Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 17

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 reading, writing, not writing, reviewing, gardening, walking, thinking, playing video games, teaching, dreaming, sheltering in place. “These are the quarantine cuts…”


These are the quarantine cuts
we gave each other,

 scissors to hair to floor.
We’ve grown so close,

 like face to mask
and hand to rubber glove.

 I’m your crazy, 
one legged shadow…

Claudia Serea, After so much time together, we finally got matching haircuts

Sometimes at night my kid is scared, can’t sleep
and loss piles up on loss like banks of snow.
Count to twenty while I scrub each hand.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.

Loss piles up on loss. The banks of snow…?
When I wasn’t looking, spring arrived.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.
Outside, bright daffodils lift up their heads.

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic pantoum

The world is changing, reaching out, but when the entertainment venues are open, the ability to meet up returns, will anyone remember that there are still those of us who can’t take a weekend off to go to a conference or have the money to get public transport into a bigger city for an event, who physically can’t travel to do a 9-5 job?

I hope this new online, distance-friendly, open culture will continues after the dust from the Corona Virus settles. That my kids can still pop into a friend’s birthday in Australia, even if it’s only to watch him blow out the candles. That I will be able to ‘attend’ an AGM or conference via Zoom. That I will be able to read my work at a magazine launch, even if it’s only on their website afterwards. 

I hope that we remember that ways exist to include those isolated in our worlds and that we are allowed to continue to use technology to build an even wider community, as inclusive as possible. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Five: Isolation After Isolation

We are all living in the multiple registers, processing all the different realities, simultaneously. Obviously, I’m on a computer writing this, at home, safe, with my wifi, so that means that I’m in the privileged class, even if I have lost my job and am living with uncertainty. I can also be hopeful, which is a privilege, too, I don’t lose sight of that. By the end of this we will all have suffered loss of one sort or another. And yet, there will also be pockets of happiness, and we will learn to love life in all sorts of new ways, too. We won’t neglect our sorrows and we shouldn’t neglect our duty to happiness, either.

Probably you’ve read by now Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights? I won’t quote at length from it, but remind you of the chapter where he talks about how we might join our sorrows, and in doing so, he asks, “What if that is joy?” What if we were to knit our sorrows together now, our worries, our waiting, our hopes and our fears? What garment would we make?

What if you could extend your quiet outward? Though we hardly move we are close to the door to the temple….

Shawna Lemay, The Quest of an Inner Quiet

The next photo is of Stonehenge, also taken in the hot summer of 2018. We live in West Wiltshire but often travel past Stonehenge, in the north of the county, on the A303 – which is where I took this photo from the passenger seat of our car, on our way to visit family in London.

There is, of course, something magical and special about this ancient site, and it always strikes me as extraordinary, however many times I’ve seen it,  that it suddenly appears by the side of the road, without fanfare.  I remember a time when the whole site was open to the public to visit, no barriers, no financial charge.  I don’t visit it these days (even before lockdown) as I hate queues and crowds of people so I don’t like visiting tourist sites in general.  My son has been to the summer solstice at Stonehenge several times and says it’s wonderful.

I like the sense of travel in this photo, a sense of escape.  I’m looking forward to being able to go places again, on a whim, without planning, just taking off somewhere.  What must those stones make of what’s happening to the world at the moment? Have they seen it all before?

Josephine Corcoran, Three photos from my camera roll

I woke up at 3:00 am thinking about bees (it’s one day before my 60th birthday, and I still can’t sleep through the night). The day before, my son and I were sitting in the garden when a swarm of bees flew over our heads and settled in a tree across the street. The sound of a bee swarm is alarming, but bees are at their least dangerous when swarming. They have no home to defend; they’re following the queen, who, for reasons known only to her, has decided it’s time to leave the hive and move somewhere new.

In Oregon, we’re in Week 7 of the coronavirus stay-at-home order. Like many of us, I’m having trouble sleeping, but I’m used to that. When I can’t sleep, sometimes I recite poetry in my head. After I thought of yesterday’s bee swarm, these lines from W.B. Yeats’s immortal poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” popped into my brain:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

I’ve fallen in love with a lot of poems, memorized them, idolized them, and, once the glamour wore off, seen them for what they really were: a pile of words containing all the flaws of their creators. But “Innisfree” has never lost its appeal, no matter how many times I read it. Deep in the night, I soothed myself with the lines

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

Erica Goss, Bee-loud Brains

With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over. Sheltering at home for the duration of the pandemic gives our roots time to set and grow. We can see that life is more about how we are, much more than where we might grow. Relax and breathe. Dig deep. 

James Lee Jobe, With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over.

Although it has been allowed here – all along – to gather in groups of 5 or less (keeping a responsible physical distance), I have not been around other people for social reasons for 43 days. Yesterday, I showed up for a friend. To be with friends.

I made a decision yesterday to remain diligent and responsible, but to let go of fear.

I know that fear is a useful emotion. But it is not a useful state-of-being. When E. and I hiked across the Hardanger plateau on our honeymoon, we had to ford some powerful rivers, and scramble along some steep screes, with 25 kilos on my back. I took note of the fear, and regarded it as an important signpost to heed, but not as something I needed to slip into my pack and carry with me.  I knew that would put my health at risk.

Yesterday I witnessed a work in progress – a site-specific performance that was beautiful for so many reasons. The performer was wearing a bright orange suit, and at one point danced her way down a long stretch of a pedestrian path. The sky was blue, the birds were calling, and I could hear water gurgling through a drain somewhere in the field.

It was a celebration of life. But watching her shrink in the distance as the path narrowed, it was impossible not to contemplate the fact that our lives encompass deaths.

Ren Powell, Circles of Awareness

Flat and metallic, my tongue  
like disinfected aluminum.  The scent 
conveyed from nose to throat,
a sympathetic gag almost. 
Vapors wave before my eyes.
Clorox, ghost of scents past,
seemingly obsolete, you’ve come back.

You were banned, like death,
things we thought we’d conquered.
The stink of fear, soured dispositions,
army hospitals of World War I.

Jill Pearlman, Olfactory

Here’s what’s more sobering:  now all of my undergraduate English professors are dead.  I realized I wasn’t sure about one of them, but the miracles of the Internet supplied the information.  My Shakespeare professor, Dr. Steen Spove, died in 2008 of pancreatic cancer. 

When my favorite English professor, Dr. Gayle Swanson died in 2014, I blogged about it here and here.  Much of what I wrote about her applies to the whole English department of Newberry College when I attended.

I learned to love literature in a variety of ways through the teaching of all of those faculty members in the English department.  I learned to love a variety of works of literature.  Granted, the reading lists were traditional, but they gave me a solid grounding.

And when I wanted to explore more, to examine the women that had been left out of our beloved Norton anthologies, not one professor discouraged me–no, that would come later in graduate school.  My undergraduate professors were interested to see what I would come up with, and they let me loose on the margins of the canon.

They also nurtured my writing skills and talents–of course, you’d expect English majors to be nurtured this way, but after shepherding students for decades, I’m more in awe of this now than I was then.

When I look back, I am astounded at how open our professors were, how they had us over to their houses (and their second houses).  I’m amazed at how many cultural opportunities they made possible, both by inviting authors to come to us and by taking us on field trips to see authors and other intellectuals.

Part of me will always want that kind of teaching life for myself, the joys of a small, liberal arts college.  Part of me has this sobering realization that many of those types of schools may not survive this time of pandemic, when this old-fashioned kind of teaching, learning, and living in close proximity may not be feasible.  I know that many of the small, liberal arts colleges weren’t doing well before the pandemic, and they may not have the dexterity to survive into what will be the new reality.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last English Professor

I started reading this book [Oculus by Sally Wen Mao] in mid-January and created the bones for these reading notes at that same time. I didn’t get very far. The anxious mood I’d been combating proved to be more formidable than I’d hoped, and so I walked away from my reading/writing goals without even realizing I’d done so. I was fortunate to get back into therapy, which has been a great comfort, but the descent into lock down/quarantine (#socialdistancing to fight the pandemic) happened at roughly the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work from the safety of my home and be paid, but it’s been difficult in its own way. All of that is a story for another post, and I do hope to explore it at some point, but I return to this book in the context of all of that. Deep into all of that. Weeks and weeks deep. Layers and layers deep.

Oculus starts with these three lines: “Forgive me if the wind stole / the howl from my mouth and whipped / it against your windowpanes.” This COVID-19 quarantine seems to be making everything hurt just a little — or even a lot — more. My initial notes about “Ghost Story,” the collection’s opening poem, captured only these lines: “We relied on our plasma television / to pull us back to the world again.” In light of the pandemic, I seem to be reading much more into it now. For example, “the curtains parted, exposing / us to the wolves above.” And “we built new barricades / between ourselves.” And “that was the last time I trusted a body that touched me.” And “a heart broken / joins another chorus. Can you hear / the chorus speak? Can you bear / it?” Has the pandemic changed all the meanings? I don’t want to imply that the poem is now “about” the global crisis. It isn’t. It’s still about the loneliness that exists inside a relationship when it isn’t working. However, what I am wondering is whether or not being gutted by what’s going on in the world has heightened our senses. Are we more attuned to the pain of others? Are we any more likely to feel the suffering of others in our own bodies? As poets, we’ve been like this all along to a degree. It’s our superpower (and our struggle). But I do believe there’s something incredibly powerful emerging from the collective compassion and unrest.

Another way to look at all that is just to say that poetry meets us where we are. It’s as much what we bring to it as it is what the poet painstakingly sculpts. As a poet that’s freeing. It’s exhilarating. It’s also god damned infuriating.

Carolee Bennett, “if this doesn’t comfort you”

Not only is his name essentially a pun—“patient” as both noun and adjective—and not only does the name “Patient” efface a “wrong name” that is never revealed, but we are divided further in our understanding of Patient through consideration of just what it means, medically, to be a patient. A patient’s subjectivity is one which may be experienced more as subjection; moreover, that subjection is itself split between the doctor whose care he is in and the disease itself. Thus, a patient can be seen as a site of radically fractured subjectivity: he is a site of deferral (“patience,” again) between self and other, sickness and cure.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part II

Spilt Milk was one of several books, also including Susan Wicks’s Singing Underwater and Thom Gunn’s Collected, which, after a few years’ absence, coaxed me back into writing poetry in the late 1990s. I remember reading it by a pool c.1998 and thinking it was the ideal holiday poetry collection, because it’s suffused with what became Sarah Maguire’s perennial themes: heat, sultriness, sensuality, sex, food, gardens, a tangible sense of place – her native West London, Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East – and Irishness, of her birth-mother and adoptive parents. Each poem seems so well-made and moves around through time and space.

But, like The Pomegranates of Kandahar, Maguire’s last collection published while she was alive, it also has a sharp political sense: of the uncertain times just before, and then after, the fall of the Berlin Wall; of women’s rights; of respect and support for migrants; and much else besides, but without seeming forced or didactic. I think that’s a very difficult balance to achieve. (Maguire went on, of course, to found the deeply important Poetry Translation Centre.)

Matthew Paul, On Sarah Maguire’s Spilt Milk

There’s also an acute sense of the absurd, as when, in the care home, the poet turns his father’s watch back an hour. It’s an act of love for a man who has forgotten where he is: ‘By night, he gets half-dressed for going out: “To interrogate a Russian spy” ‘. Paul retains a sense of humour here that could so easily be lost. When we get to the prose poem ‘D Word’, we learn that, ‘Dad’s been disturbing other patients by yelling out’. Placed in a side room, he barks ‘Come on’. Paul carefully handles the possibilities of what this actually means: perhaps his father is calling to him and his brother, or the cat. But who could have imagined that final interpretation, that he’s calling to ‘death itself’. It’s a brave last line, short and powerful, stopping the reader in their tracks.

In the final poem, ‘Queen Queenie’, the ‘you’ is presumably Paul’s mother after his father’s death. Rather than seeing hope in nature, she hears it in the late blackberries, ‘still singing lustily on their bush’. Those singing blackberries are such an uplifting, life-affirming image and absolutely the right note to end on.

This is a very coherent collection. The blurb indicates that the poems have been written over a span of 30 years. I like that. It indicates a willingness to wait, to be attentive, to let the poems come to you. Perhaps this accounts for the variety of characters and situations Paul is able to relay, and the scope of the book. All in all, it’s a very satisfying read.

Julie Mellor, A Review of Matthew Paul’s ‘The Evening Entertainment’

HUNTER MNEMONICS, Deborah WoodardHemel Press, 2008, illustrated by Heide Hinrichs, $6 paper, http://www.4h-club.org/hemel.html.

It seemed like cheating to include  this slim chapbook of only 5 prose poems in my month-long read-a-thon, so I read it twice. The images are dream-like, or they are like images drawn from a fairy tale you heard as a child and have never since been able to find. It casts a spell. Certain motifs repeat and repeat, poem to poem, like stones you might step on to cross a creek. It immerses you in something, but when you emerge, you’re not quite sure what it was.

I heard Woodard read these, and afterwards I couldn’t get them out of my head, so I contacted her and she gave me a copy. Does it depict a walk in the woods as a child, to a town that no longer exists? Or is it a walk in imagination?

Bethany Reid, Deborah Woodard

Marianne Chan’s brilliant debut collection [All Heathens] engages a wide array of topics with insight, wit, and brio: not only religion but colonization, copulation, space exploration, and family relations (her mother is a funny and wonderful recurring character). I fell hard for Chan’s work in the process of selecting pieces she had submitted to Shenandoah, and All Heathens expands on the pleasures of those pieces in a satisfying way. As I take notes for these micro-reviews I make notes in the back of each book about zingy lines and titles, and there are too many here to list. One of the most hilariously wicked poems is a retort to “When the Man at the Party Told Me He Wanted to Own a Filipino,” and there are so many great metaphors, too (“the sun was hot yellow tea in a saucer”). A few lines near the beginning of All Heathens crystallize something about the book for me: “my mother keeps telling me/ that I should move my hips when I dance, because I am as stiff/ as a Methodist church in the suburbs…” I’ve never met this author and can’t tell you how she would boogie if this virtual salon ended in a dance party, but her poems are full of oscillations and surprising turns that could constitute poetry’s answer to her mother’s instruction. Words can move, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #8 with Marianne Chan

During this crisis I’ve been pulling one book at a time from my poetry shelves and delving into it over a period of days. Searching might be a better word — for kindred spirits, and expressions of emotion and lived experience that feel resonant with my own. There aren’t going to be literal parallels because this particular crisis is unprecedented, and that’s not what I’m looking for. It’s more a search for people who also walked in some sort of darkness but faced it squarely, and found meaning in it, or in spite of it.

That’s different than looking for naive hope, or painting pretty pictures as a distraction. I’m grateful for all the beauty and hopefulness I see or am able to create, don’t get me wrong. As a writer and thinker, I just don’t seem to be able to avoid talking or writing or reading about the ignorance, cruelty, heartlessness, and sheer evil that are going on, especially in America; or the risks and sacrifices of the largely anonymous and often poorly paid people providing critical services; or the immense sadness that comes from this massive worldwide loss of life — life in every sense of the word.

I wish it were different, but I’m not particularly optimistic about the future; we humans don’t learn very well from history or our own mistakes, and most of us are primarily selfish and focused on the short-term. Nevertheless, love is always present, and where there’s love, we can also find light and hope. Naive liberalism will get us nowhere; the forces arrayed against it are too great, and too entrenched in most of our societies and governments. I think it’s actually more hopeful to avoid wishful thinking and instead see things as they actually are — and find ourselves and our way forward centered within that reality. As Thomas Merton wrote, we need to cultivate the capacity to hold the darkness and the light together, simultaneously, because that is the way the world actually is. Certain poetry does that, and music, and some people also do it — usually very quietly — in the way they live their lives.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 19: A Spade

No grief is foreign to us
anymore: the grief of birds
stranded between seasons,
the fruit on the tree
still green as a stone with no
way to hasten its sugar. New
strains invisibly misting
each bench in the park, yellow
Xs of tape marking off space
on one side.

Luisa A. Igloria, Can the ordinary be foreign as the death of a cloud?

Once we are set free

from this quarantine,

I will search beneath your bed to ensure there are no more monsters—

monsters bearing the odor of heartbreak; monsters bearing smiles whose teeth are chipped tombstones; monsters stealing wonder and leaving only wounds.

Rich Ferguson, In Praise of Beastless Beds

Life could be worse, than to pass the night while reclined.
Still, this is a hard place to be. Harsh lights erode
any sense of mystery, while puzzles remain
formulaic and vague, shrinking into shadows
at the edges of the room. Throw beauty a bone
with a framed department store poster, flowering
like bruises under her skin. Her mind wandering,
wired-down arms puddle on the mattress (gravity
dense), while x-rays steam open the chest cavity.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Reclining

on a scale of one to ten describe your wristlet your shrunken paps your crushed toe your shredded pancreas your questionable meds have you ever been in a psychiatric ward do not do not answer yes do not cry or laugh or move your mouth or eyes the pain tractate here is a chart with cartoon faces from pale to fire ant red and growl point to the cartoon pain picture on the scale of one to ten that matches your experience inside the hospital machinery excuse me excuse me eat the contents of this paper cup is it not the communion of the body of Christ point to the cartoon face that matches your face equally is this not the face of Christ describe the contents of your purse point to the cartoon face on the pain scale that matches the contents of your purse pain equally take this cup in remembrance of me take this cup let this cup pass from me today is the last day of lent Spy Wednesday commemorating the day Judas sealed the fate of Jesus with his spittle point to the cartoon face of Jesus on the pain scale that most closely matches Judas’s sorrow and inability to make and keep friends

Rebecca Loudon, corona 16.

we can’t see you yet
it just goes round and round
turn on the audio

only one right answer
make do and mending
using up scraps

thrushes wake me
we are locked in
serves us right

dragons emerge
and there are bitterns
the names are disappearing

Ama Bolton, ABCD: April 2020

Sometime last spring I blogged about a line of Sherwood Anderson that Raymond Carver was fond of and used for the epigram for Harley’s Swans, one of his poems from In a Marine Light.

I’m trying again. A man has to begin over and over – to try to think and feel only in a very limited field, the house on the street, the man at the corner drug store.

Sherwood Anderson, from a letter

I thought about it again this weekend googling the work of my new favourite Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling. It puts me in mind of what I am trying to reach for most often at the moment, a very small locus of attention that will bear the weight of my witness as well as help me endure the weight of the things I am myself carrying. It is a tall order, I know. I used to read Carver in this way (I say used to read: I haven’t read him for a while), and also Jaan Kaplinski. Now, more than ever, it is James Schuyler. A cat. A blade of grass. Shadows. Just sitting at the table of good friends.

The kind of thing I am talking about is summed up nicely by Graham Clarke, from a book called The Carver Chronotype. The kind of writing I am looking for just now (and which I think the above all excel at) is ‘a self-consciously limited area of attention in order to achieve as particular a realization as possible of individual marks and spaces’.

Anthony Wilson, We have to have great meals

lockdown
painting the fence again
woodland green

Jim Young [no title]

Remember when I used to write about poetry? About reading poetry? About *writing* poetry? Yeah, me too. Good times.

Actually, I’ve been reading in small, stolen minutes Aziza Barnes’ I Be But I Ain’t. I began that book years ago when visiting Poet’s House in NYC — I found it on the shelves and began reading it while I waited to attend some reading downtown. I loved it, felt disappointed I had to put it back on the shelves and leave it there — and so, a couple of weeks later, or maybe months, bought a copy — and then didn’t pick it back up again until just now. No idea why. It’s so very good.

I’ve had to do a lot of rereading, too, for the classes I’m teaching, so I’m also reading things that are not poetry. […]

[M]y novel class is reading The Corrections, which I pair with The Sound and the Fury, and is normally a very apt and instructive pairing. BUT GOOD GOD. Assigning a book that actively works to make you loathe the characters, from which you’d very much like to *escape* the characters, just doesn’t sit well with the close quarters of quarantine. I have no idea how the students in that class will take it. What a note on which to end the semester! (Because it’s 500 plus pages, we’re going to be reading it as our last complete work of the course).

I’m writing small, weird pieces in the mornings this week. And then moving on to emails, class prep, my kids’ distance learning, etc. Eventually I’d like to play with these morning sketches and see if they can be turned into actual poems, but that *eventually* seems like a very long way off.

Still, writing *something* makes me feel a little more like my usual self. My Quarantine Self is not exactly a chick I want to be good friends with. The sooner she can move on, the better.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, 2020 Quarantine/Social Isolation Report That Again, No One Asked For

This morning I woke in the former world,
the world before the virus, or so I believed.
The sun had the same kiss of brass to it
as it does in this post Covid 19 morning.
The scent of spring was similarly buoyant
on the morning breeze, daffodils and the early
hyacinths. The same black-mohawked Steller’s Jay
perched on the edge of the roof, staring down
at the morning coastline below our hillside,
sea dark and serene, swells horizonward with
white crests like bobbing gulls.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Another World, a pandemic poem

In response to the prompt, I freewrote a bit about my fascination with apples. In my grandmother’s village, I could pick an apple off the tree, wipe it on my shirt, and bite into it right there, while standing next to the tree that had just given me one of its children to eat. Terrible, I know. Borderline cannibalistic. Those weren’t pretty apples, by the way. Not the garden of Eden type. But they tasted heavenly. Ah, the kind of imaginary conversations one can have with an apple tree, thanking it for its gifts, apologizing for eating its children, asking the tree to adopt me instead, promising to spread apple seeds far and wide. I took out most of this half-remembered and slightly unhinged conversation. Once the poem got going, there didn’t seem to be room for it anymore.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 24

A couple of weeks ago I had the thought of writing to friends, to ask how they are and tell them what’s going on in our little world-bubble. But I confess my handwriting is poor, and after 20 years of RSI it hurts to write longhand. Then I remembered how much I’d enjoyed making ‘Foot Wear’, my little A6 sized pamphlet, and thought I would revive the quaint art of the ‘notelet’ – a sort of cross between a card and a letter. I have a large stock of good quality A5 paper, so I started painting sheets of them, just random background paint, the more sloshed-on the better. When they were dry, I flattened them between the pages of my OED, then set about trimming and pamphlet-binding two sheets together into little A6 booklets. But what to put in them? I decided on a kind of mini-magazine – there was space for one poem (something I liked and/or felt was appropriate, but not one of mine), one ‘topical’ prose extract or flash fiction, a recipe and a knot instructional (I’m big into knots at the moment). It seemed a bit dry, so I got out my copy of the fascinating British Poetry Magazines 1914 – 2000 and photocopied a few of the poetry magazine covers from times past. And added a postcard. The notelets were all slightly different – I tried to choose the elements according to the person I was sending to.

When it came to writing in the notelets and sending them out, I wondered if I’d gone a bit crazy. I could picture some of the recipients opening and thinking ‘oh no, Robin’s lost it’. But in a good way I hoped! In actual fact I’ve had some really lovely responses, including a handwritten card and letter, and no-one seems to have been weirded-out. One friend said, ‘it’s fascinating to see what people get up to during a lockdown!’ I’ll take that!

Robin Houghton, Just a notelet…

Lalalalala, nothing is happening. We are not in the middle of a permanently life-altering pandemic and I know this because in my world, the world of House Flipper, everything is going swimmingly. I recently entered my first gardening contest and I scored full points! This means that I sold my house for fifty percent more than it would normally go for, bringing my total net worth to a cool 2 mil. See? It’s all great. 

In preparing for my big win, I read up on the ins and outs of the garden contest, and I found it very revealing in regards to what Europeans think of Americans. (I believe the game is made in Poland.) There are four garden categories: English, Crop, Modern and American. There are certain elements required for each one, and for the American garden, (which I did because this is ‘Merica), it must include, bizarrely, a pizza oven, a barbecue grill, a picnic table and chairs, and a hammock. “Interesting,” I thought. “Someone thinks Americans are food-obsessed sloths.” But then I read further and saw that it must also include at least three pieces of “outdoor” gym equipment and a swimming pool. So which is it, Europe? Are we lazy slobs or fitness-obsessed narcissists? The other odd thing is their ideas about conifers. To win, your American Garden must be chock full of conifers. Conifers, conifers, conifers. Can’t have enough of them, apparently. I wanted to shout the whole time I was adding more and more conifers, conifers do not grow in every state in the U.S.! But ultimately, I won, so the joke’s on them.

Kristen McHenry, Too Many Conifers, Puffy Ginger vs Ripped Adonis, Hospital Update

I was talking to a friend yesterday about reading during the quarantine. We were talking about how much we hated The Road, and I commented that Cormac was projecting his own inner bleakness onto his apocalypse. I brought up Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John; one imagines a heroine who rescues the world with her creative force, and the other imagines a post-pandemic world welcoming a traveling tour of Shakespeare performers, a world of grief and terror, sure, but with room for art and artists.  These two books, I think, find the hope in the apocalypse. I like to think Field Guide to the End of the World was my attempt to imagine all the apocalypse scenarios, from Twilight Zone to 2012, with an eye towards the hope and humor of those scenarios. It is intensely difficult to keep your sense of humor and hope right now, I know. It’s scary. I’m having nightmares almost every night.

Tell me how you are coping. Do you have more reading suggestions?  (I also recommended Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell, a hopeful version of disaster history in the United States.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthdays During Quarantine, First Pink Dogwood and Goldfinch, Finding Hope In the Apocalypse

It is primarily instinctive, but it has been clearly shown that birds that build intricate nests…learn and become better nest builders over time.

Look at what it is that makes a nest: Layers. Strands of this and snippets of that: hair, grass, needle, leaf. And, too: Tenacity, instinct, skill. How many wingbeats must it take? How many miles does a bird traverse back and forth, back and forth, to make its shelter, to attract and secure its mate?

It’s a delicate business, the weaving in of new material to create the nest cup. 

Think of what it is that makes a cup and what it’s for: Curves, walls, a space in which to keep things–water, keys, buttons, change. What is an egg’s shell but a cup full of change? And a nest but a cup full of shells?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Shelter in place

Like many poets in April, National Poetry Month, I’ve been writing a poem a day. I provided prompts for an online writing workshop I attend and adapted those prompts for the public library, where they are posted weekly on social media, so patrons and poets in the community can write along. I had hoped to offer and to write on a variety of topics, not to be preoccupied with quarantine, lockdown, worry, or disease, but worry often creeps in—to my own poems and those of my fellow poets.

Here’s one, for example, that began as the heart’s response to the sound of the train, just before it was leaving town headed north. I used to ride that train often, back and forth to Chicago, and would tell my husband to listen for the train horn and head for the station to pick me up. Then an ordinance was passed, establishing a Quiet Zone in town, and hearing the train now is rare.

Overground Railroad

Leaving town, the train moans once
on the cold air, unwelcome April snow
coming down like rain on silent lawns,
into silent fields. It might be a new
crew, unaware of the ordinance against
the train sounding its horn in town.
Who’s riding the train now? Is it mostly
empty, one living being for every six ghostly
passengers? By now, the train has passed
the ghost house three stories high, a stop
on the Underground Railroad, or rumored
to be. By now, the train can sound its horn
at crossings if it wants, can moan and groan,
can wail and keen, lament to heart’s content.

Kathleen Kirk, April Poem-a-Day

In my NaPoWriMo World – nothing. It’s apparent I’m not going to be able to participate this year so I’ve given myself permission to be ok with it. My days seem to fly by and, honestly, I seem to have lost interest – for now, anyway – in writing poetry. I find myself more drawn to flash fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I took a week-end intensive flash cnf class with the wonderful Kathy Fish and thoroughly enjoyed it. I produced nine flash pieces that I can build on and received lots of support from Kathy and the other class participants. I’m taking a Hermit Crab class in May from another wonderful flash writer, Cheryl Pappas, and looking forward to it! I haven’t been submitting much at all but I do have a poem coming out in MORIA and a flash fiction coming out in Flash Frontier soon. In other writing news, I’ve joined the new Fractured Lit magazine as a reader so be on the lookout for our first issue. Right now I’m doing more reading than writing and that seems to fit into my life better. I’m sure the writing will return but I’m not going to worry about it. These days of social distancing and sheltering at home present a good opportunity to do some reading. Go for it!

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Happening

Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr points out that we cannot know the deepest meaning of love unless and until we “allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way.” It is through great suffering, he says, that we find great love.

So to whom do we look when we look past ourselves and our own fears, anxiety, and suffering?

Let’s begin with every person who is unlike us: the Guatemalan mother separated from her two-year-old at the U.S.-Mexico border. The teenager sent alone across the desert to make a new life in America but caught and deported after months in a crowded ICE facility. The men and women whose addictions keep them on the streets, whose fragile minds prevent them from accepting shelter. The food-deprived. The drug-addicted. Prisoners in Rikers Island jail. The men digging the trench graves on New York City’s Hart Island. The women forced to share space with their domestic abusers. The children given up for adoption. Single, working mothers with no childcare. Syrian and Iraqi and Afghani refugees and interpreters. Rohingya refugees. Anyone seeking asylum in the United States.

Let us add: funeral home staff. Priests and other clergy. Police and firefighters.

Let us add: our emergency medical technicians, nurses, and doctors working their relentless shifts with too little equipment and no time to save the sick who arrive too late at our hospitals’ doors.

Let us add: The scientists warned not to speak out. The whistleblowers fired because they spoke out. The artists and poets who are censored. The writers who refuse to stop writing.

Let us add: the now-unemployed and all deemed “essential”. The small business owners gone under.

Let us add: the immuno-compromised. Those with disabilities. Those in group homes. Our friends with cancer. Our mothers and fathers in nursing facilities and assisted-living homes. Our seniors who live alone. Every person in the U.S lacking health insurance. 

Let us add: the farmers. The delivery drivers. Our grocery store employees. Our servers.

Let us add: those who give us their false moral equations and false life choices.

Think what it means to say, “We’re all in this together.” “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XV

Send my ashes
to some rocky

sharpness on Mars.
I haven’t done

enough for this
earth to want me.

Tom Montag, BURIAL PLANS

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 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s digest includes posts about the poetry business as most of us actually live it: going to readings and book fairs, meeting up with writer friends, promoting new work, struggling to juggle writing with other commitments, caring for family members, teaching, dreaming, reading, pondering the big questions, and making books and poems out of whatever comes to hand.


So he helps us follow words

by drawing dance steps through the air, dotted
lines that appear like gestures of language

sculpted with his fervor for this, for what
must be said, for what he has said before,

and again, so many times now, waiting
still to be heard by someone who has not

met these words before. Now and then he takes
a step with tenderness, wrapped in woolen

memories as if a child’s blanket curves
and spins around him; he waltzes to words.

PF Anderson, Seeing Ilya Read

I love walking around London and discovering quirky, lost or almost lost sites. Author Paul Talling’s ‘Derelict London’ walks are a must if you’re into this sort of thing and within striking distance of the city. I’ve been on a few of them – but you have to book months ahead, as they fill up within minutes of his posting them online. Subscribe to his email alerts and you’re given a day’s warning so you can be ready on the dot of 9am to hit ‘buy tickets’. Paul’s site is fascinating and labyrinthine, but you can sign up for his emails here if you’re interested the walks.

You may wonder what this has got to do with poetry, but in fact it segues very neatly into a little pamphlet from Tamar Yoseloff’s Hercules Editions that I picked up yesterday, called Formerly. It was the first pamphlet from the press, and a collaboration with photographer Vici Macdonald. Vici’s photos of London’s derelict buildings, ghost adverts and Victorian boozers were the prompts for Tammy’s sonnets. Doorstep sellers, ‘Sweeney’-style low life, barmaids and the dead are some of the voices in these poems, as the poet imagines the people inhabiting these nearly-gone and semi-lost places.  It’s accompanied by a pull-out guide describing the locations, and Vici’s and Tammy’s accompanying notes. Fascinating. I admit I’m a sucker for attractive packaging and Hercules specialise in gorgeous covers – fab fonts, spot varnish and gold leaf abound! The press’s latest publication is Martyn Crucefix’s Cargo of Limbs, which I also bought and am looking forward to reading.

Robin Houghton, Free Verse at Conway Hall

I’m not going to recount the entire half year in this post — but I’ll end with some of the good things: A second book launch in September on Long Island, on my birthday, with friends and family. A trip to Austin, Texas with our children — the first time we’d attempted any kind of family vacation like this — which coincided with the Texas Book Festival, where I signed some books and met more members of Texas Review Press. And a return to the Pen Parentis Annual Winter Poetry Salon, this time with the full-length Fabulous Beast (the last time was with my chapbook), which was celebratory and gratifying and an excellent introduction to some new (to me) fellow parent-writers.

I’m writing new poems and slowly editing my new manuscript, and also applying when and where I can to post-publication awards. I’m trying to support the book and promote it whenever possible without being obsessive and unbearable. The difficulties in securing reviews is a little depressing, but that’s offset by the fact I’ve received some lovely feedback recently — informally and mostly from strangers, but cherished all the same.

Isn’t that really why one writes, and then publishes? In the hope that someone out there is listening?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, It’s Been A Time: The Six Months Recap No One Asked For

Between volleyball matches, at last weekend’s intercity tournament and this weekend’s invitational tournament, I continued to read Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver, and finished it this morning. I was sensing that one of the characters, Mary Treat, who wrote letters to Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, must be a real person, and she was! A naturalist who has plants and ants named after her! I liked her a lot. In the novel, she lets a Venus flytrap gnaw on her finger.

It was a lovely, busy, birthday week for me. The Poetry is Normal open mic at the library resumed for 2020. Our overall theme this year is life itself, its major events, starting with Birth, and, delightfully, our first date coincided with my actual birthday. People read poems on and mostly-on theme, by themselves or others. I gave away candy and books. Our next theme is Childhood, in April, National Poetry Month.

A lovely child named Dusty is born into grief in Unsheltered and is almost ready to walk right into joy at the end.

Kathleen Kirk, Venus Flytrap

Karen Head and I read 300 submissions for the Mother Mary Comes To Me poetry anthology forthcoming from Madville Publishing this fall. We’re getting ready to start sending out acceptance letters and contracts. We’re excited about the work and poets who will appear in this book. We can’t wait for you to see it.

A number of events are on the horizon, including the launch event for Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (et alia press) edited by Megan Volpert. I’m one of 75 queer writers who contributed an essay and photo about an article of clothing that define and inspire us. Mine? Black t-shirts, of course. The launch is March 29, 4 p.m., at the Decatur Library in conjunction with Georgia Center for the Book. The same day, I’ll be celebrating the release of Julie E. Bloemeke’s long-awaited debut collection, Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press). Julie has cooked up a theatrical evening of sights and sounds along with the help of fellow poets (including yours truly) interpreting her work. Watch for details on her website.

Collin Kelley, On the horizon

It might not have been a night for promenading outdoors, but it was a privilege to take to the stage and perform at the microphone. Judge Katherine Stansfield advised that poets would be called up to read, and would be handed their book bundle prize by the new editor of Poetry Wales magazine, Jonathan Edwards. The last three poets to be called would be the three award winners … hence there was a nervous pause after the end of each poet’s performance, wondering who the next poet called would be. The email from Poetry Wales one month before the awards event was unspecific in its congratulation. Essentially it hoped the shortlisted poets would be able to attend to receive their prizes … of course the word prize could signify one of the three awards or one of the highly commended places.

I don’t know about the other shortlistees but I was counting on my fingers how many names were called and my pulse began to quicken as we passed the halfway point! … Might I be one of the three award winners?

I was the penultimate name to be called! Number 9 of the 10 shortlisted poets. I was guided up to the mic and read my poem, ‘Refugee Piece … Existential Jigsaw’. It was a delight to shake Jonathan’s hand as he revealed that there were no hard-copy books for me … Seren had considered my sight limitations and would send me PDF copies that my computer screen reading software would be able to read aloud for me :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Pick of the Poetry

Sometimes it seems like the hardest part has already been done – I already wrote the poems and edited them multiple times. I arranged and rearranged them. I deleted some poems and added others. I submitted it to lots of presses and publishers and was fortunate that Vegetarian Alcoholic Press snapped it up. I found the cover art and did final edits. All of this was hard work. All of this was time consuming. All of this took time and effort. And yet, that was easy compared to what came next: promotion.

No one likes to talk about this because self-promotion has become a dirty word – it seems and yucky and kind of skeezy. But it’s not. And if you want to be successful, you have to self-promote. (For poets I highly recommend PR for Poets by Jeannine Hall Gailey, it is excellent and has a lot of good advice and guidance for how to better promote your poetry.)

I didn’t write a book of poetry to get rich. I’ll never quit my day job, I’ll never be able to live off the money I make from poetry, I’ll likely never even make a single mortgage payment from poetry. I wrote a book of poetry because I love poetry and I think the world needs it. I process things via poetry and it’s one way I see and experience the world. And I think poetry is necessary in today’s world. So I’m okay with knowing I can’t live off my writing but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my book to do well. I still want people to read my book, I want it in libraries and I want it around the world. And this means self-promotion.

Courtney LeBlanc, Dirty Word

It’s Sunday evening and there are so many things I could have done today that I didn’t.  I didn’t send any notes to anyone for no reason than just to say hi. I did not go outside and take a walk, looking up at the clouds or tree tops.  Other than to get out and drive to yoga, I went no place else.  I read maybe 4 or five poems this morning. I journaled around 2:30 a.m. when my mind raced, chased by anxiety throughout the house. […]

Earlier in the day, I was thinking a lot about the upcoming AWP conference. I always get  anxious as it gets closer.  I will likely have bouts of anxiety daily between now and the time I leave.  Also, on my mind today is Ash Wednesday that is approaching. What will I give up for Lent? Will I give up anything?  Will I substitute some proactive thing to do instead?

Michael Allyn Wells, Looking for the Good

If I know in advance that I’m going to have some time free, I try to plan accordingly. Alas, more often than not my inspirational moods don’t sync with the free time. The same usually goes for residential courses too.

Carrying a notepad around helps, as does being able to assemble fragments. Audio book might make me more efficient too. Just occasionally I can combine work and play. But mostly I cope by cutting corners, and doing nothing as well as I could have. I feel I’ve plateau’d in the things I’ve tried. There are no longer any quick wins – significant progress will require significant time investment. It’s just the way things are. I’ve noticed already that I’m compensating by remembering past successes more than planning future ones – see my Illustrated CV. And unexpectedly I’m gaining pleasure from the successes of people I know.

Tim Love, Finding time

Carved out some time (and energy – been a little under the weather) to attend a poetry potluck celebrating my friend Kelli Russell Agodon’s book contract with Copper Canyon Press, and it was great! I got to catch up with some friends I don’t see very often who I’ve known for fifteen, sixteen years now and meet others I’ve only “seen” on Facebook. Some of my old friends had little kids when I met the who are now in college or grown-up with jobs. We talked about where our lives had taken us. Some talked about not submitting or writing for a while. Some talked about new books and planning readings.  It always helps give me perspective on the writing life and all of our journeys when I hang out with other writers. It also gave me motivation – I came home and submitted a piece of fiction (which I rarely do) and sent out some poems as well. There is just something about being with other writers that inspires me to action. […]

I was reminded that the writing life is a journey. There are ups and downs and detours, time to write and time to rest. We don’t all go at the same pace. Life gets in the way sometimes. A supportive spouse can make a lot of difference (and I feel lucky to have mine – plus everyone raved about his gluten-free mini pumpkin pear cupcakes!) And encouraging each other is part of the job. It can feel awfully lonely when those rejection slips roll in, or when your grant application is denied, or that job doesn’t come through. It’s good to have the company of people who have been there, done that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hanging Out with Poet Friends, Signs that Spring Is On The Way

My poems ‘Hare Moon’ and ‘The Postscript’ have been published in issue 89 of Obsessed with Pipework. Thanks so much to the Charles and Katerina for making such a lovely issue and for taking the time to ship it to my far corner of Europe. My kids were excited to see my name in the issue and hear me read one of the poems out, they don’t usually get to see my writing. Though my son said it didn’t rhyme, so I’ll need to spend some time working on his poetry knowledge.

I’ve had a couple of chances to teach creative writing to kids here in Finland as part of my substituting. I recently had to whip up a quick lesson when a teacher accidentally made a mistake in her lesson plans and asked me to teach the same lesson I had taught her class the week before. I gave them three vague prompts about aliens, sports, holidays and asked them to focus on ‘to be verbs’ which our lesson was covering. Some students wrote their one page dutifully, but showed very little excitement because it was just another assignment, but the wee group of boys who had been keeping me on my toes all week took a while getting into it. I forgot how much I enjoy watching kids enjoy writing.

I could see it, the fire behind their eyes as ideas began to grow, as words filled page after page. They didn’t want to go out to break, they wanted to continue writing after they finished their required work in the next lesson. One asked if I could publish their work. If only. That’s why I used to teach creative writing, to see that excitement. Even my teaching assistant was surprised that these particular kids, who struggled with school, who didn’t read according to her, were able to find the imagination to come up with stories that they wanted to write and share. It can be a challenge to find a way to kick start their interest, but there’s usually a way if you can take the time to work with them. I hope it get to use my skills more during the rest of this year.

Gerry Stewart, Teaching Kids and Creative Writing

How to respond in such a way that I might serve both the girl in front of me and the woman she will become? How to be honest (because she has a sense for dissembling sharper than any I’ve known)? How to answer this question that so many women have struggled to answer? That I have struggled to answer?

Let’s re-frame the premise, I remember thinking.

“You know,” I said, “you don’t have to choose. You can be a mommy and still be an artist.”

Not entirely true, but not entirely false. Good enough?

“But I want my art to come first. And if you’re a mommy, that should come first.”

“Lots of women do both. You can, too.”

I remember her looking directly at me. “But you don’t,” she said.

BAM.

Oh, I thought, as her words walloped me. Why is this so hard? “This” being all of it–parenting, art-making, making a living. Being so goddamned tired all the time.

It was not the first time, and most certainly not the last, that I knew with swift, sharp clarity that every single choice I made was teaching my children something about how to live, and that my actions carried more weight than my words ever would or could.

What was I teaching her about how to be a woman? How to make a meaningful life? About serving others and serving ourselves?

She knew that I had a published book. She and her twin brother and father had traveled with me for poetry readings, where she’d seen me on stage, reading my work. I had thought I was a pretty bang-up role model, being a fully-present mom, a published writer, and, through my work as a teacher, a financially independent wife. Apparently, however, she knew that I wasn’t doing much writing. And, clearly, she was attributing that to my being a mother. Her mother.

Shit.

“No,” I said, knowing I had to tell the truth. “I don’t very much.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, Creating Life

I’m so excited to have another poem published by one of favorites–Voicemail Poems! My poem “Resurrection Party” is included in their Winter 2020 issue, along with some really great recordings by several other poets, including Ariel Francisco, Usman Hameedi, Sarah Matthes, and more.

Resurrection Party” is a poem of recovery. It’s important to me that this personal poem is out in the world. Special thanks to Tinderbox who originally published it in 2017. Many of you know that in 2015 my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone in a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he is still the same amazing, creative person he was before the accident. His personality definitely comes out in this poem.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Resurrection Party” published by Voicemail Poems – always open for submissions

Take me and my poetry – why would someone continue to professionally and financially handicap themselves in order to do something they love, even if society is against it, even if your contemporaries are hardly supportive – why don’t you do something that pays lots of money. The answer is simple: I haven’t the will-power and threshold for bullshit that you do, but I have an inexhaustible desire to do what I want to do, even if I don’t do it well. And the poetry world is based on demonstrable accomplishments, so if you’re like me – 33 years old and no prizes to show for it – then you must be in the wrong game, yes? No, hell no.

Dad began as a careerist. He fell into a really well paid job as a surveyor for the Opencast, then they promoted him to a site manager. The job, he recalls, was pretty laid-back and relaxed but then he got made redundant as coal mining was slowly dissolved in this country. He then trained as a lawyer – he spent three years and graduated top of his class. He came home from his graduation and told my mother that he’d never be a lawyer as long as he lived, it was an awful, morally bankrupt profession. So he went back to university, got a degree in urban planning and got involved in conserving old buildings. It’s something he’s utterly passionate about, but like his job at the Opencast, it’s something in direct opposition to the prevailing winds of taste. Nobody cares about really, truly conserving old buildings now unless they’re castles. Councils are so under-staffed and under-funded that greedy property developers now that they can rips out the old windows of building, put in tawdry plastic ones and even if someone complains, it’ll never get taken to court. Not even a tree protection order works, because tree surgeons can be bought – all it takes is insisting the beautiful tree has some disease and must come down. The architectural fabric of this country is being ripped up just so the venal neo-Thatcherite greed-heads can get ahead and it sickens me, it sickens him.

Richie McCaffery, Dad

The poet Lisel Mueller has died.  Every time I came across a poem of hers, I liked it, but I never bought one of her books–in many ways, she reminds me of Mary Oliver, whom I also liked, but until recently, never bought a book of hers.  Both women were much older than I thought that they were–I don’t say this to be ageist, but to say how they seemed to be part of the poetry landscape, but with a much fresher approach to poetry that made me think of them as just bursting on the scene. 

Perhaps I am being ageist after all. Or maybe I’m unfairly dismissing the years of work that go into making fresh poems.  In this idea, I find inspiration.

When I heard of her death this morning, I read some of her poems that I found online.  I was delighted by her approach to history:

“A close-up of a five-year-old
living on turnips. Her older sister,
my not-yet-mother, already
wearing my daughter’s eyes,
is reading a letter as we cut
to a young man with thick glasses
who lies in a trench and writes
a study of Ibsen. I recognize him,
he is going to be my father,
and this is his way of keeping alive.”
from “Beginning with 1914”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Late Appreciation for Lisel Mueller

Poe claimed that there was no subject more suitable for poetry than the death of a beautiful woman; but he was full of crap about that or, at any rate, too swayed by the culture in which he resided in his awkward and outsider way. Nonetheless, he puts forth the assertion that from death can come something that is itself beautiful: a work of art, a lyric, a poem. I do not disagree with him on that point.

Certainly many poets end up writing about, with, or against death; raging or praising; querying, challenging, wondering, fearing, fighting, sometimes embracing or accepting. Do I hear Emily Dickinson in that chorus? Dylan Thomas? Walt Whitman? Marie Howe? Mark Doty? Ilyse Kusnetz?

In a previous post, I alluded to the death of a beautiful woman (a friend), and asked about the value(s) we humans place on beauty–and the way(s) we define, describe, and name it.

Because death’s one of The Big Mysteries–and writers tend to gnaw around the edges of things that are not easily put into words, and mortal is what we are–poets poke at death, encounter it, question it, and question the religious, biological, and social accretions that surround it. Can we find beauty in death, from it, surrounding it? Recently, I attended a philosophy lecture concerning death and the soul from a Catholic (Thomist) perspective, and the talk briefly moved into inquiry concerning the intersection of death and beauty. I did not ask, what sort of beauty–aesthetics, or awe?

But I am asking now.

Ann E. Michael, Death & beauty

Soshin immortalized
an iris on the page.
She herself gone
at twenty-seven.
You & I seek
the same permanence;
faces turned toward the sun
till a breeze carries us away.

Jason Crane, POEM: Petals

I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands.
Instead, at the end of each arm was a large, evil crow.
Whenever these crows would caw, a person died,
Not where I was, but faraway in a place that is nameless.
I struggled to keep the crows quiet, but I failed.
I woke up from the dream exhausted,
Still shushing the damned crows on my arms.
It was my own dream, and I had death for hands.

James Lee Jobe, I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands

Even beyond the images of teeth and skulls and wildflowers, or weeds, that haunt these poems, the music itself is haunting, staying in the mind and the ear. Consider this passage from “Maar”:

“Buffaloburr veins around siltstone
mounds on the monocline

flow rock smooths over into oar
cutleaf cornflower overgrown

pollen blown out
larkspur and beeplant on the meadow

grasp at the basement fault
taut atop diatreme”

A later line in the same poem says “laccolith ghost shadows over hungry dust,” and the word laccolith has lodged in my brain.

The collection includes several multiple-poem sequences, and in these sequences, [Jake] Skeets allows each poem its own form, its own space on the page.

Skeets attends to space on the page masterfully. In “In the Fields,” a discussion of white space interacts with the white space around it.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers

the book has a QR code
but I don’t have a smart-phone
do you read music though

a parish map from 1886
iridescent turquoise beetles
and a ladybird in the floodwater

I tried to knit with dried grass
wrap it round a rusty can
and boil it for an hour

the next day I went to the hedge
for ink beyond the oak gall
the golden glow of the first rust

Ama Bolton, ABCD: February 2020

titanium, that dream of pages being torn one at a time from the book as you are trying to write it, but writing, writing it anyway;

stainless, that hurling of knives against ice-slick targets, fingers sliced and blood on snow but increasing accuracy and control in spite of numb;

a ring of Damascus steel lost somewhere under all this cold, silver, brass, copper braids no longer spun and flesh-warmed but I guess down there somewhere;

something forged white hot, this small, rounded praxis in my body of praise song, praise song, praise song, praise song.

JJS, February 21, 2020: more metal than hope

The problem is that I’m a sucker for a well-put idea, even if it’s my own. I get dazzled by thought. I forget that what moves me, stirs something deeper than dazzle, is the combination of idea and that other thing that arises from the body, sensorial, flesh on flesh or wind on flesh or hum on ear, tang on tongue.

Get out of your head, I say to myself. In my head.

It’s funny because lately I’ve been living much more outside, so am filled with fresh air and pines and the rumple of hilltops and dit dit dah of tracks in the snow. You’d think my body would have something to more to say to my head.

Where in my body have these concerns risen? Where is the slant of my truth? Where is the half-open door from which these ideas breathe a scent — damp cellar? root vegetables? cumin and cinnamon? Where do the tracks lead?

Marilyn McCabe, Going out of my head day and night; or, On Finding a Hook to Hang an Idea On

This little poem is solar-powered, sucking up the sun’s rays and putting them to good use like a hummingbird’s tiny wings do with air.

This short poem doesn’t use more energy than it generates. Does its best to make your light brighter, offer electricity to your coffee maker and cell-phone charger.

This subtle, solar-powered poem longs to cut carbon pollution, create jobs, and empower communities.

Even after its warranty expires, this bright and fleeting poem will not give up the ghost.

Its every word fluoresces across your lips.

Rich Ferguson, Tiny Champion

my first typewriter was called a
‘Little Brother’ and I was ten
much better than a pen
I thought
that the poems looked real
typecast and not typecast
and putting the words down
clattered as if they mattered
to me they emptied my pockets
to make room for more of the words
that were simmering on the back burner
of the rain on the hobs of childhood
wait – stop
don’t smudge the ink with tears you silly old man

Jim Young, My Little Brother

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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.

Summer reading, anyone? Ann Michael’s post on Aquinas and quantum physics sets the tone for this week’s selection, where bloggers consider social relationships, time, mortality, and being in the world. Enjoy.


Reality=relationship to others and the world. That’s a contemporary way of interpreting Aquinas. I’ve never before thought of myself as a Thomist, and the very idea makes me giggle. But as a writer, especially as a poet, the relationships and connections in the physical world are the stuff of metaphors that engage the conscious mind of abstract thought and help to put the poem across to other readers’ minds (thank you, Maryanne Wolf). Perhaps not so far from philosophy, or physics, or neurology, after all.

Ann E. Michael, Waves & relationships

i heart kit
In one of the countless late night feedings for Kit, I started daydreaming about a new writing project to spread CHD awareness and Kit’s story–so I started I Heart Kit, an instagram-poetry-blog about Kit’s fight against CHD.

I’ve always resisted sharing my poems online since I always hope to have them published in journals at some point, but lately I’ve felt frustrated with the slowness of that process and have realized that my target audience for these poems about CHD are not other poets or academics but other parents and heart warriors, those who are in the thick of it too. I want to share poems that will be read by the people they are written for; I want the poems to be read, in this desperate sort of way I want them to be related to, so I don’t feel so alone in all this.

Renee Emerson, i heart kit: a new writing project

Sometimes the news just silences me: children suffering in camps, the Justice Department refusing to seek justice after the killing of Eric Garner, racist tweets from the white-nationalist-in-chief. I make donations and sometimes participate in political action, but mostly I’m sitting around like Ursula, all ears and touchy whiskers, no words. I will say, having just heard members of the “Squad” on the radio explaining, with some exasperation, that they do not comprise a conspiracy: for years, if I stopped on campus to talk to a distinguished woman professional or two, or went out to lunch with those women, male professors and administrators passing by would, without fail, pause with looks of alarm or mock-alarm and exclaim, “Uh-oh, you’re plotting!” It’s interesting that strong women in conversation inspire such paranoia. Let’s keep being scary.

Here’s a scary poem, with thanks to the editors at Verse Daily and at the original publisher, Cimarron Review. It’s from a blizzard of sonnets that overcame me during the last presidential election, the best of which will be in my next poetry collection. Otherwise I’ve just had my head down lately, revising Poetry’s Possible Words and ticking down my to-do list: minor jobs under deadline (reviews of various kinds), and house and family chores. Self-care is on the list, too: continuing to negotiate health problems but also talking to friends, reading a ton, searching for fox-themed clothes I can wear when I have a fox-themed novel to read from…

Lesley Wheeler, Big-ears plots her escape

My Ex’s Father by James H. Duncan in Foliate Oak.
This poem is very much a character sketch by the poet of an older man. What I like about it is how James captures the yin and yang of the subject’s personality, how he shakes up people’s assumptions of Republicans or older men. It reminds us that there are no cookie cutter humans.
“he bought weed off my friends
but voted Republican and traveled
with Phish and would ask me
to drive him to the supermarket
sipping a Corona in the passenger seat”

We are Mostly Merciful by Kimberly Grey in Kenyon Review.
I love the hopefulness, the kindness in this poem. Sometimes I despair of hope in contemporary poetry in today’s political and social climate.
“I rehearsed it all night—the absence of mercy,
as a condition to you who said
when I am in the same room as your body I am
        in a different room.
 There’s nothing exquisite
about lashing a thing unless the thing is blazon with want.”

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite #Poetry, Second Quarter

I say attack, but I’m trying to mean feast. I had nurtured ideas that I might be able to harvest my tiny crop of rye and make something of it. I could cook the berries like rice, or grind them into some trace amount of flour to use in muffin. Now, that looks unlikely. By the time it’s ready, it will be gone. But it seems I’m pleasing my uninvited guest.

It’s got me thinking about what we feed and what feeds us. When you’re in your day, how do you nourish your writing? And how does it nourish you? The rye patch reminds me to make better choices, to feed and be fed by what’s important to me.

And to take time to enjoy the few stalks left.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day fourteen, what feed us

With age comes impermanence. It’s always there, of course, but back then it’s a football team’s trajectory of success, the potted plant that you want to make it past autumn, your child’s delight in things that are not of this world. Now it’s everything bound by time.

Dick Jones, CALLING TIME

1969 and I’m serving drinks
at the Country Club,
so glad to be 21 and able to serve drinks.
The golfers at the bar stare with wild white eyeballs
at the tiny moonman in his white spacesuit
moving jerkily on the cratered surface
faceless, the glass in his helmet shining back
the distant earth
and I notice it without much excitement,
immersed as I am in being 21 years old,
thinking this will happen a lot
from now on.
In my dreams.

Anne Higgins, Everyone’s Gone to the Moon

Every day I walked along the shore, watching the fish in the still edges of the water, making a mental note of the plants in bloom. I was both in the present moment, and remembering being in these exact places at different stages of my life, alone or with people who are now gone or far away.  There’s a stone wall that my father built along the shoreline, and one place in particular where I always liked to sit. I thought about fishing there with my mother, and swimming with friends and cousins; I saw myself at seventeen, filled with romantic dreams, waiting for my boyfriend to come driving around the lake to see me late at night. I thought of standing in that spot throwing stones out into the water, as far as I could, the day we buried my grandfather.

Beth Adams, Drawing Our Past and Present

There was a moment last night when I said, “How could I have accomplished so little this week-end?”  It was after I watched the latest remake of A Star is Born, which so many people loved, but I did not, so I was ripe for feelings of regret.

This morning I tallied my word count for Saturday and Sunday:  2, 147 new words written on my apocalyptic thriller.  So why would I feel that I had accomplished nothing?

As I washed my grandmother’s mixing bowl by hand (after making gluten free communion bread–there must be a poem here), it came to me.  What I really mean:  “Another week-end seems to be zipping by, and I still haven’t sorted any of the boxes in the cottage.”

Once, as long as I was getting the artistic work done, I wouldn’t have cared, and I’m still not sure I do care.  It’s interesting, though, how that socialization has taken root in me.  If I’ve had time to watch movies, I should have made time to get some real work done, the less pleasurable kind.

We also watched Blackkklansman, which I thought was profoundly interesting as a work of art.  If we had just stopped with that movie, would I have felt as much like a slacker?

I meant to get more wash done.  I did get some of the remaining stuff out of the cottage refrigerator, some cans of soda and a pitcher of tea that I had moved out there for the camp counselors.  Why doesn’t that work feel important?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Graham Greene Meets Margaret Atwood Meets Octavia Butler

I was so excited to be able to attend a poetry reading at the new Hugo House where Dana Levin (one of my long-time favorite poets) and one of her friends/former students, Natalie Scenters-Zapico (who recently moved to the area.) I’m still not used to the starkness of the new Hugo House – hang some art, people! It would really improve the space – and the absence of places to sit and socialize (the old Hugo House had little tables clustered around the bar, which the new one lacks) and the lighting is still not very flattering. But I loved seeing these two poets read. Natalie read from her new book, Lima :: Limón, and Dana read some apocalyptic poems from Banana Palace as well as some new work. Overall an inspiring night of poetry!

One of the results of all this celebration is I am much more tired than usual and needing to sleep in more than usual. The combo of MS and anemia (yes, I’m taking iron and b12 supplements religiously) can really take the wind out of your sails. But the summer has been mild here – even, some might say, gloomy! It’s raining right now. But I like having a break from soaring temps and high sun. I can walk around my garden (and the surrounding gardens Woodinville has) without worrying about feeling beaten up afterward. I saw a family of deer with two fans and a plethora of rabbits on my street. And did I mention I’ve had two bobcat visits to my back porch (caught by my Ring) this week? So, even though I’ve felt a little discouraged poetry-wise (I even took a week or two off from submitting, I felt so bombarded with rejections) I feel that nature has been extra kind to me this July. Sometimes it’s okay to take a break and just read and write and recharge your batteries – and the rain gives us the perfect excuse to spend a little extra time at the library or bookstore. Wishing you a little time to recharge and some good news in your Inbox (and maybe a bobcat visit!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “How Not to Die” in Eye to the Telescope, a New Review of The Tradition in Barrelhouse, a Poetry Reading and Birds, Butterflies, and Birthdays

This month, I am working on rounding out my artist statement series, which is turning out to be delightfully meta as one would expect.  My fave part so far is  this bit:

“The poem won’t shut up until you take it home. Until you shove it beneath the bathtub’s surface a few times for effect.  Neglect is the poem’s best weapon. All night, it will moan and pretend it’s coming, but by morning will be nothing but a few strands of hair on the pillow you used to smother it.” 

Once that series winds down at the end of this month..I intend to do some more work on my woefully neglected unusual creatures project.

Kristy Bowen, writing & art bits | july edition

The following is a day-by-day log of my progress and thoughts throughout last week, as I completed an “Artist Residency in Motherhood” with my colleague at Stuffolk, and frequent collaborator (in teaching and in art), visual artist Meredith Starr. During the week I worked on revising a poetry manuscript and finishing one of my plays. M.S. has a year-long painting project she’s been working on, and she spent the week catching up/getting back on track with that series. […]

We reserved a small studio apartment in downtown Patchogue via AirBnB, not far from the camp where my three kids (and one of M.S.’s) were enrolled for the week. Each morning we dropped them off at 9 and then drove 5 minutes to the apartment. We’d spend a few minutes catching up and talking about our goals for the day while setting up (painting supplies for M.S.; laptop and notebooks and drafts for me), and then we’d get to work. We worked more or less without speaking, but we did listen to music — something I don’t normally do while writing in a private space, but which isn’t too distracting when I’m writing prose. (I can find it very difficult while writing poetry — if I do it has to be some kind of song on repeat, where the music is soothing but the lyrics kind of dissolve and become nonsensical with the repetition). We’d stop for a half hour or so for lunch around 12:30 or 1 p.m., and then resume until about 3:30, when we had to clean/pack/organize ourselves for the next day and then drive back to pick up the kids at 4.

For us both, it was a transformative and exceptionally productive week. We’re wondering why we never thought to do this sooner. It seems so foolish to have never attempted anything like this. I mean, one applies to formal residencies and writing retreats because one requires the time and space to create, but also because — when you are awarded one — they grant you also a certain amount of prestige. Prestige & acknowledgment is wonderful — I’m not knocking it — but the real point is to write: To work earnestly and productively and with relatively little distraction. So if you find yourself closed out/rejected by those formal residencies — they are so competitive, especially the ones for parents that either grant childcare or are more amenable to parents, requiring one or two weeks away, and not one or two months) — I highly recommend this workaround.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Artist Residency in Motherhood 2019

I admire the impulse behind anthologies, and from far off, admire the many ways writers creatively tackle a subject and form. But just like department stores, fabric stores, bookstores, and library shelves, I get easily overwhelmed. A collection of essays by one person, or a book of poems, has that authorial eye/voice to connect them all. An anthology is a flower collection, one of those massive English gardens, or the gardens at Versailles where we finally flung ourselves to the ground near the little lake and watched, slack-mouthed from overstimulation, the clouds pass by.

Marilyn McCabe, Great Balls of Fire; or, A Spillage of Essays

A hot day in the valley. The sun shines on our noses and our necks. Children in the parks, the sun is also upon their flesh. An old dog sleeps in the sunshine, a young one in the shade.

Our noses tell us someone is barbecuing meat. From behind a nearby house smoke rises in a thin line.

We are walking, with every step our shoes caress the broken sidewalk. An old song comes to mind and when we are sure we are alone we begin to sing aloud.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘A hot day in the valley.’

The old man
dances on gravel,

smoothing it
where flooding

washed out
the driveway.

He doesn’t
know anyone

is watching.
His dancing

settles the world
anyway.

Tom Montag, The Old Man

Latissimus Dorsi

The word latissimus dorsi (plural: latissimi dorsi) comes from Latin and means “broadest muscle of the back”, from “latissimus” (Latin: broadest)’ and “dorsum” (Latin: back).–Wikipedia

Stupendous
wings of the body, rise
and close into the pillar of my spine.
Kin of herons, steadfast
guardian, I grant you
effort and form,
resistance and motion,
breath and blood
in this sacred and scared and burning body, this
body luminous with eloquent hungers, this
body attendant to its million tides, this
body with its enduring arch of bone, this
body of precise and reverent failures.

In love, raise
my long arms in worship and receiving.
In strength, pull
earthward every blessing.

Kristen McHenry, Friends with Lats, Accidental Healing, A New Poem

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 24

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: how to make time to write, how to pull a chapbook together, how to cultivate the proper mindset for poetry, how to stay motivated (especially in the summer), how to measure success as a poet, how to write about rock ‘n roll, and more.

It’s the summer holidays here, kids everywhere and I don’t know if I’m coming or going with my writing. We’ve all been sick with various bugs so I’ve been too tired or ill to focus much on the Wendy Pratt course I’ve joined though I’m enjoying the different focus of the prompts. I’m not able to write every day, but I’m trying to grab time here and there. I hate not being able to join in on the Facebook page as much as I would like, though we had a good online group chat last week. Wendy’s releasing a new course soon, so keep an eye on her site for details. 

The current course is focussing on ‘Writing with a Beginner’s Mind,’ offering techniques that help you lose that critical voice that often plagues writers, the worries that the work isn’t good enough, the guilt that we never will be able to balance our lives and writing. I do struggle with the later most, trying to be a single parent and a writer and find a real job to support my family has its share of guilt. I need to try Wendy’s meditation and focus exercises more, my monkey brain has monkey brain and I can never turn all the noise off. Even more so with four monkeys climbing around the house. 

One of my favourite prompts so far has been to think about the idea of ‘banned words’ in poetry, words that are too dated, over-used, purple. I went and found a list of archaic words and wrote a poem playing with them. I love dictionaries and thesaurus and using them to find new words and meanings. It makes you see language in a new light. What do you think, should words like shard and gossamer be banned from contemporary poetry?

Gerry Stewart, Writing with Monkeys

Day Five, June 14, 2019: Did I say I liked those new drafts? Phbbbbtttt. I spent today reworking the original four, and then working on two more, and then trying to psych myself up for a third or fourth. But Starbucks was freezing, and I found myself distracted by ALL THE INTERNET THINGS, which is dangerous and I should probably get one of those internet-blocking apps for my laptop and ALSO probably lay off the coffee IF my absence of periods in this paragraph are any indication of what it does to me on an empty stomach.

But one of the good things about my internet distraction is that this morning I read this beautiful new/old poem by S.P. (I believe it was written a while ago, but it’s something unpublished as of yet) and that restored a little bit of my faith in the poetry universe. NYRB is actually publishing long poems! NYRB is actually publishing poems! By someone I know who really deserves it!

Yeah, I should probably lay off the caffeine.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical/DIY Starbucks Residency 2019: Take Two

Coming back on the subway I was like, you know, actually that poem with the astronaut image kind of sucks, the collage is good but otherwise it’s trash and you should tear it up.

I reluctantly agreed with this ‘second opinion.’ I did like the launch of the poem but the end deteriorated. I spent another who knows how long rethinking the poem. With a visual poem it’s not like you just erase the offending line. I had to destroy the page and hope there was another untouched p. 57 (?) in one of my five copies of Misery (there was).  Luckily I could peel the collage off the page and re-use it. Thank you Uhu.

I believe I’ve salvaged it. It’s been about 22 hours now and I haven’t had any ominous pangs of doubt yet.

Sarah J Sloat, Ground control

Looking back, I’ve identified that piece of writing as a breakthrough for me. I wrote prose because I was responding to prose, certainly, but I think I was also looking for something new. Now I’ve committed myself to a target of 2 pages of writing a day, prose naturally lends itself to that. It’s much harder to do that type of target for poems; they come from a different place for me, a different process. It’s like the sculpture of Giuseppe Penone above. Poems are the words that snag in the branches, whereas prose is the tree – it starts from the solid trunk and spreads out. This is a very subjective definition, I know, but sticking to two pages a day I feel I can follow a branch to its tip, then return to the trunk and follow another branch, and so the writing grows. Another thing I’ve begun to realise is that the short story, as a form, probably won’t hold everything I want to say. So, I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m working on a novel. This isn’t intentional. It’s just sort of crept up on me.

Julie Mellor, Poems are the words that snag in the branches

I enjoy the way your chapbook, Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises), offers a cohesive narrative arc. Please tell us about your collection and how it came into being? Did you plan to have a narrative arc to these poems or did you discover the narrative as you started writing?

For several years, I was working on this collection in bits and pieces. I had it tentatively titled “45” on my computer, because I tentatively planned to complete it when I was that age. It ended up taking longer. Basically, any time I wrote a few poem lines or a possible poem that was focused on personal age related issues, personal body based issues, negative memories of past relationships, and so forth, I’d place it in the collection-in-progress.

So I did plan to have a narrative arc, but during most of the writing process, I wasn’t focused on how I was going to arrange that arc. I was focused on the writing.

When it reached the point where I was ready to actually format it into a chapbook manuscript, there was some revision, including lines removed, lines added, and removing some whole poems — but the most challenging and time consuming part of finalizing the manuscript was deciding how to order all of the poems. I just had various different poems and poem lines semi-randomly bunched together, 2-4 on a page, and had to decide how to format their order, both thematically, and in a certain time frame sort of way — but not entirely past to present, more of a back and forth, semi-circle sort of interrelated intersection. As I was reading and re-reading the poems, I was tentatively numbering them — but then I’d think I had 1-7 numbered the right way, but then I’d end up changing my mind or writing another poem and suddenly having a 5.2 and 5.3 in the mix. Furthermore, I’d occasionally change what had been two separate poems into one whole poem or add another three lines to a poem and so on.

It took some time, but when I finally got all the poems ordered in a way that I thought worked stylistically and thematically, I then removed all of the numbers and bolded the first line of each poem.

Not too long after I had the manuscript completed, I then started to feel kind of weird about the collection, because I feel like it might be almost TOO confessional in a way that makes me seem really unappealing — not in terms of my poetry itself; but in terms of my negativity, my  lifestyle choices, my relationship issues, my body-focused issues and related attributes — but that was what felt the need to come out in this collection, uncomfortable or not.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Juliet Cook on dolls, body, and uncomfortable poetry

Hail: One of Nature’s curve balls

Except: Nature is always throwing curve balls. My mother-in-law’s gardens were beautiful, but she always eyed them critically. It is true that most gardeners notice what isn’t thriving, where the weeds are, or what has not grown out or bloomed as hoped. That comes with the territory. But the process of gardening is so much more enjoyable, even soothing, when one is not a perfectionist.

Not being a perfectionist myself, I find that time in the garden acts as a meditative oasis. It is part mindless physical labor, part problem-solving, part mindful awareness of the environment. This year, I’m making it even easier by planting fewer vegetables and fruits and more blooms to attract pollinators; I’ve a smaller variety of produce but am experimenting with some new (to me) seeds–a melon from the Caucasus, a few heirloom tomatoes, black beans as well as green ones.

I learn as I go–as I cull and thin, inspect insect damage, note responses to growing conditions. It occurs to me that this activity bears a resemblance to the writing process, particularly when putting together a collection for a chapbook or longer manuscript. In that undertaking, I’m also not a perfectionist; and I should not be quite so quick to gainsay the need for the perfectionist attitude when creating one’s art (as long as it does not lead to fruitless caviling).

But I’m just not constitutionally ordered towards that sort of purist idealism. The best I can do with my poems is similar to the best I can do with my gardens: devote mindful attentiveness to the “product” and try not to worry about eventual outcomes.

“Write a little each day, without hope, without despair.”  —Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]

See what grows.

Ann E. Michael, Not a perfectionist

I confess that I feel like I need to be a bit of a hustler. Hurry and get more work submitted. I try to balance writing time with administrative things, like submissions, notes, and reading. I need to learn to transition from one to the other better. It’s like yoga for me as a newbie-  Learning the individual poses is one thing. It’s another whole challenge to learn to smoothly flow from one position into another and another. I confess that when I have an acceptance or rejection I always feel the need to immediately make sure I have more work out there. There was a time when I had a lot of poems floating around between various venues but as I work harder to satisfy myself with each poem, the time spent increasing  my vault (so to speak) of material that is available means I am adding to it at a slower pace and therefore feel the pressure to increase material available for submission.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – One Less Orphan Poem.

One of the things we talked about was how to stay motivated to keep writing and sending out in the summertime, how to bounce back from rejections that feel personal, and the harm of “Instant Star” narratives. These are the profiles in magazines or podcasts from young writers where they say “I sent my poetry manuscript out once, and it was taken at a big press, and then I won a major fellowship and got a tenure-track teaching job and was sprinkled with rainbows and unicorns.” Well, the end might be a little bit of hyperbole. The reason I don’t like younger writers to read these kinds of interviews and profiles is because it’s not even close to the reality for most writers, and if they think it is, then they will start out feeling more discouraged than they should. One writer friend said she was taking a class from Nick Flynn and he said it took him ten years to get his first book published. It took me eighteen months to find a publisher for my first book, but six years to find a publisher for the second. Right now I’m researching presses for my sixth poetry book which I think is pretty close to being done and a seventh that’s in progress. I expect to spend some money on reading fees (they are getting higher every year, so I set aside any money I make from poetry to spend on them) and to get some rejections. I worry that I’m getting a little older and the editors are getting younger. I worry my poetry is not “hip” enough, and that the subject matter (like my poems about dealing with multiple sclerosis) might be too downbeat. But I think I know to expect some rejections along the way, and I try not to take rejections of the manuscript (or fellowship/grant applications) personally, although honestly, it’s difficult not to. Hey, I’m not made of stone. One of the reasons it’s important to talk with other poets is that it reminds us we are not the only ones who struggle with these things. All of my poet friends – no matter how successful they seem to me – worry about a lot of the same things. Very few people are instant stars. A lot more people work really hard in obscurity, taking adjunct jobs and doing reading where few people show up and sending out their manuscripts as many times as they can afford. A lot of times rejections come in waves, but so do acceptances. And sometimes good luck happens in clusters. Anyway, for those of you looking towards summer, don’t forget to keep writing and keep sending out your work – these days publishers and literary magazines have deadlines year-round, especially the non-academic ones. And remember not to get beaten down by your rejections, and to help celebrate when you or your friends have a success, even if it seems small to you – I think our brains are hard-wired to focus more on the rejections than the acceptances, so we have to break out the sparkling wine and cake more often!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer, Poet Friend Hang Out Time, and Sending Out (Even When You Feel Discouraged) and the Harm of Instant Star Narratives

But all in all, except for having a very lovely set of books on my shelf and a sense of accomplishment for actually having filled their pages with words, I can’t say publishing a book has changed much in my way of life.  I still have a day job where most of the people I encounter do not know about my books, or even that I’m a writer.  Outside of occasional tiny royalty checks from a couple of the publishers, there hasn’t been much financial gains. I’m not an academic, and I know having books might make tenure considerations easier, but since I don’t really seek out positions or awards or fellowships, my books are pretty much useless there. When you a re trying to get that first book accepted it sometimes feel like this is the thing–THE THING–that will make you a real poet.  But it’s not.  Writing the poems is what makes you the poet. I had two books by the late aughts, and for several years, I felt like barely a poet because I wasn’t writing hardly at all.

Even with those successes, it still feels hard when you’re trying to figure out where to send something new, particularly if the work feels different and you haven’t figured out which press it would fit into.  And subsequent books are usually harder–2nd books especially so, since even if you win a contest, there are very few for 2-3 books and you’ve yet to establish the sort of career  that might make it a bit easier in the long haul.  Some advice?  Forge those connections and find those publishers. Study the books of presses you admire and think about how your work might fit.  Don’t be afraid to take chances on new publishers that are willing to take chances on you. Sometimes, it helps to swim ahead of the bottleneck  Aside from contests, there are a lot of open reading periods out there waiting to read your book. If you enter contests, pay attention to who is judging and whether their style meshes with yours (not always a requirement, sometimes judges make surprising choices of work not anything like theirs) but usually you look at a winner and think, well, yes, I can see why that held appeal for that particular judge.

And in the end, do what feels necessary for you.  If you have spent hundreds unsuccessfully on reading fees and still no takers, but feel you could market and sustain an audience for a self-published book, that is another option.  I’ve long believed that you create the market for your work whoever does the printing, so self-issuing might be another way to go. It’s a ridiculous  bottle neck and becomes moreso every year, and sometimes we don’t want to wait for the winds of chance to blow our book into exactly the right editor’s hands at the exactly right moment.

Kristy Bowen, the myth of poetry stardom

I am reading about thermodynamics and quantum theory in order to better understand some poems, naturally. A former undergraduate student–a poet and a Physics/ English double-major, Max Chapnick–is now an English PhD student at Boston University, and he contacted me last summer about putting together a panel on physics and poetry for the International MLA Symposium. It was accepted, so now we’re all going to Lisbon in late July (hurrah!). This requires me to spend a few preparatory weeks analyzing Samiya Bashir’s excellent 2017 collection from Nightboat, Field Theories. I understood what she was doing with thermodynamics and quantum theory just enough to generate a proposal, but to be able to write in some depth about what radiation means in her book, how blackbodies function, whether or not that one poem is meant to resemble the “ultraviolet catastrophe” graph, etc.–well, it’s hard.

Work is motion against an opposing force,” [Peter] Atkins writes [in The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction], and I’ve definitely been feeling the weight of my own intellectual resistance. It’s not that I don’t want to do the writing or even the thinking; it’s a privilege, truly. But I’ve been puzzling through problems laboriously, in a mood of worry. I’ve written before about the annual difficulty of kicking my brain into a different gear, and surely that’s part of it, but I’m also experiencing one of those bouts of insecurity that afflict most writers I know, no matter the genre. It’s not only “am I interpreting these difficult poems in plausible ways?” but something more like “are my scholarly/ interpretive moves sufficiently interesting that anyone would really want to read or listen to me, or is everyone just humoring me because I once showed some intellectual promise and remain a reasonably nice person who tends to do the work and show up on time?” It doesn’t help my morale that I was just informed that I’ll receive an average raise this year, percentage-wise, when I know my DH recommended me for an exceptional one. Between you and me, I did a monstrous amount of good teaching, service, and publication in 2018, but my radiation did not seem to fall into the spectrum of visible light.

This is not my first self-doubt rodeo, so I can reassure myself that continuing to work is better than the alternatives, and confidence comes back. Besides, delivering Bashir’s accomplishments to new audiences is in itself worthwhile service to an art I love. And when self-doubt veers into guilt, as it should sometimes–a mediocre raise, how sad for you! or why do I get to eat a nice lunch and metabolize the results into criticism while refugees ail at the border in dangerously overcrowded detention camps?–I should make a donation or put that rally on my calendar, but still keep dispersing most of my daytime labor among tasks I’m competent at and believe are worthwhile.

Lesley Wheeler, We are all steam engines

Since the potency of rock-and-roll derives from its synthesis of lyric, melody and instrumental delivery, attempts in fiction to cast a net of words over the process have, in general, delivered little more than arid analysis or histrionic reportage. As far as I’m aware, poetry has, by and large, left the territory unexplored. So my desire to try to write a sequence of poems about an individual musician’s experience of the suffocation of creative endeavour by the payload of commercial and cultural overlay that is so much a part of the phenomenon seems ill-advised, even a tad arrogant, so many having failed thus far.

But that first superstructure and the skeletal infrastructural notions that followed them won’t go away. Originally I wrote a first stanza, a sort of chorus that I decided would intersperse subsequent sections. Now it just sits at the top of the poem as a sort of testament to what it is that in performance fires the adrenaline and pops the endorphins. The rest – the narrative content, the pumped language and the form that contains it – keeps shifting every time I return to it. All that reiterates after the abandonment of one version after another is the drive to bring something into being. So here is how it lies across the page at this precise point in time… [Click through for the poem.]

Dick Jones, BRIGHT STAR, BIG SKY.

A big thank you to writer and artist J.I. Kleinberg for writing a review of my book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press 2018), in the most recent volume of Cirque Journal – Vol. 10. No. 1. You can check the complete review by going to the Cirque link above.

Reviews are scary things. Having your work judged by another takes a certain amount of armor. Putting yourself out there is a bit like being back in Junior High and wondering if you are going to be asked to sit at the “cool kids” table.

With that said, Judy was kind and gave me one of the biggest compliments I could have craved. As many of you know, who follow this blog, my last blog post was called Return Flight and I wrote about flying home to my beloved Pacific Northwest. Kleinberg says my poems are painterly and cinematic, that they are crafted with care and precision, all of which I appreciate. But what I especially appreciate is that she “got” my poems are rooted in most profoundly, place and anchored in the towns of Oregon and Washington.

I hope in some small way my writing can be a witness to how place has the ability to nurture and shape us. I am a fourth generation Oregonian. My family stories are rooted west of the Cascade Mountain Range in both these States and I believe like William Stegner that no place is a place until things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends or monuments. And though not all the poems in this collection are about place, I appreciate that Kleinberg felt its presence important to note.

Carey Taylor, Grateful

Trish Hopkinson is a force in the poetry community with her almost-daily publication of an all-things-poetry blog that informs poets where, how, and why to submit poems; conducts interviews with editors of no-submission-fee journals; and publishes guest blogs addressing all aspects of writing, reading, submitting and publishing poetry. I’ve followed this blog avidly and very much appreciated her recent interview introducing The Poetry Café.

With such a footprint in the world of poetry, I was curious to read Hopkinson’s work. Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017 with the subtitle of “A Chapbook of Response Poems.” Each of the twenty poems in Footnote has either a footnote or a dedication (some as ‘for,’ others as ‘after‘), inscribed beneath the poem. Each poem embraces the spirit of its annotation, at times using found lines, erasures, or the style of another writer. While visually each poem has the familiar appearance of lines and stanzas on the page, they each possess a quirky—somewhat experimental—writing style.  An example of a poem I particularly enjoyed was, “And Finished Knowing – Then –,” footnoted with a nod to Emily Dickinson, of course, but with Hopkinson’s sly imprint,

I conjured a childbirth, in the air,
and nurses all askew
stood standing – standing – till the dream
seemed real enough to chew.

I wondered how the poems in the book came together. At an interview at The Literary Librarian, Hopkinson explained the book’s origins:

“In 2015, after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems of my own. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work.”

These days we find a wealth of ‘Response Poems’ that foment resistance to injustice and oppression. Hopkinson’s responses come from a different tradition—emotional and spiritual responses to other artists that have affected, influenced, and secured a solid foothold in her psyche and writing. Footnote is in essence a work of conversations. Her dedications include an artist (Everett Ruess), a musician (Janice Joplin), a filmmaker (David Lynch), and a writer (James Joyce), but are mostly poets (Baraka, Paz, Rilke, Ai, Neruda, Dickinson, Plath, Rumi, Poe, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg). As a reader, I always find myself wanting to know the poet through the poems. We get a nuanced taste of Hopkinson from her choices. While a first person voice is mostly absent in these pages, the poems are strong evidence of her appetites.  

Risa Denenberg, Footnote, by Trish Hopkinson

I read this as a pibroch, a lament for dispossession, and for the despoiling of the earth. Bothies shelter storm-caught walkers, but they are invariably the abandoned houses of folk who could no longer be sustained by the land, or who were forcibly cleared from it. Homes Fit for Heroes indeed. Nothing can sentimentalise them. The moors are ‘marching back’, the masonry’s crumbling, the seas are choked with plastic and the birds and the fish are gone. What’s left is the roll-call of the Gaelic placenames from a time when the people who spoke them knew what they described. It’s a haunting angry poem that sticks in the mind and the heart.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: David Underdown

I read an article recently about an exhibition of what remained of the refugee camp at Calais, the things carried by people who, forced to again move on, carried them no farther. Notes and small weapons and paper dolls. I think about the artwork by the children of the Terezin ghetto, now held in Prague’s Jewish Museum. In an article in the Atlantic, “Elegy for the American Century,” George Packer writes about Richard Holbrooke and the break-up of Yugoslavia, and atrocities in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. In the article, Holbrooke visits a refugee camp near Zagreb hosting Bosnian Muslums who had escaped the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The author wrote:

“As Holbrooke started to leave, the baker brought out a dirty plastic bag from under his mattress. Inside was a pair of small figures, three or four inches tall, in blond wood. Human figures, with nearly featureless faces and heads bowed and hands together behind their backs. The baker had carved them with a piece of broken glass while he was interned at the Manjača camp, where the prisoners had stood bound for hours with their heads down to avoid being beaten.”

We are makers, we people, of objects that, though mute, express the best, and the worst of us (there are at least eight torture museums in Europe alone). For all our wordiness, our flapping mouths, it’s what we make that remains to tell the tale.

Poetry too is a made thing, and I love the “poem in your pocket” day idea, although I’ve never actually taken part, love the idea of that little curled piece of paper, an artifact of a tender skinned human in the world.

Marilyn McCabe, There’s a hole in the bucket; or, the Stories of Objects

Long fingers on the metal of a knife
Dinner before one leaves for many years
Even if you forget how a body feels
it can still take place and hold your hand at night
 
It’s not a ghost if it’s a living soul
It’s not lost if it doesn’t want to be found
It’s not there but also not gone

Magda Kapa, Dinner Talk

I no longer remember why I started out, or where I thought I was going. It doesn’t matter anyway. It is the journey itself that counts. Was I kind? Did I help? What did I learn? When a person can give positive answers to questions like that, they’ve had a life. 

Warmer today. Upper 90s. There’s air conditioning at today’s poetry reading, but I’ll get sweaty anyway.

Stayed up 1 AM last night, working on poems. Didn’t even notice the time. It took me all of 30 seconds to fall asleep.

James Lee Jobe, journal notes – 16 june 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 18

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.

The end of Poetry Month last week prompted not just progress reports and posts about favorite books and poems, but also led a number of poets to ponder larger questions about productivity, ambition, and the nature of work. Several wrote about sleep and insomnia, and others talked about the importance of writing in community. And as usual there were a few miscellaneous posts that didn’t really fit anywhere but were too damn fun to leave out. Enjoy.


Today I clicked on a random link to a recent poem in a fancier journal (someone liked it, I’m not sure why) and reading through was kind of embarassed for the journal for publishing it.  (and kinda for the dude for writing it.) It committed the cardinal sin in my poetry church–the breaking of sentences into lines with no real “poetry” quality about it except it looked like one on the page.  Also, it was boring, and in places abstract and cliched. The venue in question misses the mark quite a bit, but this was supposed to be one of the poetry world darlings, someone who people hold up as an idol (not me, but other people).  I started laughing and literally could not stop for about 5 minutes.

I realized for every time I think to myself, question myself, that I do not know what I’m doing…my own work, even at it’s very throwaway worst was far better than this sampling.  That yes, maybe I totally DO know what I’m doing and am doing it pretty damn well.  And in fact all of us–poet friends, dgp authors, the mss. I help out with –ALL of us are doing so much better than this fancy poet with our work.  If this came across my desk as an editor it would be an immediate “no” not even a “maybe.”  I’ve met poets who have been writing for a year or less who are considerably stronger than this.  Don’t worry, we got this.

Kristy Bowen, poet pep talk # 786

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all.

This set me to think of my own predilection for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets. I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial. Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equivalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

John Foggin, A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

I have returned to the poems in QUANTUM HERESIES many times in the last two months. How can a debut  collection of poems be so arresting, so superb?  One answer is that Mary Peelen has been hard at work on her craft for years; she is not a dilettante but rather a true poet. Also, she has lived a fascinating and hard-won life.

Take for example these lines from “String Theory,”

Here at the horizon of theoretical extinction,
we cut flowers for the table.

We sing the way weary mourners do,
praising geometry as if miracles could happen.

The environment, mathematics, love, and loss in two couplets. I am in awe of these lines and from many other poems as well including: “x”, “Unified Theory,” and “Sunday Morning” to name but a few stellar examples of Peelen’s deft and spare language.

Elizabeth Bishop once said that what she liked best in a poem was “to see a mind in motion.” And she then added that this was of course an impossibility. That the poems that did their best to mirror the mind’s movement were working hard to display such ease.

Susan Rich, Mary Peelen’s QUANTUM HERESIES is here and you want to read it!

I confess that I love finishing books because it gives me a chance to move to another one on my to read pile. That pile grows like the National Debt. But I’ve finished another and will be looking to start another. I’ve finished reading The Veronica Maneuver by Jennifer Moore.  I will be doing a review of the book soon. (adding to my growing to do list).

Goat Yoga. There is such a thing. I kid you not. (no pun intended) Yesterday I joined others at Paradise Park for a session of goat yoga. The cute little things wander around among us and challenge our focus. They will occasionally have accidents. My mat was missed by inches. Their poop looks like Raisinets.  See photo to right. Aside from, the experience was fun and we did get some light yoga in, which at this stage is about where I am at in the yoga experience overall.  Anyone who knows me well quite possibly knows my affinity towards goats.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – OM to the Goats Edition

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s terrifyingly useful PR For Poets is packed with ideas completely new to me, even though this is my third book. (Or fifth, depending on how such things are counted.) […]

Like nearly every other writer I know, I’m a friendly hermit with a serious allergy* to self-promotion. So I didn’t follow most of Jeannine’s good advice, like developing a PR kit or getting a headshot. But her book did foster another idea. “Hide in the house,” I said to myself. “Make something fun to help sell the new book.”

Book swag can include postcards, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pens, custom-decorated cookies, toys, and more. All the stuff most writers, let alone most publishers, can’t possibly afford. Jeannine calmly explains postcards and business cards are the most useful, and how to produce them at a reasonable cost. Of course I wanted to do something complicated. […]

Initially I hoped to create tiny replica book necklaces that could open to a poetry sample, somewhat like this project on Buttons & Paint. The time required, however, was too daunting, especially with time constraints like my actual editing job.

Then I decided to make book pendants that could be worn or used to mark one’s place. It seemed simple.

Laura Grace Weldon, How Not To Make Book Swag

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

When pondering what to post today, the last day of April and therefore the last post in this series of Great Poems for April—no pressure!—I realized a strange thing. Even though I’d been concentrating on going through my own trove of favorite poems through the month, I hadn’t really thought about which one poem is my very favorite. You know, that one that accompanies you through life, whose lines remain with you like bits of a song that you find yourself humming while doing dishes or driving to work. As soon as I thought that, I immediately knew which one was my favorite: “After Apple-Picking.”

What I love most about this poem is its unusual rhyme scheme. This being Frost, of course there’s a pattern. But it’s so erratic, so—dare I say—rebellious that I wonder if Frost was thinking, screw the establishment; I’m gonna go all Picasso on the old end rhyme. And he was a master of the old end rhyme. And yet he was young when he wrote this. And probably somebody out there knows what that was all about, but I’m kind of glad I don’t know, in the same way I’m glad I don’t know for sure what the different kinds of sleep are that he talks about. Or whether this is about the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the banishment from Eden. Or about the burdens of fame (that’s my go-to—“I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired”—but again, he was young, so I’m not so sure). And if you want to see what other people think about all those things, spend an amusing hour or so surfing the internet, looking at the different theories. Those people are all so sure they know what this poem means.

What I do know about this poem is that it’s beautiful. Phrases of this poem are, I think, among the best in American poetry (“ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” “load on load of apples coming in,” and that low-geared, four-word musical breakdown of a line, “As of no worth”). I love the way he changes up the rhythm and sentence length, and of course those erratic line lengths that sneak the rhymes in there among all the truncation where you can barely hear it. The phrasing is so memorable that I literally can’t pick up a stepladder without whispering “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still,” or cut open an apple without thinking “Stem end and blossom end.” And this line—“Essence of winter sleep is on the night, / The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.” I can go back and read that for a lifetime and never get tired of it.

Every year that I reread this poem, it means something different to me; I find some small part I hadn’t thought much about before. (Right now it’s the “pane of glass / I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough”—can’t you see it? Don’t you sometimes go a whole day, unable to rub that strangeness from your sight?) Loving a good poem is like a friendship. You go through time together, and even though you never know everything about that poem, you keep discovering things that it didn’t tell you before. And your relationship with it changes too. If it’s really a great poem, the poem weathers the changes. And so do you.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 30: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

As we come to the end of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you a few poems I read and absolutely loved this month. Do yourself a favor and read them.

This one is an old poem – published in April 2017. But I only just discovered it earlier this month and it’s worth sharing:

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake.

~ from Yellowshirt Elegy by Meghan Phillips, published by Barrelhouse

Another one that was published back in July but thanks to the powers of Twitter, I just discovered it this month:

An analogy:
Pac-Man fills his mouth with pellets: you fill
your house with wine, your head with songs.

~from Nine Ways in Which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition by Katie Willingham, published by Paper Darts

Courtney LeBlanc, Read These Poems

April is finished, thank goodness, it’s been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month – my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses.

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn’t count as going anywhere, so I haven’t counted them. That’s just over 30, so I’m very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem a day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I’m not in the mood or don’t like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

Gerry Stewart, My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

I wrote 30 poems, one each day, as a sonnet cycle. It was surprisingly easy to keep going, as every day I had a prompt from the previous poem. By about 4/12, I found that I didn’t have to count lines, I just wrote 14 and stopped. The form entered me. I will be working on revisions for a good while, but I’m hopeful that I have something here. The cycle starts and ends with this line:
It was a warm day in April when the coleus died.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with My April Roundup

& so, I did what I set out to do: I exercised the necessary discipline to draft a poem a day during National Poetry Month, and I pushed against my “comfort zone” by publicly posting those drafts as they came to me. Usually I do not share my initial drafts with anyone other than fellow writers in my writer’s group or a few poets with whom I correspond. This was an interesting experiment on the personal level, therefore, a sort of forced extroversion as well as effort in productivity. I now have 30 new drafts to reflect upon, revise, or ignore.

It has been years since I came up with that much work in four weeks’ time. For the last decade or so, my average has been closer to six or seven poems a month. And I would not have posted any of them as they “hatched.” I would have waited until I spent some time with them and figured out how best to say what they seemed to want to say.

That’s not an unwise approach in general; I see nothing wrong with letting poems stew awhile. And quite a few would have ended up in the “dead poems” folder. Nevertheless, trying something innovative tends to prove valuable. The takeaway is that I am glad I finally managed the NaPoWriMo challenge. A few of the poem drafts you may have read here stand a chance of evolving into better poems. Maybe some will end up in a collection (years down the road). That result feels good.

The takeaway is also the realization that I no longer worry about how others judge my poems, the way I did when I was starting out and discouraged about having my stuff rejected by magazines. Not because there’s less at stake–indeed, I feel as invested in my writing as I ever was. The difference comes with the kind of investment, the ambition to write something meaningful or beautiful, and not viewing the poems as results waiting to be determined as valuable by someone more authoritative.

I’m 60 years old and well-educated in poetic craft, style, purpose, analysis. I’ve been writing poetry for over four decades. At this point in my life, that’s authority enough.

Ann E. Michael, The takeaway

Here’s wishing you a happy May Day and hoping that you enjoyed a marvelous Poetry Month.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of stones. Those make the line between the lawn’s lush green abundance and the scraggly patch of winter rye. Okay, some lawn grass is mixed in between the rye and the irises. But it’s had me thinking about what we cut and what we keep, about censoring and not censoring, about how we tend our writing. Even about where I’m putting my energy.

In thinking about writing, I’m seeing the two kinds of grasses not as separate things but as the different attentions required. There’s letting the creative rush run over, there’s perhaps (for me, always) the need to trim, to shape, and there’s the need to tend, to wait patiently.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day four

If you’re reading this, it must be some time between 3 -5 am and I am up listening to Vampire Weekend’s new song “Harmony Hill” on repeat.

I’ve written 2 poems and answered a few emails. I haven’t spoken to anyone in 36 hours, and this is the gift of the writing residency. I wonder–what if I didn’t talk to people for days in real life, would I have more to write? It seems the less I talk, the more I have to say when I write.

I know it would be almost impossible to achieve this at home, but it encourages me on my next retreat to see how long I could go without speaking.

Solitude, when chosen, is a gift. 
Solitude, when forced upon someone, is a punishment. 
Solitude, when not wanted, is loneliness in disguise.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Making the Most of Insomnia…

So we know all kinds of stuff about how the mind works, but we don’t know what this feeling is of knowing. Which makes me so confused I feel sleepy. And, let me tell you, from all the articles people insist on forwarding to me, we really know very little about sleep — how it works, why it works, why it works the way it works, and what’s going on when it doesn’t work, not to mention how to fix it. So we not only don’t know what this thing called “I” is but we don’t know why “I” can’t sleep. I’ll tell you, it keeps me awake at night.

Marilyn McCabe, Wake Me Up When It’s Over

One after the other you fall asleep
as the light moves on and wakes up
the ones at the other end of the line
We move so fast that we cannot see
A merry-go-round of dreams

Magda Kapa, Globally Speaking

Staying up most of the night working on poems. Oh Lonely Bones – can’t you rest? Why should I? Even now now a strong wind carries some pine seeds to the earth. Even now the boats slide down the long Sacramento River to the bay. A new day begins and I am alive.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Staying up most of the night working on poems.’

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.

PF Anderson, On Aurality

The wipe-out of my hard drive and the subsequent computer clean-up continues. I went into my main drive this weekend to organize my years of fiction and poetry output, and was at once heartened and saddened by it, the sad part of which threw me immediately into the throes of writing self-pity, a very unbecoming state of being in which I lamented the failure of my novel, wallowed in my fear that writing poetry about my new-found passion for shooting will be roundly rejected by anti-gun leftist poetry publishers everywhere, as poets are almost universally anti-gun leftists, and lamented the  fact that I am hopelessly prone to writing run-on sentences. But I am also proud to report that I was fairly pleased overall with my review of my previous work. I read some things that I had forgotten I wrote and that can firmly say I stand by to this day, despite their thickness and amateur-ness. To balance this, the most hopeless amongst them were unceremoniously deleted. So it’s been a mixed bag.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Projection, Ear to Mouth Ratio, Self-Pity Sunday

I’ve been ruthless this week, in a way that feels quite alien to me. I’ve shelved so many jobs in order to stick to my goal of writing two (yes, just two) pages of my notebook every day. The things I’ve put to one side include reading (poetry and prose, weekend supplements) making art/ collages, cleaning the bathroom, weeding the garden (although the weather was against me on this week). Still, you get the picture. What’s interesting is that because my target is quite low, in terms of word count, I’ve exceeded it nearly every day. This has been really positive. It’s given me that ‘Can do’ feeling, and made me keen to carry on, so much so that yesterday I treated myself to a new notebook, in anticipation of finishing the current one. I’ve stuck to A5 so I can keep the momentum – there’s something about turning the page that makes me feel I’m being more productive.

Writing is important to me, and I’ve said for a while now that I’ve embraced distractions as a way of feeding the work, but the bottom line is, if you’re not setting aside time to do the work, then anything you’ve gleaned from these distractions isn’t being given a fair chance to flourish into something new on the page. So, instead of finding excuses (or allowing the distractions to take over) I’m concentrating on finding ways to fit my writing into what seems, at times, an impossibly short day.

Julie Mellor, No excuses

Many years ago the doctor told me the best thing I could do for my mental health was to keep a routine. Take the mornings predictably, and slowly.

So since my kids hit their teens, I have been up early to run, write and do meditation. And for the past year, I have included a morning flow sequence.

How I wish I had done this when my children were young. I’ve spent most of my life – all of my adult life – obsessively attempting to be productive. The unquestioned belief being that my life would be of value only if I left something important behind; that I am somehow required to justify my time on earth by creating works of art. On days, and during months scattered with rejection slips from publishers, I’d rethink my life’s choices and feel obligated to toss my humanity degrees and get a nursing degree, or a counselling certification: the kind of thing that makes a person valuable, makes them the kind of person who can sign up with Médecins Sans Frontières and do good in the world.

Ren Powell, An Art of Living – Day 1

After that glass of wine, I walked home through a small town under construction and swarming with alumnae/i, pondering ambition. It was very much on my mind in my mid-forties, when I started writing the poems in my forthcoming collection. My current working title for the latter is The State She’s In, but whether or not my editor ultimately agrees about that, I’m polishing the ms now and the book will be out in March or April 2020. The collection, in fact, contains a sequence of five list-poems called “Ambitions,” and I considered whether I could or should incorporate the word in my book title. I guess I was asking common midlife questions: what is all this striving for? Am I on a path towards something good, goals I genuinely care about? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to other people, to my work, and as a citizen–not the trivial stuff, but the deep obligations? Then an ambitious woman ran for office, and a man who despises women trumped her, and some of my struggle over that episode is in the book, too.

As I veered off Main St. onto the smaller road that leads home, I realized I may have turned a corner where ambition is concerned. I’m not sure how much of the change comes from turning fifty, or other revolutions in my life, or even just the fact that three books I worked on for years all have contracts now, so I can afford to be less anxious! Maybe my state of relative equilibrium is temporary. But while I still think many kinds of ambition are good and important, and anyone who’s nervous about ambition in women is a sexist jerk, I find I’m not fretting about productivity this summer, for once. I can’t even drum up worry about the reception my poetry book will eventually meet (the novel’s a bit different–still feel like an imposter there). I have a number of writing projects percolating, and I’ll be helping my kids launch into college and the working world, but I’m mainly grateful that a summer slow-down is allowing me to strengthen these mss and plan for how I can help them find audiences. My chief ambition, I’m realizing, is to make the books as moving and crafty and complicated and inspiring as possible.

Lesley Wheeler, The ambit of ambition

I’m thinking about trying to start a series of get-togethers at my house, since it’s become more difficult to get out and about but I’m still an extrovert who gets inspired by spending time with other creative people. My house is pretty good for entertaining, and Glenn is good at making snacks. Should I try to create a new writers feedback group, like the one I was in for thirteen plus years, or try salons, with a bunch of different kind of artists? I’ve been finishing up a series of Virginia Woolf letters, and I’m inspired by the way, though she was limited in the amount she went out or went to London, she brought a circle of artists around her houses, not always together at the same time, but encouraged them, published them, provided tea and conversation. She really did get inspired and enjoy helping others.

I was thinking about ways to help others and maybe start working again, a little bit, from home. But what? Technical writing or marketing writing? Offering manuscript consults again? Or perhaps some coaching for doing basic PR for poets with new books? When I’m feeling good, I’m pretty effective, but I do have these “slips” in time that happen when I’m sick, so I need something that’s flexible.

Women Writing Despite…

In fact, many of the “major” women writers that we read, including Flannery O’Conner, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Charlotte Bronte, all had limits on their health – physical and mental illnesses, constraints on their time and energy. They still managed to produce a ton of work, not just published books, but tons of journals and letters that I find fascinating and great research for women writers – how they succeed, how they struggled, how they maintained friendships and family demands. (Frida Kahlo is kind of the patron-saint of sick women creatives, too. Not only is her art getting more attention these days, but I read that her garden was recently restored – how I would love to see that!)

I think one reason I’ve been attracted to researching the lives of these writers is that they succeeded despite. Despite family opposition, money problems, health problems, during a literary time that was – shall we say – unfriendly to women’s voices. How they guarded their writing time, and struggled with “doing it all” – a woman’s problem for centuries, not just now, the expectations that women will be supportive of their family’s needs, domestic work, taking care of spouses or family members, plus write and spend time and cultivate connections with other creative people. So what I’m saying is, really, in this age of phones and internets and social media, it’s easier for me than it would have been for any of those writers, despite my illnesses, the physical limitations I might face, the frustrations I feel.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Another Birthday, Spring and All, Thinking About the Modern Salon and Writing Groups, Women Writing Despite, and Planning for the Year Ahead

As I’ve traveled, from AWP a month ago to the creativity retreat last week, I’ve been thinking about tribes, the tribes we choose and the tribes that claim us.  I saw many AWP posts that talked about the ecstasy of being back with one’s tribe, but I don’t feel that way at AWP.  I’m a different kind of participant, with a very different kind of non-writing job for pay than most people there.  I still have a good time, but it’s a much more industrial feel for me–it’s not the sigh of relief, the “I’m home again!” feeling for me.

Last week’s retreat was that way.  Let me preface by saying that I don’t always feel that way.  I’ve been coming to this retreat since 2003, and I’m not sure why some years it’s easy to settle in to the retreat rhythm and some years I never capture it.  This year I felt like I knew fewer people (in part, because we had a larger crowd with more new people), yet surprisingly, I had that return to the tribe feeling.

I don’t have many areas of my life when I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the intersections of creativity and spirituality; in fact, this retreat might be the only place where I am in a larger group of those kinds of people.  There are a few at my local church, but at the retreat, I’m with 70+ people who are.  And we’re interested in a wide variety of creative expressions.  It’s exhilarating.

It does take me away from poetry writing, which is strange since the retreat almost always happens during National Poetry Month.  But it’s great to be distracted by a retreat, not by the drudgery of administrative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tribes and Poetry and the Focus of a Month

This week I submitted a proposal for AWP 2020, which will take place in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t had a panel picked up for the conference in a few years, so maybe I’m due. I hope it’s accepted — it gives me a chance to collaborate with a couple of my friends: one from college, J.C., who is a playwright and TV/film writer and essayist who lives now in Los Angeles. The topic is on DIY residencies and retreats — granting yourself time and space to write — and she’s been doing these kinds of things for years now; also with C.Y.M., who completed an Artist Residency in Motherhood a short while ago.

M.S. and I have been planning, and putting the final necessary pieces in place, for doing our own Artist Residency in Motherhood this summer, for a week in July. We have all of our kiddos signed up for day camps, and we’re renting a tiny apartment not far from the camps. We’re going to use an apartment booked through AirBnB as a joint workspace. The plan is to use 3-4 hours in the morning for work on writing and art-making, break briefly for lunch, and then either go back to work or go on some kind of excursion we wouldn’t normally be able to do with three kids in tow. Also, our work, our writing and art, will be focused around a joint theme — so that possibly we can exhibit or publish it somewhere together. Or maybe we won’t. We’re trying not to put too much pressure on the week — just enough to provides some focus or direction.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Returning to Blogging, More Bathroom Renovating, DIY Residency Planning, and a Cover Reveal

windless our sails of blood and bone become moons in a jar

when all else is emptied your name takes on the shape of a swan

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, seq. 30.04 2019/sekv. 30.04 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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 saw poets musing about the effects of winter on their writing, wholeness and healing, the legacies of mothers, the making of books and found poems, and more — essays and poems that invite slow reading, and might help cure a case of the winter blues.

Here’s a highly poetic fact I learned this evening from a scientific paper shared on Twitter: Did you know that there are tiny, harmless bees in Thailand that drink human tears? And that scientists have a word for tear consumption: lachryphagy? But lest that seem a bit twee, be forewarned: the photo illustrations in the paper are the stuff of nightmares. Yin, meet yang.


I have missed blogging for a few weeks. I have been tossing spheres in the air, sandwhiching commitments between commitments strewn with distractions. But I am happy to say that I am overwhelmed with all things poetry. My review of Lynn Melnick’s “Landscape with Sex and Violence” is up at The Rumpus. I have an essay onboard for the series Writing About the Living at the Town Crier, curated by Lauren Davis; a blurb to write; seven books that I’ve agreed to review over the next few months; and preparation for attending AWP for Headmistress Press, which is suddenly right around the corner. I am tossing submissions and devouring rejections. I have a manuscript floating belly up in the roiling sea of poetry.

On the home front, the Olympic peninsula did entertain a magnificent snow show over the past couple of weeks, which was more than a distraction, and my heat and my washing machine are on the blink, piles of laundry are everywhere and I finally got some wood for the wood stove. I’ve scheduled a mammogram. I have announced a retirement date, which is now less than a year away. When I retire, I want to become a poet.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Missing Musing

Now, if I were a normal person, all this lack of connection and the ability to leave my house may wear me down. But I am not your normal person, I am a poet, so for me, this snowstorm meant I was just given empty days to work on my poems and manuscript.

To me, this week has felt like a writing retreat. Since Friday I have woken up and read or revised my manuscript. I have lived in lounge pants and thermal shirts. I have napped when I wanted and snacked my way through the day. I took a few walks but mostly, moved around the house thinking about titles for my manuscript, making notes in journals, and sitting down with my printed copy of my manuscript and making notes through it.

Today and yesterday, because we pretty much knew we weren’t going to make it to work, I did Two Sylvias tasks, such as design a book cover and write some prompts for our April NaPoWriMo event. I ate chili and for dessert had dark chocolate chips and peanut butter on a spoon–ah yes, my glamorous life.

But here’s the thing, how often does the world grant us time?

Kelli Russell Agodon, Waiting for the World to Melt: Snowpocalypse in the NW = Impromptu Writing Retreat

Feeling very ready for some sunshine and warmer weather. I want to see daffodils and cherry blossoms, not murdered cherry trees and bulbs buried under snow. The political climate and the weather have together been so depressing, maybe I’ll go sing drowned swan ballads to cheer myself up!

End of February can be a tough time for writers, because it tends to be a season of waiting on submissions, of still-too-long nights and dreary short days, of sad music (Ahem, acoustic version of “Northern Lights” by Death Cab and hey, for the heck of it, a version of “Bonny Swan”) So be kind to yourself, watch something that makes you laugh, read a novel or bring in some tulips. Spring awaits. Write into the cold wind.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentines in the Snow, Beautiful Ghosts at Roq La Rue Gallery, and Writing into the Winter Quiet

M.S. and I are teaching our Creativity class again this semester. It’s funny — not in a haha way, but in a how odd way — how much questioning I do every time we return to the course and the material.

Of  course, maybe it’s also cyclical, as we’re in the heart of winter and low temperatures also do something to keep my mood low, my mind disquiet. But I think it might be the tenets we teach in the class, tenets M.S. and I created together, agreed on, tenets we wholeheartedly believe — and the way I have to face them again, and in their light confront my own creative practice, see where it falls short, where I might be phoning it in. 

And once I do that, I hold myself up: I confront my own identity, how much I’ve tied it — with stubbornness, with obstinacy — to art-making and creativity. I hold this image of myself up to the weak winter light coming through the window, and I examine all my inconsistencies and flaws.

It’s necessary,  I suppose. It speaks to a kind of rigor, perhaps, if we assess our creative selves every once in a while and see what we might do differently. But it feels invasive, too, even if I’m the one doing the interrogating.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Martha Graham Martha Graham Martha Graham

It’s just above freezing, so the cold is more of a caress than a bite. Still winter, though:
there’s no bird song – that’s for spring.
Right now the magpies are in deep conversation in the neighbor’s tree.
This time that could be restful, seems to press an obligation.
It’s difficult not to fill the quiet with rationalizations.
It’s a bit like not trusting the body to breathe.
Is this a lesson in dying?
In being?

Ren Powell, February 17th, 2019

Poetry can be used to increase brain function, helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; decrease or eliminate pain, supporting people with chronic pain issues; and elevate mood, engaging and lifting people with mood disorders.

Noting the impact of poetry, both reading and writing poetry, on pain and suffering, a recent article in The Permanente Journal lays out poems which are the author’s expression of the meaning of living with chronic pain for over 20 years, a kind of philosophical hermeneutic conversation about pain and poetry. The article’s authors explore “the efficacy of writing and reading poetry as a means to help people living with chronic pain to explore and express their narratives in their own unique way.”

Eugene Feig, one of the authors of this article sends out poetry almost weekly to the members of a pain support group as a means of sharing his own experiences of living with pain, as well as to support and to inspire hope in others. “The style of poetry we are presenting is that of a person who is not knowledgeable about poetry in a formal sense but who has an understanding of how it has helped him learn to live.”  [Full Article] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045501/

Health, Healing and Peace through Narrative Poetry – guest blog post by Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I imagine the health crisis at my house has affected me at least a little like the great snowstorm of 2019 has affected all of us–this snowstorm that Cliff Mass says we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. We believe that we have control of our lives, and then life itself catches us by surprise, knocks us down, and dares us to get up again.

But I remember how I began this series, in Prompt #1–life does happen, terrible things happen. The only actual control we ever have is of our own response.

One response I’ve made, thus far, is to dig out my copy of Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. As much as anything else, this is a book about Palmer’s debilitating depression and how he came back from it. I found it on a shelf with books about teaching; I had forgotten it was about depression–well, entirely apt! […]

[H]ere’s a passage I copied into my journal this morning:
“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” But we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul or the true self–and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives.” (34-35)

I once heard the poet Chana Bloch say, in regards to her brush with cancer, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”

That’s what I’m going to do, too.

Bethany Reid, Parker Palmer’s A HIDDEN WHOLENESS

When nearby factories
heaved             smoke-grey   
corkscrews
into an ash-spackled sky
 
she saw              
only the young girls
           in a schoolyard
nearby
fidget          twirl
and rustle     skirts
of pearl-pink crinoline
their cheeks
heat-tinged
their palms clasped
one to the next.
 
All darkness     acquiesced.

Gail Goepfert, Heart-ened by One Who Knew How to Hold Space

My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle,
A hairbrush, a spatula, and her fat, heavy hands.

Every blow was like being struck down by God.
Every blow held the taste of terror to me, a boy.

When the whipping was through, Mother held me,
Whispering, “I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to.”

Do you see how she loved me with scars? Fearing her
Taught me compassion. I did not whip my own children.

James Lee Jobe, ‘My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle’

Maybe this is part of why I’m a poet: I’m an external processor. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” wrote EM Forster. Me too. I write my way to understanding the flow of my emotional life. I write my way out of the hurricane.

When I had my strokes, I wrote about them here, and about the journey of exploration that followed — the medical journey (we never did figure out what caused them) and the spiritual journey of seeking equanimity in the face of that enormous unknown.

When I had my miscarriage, I wrote a cycle of ten poems — and rewrote, and revised, and polished — as my path toward healing. And then I shared them here, because I hoped they would help someone else who was navigating those same waters.

When the body involved is my own, when the story involved is my own, I can share openly when the spirit moves me. Because living an authentic spiritual life in the open is a core part of my spiritual practice, and because my words may help others.

And I know, from emails and comments over the 15+ years of this blog, that what I write does help others. That many of you have found comfort and strength here. That when I am willing to be real, that can call forth a mirroring authenticity in you.

But sometimes the story isn’t mine to tell. I remember conversations about this when I was getting my MFA at Bennington (20 years ago) — how do we chart a responsible path through telling the stories of our lives when those lives intersect with others?

Rachel Barenblat, A time for silence, a time to speak

quite musical
a previously invisible tree
it turns orange and bleeds red

women in the woods with axes
found by dowsing
where the axe fell

a tree theatre
stitched on bonded silk
haptic is the word of the day

Ama Bolton, ABCD February meeting

I’d like to say a public thank you to Gill Stoker at the Mary Evans Picture Library for inviting me to write a poem inspired by one of the photographs held in their archive. I chose ‘London Pubs at Closing Time’, mainly because I loved the expression on the face of ‘The Duchess’ (left of frame). I created a found poem exploring the idea of voice and blurring the boundary between past and present. Depending on the sources, found texts can really lend themselves to this. I also used lines from my own writing. Somewhere along the way, between moving bits of cut-up text around on the kitchen table, sticking them in my notebook, then typing them up, the poem achieved its form.

You can read the poem below. Better still, click here to read it on the library’s poetry blog, where you can find some amazing contributions by other poets.  Of the more recent ones, I really enjoyed Natan Barreto’s ‘To read a language / Ler uma lingua’.

It’s certainly worth looking at the library’s archive. It’s easy to search through and there’s a wide range of both historical and cinema images. If you feel inspired to write something in response, contact the library as they welcome new contributions.

Julie Mellor, I feel like we can talk about anything

I re-did two Misery poems today. I scrapped them because the collage/visual didn’t sit well, so I started over. It’s a fun thing to do because the text is done, only the visual has to be found.

Such rejigging is one of the reasons why over the past couple years I’ve bought four copies of Misery. It’s sometimes funny when I’m on a page about  protagonist Paul Sheldon’s “number 1 fan,” because if you look for the item I’ve purchased most often on Amazon it’s that book. You’d think I had a fetish.

Sarah J Sloat, Rejigs

I worry that people think they need to spend money in order to get better at writing and I really don’t believe that’s true – although some courses can be extremely helpful and the right workshop can spark many ideas and develop your creative practice.  There are excellent free resources available online, although you might have to spend time finding them, as well as some extremely good ‘how to’ books (available through libraries).   I learned so much by taking ModPo, I can’t recommend it enough.  There are other such courses to look out for, one of which is How to Make a Poem offered free from MMU via FutureLearn.

I wrote this post On not spending money (to learn to write poetry) a few years ago which gives some more suggestions.  As is often the way with blog posts, readers have also left some interesting and helpful comments at the end of the piece.

Having said all that, because I now have some spare cash and because I really like Ann and Peter Sansom who are running the Poetry Business Writing School – and whenever I’ve been in workshops with them, I’ve always produced something in my notebook which sooner or later has become a poem – I decided to apply for a place.

On top of that, I’ve also signed up for an online course taught by Paul Stephenson at The Poetry School – Channel Hopping: A French Exchange – “Writing ‘real’ poems inspired by France’s vibrant and diverse poetry scene.”  I’m  not sure if I’ve mentioned that I used to live in France (not that you need any knowledge of French to participate in this course) and I practise a tiny bit each day using the Duolingo app on my phone and computer.  So, this course really appealed to me – I’m looking forward to learning about contemporary French poets and their work and I imagine that Paul will be a hard-working, imaginative and fun teacher!

Josephine Corcoran, A student again

For I will consider my Kitten Ursula.

For she detests clocks and smashes them so I may no longer be ruled by Time.

For with supernatural quickness she jumps upon my plate and eats my breakfast eggs.

For all ping-pong has become Cat Pong, with Ursula perched upon the table the better to intercept each ball with unholy dexterity.

For I used to consider Poe a handful.

For she is teaching me many lessons by scratching them upon my hands in hieroglyphics.

For first she laps tea from my unattended cup.

For secondly she jumps upon Poe with her legs splayed then bites him on the neck while he meekly submits.

For thirdly however high we store the ping-pong balls she will find them, so don’t place them near vases or computers.

For fourthly I apologize, Christopher Smart, I am too exhausted by Ursula to continue this list you inspired.

Lesley Wheeler, For she is of the tribe of Tiger

[Vivian] Gornick talks about finding the other in the self and using that self-investigation to provide purpose and tension in an essay or memoir. But isn’t that also the case in poetry — is there not a crucial element of investigation, and aren’t we often asking questions of our selves? And must they not be so intimate that you, the reader, are also engaged in that self-same self-investigation, advertently or inadvertently? As Gornick puts it, “…a mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows…[t]he act of clarifying on the page….”

About this idea of “truth” in a piece: “Truth…is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to makeof what happened.” It seems to me this is as true in poetry as in any kind of literature.

Of course, this is not what all poets are about. Some are functioning on the surface of sound, or the whiteness of page and what can be played out there, or are at some other kind of poetic enterprise. So I admit maybe my thinking here is too narrow. I am writing about the kind of poetry I am trying to write, not the kind of poetry that is widely lauded in the contemporary world (poetry which makes me feel like there is some huge club all of whose members are speaking some secret language I have not been initiated in. I consider this a failing in myself.).

She talks about “looking for the inner context that makes a piece of writing larger than its immediate circumstance…” That’s the kind of poem I’m talking about.

Marilyn McCabe, If it’s not too late, make it a cheeeeseburger; or, Presenting the Self

I stole this from some stories you used to tell

something from beyond the memories
of great grandparents & 90s hard drives

a butterfly struggles flaps mad
through the yard

warm morning daguerreotype sunlight
& notes slipped past the censors

James Brush, Pen Pal

With my palms smeared in ash, I went to complete
what the fire began

The message to the gods coiled through the viscosity of air
hung between the two worlds

The universe is an elongated throat covetous of the farthest constellation
Call it home even when the meteors pulse
implode the cells in the brain.

Uma Gowrishankar, How a poem processes a terror attack

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Books, books, and more books! Writing them, reading them, collecting them: That’s what I found in my feed this week, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the inevitable effect of a long winter. Other themes included listening and therapy, vocabulary and rhythm, getting out and about, and learning from Sylvia Plath. Enjoy.


Alfred Edward Newton, author and book collector (Not to be confused with Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine fame)  is quoted as saying, “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  In this context, Tsundoku appears to be a positive thing. Alternatively, I have heard it used to describe book hoarding. The latter is a less flattering description of the pastime.

Let me say that  I am guilty of having more books that I have read. Or at least completed. I have a fairly extensive personal library. I make no bones about it. 

I confess that I love the feel of books. Not so much the feel of e-readers. I love the sight of books. And yes, I love the smell of books. […]

According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings, but the opposite.

Alberto Manguel puts it very lovingly – “I have no feelings of guilt regarding the books I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days.”  There may come a day in which I am no longer able to add books to my library. I hope that is not the case, But I keep reading. And yes, buying. For the time being.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tsundoku – Pronounced sun-do-ku / Illness or Healthy?

The man who’d died, Raimond, was a bibliophile. The majority of his books were in German so I skipped the novels and history and went for art and photography, though I did surrender to some particularly beautiful books, whether for the covers or subject or gothic font. I don’t have much shelf space left at home so I tried to be disciplined and discerning. I even turned my back on his ample poetry collection. 

I did give in to one small book, though. I felt like a voyeur leafing through something so personal, but in a flimsy floral notebook, Raimond had pasted poems he chose from newspapers and magazines. Some clippings were still bunched together at the back of the book. In pasting, he grouped a poet’s work together — there’d be two pages of Günter Eich, for example, before moving on to Sarah Kirsch, whom he obviously loved.

The notebook appealed to me because I have one in which I’ve done exactly the same thing. The difference is I pasted only one poem per page, accompanied by an image. I remember the hours spent carefully choosing and arranging, and enjoyed thinking of my kindred out there doing the same.

Sarah J. Sloat, The golden notebooks

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn’t arrive until January, but it’s finally signed. (Yay!) And now we’re moving into book cover stuff and that’s making everything feel more real.

Most of the first section of this manuscript was published as a chapbook by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2015, as Fabulous Beast: The Sow. Having that little book out in the world has meant so much to me — Margaret Bashaar, the editor, creates beautiful books and supports her authors with a tireless energy. I’ve been so grateful to be a Hyacinth Girl author, and I’ve been introduced to (both in-person and electronically, over social media) a supportive community of fellow poets through the press.

But now it’s really exciting to think of the second section, a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas (hahaha, it sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?) and the third section, poems employing the imagery of Norse and Greek myths, being out in the world, too. I worked so hard on this manuscript, and put so much time and energy (and yes, money) into submissions to various awards and calls for publication, it’s really gratifying to know the entire book will be a real-life object soon.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

Last autumn I pulled together a manuscript of poems written since my first collection was published. I know it takes a long time to find a home for a book of poetry. And since I can’t afford to submit it to publishing houses that charge reading fees or contest entry fees, the list of publishing houses I might approach is smaller. But I pulled up my optimism socks and sent it to my first choice, Grayson Books. This is the publishing house that included one of my poems in their beautiful Poetry of Presence anthology last year.

Their submission guidelines warn they only publish a few books each year, so I expected to send the manuscript along to another publisher after I got the inevitable rejection. I didn’t even open their emailed response right away in order to postpone the disappointment.

Instead I got an acceptance! (I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets.)

I am strange about my own good news, suddenly more shy, and have only told a few people since signing the book contract back in October. Each step of the process —- editing, choosing a title, approving art commissioned for the cover — has been a testament to the professionalism and patience of Grayson Books publisher Ginny Connors. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Laura Grace Weldon, My New Book!

So apparently, one of the magical transformations of midlife is that a poet can become a novelist. I have moments of elation about that, and moments of alarm. My turn to novels is a way bigger change than anything that’s happened in my writing life since I won a prize for Heterotopia ten years ago. It’s NOT a turn away from poetry, which is still very much at the center of my daily life, but it will be a turn away from traditional scholarship, I think. My novel, Unbecoming, and my next poetry collection, whose title I’m still fiddling with, will be out in 2020 (there’s a small chance of late 2019 for the novel, but I’m not banking on it). AND I have a book of poetry-based nonfiction, a hybrid of criticism and memoir, scheduled for 2021 (more details on that soon!).

Creative writing across the genres, full speed ahead!–I’ve been drafting a lot of micro-essays and some micro-fiction this winter. Reviewing, too. But I can’t do everything. And I know where my heart lies.

Learning to write a novel has been hard and surprising and wonderful, but now I have to learn about publishing one. PLUS do my best job ever at getting the word out about my new poetry collection, simultaneously, while revising the essay collection. It’s a lot. I anticipate a big pivot next year from the introversion of writing/ revision/ submission work to the extroversion required for traveling, reading, guest-teaching, panel-surfing, and all the other stuff. Some of it at SF conventions! And all this will happen right at my empty nest moment–this is also the winter of helping my son get college applications out and waiting for the verdicts. I mean, really–what’s the appropriate cheerful-but-scared expletive for THAT?

Lesley Wheeler, Change of (literary) life

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2019

It’s not a social norm–real listening. Despite the recognition that human beings are social animals that require communication, despite the recognition that “talk therapy” (which at its foundation employs active listening) and writing therapy can heal broken psyches,  even though many studies over decades have demonstrated how relationships rely upon partners’ openness to listening–listening stays a bit unconventional.

So many people think listening is passive. No, it is an active verb. Bombarded with information from numerous sources, the processes of discerning what one should listen to get tattered and confused. Our brains want to chunk information, to ignore, to elide, to suppress and glean and separate the various threads so the mind can prioritize.

Listening is difficult.

~

William Carlos Williams famously claims it’s difficult to get the news from poetry–and, in the same poem, he asks us (by way of Flossie, his wife) to listen:
…Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.

the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
[I am not html-savvy enough to code the spacing of this poem on my blog, but you can find it here (p. 20) or here; the excerpts are from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”]

Ann E. Michael, Hear me out

[…]
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams. […]

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

And around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

Christine Swint, Nests in the Wall

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents’ retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It’s a new and selected collection, and wow–what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It’s been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter–what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

[…] Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Feed

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.

Marilyn McCabe, Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was reading my Christmas present, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, when I came across a mention of syllabic verse. Plath’s poem “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor” is written in stanzas of seven lines, each line containing seven syllables. In a letter to her brother Warren, dated June 11, 1958, she writes about the poem and the form she used:

“This is written in what’s known as ‘syllabic verse’, measuring lines not by heavy & light stresses, but by the numberof syllables, which here is 7: I find this form satisfactorily strict (a pattern varying the number of syllables in each line can be set up, as M. Moore does it) and yet it has a speaking illusion of freedom (which the measured stress doesn’t have) as stresses vary freely.” (247) 

According to The Handbook of Poetic Terms (every writer should have one on her desk), “Writing in syllables is a terrific way to ‘even out’ a poem, and is useful also to writers who feel stymied when deciding where to break their lines.”

For a poet whose “mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places,” to quote Dan Chiasson’s review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, which appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of the New Yorker, this “satisfactorily strict” form worked very well.

I just tried this with a recent poem. It started as a free-verse poem, then morphed into a prose poem, but is now a series of bouncy, mostly seven-syllable lines. I like the odd breaks this form imposes, and I think it gives the poem a kind of energetic forward motion it didn’t have before. 

Give syllabic verse a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Erica Goss, Syllabic Verse

A few days with cold rain and a cold have given me time to catch up on my reading, specifically Virginia Woolf’s letters and now I’m dead in the middle of Sylvia Plath’s letters, Volume II. I thought this quote might have about today’s poetry publishing world, instead of 1959’s:

Here’s a quote regarding not getting the Yale Younger Prize in Summer, 1959:
“I am currently quite gloomy about this poetry book of about 46 poems, 37 of them published (and all written since college, which means leaving out lots of published juvenalia.) I just got word from the annual Yale Contest that I “missed by a whisper” and it so happened that a louse of a guy I know I know personally, who writes very glib light verse with no stomach to them, won, and he lives around the corner & is an editor at a good publishing house here, and I have that very annoying feeling which is tempting to write off as sour grapes that my book was deeper, if more grim, and all those other feelings of thwart. I don’t want to try a novel until I feel I am writing good salable short stories for the simple reason that the time, sweat and tears involved in a 300-page book which is rejection all round is too large to cope with while I have the book of Poems kicking about. Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don’t have pure motives (O-it’s-such-fun-I-just-can’t-stop-who-cares-if-it’s-published-or-read) about writing. It is more fun to me, than it was when I used to solely as a love-and-admiration-getting mechanism (bless my psychiatrist.) But I still want to see it ritualized in print.”

(She’s referring to George Starbuck, a neo-formalist who went on to run the Iowa Writers Workshop and may have had CIA connections…please read Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers to learn more about the CIA’s deep connections to the literary world and all we hold dear…Oh Sylvia, if you had only known how deep the cronyism and favoritism went back then for male writers…you might have been less bitter, but maybe not.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Winter Witch Arrives in Seattle, New Poem up at Gingerbread House Lit, Queen Anne and More Sylvia Plath, and Looking Towards Spring

In terms of poetry, things are going great. A poem I wrote for Malala is part of a multi-art performance in March. I was asked at a candlelight vigil for a murdered police officer. I was asked to read at a city council meeting, a county board of supervisors meeting, and for Martin Luther King day. Original, new poems for everyone. Also, I was part of a poets-on-posters project for downtown. I want to do a broadside project, and I seem to raised the funds for it.

I have been trying to cut down my time on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t really good for my Buddhist practice; at least it feels that way. I am trying to cut down to just posting my poetry links (to my blog and event notices), but like an addict I get pulled back in. Working on it.

“Hi, I’m James, and I am a social media addict.”

My work with the homeless shelter has been affected by my health, but I am still on the board of directors and doing what I can. I can only be on my feet for so long at a time.

What else? I’ve been focusing on shorter poems with an emphasis on place, using Basho and Li Po as my prototypes. For years I did deeper image, somewhat ecstatic poems, and every so often one comes up, but I enjoy this a lot more. Very satisfying, these little things.

James Lee Jobe, journal update: 31 January 2019

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer’s Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you’re there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM’s daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days–Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, David Menconi’s Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour’s Sick–lounging whenever I could by the Betsy’s rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I’m working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Sandra Beasley, January Tidings

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw poetry bloggers continuing to write about Mary Oliver, as well as reacting to current and celestial events. There were posts about creativity and overcoming writer’s block, reviews, philosophical reflections… the whole mix. I should mention that I am slowly becoming more selective as I continue to add more blogs to my feed. It’s a good thing most people don’t post every day, as Luisa and I do here at Via Negativa! That would be nuts. Anyway, Enjoy.


Those of us who are still here: we are still, always arriving.  We’re not in the Promised Land, that’s for sure.  All we can really do, is to be in the becoming.  Still, always arriving.  We’ve been still, always arriving since we left the ennui of Paradise. We throw questions, try to dominate, cure. We try to stare down the enemy though, as if in a mirror, we’ll see our own face in its acts of aggression.  Learning to love the questions themselves, rather than the answers relaxes the drive to conquer. As King said, mental freedom, illumination can move things. 

Today also on the Jewish calendar: Tu B’Shevat, festival of the trees. Today trees are sheathed in ice in New England. The sap is there, held in tension, in suspense, waiting, always arriving.

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

I don’t know about you, but I process confusion by getting my ass into a chair and my pencil onto a page. So when the video of the young man staring down the Native elder surfaced, I watched it and paid close attention to the emotions that rose to the surface in my body. I didn’t respond on social media. In fact, it didn’t take too long for me to stop looking at social media altogether on the issue. I wrote about it in my notebook. […]

When I taught high school, I spent a lot of time choosing novels that I hoped would expand my students’ empathy, help them walk in another’s life for awhile, break down some of the barriers. That’s what literature and poetry does best, it shows us how it is to be another person. I remember how hard it was for my students in a small town in Alaska to really put themselves into the place of Ishmeal Beah in A Long Way Gone or Amir in The Kite Runner. But when they succeeded, the transformation was permanent. They could not go back to their own small lives without carrying some of the lives of other people who were different than them…. and the same as them.

When I write, I try to offer my reader that same chance to step into the poem. “Did you lose someone to Alzheimer’s? Was it like this?” I offered in Every Atom. “Are you lost and looking for the way some god might be all around you? Does it feel this way?” I wondered in Boundaries.

Recently, I look at my new poems and think I am asking, “Do you love the world? Are you open to the way the crow flies across the cold sand? Are you willing to listen for the soft compression of wings on air?”

“Are you ready to have faith that what you call other is only you on a different day?”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

So I am up and out the door. But the blood moon has rolled over and pulled the thin blanket of clouds with it. The sky reflects a sickly orange spill from the green houses in Bore.

I feel that I’ve written that sentence before. I’ve written about how we impose on the world.

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

Sporadic hail through the tree branches.
The dog tugging the lead,
still unlearning to hunt. 

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.

Christine Swint, Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

Ever since my daughter planted cover crops in the fall of 2016, I’ve been fascinated by winter rye. How tall and glorious it grows. The subtle colors of its ears. The Catcher in the Rye, and the delicious homophone with wry.

Although it’s almost February, I finally ordered the seeds, and this morning went out to plant. […]

And while I’m out in the dirt, I have time to think about writing, think about how messiness gives the eye and the mind nooks and crannies to explore. How it feels to dig in and turn over, to break the blockages apart, to weed through the words. How the rake finds new roots and clumps get rid of. Sometimes I get an idea for a poem.

This morning, I thought about how I’ve been working on a poem that complains about those people who say home-baked bread can’t be “from scratch” if you don’t grow your own wheat–and here I was planting rye! And I thought about how it’s better to experiment–and risk failure–in a poem, just as this rye patch may fail. This might be the shortest diary ever. We’ll see.

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

It’s been two snow & ice storms, four poems submitted to one venue, plane tickets to AWP19 bought,  more presidential candidates announcing than I can remember, lots of reading and lots of writing since my last confession. […]

Going through another of those writing funks where I am not happy with much of what I put on a page. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened and I confess that I am well aware that it will happen again. I’m writing a lot trying to push through it. It’s the only way I know to get back on track. Still, it is frustrating when this happens and you wonder if you will ever put another poem on a page that you are happy with.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Federal Workers on My Mind

We can get so hung up on not writing that it makes us anxious and can block us. In a recent issue of Mslexia, poet Tara Bergin says that to combat the terrible fear of starting a poem, instead of saying “You’re going to write a poem tomorrow”, she leaves post- it notes for herself that say things like, “Read such and such an article and take notes” and other notes reminding her to read different things. This means she’s always got something to do and is not failing because she isn’t compiling an actual poem. I did something like this on the long haul towards my PhD – lots of notes to self on my desk, in books and on my phone.

My insomnia is a thing I don’t necessarily like but have come to accept. so in the particularly fevered early hours of PhD days, I made it a thousand times worse by making visual Insomniascapes on my phone -tiny images of me placed in surreal landscapes, or just the landscapes themselves. These were places I knew and ran or walked around to clear my head or to think more but the various apps made them nightmarish. This was possibly a useful kind of displacement. I’ll never really know. Maybe I ought to write poems to accompany them. Even though I wasn’t writing words there but I was still “writing”. The practice was connected with certain emotional and psychological states and was undoubtedly a creative one which was linked with writing.

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

It’s been really helpful to read these posts by poets writing about how they find their way into poems:  Writing” Towards Writing by Pam Thompson and fearless creating by Julie Mellor.  As well as containing useful and practical advice, the posts are a comforting reminder that I’m not alone in finding writing hard going at times.  I have a poem that’s been kicking around for months.  It’s there because I realised that another poem I was writing was really two poems.  So I managed to finish poem one but had these scraps of ideas, lines and words for the second poem.  I suppose it’s something like knitting a jumper and finding there’s some good wool left over that it would be a shame to waste.  Or realising you bought too much expensive wool and that it would be plain wrong to leave it lying around going to ruin.  Do you understand the kind of nagging feeling I’m left with?  All January it’s been going on and January hasn’t been the best of months to begin with!

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

I’ve been experimenting with combining sketching and poetry writing, and last night, I took a larger leap.  I had been looking at an old manuscript, and I was intrigued by some of the images (not all of them mine–I can trace at least two of them back to this poem by Luisa Igloria).  I started with those images and wrote the words of the poem.  Then I sketched a bit.  […]

These new creative directions come with questions.  Do the poems work without the image?  Is there a market for these poem-like things with images?  As I continue to do them, will a narrative arc emerge?  As images continue to make an appearance, should I read anything into them?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

Day Three: Thursday, Jan. 24:  This day began later than the others thanks to a dentist appointment. (Apparently, after 40 everything falls apart, even if you’ve been taking relatively good care of your teeth.) I could still sip coffee with half my jaw shot up with Novocaine, so I trekked to Starbucks despite the late start.

Sure, it’s totally a cliche to be a writer working in any coffeehouse, let alone Starbucks, but cut this working mom of three some slack, okay? At $6 a day for coffee and a bottle of water (+ tip), with free WiFi and a corner seat next to an outlet, plus the ability to focus for three solid hours without the distractions of home or the office, it’s probably the most convenient and cheapest residency a poet-mom can get.

And even — or maybe because — I’d arrived later in the day, I stayed later too, (the Starbucks baristas must love my loitering ass) and finished a solid draft of the review. I concentrated on the beginning and writing about all of the parts of Esperanza and Hope that make it worth reading and found quotes to demonstrate and by the end of the day I was over-caffeinated, under-fed, and more than a little grumpy as a result, but very satisfied that I finished the week with a completed piece of work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

Delighted to receive my copy of “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” a new short story published by Faber & Faber that Sylvia Plath wrote when she was 20 years old, and Mademoiselle rejected. She didn’t work on the story again for two years, and when she did, she diminished the mystery and darkness of it. A reminder that we, as writers, often let editors guide what and how we write way too often – and just because something is rejected, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. She was just way ahead of her time. This story seems today, Murakami-esque, in the school of magical realism or symbolism – some resemblances to the story of Snowpiercer, in fact – at the time, it must have been very surprising reading indeed. I wish she had been encouraged to write more short fiction – this piece shows she had a real talent for it. One more lesson from Sylvia: don’t let editors discourage you from writing something different, or something people haven’t seen before. Or, in modern parlance, F&ck the haters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Midwinter Sun, Four New Poems up at Live Encounters, Spy Animals, and Plath’s New Book

One thing that is interesting about reading some of the lesser-known or recently translated Tang poets (e.g. Meng Chiao, Li He, Li Shangyin) is the realization that, beyond the Li Po–Tu Fu–Wang Wei axis, not all of the Chinese poets were as focused on the clarity of the image the way these (and some others) often were.  From the standpoint of English-language poetics, we tend to see Li Po, through Ezra Pound’s translations, as the avatar of imagism, though he also wrote poems of mystic journeys that veer into the surreal and dreamlike.  […]  But the emphasis on the imagist “thing” has until recently tended to leave a lot of other Tang-era poets out of picture.  A. C. Graham began to remedy that somewhat in his Poems of the Late T’ang (1965), and in recent years, further translations of individual poets have been more frequently published.

The latest of these is the work of Li Shangyin (813-858), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts (New York Review Books, 2018).  This volume includes not only Roberts’s translation of approximately 50 pages of Li’s poetry (with facing original Chinese), but also the versions by Graham and some by Lucas Klein (most of which are duplicate poems, making for interesting comparisons).  Li’s style is at times naturalistic and imagistic, but more often allusive, metaphorical, and, like Li He’s, surreal.  His work has historically been considered extremely obscure or, as Roberts puts it in her introduction, “unknowable and elusive . . . almost baroque, opulently layered with distinct mythological, historical, personal, and symbolist imagery” (xi).  This, of course, makes him difficult to translate. […]

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

At dawn, use clouds
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

I’m thinking of the whole complicated continuum from Pastoral poetry to the current imbroglio of ‘eco/environmental poetry’. I’ve been wrestling with this ever since I read Yvonne Reddick’s tour de force of exegesis in Ted Hughes: environmentalists and eco poet. I think I lost my way in the second chapter in which she summarises the sects and subsects of ecopoetry criticism: the topological, the tropological, the entropological and the ethnological. There are probably more by now, but they didn’t help me to entangle what I think of as ‘nature’, living as we do in a land where every metre has been named, walked, farmed, exploited, fenced, walled, built on, abandoned and reclaimed. All I know is that is if we continue degrade the ecological balances of the world it will die. The earth will get over that. It doesn’t care. It’s already gone through four major extinctions, not least being the one caused by the emergence of oxygen in the free atmosphere. It doesn’t care for us. But it seems obvious that we need to care for it if we care anything for ourselves.

When it comes to poetry that concerns itself with the natural world (and I’ll strenuously avoid that capitalised cliche Nature) I guess my first big eye-opener was Raymond Williams’ The country and the city which was my introduction to the idea that words like that are culturally constructed, and go on being deconstructed and reconstructed. Very little of the poetry we were given at school concerned itself with the city and the urban. It was pastoral, nostalgic and often sentimental . Poems like ‘The deserted village’. Poems like ‘Daffodils’. It took me a long time to work out why I distrusted ‘Daffodils’ but the clue’s in the first line:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

The first word; I. It’s not about daffodils, is it? It’s about the poet and what the daffodils can do for him as he wanders (ie purposelessly) and lonely (ie in self-elected solitariness) as a cloud (ie diffuse and without responsibility). It’s what I thought of when I heard Gormley’s phrase ‘ a pre-narcissistic art’. He did a revolutionary thing, Wordsworth. It’s a shame this poem is what he’s chiefly remembered for by folk who aren’t that interested in poetry. He opened our eyes to a power and loveliness beyond the bounds of a predominantly urban and urbane culture.

John Foggin, Green thoughts, and a Polished Gem: Alison Lock

“Nature poets” can be fierce, asserting the need for stewardship of our blue planet; poets who write happiness well understand–and convey–that pain and sorrow remain our companions in life. That does not mean a focus-on-the-positive Pollyanna attitude. No–to compose poems that show us we have every reason to love what we encounter takes bravery, because we so often fear what the world offers. To do so takes deep acknowledgment of suffering, not just a glancing nod, but compassion. The poet may not “behave well” in his or her own life but has the practiced gift of observation and enough craft to show the reader difficult perspectives.

Sometimes, gladness and optimism and beauty get obscured by experience and griefs. Next time that happens, maybe turn to poems?

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

I just finished listening to the podcast “On Being with Krista Tippet” where Tippet interviews Mary Oliver. I am still in the glow of Ms. Oliver’s voice, her words, her generosity. It originally aired in October 2015 and so was conducted in the last years of her life when she had left Provincetown, Massachusetts after the death of her longterm partner, Molly Malone Cook.

One of the many things that I jotted down while listening to Oliver is:  “Poetry wishes for a community.” She also spoke about “the writer’s courtship” and the importance of creating time and space in one’s life to write — preferably while being outdoors. […]

Here is what I know: poetry needs community; it thrives when poets come together to write, to share ideas, to acknowledge the poetic voice in one another. These retreats always leave me feeling nourished. I do not know what I would do alone in a garret unless I had my poetry community to gather with in early autumn and late winter.

Susan Rich, Poetry Wishes for a Community — Mary Oliver, Poets on the Coast, and Groundhog Day Writing Retreat.

I’ve been reading about the art of wood carving in David Esterly’s fascinating The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making. The author said several things of interest to me as a writer.

Here’s one that echoes Rilke’s idea of “being only eye,” that is, looking at something so intimately that “self” consciousness falls away but something of the deeper self rises up. Esterly writes:

“Once I gave lessons in foliage carving. I proposed to the students that we reject the idea that carving should be a means for self-expression…The assignment would be to carve a laurel leaf, a leaf of extreme simplicity. I asked the students to throw themselves entirely into the leaf, seek its essence and express only that, putting aside their personalities and carving only with hands and eyes…At the end of the day? There were eight individual leaves, some more compelling than others, but each distinct from all the rest…Trying to express the leaf, the carvers inadvertently had expressed themselves. But it was…a self-expression…from a union with their subject.”

I talk about this a bit when I lead writing workshops at an area art museum. I ask people to give themselves over to looking, and then, by challenging them to write constantly in a timed session, invite the inadvertent utterance onto the page. In this way we give ourselves the chance to surprise ourselves.

Marilyn McCabe, Whittle While You Work; or, Considering Wood Carving and Writing

The passing of Mary Oliver, and the subsequent news articles and social media messages about her, made me realize something about contemporary poetry. There’s so little joy in much of it.

The range of emotions and experience available for poets is limitless, yet the predominant themes in journals and books makes it seem like poets choose to spend more of their energy on the darker side of the spectrum. Now there’s a lot to be depressed about today and a lot to be upset about. Clearly social and political issues influence, and sometimes dominate many poets’ work. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Good writing, whether it concerns tragedy, anger, sorrow or grief, is still good writing. And as I said in a previous post, pain lends a poem a kind of emotional energy that’s useful for a poem. In fact, I think negative emotions are easier to drive than positive ones. But that doesn’t mean that every poem has to feel like a gut punch.

Grant Clauser, It’s Not All Misery: What Mary Oliver Taught Us About Joy

When the moon turned red, so many more stars appears and everything had that crisp look which is hard to explain but the night sky felt as if someone had used the “sharpen” tool in Photoshop, making sure each pinprick of light was detailed and perfectly placed.

As the eclipse went on, I thought–I should be writing. I have this weird superstition about monumental moments–New Year’s Eve, lunar eclipse, birthdays, solstice, Day of the Dead, etc–that I should be writing on these days because it’s a nod to the universe that yes, this is my passion and if you see me writing on these days, it means it’s what I should be doing with my life (and hey universe, if you see this, send me some good luck and inspiration too). 

I realize this doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a strange belief I’ve carried since I was younger. On New Year’s, let me start the year by reading a poem or writing one, on my birthday, let me be laughing so it carries on through the year.

But during the lunar eclipse, I realized that even though I wasn’t physically writing a poem, I was experience one. I was in the middle of a poem looking out. Insert shooting star. Insert the moment you hear your neighbors laugh because they are out on their patio with a drink watching as well. Insert telescope zooming on a crater. 

I now want to write the poem to create the feeling I had on Sunday. I want to be lost in a poem and not know it’s a poem. Maybe that’s life. Maybe it’s when we’re mindful. Maybe this is something I need to think about more when the reader is reading my poem, is she lost in the poem and looking out, shooting star filled, or is she just lost? 

Who knows if we are the poet or our life is the poem? Who cares to find out?

Kelli Russell Agodon, During the Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse, I Find Myself in a Poem

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 50

poet bloggers revival tour 2018
poet bloggers revival tour 2018

A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Many poetry blogs are falling silent—’tis the season—but a surprising number of new posts have appeared in my feed reader this week regardless. If they have anything in common, it’s a more contemplative tone. As if the long nights are leading many of us to turn inward. Or maybe it’s just an end-of-year, taking-stock kind of thing.

Speaking of taking stock, whither the revival tour in 2019? This digest will probably continue in some form regardless, but I’m wondering how people who revived their blogging practice this year feel about it? Now that the old band has completed one more tour, is it time to  throw in the towel?

Whenever I’m writing I’m also fully, hyper-aware that there are other responsibilities I’m ignoring; at these points, I try to remember all of those interviews with writers and artists I’ve read (and taught!) that stress the necessity of making your writing time “intractable and nonnegotiable.” 

This semester, I’ve been MUCH better about keeping writing time sacred, but once again everything fell apart at the end of the term, from writing to exercising to eating well to getting enough sleep.

One more week, tho. And then final grades in, and then holidays and some travel to Virginia, and then maybe, maybe, writing and running and rest. Maybe.

And on a last note: This is my three hundredth post for this blog . . . since. . .  2011? I’ll have to fact check that. Anyway. I don’t know what that means. I whine at the internet a lot, I suppose. Thanks for absorbing my panic and myopia, Interwebs! Yer the best!

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Mother of the Year, Teacher of the Year, and Other Awards I’m Not Earning

Yesterday we had quite an adventure! We had been planning to go to Copper Canyon‘s Holiday party and book release for Ursula Le Guin’s final poetry collection. But an hour before we planned to leave, I started hearing branches hitting the window, and the power went out. Then we had to eat dinner without power or light (hard), dress (harder), and do makeup (hardest by far), which was exciting. The Hugo House still had power (although I heard later 100,000 people ended up losing power throughout the area) so we set out in our car with branches and even whole trees down on both sides of us, wind whipping our car around on the Floating Bridge, and when we got there, I could barely stand up against the wind, let alone walk! […]

The readers did a wonderful job with their tribute to Ursula, including Karen FinneyfrockJane Wong, and fellow Two Sylvias author Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. One person talked about a memorial where Margaret Atwood said Ursula had “the best dragons in fiction” and Jane Wong talked about feeding our inner dragons lettuce, which was such a wonderful image.

People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination

I was very moved, and remembered the gigantic windstorm that hit the night about ten years ago that I heard Ursula read poetry on the Oregon Coast and talk about science fiction poetry years ago in Oregon. She insisted women science fiction writers should not be placed in a literary ghetto, that speculative poetry should not be considered non-literary, and that poetry should not be ignored and women should not be ignored – she was very feisty! And there was a giant wall of glass facing the outdoors, and it kept banging with thunder and wind, but it seemed to accompany her, not compete. She was a force of nature that deserved the tribute of the storm.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry Parties, Windstorms and Power Outages, and Ursula Le Guin’s Dragons

There are rumors of big cats. I’ve seen two elk—
one stared through me as if she knew my secrets, the other,
roadkill. You once told me my poems are too grim

and I should try my hand at something more pastoral.
I’ve seen powdered snow on Cedars, and I’ve grown
passably fond of rain. Everyday, the clouds amaze.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Powers that Be

Two years ago, I wrote a post overflowing with admiration for a January Gill O’Neil poem and then added a prompt to go with it on this site.  What unmitigated joy to see this same poem in the brand new pages of Rewilding, just out from Cavaan Kerry Press.

If Sharon Olds and Robert Hayden had a love child, I think it would be January O’Neil. She employs the smooth, shiny surface of a Sharon Olds poem with the more emotionally nuanced and extended outlook of poet Robert Hayden (think “Water Lillies” and “Those Winter Sundays”). [Click through to read two poems from the book.]

Susan Rich, Best Holiday Present for Poets: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil

As writers, we put a lot of focus on producing – writing poems or prose pieces, editing, editing again, editing one more time (at least), then getting those polished pieces out the door and hopefully published. Of course, the point of all that work is to share. And in a world where we can post links to thousands of others via social media, we certainly hope that we are sharing, but it’s hard to know how many people are really reading. If they are reading, are they delving into the piece, sitting with it? Or is the writing just getting a cursory glance on the way to work/school/daycare pickup/grocery shopping, etc.?

Given all that, what a pleasure to take an evening and do with poems what we are meant to do – enjoy them. Everyone around the table loved writing, and found profound emotional connections in certain pieces. So, for the price of admission (which was nothing! you can sit around a table with your friends absolutely for free!) we got a curated reading. We shared some of our own pieces, and we shared the pieces that keep us inspired. Amazing poetry and CNF, chosen by writers forwriters. Adrian Bleins, Maggie Deets, Jill McDonough, Ross Gay, Diane Seuss, Hayden Carruth, Jack Gilbert, J. Robert Lennon, Ted Kooser. Every piece made your breath catch in your throat. Every piece made you want more.

So let’s bring back the salon. Get some friends together. Have coffee, tea, an adult beverage if you like. Ask everyone to bring a few pieces of writing that just knock their proverbial socks off, and read to each other.

Bring Back the Salon – guest blog post by Sonja Johanson (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I have been looking for a poem to read at the memorial of the young man who died recently. Death is supposed to be the subject matter best suited to poets, and the obvious purview of poetry, but after perusing many poems on the topic, I’m now convinced that most poets don’t know how to write about it very effectively. We are good at writing about our personal pain and our own cynicism and our clever detachment from both, but as a group, I’m not convinced that we have much of a grip on the topic of death. The two groups of poets who I find write about death the most effectively and clear-headedly are physicians and war veterans, and I don’t know of many who are poets. I wish that more doctors and vets wrote poetry, but alas, that is not the case, and I think that’s a huge loss. Their insights count at least as much as English majors with pricey MFA’s. We need to design poetry workshops specifically for docs and vets. I’m fully up to spearhead this. Who’s with me??

Kristen McHenry, The Problem with Poetry, Get After It, Bad Cat Redux

I have been making my way slowly through Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Slowly because it is tough stuff, both the — what should I call it? theology? the study of his own faith/God/self-in-God?, and the intensity of it: a dying man sending dispatches from the edge.

Diagnosed with a rare and fitful disease, Wiman has been dragging himself through years of treatment sometimes as ravaging as the disease, approaching death only to have death pull away, only to catch up to it again, like some long drag race in the desert. Throughout much of it he has been trying to make sense of his call toward God or Christ or some ineffable -ness that is not captured by the wan word “religion,” with its weight of institutions and hierarchies.

Marilyn McCabe, Postcards from the Edge; or, On Reading Wiman’s My Bright Abyss

My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live! I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her  first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping to make them heard and remembered — while also providing insight into current events, environmentalism, and her own personal experiences as a woman in the world.

I loved this collection of poetry, which was so moving in how it addressed intense subject matters. Her words are lyrical, vivid, and enriched with a playful examination of language, the way mean slips depending on perspective and how language can be a powerful tool. These poems help to give voice to women whose stories are not commonly told. It’s beautifully done.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon

My friends liked me because I listened to them. One of them referred to me as her psychologist. Through these young women, I learned about love, lust, yearning, sex, educational aspirations, the behaviors of men, family stresses, jobs, career hopes, personal values, fears, thrills, recreational drugs, alcohol, birth control, popular music, dancing, concert-going, lies, mistakes, and heartbreak. The only thing I can think of that has taught me as much is the reading of books, particularly poems, novels, and memoirs.

Years later, I asked my parents whether they ever felt concerned about my choice of friends. Did they ever worry that these young people were somehow bad influences on me? My dad paused a moment, thoughtful, and answered, “I don’t think we ever worried about your friends being bad influences on you. I kind of thought you were maybe a good influence on them.” I’m not sure that’s accurate; but looking back, perhaps my parents, or my family, presented a positive “model” for my friends who endured much more challenging home lives and had less support for education, career, and independent futures. And most of them have grown up to have successful lives–but that’s not because of me.

Four or five years ago I found myself reminiscing through writing poems; it was quite accidental on my part, and initially just a response to a Bruce Springsteen song. Influences: popular song, teen friends, the suburban environment of my youth. I ended up with at least 40 poems, of which there may be enough good ones to make up a chapbook collection someday. [In 2014, I blogged a bit about the project here.] I call them my Barefoot Girls poems. They provide, I suppose, one aspect to answering the question posed in my last blog. My friends’ experiences, flowing through me.

Ann E. Michael, More on influences

Travel completely engages me when I’m there, and then feels almost unreal when return to my own space. And yet, flight makes those sudden shifts in reality possible. I wouldn’t call it disorienting, per se, but it is certainly strange to find yourself inhabiting an image like the one above, that you’ve seen in countless sources, from textbooks to travel videos. We don’t go on tours but figure out our itinerary and plans completely from scratch, and unexpected things happen, so during the trips we always feel like we’re very heads-up, paying sharp attention; there’s a high level of intensity. I try hard to really be in a place — to feel it and engage with it with all my senses as well as my mind — and not just be a person behind a camera, capturing moments like trophies. It takes time to think about a significant journey and to see what I’ve learned and how it has changed me; I’m doing that now and will be doing it for quite a long time. And I already want to go back. There were good reasons why, as a young girl, Greece got under my skin. I see that better now, and am glad I wasn’t disappointed by being face to face with the real thing. Yet I also see that I made the right decision to live a less linear and more personally creative life; it was a better fit with who I really am, but in many ways, it has been a reflection of the values and ideals that attracted me to the Greeks in the first place. As a woman, I’m lucky I live now, though, instead of back then.

Beth Adams, Home from a Journey

My twenties were fine, full of a lot of learning experiences, including quitting college to follow a boy to the Caribbean, buying a home at the top of the market, right before the bottom fell away, and a short-lived, ill-fated marriage. With a bit of serendipity, I got out of the house (at a huge loss but ce la vie) and my divorce was finalized a month before I turned thirty which meant I started my thirties as a whole different person. And my thirties have been great, I really felt like I became the person I was supposed to be and I checked off a bunch of milestones too – I found a career I liked, was good at, and started getting paid well for doing it. I bought a condo and when I sold it five years later, it wasn’t at a loss. I started taking my writing seriously and published two chapbooks and applied to an MFA program. I traveled to places I’d always dreamed of visiting. I found a partner and we married. We bought a house and two cars. I’m in a great book club, I have a great group of friends. In short, my thirties have turned me into a bonafide adult. So if my thirties have been so great, why do I feel so strange about entering my forties?

Courtney LeBlanc, Aging

Because it was an early night, I got up in the wee, small hours of the morning.  I’ve been reading a variety of interesting things, working on a poem that weaves together the cracking of the older Arctic ice and home repairs/grading/writing, putting together a poem submission for the Tampa Review–in other words, the kind of morning I like best.

I loved this piece at the On Being blog.  It’s full of wisdom and ideas for writing and heartbreaking observations.  This bit led to some interesting research on both Wittgenstein and Spinoza:  “For a time, I required my students to write a Wittgensteinian essay: Start with one idea. Notice where it goes. Number each idea. Keep them short. Don’t worry if you hop around. Read and play with what emerges. It may take a while to understand what you are trying to say. To yourself.”

He also makes lots of spiritual connections:  “I discovered that the Desert Fathers and other ascetics employed this approach. They sought a way to move from contemplative sense to paper. Sometimes they called what they wrote a century: 100 pieces of heart-sourced inklings. Heart to hand to ink. Follow what comes. Only the numbers seem orderly. Like prayer.”

I am interested in the composition of these short pieces.  I also stumbled across this site which talks about the writing practice of William Stafford.  He, too, began his writing day by writing a short observation:  “Some prose notes from a recent experience, a few sentences about a recent connection with friends, an account of a dream. This short passage of ‘throwaway’ writing, it turns out, is very important, as it keeps the pen moving and gets the mind sniffing along through ‘ordinary’ experience. You are beginning the act of writing without needing to write anything profound. No struggle, no effort, no heroic reach. Just writing.”

This morning, I also went outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of a meteor in these waning days of the Geminid meteor shower.  No luck.  I stood on the sidewalk, looking up and looking at the 3 small trees that lit up my front windowsill.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wittgensteinian Wanderings

Maybe I need to blog about poetic self-doubt more often. As soon as I did, my luck seemed to shift under my feet. I had been doing math some of you have surely done, too: I’ve been showing the ms around for a while now. What if this poetry collection I thought was so great doesn’t strike any editors the same way? The poems have done well in magazines, but what would I do with the larger structure, with its support beams and fancy finials, if no press wanted I genuinely wanted to work with returned my affections? Keep trying while I write another one, I realized.

I don’t feel that way about literary criticism; blogging about poetry is fun and I care very much about boosting the poetry that inspires me, but there’s no way I’d keep writing footnoted articles if no one wanted to publish them. I’ll write the best poetry I can for as long as I can, however. It’s work I love desperately. Returning to it after occasional absences, with renewed interest, joy, and creative ambition–that’s been one of the deepest rhythms of my adult life.

Then a piece of fan mail popped up from Molly Sutton Kiefer at Tinderbox Editions, to whom I sent the ms a year ago. Submittable still said “In Progress” but I figured she’d given it a pass. Au contraire. She loved the book. Was it still available?

Lesley Wheeler, Pleased as punch (with recipe)

Q~Your partner is also a writer. What’s that like?

A~Mostly, it’s good! Chris is a scholar of comics who has started working in visual modes, so he and I started collaborating this year. Our first poetry comic was just accepted by Split Lip Magazine, and that’s giving me delusions of hipsterism. It’s called “Made for Each Other,” which sounds romantic, but it’s about ambivalent, aging, gender-ambiguous robots, so it addresses marriage from a pretty strange slant. He’s also my first reader and a very helpful one. One tougher aspect of two writers making a life together: it was hard for two desperate writers to negotiate time when the kids were little. And now that our youngest is about to fly the coop, I’m worried that he and I will have to work hard NOT to work hard all the time, just out of sadness and confusion. We were so time-starved for so long.

Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler (Bekah Steimel’s blog)