week. My first in Finland and my first in at least 10 years. I’m well out of practice, but it was a good laugh as a few friends from my group also braved the experience and did amazing. Open mikes are the same in the US, UK and Finland in my experience. It all depends on the crowd, but there’s usually a good sense of support, some fun, funny and downright crazy readers. It’s a weird experience in another language. My Finnish is just not good enough to follow the poems, but I love listening to the sound of it and how everyone made it do different things. Helsinki Poetry Connection was welcoming and multi-cultural, so I didn’t feel strange reading in English. I’ll definitely do it again. 

Gerry Stewart, A Positive Voice

The pandemic has this way of both stretching time so that it passes really slow, but also, like a snapping rubber band across a room, really fast.  We are entering mid-August territory, which means the end of summer is upon us.  Normally, I would be relishing in back to school vibes, though the idea of “school” is this strange uncertain thing that feels the same, but is entirely different.   Soon, I will walk outside and find the one tree at the end of the block has dropped its leaves over night, almost embarrassingly early. Already the light and weather is different. 

For the press, that means the open reading period will soon be ending and I’ll no longer be dipping my toes in the pool for an occasional read, but diving in wholeheartedly.  I also feel like we are in a weird place, not necessarily just the pandemic, but the fate of the USPS, on which the press depends wholly (and which corrupt politicians seem to be trying to quell for their own nefarious purposes) . If things go sideways there in terms of shipping options for single copies, it may require revamping the entire business model and format of how we issue books (it could be done–digital chapbooks, which of course would be free, maybe giving authors the option of print volume in larger orders that could be fed exed.  Which would make the books more widely available and affordable (a plus of course, but also harder to keep us in toner & cardstock–we depend on single sales as much as author copies), but I still also believe too much in print to let it go entirely. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I’d like to have a bit more certainty before I take on books for next year so I know what to be able to promise authors on publication offers- business as usual with regular single copy distribution, or something more hybrid, more electronic, but still solidly in print. Losing USPS functionality would put a serious dent in publishing in general, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  It would also make it much harder to ship artwork and prints cost effectively, or anything really.

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | august 2020

America, it’s the day after
another hurricane hurtles
through towns, a fringe
of tornados leading the way.
The Baptist Church on the corner
of 38th and Bluestone has its face
sheared off completely by blades
of wind. Oak trees lie on their sides,
unpinned from lawns. Pine
branches intersect with power
lines. America, I used to believe
in your storied generosity: how
firefighters and volunteers alike
paddled through high water
to pluck shivering families off
their roofs; how police tapped
on the window to ask if every-
thing was alright instead of
ordering an entire family,
down to the youngest child,
to lie on the asphalt, arms
crossed behind their backs.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

This is the Mississippi Goddamn Nina Simone moon

pink slip goddamn eviction goddamn soft potato goddamn sick in the head goddamn doubledown Monday goddamn fed up motherboard goddamn blood down my leg goddamn vampire government goddamn two headed dog goddamn rancid labyrinth goddamn live wire black anemone goddamn slumlord goddamn car crash goddamn collapsed goddamn autopsy goddamn

Nina Simone O Nina Simone I need your fire to rise up in me

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

If I did write a memoir, I would write it with water, on water, in water.
Water makes the world simultaneously lighter – and darker.
It clarifies and it distorts.
Soothes and terrifies.

I’ve been having vivid dreams. Usually that happens when I’m depressed. But now I think it is menopause – this crossing over. Crossing through.

There is a place in Skagen, Denmark, where two seas meet and the sky is soft. Once I watched a friend swim there with seals. It’s dangerous, though. One helluva rip-tide.

Ren Powell, A Story Written in Water

I grew on land bordered by tides, water that advanced upon and retreated from rocky beaches. Now, I live next to rivers that run in one direction past sandy banks.

I need water to be the person I think of as me.

How do we survive drought? I don’t really know. Sometimes we don’t.

Last year I planted a small hydrangea tree. It has been a gorgeous thing, full of creamy petals and vibrant, supple leaves. I love the tree, whose only purpose is to be beautiful. This week, after days of relentless heat, I realized its branches were drooping and its leaves were spotting, some turning dry and dropping.

“Nononono,” I whispered to it. “You cannot die.”

I brought out a sprinkler and soaked the bed it grows in, only then noticing how its edges had cracked and pulled away from the pavement bordering it. When did that happen? How did I let it?

We are all connected, my drought contributing to its.

What are the limits of adaptation? I’m thinking that a hydrangea cannot simply mutate into a xerophyte. But what do I know? The cactus was once a rose. Still, I think we’d all agree: A cactus is no longer a rose, which begets the question: What does it mean to survive?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Let the rain come down

In this jungle of burning stars and broken-glass promises,

the daytime air feels like night and nighttime feels like an itch on a phantom limb,

reminding us our brains have not yet fully rewired themselves to comprehend the loss of old ways.

Everywhere I look,

small businesses burning from no customers.

“For Rent” signs as prevalent as facemasks in the supermarket.

Eviction threatened by landlord hearts too broken to house any bodies.

Oblivion scribed on the voided noise of lost neighborhood hubbub.

Each night before sleep,

I pray we may soon be paroled from these dark dreams and released onto well-lit, well-lived streets.

Rich Ferguson, The Wonderings of Phantom-Limbed Days

We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Transfiguring Atoms

I would say that the government is lying about the shape of the world, lying about the dreams that wake you with a shudder, lying about everything. I am living now in the silence of things, sleeping in the dusty corners. Accept the finality of the human experience. Raindrops like teeth, the enamel of a god; I am a being of light, and I refuse to answer to anyone.

James Lee Jobe, Raindrops like teeth, the enamel of god.

deconsecrating 
the concrete of the altar
ego

Jim Young [no title]

If I look back at previous Augusts, I’ve been in the hospital for various problems a lot – I mean, maybe it’s the heat, the waning summer, summer germ theory – so I can’t be shocked, though I’ve never had this particular kind of superbug infection before. The Dog Days indeed.

My coping mechanisms for previous illness-filled Augusts include trying to focus on the things I can do and enjoy – watching movies (recently, loved the quirky woman-writer-centered comedy “I Used to Go Here,” the first twenty minutes of which I swear was stolen from my own first book tour experiences), listening to audiobooks, dipping into poetry, photographing things when I get the chance. Not focusing on my lack of ability to do my normal things (even in these highly abnormal time) or focusing on my lack of productivity. Not focusing on possible mortality issues (this particular illness has a 6-8 percent mortality rate, higher than coronavirus!) […]

So yesterday I went out into my neighborhood of Woodinville and found small u-pick gardens and took pictures of dahlias and sunflowers. I even took a picture in one small garden, because I want to be reminded that I live in a world surrounded by beauty.

Similarly, I’ve been taking a partial try at The Sealey Challenge (because not every day is an “up” day where I feel well enough to read, I’m not reading a poetry book every single day in August, which is the challenge, but I’m trying to pick up a book on the days when I can.) And one thing about reading more poetry, and reading widely, from lots of publishers, is being introduced to all types of writing, and voices, and you notice covers and fonts, and you start thinking about how what you read influences your own work, and how your voice fit with with other voices of your time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Down Days, Up Days, Dog Days, Poetry Manuscripts Going Out into the World, and the Magic of Selkies

I love so much about #TheSealeyChallenge, a project created by poet Nicole Sealey asking people to read a book of poetry a day for the thirty-one days of August. I’ve read some guilty-sounding social media posts, though, by people saying they just can’t read poetry that fast, and I get it. The event has been running annually for a while now and I’ve only been able to post with the hashtag sporadically; I usually spend August desperately trying to finish up summer writing projects as I simultaneously gear up for the academic whirlwind of September, which has ALSO involved, for the past twenty years, filling out back-to-school forms and shopping and packing with my kids. Crazytown. This year, though, I’m heading into the best-timed sabbatical in the history of the universe. I can spare an hour a day for other people’s poetry.

Yet I have to add that one of the great things about poetry is how it slows us down, drawing readers into hard thinking, compressed language, and close observation of the world and ourselves. It’s paradoxical to try to read a lot of poetry FAST. I often do a first reading of a poetry volume in a single hour, trying to understand its scope and aims, but unless the poems are unusually brief and straightforward, that means I’m not taking in every poem deeply. I just read ARCs of a forthcoming book I plan to review, for instance, and I’m going to have to reread it much more slowly soon, taking notes, developing a deeper grasp of and appreciation for the work. Teaching a book, likewise, requires layered engagements with lots of pauses. And sometimes you just WANT to go back and reread something non-instrumentally, for the pleasure of it. #TheSealeyChallenge is a bit like NaPoWriMo, when people try to draft a poem a day for the month of April. The product isn’t the point–it’s the process of making daily space for art that counts.

I appreciate, though, how this challenge inspired me to buy a bunch of books, dig through piles of books I’ve never managed to read, and investigate library holdings. And I like, after months of flogging my own books, turning to poetic citizenship by promoting other writers. Finally, it’s fun to follow the hashtag and use it to find other writers and readers with similar tastes. All that said, it’s only the 5th, so who knows how I’ll do?

Lesley Wheeler, #TheSealeyChallenge & #TinyBookFair

I have managed to read a book of poetry a day so far in August for the Sealey Challenge. The biggest surprise has been reading poetry in German. I love it, and I love reading it aloud. I like that it asks for all my attention. I read a book of Ingeborg Bachmann last week and today I got a jump on tomorrow’s book by Rainer Maria Rilke. I remember my father and stepmother had Duino Elegies in their house when I was a teenager and it seemed so exotic. I had to look up again today what ‘Duino’ is. It’s a castle.

Otherwise, the best thing about participating in the challenge is I’m reading wildly different books, many by poets I’ve never encountered. So far:

DMZ Colony by Don Me Choi
Telephone: Poems by Jay Besemer
Die gestundete Zeit by Ingeborg Bachmann
The Good Apocalypse by Anne Boyer
Silk Poems by Jen Bervin
East Window, translations from WS Merwin
Fair Copy by Rebecca Hazelton
The Truth Is by Avery M. Guess
Head Off and Split by Nicky Finney

I confess I am feeling forlorn for fiction. I’m addicted. But for August I can’t fit it in with working, eating, sleeping, drinking, scowling and despairing.

Sarah J Sloat, Sultry with occasional thunder

As with so many books of poetry, here’s a beautiful cover that draws me in, with cover art by poet and publisher Richard Krawiec, and cover design by Daniel Krawiec. The book, on Day 9 of the Sealey Challenge (where I should be saying #sealeychallenge except I am hashtag challenged), is The Next Moment, by Debra Kaufman (Jacar Press, 2010). Lots of beauty and empathy in this book, speaking directly to me in poems like “The Drought Speaks,” naming flowers I love, dry spells I’ve known, and things I now know to be true:

     …it’s the wildflowers that prevail,
     their ragged foliage
     still green in the heat,
     new blossoms about to open.

As I read this one, on a cool morning after enough recent rain that my husband is mowing, our devil’s strip is wildly blooming with Queen Anne’s Lace. I’ve got some in blue water on the kitchen table because my friend Kristi said she did this as a child to watch the white blossoms turn the color of the water. They did, after a week or so. Blue lace!

Kathleen Kirk, The Next Moment

In 1991 I made the decision to spend more of my time concentrating on the thing that fulfilled me the most, writing poems. To  make this happen I began working part-time so that I could block off a part of each week in the pursuit of this.

I made several mistakes. If I had my time again I would have attended at least one Arvon Course, mostly to meet other people. I would have attended more poetry readings. I would have written more.

One thing I do not look back on with any regret is the amount of reading I did. Subscribing to as many poetry magazines as I could, I read, I felt, everything I could get my hands on, aware at the same time that I was barely scratching the surface of what was available.

The twin achievements of this intense phase of reading and writing were that a) I wrote a lot of poems -some good, most of them bad, but all of them mine and b) I felt more alive and less alone at the end than I did at the beginning. (I still often wonder if the latter is not the chief purpose of all of my writing, for better or worse).

When I am asked for it, the advice I most often repeat is: read. To write poetry, you need to be in relationship with poetry. It is not rocket science. But it is a process, and you do need to commit to it. One of the best ways of feeling less alone is to subscribe to poetry magazines. (Or there is Arvon). You realise there are other people out there who are just as afflicted with poetry as you are. And you can learn from them, guess at their influences, watch them develop, even write to them.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Mandy Sutter’s ‘Caring for the Environment’

The title of your collection, Dressing the Wounds, evokes the forgiveness and reparations of relationships, the healing that occurs for love to continue on. Do you find that the act of writing itself is a way to dress and address your wounds? What about the act of reading of poetry? 

Thank you for that description! That is just what I was hoping to evoke, and I do think reading actively achieves that as well, which is partly what I was getting at with my last answer. I worried a little over the title seeming too grim, if people focused on the “wound” aspect over the “dressing” part. There are actual dresses/costumes in the book, so that was a literal aspect I was trying to conjure, but, yes, mostly the title was, for me, about how we move forward by healing and taking care of the places we are vulnerable. It absolutely speaks to forgiveness. 

I do indeed find that writing is a way to confront, to address wounds and reckon with them and try to puzzle out how to feel about them, how to move forward in spite of them. For many people that is a pretty private thing to do, and one reader recently told me the book is “brave” in that it tackles terrain many are familiar with but don’t often share. I was really happy to hear that take on how the book felt to her. My intention was to try to express myself in a way that extended beyond what would matter to me, and I hope that readers find their similar wounds addressed too. I also didn’t want to write a one-sided account that excluded a partner’s experience, though I am not sure I was 100% successful since I, like everyone, have a hard time being objective when it comes to these things. The act of considering both sides and trying to write in a way that avoids judgment is the place I think it is most respectful to write from, so that’s where I aim and where I hope I land most of the time. Certainly time and other readers can help in hitting this mark, so I did have fellow writers, and my husband, read the book after it had been accepted and before the final version was due to the editor.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Rebecca Hart Olander on the Flaws and Snags of Love

I’m one of those negligent bloggers who rarely pays attention to analytics, but for the last year or so, the top post here, overwhelmingly, has been 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation. And since Covid-19, even more so. We have so many new griefs now, so many permutations and adumbrations of grief. And because of the way things are, and how limited we are in our gatherings, we’ve had to develop and discover new rituals. How do we console our friends from afar? How do we process these new kinds of griefs?

There are a lot of people more qualified than I am to speak about grief at this time.

And maybe this is not a thing for everyone, but I’ve been having fun planning my own funeral/wake/memorial — I think I want a better name for it. But after I’m gone, I’d love it if you read some poems, had a good glass of whiskey, (unless you hate whiskey), listened to some good music, looked at some great art, released some butterflies (probably metaphorically), and wore your favourite dress-up clothes, in my honour. It doesn’t matter what, but I’m partial to fancy shoes and velvety garments. Jewel tones, and plenty of black. Your most empowering lipstick. Make yourself your favourite sandwich, a clubhouse maybe. Grab some Miss Vickie’s chips. (Or Cheetos if you prefer).

I would like some good jokes, some funny skits played. Whatever makes you laugh is great. Because laughter really is vital.

Shawna Lemay, New Rituals for New Griefs

The long sun at evening.
Wind in the hairs of your arms.

What descends in the coolness
is the darkness of knowing.

From here to the horizon
anything you touch will

change who you become.
Listen, the wind says. Listen:

you can go, you can’t go back.
This is where you came from.

Tom Montag, THE LONG SUN AT EVENING

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 31

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. This week’s theme, if there is one, might be described rather too glibly as “feeling low in high summer.” A lot of l-words make an appearance: languor, lugubrious, limbo, lemon, lime, light, lines, luxuriousness. Lockdown, of course. And still, life.


scissoring low
between lamb and ewe: 
the heatwave swallows

Matthew Paul, Some summer haiku

I always feel trapped by August, its thick cluster of vowels.  Clotted.  Lugubrious, made for a lazy tongue.  Made for  limbs given up to the sun.  If it were a kitchen sauce, it would need to be thinned.  If there is a gust in August’s nature, we don’t feel it until the second half.  

Just what augur lurks in August?  Something is hiding in plain sight of its sun.  Its heaviness portends.  The gods know what hangs in the balance, but who can read the signs?  In the long wash of hazy beach sunset, reams of moody air rolled out, I can’t find a pattern.  The gulls are dropping mussel shells on rocks.  Sandpipers perform their own nutcracker suite in the just-washed shoreline.  Their pattern is their business. 

Jill Pearlman, What augurs, August?

Sound of morning,
the O of the
sorrowful dove

opening like a
vowel, like a sigh
after loving.

Tom Montag, SOUND OF MORNING

When the milk was delivered midmorning            languor
cradled in the crook of the household

On the coal stove blazed by asthmatic breaths
coffee beans splayed open         peaberry plantation 50 – 50

Uma Gowrishankar, The coffee drinkers

When I participate in or host zoom chats, I’ve tried to be conscious of what kind of visual impression I make. Though I’m not a person with a closet full of bright colored clothing, I’ve worn a lot more of it this spring and summer. Color always lifts my mood — most of us respond that way. For some reason, human beings seem to echo or take cues from their environment, and while people in the south have no trouble wearing tropical colors, we northerners are notorious for wearing black, grey, brown and white in the colder months, just when everyone needs color the most. (But we’re Canadians — wouldn’t want to stand out too much!) Anyway, all I’m saying is that I’ve been conscious of the effect of color on my spirits during this pandemic, and when I was trying to get back into doing some artwork, it wasn’t linework that drew me in, but pure color.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 34: The Transformative Power of Color

Moisture is clinging to everything –
on the undersides of flower petals
it glistens like starlight,
on the edges of the awning where it
drops on my head just as I step
out from under,
on the slick black back of my cat
slinking through the bushes hunting
lizards.
But I am dry, dry, dry […]

Charlotte Hamrick, Dry Spell

Most days I find myself in this strange limbo of having no idea what the next few months will be like. What the next few weeks, the next few days. It’s hard to plan for programming and other library things when it’s a very real possibility that Illinois will hit the red zone again and we’ll all be working entirely from home. I’m making good faith gestures that it will not. Planning exhibits, thinking about my ILL workflows, buying fall clothes (I found an oatmeal sweater dream dress on Poshmark and put it in my cart so fast I got whiplash, because, yes, it’s time to start propagating that fall wardrobe. ) I’m ready for fall after the last few hot, muggy days, which seem to have cleared–last night was cool and windy enough to knock my conditioner & shampoo off the window ledge in the shower. If we have been robbed of cookouts and beach going, and really, just going anywhere or doing anything until 2021 at least, fall is pretty homebody-ish for me anyway. I mostly just want to stay in and watch horror movies, though if we’re honest, that’s pretty much ALL year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2020

Here we are in high summer — my favorite season of the year, all lush and green. And I can’t help bracing for the winter , knowing the likelihood that the pandemic will surge again when flu season arrives and when we’re all confined to poorly-ventilated indoor spaces. I’m always a bit fearful of the oncoming winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me every year, even when I do all the right things. This year I am extra-afraid, because I imagine that winter will mean not only long dark nights and bitter cold but also lockdown again, and shortages again, and rising death rates again, and loneliness. 

This morning I went to Caretaker [Farm] with my son to get this week’s vegetables. As I bent to the green bean rows and lifted each plant to scan for beans, I breathed the scent of clean dirt and greenery through my soft fabric mask. Remembering the indigenous wisdom in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass (which I’ve read several times) I pressed my palms to the earth and murmured a thank-you to the soil, the plants, the careful loving farmers, and the whole web of life that makes it possible for me to pluck these vibrant, beautiful beans from their runners and bring them home.

Rachel Barenblat, Comfort

The yoga teacher says lift
your palms to your chest;
turn it into a box
of intention. Then lie
down and bring your hands
to your sides. Imagine
your corpse floating down-
river, leaving everything
and everyone behind.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait:  Savasana

I love the process of starting small with a still life and then enlarging it, and then at the end slowly taking away each object. Which is better, the more minimalist version with just the one vase, or the addition of shells, flowers from our garden, then lemons, the skull? For me it doesn’t really matter, it’s the process that’s the thing. These small gestures. Standing up on the sofa with my camera and then jumping down to nudge a shell, turn the vase, heading to the kitchen to peel the lemon, wondering if the skull is too much, pulling the one broken bloom out to dangle its head, turning the nautilus so you can’t see the broken off part, turning it back so you can. I’m blessing the still life, all still lifes, their quiet, their infinite nature. I’m blessing the held breath of the photographer, the perfect blooms and the more ragged ones. I’m loving the way all the time I’m shooting, Fantin-Latour is in the back of my mind and how art and loving art and objects and flowers connects us through time. It’s a small thing to love, but it helps.

Shawna Lemay, Love Small and Obscure Things

And so I feel awake to my mind, to the words on the page and to the world, the latter of which is both good and bad. Don’t turn your back, she says. Even when it aches, she says, and I’m trying.

This week has been an absolute mess, including a couple really miserable work days and one morning in which I had to Google “what to do if you get wasp and hornet spray in your eye.” The week has also contained its share of pure magic, like the doe and twin fawns I watch from my porch. Like the gladiolis (nearly 4 feet tall!) near my walkway. Like the sky that’s ours to see whenever we want to look up. […]

Morning, after all, has been pawing at me these last few months. Pay attention to me, it’s cried. (Meowwwww.) Its persistence has not been a metaphor: it has the claws to back it up.

Just as autopilot didn’t last, this wide awake nesting mode can’t either. It’s not only that perimenopause is calling a bunch of the shots. My normal rhythm — though not as rapid fire as the hormone-influenced one — is to race and rest, race and rest. Race, race, race.

Collapse.

Rest.

I’m trying to go slowly this time. I am trying to set no expectations about “results.” I’m trying to change where I place “value,” In doing so, I hope to be able to sustain it a while.

I told my therapist earlier this week all the things that I was sick of, including striving, which led us to talk about how to recognize what does work. “When it feels good,” she said, “pay attention. What are the ingredients?”

It’s easy to say what to leave out of the recipe: long hours at work, hornet spray in your eye, wild hormones, cat scratches on your calf and a fucking global pandemic, for starters. A simple invitation to name what it is about the fawns that moves you? Much more challenging. But also: it’s exactly what writers do. We grope for meaning. At least it’s what we do when we show up, when we accept that other invitation: Be here. That is what we must practice.

Carolee Bennett, on “groping for meaning” with natalie goldberg during a global pandemic

Some days even the flat roads
present as inclines and inclines
persuade me they are really hills
while any actual hill has risen
to an unknowable height. And then
I glance through the trees
at the side of the lane, the glitter
of sunlight, the short grass
stretching to the horizon, and I feel
the opening of my own heart
as I run through the world,
overcoming, for now, that ridge
of resistance and accepting it all:
flat roads, hills, how the world
is composed of joy and woe, of light
and shade and we are the bearers.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Resistance

These little messages from the outside world can hold more portent than they might have a few months ago. This can mean a rejection has more impact, or that a postcard can carry more weight. I’m trying to avoid using Facebook (because of their ethical decisions and misinformation problems, along with thinking it might be detrimental for mental health in a way Instagram and Twitter are not) so I end up spending more time in the physical world. Physical objects like books and magazines get more attention, and I want them to be beautiful and encouraging. I bring in spring-scented sweet peas in a jar, cut dahlias in cases around the house, the occasional rose in a bud case. There is some mythology that hummingbirds were messengers from the gods. If so, I hope they bring good news. We could use it.

I’m also trying to support the businesses I love (and want to survive) with e-commerce as much as possible, whether that’s buying a dress or a book or a box of produce from my local farmer’s stands (here’s a link to 21 Acres, my favorite in  Woodinville, and Tonnemaker Farm stand, which also has a beautiful u-pick garden). I also want to support visual artists and other writers when I can. I’m not wealthy, but I feel like coughing up a few dollars for a literary magazine subscription or someone’s new book might help keep artists and publishers alive, and maybe deliver that hopeful or positive note that someone might need.

Because I am a writer with two poetry manuscripts circulating, waiting for good news on either one is a kind of excruciating hobby. I agonize over title and organization, whether to include new poems, whether to take out old ones. I feel like putting time towards writing and revising is at least a positive place to put some of my frustrated, homebound energies. I wish I had a big “yes” from the universe right now, from a dream publisher. I hope I get over this superbug soon so I can get a little way back to “normal.”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Inspiration Where You Need It, Looming Messages from the Outside World

I was half-heartedly cleaning out the hall closet the other day in an ongoing bid to find my long-lost Fitbit, and I realized that I have done nothing crafting-wise in many, many months. I have had no desire to sew, to make rugs, to finish my many unfinished projects, or to paint or draw. I firmly believe this is directly related to COVID-19 and the subsequent stress it’s caused me. I feel like I am instinctively reserving my energy right now. I have had to go into work every single damn day of this pandemic and cope with the massive stress that is involved in working in a hospital during a global outbreak, and I don’t have the luxury of any leftover energy to generate the creative impulses necessary to crafting. It makes me sad. I feel deadened in that way, and I don’t think that it’s good for me. And it seems weirdly tied in with my unwillingness to make a hair appointment, although I don’t know why the two would be related. Perhaps it has something to do with a sense of luxuriousness. Part of why I enjoy getting my hair cut is that for one entire hour, I get to feel special and taken care of and a little bit fussed over. It’s worth paying a little extra money to go to a place where it smells nice and looks pretty and there’s some ceremony involved in making me look slightly better. I don’t want to get my hair cut when it is going to be stressful and fraught with rules and distancing and glass partitions and fear and an “in and out as quickly as possible” mentality. That same sense of expansive luxuriousness is tied into the time and energy required to think through a creative project and execute on it. Generating the energy it requires to consider time, color, form and design at this time just seems impossible. I don’t like this. As an artistic person, the grayness and lack of vibrancy in the world right now is very disheartening. Maybe the best way to fight against it is to rebel; to somehow find the energy within to create something of beauty, no matter how small.

Kristen McHenry, Dental Stalking, Crafting Sads, New Monsters

Two years ago I bought a wetsuit and was determined to face my fear of open water – with a barrier of neoprene between.

Two, three times we swam across the tiny lake. Two, three times I had flashbacks of the Kentucky river and the nest of baby moccasins. Slow down, I said: Breathe.

This is what panic feels like. And it is almost always irrational.

Right?

Swimming in dark water is a metaphor for life – and for death. You can never know what is near. What that bump or tug might be.

Slow down.

Breathe.

Anyway.

… And get back out there.

Ren Powell, Learning to Swim

childhood 
digging up the hamster
to see the bones 

Jim Young [no title]

Tomorrow is my 67th birthday if anyone ever says I’m “67 years young” I’m going to sock them in the neck

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was 78 years old when she died she fought like a wild thing full of anger denial and general piss-offedness I love her for tossing her own goddamn five stages of grief out the window at the end

I keep thinking about the blue land crabs that marched through a Miami suburb in early June I believe they were harbingers of a strange and eerie art perhaps a reversal of doom we should have paid attention

William “pig bacon” Barr twirls his pen adjusts his glasses smooths his hair and attempts to talk over anyone but especially women right now he is leaning his head on his hand giving himself a hitler mustache with his middle finger he has a lot of tells William “pig bacon” Barr can also be called William “pig bacon” Tell

Earlier this week I gave myself a tragic haircut and now I can’t tuck it behind my ears hippos get deep cuts and scratches and ticks and bites on their skin which they can’t reach (obviously) so they enlist barbell fish to nibble them to clean and sooth them after which the hippos go into a deep happy trance this is how I feel at my hair stylist

I saw a harmonium on the side of the road just hanging out among the trees it was a perfectly good harmonium and it was on the road for two weeks I wonder where it was going and why

White men have weaponized their cars against children’s soft bodies why aren’t these republican politicians on television outraged and why is it more important to them to protect buildings instead of the soft bodies of Black men and women and children

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I don’t know why I should blog this. I don’t feel able. John would think it absurd. He says I mustn’t lose my faith in the president, and has me take Breitbart, to say nothing of vitamin C and rare meat.

I lie in bed and look at the paper. Behind the outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like people posting and tweeting alarming news at a social distance. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder–I begin to think–I wish the pharmaceutical industry would hurry up and release a vaccine!

*****

There are always new infection vectors in the wall-paper and the virus gets into my hair. In this hot weather it is awful, I cannot even walk in the garden. The CDC recommendations go round and round and round and round–they make me dizzy!

But I really have discovered something. The front pattern does move–and no wonder! The people behind the bars shake them! Nobody could climb through the pattern–it strangles so; but I see a woman wearing a mask and brandishing an absentee ballot.

Lesley Wheeler, The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Lesley Perkins Wheeler Gilman

July’s wallpaper:
apricots, cherries, peaches
and the moon out there.

Not a day missing,
a full month. Empty-handed
we arrive, breathless,

Where are our colours?
What happened to the music?
There’s been no dancing,

just counting of steps.

Magda Kapa, July 2020

The lime drops to the floor and rolls under the table; you cannot reach it. It’s just that kind of dream. Whatever you want is always just beyond your reach. You can never quite do the thing that needs to be done. 

There is a lover for you, but you never make love. Or perhaps someone who is dead in your waking life is there in the dream, and seems to be well; you are glad to see each other. Neither of you mentions the death. 

Time passes. The dream changes, grows darker. There is rubble in the streets, buildings are in ruin, it is night. You are doing a job that is both familiar and unfamiliar, and you cannot actually complete the work. 

James Lee Jobe, The lime drops to the floor and rolls under the table; you cannot reach it.

1)      If new online mags appeared regularly prior to lockdown, there’s now a veritable plethora, often created and curated by well-known poets/editors, and technically adroit. Will this be a watershed moment? How many of these outlets will stay the course? Does this daily bombardment of new work mean that poems disappear into a temporal vortex even more quickly than in the past?
2)      Zoom fatigue. When people were cooped up at home in full lockdown, Zoom readings and workshops immediately became popular. However, now lives are gradually opening up beyond the boundaries of the home, is a Zoom fatigue setting in?
3)      If everyone’s anxious, that means poets are probably more so! First and foremost, this seems to be expressed in their work itself, even if it’s not consciously Covid-related.
4)      And the same anxiety for poets is also reflected in an attitude to submissions that feels even more awkward than pre-Covid. Waiting for a reply to a sub is always tough, but it’s made easier if you’ve got a busy daily routine. If you’re furloughed or stuck at home, time weighs more heavily and those subs start to stress you out.

Matthew Stewart, Ten poetry trends in the pandemic

Picking up magazines at random I had a chuckle-filled time reading the eviscerations inflicted on my fellow-poets. This came to an abrupt halt when I read the opening sentence of a review which turned out to be about my own book. It read: ‘Anthony Wilson is far too capable a writer to ever be any use as a poet.’ It did not mean this as a compliment. I read the sentence again, to check I had read it correctly. The room began to tilt. Sweat seemed to be coming out of my eyes, but I knew it was not sweat.

I went outside for a bit, onto a balcony overlooking the Thames. Even the river seemed to be tilting. I noticed that I needed to hold on to the furniture to walk.

Then I made a second terrible mistake, quickly followed by a third. I read the rest of the review of my book of poems (it got worse), then photocopied it so I could share my outrage with Rupert and Siân. Taking nothing away from their sympathy, neither course of action did anything to improve my state of mind.

Once the initial shock of my discovery had worn off I seemed to enter a long tunnel of numbness. Normal life and interactions would continue around me, but I participated in them as though hearing and observing them through a wall made of glass. Everything was muffled: sound, the taste of food, my children’s laughter. Everything except my anger.

Siân was great company on the train. She said the answer was to eat and drink my body weight in almond croissants and Virgin Trains coffee while penning offensive acrostic poems using the letters of the reviewer in question. This helped enormously.

Our tutors for the week were Jo Shapcott and Roger McGough. Keeping us busy with insane sounding exercises like writing a villanelle before lunch, they threw ideas, poems and anecdotes at us implicitly expecting that we were well up to the task not only of keeping up but writing poems of value.

This feverish and competitive atmosphere cajoled me from thinking too closely about the review. Nevertheless, as soon as I was away from company my fears about its hostility gnawed away at me. I began to believe that they were right.

I remember going to bed on the second night with a poem (Jo had set this as an exercise) that we found from a book we had plucked off the shelf at random. The idea was to read the poem aloud and to try and memorise as much of it as possible before falling asleep.  I had chosen her own anthology Emergency Kit , probably in an attempt to please her. I closed my eyes, opened the book and stabbed at a page in the darkness. The poem I had chosen turned out to be ‘Before’ by Sean O’Brien. I had a dim memory of having read it when I bought HMS Glasshouse (OUP, 1991), but now the poem seemed to come alive in a completely different way. In its meticulous calibration of that time before waking and the switch to what Les Murray calls the ‘daylight mind’, I found myself suddenly able to hold my rage and disappointment at something approaching arm’s length. The world O’Brien describes is not free of pain, far from it. But, hypnotised by its somnambulant rhythms I found myself wanting to believe in words as a force for good again. Things could be otherwise.

A miracle.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Sean O’Brien’s ‘Before’

I plan to try the Sealey Challenge in August, which you can read about here. Basically it’s a dare to read a book of poetry a day during the month. Chapbooks and re-reads are fine.

I wanted to have to buy as few books as possible but ended up buying about 10. If I were in America I would use the library. I have some German-language poetry in my stack, but I read poetry in German much more slowly. That said I dipped into one of the Bachmann books and it was kind of great. Still I’m a bit daunted. I’ve included my own book and will make up the difference with chapbooks I have at home to make the challenge less demanding.

Have I talked myself out of it now? No, I’m no perfectionist. If I don’t read 31 books I won’t consider myself a failure. At the moment, nevertheless, I’ve gotten a headstart on “East Window,” a book of Asian poems translated by W.S. Merwin. It’s more than 300 pages long. It’s wonderful but days into it I am only halfway through.

I have examined my motives for joining this challenge. I wondered, do I just want to socialize online? Do I just want to post photographs of books and find affirmation? Do I want to look cool? Honestly I just want to read poetry again and especially poetry I haven’t read before. But I confess I love photographs of stacks of books, photographs of single books and photographs of books artfully arranged in pairs, triplets and quartets.

Sarah J Sloat, Sealey Challenge

Today I read Bruise Songs, by Steve Davenport. It’s a book I’ll be reviewing later, so I’ll say more about it then. Today I offer it for Day Two of the Sealey Challenge to read a poetry book a day. I had started to read around in this book when it first came, but today I read it straight through. Well, I read the first poem, “Dear Horse I Rode In On,” and then the note about it in the back, which I knew was there from my reading around, and the note mentioned the last poem, “Soundtrack for Last Words,” so I read that, and then the actual last poem, “Moon Aubade,” and then I went back to the beginning. That’s my nonlinear way of being linear.

Speaking of the moon, my husband just came in and said to go out and look at it. So I did. It’s full on this beautiful clear night. And, hey, I started this book in the morning and finished it at night, so I am linear, after all.

Kathleen Kirk, Bruise Songs

The wisdom of square foot gardening, which is to break your growing space into small, manageable portions, easily translates to writing projects. If the blank white page is your word-garden, it can seem like a pretty scary place, simultaneously empty and full of possible word-weeds. But if, as in gardening, you divide it into small parts, the prospect of filling that space is much less intimidating.

This approach is the opposite of freewriting, which instructs the writer to scribble as fast as possible for, say, five minutes. While useful in getting past a writing block, this approach would be disastrous in gardening, the equivalent of wildly scattering untold numbers of seeds all over your carefully prepared garden bed. Not just a bad idea, but one you’ll most likely regret for a long time to come.

With square foot poetry, I use 3×3-inch Post-it notes (you can also draw squares on your sheet of paper or in your journal). My favorite color is yellow, because it’s cheerful and reminds me of the sun shining on my garden (and hopefully, on my words). Now, just like in gardening, I try to fit as much as I can inside those squares, substituting words for plants. When I write on my Post-it notes, I take my time, since every word takes up proportionally more room than on a larger piece of paper. 

An advantage of using Post-it notes is that you can easily move them around, rearranging the piece of writing you’re working on (yes, I know there are programs that do this, but for now, I’m using paper). When I plan my garden, I use the same method, taking into consideration how tall the plant is, how much sun it needs, and whether I grew it there previously.

Erica Goss, Square Foot Poetry

I was pleased that I performed well under pressure.  I don’t want to be one of those people who freezes and can’t act–or worse, that falls apart in hysterics.  I was glad that I remembered my address.  But more than that, I have been trained since childhood to call 911 in an emergency.  Happily, I’ve never had to do that. 

Now in the past 6 weeks, I’ve had to make that call twice.  The first was for a student who was having chest pain and tightness and tingling in his left arm.  He was young and looked like he was in good shape, but the symptoms were close enough to heart attack symptoms that I decided it was better to call 911 than not.  He was fine, although there was some irregularity revealed by the tests that the paramedics used.  They wanted to take him to the ER, but he declined since he was sure he wasn’t in danger of a heart attack.

As I said, the rest of the day felt easy yesterday.  At 1:00, I watched the new poet laureate of Virginia being sworn in.  Maybe these events have always been livestreamed and/or recorded, and I just didn’t know it–but one of the benefits of this recent time is realizing how many of these events need to be livestreamed and recorded to reach a larger audience.  It was so inspiring to watch–it would have been inspiring regardless, but it was even more so because I know Luisa Igloria, the new Poet Laureate.

As I watched, I made this Facebook post:  “I am watching Luisa A. Igloria‘s acceptance speech–she’s being sworn in as the Poet Laureate of Virginia. How cool that we can all watch, even if we can’t travel to Virginia. And even more wonderful to know that she was chosen–it gives me great hope for the future, both the future of poetry and the future of the country. It wasn’t long ago that a female would not have been chosen, an immigrant would not have been chosen, a non-white poet would not have been chosen. She’s an amazing poet, and I’m so happy that she’s been chosen!”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Your Cottage Doesn’t Catch Fire

Our world wobbles on its human-made axis of insanity and is always one blindfolded step from ruin:

pandemics, poverty, wars, and racism.

Countless beings wail in the key of pain, unable to retune themselves to ease.

Certain nights, the moon is just a trick of light;

one evening, it resembles a diamond, the next night, a dagger.

And so we strive to become one another’s steady shine,

through light and dark, rise and fall, song and smoke.

Rich Ferguson, The Moon is Never What You Thought it Was

On a day that I give into it all and do little more than sleep and eat and write these postcards, I wonder about the missives I send out into the world. Why does it matter to write snippets about bread and berries and walks and hammocks, as if such things matter in times such as these? Can it? Do they? If I write about the sweet and omit the bitter, am I delusional? Am I in denial? Am I bearing false witness if I crop loneliness and sorrow and fatigue out of my stories, or if I leave only their shadows at the edges of the margins?

Late that night a friend shares an essay, and Lyz Lenz reminds me that our stories in times such as these–all of them–are “a struggle of memory against forgetting.” They are “a struggle of nuance in the flat face of fascism.”

Reading, I understand what I often forget, and why I force myself to do joyful things even when they bring me little joy and why I write about them. It is a struggle to hold onto old joys in a new age of despair: To shape the dough, pick the berries, move the legs, still the body long enough to feel warm breeze against hot skin–and write about it. It is a struggle when such acts and the writing about them may feel trivial, inconsequential, or even self-indulgent. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

To do such things and write about them, to remember what was sweet in the past and keep it present–even if flawed, even if lesser-than, even if the gesture feels cliched or hollow–so that it won’t disappear into some dark forest of the future, is a making-and-doing of the highest order.

As Lenz reminded me, when writers write they know: “At least I am still here.” And when we read their stories of living plot lines like our own, we know that we are, too.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Postcards, the making and doing edition

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 30

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. This week: remarkable and terrible things, tectonic shifts, a longing for freedom, changes in direction, fresh inklings, bodies in the world, dreaming of the dead, ecstatic surrender, remembering the future, restoring mental equilibrium, taking chances, defending imagination, forgetfulness and supplication, poetry vs. prose, and the toe comma. Among other things.


I am in a dark cave I can hear the whole wolf world howling at me but it’s muffled I am in the cave scrambling out because the tide is rising I have seen remarkable and terrible things this week

when I was at the beach an eagle flew down and plucked an oyster from the sand not three feet away from where I was standing his tail feathers spread he took his time with it in no hurry to fly off

this morning I sobbed watching John Lewis’s body travel over the Edmund Lewis Bridge in Selma Alabama in a cart pulled by two black horses a cart with red iron wheels driven by a stately Black man in a top hat the bridge covered in red rose petals Mr. Lewis’s family walked behind and near the end of the procession each member of his family was given a single long stemmed rose which they placed in a line on the bridge upon which the black horses walked I could hear people singing We Shall Overcome

this is a historic moment in our country’s dark time on a Sunday in which fires blaze in our cities a Sunday in which the president is a craven beast encouraging us to bring civil war our infected cities our infected farms our infected schools and hospitals our infected democracy a terrible dark time in this country

I saw a dead owl on the road this week his huge wing fanned out I watched three young boys carry a forth by the arms and legs down the street all of them laughing I watched a lame rabbit drag his broken leg behind him as he disappeared into the underbrush at the state park I walked past an eight year old boy tap dancing like Gene Kelly in the back of a truck with the tailgate open a look of pure concentration on his face

Rebecca Loudon, In deepest July

[photo]
Sunday socially distanced picnic in the park. Sure, I have a back yard. I love the back yard. But there’s something about being alone together in the company of big trees that nourishes as much as salami and cheese and olives and wine. Something about the young woman, so small, sitting before those trees that will stand long after we have fallen. All the words we didn’t exchange that I can read in the curve of her back. Or perhaps that I’m writing upon it.

[photo]
This dog. He is demanding almost constant contact with his humans. It is wearing on us, to be honest, but there are gifts here, too: forced rest, space to contemplate, time to prepare. Grace for the taking. Much of this experience of walking him to his end feels like a dress rehearsal for a play not yet written. Love is a verb.

[photo]
My girl, with her dog and her love. He is on the phone, half-way around the world, ten time zones away, sleeping with the bear she sent him. Every single thing in this photo cracks a different part of my heart, fissures that spread and branch and intersect. It will likely be years before I can write anything substantial about this summer’s tectonic shifts. Maybe I never will. Time is no longer infinite.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Postcards, late mid-July

I’ve just come back from camping in Hebden Bridge. Four days of walking. A bit of reading. Three haiku written. Happy days and cold nights, especially Sunday when the sky was clear. Having camped on the top of the hill, just off the Pennine Way, it felt like we were that bit nearer the sky than anywhere else in the county. Fantastic.

Walking, even if you’re only out for the day, makes you very conscious of weight and what you can comfortably carry. Poetry pamphlets are ideal walking companions. Slim, lightweight, easy to dip in and out of. I was happy to take When All This Is Over (Calder Valley Press) with me, as it arrived last week. Put together by John Foggin and Bob Horne, with editorial input from Kim Moore, this pamphlet is the result of a project that started in lockdown, where John put out a call for poems responding to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Swineherd’. Three months on, here we have a pamphlet that reflects that response, not just to the poem ‘Swineherd’, but to that peculiar time.

It was interesting to be reading these poems whilst out walking, as so many were about a longing for freedom, a desire to hit the open road and get away from it all. ‘I’ll become a nomad and travel/ where everyone goes wild about birdsong‘.

Julie Mellor, When All This Is Over

I’ve been reading even more poetry than usual over the last few months (and there is a lot of poetry out there to read). A lot of it has been by poets totally new to me. I’ve been surprised at times by what I’ve liked – and by how different from each other the poems are that I’ve liked. I’ve also been surprised that I haven’t liked some poetry that has had very enticing reviews, and yes, I know, different people like different things. I use ‘like’ here to cover a multitude of  positive responses – poetry can move you in so many different ways, and sometimes it just doesn’t work for you right now. It’s great, though, to see the diversity of poetry out there, and it’s also great to see how well the poetry presses have responded to the current crisis.

I’ve also realised that my own poetry has recently changed direction – and style. Well, hopefully it’s been developing before that, but now it feels different. I know that for quite some time I have wanted some particular poems I have written to be published as a pamphlet/collection. Some of them have been published/accepted in magazines, for which I am very grateful, and have also been online, but it seemed to mean a lot to me that they got published together. At the moment I don’t think that’s going to happen. I have made changes to some of them (though I’m not sure I should have), and mixed them in with newer ones that have been published/accepted separately, but maybe they are a thing of the past and should stay there. Maybe they were just not good enough overall or didn’t work together. There’s a lot of competition out there and other factors involved too, and yes, different people like different things. Whatever the case is, they had their purpose, and they’re still there for me, and for the people to whom they would mean the most, who have already seen them anyway.

Those poems were largely about remembering, trying to understand, to explain, maybe. They were very autobiographical, personal. I don’t think you can actually ever get away from that entirely, or indeed whether you should entirely – we write from who we are after all, but I notice my more recent work is more outward-looking. I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision, or has been influenced by what I’ve read, or whether that’s just where I am at the moment. Maybe it should have happened sooner. It wasn’t that I didn’t look outwards before, it’s just that I wasn’t sure how to respond. Certainly the current situation is one where change is a part of daily life and it would be hard not to respond to that somehow. My earlier poems drew very much on the natural world, particularly birds, and I don’t think that will disappear, but maybe now it will be from a different angle.

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry and me at the moment

It felt surreal to post writing like this at this moment. My summers are normally reserved for poetry, but now I’m finding that a lot of my July writing time is being allocated to other writing endeavors – mostly response to school opening plans and to various entities: admin, union, board. The writing of poetry is much more engaging than prose. Maybe I’ll start writing my responses to school openings in limerick form. Wouldn’t that be something?

Kersten Christianson, October Hill Magazine

The point is that this week has been the first week since the start of lockdown when I’ve been able to take a foot off the gas. Work has been quieter as a few projects are off and doing their thing for a bit before I need to tune back into them and thanks to a sore left knee I’ve not been running so much. This, and the fact I have massively reduced the to be reviewed list means that I’ve had the chance to do some of my own writing for the first time in about a month and a half. I know it’s not important in any scheme of things (whatever scale of grandness you choose to use), but it does feel good to be back at it.

And the drafts have happened. Some of this is more fully-fledged ideas gathering pace as they get closer to finished, but shockingly, there are two whole new poems being worked on this week. Both are ideas that have percolated for a while (a year or more), but given the paucity of work recently this is a flood. If I add that to the notes I’ve rescued from my email drafts and notes apps then I am a happy man. I like it. It’s almost productive.

Although, not as productive as my daughter. Two days ago she started mapping out her first novel in a series. It seems to have a vampire and witch theme—oddly, she’s been watching a lot of vampire and witch-based stuff on TV, but who cares about the theme; I’m just waiting to be able to retire off the back of the proceeds.

Mat Riches, Mangoes on a walk

Last night, first time I heard the tree crickets’ din blossoming in darkness; cicadas’ daytime clatter began last week, and the lantern fly nymphs are in their last stage before morphing into winged tree-pests. The heat’s oppressive, which seems to suit the general mood. I have not been writing poems, but this morning wakened early to surrounding birdsong and felt a moment of beauty amidst the tension.

As usual, my garden has offered respite. I harvest beans in evening’s humid warmth, pulling pods from the resilient stems. I marvel at the squash blossoms–bright bells amid enormous green leaves–and gather cucumbers and zucchini, and wait for tomatoes to ripen as I tie up the vines heavy with green globes. The scent of lemon basil pervades dusk as the last fireflies start to wink. Yes, there are disappointments and bugs and there will be yet more weeding and work. It is, however, labor of the body for the nurture of the body. A body in the world.

Ann E. Michael, Respite, refuge

Scratch the surface and there is much to be worried out.  The virus burning through the southern states who still won’t take it seriously, despite packed hospitals and mounting death tolls.  An uptick in Chicago cases. The scary things our government does and hides (sometimes in plain sight) or just tries to pretend isn’t happening.  I read an article earlier today on “doomscrolling” and indeed, I am perpetually guilty of it.   There were a couple days last week that just got really busy in terms of work and focusing on other things and i realized I was feeling mentally better. Now, I realize I wasn’t looking at the news so much over those couple days.  Over the weekend, I got really excited and engaged in playing with video again and realized almost a whole day had passed without me doing the doomscroll.  I’m feeling a tension between wanting (needing) to know what’s going on and knowing too much and at length.  Particularly when it comes to things, like the virus, I can’t really control on a national scale. I’m having a hard time figuring out how much is too much. 

Kristy Bowen, doomscrolling 2020

You awaken each day to a feeling of sadness, a dull emptiness. Morning does not come to the dead of COVID-19. Nights come and go, and you are, in time, full of these forgotten dreams, forgotten names, and everyday the number of COVID-19 deaths grows. And friend, night does not come to the dead of COVID-19.

James Lee Jobe, The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams

What I don’t know is most everything outside my door.

Those secrets sound like crow song in their more mystical moments.

In their more nightmarish—like an ongoing car alarm, my sonic and savage umbilical cord connected to a ripped-off world.

The word quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta giorni, literally a space of forty days where plague-ridden ships were kept from shore to assure no latent cases were aboard.

In this isolated room, all I know for sure is that I have trouble sleeping at night.

That is why I’m apologizing for anything I may have said that doesn’t make sense.

Then again, I may have already said that without having said it.

Rich Ferguson, Waking the Dead

We need to do more than just live through this time. Could we not live while in it? Should we not learn something about ecstatic surrender?

These are not new thoughts or observations. Hey, I’ve been singing the Sheryl Crow song loudly in my car for a very long time now. “If it makes you happy then why the hell are you so sad?”

It’s always been a ride, this negotiating between happy and sad. Even the kids are onto it.

“And I’m the kind of person who starts getting kinda nervous
When I’m having the time of my life

Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?
Happy and sad at the same time”

– Kacey Musgraves

Is there a word for it? Shakespearean? Ridiculous? I don’t know, but I do know that if you seek out pockets of happiness, you’ll be better able to weather the other registers, the inevitable truths of the less pleasant and trickier spheres.

Shawna Lemay, We Live in the Multiple Registers

People keep describing these past months as “unprecedented”.

Seriously?

We measure reality in such small packages – our small collections of private experiences. Twenty years slip by, maybe another twenty… and from this tiny window we proclaim a a sum understanding of the human experience to determine the proper trajectory for (the organisation of) human behavior.

We don’t even glance sideways.
And if we do, we dismiss it: We are the future, after all.

Ren Powell, An Anti-Climatic Sense of History

Pygmy woodpecker, olive-backed
sunbird, dusty-headed bulbul; tree
sparrows that we call maya—I pack
mung beans into plastic pouches,
lentils into jars. I wonder about
places where other selves might fold
over and over, like happiness
afraid to show itself. The future
is most recently a dream of hammocks
floating into the sea.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dealing or Not Dealing Well with Sadness

One of the many things I hate about this new corona virus is how wide the symptom list is, and how they’re all items that could be something else: runny nose, headache, cough, muscle aches. It’s not like Ebola, when cell walls collapse and victims bleed out of orifices that aren’t usually bleeding–that’s a clear sign.

I’ve had a headache off and on all week. It could be stress, or it could be changing barometric pressure, with a tropical system nearby (another source of stress). I’ve had parts of the day where I go between sweaty hot and chilly–but no fever. Is that a tightness in my chest or just uncomfortable underclothing? Does the tingle in my throat signify a cough coming on or dehydration in the height of summer?

I even thought about going to get tested, just to put all my speculation to rest. But a test for COVID-19 would only tell me that I was negative or positive today–if I got the right test results. And how long would it take to get the results? By then, I could have been exposed many more times.

For those of us who have been out and about in public, or in offices, I’m not writing anything we haven’t all been experiencing and/or wondering about. But it seems important to capture these ideas.

Tomorrow I will stay closer to home and do some baking with my sourdough starter. Perhaps I can restore some mental equilibrium that way.

And if not, at least I’ll have delicious bread!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Anxiety Dreams/Anxiety Reality

A little earlier in the year, despite my hatred of applying for grants, I applied for one I’d never seen before: the Allied Arts Foundation. Early this week I received an e-mail that I thought was a rejection, but was actually telling me I was an “Honorable Mention” and would receive a grant that will probably pay for at least ten manuscript submissions. I was very happy to see my friend Jenifer Lawrence (who was in a poetry workshop with me for a dozen years) right next to mine. So the lesson is: even if you feel you are very bad at grants, take a chance. You never know! Any money for poets during the coronavirus is a good thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Little Good News, Fun Swag from Texas A&M’s Library, and Another Little Video Reading

One of the very first times I read a poem at a literary festival, the woman who was compering the event stood up at the lectern after I had read and asked what my mother thought about being cast in one of my poems as rather drunk and rather mad. The poem in question was ‘Spinning Plates’ with its opening line ‘My mother was mad as mercury…’. The idea of the event was that this person would quiz the poet about their poem and they would then get a chance to respond. So I stood up and said ‘My mother doesn’t read much poetry but I credit her with the intelligence of knowing that a character in a poem is not necessarily a real-life person’.

Perhaps my answer was a little too barbed and snitty, but it is one of those fundamental issues in poetry that gets my hackles up, rather like being asked the question ‘Are you still writing poetry?’

Richie McCaffery, The Invasion of the Poetry Body-snatchers

the old poet‬
‪reading his words asks‬
‪who wrote this‬

Jim Young [no title]

I lament my own forgetfulness which pains me at every opportunity. Arriving in the cellar only to cloud over on my purpose, in fact to fill with fog and begin to drizzle.

I lament awaking to the deluded messages of an disastrous leader whose ramblings should be isolated like a virus and prevented from spreading. Ruin. All ruin.

Also, the horse lodged in the pipes behind the bedroom wall has broken loose again, galloping through distant waterfalls of plumbing.

I am plagued by artists unable to wander beyond the beauty of 20-something women. This is not imagination, but a lack of it.

I curse the moths who have made a meal of one of my last remaining sweaters. On first inspection it appeared whole, but when I slipped my arms into the sleeves, there they were — the ragged injuries.

I lament the plastic toys the neighbors have piled high beside our common fence. I lament the fence! I lament the squalor.

I have planted a tree. I have upgraded my prayer to supplication.

Sarah J. Sloat, I appear briefly on the balcony to curse the meadow

1. That movement in the brush, the chance reflection in a pane of glass, that blue comb you found on a gravel path, the person your peripheral vision almost caught—these are the spermatozoa of poems. All they lack are the reactions of the egg in the womb of consciousness.

2. Like the smell that precedes rainfall, the “scent” of an imminent poem will make itself known to a poet. What the poet does with it will almost never live up to what was offered initially, but that is true in the realization of nearly all ideals.

3. The essential difference between poetry and prose has never been adequately defined, aside from offhand attempts. Perhaps it has to do with the differing intensity of desperation felt by each category of writers. The poet feels the need to gather the final issue of smoke from a doused candle wick before it dies out; while the writer of prose has the topic fixed in a virtual or real outline, and therefore has the leisure to write on until it is adequately explored.

10 Thoughts on Poetry – guest blog post by John Brugaletta [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

The good
poem bends

the poet
to its

needs.
The good

poet bends.

Tom Montag, The Good

Sadly, the rub of any vacation is that it comes to an end. We return to “real life.” For an anxious person like me, even just a whiff of it causes panic. And that’s where I was Thursday. The going “back to normal” thoughts were bearing down on me, and so I vented to my partner and stomped around as I tidied up the room. In doing so, I caught the pinky toe of my left foot on the leg of a chair and definitely broke it. I launched a few f-bombs, began to cry and went straight to the shower to get it out of my system before dinner.

The toe turned purple and puffy almost immediately. We treated it with ice and ibuprofen and margaritas. I wasn’t sure how much damage I’d done (or how many toes were involved), though, until the next day when the toe was an even darker shade of purple. Somehow, it wasn’t as sore. And I could tell it was just the one toe. Nothing to do but wait for it to heal.

And I have to be honest: it felt good to cry. We push through so much, even pandemics apparently. Stiff upper lip. Broad shoulders. Big girl pants. We hold it all in ’til we can’t anymore. The toe was my “can’t anymore.” In fact, except that it’s shaped more like a comma, I’d call my broken toe the exclamation point at the end of “CAN’T ANYMORE!”

But maybe a comma is better anyway as I reason my way gently through how to take better care of my writing life. Instead of throwing my hands up in despair with the exclamation, the toe comma asks for something to come next. It not only invites something to come next: it requires it.

And so something comes next.

Carolee Bennett, i’ll give you something to cry about, the broken toe edition

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week I’m in a bit of a rush to get the digest out before the promised storms hit, which will mean disconnecting the wi-fi: on a mountaintop, routers are especially vulnerable to the electricity in the air during a thunderstorm. But my gardens are so parched here, I am praying for all the bad weather we can get. And by praying, I mean reciting Robinson Jeffers: “Come storm, kind storm. August and the days of tired gold and bitter blue are more ruinous…”

Anyway, I apologize for any possible typos below, and for my lack of a concise intro. As some writer or another once quipped, I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for brevity!. But I was pleased to find no shortage of great posts to quote (or in some case, reproduce in their entirety) this week, starting with an ocean swimmer’s essay on the toadfish…


The toadfish sits on the bottom of the sea, singing a song of love.

It is a creature midway between humble and fabulous. It is small enough to fit into a person’s hand, and has a bulbous, grey-green, wet look. It is quite ugly, except for the luminescent dots (photophores) running along the length of its body, which give it a spiffed-up, dance party look, like the buttons of an ensign’s jacket, thus giving the toadfish its other name: the plainfin midshipman.

I have never seen a toadfish, but I have heard them singing.

Ordinarily the toadfish lives in the deep, dark sea. But when it is time to seek a mate, the toadfish swims up to the shallow, intertidal waters of a bay or slough. The male burrows into the mud at the bottom, and begins to sing, hoping by his song to attract a female to his burrow. Vibrating his swim bladder, the toadfish emits a clear, resonant tone — a steady drone, a hum. Other toadfish nearby tune in, and they synchronize their pitch with one another, so the water column fills with a continuous humming note. It can be quite loud, penetrating the hulls of boats and ships, keeping their occupants awake at night. It may even be loud enough to awaken those on land. It is often mistaken for a sound of mechanical origin: A distant ship motor, a generator, or some other machinery operating on the shore. But no: It is a sound the toadfish have been singing for probably millions of years, since long before humans existed.

On a recent swim along Muni Pier, aka Aquatic Park Pier, I heard the toadfish singing, each to each. I did not think they sang for me. But their song sounded, to me and my swim friend Zina, like a chant, really, a steady, clear, “OM” sound, somewhere around low A, and it was a song I felt I could join. The deeper I put my head into the water column, the clearer and stronger the sound became. If I could swim deep enough, I thought, I could enter into the sound completely, but I might never return. So instead, from the surface, I tried matching the note with a sound of my own, floating there with my face in the water, chanting my own OM into the water, bubbles blowing out of my mouth as I chanted along with the toadfish.

When I found the right pitch, my whole torso resonated with the sound. I had joined the chant, the chorus of the toadfish. It felt like the all-encompassing, penetrating tone of pure love. It was the sound of the universe singing to itself.

Dylan Tweney, I have heard the toadfish singing.

Covid exists. Covid-19 exists, summer-20 exists. High noon exists. Heat exists. Water in rivers, in seas, in showers, from fire hydrants exists. Coves exist. Hidden lanes of purple hydrangea exist. Overturned bones of kayaks. Smoothness of stones, stones, pebbles irreducible pebbles exist. Marsh grasses like glissando on a piano. Poison ivy exists. Bodies in hospitals exist. Grief exists. Shadows and data and systems, bindweed and drifting boats, errors and interpretation. Brutality exists. Bridges, from a distance, from other islands. A breeze laying traces of a fishnet on the waves. Wildness, wilderness, wildness exists. Light that has never been the same since the beginning of time exists. A swimmer’s ecstasy exists. A swimmer exists as she swims through that moment’s infinity. Festivity exists only because of the possibility that it might not exist.

Jill Pearlman, covid-19, summer-20

This summer, I’ve been participating in Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly poetry reading in the nation. This series is usually in Arkansas, but its presence online is one is those unexpectedly beautiful things that has come about during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to Kai Coggin for hosting this event and curating this reading in such a welcoming, inclusive, affirming way. This has been a summer highlight for me.

Last night I shared my poem “Nevermore,” a love poem for my Granny from my chapbook 28,065 Nights, which will be published next month by River Glass Books. [Click through to watch.]

Katie Manning, Wednesday Night Poetry

I was feeling rather smug about having a new collection of poems for which I could start gathering rejection letters, until I realized that at least 10 of the poems in the 50 poem collection seem to be the same damn poem over and over again.

Yes, they differ in imagery and rhythm and movement, but they land in the same place, with they same no-duh realization.

I know I often feel like I’m writing the same poem over and over, but to have it so plainly in my face is, well, annoying.

I thought I could get clever and tried to turn one poem on it’s head, so it at least STARTED in the same damn place but ended someplace else, but I wasn’t fooled by my trick.

It’s funny, of course, because I hadn’t realized how obsessed I’d been. But clearly I’ve got issues. Or one issue, anyway.

How many such poems can a collection can get away with having? Two? Three? Four if I hide them throughout and distract the reader with shiny objects?

Marilyn McCabe, It was fascination; or, On Writing the Same Damn Poems Over and Over Again

I’ve read that many writers are stressing about not writing as much right now as they think they should (what with still being mostly constrained from fun distractions, like offices, travel, parties, etc. but still in the middle of a poorly controlled pandemic) but for me, summer is a natural time for revision. I don’t write as many poems in the summer, typically (and it also tends to be my worst season for health – unfortunately, this July has proved no exception – I caught a superbug during my root canal AND just got tested for coronavirus as well, because why have just one thing?) […]

So besides photographing my cat and flowers with my typewriter, I’ve been spending hours looking at the drafty drafts of poems I’ve written since January, looking harder at my two book manuscripts in terms of organization and order. It’s been four years since my last book, and I’m getting a little anxious about getting another book into the world, but I do want them to be the best books possible.

I’ve had a couple of writers take a look at my newest manuscript for feedback (which I recommend if you’re feeling stuck and unable to “see” the manuscript anymore), and I was surprised by a couple of things, including that I’d been writing accidental sonnets. Anyway, I also don’t recommend futzing with two books at a time if you can help it. I think the older manuscript is pretty polished, it’s the newer one that still needs some reshaping, but keeping track of both in the same spreadsheet is eye-crossing. I got an encouraging note from a great publisher, but had to really work to track down which manuscript they were responding to! Not good, Jeannine.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summer is for Revision, Phone Calls to Catch Up with Writer Friends, and Twitter’s #PoetParty Returns

I slid off the rocks pictured above at Willoughby Spit, Virginia, last weekend, cutting my toes and raising a mother of a bruise on the opposite shin. A couple of days before that, I fell off a bike, although that time I managed to throw myself clear onto some relatively cushy grass. The day before that, I got bashed down by Virginia Beach waves a couple of times; the wind was high and getting from the billows to the shore was a challenge.

I’ve always been a klutz, but my muscle tension is higher now, which makes my balance lousy. Paradoxically, I don’t think my fear of falling helps. I watch my 19-year-old leap up and down steep trails, the kind spined with sharp rocks and tree roots; his footing is relaxed and sure because he trusts his body to do what he wants it to. Was I ever that agile?

I still want to move with speed and attain the great view, but if I push even a bit too hard, I end up benching myself. I’ve been thinking about ambition in writing, too–not, this week, ambition for quality of the writing, but craving a little bit more recognition, pushing myself to apply for more opportunities, even knowing that middle aged women hardly ever pull the brass ring. Leaving town for a few days, even though we didn’t go far, allowed me to stop thinking about Unbecomingand The State She’s Inhallelujah! When I got back from the beach last Sunday, though I dropped into a homebound funk, made worse by a sore throat. I immediately thought I was dying from COVID-19, felt sorry for the kids and husband I would leave behind, and did some soul-searching about what work I had left to do in the world (yes, I go apocalyptic quickly and vividly). Then I realized I had stopped taking an allergy medication at the beach, started it again, and felt fine within two days.

That cheered me up, but what cheered me more was a long phone call with Jeannine Hall Gailey ranging over all these subjects–health, career aspirations, politics, literary culture. It helped SO MUCH, and not just because she’s a gifted pep-talker, which she is, or because she gave me good concrete advice, which she did. As she wrote on her own blog earlier today, conversations like that can remind you that we’re not alone in aspiring and feeling frustrated. There’s a difficult balance to walk: for sanity’s sake, you can’t get carried away by po-biz longing, but I also don’t want any of us to underrate ourselves. Others are perfectly ready to ignore or underestimate us–we don’t need to get a jump on them!

Lesley Wheeler, Like water wants to shine

Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I’ve had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven’t felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn’t ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped. 

I’ve had days when I’ve ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I’ve cried at a reader’s harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I’ve despaired that I’d never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it. 

But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn’t compare them to others’ work, didn’t worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough. 

It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I’m blue, but I can’t make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else’s head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it’s not for them, it’s still yours. 

Gerry Stewart, Good Enough?

This weekend, I put the bloom project to bed.  Or perhaps planted it deep in the ground (if the metaphor is more apt.) It’s still a little rough, and I plan to spend the next few weeks smoothing out some edges and see what I’ve got.  Again, it’s hard to write about things without distance, so maybe some time is what these pieces need.  Up next in writing plans is a little fun series on Weekly World News headlines I’ve been batting around in my head that is making me giggle. It might be the perfect antitdote to some darker projects I’ve been immersed in the past few months. (well as shadowy as The Shining and virus poems tend to be.) 

According to my journal/planner, I had all sorts of creative plans for this spring and summer, but now feel like much of them fall to the wayside in the name of just getting through the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at least there are still poems, pretty much daily, first thing I work on over breakfast. I’ve also been devoting one weekend day to writing-related things like submissions and manuscript org, and book promo efforts (this this weekend’s book trailer success.)  which feel like they can get swept away, especially now that I am back to commuting during parts of the week. My relationship with all things poetry is still rocky, and I tend to go from obsessing about writing then back to not caring at all, but it’s still a case of pandemic brain that I hope will pass. It might be one of the things that I still feel I have control of–so perhaps I need it more than ever. […]

My longer projects tend to build as smaller things constellate–and tend to be more over-arching in their themes, but broader in their subject matter.  Maybe it’s just easier to write several small books than one big one, or to somehow trick myself into writing a larger mss. by composing it out of small ones.  Like building a doll house out of wood blocks rather than framing it out and constructing a whole.  

Kristy Bowen, for the love of tiny projects

little spiders 
born in the smallest room
my house is yours

Jim Young [no title]

Thinking about fires in a fireplace, because we have a fire in our summer cottage on cool mornings when I’m writing, I ask myself whether “hearth” refers only to what the fire rests on or the whole fireplace.

I open the dictionary.  It means the stone under the fire.  But my eye catches the word “hearth-tax.”  In seventeenth century England and Wales, I read, a hearth tax of two shillings a year was levied for each hearth.

Now I want to know:  Is this the original form of the property taxes we pay for our houses?  How much did two shillings buy in the 1600s?  Did people complain about what their tax was paying for and how high it was?

Could I use this in a poem?  And how am I supposed to get back to work?

But I couldn’t write without a dictionary.  Mine is a one volume version of the OED.  When I pause to look up a word – usually for its etymology, its base meaning – I feel fully engaged in my language.

Ellen Roberts Young, Delight in Distraction

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Kristen McHenry, Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

I haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

Ren Powell, The Emotion of Textures

[Writing about loss]

is letting the memories come

is sifting them out, writing down what was said, what you saw

is sitting with the sadness, reentering it

is knowing this is the only way to explain it all

is giving the context in each cover letter

is sending her picture in with the poem acceptance

is telling the editors her name

is daydreaming not of the book getting published, but of sending the book to her doctors

is daydreaming of the only poetry reading you’d want to do of it–at her graveside, for her.

Renee Emerson, Writing about loss

5:45 a.m. The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive. The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on. I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I’ve been thinking about the lives lost this week. The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process: of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths–139,266 deaths in the U.S. In an average flu year, we’d have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S. Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week. Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey. When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network–and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe. Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly. Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week. Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis. In some ways, their deaths are good deaths–they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them. John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Morning Reports

Your scythe drags its shadow
over the threshold
like an unwanted child.

The slippery blade curves
under the burden. I recognize my fear

in the throaty croak of a rooster.

Romana Iorga, Sharp Dawn

“Tell us a story.” For my parents’ generation,
a siren was normal. Normal was hiding

beneath ones desk, dreaming a bomb.
On screen, the anchor quotes a dead poet

while our rockets launch. Syria. Beautiful
is a word we still use. Virtue is a word we use.

The interrogator’s textbook says not to look
for symmetry. Not to get attached to a source.

R.M. Haines, New Poem: “Death Prime”

I have been on a Dickens kick since March, reading his novels and travel writings that I had never gotten around to in the past. He was, in many ways, a journalist: a consummate observer of human behavior, appearance, society. It struck me, reading American Notes for General Circulation (1850), how prescient he was about the USA.

In 1841, Dickens was just 30 years old but well-regarded in England and in “America,” where he traveled with his wife for six months. His observations tend not to demonstrate the best about 1840s Americans, though he also reflects on the “good character and general friendliness” of the people here. He remarks at how free education means that almost everyone is literate–every non-enslaved person, that is.

What amazes me is his wrap up, where he concludes his book with a kind of warning to Americans, a warning about our inclination toward doubt in our fellows–our lack of trust, about hyper-partisan political ideology and its poor results, about the ruin slavery will visit on the nation, and about the sad tendency to reward/admire “smart men” over moral, kind, generous, or intelligent ones. He additionally blasts this infant nation for its insistence that trade (and capitalism) matters more than just about everything else except the vaunted concept of personal freedom, which of course is belied by the existence of slavery.

Ann E. Michael, Foretelling

Now, more than ever, America feels like the prom date that’s gotten totally wasted, and is spending the whole party sick in the john, leaving the rest of us by the bandstand, mirror balls spinning above our heads, scattering shards of shattered light across our face masks and crumpled quarantine attire, wondering when the band will, ironically or not, play “Freebird” and light up these purple mountains and amber waves of grain with enough electricity to shred the heaviness from our bones and make us feel light enough to walk on water.

Rich Ferguson, America, the Freebird

We talked before about our meeting in university, but I’m curious about your interest in poetry before that. With the name “Hafiz,” I suspect your parents played a role, but perhaps not? What role do you think poetry has played in getting you to the place in your life where you are now?

Shazia [Hafiz Ramji]: I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into with me! A poet in a poor immigrant family is hellish for all involved.

Hafiz is a popular name in Persian and South Asian and Muslim cultures, as I know you know from the infamy of Hafiz/Hafez the big poet. I was named by my grandparents as “Shazia Hafiz,” which is my full first name actually (but I go by Shazia in conversation). The grampy and grammy must’ve known what was coming more than my parents did! Though, they were initially going to name me “Sasha.” I don’t know why… or I don’t think I’m ready to find out!

My dad used to sing ghazals when I was young – on tape, every day! At the time I really disliked them. To my little kid ears, they sounded so sad and slow. They stopped me from living in my fantasies of becoming an explorer when I grew up. My dad also used to tell me stories at bedtime. We all used to sleep in the same room, because our house was small and because the Gulf War situation scared the crap out of us. I would not be able to sleep if he didn’t tell me a story!

I also remember reading voraciously. My parents would take me to the bookshop and the owner would let me exchange the book for one on the shelf (without ringing it through), because he knew my parents were broke and that we’d be back in no time.

I don’t think I legitimately knew what a poet or a writer was until I was into my teens, but I remember writing constantly when I was young. I would sit in front of the TV and watch snakes and other creatures on National Geographic, and I remember feeling awed by so much beauty! And that’s when I would pick up a notebook and write “a poem,” which was just descriptions of deserts and oceans and cool stuff on National Geographic.

I still watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth to get into the writing zone. Wonder and awe return me to a good place.

Rob Taylor, To Reach Each Other With Love: An Interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Here’s a dorky story that I’ve kept with me my whole life. I was in grade one, I know this because we moved house the following year. I knew that the woman down the street was older and alone and unwell. It snowed a lot one winter and I had a red plastic shovel and when it did snow I sneaked down and cleared her walk. Probably did a terrible job, but there it was. I remember doing this several times but once, she came out her front door and called me over and tried to give me a two dollar bill (which have long been discontinued and which is entirely beside the point — but I can vividly picture that two-spot waving in the wind and her in her floral house dress holding the screen door open and how cold it was). It was super nice of her, I’m sure. But all I can remember feeling was that it was all ruined, that I’d been caught, and it was ruined, the gift was. I wasn’t doing it for money, it was just this secret thing that had been making me feel good. I ran away without the cash and cried and I’m not sure anyone really understood why. Maybe they did.

So anyway, what that taught me was to just be more stealthy, and to do secret good things.

Also, an aside, I remember really loving that dumb little red shovel. The sound of it digging into the snow. You know? Remember when the things we now call work were just plain fun and delightful? I’m still that dorky weird little white haired ghost kid who never hardly spoke a word to anyone outside my family and because of that my mom would always get phone calls saying I should be “tested” since I must not be very smart.

Shawna Lemay, Do Secret Good Things

In February 1992, so long ago, I moved to Germany. I rented a little place temporarily in the old city area of Mainz. It had no heat, or rather, it did — an old coal oven that I was sure I would use improperly and end up suffocating myself. And funny enough I was reading Germinal at the time, about the French coal miners, the poor, who shall inherit the earth. I still remember the passage about the brioche.

After a few weeks I moved to a one-bedroom apartment near the train station where I could catch a bus to my office on the outskirts of the city. Mainz is not a big city. One night soon after I moved in I was asleep in the back bedroom, which looked out over a brothel, when I awoke to a shaking for which I had no explanation. The bed rattled and I looked around and wondered what on earth could this be and I thought it must be the devil come here. All my childhood fears have materialized and here I am engulfed in the devil’s blender!

This couldn’t have lasted long. I got up the next morning with the feeling of having had a bad dream that you’ve forgotten except for the fright of it. I didn’t recall the jolt or ever opening my eyes. But when I got to work one of my colleagues asked if I’d felt the earthquake. It was like someone brought the smelling salts. Immediately I remembered the rumbling and surprised as I was I was also relieved for an explanation. I was also shocked to find out there were earthquakes in Germany.

The trigger for this memory is the book I’m reading, “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell, in which the narrator has a similar experience in Bulgaria, most likely in 2012.

“I was pinned to my bed by an animal fear as the world shifted with a sound I never heard before, a deep grinding thunder and the sound of alarms, all the cars of my neighborhood shrieking their warnings, a bewildering cacophony of patterns and tones.”

The book is beautiful and transcendent and I recommend it, earthquakes and all.

Sarah J Sloat, Tremulous Adventures

I am tired.

Though I write from a place of privilege and of safety, I am tired.

Tired of feeling mentally fried nearly all the time.

Tired of the government -who are not a government, but a campaign team that got out of hand and do not have our interests, least of all our human flourishing, at heart.

I am tired of lockdown-not-lockdown. I am tired of the masks-debate. I am tired of ‘But those statues are our history‘.

I am tired of Donald Trump.

And yet.

And Yet.

And yet….

I pause to be still, I remind myself that I am not alone, I breathe, I practice self-care and notice again that the tiredness I feel is what my South African activist friend Roger calls ‘part of the plan.’ ‘It’s what they want. The trick is to experience it but not give into it.’

So I remind myself that my favourite word in the Psalms is ‘But’. Especially the ones where it doesn’t appear and the reader inserts it for herself. ‘It has all gone to shit’ (which as Anne Lamott reminds us is a theological term): ‘but’. I still have a job. But my kettle still works. But the bakery remained open. And the Common Beaver has opened a courtyard (see above). But I got to see my mother yesterday. But I have a garden. Verily I walk through the shadow of death, but thank the Lord, Shawna Lemay is still blogging. And Karen Walrond. And Josephine Corcoran. And Simon Parke. They are my go-to resting places. My places of clear water (is that a Heaney line?).

There is still so much to be grateful for.

Anthony Wilson, Tired, but

There are so many things I want to write but this much exhausted me Portland is a fire bomb in my heart I have zero plans for July for the first time in maybe ever I have so many friends who are teachers who are deeply concerned about the school year when I taught orchestra in middle school I could not have imagined containing all. those. droplets. I built a plant stand today I have green tomatoes and sugar snap peas and roses and calla lilies in my garden I made cinnamon rolls last week and canned marionberry jam this week

I feel adrift lost at sea I wave from my boat Ahoy! Ahoy!

Rebecca Loudon, Three strange things

I have attempted schedules in which I go to bed with plenty of time for adequate sleep, but there is then little time for anything but work, necessary chores, and sleep. No time for reading, music, creative play, relationship nurturing–the things that make life most worth living. No time to just be. What if Kate is right, and these things are not wants, but needs?

Of course we can live like this. I have for decades. Many, many people in the world live with far less rest than I have. But can we be well?

These might seem like frivolous or tone deaf questions to be asking in the midst of a pandemic, when living is no longer a given for anyone, even the most privileged of us. Perhaps, though, this is the best time to be asking them.

As I contemplate a return to in-person school in the fall, and read articles in which transmission (which will mean death for some) is a given and something “schools will need to prepare for”–because in-person school is increasingly being framed as an intractable necessity rather than as a choice our society is making–I am seeing more clearly all the ways in which what I’m going to be required to do is just an extension of what’s been required for all of my life.

And I can’t tell you, today, what my response to that will be–because the bottom line is that I work to eat–but I can tell you this: I am fucking sick of it and from it, literally and metaphorically. I have zero interest in being a martyr or a hero, nor do I have plans to be either. If I get sick and die from it, it will be tragic, not heroic. And the tragedy will not be the loss of my life, but that the loss was preventable.

We all get what we pay for in a capitalistic society. Hope everyone will remember that as they send their kids back to school this fall.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

Both of my grown-up children (aged 19 and 21, and sent home from university in March at the start of the UK C-19 lockdown) started temporary jobs in local factories this week, packing cosmetics and cheese respectively.  It’s been fascinating to hear their anecdotes of shop-floor life.  Basic hygiene is adhered to rigorously, but social distancing and mask-wearing isn’t, I’ve been told.  They are both on zero-hours contracts so it’s been eye-opening to learn more about current working conditions and about what is expected of temporary factory workers.

In the distant past, I’ve worked in low-paid temporary jobs – although never in a factory.  I did childcare, office work, shop work, door-to-door sales and telesales.  All this before I went to university as a mature student and became a published writer.  In recent years, I’ve become more out-of-touch and I tend now to mix with people who have well-paid, secure jobs, or retired and semi-retired people with a comfortable income.  There is little poetry – that I know of – written about ‘low-skilled’ work.  Can you think of any, other than in the poems of Philip Levine? Who now is writing about factory work, zero-hours contracts, working in a crowded production line in the middle of a pandemic?  Which poets live in this world?  Do you know any?  I don’t.

Josephine Corcoran, What the real world is

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

Ama Bolton, When All This Is Over

Long-awaited has become a tacky term, its soul ripped out by marketing bods who desperately hunt a unique selling point for a poet, only to find it’s ubiquitous and emptied of any meaning. However, there are still certain moments when it really is valid. One such is the publication of Alan Buckley’s first full collection, Touched (HappenStance Press, 2020).

Buckley’s work is riven from experience, both of poetry and life. As a consequence, his verse eschews facile certainties, setting out its stall early on in this book, in the poem Life Lessons, which assumes the format of a Q&A:

…How do I live without being touched?
Your skin will be become stainless steel.

How do I learn to survive in a vacuum?
Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t feel.

Matthew Stewart, Might and maybe, Alan Buckley’s Touched

Why am I a poet? My father’s face was hard and angular, his thin lips seldom smiled, and when he spoke it was not of love. My mother spoke of love quite often, even when she slapped my face or took a belt to me. I noticed the power of the sunrise when I was still a small boy, how the streaks of color blessed the dark sky, and I loved the way the winter air tightened my cheeks. I always knew that birds had a language all their own. And the smiling eyes of girls, I caught that very early as well. Why am I a poet? Because it is the only thing I know how to be.

James Lee Jobe, Why am I a poet?

Wanderer
in the mountains,

monk
of simple joys,

sayer
of what cannot be said,

keeper
of the mysteries,

lighter
of the lamp,

old man
with his hair falling out

thinking
like a flower.

Tom Montag, Wanderer

The idea for my latest novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, came from my love of Plath. In many ways it’s The Hours with Sylvia Plath. It is the story of three women, one a modern day woman dealing with modern day, Plath-like problems (mental illness, a cheating husband), another is Sylvia Plath herself, during the time she moved back to London with her two young children just before her death. The third female storyline is that of Esther Greenwood. It’s a made-up story, but it does stick to the plot-line of the post The Bell Jar stories that Plath herself wrote (that survived) starring Esther. In The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Esther Greenwood is just out of college and living in London. She’s wondering about an old flame while becoming entangled with a guy whose voice is too loud, who drowns her out not only with his large physique but with his overpowering personality (a’la Ted). To research for this novel, I did more than read The Bell Jar many times. There were more than a few biographies and a trip to London to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived with her children just before her suicide. (It is coincidentally the home of the famed poet Willianm Butler Yeats.) But I found while I was writing, after a lot of research, that I really needed to go back to Plath’s poetry.

It seems like a “well duh” moment now but honestly, I hadn’t thought to focus on Plath as a poet when I started writing. I knew Plath was known for her poetry. I knew she thought of herself as a poet beyond any other medium. But I wasn’t a poet and so I didn’t even think to go there. And I will just admit that many novelists are terrified of poetry. Poetry scares us. An economy of language! That’s not for us. We prefer to drone on and on. But I digress. I realized as I was writing about Plath that I needed to study, to really dive into her poetry.

And so I began to read her work. I started with Colossus, since that had been her first collection. After reading Colossus I moved on to Ariel. I blew through both collections and then realized I had to stop, I had to slow down and really take them in. I realized that despite studying English literature and creative writing extensively in college and graduate school, I never really figured out how to read poetry. But as I kept reading Plath’s words, I found myself thinking more and more in poetry. I heard poetry in my head the way I used to get ideas for fiction. And as I kept reading poetry, I wanted to write it.

Balancing ‘The Bell Jar’: How Sylvia Plath Led to a New Appreciation for Poetry – guest blog post by Jessica Stilling [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

To estrange; to take the once-
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours

its brightness one shade cooler. All
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now,

and those years before everything
we touched left a smudge on the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, ILIW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 26

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. This week: posts about the role of art and artists in a broken world, menopause, disability, inequality and pandemic; the fleeting joys of summer, books, gardening, nature, and a new album from the UK poet laureate. Among other things.


It has been over a year since I posted on this blog, a yawning gap that horrifies me. WordPress is suggesting I might like to riff on the keywords ‘toddler, delicious, politics.’ True, my thoughts these days are often split between dinner and Lego. But after a spell consumed by maternity leave and then the ongoing global pandemic, I’m back on the blog to review a really timely, genre-defying album I’ve been listening to, a new project featuring Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, a musical collaboration which foregrounds the spoken word.

Simon Armitage was a big influence on me as a young writer. I remember picking up ‘Zoom’ in an independent bookshop in Chesterfield and hiding away in the corner by the coffee shop to read it from cover to cover, enchanted by the wise-cracking narrators and shrewd observations of life experiences that didn’t seem so alien from my own. His succinct portraits of characters in crisis and his gift for finding surreal but convincing images might seem to make his work well suited for song-writing. But this project isn’t songs exactly, more poetry-meets-melody. […]

‘Call In The Crash Team’ foregrounds Simon Armitage’s words and voice, but there’s a sense of genuine dialogue between music and lyrics, haunting refrains emphasising the narrative of each piece. I found it strangely addictive, tracks instantly sticking in my head, becoming peculiar earworms.

Helen Mort, Call In The Crash Team – album review

“A lot of the lyrics have come about from writing in a time of post-industrialisation, austerity, and the recession,” explains Armitage. “And yet, even through those years and those atmospheres, there’s still been an exuberance around, an exuberance of communication, information, language. I think a lot of the speakers in the pieces are expressing some kind of marginalisation and are doing so as if they’re almost hyperventilating.”

That marginalisation reaches a sort of zenith, if that’s the right word, at the end of Adam’s Apple after a sequence of three songs that end with Waters singing/repeating  “It’s all too much for you” in ‘ the exquisite You Were Never Good With Horses, “move on, move on” in Urban Myth #91 and then “let go, let go” at the end of Adam’s Apple

Each song is written form the point of view of different characters, Never Good With Horses, for example written from the point of view of some dissatisfied with their partner’s discomfort with the natural world. The partner “comfortable with a steering wheel”  and “watching the movie of life layout through the windscreen’s lens”— a nod to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, perhaps, but they “were never good with horses…my dear, always took a step backwards when they came near. Couldn’t bear to look in the dark rock pools of their eyes”. That last line is when you know you’ve got a poet running the lyrical show.

Mat Riches, LYR – Call In The Crash Team

This week I’ve left my phone at home for a few days and enjoyed not being in its company. We spent a beautiful day at the seaside for my daughter’s 21st birthday on Tuesday which was the first day of the most recent heatwave. The roads weren’t busy at all and there was plenty of social distancing on the beach – unlike subsequent days at the same location which you might have seen alarming pictures of in the media – so we were able to relax as a family with our picnic and swim in the sea. I am sort of regretting not taking any photos that I could now scroll through – and share with you – but at the time it was refreshingly calming not to be snapping away, replying to messages and generally falling down the rabbit hole of social media and non-stop news. I swam a bit, walked along the beach a bit, read a lot, talked to the family.

Josephine Corcoran, Once Upon a Lockdown Rose Unfolding

She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan     the foam shores up like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam          In the town without a beach where the land lazily         copulates with the sea        the breeze at the gopura vassal  breathes into the womb  of her memory It is then she hears the machine                    in the depth of the lungs like a hawk rasping

Uma Gowrishankar, Bleached in the beachless town

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

At first these 3 lines don’t seem to go together at all. But as I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been sensing connections.

Clearly, my subconscious is working on various connections that I don’t readily see as I move from task to task.

This morning, I made this Facebook post: “I had my first dream that had me worrying about close proximity and COVID-19 transmission. In my dream, we were packed in a Lutheran church for a high festival day. I was admiring the fabrics in everyone’s stoles and the banners and light streamed through stunning stained glass. And then I realized we were packed into the pews and had been for hours and no one was wearing a mask. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to analyze the anxiety aspect of the dream–but in a church on a high festival day with beautiful fabrics all around me? Really, dreaming brain, really?”

I’ve spent the morning thinking about this dream, thinking about the reasons why I’m having a COVID-19 anxiety dream set in a church, especially when my local church will not be gathering in person until after Labor Day, if then.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Subconscious at Work and at Dreaming

Aubade Without End

Open a window; whistle
in the key of birdsong.

Stick your prayer flags
in the tumble drier.

Hear the kettle bubble
with laughter.

Bid the clock
keep its hands to itself.

Jayne Stanton, Postcards from Malthusia DAY SIXTY-NINE

When I had cancer? People used to say it to me nearly every day. About being brave. How we all had so much courage. Well, no. I didn’t feel it, didn’t have it, still don’t think I did. All we did was follow what we were told. And show up. We kept showing up. But, no. It wasn’t there. Not in my veins with the chemotherapy, and not in the radiation-tiredness several months later. One conversation stands out: when I challenged the radiologist to chat with me a bit more while they positioned me on the slab: that was courage. And another: When Jörn looked me in the eye and told me it might not be working and maybe to start thinking about a different outcome. God: I am telling you this now: I miss him, even though I am better.

And now? As I confront my racism? No. Please. It’s overdue and necessary. But it isn’t courageous. (Please don’t pat me on the back with a nice comment about this.)

Admitting to depression?

Facing my grief? And allowing myself to experience it?

Perhaps.

Maybe.

Those are truths I am learning to stand in. And I have to stand in them, the same as I have to stand and face and confront my racism. So I’m not sure. I am not sure. Perhaps saying I am not sure I don’t know maybe and perhaps are more courageous than I am absolutely right on this one. Perhaps more of us need to live in maybe. I’m not sure.

What about when I started writing poetry, the least profitable writing on the planet? Or this blog? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Still don’t have it. I hit publish. I ship. I never know what is happening. What the showing up will force me into saying. But I am glad I do it. Even though as Shawna says it feels like the void. Well, lucky old void. But I do it anyway.

Anthony Wilson, Courage

Peer into mirrors

and see villages decimated by fire,
valleys from which creatures fled

toward forests of glinting knives.
From smoke, collect precious blood.

We can’t stop until our cities gleam
with the shine of our stolen names.

Luisa A. Igloria, Choropleth

Who could have predicted red excess,
unspeakable clots of denouement?
My mouths are unjammed, endless mess
of me congealing at the bottom of the john.

Ready now to lose the losing: night sweats,
palpitations, insomnia, floods of gore, done.
Dried up, a long fluent speech in crimson.
Dissolved and flushed. Yet the song carries
on, uncorkable pour of me, shameless.

Lesley Wheeler, Why You Should Be Reading About Menopause

Today I’d intended blogging about the books I read during lockdown, but after reading  Lesley Wheeler’s post, ‘Why you should be reading about menopause‘, I decided to post the poem below – first published in Tears in the Fence, issue 70. It’s a poem that uses found text, and I remember editing it a few times, each time condensing it a bit until I arrived at what I wanted, or as near as.
I was over the moon to have this poem accepted, as I’d submitted to Tears in the Fence on a number of occasions and not been successful. Then, oddly, I forgot about it. However, reading Lesley’s post brought it to mind again, so thanks Lesley for sharing your story and your reading list.
I’ll share my lockdown reading next week. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

to the militant, identity is everything
(Susan Sontag)

the older female body is needful of respect/ modes of representation must be consciously transcended/ I formulate this observation as movingly and concisely as I can/ Collette knew the sovereignty of the woman of a certain age/ drawn-out voluptuousness framed by darkness/ so powerful and indelible/ we are expected to perform the commodity we were invented to be/ in novels the older woman imparts etiquette/ the younger falls in love with a sugar beet baron/ grand salons were nothing more than a conceptual image/ depression and gonorrhea were the reality/ these days fulfilment means being obsessed by the question of your own authenticity/ when exactly does a woman achieve the menopause/ when should she stop dying her hair?

Julie Mellor, to the militant, identity is everything

I have not written here because I am wary of writing about my mental illness not only panic attacks in the store but the fact that people are shooting guns nightly loud and close for no reason other than the fact that they have guns and it’s their second amendment right to shoot them and now fireworks on top of that it really wakes up my PTSD that startle instinct is so strong I have not written here because I am tired of writing about my about my damn mental illness and I am still without a psychiatrist

I haven’t written here because my bipolar disorder hasn’t taken a breath even though the whole wolf world is on a break and last night my mentally divergent brain was cycling so rapidly I only slept for three hours

I’ve been working on a poem but my progress with it is glacial much like watching things grow yesterday I realized that my green house is simply a seashell in the world’s terrarium and benign alien beings watch over us with love and grace

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

‪‪you
tell me that we are not doomed‬
‪with words that are littered‬ out
of cars that fill extracted gardens
and the faecal hemispheres
of brains in denial of the
anthropocene such
a nice word that unfortunately
will not fit any tombstone
made from recycled denial
black plastic hate preserving
perfectly the scattering of
eulogies for rational thought
that the herds trample now
you
tell me no
it’s all
OK
isn’t it

Jim Young, you tell me no

The war we’ve been born into where our first crying breath is a bruise that never heals.

Some use their wounds to flower the blood, others carve their pain into stones and go on the attack.

Touch, turmoil, tango: a counter-clockwise dance leading us in and out of love.

Throats offering shelter for song-chakra while also making themselves just the right shape and size for strangling.

The war we’ve been born into where enemies are created by our simply being.

Others stand boldly on the frontlines, scar their lips with light, speak only peace.

Rich Ferguson, The War We’ve Been Born Into

I confess I found The Name of the Rose boring, even after giving it a second chance. I didn’t mind shredding it. But why was Thoreau on the discard pile? It’s true he shouldn’t be but I’ve read most Thoreau and assumed I didn’t need to read him again. He writes wonderfully but always seemed like a narcissist, and the story (myth?) about him living his solitary life on Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry conjures all the snark in my heart.

Nevertheless I was combing the essays for ‘by’ and came up often in some interesting and beautiful phrases. I was distracted by the content of the text. Close an eye to century and circumstance and Thoreau has relevant things to say. He died in 1862 of TB, a few months before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men, placing them at a distance in history or space; but let some significant event like the present occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this distance and this strangeness between us and our nearest neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.

That’s rather how I’ve felt through the past weeks, watching everyone react in different ways to politics and inequality and ideas.

Anyway, I cut Thoreau up and tossed the scraps. But I also felt like I was ingesting the essays. I have since spit some of it back out in various collages.

Sarah J Sloat, By looking in the mirror

When I told a colleague that I’d set up the greenhouses, she said she imagined I had read up in detail on everything to do with gardening. And I see why she’d say that. The odd thing is – I haven’t. I am truly going at it with a beginner’s mind: I put some seeds in the dirt and watered them, and now I have cilantro for the next few months. The strawberry plants have white flowers and funny, green-freckled strawberry-promises. There are wild vines from the sweet potato plants that I have no idea what to do with, but I am excited to see what happens. I’m quite prepared that it may all go to hell.

I’m silently and happily ignoring everyone’s advice. I did however accept a kale plant from H. It seems she planted her bed too tightly.

Running the same old route today, I tried to see it for the first time. It wasn’t difficult. The canopies of the trees have become so lush that the trail is darker than it was just a few weeks ago. The lilypads are budding with little yellow fists everywhere. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes.

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.

I wondered what you made of this quote from Rodin? I don’t know how he was defining “nature”. And I wonder how I define it. This virus is a part of nature. And we are seeing in the news are aspects of human behavior that are undeniably human nature, undeniably ugly.

And then I’m not sure if Rodin was setting out to define an artist by how they see the world, or to describe how an artist sees the world. The cynic in me wonders what he might have been excusing by virtue of “art”. Artists excusing ugly behavior on the basis of their identity as artists is something I still can’t accept. I want to strip all artists of a sense of entitlement and have them focus on obligation.

Ren Powell, Work for Pleasure

Beneath it all there’s a feeling, both with the pandemic and the heightened awareness of Black Lives Matter, which does matter to me a great deal, that making “beautiful” art in this moment is frivolous, superfluous, socially-irrelevant — and, at worst, white, privileged, and clueless. This is a dilemma into which many artists in all fields fall at some time, and I can talk my way through it to some extent: art and beauty are always relevant, but especially at difficult times, because the human spirit needs them, and because art affirms who we are at our best. But, oddly, it’s a lot easier for me to participate in making a virtual choir video than in filling sketchbook pages with color and line and form. It’s not just about me, it’s collective, and even though we’re singing European classical music, I know from comments received that the performances are a comfort that are appreciated by listeners well beyond our own congregation. It also doesn’t feel problematic to write a blog post like this or keep my journal or write letters, where I’m trying to figure things out and to communicate.

As for art, though… I appreciated a line that my friend Teju Cole wrote in a New York Times collection of essays about the pandemic: “In these bruising days, any delicately made thing quickens the heart.”

In a letter of response to him I wrote:

“I worry that all the delicate things are endangered, frivolous, or irrelevant, and that makes me sad, because I feel we need them more than ever when our hearts are so battered. Recently, inadvertently, I saw a set of collaged photographs of the youngest Black person to be executed in the United States — it was a 14-year-old boy who looked like a child, being strapped into the electric chair — I don’t remember the year. His eyes were open, frightened, but somehow uncomprehending; it was the most horrific series of images, and I can’t get them out of my mind. The cruelty of this country has been, and is, limitless.”

Perhaps that is the crux of it: we have all been seeing images and videos that are deeply disturbing, and somehow this affects our visual/mental/emotional processing in general, particularly for those like me who are somewhere on the empath spectrum. I’m able to write about how I feel, I’m able to put my emotions into music, but I’m not willing to make dark, disturbing, or violent art — and “pretty” art feels superficial — so instead, I don’t make much of any at all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 31: Struggling with Art

Today’s poem is a rather poignant one, not in tone but in the circumstances surrounding it. James Aitchison is a poet who lives in Stirling. He was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and has written a number of superb poetry collections over the years including a study of Edwin Muir’s poetry (The Golden Harvester) and the fascinating and ambitious New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi, 2013) which explores the nature of poetic creativity. He’s a poet I discovered when I was starting to write poetry in earnest myself and he’s someone whose work I treasure very highly and return to regularly for guidance.

People who have encountered Aitchison’s poetry before probably know that one of his main themes is the mind itself, an epistemological focus on how it works (or not!), ranging from an awareness of our primeval pre-human consciousness to the very heights of artistic endeavour and how this is achieved. Today’s poem is a playful meditation on the mistakes we make as learners and looks at the eventual decline of the mind.

I began my intro here saying that this poem is a poignant one. This is because last year, shortly after this poem was written, Aitchison had a near-fatal stroke which resulted in some serious neurological and physical impairments. But he remains hopeful for recovery and is looking forward to writing poems and gardening once more. I wish him the very best and I am honoured that he has given me his consent to share this poem with you. His most recent collection is Learning How to Sing (Mica Press, 2018). [Click through to read the poem.]

Ritchie McCaffery, One poem by James Aitchison

This week, I will be back to library tasks from home after a much needed week off, including a hard press on things that won’t be as likely to happen once we’re back. Also new layouts and some author copy orders.  I did get a chance to focus on a lot of writing and revision related things, as well as send off some submissions of the work that was building up from late last year and early this one. I am still plotting ways to support and publicize the new book during the social distancing era and got a bit of a start on a book trailer. I’ve also been musing over what to do with the build up of other, newer, manuscripts –I am seriously considering publishing them through Amazon so they’ll also be available via e-book, which seems more important now than ever.  I love the presses I’ve worked with but also like the autonomy of self-publishing, though the groundwork is a little harder than if you have a press sponsoring a release. Since I am finishing a lot of projects (feed, dark country, soon animal, vegetable, monster)–most of which I am itching to make available in a more timely matter–it gives me a bit more control.   And I have the layout and design skills to make a really nice book  (and if not Amazon, who I have complicated feelings about, another POD publisher.) I’ve also been self-publishing smaller projects for years, and while I initially struggled with the legitimacy goblin and what is “acceptable” in the poetry biz world–especially in this new world where we all may die of covid next week–fuck that shit. Fuck all of it. While I was creatively paralyzed and could barely write at all for a couple months there. I am writing again and want to find the most efficient way to connect with readers and some of the old models are sometimes not the best.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/22/2020

Of the ideas pitched to help revolutionize how we do poetry publishing, one that appears now and again is a kind of “reverse Submittable” (RevSub from here on out): rather than having poets submit repeatedly to numerous journals, this would allow for a one time, one stop posting site for your work which editors could then browse and select. Make the publisher come to the writer, essentially. The idea is appealing for poets in particular because it cuts down on the redundant, tedious task of sending out the same poems and collections over and over (to very, very high rejection rates). This could also lead to better placement for the poet, if say multiple journals all want the same poem, they could choose which would be the best fit for them. If voting and commenting were enabled, this forum in itself could be gratifying and function as a kind of publication in itself, as opposed to the arid wasteland that is a Submittable queue. It could lead to greater transparency, and possibly a more real-time sense of where an dhow ones work stands. Further, it would cut down to some extent on the hidden hierarchy of editorships and the inscrutable processes by which poems are selected and chosen.

R.M. Haines, “Reverse Submittable” and the Dream of Co-Operative Publishing

Flint is built around a central question, one that is at the heart of grief and at the heart of life: “How do we give hope to the dead?” Because we are all, in the end, ‘the dead’, and because we are all strangers to each other (it is only a matter of degree), this extended prose poem is about finding the passages that lead us towards each other, so that we might “commune”, or (to use a noun phrase which carries more specifically religious connotations), so that we might partake of “communion”: a wonderful word, which Díaz Enciso uses in relation to the crowd at a rock concert which later becomes the crowd at a funeral. It is in this communion (which, more than a coming together, is a sharing of intimacies) that hope in the form of Spring is found. Not for nothing does the poet comment at Flint’s funeral “The world is, today, an orchard”. 

I suspect, because of its unusual form and perhaps because of its use of a real-life deceased  individual with relatives and presumably an estate, that this may be a pamphlet which continues to find full publication elusive, but I hope I am wrong because it is a profoundly moving piece of work which deserves a wide readership. Anyone who has a mind open to the creative and generative potential of placing one thing beside and in place of another, should take a look at what this e-pamphlet has on offer. 

Flint – An Elegy and a Book of Dreams is available from Adriana Díaz Enciso’s website, here. 

The poet will donate one third of any proceeds to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and another third to the NHS. 

Chris Edgoose, The Man in the Tunnel: Flint by Adriana Díaz Enciso

So, besides trying to take bird pictures while I was briefly awake every day this week, I tried to distract myself from the pain (I can’t take most pain medications, sadly) with the Apple TV series Dickinson – Emily Dickinson’s imagined life as a rebellious young woman, with a trip-hop soundtrack and a music-video aesthetic, complete with giant bee hallucinations, and caught the film of Virginia Woolf’s speculative novel of time-travel and crossing gender boundaries, Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton, which was beautiful and playful and very well done. I enjoyed Dickinson (especially a guest appearance by John Mulaney as a notoriously unhelpful Thoreau – spoiler alert: I never liked Thoreau) and it drove me to go back to finally finish the slow-and-scholarly book After Emily, a discussion of how Emily’s work eventually got published, by whom, and how it became famous. I’ve been making my way through Woolf’s work in the last year, so watching Orlando fit right into to my reading agenda. Both shows make the point of how difficult it was in each time period to become a woman writer with respect and a following. The more things change…the more they stay the same?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reports from a Root Canal, Dickinson and Orlando, and an Uptick in Coronavirus Cases Across the US

Rob: You mentioned our sudden new era of Zoom brunches. I think a lot of people who have gone through a major event in their personal life, as you have with your concussion and recovery, are finding it surreal to watch everyone collectively deal with the upheaval of the COVID-19 outbreak, having experienced their own upheaval, alone, previously. How are you doing? In what ways do you see overlaps between what you experienced recovering from your concussion and what we are witnessing and experiencing now?

Kyla: Isolation is not new to me. Getting groceries only once a week or once every two weeks is not new to me. Being unable to leave the house or see people and being unable to access basic healthcare is not new to me. I already know how the light falls inside my apartment at all times of days and in all seasons. It’s been three years since my injury, and symptom management is still my primary occupation.

I can see how this might sound bleak, but isolation has been my reality, and I’ve found ways to live within the restrictions my disability imposed, rather than waiting for it to be over so I could go back to “normal.” Right now, I see people questioning normalcy and who the status quo serves more than ever. Crisis can force re-examinings, it can be generative, but the cost can be unbearably high.

If I may, a few pandemic pieces by disabled writers that I’d recommend: this Grazia essay by Mimi Butlin — filed under “Health & Fitness,” because the perspectives of chronically ill folks are now considered relevant instead of fringe; this Vice piece featuring Sharona Franklin, the artist behind one of my favourite disability-related instagram accounts, @hot.crip; and Liz Bowen’s newsletter from New York.

Rob: Yes, of course! Thank you so much for those links, and for bringing in new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Your book does a lot of that, too. In “I’m Not Better I’m Just Less Dead” you write “I have nothing / to offer Literature / or Capitalism / not even a body / just an illness.” Similarly, you write in a subsequent poem “Has illness / made me more / or less human?” All of that struck me, the separating of the body, the self and the illness, each influencing the other but apart from it. It made me think about “me” in a different way. Which of those parts (the body, the self, the illness) do you consider “you” and which feel outside of “you”? From which do you think these poems emerged?

Kyla: I think I was working at the Prose Editor at PRISM international when I wrote that first poem, but I could barely read, and I was hiding the extent of my symptoms because I didn’t want to lose my job. I couldn’t review books, I couldn’t host or attend events, I couldn’t hang out with other writers or read their work. The amount of labour I could do, either intellectually or physically, was really limited. And so much of the messaging we receive, implicitly and explicitly, is that our value is rooted in our productivity, our ability to labour in particular ways and under particular conditions. That’s part of the reasoning used to justify and perpetuate ableism.

When I became disabled, I simultaneously became less useful to capitalism (except insofar as I was spending everything I had on rehabilitation) and some of the people around me, and more useful to myself and the people who understood me. I think the self is the core, but it can’t be cleaved from the body, or the ways illness imposes itself on that body. These poems came from a need to make that imposition visible, and unmistakable.

Rob Taylor, Visible and Unmistakable: An Interview with Kyla Jamieson

But honestly, the problem isn’t within us as individuals (and so we can’t fix our feelings about them entirely through our individual actions), and shouldn’t living feel like a slog right now? The world is way, way too much with us these days. You know that old bumper sticker, the one about how if you’re not pissed off you’re not paying attention, or something along those lines? That. All of which is why one of the things I’ve been grateful for this week is learning that there’s a word for exactly what I’ve been feeling: Weltschmerz.

Isn’t that a grand word? It’s almost onomatopoeic, the way those syllables sort of crash into each other on their way out of your mouth, with that hard stop right in the middle of it and that sort of drunken-sounding raspy sibilant ending. You’ve got all the elements for a party in those letters and sounds–and you can see that–but they don’t arrange themselves into a party. They aren’t in the right order.

If you, too, have been wading through weltschmerz (aka jello, aka existential depression), isn’t it at least a little comforting to know that other people have felt exactly the same way–enough people that we have a word that captures the subtle nuances of this feeling, and of this maybe-apocalypse that we’re living through? (Hey, on top of pandemic, economic meltdown, institutional instability, and massive unrest, don’t forget the climate. It’s still melting.) It’s not boredom or depression or listlessness or ennui or anxiety or angst. It’s weltschmerz, baby. And if ever there was a moment for it, surely it’s now.

You’re not alone and you’re not broken or ungrateful or spoiled. Things are fairly terrible. Don’t let the toxic positivity crowd gaslight you into thinking the problem is you and your attitude. Maybe, instead, your feelings are a sign of your wholeness and your optimism and your hope, and of your positive vision and your love for the world. Maybe it’s all the very things we’ll need to get us through to some better other side.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Weltschmerz to my world

Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all. A hot summer night here on the hard edge of the world. I am a speck on this huge planet, which is itself but a speck in the vastness of the galaxy, and beyond that, the numberless galaxies of the endless universe. Oh my. Just then I felt a bare hint of a breeze. 

James Lee Jobe, Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 20

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. This week: music, work, hiatuses, journaling, healing, grieving, raising children, embracing entropy, and more.


the spring wind sings
around the log pile
old and new griefs

Matthew Paul, Hampton Court haiku

Saturday pandemic drive
grey and improvised
over empty interstate lanes.

Miles fades in and out
signal stretched
across low clouds, near mist.

Momentary lockdown lift
this piece has no melody, just modes
a gist of Spain in the linger.

Collin Kelley, Poem for the pandemic: ‘Flamenco Sketches (Demo)’

Musicians, sheltering
at home, risk the noise

complaints to practice,
knowing no one can tell

them when intermission
will end, when each will

rise from a hard-back seat
and nod encores to the end

of spring’s sullen silence.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XVIII

The hardest thing I have done is to attempt to follow the advice of Franz Kafka, who said: ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ I tried it the other day, with the help of a track I had tended to skip over, Peter Gabriel’s A Quiet Moment (from the album New Blood). […]

Now, I absolutely love New Blood. But the more I listen to it, the more I find myself looking forward to A Quiet Moment above everything else. Which has really surprised me. It is not as if there is a great deal there: 4 minutes and 48 seconds of nothing. Except it’s not nothing. There is the wind blowing. A skylark. Some distant traffic, followed by a plane. Some more wind. And then what sounds like a combine harvester. That skylark again. And that is it. It isn’t much.

But in a way, it has been everything to me on this lockdown. That someone climbed up a (Solsbury?) hill with some recording equipment and sat there long enough to capture it. (One day I had it on repeat. I think I began to detect different movements within it…It turns out Kafka was right after all.) Gradually and sometimes painfully, sitting in silence is teaching me to shed my activist-self for something much quieter and more present. I don’t always like what I see there. Somehow I am learning that this is all necessary.

Anthony Wilson, A quiet moment

In this strange period we’re experiencing, time itself seems to have changed. The indistinguishable days go by in a blur, without the structure of our former schedules. Some of us are out of work; others are adapting to working in completely different ways; suddenly we’re faced with tasks we’ve avoided for years, or spending huge amounts of time getting food and cooking it. Ironically, although we all supposedly have “more time,” it’s often hard to feel like we’re getting much done. It’s harder to focus, harder to stick to a routine, harder to make decisions and work effectively. Sometimes it’s even hard to sleep, or get out of bed in the morning…and there seems to be no end to this in sight.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 25: Work

Things are hard right now and sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is to give yourself a break. It’s okay.

One of the things I do is to intentionally give myself permission to take a time off — to the extent that I will literally say to myself (either in my head or out loud), “I give myself permission to not write today” or this week or even this month.

I do this for a very specific reason — it’s a way to battle the shoulds, which come with an associated feeling of guilt. I can think back to any number of times when I’ve been reading a book, playing a video game, or taking a walk and my brain chimes in with , What do you think you’re doing? You should be writing, right now.

Guilt about not writing is insidious. It can compound all those feelings of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that led to the feeling of being blocked in the first place.

Giving myself explicit permission to do something other than writing shuts down those shoulds, providing a clear space to really enjoy whatever I’m doing. That way, I’m able to really recharge and, when I’m ready, I can come back to the writing refreshed.

Andrea Blythe, Tools for When You’re Feeling Creatively Blocked

the descent into hell
no work no money
the empty room

a sadness all the time
I’ve forgotten how to speak
here comes the cat

Ama Bolton,. ABCD: May 2020

At the start of the year I began a reading journal, in which I aimed only to write about books I was reading. It was meant as a record, though I invited myself to make remarks or point out passages, etc. It went well for a while, also because I was spending chunks of time unplugged on airplanes, where distractions from reading and writing are few.

But in March the coronavirus hit Europe and I stopped flying. It was mid-April before I thought it might be worth keeping a record of life at this time. I didn’t want to explore my feelings or dissect the news or criticize the government, at least not necessarily. I set out to observe and take notes.

Of course now I’ve got two journals going, or three if you count the collage journal I rarely tend to. Plus this sometimes-blog. It seems I’m burdening myself with commitments. Like, hey, how about this journal, or this one, or this? So I’m pursuing the most traditional of the non-digital three, i.e. life in these times.

My father has always been a faithful journal keeper and he says when he goes back to peruse old journals it isn’t thoughts or feelings that interest him. He’s more engaged by what he had for lunch or if a stranger told him his fly was open or if he visited a friend. So I’m sticking with the quotidian.

Sarah J Sloat, Overcommitted

This is a Blue Monday in the blog, even though it’s Friday. Some weeks, it feels like Monday all the way to Wednesday, when it starts feeling like the Friday that will never come. There are things I am saying to myself these days, in words in my head that I’m not writing down—not here, not in my private diary, not in poems. They are ongoing. They come while I am walking or working, they interrupt my reading. They are mixed—like life. They have hope and fear and despair, darkness and light. I don’t know if I will ever write them down.

Kathleen Kirk, Words I’m Not Writing Down

What I learned was this:
we cannot even explain snow in terms of snow,
nor light in terms of light. Then this:
snow stops being here, and light fades. But love goes on,
and elsewhere snow clouds gather, and elsewhere the sun rises.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Leaving Basel’

Right now, I’m the dishwasher, 1/2 the cook, laundry coordinator, and etc.

Although I don’t particularly enjoy these tasks, they fill some unknowable need – stability. The dishes in particular provide a rhythm to the day. After every meal comes the cleanup. I rely on that rhythm to mark the day.

My wife has taken to doing a morning calendar routine with the small ones. Things like what day it is, what month, what season, what the weather is like. It only takes five minutes, but I think it grounds all of us in the present day. Rather than what could become dangerously out of control numbness.

Today I took the trash and recycling down to the curb. Because it’s Sunday evening and the trucks come by Monday mornings.

What unnoticed, unappreciated rhythm these mundanities give us.

Eric M. R. Webb, On Mundane Tasks

Doesn’t a charm of goldfinches seem magical, like a sign of luck or good fortune? I took this picture one rainy morning this week, I think I’d just had a virtual doctor appointment and gotten a poetry rejection, neither very auspicious. I had a dream last night about Prince, who in my dream, was about to give a concert on my birthday, and came over and introduced himself and told me my work meant a lot to him. I don’t know what that means, but it also seems auspicious.

I keep hoping to wake up and read good news on the news feed instead of more and more terrible news, more death counts, more tragedy. I read the covid research papers every day, hoping one of them will uncover something that will change how we deal with this virus.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Pink Typewriters, a Charm of Hummingbirds, and Why Ina Garten is Helpful in a Pandemic

Put the flowers in a different vase, you know? If you’re writing poems, try an essay. If you’re writing a long essay, try shorter ones. Invent a new form! These times are new and I think demand a new way of writing, a new vessel, a new form….something that blends genres, challenges traditions, surprise and vexes….ideas?

We are trying to find ways to say things about this time, but will the old forms work?

Shawna Lemay, Style is a Simple Matter, or, 5 Tips to Get Writing in Trying Times

Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University have brought together poets from around the world to write new poems about the recent days past and the weeks ahead. The poets were invited to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Great to be part of this project. Click here to view the poems.

I submitted a selection of  what I loosely term haiku, which you can access here. Rereading them, they somehow seem quite remote from the crisis. There again, that’s probably a reflection of my response: to walk, to distance myself, to meditate.

Another online project that has been a joy to be part of is John Foggin’s ‘When All This is Over’ anthology. It began as an invitation to respond to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem Swineherd and snowballed from there. It’s currently up to day 8, which covers letters K and L. My poem is the Phrenologist so, as they’re being presented in alphabetical order, I’ll have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems the brief has generated, and the way they’re being presented (as an illuminated manuscript).

I know how much time it takes to collate and process writing online, so many thanks to everyone who is making these projects happen. I value, more than ever, the sense of community they engender.

Julie Mellor, Write where we are now

I chose three headlines rather than three lines for the body of my haiku.  Seifu’s haiku suggests the contrast between the abundance of nature and the cold truth of death.  Alan Cummings writes that the haiku was written when there was widespread famine in Japan.  This resonated with me as spring is particularly beautiful this year and yet there are terrible headlines every day as Covid-19 spreads. I wanted to put this contrast into my collage.

I thought about placing Boris Johnson’s body and Donald Trump’s body actually lying down in the collage but decided instead to cut off their heads (skulls) and lie them down.  I’m playing with the double meaning, in English, of “lying”.  “Lying happily” seems appropriate for these two heads of state.  I put the words ‘care’ ‘homes’ down near their heads because the truth about what is going on in care homes, the number of deaths, the lack of PPE, has been brushed under the carpet.

Alan Cummings writes that in Japanese poetry dokuro literally means a skull, but in poetry it is sometimes used to mean the whole skeleton, particularly one that is found by the side of the road. There is a Japanese poetic tradition of poems inspired by dead bodies, he says.  There are so many ways that this poem written 200 years ago speaks to me today. 

Josephine Corcoran, Spring is unfolding before my eyes

two ambulances two sheriffs
and a fire engine scream down
the street our neighbors
shoo their children inside
draw their curtains
no one talks no one knows
what happened on the anniversary
of my sister’s death I fold down
my Snow White sheet
place her nightie
in my body’s shallow smooth
it with my hands then I lie
beside her and whisper all the secrets
of the known and unknown world
into her blond blond ear

Rebecca Loudon, corona 19.

We lose
our bodies over and over, or watch
from the sidelines as they take on
one impossible form after another:
a man with blue fingers, a fish
with accordion lungs; a tree
in whose nets of complicated leaves
pale lanterns float, each with the face
of children or dead lovers.

Luisa A. Igloria, My dream life has changed

As corona virus hit, the metaphor has me trembling, so to speak, the metaphor has become all too real. I’m even more off-balance than ever. The metaphor keeps cutting through thicket, getting more and more personal.  All the borders are being invaded, irreality becomes a part of reality, up is down.  My metaphor has invaded my very cell structure. 

I’m suffering from physically real, medically verifiable vertigo.  My head is wobbly, the ground is shifting a lot of the time.  I have to negotiate steps on that tightrope from one point to another, delicately, with feet that are tender and with an appreciation for the emptiness below.  The care that is required, though, is epic. In the reclaiming of values that float to the surface and assert themselves as essential, I’m putting “tender” and “care.”  The tender tending of things which may or may not affect you. Or be you.

All the work I’d done to prepare myself for shaky ungrounded reality not enough. Maybe words and images have led me to a point: into the real. 

Jill Pearlman, Vertigo, How Real You Are

What if the “work of healing” is nothing more than willful creativity? This is the material you are given: a bit of mud, a bit of coal, a fleck of fool’s gold. Make something of it that is yours.

It’s our nature to be altered by phenomenon.

Just like the trees that grow around the fence posts, that layer their bark each season – callouses that look like faces, faces that read like stories. Nothing healed. And nothing gained. Just part of the great forest.

Ren Powell, Healing as Praxis

A poet, scholar, and teacher, I thought I’d passed the forking path to novel-writing a long ways back. Chris is a cheerleader, though, and–this is crucial–author of a couple of published novels and many short stories, so he’s a great person to talk to about small, vague story ideas. I’d been fantasizing about another tale I never expected to write: a changeling professor, Dr. Perfect Poet, visits on a faculty exchange program and makes literary triumph look like a breeze. I’d drafted a bad poem about her, in a fit of frustration about my own messy life. (The closest thing I had to a superpower was yelling, Flame on! during a hot flash). As we walked and talked, I realized these two plots could interlock. Chris and I started spinning it out–who this main character might be, with her irritating and uncanny new colleague, and how she might react when weird things started happening.

Lesley Wheeler, Becoming Unbecoming

This has been a strange week-end, as so many week-ends/week days/weeks have been strange. It’s been a mix of unexpected wonderfulness, crushing moments of grief, a tingling current of rage, sadness leaking out at various seams and hemlines that I didn’t even see before the pandemic swept across the planet. […]

Here is a memory that I don’t want to slip away. On Saturday evening, my spouse was looking at a text for his Logic class adoption. It includes Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” My spouse read one line, and I said the next from memory. We went on this way, an interesting call and response. My spouse was amazed and impressed that I could say so much of it from memory, word for word. I’ve taught that poem for years, saying it out loud several times a term, several terms a year. Clearly it has sunk in.

I miss teaching poetry that way, in front of a room of students, reading the poem out loud. It’s a sadness to realize that we shouldn’t be teaching poetry that way for awhile.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Just Another Normal Pandemic Week-end

I’ve recently had sight of Abegail Morley’s new collection The Unmapped Woman. To read it is to be drawn into a mystery of dream-like sadness and the minutest, extraordinary detail of the processes around loss and grieving. ‘We all start in water’ begins the poem ‘Expected’, and whether that’s amniotic fluid, rockpools or ‘slippers of meltwater’, water seeps its way through the whole collection, as if it couldn’t be stopped. This is emotionally draining material conveyed with great skill and beauty.

The reader has a sense of being ‘on hold’ throughout – waiting is a recurrent theme: sometimes with anticipation, sometimes in desperation, finely balanced, a jangle of nerves, things just holding together.

‘ You’re waiting / for liberation, foetus shaping in liquid until you / come adrift on a crib-shaped island with the map / of life crumpled in the tiniest palm I can imagine’ (‘Imminent’)

‘I wait for melancholy to wake,/snared like a hack of crow/ at the back of my throat. / I wait to weight its grief at daybreak.’ (‘Not Being’).

I found this collection very moving and I think my favourite of Abegail’s books so far. You can order it here at Nine Arches Press. I believe there’s an online launch planned. What a shame that so many good poetry books are having to make do with virtual launches for now.

Robin Houghton, Abegail Morley’s ‘The Unmapped Woman’

Every 20 years or so, my region gets a truly late freeze.

This is one of those years. It seems strange when snow flurries alight upon dogwood blossoms, but this period has been strange in many respects. What’s one more weirdness? We can adapt. It just requires employing strategies we haven’t used before.

Which brings me, today, to Marilyn McCabe’s chapbook Being Many Seeds, just released by Grayson Books…like my own chapbook, a publication somewhat muted by the coronavirus. Make note, though, that you and I can still purchase books online. It just may take a little longer to receive the text. And isn’t anticipation fun?

Her chapbook has a lovely cover. [Readers may know I’m a fan of milkweed.] And the poems fascinate as they unravel–almost literally–on the page, in a form of erasure poetry followed by brief prose that is not so much interpretation as deepening. McCabe tries strategies with her poems as words and also as meanings. If that makes any sense. Want to know more? McCabe posted about the evolution of this collection on her own blog (which I suggest you follow) here.

Ann E. Michael, Flurries

It could be said that the repetition does serve as an emphasis on that particular passage, perhaps the most central passage of the essay. The shift of poem does add a slightly different coloration on each segment. That in itself is sort of interesting. Yeah, that’s it. I meant to do it that way.

Still, I feel very foolish, as it is such an incredibly obvious error. And I’m a professional proofreader! But, that said, my publisher didn’t find it either. Anyway. What is the lesson here?

Happily, my first response when I found it was to laugh. My second was to shrug. Oh well. Shit, as they say, happens.

I do know that after spending much time with a piece of work, especially a whole manuscript, a veil seems to lower over the thing. I can’t see the trees, can barely make out the forest. It seems a blur of what it has been, what it has become, what it might have been, what I perhaps had intended but since have forgotten. I can’t even answer questions about work after the veil has fallen. People ask me what I meant by things and I just make stuff up on the spot. At some point the work becomes no longer mine but something that has escaped into the world.

That’s why we need copyeditors and proofreaders. Long may they reign. Or rein, as the case may be, as in “in.” Sometimes rain, as in “on the parade.”

But how freeing it is not be upset by a mistake. I mean, I didn’t back over the neighbor’s cat. Nothing was injured or killed in the making of this mistake. This is less a mistake, in some perspective, as an imperfection. The stakes are not particularly high, here. I don’t think the Pulitzer Prize committee will even notice. This is not one of those errors that will haunt me in some 4:00 a.m. self-hatred session.  And believe me, I have made some of those kinds of mistakes. To be able to look at an error and think, well, look at you, being human, is a very nice thing. Mistakes are made. The book as a whole I think is interesting, diverting, creative. Not to mention the gorgeous cover. So. What’s a little imperfection among friends?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve made a few; or, On Imperfection and Finding Mistakes Too Late in a Manuscript; or, Oops

A family? Yes. I have one. One son is dead, another is somewhat less than sane. (Something whispers in my ear that I failed them both.) There is a daughter, sober, who also has a daughter; the little one is a delight and commands more magic than the rest of us put together. And my wife still puts up with me. Can you imagine? Married to the most minor of poets! Poor dear. 

Family, come and bring the mops! I will pour the soapy water on the floor, the same old floor as always, and together we shall begin to mop.

James Lee Jobe, A family? Yes. I have one.

the future is this bunch of kids‬
‪what they do not know
now‬
‪is that one day they will not know
how‬
‪time flew away the way it did‬
‪the way it did the way it did
and stole their innocence‬
‪and bestowed it on a bunch of kids‬

Jim Young, a bunch of kids

We can never know for sure, something I wish I’d understood when I was standing where she is now. At 22, I thought of life as being something like a novel, a cohesive narrative that could be broken into chapters, each one leading inevitably to the next. That is why it felt so important, especially then, to make the right authorial choices: each would create and eliminate a host of others. Choose wrong, and some beautiful plot lines (about love, children, work, home) would never be written.

Now I can see that if life is like a book, it is more a collection of linked short stories than a novel or an epic poem. It is filled with endings and beginnings, full stops and new starts and long pauses, episodes of living complete unto themselves. Some characters appear only once, while others drift in and out of the larger and looser narrative, sometimes at the center of the action and sometimes only at its periphery. The white space between one story’s ending the the next’s beginning is not empty: It is full of breath, rest, possibility, and actions so small or insignificant they aren’t worth noting–unless, suddenly, they are, at which point a new story begins.

My girl who hated change and clung to family and once charted her options in kaleidoscopic color-coded spreadsheets–a hedge against missed opportunities and lesser choices–has grown into an independent woman who still makes plans but no longer fits them into tiny digital boxes. I’m watching her lean into this moment in the world that is intersecting with this moment of her life and blown the boxes to bits in ways that are both terrifying and freeing, creating a horizon full of nothing certain but uncertainty and change.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Commence again

We can keep this all going,
the simple goodnesses,
the heightened senses,
even without threat of virus,
without sacrifice.
All that is necessary—
a shift in attitude from
being among the condemned—
to a gratitude for what is,
for the absurdity of uncertainty’s
boundless lessons and blessings.

Lana Ayers, Lessons from Lockdown

I wish I believed that God hurls lightning bolts
     like Zeus on his mountain striking evil down.
I want to smash what keeps us in thrall
     to petty kings who feel no empathy
who set their children one against another
     fighting for supplies in a zero-sum game.

My child asks why God doesn’t answer our prayers.
     Grief stoppers my throat. What can I say?

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic Psalm 2

The past few days feels maybe like a door opened, or maybe a window or maybe a wound.  Some release of pressure and a flowing of something that wasn’t here a couple weeks ago. Maybe it just takes time, or maybe just numbness to what goes on around me.  I feel less paralyzed–with fear? with dread? Nothing has changed and yet maybe something has changed.  And while I don’t know if it’s permanent, I’m gonna go with it and see what happens. The world out there is still crazy and toxic and possibly contagious, but in here, I am feeling more like myself at times.

I’ve been puttering a way on The Shining series, trying out titles, and have at least a chapbook length segment of them, and at least a half dozen more still coming maybe.  They are not bad, even the ones I wrote robotically and less-than-inspired at the beginning of April. The project as a whole is beginning to have a shape–a voice–that I am liking.  I’ve been working on it a bit daily first thing over breakfast, before the scrolling through social media poisons my brain for the day. Write the poem, then check facebook, because inevitably, you will find things to be at best, annoyed about, at worst panicky or livid. Things that make it harder to write, to concentrate, to care.

Kristy Bowen, egress

It’s like how some can have everything and yet have nothing. Or how some can have nothing and yet have everything.

It’s like how certain hearts are dark as an x-ray of a bullet. Or how heaven is written into the fine print of certain people’s laugh lines.

It’s like how we can say the most profound things with our eyes while our lips are hidden behind face masks.

Rich Ferguson, Quarantine Simile

Speak, earth,
of comfort

as all things
come apart

around us.
Let us

fly into
entropy

as into
heaven.

Tom Montag, SPEAK, EARTH

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 15

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.

One thing I’ll say about the current crisis: it’s certainly made organizing this digest a breeze, since most blog posts these days don’t stray far from a single, inevitable concern. And for many of us who write, I suspect, almost every poem eventually morphs into a pandemic poem, as Jeannine Hall Gailey observes – “The coronavirus has saturated the view.” But views are of course as varied as the eyes that see them; I’m finding the diversity of responses to the crisis really fascinating and inspiring.

One small change to the digest: starting this week, I’m adding Luisa Igloria’s poems here at Via Negativa to the mix, since stats suggest that most digest readers don’t visit the blog much the rest of the week. (I still won’t be linking to my own posts, though, don’t worry. This will never become an exercise in self-promotion.)


In Ptolemy’s
model, where the earth stands still at

the center of the universe, all heavenly
bodies should trace a perfect circle around

the earth. But they also wobble, slowing down
as they move farther away and speeding up

as they come closer again. Secluded now
for weeks in our homes, not going to work or

school or church, not eating out or seeing any-
one except whoever is sheltering in place with us,

it’s as if we share that same eccentricity of
movement: and our bodies quicken at the sight

of other bodies just out walking, trying but
not always able to keep to their own path.

Luisa Igloria, On the Orbit of Socially Distanced Bodies

The man with broad-brimmed hat and bird-mask waits
a moment before entering. His scent
wafts by you, Highness, as presentiment
of what must follow. Watch how he operates

in his full gown. Observe how he inspects
the body, turning it here and there at distance
with his cane, meeting no resistance.
Note how he prods it. He’s the bird that pecks

at corruption. He sees the patient’s hands
are black with the usual buboes. This is all
by the script. It’s the very reason for his call.
The plague is spreading. It makes strict demands.

We watch familiar birds hovering in the air.
They will not ring the bell. Nor are we there.

George Szirtes, FIVE  BAROQUE PLAGUE SONNETS

B is for Brothers. I think of them every day. B is for Boys – my two sons: brilliant, bold, kind, funny, optimistic. B is for the Buns I am baking for breakfast (it’s Good Friday, so they’re Hot Cross, not Belgian) – kneading dough when there’s no particular rush. B is for bulbs, for the hyacinths and daffodils blooming in two window boxes which Mike installed for me. I have compost with which I can work and plan, seeds germinating and growing on. B is for Board Games. B is for Bathroom and my new blue tiles. B is for Book – of course. For the one I’m working on, and the ones I’m reading. B is for Banoffee pie. For Beethoven. And B is for Bob, and Bill, blue tits I have anthropomorphised, who might also be Bert and Brian on some days. They visit my bird feeder, and if I sit in my blue chair, and am very still, I can watch them cracking seeds on the side of the feeder’s perches. B is for Best Friend, a London GP and isolating with the virus. She has described all the symptoms, they include annoyance. B is for brave. B is for better. B is for fit and well, hale and hearty, in the pink, tip top, fine fettle. B is for the camping we will be doing later this year, for risotto, Trangia stoves, Sauvignon Blanc, swims, and our Bicycles. B is for Boudicca, and for Cleopatra.

Liz Lefroy, I Count to B

before breakfast
I walk for miles
hungry, sated

I’ve found writing haiku a really satisfying way of working over the last couple of weeks. The brevity and focus appeal to me at a time when I’m finding it hard to concentrate on bigger projects. I’m not dismissing the magnitude of the current situation, far from it, but it’s important for us to continue to create. Haiku are all about capturing the moment. It’s surprising the things that come to your attention when you force yourself to be still for a while. And the economy of language in these poems makes them seem quite experimental, which is something I’m always interested in.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Here’s my second post on what new or new-ish or new-to-me books of poetry I am reading during 2020 National Poetry Month. This time, newly-released from Tinderbox Editions, Lesley Wheeler‘s collection The State She’s In. […]

Wheeler’s use of haibun forms to explore state’s-rights racism or workplace harassment is something I found startling. I keep returning to these and other poems to appreciate, on each subsequent reading, the surprises in the craft as well as the barely-contained frenzy expressed, and also the keen observations of the world that act to calm the speaker down. A tough balance, that.

On the whole, The State She’s In feels like a fierce call to pay attention, not just to the reader but to the speaker in these poems–she’s finding her route toward sagacity but kicking away at what we take for granted, not wanting to find personal equanimity if it means hiding what she knows to be true. These poems oppose ignorance in all its forms, including the privilege of choosing not to learn (or not to act, or not to act fairly and justly) that gets practiced at the highest levels of the academy, the government, and in any form of society. Wow!

Ann E. Michael, More reading, more poems

An ability to play with the multiple meanings of words is also present in the collection’s title, The Aftermath. Initial readings might offer up religious connotations of life after death. In fact, Wilson is referring to a second life that comes after having faced your own death, a second life in which everything has changed forever.

This theme runs through the collection and marks a step forward in the poet’s thematic concerns. In dealing with his second life, Wilson works to find reconciliation between his inner and outer worlds, as in the opening lines of There are Days…

There are days I lose to knowing
it has come back.

An ache in my back, a run of night sweats.
Then nothing.

I am me again, climbing out of bed
to make the tea…


Physical acts are here portrayed alongside emotional torment, routine seen as a necessary counterpoint to the loss of former certainties.

The Aftermath is far from being a depressing or morbid read. Instead, its poems celebrate life with greater intensity thanks to their acknowledgement of our frailty, encouraging us to seize our days too. I thoroughly recommend it.

Matthew Stewart, Inner and outer worlds, Anthony Wilson’s The Afterlife

We can still celebrate National Poetry Month during a pandemic, despite the lack of the usual book launch parties and poetry readings. There are still books to buy (support your local bookstore if you can) and there is time to spend on poetry, and even some hope to be found. People are doing readings on Facebook Live (I’ve been enjoying talks on Japanese fairy tales by Rebecca Solnit) and offering readings on YouTube and podcasts instead of in-person. I’ve been writing too many pandemic poems. It seems almost impossible to write a poem about one thing and not have it turn into a pandemic poem, in fact. The coronavirus has saturated the view.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, April Hours, National Poetry Month, and Four More Weeks of Quarantine: How Are You Holding Up?

The question these mornings of birdsong
to wear a mask or not
working from home:
intimacy inside out
like a glove
after this- will we all go back
without pretending
there’s no life back home
the commute as space travel
the atmosphere of the real left behind
no crying children, no flushing toilets,
no hammering next door

Ernesto Priego, Face Masks

I’ve been making masks this week. The sewing machine and ironing board took over the living room and dining table, along with bags of fabric, spools of wire, and thread, and elastic. Sewing is almost always a pleasure for me, and I tried to make it so this time, but I’ve never sewn something for such an ominous purpose. Underneath the cheerful bright fabrics lurked the searing images we’ve received this week from New York City, the UK, Europe, Africa, India. Images of human beings trying to protect themselves and others, often with the flimsiest of barriers between the invisible but potentially deadly: my breath, your breath.

This is also Holy Week, the solemn culmination of the reflective, penitential season of Lent. A season that got blindsided by a worldwide pandemic that seems nothing if not Biblical, forcing the religious and non-religious alike to give at least a passing thought to the questions, “What is going on? Why now? Why us?” The past two months have presented all of us with images and descriptions of suffering we will never, ever forget, if in fact we are fortunate enough to survive. One iconic image of this pandemic will certainly be the mask, and, if we are willing to look closer, at the eyes above it, filled with fear, exhaustion, and too much knowing.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 15: Masking and Unmasking – Holy Week 2020

Always – this time of year – I feel the lack of sunshine as physical pain. No. It’s not the lack of sunshine, it’s a lack of warmth.

The sky is blue, and the flowers are blooming in bright blues and yellows and purples, but we are still on the edge of freezing. The wind still pushing snow flurries under my collar.

I need a run, but I’m still taking account of a swollen lymph node. So I settle for another cup of coffee.

Out the window I can see the man left alone in his chair now. Wrapped in a blanket, his face tilted up toward the sun.

Ren Powell, All the Blues

Having cancelled an anticipated spring trip, and maintaining the recommended isolation, I’m experiencing the wakening of wanderlust, as friends south of me post pictures of croci and daffodils but all around me is the bleak of northern early spring.

But isolation is forcing us to roam very locally, trespassing here and there, following logging roads or ATV trails currently quiet. With leaves not yet out the land remains revealed in all its lumps and wrinkles, and we course through it, following streams or the lines of topography, discovering a neighbor’s old apple orchards, a rocky and windy hilltop that seems elf-haunted.

In Boundless, Katherine Winter wrote this: “What if we were to stay in one place, get to know it, and listen? What might happen if we were not always on our way somewhere else?”

Marilyn McCabe, Of Rich and Royal Hue; or, On Writing and Paying Attention

An owl crosses
over, watching the limbs dangling fruit, then headfirst
flies back on wings made of mute, that shed sound as the wet
rejects oil. There is an enormous sound still unheard,
an enormous sorrow set on pause, ready to tilt
and cascade into the frantic arms trying to blur
the moments between gasp and guttering, cold and clasp.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Stands at the Border

For some of us, this particular Easter may feel more like the tomb than like resurrection.  We are still waiting.  We don’t know what the outcome will be:  will this new virus mutate and become worse?  Will our favorite schools, businesses, social institutions survive?  What will the new normal look like?  Can we bring some of our favorite aspects of the old normal with us to the new normal?

In many ways, these questions are the essential Easter questions.  Life changes, and often faster than we can process the information.  We’re left struggling, grasping for meaning, refusing to believe the good news that’s embodied right before our eyes.  We don’t recognize the answer to our prayers, our desperate longings, even when it’s right before our eyes.  We’re stuck grieving in the pre-dawn dark.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Easter in a Time of Plague

What interests me so much more than
those pages of scripture foxed with turning
is his choosing of a blue gown over a white;

his weighing of two stones in either hand, the one
mottled like a perfect moon, the other pale and blind
as a sleeper’s face

Dick Jones, TWO EASTER POEMS

While digging in the dirt, I thought about the stock market crash of 1929, and what it meant to those who were my age when that life-changing event happened. It was followed by the Depression, and then WWII. A person who was 55 in 1929 would have been 72 by 1946, the beginning of a return to life not being lived through prolonged, world-wide crisis.

I realized then that ever since the pandemic reached our continent, I’ve been living on hold, feeling as if these days are some time outside of my real life, a time apart. But the pandemic’s effects and what they have revealed about us aren’t going to to be over in a few weeks or even months. After decades of daily, relentless erosion to the institutions and systems that, in real ways, gave me a kind of security that allowed me to live without developing life skills and dispositions that might now become essential, here we are. We are in the thick of the weeds, and I can no longer ignore them and focus on the pretty parts of the yard. I need to learn how to survive–maybe even thrive?–while living within them. Because they have grown so, so tall, and it will take a long time to eradicate them.

If a person my age at the time of that earlier crash lived “on hold” until the crises ended and things felt like some good kind of normal, they would, in important ways, miss most of the last years of their life. And I don’t want to do that. Out in the garden, I resolved to stop living through my days as if they are, somehow, lesser days than any others I’ve had. I don’t know that it will be years until we feel as if we out from under this, but I do know I don’t have enough left to me to wait for some normal to start really living again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #5: Of dirt, weeds, digging, and optimism

While I’m busy not going anywhere, below my feet, down on the ground, there there are insects journeying through the weedy jungle of our garden, in and among the weeds sprouting up on the patio.

What I call ‘weeds’ are really wildflowers, pollen-givers, insect-enablers. Last year, we left our lawn unmowed until August and loved the havoc of wildflowers plaited inside the tall grass.

Daisies grew bigger and bolder, reinventing themselves as they were left unchecked.

Josephine Corcoran, Look Down

As I passed the truck, I realized I was walking through a fine mist. I put my head down, held my breath, and walked until I was clear of the mist, then turned around.

I saw that the mist was coming from an air vent at the top of the truck. The mist had now turned to a spray, and the spray was turning dark gray, almost black, in color. It was blasting against a traffic sign, a yellow diamond warning trucks about the height of the train bridge just ahead, and the sign had turned almost completely black.

It was then I realized I had just walked through a cloud of aerosolized sewage. A literal shitstorm. […]

After getting a new truck and cleaning up the gutter properly, the men washed off the neighbor’s car and hosed down our porch (twice). And while I was nervous for a few days, it seems clear I didn’t get sick from the sewage, nor did any of our family members. It’s possible, if it contained coronavirus, that I could still be incubating it. But the black water was from older sludge on the bottom of the sewer line, not fresh sewage, so I think my odds are pretty good.

Still, walking through a literal shitstorm is not what you want to be doing during a pandemic.

Your Zen teachers will have a field day with that story about the shit mist, my friend Susan said, reminding me of the story about Unmon and the shit stick.

I suppose this is a chance to cultivate equanimity. It’s not easy. But in the meantime, it makes for a good story.

Ordinary mind, Buddha mind. Shit stick, shit mist. What’s the difference?

Can you see the Buddha in a cloud of shit? In the middle of a pandemic?

Buddha mind ::
the doctor holds up a nasal swab

Dylan Tweney, Walking through a shitstorm.

finished with clocks my time stopped morning shook its gold fist at my sloth ticktock Rebecca now the parable of Night Nurse and Bitter Angel crawls sideways across the blue carpet howl yes make your god blasted noise at gravity’s sweet lack ticktock Rebecca where are your steady shoes opaque yellow stockings run now run Rebecca calla lily collided her thick rhizome through your mouth into your lung as you slept rise now now drink from the trumpet spathe the basal leaf cleaved against your whelpy heart now is your time run Rebecca run across the sea salt meadow through the bullfrog palace the blown cattail the blackberry thicket the blackbird’s bright underwing wake up Rebecca wake up run against the world’s cold brass mouthpiece run against the world’s last frozen spring

Rebecca Loudon, corona 13.

In the last rites of most Hindu people, a close family member of the deceased has to take a bamboo stave and break the skull of the dead body already burning in the funeral pyre. It is called Kapala Kriya. What burns before you is nothing but body and so you must destroy it with your own hands.

At the end of puja, the worshipped idols made of clay (that took months to be sculpted) must be immersed into water. They must dissolve into nothing.

There are no graves, no epigraphs, no cemeteries to be visited years after the death. The dead cannot take space from the living. The dead must be forgotten.

The gods’ task doesn’t end with creation alone. What gods created, gods must destroy.

Even the ashes of the burnt body cannot be kept in urns. They, too, must be immersed into water. Your bones will not be found centuries later.

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown Diary / Fragmented notes from the 21st or 22nd day?

The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”

The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.

During Roman times, Pan increased in importance, becoming “known as the All, a sort of universal god, which was a play on the other meaning of the word pan.

Christine Swint, Pandemic, Pandemonium, Panic, and Poetry

the tomb closes again
god has changed its mind
the thorny corona
of dried blood
on the road to
don’t make us
again
the pain
is just too great

Jim Young, easter hard reset

I don’t think you need to have an especially religious frame of mind to find the notion of wanting to be saved quite appealing, rational even, in the current situation. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel that wide of the mark to attach such a framework to Roo Borson’s incantatory prayer of deliverance from a modern way of life which is already starting to look antiquated, as far off, say, as those bearded, corseted Edwardians, their world about to explode in the First World War. Part of me wants to take the poem by the scruff of the neck and shout it has no idea what is about to happen to the world it describes. But what we wouldn’t now give to drive down a ‘bleak open highway’ and turn into an ’all-night cafe’ and consume ’ghoulish slices of pie’ just because we can.

In truth, having lost track of the days, I chose this poem to fall on Easter Day a whole week before I knew what I had committed to doing: talking about being saved, from a position of privilege and luxury compared to most of the planet.

Whether you are enduring ‘another measureless day’ or rather enjoying the company of your own solitude, perhaps with loved ones or re-reading Dickens or what Thomas Lux calls ‘painting tulips exclusively’, I hope you will join with me today in envisioning a future, after this is all over, whenever that may be, of increased empathy and of public figures who express that as a matter of course, with humility and transparency, of taking time to relish the tiny overlooked things of everyday life, of family and friends, the weird luxury of sitting at a table and staring into space, rather than at a screen, conjuring a future that has no place for ’insomnia’ or ’nightmares’.

Anthony Wilson, Save Us From

Death is blurrier than people realize. I sometimes think of the moment she had her stroke as the moment she died, since so much of her died in that moment–and all hope for her died then, though it took us (and the doctors) a little while to verify that. None of us wanted that to be true.

I had to tell a neighbor who didn’t know the other day, tell her what happened. She said she thought Kit was inside, being sick (she knew she was fragile) and the weather cold this winter. She had wondered.

I’ve become pretty good at telling the story in a concise way that hits enough of the highlights for someone to understand but doesn’t go deep enough for me to cry. Not everyone wants the whole story, and I don’t want to tell the whole story to everyone. It’s impossible to live like that, so very raw and open.

I am not entirely ungrateful for this Quarantine, this time of isolation. Even though He did not heal Kit in the way I hoped and wanted, I still trust God as the ultimate healer, and I’ve been interested to see, in a sort of passive, observing way, how He plans to heal me after this horrible thing. Now what do you plan to do about this, huh? I pray sometimes.

Renee Emerson, 5 months

The more freedom, the more we struggle
to know what it means. The truth of Exodus
is on trial, in crisis. Salt waters crest
to our chins. Awestruck, we know nothing
can be said though we testify and babble
in quivering attempt. We want to want more keenly.
On high, the Lover is never quite satisfied;
He sees our desire raw, though not raw enough.

Jill Pearlman, A Sonnet for Seder during Lockdown

Each day, new blessings—

like how the bombs haven’t yet gone off, zombies haven’t taken over our streets, the four horsemen are still socially distancing themselves from the apocalypse.

Manson’s ghost hasn’t carved X’s into the foreheads of our best intentions. The machines of sorrow having completely broken down into inconsolable fits of tears.

The wonderful drug they call love hasn’t completely failed in clinical trials.

New blessings amidst these crazy-making days. The tightly wound clocks of us,

still keeping time.

Rich Ferguson, The Bright Spot Behind the Tombstone

Things at the hospital continue to be in a state of preparedness coupled with constant change. It’s not chaos—I don’t want to alarm anyone. We are very prepared. But it is a stressful environment for everyone right now and information changes and evolves by the hour, so we are in constant reactive mode. My well-ordered world is gone, the familiar rhythms of my regular job have been obliterated, and I continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in an environment where fear is palpable. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know what is to be on the other side of this. The Word of the Day is “adaptability.”

Kristen McHenry, Defining Confidence, Word of the Day: Adaptability

– In the span of a month or so of sheltering at home my wife has gone from not knowing how to play rummy to being a card shark. A rummy hustler

– My wife’s ankle is messed up; she has to wear one of those immobilizing boots, so I am the cook, the laundryman, the guy who goes out for supplies, whatever. And it’s cool, I am OK with that.

– Though I was rather stupid, I did know enough not to tell a strange woman that I intended to marry her. I introduced myself and asked her to dance. If she had said no this would have been far duller life.

– My only real fear of the virus is what will happen to my wife if I get it. Who will get her groceries? How would she stand long enough to cook? And those cookies she loves; would she just have to do without them? That last one might seem hinky to you, cookies, but after the 5th week, I broke down and cried one day getting the cookies down for her. My god, she’s spent her life with me! She deserves a cookie! 

– I know that real change comes from within, that you have to want that change for yourself, not for someone else, but it was wanting to be a better man for her that got me started. I realized it was actually time to grow up. 

– We lost a (grown) child three years ago. The grief is still there. If I now fall during this pandemic, her pain will be horrible. That scares me more than the thought of being dead. That she would suffer like that again, I can’t bear that.

– As I write this list, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. It is also the third anniversary of the day son, William, died. I am not sure how we will face that odd combination while the two of us are locked away from the world. 

James Lee Jobe, Ten Things during COVID-19/Shelter-at-home

I’m having a hard time writing. Even morning pages are flat. Few poems, little journaling of any kind. I know I’m not alone in this. 

I’m exhausted. Of course, that’s my diagnosis: chronic fatigue. But this is different, more than that. My mind, my heart, my heart-mind is exhausted. 

And I’m outraged, and tired of being outraged. I’ve been outraged too long. I look at my Facebook page and it’s just one rage-inducing post after another, nearly all shared from others, who share my outrage. It’s tiring. It begins to seem pointless. 

I feel so helpless, powerless, old and ill and unable to make a difference. Writing seems beside the point. Others do it better, more clearly, with more passion. 

And I am aware of my privilege. I am housed in a beautiful little house, with someone I love, who takes excellent care of me. I am fed and surrounded by art and books and constant entertainment, should I make use of it. Instead I feed my anger – and fear – with too much television news. I fear for the lives of my friends and of my country. 

I fear being separated from my love as one or the other or both of us are dying. I fear for my young friends, one has “underlying conditions” and others are on the front lines. And what country will the survivors enter into, later? 

Sharon Brogan, Outrage

I was not fully prepared for answering quite so many emails. I don’t know why — it makes sense — and yet it means that I haven’t been able to grade quite so much. I participate in the discussion boards, but if the students don’t respond to my comments I have no idea whether or not they are reading those comments, and those comments are the only supplement I have right now for lecturing and classroom discussion.

Additionally, quite a few of my students haven’t participated at all in the classroom activities. They haven’t answered emails. I’ve pushed back deadlines to give them time — I know that quite a few don’t have regular access to technology, because they are sharing computers with family members or they have spotty WiFi or they are continuing to work through the pandemic, because they are employed by grocery and convenience stores or restaurants that offer take-out or delivery. Some of them have sick family members. Some of them went through surgery just before the pandemic and are in a kind of fraught recovery — their risk of infection is so much greater, and their ability to protect themselves has become so diminished. I’m trying not to lose them, in a figurative sense as well as, unfortunately, a literal one.

And some of them are using email to ask for clarification about assignments, to get feedback for papers, and this is really great. I’m “talking” with those students perhaps more than I would have in a regular semester, and that’s kind of lovely. It’s one of the aspects of community college that I really value — the mentoring, where I can see actual growth and results from my facilitation in their learning, my guidance.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Rage, Responsibility, and Resilience

I don’t think there’s a person not wondering how to live in a worthwhile way at this time. How to live and not just wait. How to live and not just worry. I don’t think you can not not wait and you can not not worry. But you can do other things too. You can doodle. You can practice your handwriting. You can tell the truth. I read something the other day that said even five minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. So I exercise.

I’m doing my best to wring another found poem out of Sleepless Night but it is hard going. I’ve also been trying to put together a collage or embroidery for a poem I have finished from Sleepless Night, but the poem is a sensitive thing.

Sarah J. Sloat, From the isolation files

I’ve been keeping a ‘lockdown’ journal, just for my own interest and to remind myself (hopefully in years to come!) how we (hopefully!) got through it. Reading other people’s blogs I get the feeling the initial euphoria of it all has flattened out to more a sense of restlessness or powerlessness, even sadness. I know ‘euphoria’ sounds wrong, but I mean that initial excitement in terms of ‘it’s really happening’ and ‘no-one in the world knows how this is going to go’ and ‘we’re all (kind of) in it together’, plus getting used to all the changes and rising to the occasion. As Mat Riches says in his recent post, “apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls” – but for many people it’s enough to get through the day and not worry about the family they’re not seeing or the business they’re losing.

Robin Houghton, Tending seedlings & taking comfort from ‘wee granny’

My daily updates on the coronatine have dwindled, dear reader, mostly because one day bleeds into the next. I find myself washing the dishes or emptying the cat boxes and thing “Didn’t I just do this?” and yes, dear reader, I just did. Perhaps the strangest thing about nothing to break up the days is how nothing is delineated by place or event. Normally, the things that happen in 24 hours are split up. I get up. I ride the bus. I go to work. I come home. The day is split into defined times. These are all one thing, now, where I roll out of bed at some point, eat breakfast, do some work, eat lunch, do some more different work. Then dinner, then streaming movies, then sleep. Maybe some cleaning in between or a trip to the lobby for packages, taking the trash to the dumpster. I try to vary it by showering when I first get up or right before I go to bed, but it hardly matters much, since I don’t really get ready to go anywhere. I am not one to complain, mostly since I really like being home and not having to go out, but it takes some getting used to, this new way of experiencing time. […]

I am still having a bit of trouble caring about things I used to quite as fiercely in this world, but I suppose this is to be expected. I promised myself I would keep producing, even if some things sparkle less than they did before. I’m somewhat motivated to work on library things, mostly because justifying my paycheck depends on it, so I’ve been busy working on programming, lib guides, grant applications and such that can be done away from the physical collection. Poetry and art are a trickier matter. I’ve been hammering away on the NAPOWRIMO pieces, but they feel a little bit like doing sit ups or laps around the block. I do it, and it’s done, but it doesn’t spark the way it used to. I’m digging into new layouts and cover designs for the press nevertheless, so hopefully I can fake it til I make it. It occurs to me I would normally be opening for submissions in May, but since this year is out of whack, I might wait til June and hope by then I’ve regained some of my passion for poetry things and will be a much kinder reader.

Kristy Bowen, one month in

Easter Sunday.

On the phone, my son’s excited voice: number 20 is just hatching before my eyes! Loud cheeping in the background. I am almost as excited about my tomato seedlings that have come up overnight. I salvaged the seeds from a rotten tomato only a week ago and sowed them in a seed-tray with scant hope that they would germinate. And the chickpeas that showed no more than bent white necks last week are six inches high.

Ama Bolton, Week 4 of distancing

I know beyond our thin atmosphere
we’re cradled in the vastness of space.
Even when I feel stuck in my skin

in the seclusion of social distancing
cloaked in mask and gloves
unable to touch

the maple and I are breathing together
(you and I are breathing together)
even when I feel apart.

Rachel Barenblat, A part

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 14

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. This week, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


The milk is spoiling, or has finished the job. The apple-a-day calendar is stuck at March 13, when I flew off despite misgivings about flying. Luckily I’d emptied the garbage, as I always do before leaving. The refrigerator and its white noise set to perpetual.

The collage clippings are scattered on the table, the needles are sunk in the pincushion at a courteous distance. Books, clothes… if I’d only thought a little further. My bag was lightly packed.

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

Of course we introverts have feelings.  We know that real grief is sometimes too deep for words.  The Covid-19 plague blew in with a whiplash of emotional states, laced with adrenaline and black humor.  I made jokes, rolled my eyes in the vertigo of each shifting reality, rode the waves of social media — until the torrent of words, emotions, anger, f-words, words, words, f-words, knocked me down.

What exhausted me was the snap mastery, the fear-driven rush to judgment.  Then the need, akin to the Biblical Job’s friends, to mouth all-knowing vindications of tragedy.  It didn’t leave much room for the kind of tongue-tied response of silence and awe that made me sit, shaken and numb and full of longing. I pulled in and pulled from my shelf the books of my companion poets.  In the language game, whose words would stand up to reality? Great artists who had taken harrowing journeys and sent word back.  Those guides brought me across the void, helped me mourn and feel sorrow for the immensity of what is being lost.

The weeks since then have been spinning by.  Spring is celebrating itself.  Pink buds wave towards the future while we are stuck on reruns.  The new reality is taking shape.  It is technological.  It is busy while being stilled.  It used to be a metaphor that if you’re not online, you’re invisible.  Now it is a reality.  

Jill Pearlman, The Introvert’s Guide to the New Reality

Being an extrovert means I get energy from being around other people. This is one reason I love, and very much miss, my gym. It’s not just that the OrangeTheory Fitness workouts are hard and great, it’s that I’m working out with a group of people. And because my preferred time to workout was 5am, I was working out with the same group of early risers every morning. We were a community who knew each other by name and chatted happily, if sometimes sleepily, before starting our workout. Now my days start with a solo run, followed by solo yoga and solo TRX and then a solo hike with my dog. I’m still fit and healthy but I miss people. I miss high-fiving friends after a hard set, or cheering on someone as they push hard on the rower or treadmill or pick up heavier weights than usual. I miss the comradery.

Poetry is what I usually turn to in times of emotional turmoil but lately, the words haven’t been flowing as much as I’d like. April is National Poetry Month and in years past I’ve participated in 30/30 – 30 poems in 30 days, writing one poem per day. This year I’m not setting this goal as I don’t honestly think I’d be able to do it and I don’t want to feel bad or guilty or like I’m underachieving if I don’t write a poem each day. Instead I’m reading a lot of poetry and when the words come, I capture them, grateful to have them and have this outlet.

So I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by being gentle with myself, by being kind to myself, and not setting expectations so high that I’m certain to be disappointed. I’m surrounding myself with beautiful words and hopefully, this will inspire me to write some of my own. But this year, it’s okay if it doesn’t. This year is different from any I’ve experienced and so I’m taking it a day at a time, letting my heart lead me where it needs to go.

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

As a comfort during this strange and difficult time, I am re-reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, first read in childhood. I recalled the March family hunkered at home during the war between the states, their father off serving as a chaplain for the army, but little did I know quite how much their situation would resonate now!

When I picked up my book this morning, opening to where my bookmark had fallen in place the night before, the little women and their mother had received news of the illness of Mr. March. Illness in war is common, and our big flu pandemic of 1918 happened in war, and here we are again. So Marmee, as her daughters call her, packs a trunk and heads off to tend him, leaving the little women on their own, in the care of Hannah the cook, and with the protection of the neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, Laurie.

The next morning, they wake to the completely changed circumstances. “’I feel as if there had been an earthquake,’ said Jo…” Indeed!

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

yes i do kiss you
right now in plain sight
right here on this park bench

in front of the ducks
in front of the trees
still bare from winter

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

bandit-style
in front of the person
with the Ronald-

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

kissing, standing,
walking this little dog
crowding our feet, one

of your hands filled
with litter collected from
the river bank the other filled

with mine yes do hold
my hand, hold my hand,
hold tighter

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

Strange to move so poorly in these woods, shortened steps so slow: the last time I moved with such caution in here it was my back that was halved. Freshly screwed and stapled, bones on fire and nerve signals still scrambled: the risk of falling was severance, then.

Now, it’s lungs on fire, covid’s chest-spreader cracking sternum on each breath.

But better, today, eighteen days in: enough that I can slow-walk crackle and snap past the vixen’s den and down, all the way to the stream, past vulpine latrine (territory’ edge) and deer, past bear scat and scratches.

Quartz extrusions, some lifted into walls, some still in situ, are bleached to bone.

Near the water, a snapped pine is a hundred years of falling in a moss-encroached grave. It means something different to me than to others here.

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

The tradition says each of us is to see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought out of Mitzrayim. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we are living in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place; tight constriction; dire straits — feels very real to me this year. If we are feeling constricted, anxious, afraid, uncertain, maybe newly-aware of some of our society’s fundamental inequalities and the harm they cause to the most vulnerable… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

When we left that Narrow Place, we didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have time to fully prepare for our journey of transformation. We didn’t know where we were going or how we would get there. We left the Narrow Place anyway, because it had become clear that staying where we were — staying with the status quo — meant death. If we are feeling unready, unprepared, maybe thrust into a journey we don’t know how to take… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

Rachel Barenblat, We are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy’s poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems — not much larger than a pamphlet — was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it’d not been heavily annotated then it wouldn’t have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren’t studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!

Giles L. Turnbull, The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1

We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 5-6-7-8

My watch conked out yesterday. Suddenly it was half past five and actually it was five to six. So now I live watch-less.

Just as well. I have started reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (thank you Shawna Lemay for the recommendation):

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.’ 

Well, I have been having quite a lot of conviviality and connection right by my front gate, thanks to being in the garden so much. I have had more conversation these last two weeks than I have had for months. Even with strangers.

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

I have washed my hands for twenty seconds
with soap and music. I have gloves to wear.
I have dreamed up a house with invisible walls
That let me see the sun and the moon and the trees,
Oh let me be trapped there for forty days
And forty nights, like Jesus in the desert.

James Lee Jobe, I have washed my hands for twenty seconds

So how barbaric is it to write poetry during a pandemic? How wrong to suppress a pang of guilt at the thought that there are people dying out there, while I’m fiddling with words? And if I need to keep fiddling to stay sane, should I perhaps hide that discordant, painful music under a bushel?

I keep hearing from friends, family, and the ubiquitous newsfeed in my mailbox that things will get worse before they get better. Things already are unimaginably tragic for so many families around the world. I’m afraid that thinking of worse things yet to come might somehow bring them into being. I must shift my focus or succumb to anguish for my children’s future.

Outside, the birds, the insects, the trees, and the flowers are busy making spring happen. I feel joy and gratitude when I watch them. Their tiniest gestures acquire instant symbolism, becoming a sign of hope, of resilience, of triumph over despair. All around me, nature breathes and sends her messengers to knock on my doors, my windows, my forehead. They all know something I don’t–or have chosen not to acknowledge. Not yet. I must keep watch. Any day now, I’ll find out what nature has been hiding from me. What she’s been telling me all along.

So there it is, my reason for fiddling. I’m trying to bring about spring. It’s the only way I know how.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 0

If you had asked me 3 days ago how I was, I’d probably have broken down in tears. Home schooling is breaking me, but I’ve had a few days respite as the kids were away to their dad’s so I’ve been able to catch up with my studies, go to the allotment, hang some photos that have been sitting unloved for years, do some reading and crafting and, most importantly for the blog, join in with Angela Carr’s new 30 day writing challenge which coincides with GloPoWriMo (or NaPoWriMo if you insist on being US-centric) the poetry writing month which encourages people to write a poem a day. And so far because of the isolation I’ve been able to keep up. Four new rough drafts done and as soon as I hit Publish for this I’ll start on the next one. 

In honour of GloPoWriMo, I usually include a poem by a poet I like. This time I’m including The Hill Burns by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd. I have to admit I’ve never read her poems before, but I’ve recently started her book The Living Mountain which is part of a online read-along started by nature writer Rob MacFarlane. I  haven’t been able to keep up with the read-along and discussion, but it’s worth following Rob on Twitter and reading his books, he has a lovely way with words and inspiring people to explore nature and to write about it. I’ve only managed The Wild Places and The Lost Words (written with Jackie Morris and with her beautiful illustrations, a magical book) so far as it’s hard to get his books here, but I’m in a queue of about a million waiting for his latest book Underland once the libraries reopen here in Helsinki. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s 2000 book, Cat’s Eye. After ten years of mostly reading and writing poetry, I’ve regained an appetite for fiction.  I enjoyed the book very much and it felt luxurious to spend long days with the same characters, visiting another section of their lives each time I picked up the book.  It’s hard to replicate that experience when reading poetry. However, at the book’s end, I wasn’t hit by a sensation of something profound, exact and transformative.  I didn’t deeply recognise a human emotion conveyed in the story – or, if I did, the poet in me couldn’t help asking  did we need 421 pages to say that?  Could it have been said in 14 lines?

I’ve had some extremely happy moments this week: discovering that both of my now adult children can cook; watching my 19 year old son teaching himself to do handstands and cartwheels in our back garden; being in awe of my 20 year old student daughter’s ability to focus on her academic work in a houseful of people, one of whom plays his music ridiculously loud.  We’re very lucky to be in lockdown together and not alone.  I’ve felt guilty for feeling happy in the middle of an international crisis.

I’ve been trying to write a poem but I’m scuppered by the old adage of a watched pot never boils.  I need to quickly look away and let the poem do some of its work without me.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

We should have known it well
it thrives. indeed, on being human
our touching each other; hands on face
speak out loud, droplets & breath
hold on to the handrail
move down the carriage,
use all available space
it’s proximity & closeness
shaking hands, kissing once or twice,
(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)
the embrace, the popping in,
the cup of tea, the walk together,
y’alright mate,
saying cheers, give me five,
would you like a top-up,
anytime, here for you.
And they thought we could raise fences

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

Last April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day and posted the drafts on this blog. That turned out to be a useful experience, but I feel no need to repeat it. This year, I want to post about some new(ish) books of poetry. Not critiques or book reviews, just what the poems evoke for this particular reader.

~

First up– Lynn Levin‘s The Minor Virtues, 2020, Ragged Sky Press. The cover’s appropriate to the month: a lovely image of dogwood blossoms. And I have to admit that what drew me into the book is the charming mundanity of the first few poem titles, in which the speaker is tying shoelaces or buying marked-down produce. Most of the poems in the first section begin with a gerund phrase and place the reader in a present-progressive act of doing something. The poems here feel so grounded in reality (quite a few are sonnets), often humorous–grabbing the wrong wineglass at a banquet, trying to think about nothing–that I immediately settled in to the pages.

The topics, or the reflective closures, move toward seriousness at times; her poem “Dilaudid” shook me awake and left me in admiration for a number of reasons (some of them personal resonance–but). Levin’s humor tends to be intellectual–wordplay, allusions, wry asides–and I revel in that sort of thing. Her approach to craft also works for me, because she’s usually subtle going about form or rhyme schemes, so I enjoy the poem for what it says and means and then enjoy it again for how it’s structured and inventive.

I mean, that’s one way I read poems. There are other ways. Some books carry me pell mell through word-urgency or the writer’s rage or passion and some build lyrical intertwining networks of imagery and some make their own rules and some stagger me with their innovation. And I may have to be in the right mood to read a collection.

I was in the right mood to read Levin’s book. It was a good way to begin National Poetry Month in the midst of stay-at-home mandates, taking me gently through a “normal life” and reminding me of all that is surprising there, the riddles and the unexpected, the minor virtues and the actions we take as we practice them. Whether or not we think of them as virtues.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

How many hands move to tell the story when
the voice is lost, the voice is a violin throbbing
with loss, the voice has become a ghost, mute
and moving. The hands beat the body like a drum
and hum, the hands beat the drum as if it tells
the stories, the hands beat and are beaten. That
is the tale that must be told, the surprise ending.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

And now, the wisdom/advice/guidance comes for all of us to wear masks when we’re out in public. Of course, the nation faces a shortage of medical grade masks that might actually block the virus, but there’s some thought that a cloth mask might help.

I do have a lot of cloth that I could use to create masks. If only I had time to sew.

I see various types of posts from people who are holed up in quarantine who have made thousands of masks or written the definitive biography of Julian of Norwich or made their thirty-sixth loaf of homemade bread with sourdough starter that they created with native yeasts that they captured in their back yard. I have spent this past work week in the office.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings.I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface.No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point.This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Kristen McHenry, Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

cornmeal into the blue bowl
flour into the blue bowl
my son stands in the kitchen
to tell me the news
no no not now I say the last
of the baking powder
sifts into the blue bowl people
are dying he says no no
I say salt and sugar
into the blue bowl he tells
me about a ship in New York
I stir with my fingers he
keeps talking I add buttermilk
into the blue bowl he says
there is no room for the bodies
I crack two brown eggs
on the blue bowl’s rim
then I pour in honey
my son describes body bags
lining the harbor worse
than war honey rises to the bowl’s
blue lip I keep pouring honey
oozes out of the blue bowl
onto the counter then the floor
I keep at the honey pouring
pouring the floor thick
with it I can barely move
my feet soon my calves
are covered I pour honey
until it shimmers golden heavy
around my waist fills the kitchen
above my shoulders pressed
to my sides the most intense
perfume I pour in enough honey
to flood the yard now I see the sun
right out that window the sun
stupid and round as any
discarded toy

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

Still: dead labor asserts its claim. The workers and exploited ones. Slaves and caretakers. The nameless, lost, derided. The invisible. All the others. The child in the cobalt mine living inside your battery. They live in each head as well as in the complex of social fact. An entire civilization is dedicated to consuming and concealing them. How long does something like this last? How long can it? Never to confront the discarded traces. To build an infinity from denial. Acceleration as the energy required to sustain the denial forestalling absolute cataclysm. Who speaks to and for those inside of us, which we ourselves are inside of in turn? Who admits those who refuse to be part of the “I”?

Rimbaud learned early: “I is an other.” The fundamental insight. As revolutionary and poetic truth.

R.M. Haines, Identity and Its Discontents: Notes on Rimbaud

[…]They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

I was surprised to see this week that my writing has finally turned. After months and months of writing despairing poems, I can see more light and hope in my work now. I saw a few glimmers of this before the quarantine, but what I can really pin it down to is my daily practice of writing a single description of what is around me–focusing on the here and now has brought about more hopeful poems. I was hoping to get there, to not write the darkest of poems forever (and it felt like forever). The grief is still there, and the loss, and I don’t suspect that it will go away any time soon or ever, but I am so relieved to see the Light there as well.

Renee Emerson, the turn

(lack begins as a tiny rumble), a brand new collection by my pressmate Caroline Cabrera, belies its title: these hybrid poems, almost lyric essays, brim with language that nourishes me. Pain and grief are starting points, but line by line, with amazing persistence, Cabrera digs herself out of those very dark places. Sisterhood helps, but so does a renegotiation of her relationship with her own body. “The womb is a world,” she writes in one poem, clarifying that image with the eye-opening closure, “Our first act is one of emigration.” In many poems, too, Cabrera unfolds what it means to be a blonde-haired Cuban American: “My skin keeps me safe. My blood, it boils in me.” My own concentration is poor these days, but this book riveted me. Bonus: the collection includes great poems about toxic bosses. I really appreciate poems about toxic bosses.

This book, by the way, feels very much in sisterhood with Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, star of my last salon, but really I’m just contacting people with new books and posting these interviews in the order I receive them. I’m really enjoying this project, as well as the new books it’s leading me through. Virginia’s governor just gave a stay-at-home order. I totally agree with it, but it makes connecting through writing more important than ever.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

This is a tough, tough time for all of us. In that context, it’s important to empathise with others such as publishers who’ve seen their distributors close down, festivals/readings cancel (where poetry is most often sold) and new books lose the impetus of launches. Of course, it also goes without saying that the poets in question are suffering too. They might well have been working away on a manuscript for years, only to find that publication turns into a damp squib.

One of those cases is David J. Costello and his first full collection, Heft, which has just been published by Red Squirrel Press. David had a whole host of launches and readings lined up, but he’s seen all of them gradually disappear for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate enough to read a proof of his book prior to going to press, and here’s the endorsement that I provided:

David Costello’s poetry is especially adept at evoking the passing of time. Throughout this collection, he portrays the ambiguities and ambivalences of relationships between the individual and the collective, the human and the natural, the historical and the present, moving his readers in every poem.’

Moreover, you can read three poems from Heft over at Elizabeth Rimmer’s blog, BurnedThumb, where she generously held a virtual launch for the collection. If that then encourages you to get hold of a copy for yourself, you can do so via the Red Squirrel Press website here.

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive,
exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses
our same uncanny drive to reproduce,
replace, and colonize everything
not itself with acres of its progeny.

O, the irony of being done in
by a beast with our selfsame gluttony.

But love, for this moment now,
let us set aside these fears and feast
on eggs and apples, allow me
to nourish you with all the love I can,
every sacred mouthful.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus

There are worse places to shelter. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an enormous sense of gratitude. And yes, it’s time to think about moving back home. We’re ready–almost.

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Blogging keeps me limber. Gives me something to do in between binge-watching episodes of Chicago P.D., and 30 Rock with my daughter. It’s also a good way to open up my brainspace to poems.

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I’m participating in two writing groups for National Poetry Month. Pandemic poetry seems to be a theme in both. Truth is, I have been writing fairly consistently for months. It has certainly ramped up the last three weeks after I broke up with my boyfriend.

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

Despite my frequently dire tone here, I am an idealist and an eternal optimist. (It’s why I’m so often angry and railing.) “This is an opportunity,” I have said to anyone who might listen. “Here is our chance to do things differently, to see our mission differently, to really think about what matters in education.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean, maybe. But not this week, and surely not next.

Instead of releasing much of the utter crap that permeates public education, it feels as if our state has doubled down on it (as have many states). We love to talk about “trauma-informed practice” and “culturally-responsive teaching” until we’re blue in the face, but we are about to embark on delivering “education” in a time of tremendous trauma in ways that are likely to exacerbate it, especially for our most vulnerable students.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirus diary #4: the wrong kind of hard

Nearly every day I share stories with a stranger thanks to Quarantine Chat. Recently I talked to an older gentleman in Canada who is staying at his fishing cabin. When we talked he’d just come in from what he said would be the last ice fishing of the season. He reported that, once again, he didn’t catch anything. I asked how often his ice fishing was successful. “It’s always successful, in that I get outside for a few hours of peace. But it’s 100 percent unsuccessful if you mean catching anything after decades of trying,” he said. His good cheer couldn’t help but cheer me. I’ve talked to people in Spain,  Russia, Israel, and many U.S. states — a graduate student, business owner, graphic artist, stay-at-home dad, insurance broker, teenaged musician, police officer. We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper. It’s like any conversation, except it’s easier to get past the superficial.

Yesterday’s call was with a retired veteran who said he was really struggling with anxiety. I asked if he had a family story, maybe even from generations ago, that made him feel he and his kids would get through this. He told me about his grandmother, who was the first Black woman in their city to become a bus driver. He called her a “little powerhouse of a lady.” He said she was a woman of faith who also took  “no guff” from anybody. Once, he said, she was robbed as she was walking to the side entrance of her apartment building. She never carried a purse, but pulled a worn Bible out of her coat pocket and told the desperate young man holding a knife, “Take this, it has all my treasure inside.” He grabbed it and ran off, assuming she had money stuffed in its pages. She turned and hurried after him. When he threw it down after rifling it through, she picked it up moments later. The police declined her offer to dust it for finger prints. The veteran said he had lots of stories about his grandmother, and realized he hadn’t told them to his daughters. “I see her in my girls,” he said. “They’ve got her fight and her big heart.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

Don’t confuse a museum with a mausoleum, or a Cajun with a contagion.

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

Don’t think life is all one-sided when 6 can be 9.

Don’t confuse your coffee with a coffin, or you may drink yourself to death.

Don’t linger with a bee’s stinger. Don’t hide your wounds when they make you a warrior.

Don’t ask for a half-moon when you want the whole night to shine.

Don’t stop believin’ when self-quarantinin’.

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

What a difference a week makes… I’ve been attempting to stay positive this week, but it was getting tricky towards the end of the week as work got busier. I heard Susanna Reid (Saint Susanna) mention something called F.O.N.D.A or Fear of Not Doing Anything. A distant cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – where have you been?), FONDA is a new one of these horrible bloody feelings we’re all meant to have according to the culture sections of broadsheets. Apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls.

Well fuck that. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope you get the chance to learn a new skill and to make the most of this time. I’ve not seen any evidence of it happening for me yet. I’m too busy, either working or drinking to forget. I can’t concentrate on anything else for long enough.

Add in to this the fact that NaNoWriMo has arrived and that means signs of people being busy/writing loads…It’s almost too much. I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo (despite tweets to the contrary), I just can’t do it.

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

Rats in the pantry chew through boxes
of shredded wheat and start in
on the rice. We can’t keep the outside

out, anymore than we can keep
the inside in. In the freezer, a dozen
corpse cows, 40 chickens missing

their heads. How long does it take
to move through that much flesh?
Gnawing our way to hunger with sharp,

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

Cleaning is what I do when everything else feels out of control. My parents used to ride on me unmercifully for my reluctance to clean my desk, my room, my dresser drawers — I always had something more compelling to do, and it just didn’t feel important; besides, I knew where everything was. Oddly, once I had my own spaces and shared them with a partner, I got neater — though there have always been neglected areas. But when unhappiness or chaos or uncertainty seep into my world, I’ve noticed that I instinctively look for things to do that feel ordered, methodical, and incremental: making a patchwork quilt, knitting stitch after stitch, practicing music or a language, following a complicated recipe, taking the food out of the fridge and scrubbing the shelves. There’s a quiet satisfaction today in opening the door to the spice cabinet and seeing the neatly-labeled jars and tins; maybe today I’ll do another drawer of my desk. It’s all easier than staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can possibly write to make sense of this thing that’s happening to all of us — but, ironically, that time spent doing mundane tasks is when the ideas come, and I’ve learned to trust that, too.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 12. The Spice Cabinet

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7

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. This week’s theme: time. Plus a bit of advice on how to better spend it.


For years I have held February
answerable to many sorrows
as though the month itself
were responsible for its appearance:
the dour days too short, long nights
steeped in frosty bitterness.
Resigned to hibernation,
February made me sleepy.
Dulled my skin, sucked dream
into a cold vacuum
like a vacant acre of outer space,
a stone of ice upon my chest.

Ann E. Michael, Apology

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Laura Grace Weldon, Overwhelmed

I’ve been doing a small project with a novella called Sleepless Night over the past week or two. As with Misery, the recto pages have the title at the top and I’m sticking with those for now. It is a good recurring title for a poem, I must say. The author’s writing is not particularly interesting linguistically and it’s short on good nouns. But I’m making the poems small, like aquariums, or dark little rooms where your thoughts or your grave concerns or all the things you are looking forward to keep you awake.

I’ve also been doing the Februllage collage-a-day challenge on Instagram, as I did last year. I’m not striving to do every day, though. I go back and forth on so many things . . . poetry, collage, myself. Some days we’re all ok and other days I think there is no reason to continue to engage with those three.

Sarah J Sloat, Those Three

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and heart

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

Ellen Roberts Young, February Snow Times 2

We will soon leave the time of epiphany. We will trade the star and the angel messengers for ashes on our foreheads.

We may not have realized that the time of epiphany stretched on beyond January 6. We might not have recognized the wise ones and the gifts they would give us.

We may have already been living in the land of ash. We may feel that our frozen surfaces will never thaw.

We cannot fathom how we will stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our arthritic fingers throb with pain even before we have started.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Returning to Resurrection

There are life’s grinding engines driving us to madness:

fracked lands and hacked computers, illness and unwillingness, death too soon and freedom too late, the homeless and hopeless, crosstown traffic and trafficked humans.

Still, there’s the green grass beneath our feet bright as child laughter. Dependable cars and well-tuned guitars. Feasts and flowers. Warm bellies filled with luck. Pets that know us better than we know ourselves. Fresh curiosities making out in the backseat of our brain. The puzzles of our lives put back together after a hard come-apart.

The rise and fall and the rise again.

Rich Ferguson, What Doesn’t Kill Us Cures Us

While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week.  What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening.  Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.  

My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last).  What poor flawed creatures!  In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.

So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle!  To sizzling onions in a pan over the flame, to share.  Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure? 

Jill Pearlman, Everyday Life: Antidote to Political Poisons

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Late winter still life

You and your friends celebrated everything you could find. Not just birthdays and anniversaries and Jewish holidays, but Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fiesta, Susan B. Anthony’s birthday… Once, before I was born, you and Dad held a campaign party celebrating an imaginary candidate. You made up the most ridiculous name you could think of. You printed elaborately designed invitations, and hung red, white, and blue bunting everywhere. There was always an excuse for a party, and I used to roll my eyes at that. It seemed over-the-top, even frivolous. I’m sorry about that now, Mom. Now that you’re gone, I understand your parties in a new way. No matter what we do, life will hand us sorrow. It’s life-affirming to choose to seek joy and togetherness in the face of that truth.  I don’t own a red Chanel suit, and I’m not attending a ladies’ lunch on February 14. But I’m wearing a string of your garnet beads, and my dress today is burgundy — a cousin to red, if you squint. And on this day of red and pink paper doilies, and flower arrangements, and boxes of chocolate, I am remembering you.

Rachel Barenblat, A reason to celebrate

Light up a cigarette
and watch

the smoke write
your thoughts in the air,

this valentine,
inhale     exhale.

Claudia Serea, V-Day

The time has come to stop keeping up appearances.
Let others mourn; I did my crying as a child.
I felt the sting & dreamed of death
both given & received.
I hid a mountain of dirt beneath my clothes.
Those who knew them less well
can toss handfuls into their darkness.

Jason Crane, POEM: Abstention

— It took me a long time to let all that go. I am in my sixties now, and only just beginning to write about it all, to tell the stories. 
— I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. At first I wrote in secret notebooks, by my late teens I was going to open mic poetry readings, but I didn’t tell my family. It would just caused me new abuse; mockery.
— I went outside just before sunrise today. It was windy, and the moon was setting in the west just as the first light of the dawn was glowing in the east. Very lovely. I went inside and wrote a prose poem about it.

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things. Journal notes. 10 Feb. 2020

in the downing days of heavy time
cadillac was as strange a meme
as winsome as the movie toffees
and the longing for the other side
of any walled hillside
or the veneered panelled walls
behind which the cockroaches slept
until the fire died and we were abed
and then they came over the coal-grit
floor to eat the crumbs of the crumbs
that our meagre dinners had left ledgered
here in this corner of a neglected village
in wales
a people tipped under slag tips and
toil so numbing that the sinews of life
crystallised in grime and death that never died
in relief of times best forgotten now
for when you think of it
we cried enough dryness
to last a lifetime

Jim Young, hearth and tired

I have a cough which entered my body the way a bird or small animal would enter it flew or crawled into my mouth and inside my chest when I was standing at the beach during a windstorm my head is happy maybe the cough is a diorama in the medicine chest of my imagined illness

I’m going to go stand in the garden and yell at my tulip bulbs for a bit

Rebecca Loudon, Waking up in spite of it all which feels like spring

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal I haven’t managed much poetry related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don’t buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don’t want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

Gerry Stewart, Stepping Up

When I wrote PR for Poets,  I was grappling with a terminal cancer diagnosis (my tumors have since been classified as “stable” but I still have to get them scanned every six months). I was about to get a diagnosis of MS. These things have changed how I view book promotion in my own life and also how I might write about it next time.

Since I started promoting poetry books in 2006 (I’ve had five books published since), things have changed – the technology, the realities of travel, and in my case, my health has become a constraining factor. Last year, for instance, I was invited to read at a college for money – but ended up not being able to go for health reasons. I was also invited to be a featured speaker at a lovely-looking conference in Colorado – but given how difficult travel has been with a wheelchair, and the impact on my immune system, I had to turn it down. In both cases, I offered to appear virtually, but that offer was declined. AWP is coming up, and one reason (well, besides the money AND persistent accessibility problems at the conference itself) is that the travel is so hard on my system and the rewards don’t seem like enough to balance that out. The book addresses ways to reach new audiences that don’t involve physical travel – blog book tours, for instance, or virtual appearances at book groups or colleges, as well as social media outreach – but it could have gone further.

If you, as a healthy able-bodied writer in the world – an editor or a professor or someone who runs a conference –  want to support disabled or chronically ill writers, teach their books. Encourage your students to buy books, or request their books from libraries. Give disabled or chronically ill writers chances to do phone interviews, Skype sessions, radio appearances.

The reality is, my health and disability can limit my ability to have a writer’s life – the way traditionally the writers make money from books is being invited out to speak at colleges or at readings at conferences, so if you limit your travel to, for instance, locations you can drive to because the last two times you flew you caught pneumonia or the airlines lost your wheelchair (yup, both happened to me) – you’re also limiting how much you get paid, how many audiences you reach, how many copies of the book you sell.

Or…is that still true? I started thinking harder about this. When I started promoting my first poetry book, the number one way to sell copies was to travel to readings and people would buy books there. For my second book, the best way to sell was to send out paper postcards with buying information on them. By the time my last book came out, yes, I sold books through readings and postcards, but I sold the most copies through my blog and Facebook/Twitter announcements. If the world is really getting more technology oriented – working from home, virtual meetings – then maybe the way you sell poetry books has changed, too. I think about Instagram poets, who have a million followers and sell a million books – all without even making a personal appearance.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentine’s Day (and Day After) and a Discussion of Book Promotion and Maintaining the Writer’s Life with a Disability or Chronic Illness

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house And, of course, Yaffle, and The Red Shed . Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of Indigo Dreams, where the prize is publication of a full collection.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

John Foggin, Poetry competitions and small presses: it’s a win-win situation

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s any better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad? I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?

Mat Riches, The Jewson Lot

I must spend
more time
standing in
wind learning

to fly like
sky, grasses,
leaves, learning
to let go,

to go.

Tom Montag, I MUST SPEND

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: fires and war, prayers and hope and other coping mechanisms. Books, bookstores, reading, writing. Burrowing in.


As fires continue to burn vast swathes of Australia and the Federal Government continues to insist that it’s nothing much out of the ordinary, I was reminded of my poem Firefront which was originally published in The Inflectionist Review and then selected for The Best Australian Science Writing 2014. Of course, nothing can compare with the lived experience of those dealing with the fires.

[…]

A final reminder To make a list. The items we must not forget. Ingredients we do not 
grow here: cinnamon, clove, cardamon, Indian tea, black currant, berries, blueberries.
 
Materials we must find time to mine: cobalt, nickel, molybdenum, opal, fully
oxidised zinc, diamond, tourmaline, malachite, crystalline quartz, pure and simple.
 
The direction of the wind. A return address. The passwords we require. The encryption 
keys that preserve our integrity, hold our neighbours to account, plot a pathway out.
 
To repeat: the direction of the wind. Disentangle arms from safety blankets, scarlet
across our backs. What else? Count the numbers that name exploding supernovae.

Ian Gibbins, Firefront

Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire. I am watching them play while I draw the end of my life on scraps of paper that I picked up from the street. The color of my end, my last second, is yellow. Or red. I am not exactly sure now; I forget things all the time. The masters dole out the food, or don’t, as they will. The wealthy disguise themselves as human beings, with help from the police. Every so often I can heard a soft thud; that’s another body dropping. This seems to please both the wealthy and the crows. Welcome to America. If you’re the right color, speak the right language, and have some money, then maybe you can stay.

James Lee Jobe, Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire.

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Consciously, I was thinking: I brought dried limes home from a recent trip to one of the markets in Albany. What can I do with them? Oh, I know. Samin Nosrat talks about dried limes in Persian food; I’ll make something Persian! A few days of comparing recipes led me to this slow cooker Ghormeh Sabzi / Persian herb stew recipe.

But once I was cooking — inhaling the scent of onions and garlic and turmeric, and then leeks and bunches of parsley and cilantro and last summer’s frozen chives chopped and sautéed — it occurred to me that I was making Iranian food. And I wonder whether the pull toward this recipe came from somewhere deeper than just “what can I make with dried limes.”

There’s so little I can do about the actions of my nation’s government. I know that refreshing the New York Times and the Washington Post and my Twitter stream as often as I habitually do is probably not good for my mental or emotional or spiritual wellbeing, and yet… And yet I do those things anyway, on days that are not Shabbat, and therefore my heart keeps being broken.

Rachel Barenblat, Cooking Iranian food with a prayer in my heart

Last year, I substituted a mantra for a resolution: “breathe.” It helped a little. This New Year’s Eve I wrote up more resolutions, got upset about them, and then decided: to hell with self-improvement. I need fewer bullet points on my endlessly guilty, mildly self-loathing to-do lists. And better ones. In fact, let’s not even call them bullet points. They look like open pupils, too. Pencil points. Poppy seeds.

In considering what words I and others DO need to hear, I’ve been crafting a call for Shenandoah‘s next poetry submission period that will read something like this: “During our March 2020 reading period, please send us prayers, spells, charms, curses, blessings, invocations—poems that try to make change happen. All forms, styles, and procedures are welcome. A selection will appear in a special Shenandoah portfolio in the Spring 2021 issue.”

I know I’m not good about practicing self-care, but I want to keep asking for help this year, sending something like prayers or petitions outward and earthward. (I don’t believe there’s a god up in the sky, although it’s fine with me if you do; I do believe in a living earth that I can listen to and do better by.) I plan to mutter, be kind, pay attention, especially to myself. (And I will remind us to vote for kindness, too, whenever a crooked system gives you the chance. Fires blasting Australia, the U.S. president stirring up war to deflect attention from impeachment–I’m not sure we or the more-than-human-world can take much more of this.)

Lesley Wheeler, Not resolutions but invocations

Right now
I’m playing the Japanese punk band Chai at a volume
that can only be called inconsiderate. I know. But
there are times when four young women screaming
in unison in Japanese is the only thing that will
shove the darkness back a few steps so I can get
a full breath in.

Jason Crane, POEM: Japanese Punk On The Corporate Wheel

On New Year’s Day, the two of us put on our wellies and headed out for a stomp around the nearby woods and lanes, glad of each other’s company, grateful for all we have, hopeful for what the next decade might bring, even given the frightening state of affairs on the political scene.

In terms of goal-setting, I’m keener on vague notions of what I’m aiming for rather than laying out a strict time-table.  I like the idea of a New Year being a Fresh Start but I’m also aware that every morning is a fresh start and it’s always possible, and never too late, to try to change something you don’t like, or to try to achieve something you would like.

So we brought some mud back into the house after our walk and that felt like a good beginning to the year.  We were in each other’s company, in a beautiful part of the world, and we breathed some fresh air into our lungs.

Josephine Corcoran, Belatedly, Happy New Year

I’ve always needed some sense of direction for my life and I think last year was mostly about me getting my feet under me so I could make that decision. So now that I have decided I feel stronger and I can take a bad blow like my test results without totally giving in. One step back isn’t the end. 

I haven’t had much time for writing, but I’ve started a couple of poems that I want to work on. One is about wild skating, skating on lakes that are just frozen, from a video I saw. Yesterday I had a chance to visit such a lake, so I want to adapt the notes I’ve made to that experience. I wasn’t skating, but the sounds the ice made are amazing, so I want to try and capture that. I’m scribbling here and there still. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Direction for 2020

I am reading Falter, by Bill McKibben, at exactly the right time: right after Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me, both by Rebecca Solnit, who mentions him, as they are active together in trying to save the world…and, I hope, in time to save the world.

McKibben’s subtitle, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, is an important question, and might mean there isn’t time, but, like Solnit, he approaches the complexity of climate change with great hope and as a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist. So I hope to learn a lot.

I am reading it on a Slattern Day (in the blog), after doing a lot of housework these past few days, post-holiday. My daughter and her boyfriend left last weekend, and my son left on Tuesday, and I took down the Christmas tree the very next day. A bit of a sentimental slattern, I should confess that this was the same Christmas tree that was up and decorated since the previous Christmas. It was my hope in the dark all last year. No doubt I will do a bit more housework yet today, rousing myself from rest and reading, because it’s still there to do. It has occurred to me that I should wear kneepads for cleaning the toilets. TMI?

Kathleen Kirk, Falter-ing

I usually have at least three books I’m reading at the same time. One is often either poetry or poetry craft or criticism, one is often science or some other kind of nonfiction, and one is what I keep by my bedside or read in the late afternoon when I’m tired of doing whatever I’ve been doing. In search of something for the latter category, I chose Pam Houston’s Deep Creek, just because I liked the cover — the viewpoint is looking up the back of a dog toward a meadow and mountain. Finding Hope in the High Country is its subtitle, and who doesn’t want a little hope nowadays? I expected, I don’t know, a nice meditation on what Gretel Ehrlich termed “the solace of open spaces.”

Well. I had never read anything by Pam Houston before, but certainly I had heard of her, but knew nothing about her. The book begins pastorally (or pasture-ly) enough but takes an abrupt turn into a horrifying chapter about her early life. Actually there is much harrowing in this book, as she has lived a life of much risk, some but certainly not all of her own making. She was verbally, psychologically, and physically abused by both parents. She lived a rough and rugged outdoor life — I’m still nightmaring from her tossed-off-in-one-sentence tale of backcountry skiing alone and breaking her leg.

But between these difficult chapters, including a nail-biter about fires ringing her Colorado ranch, is indeed a reach toward hope and the possibility of transcendence. She details the astonishing people she encountered throughout her life who saved her, both literally and figuratively — including a random other solo backcountry skier that day who, incredibly, happened by and was able to carry her out. And the amazing things that have happened to her along the way in her amazing life — including, and I’m so envious of this I could spit!, seeing narwhals in the Northwest Passage.

Marilyn McCabe, Cross over into campground; or, on Houston’s Deep Creek

These flat days of winter are never about a loss of hope. It’s a loss of desire.
These days where the edges lose shape, surfaces reflect dull surfaces and the pieces of the world are packed away bit by bit, wrapped in featureless swaddling and stacked in damp cardboard.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a kind of comfort in this.

The word hibernation takes effort. It’s a cold word whose syllables tick boxes on a paper pinned to clipboard, held awkwardly between the bend of an elbow and the clutching of fingers. It’s a word that tries to pull things together from the outside. It’s a word that stays on its toes, observing.

Ren Powell, Onomatopoeia 1

this is the same color crave I go through every winter but the difference between now and then is that I no longer feel trapped and dead ended I know I can walk for a few minutes and the entire graybluegreen world is at my feet […]

what my original thought was here is that maybe the previous owners of my house who gleefully painted the inside guts with so much unbogly oranges and reds knew what they were doing and no not even three years later have I begun the Herculean task of repainting I still feel barely moved in even though everything has a place and I’ve pared down to essentials and my closets are tidy my garden is in place my sour dough starter has taken on island flavors and I have finally grown into the pulses and beats of a weather driven and water surrounded life

Rebecca Loudon, Dog in possession of the last false smile

Sometimes my pulse just stops,
paused
like a dancer in mid-leap,
balanced
as if gravity
has lost
its grip. I open
my eyes
to see what happens next.

PF Anderson, My Pulse

For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing(Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies
slug-beloved

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.


When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Matthew Stewart, Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman’s A warm and snouting thing

Each line changes the way I perceive the previous line. The hidden caesuras and stops disappear and reappear, and yet [Chad] Sweeney is artfully teaching me how to read the book, and these shifts become natural.

In this mythic journey, Language is both honored and questioned, as in “Here / Language opens at the wound.” Words become malleable, as in “I begged this / Air to / Hundred me,” and transform: “killeachother,” “crowlight,” and “I was quickling.”

I’m including examples, but it seems unfair to pull out a few lines here and there, because everything is connected, both the lines to each other and the images across the poems.

Reading this book, I felt two journeys—the speaker’s and the survivor’s, the long trek to reckon with the grief of losing someone you love—that grief its own between space that you must carry through any number of doors, into any number of landscapes, still finding your way. In the pages of Little Million Doors, the strangeness becomes a kind of comfort.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Little Million Doors

Clayton Adam Clark writes beautifully about place, and I know this because I’ve been to many of the places this Missouri poet writes about in A Finitude of Skin, the winner of the 2018 Moon City Press Poetry Award.

I helped to choose Clark’s collection for the MCP prize, and I did so on the basis of his careful use of language — no extraneous words or syllables here — and his lush imagery. But I think I was most impressed by his keen understanding of the environment, which he describes in precise and scientific terms.

The tone of the book is set in the first three lines of “The River of Ugly Fishes,” the first poem in the book:

Blame it on the limestone—the sinkholes,
the speleological interest, an overwhelming
karstness here. People get lost.


I’ve lived in Missouri for eight years, and this seems true to me. The state has a way of taking us in, and it can also feel a little hard to get away from.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Some thoughts, and an appreciation of “A Finitude of Skin” by Clayton Adam Clark

One of the pieces eventually accepted fell out my copy of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography when I preparing to return to Barcelona. It was nearly done, but I toyed with it and added a couple elements.It started as a drawing, became an embroidery then morphed into a collage. That piece—The Power—will be in Ghost Proposal sometime this year.

When I got back from an overnight trip to Girona with my son today I found the visual poetry recently accepted by The Rumpus was already online. They published seven pieces using pages from Eudora Welty, Stephen King and Ali Smith. 

Girona was also a wonderful experience. Beautiful old city with a medieval wall and towers, stairwells and alleys, churches and squares. Of course that’s the old city, where believe it or not there was nary a tourist (but for me & my son). Outside the old city, it’s just a exhaust-filled, drab European city.

But there was an amazing old book shop full of ephemera that I would like to get back to. I spent 15 euros there on a parcel of old letters, photos and a postcard. 

Sarah J Sloat, It pours

all the poets
in the secondhand book store
shelved A to Z

Jim Young [no title]

I was a poet first before I considered prose. Poetry is how I entered the world of creative writing and literature. And though these days I spend most of my time writing prose, my early years inform all of my writing. I lived for Boise’s late nineties’ poetry scene. Behind the scenes of the permanent open mic stalking I did, I was writing poetry in isolation, badly parroting the jazz of beatnik poets like Jack Kerouac, sharpening my words on punk rock poets like Henry Rollins, trying to slow down in order to understand vagabond prophets like Whitman, and being emotionally duped by Bill Shields, the liar. And always, always hearing the cadence, the rhythm, and rhymes of the hip-hop I grew up on. I learned how to write in a spiral notebook and read on stage. But I didn’t do it to be seen, as much as to see. My eyes were still opening. My tongue was still tied. I was learning how to carve out meaning in the world, how to speak, and how to be.

10 Crumbs for Budding Poets – guest blog by Josef Miyasato (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

January, usually a dismal month here (we have a week of snow coming up in the forecast, odd for us) was also the Seattle’s MLA Conference, and so I got the chance to visit with long-time friend (but seldom seen, as she lives in Virginia) Lesley Wheeler. We hung out and caught up at the Bookstore Bar at the Alexis (after being turned away from the Sorrento’s Fireplace Room because of “silent reading night.” That’s fine! We’ve got multiple great meeting places for writers in this time. But I will hold a grudge!) Then tonight we got together with another local speculative poet, Jessica Rae Bergamino, to do a Feminist Speculative Poetry night at the lovely local bookstore Open Books. (I came home with three books on top of Jessica’s terrific Unmanned – and I’m really looking forward to Lesley’s new book due out in two months.) I was worried people would stay away because of the unwelcoming weather, but we had a great crowd, not only a good sized crowd but a warm and appreciative crowd, and listening to Lesley and Jessica read was a real pleasure. There were poems about space, robots, foxes, Nancy Drew, apoclaypses, Princess Leia, David Bowie…let’s just say this was not your grandmother’s poetry night.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sharing a Little Good News, The First Reading of 2020, and Learning to Balance with MS

I’ve been writing an interesting series about Noah, about the ark, about Noah’s wife and Noah’s daughter and Noah’s offspring.  Sometimes the poems take place in the Biblical setting in which many of us first encountered Noah.  Some bring them up to modern times.

The poem I wrote this morning has Noah’s wife getting a job in the student advising department of the local community college and taking yoga classes to recover from her work day.  I LOVE the poem I wrote, even though it’s unfinished.

It’s been a good writing week.  I’ve returned to my apocalyptic novel and written enough to get excited about it again.  Yesterday I wrote a poem about taking a walk on the morning of Epiphany, before dawn, looking for holiday lights and looking for the wisdom of the stars.  That poem, too, made me happy.

Very few things make me as happy as a good writing session.  Even a bad writing session is better than no writing session.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing Report for the Week so Far

I rather like the idea of the Muse, as myth and metaphor; sorry to report, though, that I cannot recall a time when I felt I actually had a Muse. For writer’s block, I might have turned to Lord Ganesha, Remover of All Obstacles–but as I age into confidence as a writer, I find more patience with myself when the words don’t flow as rapidly.

I seldom think of myself as “blocked” anymore. During the times I compose less poetry, I can revise and rework older poems. I can gather completed poems together and puzzle over making the next manuscript. Or I might be busy writing various genres of prose, such as this blog or work-related articles and proposals.

Writing, for me, requires constant practice. It has little foundation in inspired revelation or appearances of the Muse. I do like prompts and challenges, though, for motivation and to pique my curiosity. My latest challenge-to-self is to write a screenplay. It’s a new form for me and I have to learn how to write dialogue and setting and to think in scenes. The only past experience at all similar has been my work on opera libretti, fascinating and, for this particular writer, extremely hard to do at all–let alone to do well.

Ann E. Michael, Practice & Muse

I have always been the sort of writer who is in love with research .  There is something incredibly exhilarating in starting a project and seeking out every single detail and nuance. In immersing yourself in the process.   Perhaps it’s the librarian in me, but it started long before I started working in libraries. Through college and grad school, I would put off my paper writing exploits to the very last minute, but the research had always been started much earlier–usually manifested in a mess of notebook scribbles and ragged print-outs carried around in my backpack.  It speaks to certain obsessive tendencies that serve me both well and sometimes not so much, but when channeled toward creative things, it can actually be highly enjoyable. 

 Though the intervening years have made such research more accessible and my notetakings more digital than not., I still resort to paper, usually loose sheets grabbed and then folded into my project sketchbook, where they usually stay until I make something of them, or clean out the notebook and stash them elsewhere. It’s actually resulted in a weirdly specific knowledge about certain things–the Slender Man stabbling (necessary violence).  HH. Holmes’ murder castle ([licorice, laudanum]). urban legends (archer avenue) and taxidermy (unusual creatures.)  There are others that I delve into every once in a while–Hollywood ghost stories, roadside motels.

Kristy Bowen, on research and renaissance dog-girls

I’ve got a functional car but would rather travel at the speed of my dreams.

I have the apocalypse in my back pocket but want heaven on speed dial.

I’ve moshed to Gwar but much prefer dancing with my three-year-old daughter.

I’ve got GPS on my phone but desire the internal compass of a bird.

Rich Ferguson, The Grass is Always Greener

And when you think
the silence

has gone out
of you, cut

yourself open
and listen.

Tom Montag, LAST INSTRUCTIONS