Sarah Kain Gutowski

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.

This week, poets have been blogging about friendship and community, cross-media inspiration, how to measure productivity, how to handle disability as a writer, and (of course) much more. My favorite quote of the week comes from Ren Powell: “Sometimes just let the fox be a fox.”

Everything I say is, was.
Everything. It’s all in
round numbers. The date

you began. The date
you weren’t. Ages, years, gifts.
“I feel moved,” you began, then

spun on wheels whirling like
laughter, curved like smiles,
round as eyes. It was
a piece of everything.

In memoriam, Carl A. Larkins, 1948-2018
PF Anderson, Like You

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I have very precise memories of the first four books of poetry I owned, three of which have been mentioned a few times in these blog posts. First was Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles, bought for 2p from a jumble sale at my junior school; second and third were related to my A-Level English class, The Poems of Thomas Hardy and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems. The latter two were my first influences — I spent two years trying to write poetry with Hardy’s gloomy perspective on life. Then came Blue Shoes by Matthew Sweeney.

Blue shoes was a present from my parents. They knew I was enjoying the poetry I was studying and that I’d started writing my own, and so they picked out Blue Shoes for me. Goodness knows why they picked that particular book from the poetry section of whichever bookshop in Harrogate it was but I am very glad they did.

Blue Shoes was published by Secker & Warburg in 1989. They purchased it as a signed copy and I loved the tone and shape of the poems. I guess it was more pamphlet-sized than a full collection, but there was such beauty in its mien. I remember most of the poems fitting on one page and, I suspect, this still subconsciously influences me — my poems are often short and they don’t feel finished until I’ve extracted only the essential core.
Giles L. Turnbull, Under the Poetic Influence

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The UK summer heatwave rendered me incapable of doing little else but hugging the shade with a goodly supply of water, tea and reading material. I granted myself leave from writing a blog post, last Sunday. Writing output amounted to little more than notebook drivel on nights when it was too hot to sleep. I never find it too hot to read, though.

I’ve blogged before about collecting poems that I’ve read in magazines or online: the ones I love and those I might wish to re-read or refer to, at some point in the future. There are more than a few I’ll cut out and keep from the Europe issue of Magma. As a long-term subscriber, I think it’s quite possibly the best issue in years (I can’t comment on my TBR copy of the Film issue). It could so easily have been Brexit-centric but issue 70 was, as always, a net cast wide in terms of style, subject and takes on a theme. Poems that made me smile: Duncan Chambers’ Les Vacances; Sarah Juliet Walsh’s Le Rêve. One that made me laugh out loud: Astra Bloom’s Sacré. My absolute Top Three poems of political/social comment: Fiona Larkin’s Hygge; William Roychowdhury’s Farage for a Migrant Worker; Katriona Naomi’s Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere.
Jayne Stanton, What I’ve been reading this summer

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I’m teaching an independent study for a Business student who literally has run out of courses to take–so I offered to teach Introduction to Literature as an independent study. Once a week, we meet in my office to discuss literature. It’s quite delightful, and in some ways, she’s learning the material the way she would have had we been teacher and student in the days of Socrates. Except that we have literature on paper. Perhaps the more apt historical reference is the way that students learned (and probably still learn) in the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge.

Yesterday she wasn’t as prepared to talk about Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” so we switched gears. We looked at poems, and we spent time with Gwendolyn Brooks. When we read “We Real Cool,” I had a memory of Gwendolyn Brooks reading the piece, and I thought, let me see if I can find this.

We meet in my office, which has 2 computer screens, so I found a clip which included Brooks discussing the poem and arranged the screens so we could both watch. It was a still photo, which in a way was great because we could focus on her voice. She reads the poem so differently than I do–which lead to a great discussion of how the words are arranged on the page.

Later, I thought about the miracle of the Internet. Once, if I wanted my students to hear Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem, I’d have needed to plan ahead: I’d need to find the recording, and I’d need to make arrangements to play the recording. In fact, I stockpiled materials so that I wouldn’t have to think ahead. Yesterday it took about 30 seconds from the idea of Brooks reading the poem to her voice coming to us through the speakers.

I do understand all the ways that technology can detract from the learning experience: the constant distractions, the materials that seem like good sources for a research paper but aren’t, the technology failures which disrupt our teaching plans. But what an astonishing world we’ve created in just a few decades.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Brave New Teaching Worlds

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There were a couple of specific research questions I would have liked answers to, but I didn’t find them. Instead I enjoyed watching [Anne] Spencer’s friendship with James Weldon Johnson unfold and deepen over many years. He encourages her to write and submit her work, staving off discouragement. They recommend books and articles to each other: Johnson suggests, for example, that Spencer read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, and she responds with enthusiasm about what she’s found. Spencer encourages Johnson and his wife to visit for spring flowers and Christmas festivities, noting she feels more alive when she can look forward to their conversation. There’s plenty of politics in the letters but also ordinary stuff, like worry about Spencer’s children. It was especially sweet to notice how the salutations evolved over time: from the relatively formal “My dear Mrs. Spencer/ Mr. Johnson” to “Dear Anne” and “darling Grace-‘n’-Gem.”

The surviving correspondence between Spencer and Langston Hughes adds up to a much slimmer folder, but there’s also a lot of warmth and play in it. Spencer tells Hughes, for instance, about naming birds in her garden after distant literary figures. There’s “one named Langston–quite too proud of his black and gold-bronze plumage…and Mencken so yclept because of a certain spurious bitterness–mostly pose.” What a lonely world she lived in, and yet so populated. It’s not totally unlike writer-friends in far-off places now, messaging in ways that will be difficult to archive.

For all the violence in Spencer’s time and ours, there was and is a lot of love zinging around. I hope we can keep protecting it from the general heat. Write from the saving coolness of it. But it’s so, so hard.
Lesley Wheeler, Same old love

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I wrote a book this past week. Okay, to be precise, I finished it–what felt like a somewhat Herculean act of confronting every “TK” page in the collection. I put the rest of my life on hold. I rescued a poem from the abandoned archives via some drastic edits, wrote a prose-poem based on a field trip into the city, wrote a long one after a day’s worth of immersive research, then wrote another short one, a kind of early-morning grace note.

This doesn’t mean that much, in the overall scheme of things. Now I second-guess myself. Now I send to a few trusted readers to second-guess for me. Three sections, fifteen poems per section, 68 pages total; all of this is negotiable, of course, though it’s comforting to find measures equal to Count the Waves and I Was the Jukebox, my previous two collections. I’ll want to place a few more poems in journals, and I’ll need to draft a precis–a 1-2 paragraph introduction that distill’s the book’s thematic focus and why people might want to read it.

At the end of the month, I’m fortunate enough to head to Virginia Center for Creative Arts, push-pin pages to the walls, and live within the book’s geometries. The time will feel stolen–departing the morning after my workshop for The Writer’s Center ends, returning to DC the day before my American University class begins, and with University of Tampa work on my desk while I’m down there. But I’m going to make the best of things. All that before I even think of sending to my editor in September. Who might reject it.

Still: I wrote a book!
Sandra Beasley, Writing

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Who remembers the silence of flood,
the pulse of fat brown rivers
quiet as elephants, bloated with swallowed fields,
with diesel rainbows, slowly spinning trees?

Who remembers silence by gossipy streams
full of the small-talk of stones?
John Foggin, Flood alert (4)

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In the 1970s, science historian and television broadcaster James Burke created and hosted a show called Connections. I was a fan of the series because I loved the surprising ways discoveries, events in history, people, and accident led to innovations and the criss-crossing of continents and ideas. The interdisciplinary aspect of human culture, of science and the arts, fascinated me as a teen. Those networked ideas have shown up many times through my life.

Connections: The photo above was taken by my fellow student Steve Lohman when we were freshmen. Steve later attended Pratt School of Art, We lost touch for a long time, and–I have forgotten how–I found his metalwork while I was looking for cover art for my book of poems The Capable Heart.

Connections: I liked Steve’s wireworks, but I remembered him as a photographer. Granted, what a person pursues at age 17 or 18 is easily liable to change–but I was curious about how he started doing sculpture. When he mentioned he’d attended Pratt, I asked if he had ever met Toshio Odate, who taught there for years. “One of my favorite teachers!” said Steve. “I loved his class.”

Connections: My spouse took a job writing for a woodworking magazine, where he met Toshio, who wrote about Japanese tools and woodworking techniques. Meanwhile, Toshio was creating his own works of art at his home as well as mentoring many students. He’s now a long-time friend of ours. […]

Connections: Neural networks, the embodied mind, the ways writing assists in psychological healing, the twists in a good novel’s plot, the turn in a poem, metaphor, surprise. The unexpected thrills us–unexpected connections fill us with curiosity and a kind of joy, as does the closure.
Ann E. Michael, Connections

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Can you talk about the intersection between pop culture and poetry, and what draws you toward this mix in your work?

There’s a long history of literary critics and gatekeepers insisting that poems that reference pop culture or contemporary culture are necessarily not serious works of art, and that great literature must be timeless. I reject this idea — I think it’s dumb to try to divorce art from your lived experiences and the culture it comes out of, and that trying to ties into this false notion that literature can or should be “universal,” which historically has really just meant writing that appeals to straight white men. I’m drawn to writing that feels honest, that I see myself in, and my life has always been steeped in low-brow pop culture. My girlhood was formed around watching Saved by the Bell every day after school and reading Christopher Pike horror novels all summer by the pool and watching the movie Pretty Woman at every family gathering. My models for relationships were TLC songs and My So-called Life and Sex and the City and The Real World and perhaps most of all the show Friends, which we watched every night at dinnertime. Pop culture is in many ways what has shaped and inspired me most as a human and an artist.

Your most recently collection is Reversible (Switchback Books, 2017). Can you talk a little about the book and how it came into being? How was your process of writing this book different than with other collections you’ve published?

I wrote Reversible over the course of around 7-8 years, starting right after I finished my MFA in 2008 until it was published in 2017. The poems in Reversible are mostly about time, and girlhood, and feminism, and identity formation and self expression through cultural ephemera like music and clothing — how in the 90s I was obsessed with clothing and music from the 70s, and now everyone is obsessed with culture from the 90s. Sometimes I think Reversible is the last of anything I will have written that won’t be written in a mad scramble to find time — I remember sitting in a coffee shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco in 2008 and writing one of the long poems from Reversible, called “8th Grade Hippie Chic” (which was published earlier as a chapbook by Immaculate Disciples Press) in its entirety in my notebook while listening to songs by Fergie and Avril Levigne playing on the coffee shop radio. I worked 3, sometimes 4, days a week and even that felt like a lot, and also the pace of everything just felt so much slower then. I’m so jealous of my younger self!

Now ten years later I live in New York and I work full time and have a zillion other writing and editing projects and other life responsibilities and I feel like my relationship to time and my writing process has been totally exploded. Now when I write, it’s on my commute or in moments stolen from my workday or from sleeping or from doing some relaxing thing I’d really like to be doing, and I’ve had to allow my approach to writing evolve with the requirements of my life as a full-blown adult in late capitalism.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Marissa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge

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Are you aware of the Instagram poetry community? I’m on Instagram mainly as an artistic outlet. It’s soooooo much nicer there than other social communities. I like it best because visuals come first and words a distant second (and the added bonus that old classmates can hardly find me).

That may sound weird coming from a poet but I’ve identified as a visual artist much longer than I have a writer. My hand is years out of practice, though, and drawing is taking a back seat now, but lately picture-heavy Instagram has been giving me an outlet for my words. In a weird way.

I’m not interested so much in putting my best poetry on Instagram. Right now I am focused on publication for individual, finished poems in hopes that it will lead to a book. And publishers consider poems posted on personal social media accounts as official publication. They want first-runs. That’s okay. I get it. Some of my stuff I throw out there to the masses anyway before publication because I want the human connection. I don’t write in a vacuum anymore.

Instead, I use Instagram as a free-writing, no-holds-barred, morning pages place. Instagram’s My Story feature is great for this. I usually either take a photo or go back to one I’ve taken previously, add it to My Story and use the Text feature to write something based on the photo. It’s kind of an ekphrastic prompt, and I find it very freeing. I don’t allow myself to edit or even consider sending it to a lit mag. Mistakes are most welcome. What I want is weird.

Stories don’t last more than 24 hours on Instagram so I use the Save feature at the bottom of the My Story screen to save what I’ve written for use in a future poem or flash piece or something else. Then I send the Story and my words out there to whomever may want to see it. Doesn’t really matter. It’s getting the wild words on the page– on the picture– on the Story– that counts. Something might come of it someday.

What have you done lately to make art in an unexpected place? Try the Instagram Story prompt and @ me what happens.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, instaprompt

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In the wake of Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018, I’ve kept writing and done some small fine-tooth-comb type edits to poems that I’ve written this summer — which happen to number FOURTEEN, if you’re curious.

I know, I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.

I know that for other writers this isn’t really a big deal, but I know also that there are some of you who understand this feeling — this feeling of having been treading water for a really, really, really long time and then finally venturing toward some distant shore. The shore may be really far off in the fucking distance, but you’re finally able to swim toward it. Maybe that’s a lame and expected metaphor. But I warned you — I’m still rusty.

Yesterday I met with M.S. and we shared with each other the work we’ve been attempting to eke out this summer, something especially challenging for her, because she’s been teaching art at a camp for the past month and a half. We talked also about our Repeat Pattern project and finally came up with some good working guidelines — not exactly restrictions or obstructions, but our expectations/desires as far as our method(s). We decided to use the sketchbook method again — it won’t be the Brooklyn Art Library’s sketchbook, but something a little larger and sturdier that we’ll use to archive our ideas and drafts — or for M.S., maybe actual art. We gave ourselves a year, too — we’ll exchange the book back and forth throughout the next few months and I’ll respond to her art and she’ll respond to my writing — albeit in an associative, not literal or direct, way.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Plans, New Projects, and Ignoring Henry Miller

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How profound to be a miner,
ascending in a steel cage,
that end of shift fatigue momentarily lifted
only to be shouldered again the following day.

Think also of the diver, swimming towards
the thinning colour that is surface;
how dangerous that epiphany
when nitrogen enters the bloodstream.
Julie Mellor, To say we exist

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I’ve always been an A-type, goal-oriented human. The problem with that is when you can’t achieve your goals, do you consider yourself a failure? Do you forgive your body for betraying you? I think the trick is to enjoy and appreciate the moments when you can do things, and the rest of the time, you have to be okay with the fact that your body isn’t going to work all the time. Which is tough. We live in a society that values doing things, not being things. I used to, for instance, earn good money as a tech-writing manager. Not anymore – I’m lucky to break 15K a year as a writer and editor these days. (Just being realistic, people. This was also true when I was working as an adjunct!) Am I worth less as a person because I make less money? I’m still writing. I still send work out to be published, just maybe not as fast. The poet in me says: this downtime is allowable. It does not make you less of a poet. But the A-type, goal-oriented part of me says: what are you even good for these days? It is angry that I’m not able to do even simple things every day – go to a bookstore, or a garden, or hike by a waterfall – that bring me joy. I can’t socialize every day anymore. Those feel like losses to me. I love my friends, my spouse, my garden and my cats, all of whom have put up with me in my new, broken condition – one that is fragile, and somewhat unpredictable. I need to be able to accept my new condition as well.

This has made me think about Emily Dickinson, who was home-bound for most of her adult life. She didn’t get out much, although single women couldn’t do as much in her day even if she had been totally well, which some historians thinks she was not. She did have a fabulous garden and greenhouse (concreted over by the next owners of that property, by the way, to make tennis courts – the shame!) She famously wrote a poem about what might make a life worth living (“If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking”) so I think she also struggled with, having not attained publication or fame during her lifetime, and not getting married or having a family (women in those days didn’t have much chance of having any type of career) seeing herself as a failure, coming up with coping mechanisms for not being able to achieve her goals. “Victory Comes Late” is one of my favorite of her poems, because it deals with bitterness and loss from the perspective of achieving goals, but late and at a time when it no longer brings a thrill. (Did she foresee her own post-life fame, I wonder?)
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Making Peace with a Body at Odds with Your Life Goals

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I discovered that living in Denial-Land about disability was dangerous for me as a writer. It meant that I was hiding from myself. For example, I saw that I’d written almost all of my poems using an implied speaker who apparently had a perfect body—or didn’t really have a body at all—yet the reality is that everyone has a body, but no one has a perfect body. I was keeping my imperfect body walled off from my poetry in order to provide the kind of fake speaker I thought readers wanted. A disconnect or vacuum from our authentic self is created when we wall off our real bodies from our writing, I believe. The fact that each of us lives with our own unique body is an elemental feature of our existence.

As I found out more about Disability Theory, I started to sense myself as an embodied creature more so than I did in the past. As my worldview changed, I felt more grounded, more connected to my true self. This is reflected in my poetry, which doesn’t necessarily focus on my body per se. But there is now more depth to the speaker. The speaker is “marinated” with a realistic, imperfect human body that “soaks into” the poems at times by a process of nuance and implied reference.

Also, in the relatively short time that I have been aware of it, my writing process is different now. I still have a “work ethic,” but I’ve changed the rules. I refuse to consider myself a slacker when I’m flexible about my writing. And I have to remind myself constantly that time lost to illness doesn’t equal failure. Recently, I have forced myself to let go of work sometimes. Surprise, surprise, the sky has not fallen in.

The Japanese have an aesthetic of beauty through imperfection. The term wabi-sabi, as explained by Leonard Koren in his influential book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, refers to the act of embracing the flawed—the weathered, rusted, or worn down. Kintsugi or kintsukuroi (“golden mend”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Cracks and repairs are highlighted, not hidden. What would happen if we applied this aesthetic to our human bodies? Our lives? Our poetry? What would happen if we wrote about real people with real bodies? If we celebrated the flaws that make each of our bodies unique? Let that thought bounce around in your head for a minute. What would happen? Just what would really happen?
A Moving Target: What Disability Taught Me – guest blog post by Eileen Murphy (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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broken button:
tugged & twined
frayed against
the cape the cowl
the collar /
shrugged high
against the iceheart
marrowbone dark //

flat cataract:
milk or smoke
or silica
obscuring the macula /
watching now only
what she remembers
of red shift / of
spectral drift //

abalone pearl:
effaced by
a drugged horizon
now pink & sable
deep elliptical
frozen albumen //
Dick Jones, names of the moon

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It’s been a week since I heard the cuckoo, though the songbirds are still here, getting on with the effort of living before they leave us to another season of darkness and crows.

I’m picking up a 4-year-abandoned project I called Running Metaphors. Starting Fresh. Nothing terribly ambitious. Nothing terribly profound. A quote handed down to me from my mentor, as to him from his: “Sometimes just let the fox be a fox.”
Ren Powell, August 9

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.

This week, poets who were not on vacation (and some who were) were blogging about going on vacation, and there was plenty of news to be shared about publications and on-going projects, as well as the usual generous scattering of off-the-wall topics and first drafts of poems. Enjoy.

I slit the stem and slide my finger in the milkweed
the ooze smells of snake bites. The skin shrivels

with the buds dropping premature, petals seal
clutch a secret like a fetus she carries

and will not relinquish – there is death everywhere
if you care to see, detected in the marigold

filaments of black seeds tossed in the breeze.
Uma Gowrishankar, Still Life

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I’ve been rendered house-bound for a while (except for doctor’s visits) with severe MS symptoms during the hot streak and a sprained ankle, so in the meantime I’ve been dreaming of escape, taking pictures of hot air balloons, our beautiful eerie moons, and birds. I’ve also been working on revising my sixth book manuscript. I only have it out to a few places, but received a rejection yesterday. Part of the job, I know, but still, discouraging. I’ve been searching for a good new primary doc, too, without success (the last one wasn’t afraid of my complexity, but said I’d do better with a doctor who was connected to the major medical databases and a major hospital. I guess she’s right.) Rejection all around! And meanwhile, the muggy, airless heat wave continues.

During the evenings when it’s a little cooler I’ve been watching the hot air balloons that rise and fall right around our house. I’ve also had plenty of time to watch my flowers struggle with the sun, the birds fighting over seeds and hummingbird feeders, and discover a new flowering tree in the back yard I’d never noticed before. The day we had a nearby fire, this flicker perched on top of one of our birch trees and just sat, beak in the air, for over an hour. So strange. Time moves slowly when you’re not feeling well – I’ve been trying to fill the time with reading encouraging writing books, watching stand-up on Netflix (I recommend “Elder Millennial,” if for nothing else than the ten minute bit that I swear was inspired by the Melusine myth, which I wrote about in my first book, Becoming the Villainess, in the poem “The Monster Speaks: It’s Not So Bad”) and, well, lots of sleep and fluids. Not the most glamorous summertime activities.

I am wishing us all less fire, fewer heat waves and rejections, and enough time to enjoy the good things about summertime.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Hot Streaks, Hot Air Balloons, and Blood Moons

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I am delighted to have “Not This” featured this week in The Ellis Review. This poem was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run and and began as an erasure of a piece by Margaret Rhee before shifting into something different. The poem wouldn’t exist without her and her “precarity of the line” and the support of various writing communities, and I’m very thankful for you all.

“Not This” uses a fragmented mode I’ve often employed in the past, but the attempt to address current events is something new for me. Even as I’ve come to recognize “that all writing is political—it emanates from a specific body that has a relation to the polis” (from my Poems2go interview), I’ve only just begun to try articulating more explicitly the relationship between a speaker’s body and the body politic to which it belongs/can be excluded from.
Hyejung Kook, Writing | New York | The Ellis Review | 07.26.2018

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I’m excited to have three poems and three photographs in the new issue of Mojave Heart Review. The photos are of street art by Swoon (Caledonia Curry) that she installed here in New Orleans several years ago. I was inspired recently to write the poetry and put together the project after reading this interview. I’ve followed and admired Swoon’s art since seeing this street art and her Thalassa exhibit at New Orleans Museum of Art in 2011.

Mojave Heart has done a beautiful presentation of the project with each poem and accompanying photo on its own page. I hope you’ll click over and check out the issue which is full of beautiful work by 24 talented writers and artists.

Big thanks to Jeffrey Reno, staff, and volunteers for giving this project a home!

There are a thousand ways that people can bring their art in contact with the world. Mine are putting a wheatpaste up on the street, building a raft and crashing the Venice Biennale, building a home post-earthquake, working with people in Kensington in the middle of a crisis. In some way these things are actually all the same. People could be doing macramé classes at nursing homes, or they could be making floats for the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. My friend used to make books and discreetly stick them into the shelves at libraries and bookstores. Literally anything. Then that thing informs the next thing, and you listen back, always asking: Who’s it reaching? What does it mean to people? You take the molten, hot center of creative energy, and you weave it into some aspect of the world that is calling to you. —- Swoon, “Sending Out the Signal

Charlotte Hamrick, 3 Poems/Photos in Mojave Heart Review

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Q~You are also a classical singer. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~The great thing about being a writer is that there is no real schedule to follow, so I can engage in any other activities I like. Every day, around one in the afternoon, I stop whatever I’m doing so that I can practice whatever arias or songs I’m working on. Music, I think, has also given me a sense of rhythm that transfers to my writing, as well. The way the words sound together is important to me.

Q~On your website, you said you first began writing poetry to combat severe depression and have continued on to push your own personal boundaries of comfort and truth. How has poetry helped you?

A~I always think of writing, and writing poetry especially, as a kind of medieval bleeding. Slit a vein and let it all pour out. It’s a daily ritual that I maintain. Anything that has bothered me, hurt me, affected me in any way, I let it drip onto the page.

Q~ What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~The only dislike I have is rhyming. I’m just not a fan. It’s strange, I know, when I just mentioned wanting musicality in writing, but I always feel as if rhymes take away from the meaning of the poem. Makes it less impactful, since it leads me to think that the words written were not necessarily the best ones, but just the ones that could rhyme.
Bekah Steimel, Time Travel II / an interview with poet Valentina Cano

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Last year at the 2017 Mercury Awards, Stormzy’s album Gang Signs and Prayer won the award. It also won a Bafta or two. There had been many criticisms that music awards in the UK had become too white, and so many grime acts were up for awards this year after judging panels became more diverse.

Stormzy’s album is another look at working class London from his perspective as a Black man. There’s quite a bit of swearing and gangster- like conduct on the album. Then, just as Prince sandwiches sexual songs between religious songs on his many albums, Stormzy interperses the crime with the divine, complete with prayers from elders as well as his renowned Gospel song Blinded By Your Grace. The inclusion of elders praying and talking gives a community feel, much like Arrested Development’s 3 Years 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life Of, yet with a distinctive London working class flavour.

Kate Tempest, the renowned English poet and spoken word artist lost out to Stormzy at The Mercury Awards. Yes, an album of poetry – with music as a background filler – was up for a music award.

Let Them Eat Chaos starts with the planets orbiting our sun and then we beam down to London, white working class London. Tempest tells us stories about seven people who all are awake at Silly O’clock for seven different reasons, and she brings them all together in the track Grubby towards the end of the album where she uses the phrase, “Existence is futile” – a nice twist on the Borg saying, “Resistence is futile”, delivering meaning.

There are some other good turns of phrase such as, “His thoughts are like a pack of starving dogs fighting over the last bone” and “Street-smart, jabbering gnome”. Unfortunately, Tempest fails to deliver more such like gorgeous, clever turns of phrase. She seems to have concentrated on telling stories, which is great, but when I hear a poet, I would like to hear more of the poetic.

The pity about Stormzy’s album and Kate Tempest’s album is that they are both quite depressing and angry. Unlike The Streets’ first album – which had some great music and singing backing up their humorous words, I do not really want to listen to Stormzy’s album nor Tempest’s album again. And that is a darn shame because there are some real nuggets on both albums.
Catherine Hume, Kate Tempest, Stormzy and Gorillaz

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This week I’m thinking ahead to October. There’s a new date added to my events page and I will be doing a set 50 percent longer than the longest set I’ve ever done … and there is a Q&A session immediately after the poems … and if nobody wants to ask questions then I have been told I can read a few more poems! Blimey! […]

This is the first event I’ve been the only performer at, which will be a fantastic experience … but I’m not going to be on stage alone. The event is titled Giles with Hazel, as most of you lovely readers know, Hazel is the voice on my computer that I sometimes use for performing poetry; on some occasions she even gets her own round of applause. I don’t sleep well at night because I have nightmares about a sentient computer system lawyer coming to demand I pay Hazel appearance fees for the events I use her at!
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry on the Coast

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I will travel next week to the Jersey shore, as I do every year, to spend delicious, relaxing time with family. As a new citizen of the Pacific NW, I have learned to feel at home with a different coast and ocean than the one I grew up with. But a year without gazing at the Atlantic from a familiar spot on the Eastern seaboard would be devastating for me.

And during the stay-cation portion, I look forward to several poetry-related tasks: a book review for The Rumpus; reading a manuscript for my press; feedback on poems from a friend.

And hopefully, some revision work on my current manuscript. Right now I have about 60 poems I am working with, and I have some tickling ideas about how to strengthen these poems. Something I haven’t done much before is using space on the page differently than same-old left-margin stanzas. I’m having no luck placing these poems, perhaps they are not “quite there” as one journal put it. But more and more, I think they just need to be read as a collection, in conversation with one another. They are also the most personal poems I have written.

The burden of submission-and-rejection is too much for me right now. So I may publish more of them here in my blog.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Worry List

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It’s fun to run into Poetry when I least expect to, such as on vacation in Maine this summer. Apparently Henry Wadsworth Longfellow liked to watch the ocean from a perch at the Portland Head lighthouse, as well. His house is downtown and open for tours for a small fee. We didn’t have time for the tour but strolled through his lovely gardens beside the house- a peaceful place of respite in a bustling city. Alas, the poetry bug did not bite on this trip, but the mosquitoes sure did. Everything is not bigger in Texas.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, poetry on vacation

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I would just like to take a moment and praise the magnificent phenomenon that is Summer Camp. Thanks to the kids having their fun from 9-4 each day this week, I’ve managed to write almost twenty new pages and two completely new scenes of a play as well as five more poems. I’m ridiculously, over-the-top happy with Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018. I have to move into preparing-for-fall-semester-classes mode now, and, you know, hang out with my own kids (hahahaha) but I’ve dedicated real, concentrated time to my writing this summer, and used it wisely. I am ecstatic. I might just do a cartwheel across this Starbucks.

I mean, there’s also the possibility that I’ll read the drafts next week and feel complete dismay when I realize they’re no good . . . but for now I’m riding this wave of I-just-wrote-a-crapload euphoria.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018

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A few people have asked me about how I was funded and whether it’s usual for a school to employ a Writer in Residence. For the latter question, in my experience, it isn’t common, and certainly not in a state school. Increasingly, in the UK state school system, creative subjects, Art, Music, Drama, Design, are shrinking from the curriculum, and with cash-strapped budgets, even occasional author visits are becoming more scarce in some schools. All the more reason to applaud St Gregory’s for their imagination and resourcefulness in setting up my residency.

In his article Creativity can be taught to anyone. So why are we leaving it to private schools? Creative Director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, writes that since 2010 there has been a 28% reduction in young people studying creative subjects at GCSE in state schools. This, in large part, can be explained by the introduction of the English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, a school performance measure (introduced by Michael Gove when he was Education Minister) focusing on a core set of academic subjects studied for GCSE which does not include a single creative discipline.

Writers who visit many schools have noticed that increasingly, invitations come from the private sector and not from publicly funded schools. Poet and children’s writer Michael Rosen recently tweeted:

Although I don’t have permission to divulge the financial arrangements of St Gregory’s, or to explain exactly how my residency was funded, I will say that I worked with young people of all ages and abilities (although mostly in the Year 7 to Year 9 age-groups – 11 – 14 year olds): Pupil Premium students; EAL students; Gifted and Talented students; top set, middle set and bottom set students; students not belonging to any group that attracts additional funding and students belonging to several.

I will also say that the fee I was paid by the school amounted to considerably less than the daily rate I usually charge (which is negotiable but about £350 per day). However, I was happy with my fee and it suited me well to have a fixed post for one academic year (especially as I was completing my poetry manuscript for my Nine Arches Press book at the same time) which meant that I saved time and money by not needing to apply for other types of funding or jobs.
Josephine Corcoran, End of the school year, end of a residency #writerinschool

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One piece of recent productive procrastination went live this week, a sort of feminist theory bingo card which may or may not also be a poem. There are some Mina Loy-ish squares in response to the very cool web site that put out this call for digital postcards. Others describe my choices, good and bad, and things I aspire to do. All of them feel connected to being a good bad woman, a feminist, someone trying but often failing to claim a fair portion of the cake and wine while sharing the rest with wolves, mothers, woodcutters, and whoever else is a little hungry and doing their best. Aagh, clearly the diet is killing me.
Lesley Wheeler, Bad girl, with rainbows

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But what about that clock, and that winged chariot? I’m cautious about how I explain this. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Maybe I should say, before I crack on, that I am fit and well and happy…no qualifications. Hold on to that thought. I’ve noticed for the last couple of years I’ve been writing what might seem bleak-sounding poems, a bit dark, a bit valedictory but not particularly backward looking or nostalgic. More concerned with the fact of death being a lot closer than it was not so long ago. I believe your poems are like dreams..you have less control over what they say to you than you’d like. Or at least, the good ones, the important ones, do. Behind them all is the acknowledgement that at 75, your days are numbered, and you begin to accept that you’re not immortal. It’s not distressing (well, not to me, anyway) but it means that sometimes you’re looking at life through a diminishing lens you need to understand and get used to. And it also means, for me, that everything becomes more interesting, and I don’t want to waste a minute. I’m in a hurry to do stuff. I can’t hang around fine tuning poems and pamphlets. I want to write and write and get it out there.

At my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Curiously, I’m untroubled by the concept of deserts of vast eternity, and I don’t think Marvell was, either. To his coy mistress is a young man’s vision in a young man’s poem. Because, I believe, he hears nothing of the sort. He’s in a hurry, but not because he thinks he’s going to die any minute soon. The one who speaks to me these days is Norman McCaig. A couple of years ago I set myself the job of reading his collected works, a few poems every day for a year.

By the time I reached his poems written in the 1980’s I started to notice images of approaching death. The horse that comes along the shore, the black sail in the bay, the scythe in the field, the immanence of journeys ending. I wondered why, because I didn’t know much about his biography. I noticed poems that mourned the death of old friends. The penny dropped a bit later. In the mid-1980’s he was the age I am now, an age when some of your oldest friends, all about your own age, have died. The thing is, he had nearly 15 years left to live, but he wasn’t to know that. And most of his poems go on being vibrant with life and the love of life. He went on walking in the Sutherland hills, fishing the remote Green Corrie. He became frail in the 1990s, but he wasn’t frail when he started noting the finite nature of things. I see what he meant. Time has changed its meaning. It is too precious to not do things in. It makes life more urgent, more vivid. I can’t get enough of it.
John Foggin, Winged chariots and an undiscovered gem : Jack Faricy

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If the “I” is needed, there needs to be enough transparency in the “I” that it can easily become you-the-reader.

This makes me think of a larger philosophical question about the self. This is the wonderful writer Olivia Laing from her book To the River: “…is it not necessary to dissolve the self if one hopes to see the world unguarded?”

It occurs to me that to make good art, there does need to be a dissolution of the “I;” but then possibly its re-creation as a vehicle for the art, an eye for the seeing.

Which makes me think about a rhetorical question posed in an introduction to a poet at a reading I went to recently, a question I thought was supremely dumb. The introducer asked: Are all poems self-portraits? Of course they are/are not and what’s your point? Of course they are a product of wild imagination shaped by the individual experiences of the writer, and a fake wig and glasses, or stripped down to nude and dancing a watusi. I mean, really. Then there are issues of form, function, experimentation, imitation. There’s wordplay, nonsense, dreamblather. And the possibility of this reconstructed “self,” this constructed “I.”

Lorrie Moore in an article on LitHub said this: “Fiction writers are constantly asked, Is this autobiographical? Book reviewers aren’t asked this, and neither are concert violinists, though, in my opinion, there is nothing more autobiographical than a book review or a violin solo. But because literature has always functioned as a means by which to figure out what is happening to us, as well as what we think about it, fiction writers do get asked: ‘What is the relationship of this story/novel/play to the events of your own life (whatever they may be)?’ I do think that the proper relationship of a writer to his or her own life is similar to a cook with a cupboard. What that cook makes from what’s in the cupboard is not the same thing as what’s in the cupboard–and, of course, everyone understands that….[O]ne’s life is there constantly collecting and providing, and it will creep into one’s work regardless–in emotional ways.”

Which loops me back to the “I” and who the “I” is or who it can be.

Bertrand Russell wrote: “An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

I think that merging occurs, in a poem, through the use of visceral verbs and vivid images, not through words that represent emotions. No “I felt…” but the depiction of a body feeling, a body in the world. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s you. But I know we’re all in this together.
Marilyn McCabe, Very Well Then I Contradict Myself; on the First Person Perspective in Poems

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But what do I mean when I say the concept of embodied consciousness, and consciousness as a series of intricate, synthesized processes, coincides with being a writer? Or in my case specifically, a poet?

It has something to do with taking in the world–through the senses, which is all my body’s really got–and synthesizing all those years of experiences, memories, books I’ve read, poems and plays I’ve loved, people I’ve known, relationships with the environment and with human beings and with other creatures, the whole of my personal cosmos. Referents and reentrants. Relationships actual and imagined. “The remembrance of unassuageable pain.” The process of loafing through the world.

Writing, where much of my so-called consciousness dwells. Not in the outcome, the resulting poems or essays, but in the doing.
Ann E. Michael, Process

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Driving on the left side
of the road. Burning
the roof of my mouth
from hot fish. How I
learned to drink flat
whites. The warm
bitterness in a paper
cup. Getting to know
the freckle on your chin.
How we first met.
Your house was hardly
a home. How I learned to live
in the red zone.
Crystal Ignatowski, Memories of a Place I Once Knew

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.

This week, poetry Twitter was rocked by a series of explosions, but in the blogosphere (do we still call it that?) poets seem to be largely staying the course, as Sandra Beasley puts it: not complacent, but taking the crises on board, learning from them, and continuing to read, write, and rage in our own ways.

Many people in the literary world have had a strange past week, where the waves of news have included the seeming implosion of an independent press, the exposure of a fraudulent agent, the revelation of a serial manipulator in our midst, and the publication of an offensively lousy poem in a prominent forum. Then we discovered water seeping through the floor of our living room. The universe, it seems, is trying every which way to keep me from taking pleasure in poetry.

But I’m going to stay my course, in part because I’m so determined to finish my manuscript by the end of the summer. Even on the days otherwise unproductive I’ve tried for a bit of revising, tinkering, fussing with order. And I’m thinking a lot about what makes a poem a worthwhile endeavor, why we do what we do.

Allison Titus is a writer I’ve been following and appreciating for a while now, and in a recent interview with Bennington Review she says this:

When I get excited about a poem, it’s always the same way, that I respond most to poets/poems that arrest me and startle me back to attention (to the world, to life, to living) all over again, in some strange or intense manner: I’m always mostly desperate to be staggered/astonished/undone (by the world and thus by language). I just really all the time want to be rearranged; Robert Creeley is really good at doing this to me (“I heard words / and words full / of holes / aching. Speech / is a mouth.”). When I’m working on my own poems, I like most to be surprised by something that develops/materializes in the way that feels as “true” as it feels wild, crucial, off-kilter.

This captures something really right to me, something essential. One of the things I’ve emphasized recently, in teaching and editing as well as my own work, is the importance of making space for the wild unknown. We often use the rhetoric of a poem’s “landscape,” but in this context the cartography is both science and art–we need to admit and honor elements that surprise us, that don’t fit on first glance. This feels especially important as I work on a fourth collection, and gently resist my natural inclination to plot and plan as a way of easing anxiety over how little control I have over where and how this book lands.
Sandra Beasley, “I just really all the time want to be rearranged” ~ Allison Titus

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Here, the sliders, the shiny-shelled, the leggy things
are eclipsed in nature: walls and trees bear their weight
in a symbiosis of colour, form and texture.
          Good to see them free, untrammeled,
          where they ought to be amongst the webs,
          the moth husks and the tendrils.
Dick Jones, MORAIRA 1

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About summer sun: She is shining in Sequim and all over the Pacific NW, and it’s hilarious that after barely a month, people who have lived here much longer than I have are complaining about the heat, when it’s 80 degrees and the rest of the country is sweltering and burning. I am bathing in light and warmth and a little sad because the days are already getting shorter. […]

What I’m reading: an advance review copy of “The Final Voicemails” (Max Ritvo) and “Birds of the Pacific Northwest”.

What I’m writing: I’m working on a new poetry manuscript titled “why I hate to cry”. I’m also dusting off a novel and made a commitment to attend a workshop next spring to work on it.

What I’m submitting: Poems to impossible journals- so I can reach 100 rejections before the end of the year.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Sun, Son, and Mourning: an Update

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I hesitate to explain too much about any of my poems because I want the reader to have her own experience with art. That’s a sacred space to me. I will say the poem was inspired by actual events, and it is dedicated to the girls from Galveston County that did not get to grow up, like me. I have not forgotten them.

How do you decide when or if to explain your work? I’m curious. I think I’m more on the Cormac McCarthy end of the continuum.

TLR asked contributors to record our work and the put it on Soundcloud for free. I think hearing a litmag instead of reading it is a great way to enter these pieces. Despite the weird aversion to my own voice (many of us have this strange reaction). I think I will save the audible issue for my next long drive.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, my daughter forgets to lock the door

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Great to be in Under the Radar alongside so many poets I respect, particularly Mike Barlow. However, I want to draw your attention to a friend of mine, Joe Caldwell, who teaches English in Sheffield. Not an easy thing to do, teach and write, but Joe manages it because he’s disciplined, and loves what he does.

Poetry’s not just about finding time to write, is it? It’s the push to send work out, deal with the rejections, edit, read something new, maybe start again, research magazines, track submission windows, try to go to a reading or two in between, attend workshops, read more, keep reading, berate yourself for not doing enough of any of these things, be happy for a fleeting moment when an acceptance comes your way, then worry that you haven’t got enough new work to send elsewhere.

And somewhere along the way, someone will have asked you what you do in your spare time!
Julie Mellor, Under the Radar

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I’m almost always suffering some dire form of suspense and trying to ignore it. Long publishing cycles are a large part of that–I have many mss out there and the odds of success don’t favor me. Often I can receive a rejection with a philosophical shrug, or go for weeks without thinking about a particular submission. On a rational level, I know it’s not personal, and it’s not helpful or healthy to get revved up over such extended, uncertain processes. But I am not rational every hour of every day. Ahem.

Because I spend so much effort trying to calm the hell down, it’s funny to realize I like suspense. In all forms of writing, it helps keep readers on the line. In novels and Netflix, I crave a zippy plot–strong characters in some condition of risk, to which events and feelings keep happening, unpredictably. In poems, I love that gasp-inducing opener that keeps you suspended, sometimes with a plot question (what’s going to happen?) and sometimes with another kind of problem, an image that begs unraveling or a pattern that needs resolution.

I started writing about poetry and suspense four years ago, for a book ms I spent a few years finishing and revising and am still in suspense about. I just reworked that material for a craft talk I’m giving Tuesday for the brand-new Randolph MFA in Creative Writing, at which I’ll be a visiting professor (seriously, click on that link and check out their regular faculty–Gary Dop is doing an amazing job). I hope to revise it again after this week’s adventures and send it out as an essay. In the process, I dug up a related blog from 2014, and it’s fascinating to see what I was in suspense about then: a ms, of course (it became Radioland), and a bad situation at work (which got worse before it got better, but is vastly improved now).

The latter involved a sickening rather than interesting variety of suspense, but a little suspense in life, as in art, can be good. I’m in many ways in a lucky situation, but I don’t want my life to be exactly the same or completely predictable for the next twenty years. That’s partly why I drafted a novel a couple of years ago, to try something new and see where it took me. I revised it heavily this spring–not for the first time!–and it’s now with a second reader at a small press I greatly admire. I’m in suspense about it, but the reader is expecting twins soon, so she’s in rather more suspense than I am. I need to cool my jets. It’s not easy.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and suspense: more twists

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Some of my little wins this week have been poem-related. Something happened Monday morning and I woke up with ideas for poems and they’ve been coming pretty steadily — five fully-developed — but naturally in need of time and reflection and editing — poems so far this week, which is actually more than double the amount of poems I’ve written in the past six months.

Something that might be “problematic” is that they aren’t poems that are part of the Repeat Pattern project I’m working on with M.S. and neither are they part of the verse play, but such problems are welcome problems. It’s nice to write something and afterwards recognize that it’s not just a “clearing of the throat” or merely evidence of “showing up” to the page . . . which so much of my morning writing has been these past few months.

In other-wins, I received an email from the Bread Loaf Sicily program this week asking for the manuscript that we’ll be using during the week-long workshop in September. While I’m not overly anxious to be in a workshop again, it’s a nice reminder that within two months I’ll be in Italy, far far away from Long Island and Stuffolk and all its nonsense, and part of a small literary community for a few brief days (something I am looking forward to doing again).
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Setting Small Fires (My Week of Mood Swings, Poem Writing, and Demolition)

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Since returning home from Sicily, I have been steeped in creative work and tending our vegetable gardens, which are growing by leaps and bounds. […]

I have been writing a lot of essays and poems, trying to recapture the best of the experience. […] Thus far, 3 poems and two essays have been selected for publication. What a thrill that is, especially when it’s challenging to make scenes as poignant as being there.

Maybe that is always the challenge. Besides writing about Sicily, I have been working on my 100 word story collection. Hoping to put together one hundred 100 word stories. I am writing 1-2 stories a day. Everything and anything can trigger a story. The characters, for the most part, are quirky and behaving badly, or are strangely righteous, or just trying to get by, day by day, and make sense of their lives. These stories are so different from my poetry, and I am having a lot of fun writing these terse ironic scenes. It’s deliciously wicked, letting readers “see” the underside of situations.
M.J. Iuppa, Oh Sicily, I miss you…

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Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Short-form poetry is addictive, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. There are an endless number of publications to submit to. There are an endless number of contests to enter. And it is very, very easy to get caught up in the fray of accumulating accolades and credits and comparing. I know I did. If you begin to compare your creative trajectory to someone else’s, you will run the risk of extinguishing your own unique fire.

Q~You are also a visual artist. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~At this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can be successful at all of my ventures all the time, which has been a freeing and humbling revelation. There are times when I want to write poetry and only poetry, and then there are times when I feel compelled to exclusively create in a visual manner. I try to follow my inspiration and not force anything. Because I am both a poet and visual artist, people frequently ask if I’ve tried haiga (a combination of art and haiku). Believe me, I’ve tried it. I’m terrible at it, and the irony of that isn’t lost on me. But, I am OK with that. I enjoy poetry for what it is in my life, and the same goes for my visual art. In many ways, I like that they exist in separate spheres.
Bekah Steimel, Far From Home / An interview with poet Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

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I’m an inveterate recycler. I have a compost pile and six chickens so I can turn food scraps into soil and eggs. I love repurposed items: quilts sewn from old clothes, wind chimes made of bent spoons, collages of torn magazine pages. Therefore, I was delighted to discover that poet Eileen R. Tabios has created a database made up of 1,167 lines of her own poetry, selected from 27 of her previously published books.

She calls it the “The MDR Poetry Generator” (I referred to this in the July 16, 2018 issue of Sticks & Stones, which includes a review of Tabios’ book Love in a Time of Belligerence). Her new book Murder Death Resurrection (2018 Dos Madres Press) describes the five-year project of creating this database. In the introduction she writes, “The MDR Poetry Generator’s conceit is that any combination of its 1,167 lines succeeds in creating a poem. Thus, one can create – generate – new poems unthinkingly from its database.”

Each line in the MDR database starts with the words “I forgot.” Tabios writes, “Through my perceptions of abstraction and cubism, I’ve written poems whose lines are not fixed in order and, indeed, can be reordered.” I find this non-linear aspect wonderfully liberating. I can see its application in teaching poetry to children, or to people learning English, or as an exercise in creativity. (The book includes a teaching guide and workshop suggestion.)

Tabios’ database inspired me to create my own repository of poetic lines, but instead of using published poems, I decided to search through my old notebooks and journals…
Erica Goss, How to Create a Poetry Database

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Last year my friend Hayden Saunier, a poet and actor, came up with an idea to change up what a traditional poetry reading is like. She invited a handful of people to a meeting at her house, and there No River Twice was born.

No River Twice is a poetry improvisational group. Our group poetry readings don’t have planned reading lists, reader orders or themes–they’re completely spontaneous and responsive to audience input. At a NRT reading, the poets take cues and suggestions from the audience and each other, so each performance is unique, the poems interconnect, weave and flow in a unique way that connects the readers to the listeners. We’re not inventing new poems on the spot, but we’re inventing new synergies, which makes each performance collaborative and new.

We held our first public performance in January at Fergie’s in Philadelphia, and have had a few since. Our next one will kick off the new Caesura poetry conference in Phoenixville, PA, August 17.

It’s hard to explain exactly what NRT is, so you should just come to one of our events–it’ll change the way you think about poetry readings.
Grant Clauser, Check out No River Twice, Poetry Improv that’s Never the Same Reading Twice

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I’ve been laying a little low while dealing with MS symptom misery, but not low enough to avoid reading about scandal after scandal this week! A woman scams the literary world (and I mean, why would you target the literary community? It’s a community without a lot of money. Go pick on a richer group! And she was particularly targeting feminist writers. Did I mention I think I was Facebook friends with her at some point in the past?) And another literary agent was just accused of fraud, even writing fake letters with offers from presses to writers she worked with. Yikes! Writers beware, indeed. And a terrible poem that offended about just about every group that exists was published and that also caused a scandal. (Note: Persona poetry is not a crime, but maybe try to avoid taking the identity of someone who might be underrepresented…Also, it was not a good persona poem because it relied too much on obvious cliches…The editors of the magazine involved are really nice, hyper-socially-aware writers, which begs the question of…well, hey, even good editors have off days…) I tried to avoid getting too involved in the scandal and gossip maelstrom on Twitter etc. It is funny how many people would rather get together and hate on a poem than ever ever talk about something positive about a different poem. Ah well. Such is social media. Which brings me to the importance of in-person writer time!

Much more uplifting – real life time spent with real life writers! Spent a whole lovely day with Kelli Russell Agodon talking about our latest poetry manuscripts, the poetry world, and, bonus, I got a 20-minute Instagram tutorial on hashtags (which I needed because I am still so clueless on Instagram.) Glenn put out strawberry cupcakes and sparkling rose from the winery next door and it was just so nice to relax and spend time with another writer one-on-one. Plus, I was able to tackle my manuscript revisions the next day, so now I feel like I have a better, more complete version of my manuscript to send out.

Glenn and I drove Kels down to the Edmonds ferry and hung out on the beach to watch her leave. The sunset was beautiful and the breeze off the Puget Sound was perfect.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Heat Waves and Poetry Scandals, Poetry Writer Dates, and Sending Out Work in the Summer

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Over a decade ago through the magic of the internet and the wonder of email, I “met” a poet who lived far away in the southwest named Lisha Adela Garcia. We never met in person, though.

Lisha was putting together her very first full-length poetry collection and thought I might be of assistance. I’ve worked as a poetry manuscript organizer and editor for many years, and I was delighted to take a look at her poems.

The poems were amazing of course! And they turned into her wonderful, acclaimed collection, Blood Rivers, published in 2009.

Through the magic of web ether, Lisha and I have stayed in touch.

But despite never meeting in person, I always felt we had a deep connection.

The connection of our mutual love of poetry, certainly.

But it felt like so much more, too.

A soul connection, if you will. Maybe you’ve felt that too?

As if our life experiences sent us along similar paths.

I’ve always wanted to meet Lisha, hear her voice in person, look into her eyes.

And last week, I finally got the chance as she passed through my town on the way to a reading for her newly published book, A Rope of Luna.
Lana Ayers, Friendship Across the Ether

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So many. So many. We are
not alone. We are together.
We are a forest in autumn,
full of ripe fruit, bright fruit, bright words
to carve the light, the light that carves

us. We are sharp, crisp with edges,
with wounds. We are soft, moist and warm
as if coming out of ovens,
out of caverns, weak with hunger,
fading, yes, but first, branches blaze.
PF Anderson, Leaflet

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After some readings on metaphor and language, I tackled A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) by Christine Brooke-Rose. Admittedly, I was hampered in my reading by my lack of facility in the jargon and structure of what used to be, but is no longer, “basic” English grammar. It did help that I have read The Trivium and could refer to it now and again; and of course it helps to have a background in poetry and literature, though not one nearly as thorough as Brooke-Rose’s. I definitely can add this one to the “difficult books” I have enjoyed, and benefited from, reading.

The grammar part of metaphor was not something I took into much account when I studied poetry. Certainly, when I read for pleasure, I do not analyze for grammar. Poets often experiment with grammar–altering syntax purposefully, creating sentence fragments, run-on sentences, new compound words, jarring phrases, all in an effort to make something happen in the poem. That “something” may be sound, dream, argument, exhortation, emotion, surprise, pattern, recognition, or a matter of perspective on outlooks, worldviews, culture, tasks, the personal. I do not read for such insights until I want to return to the poem and find out how the poet managed to make the amazing process of language work upon me.
Ann E. Michael, Difficult books, iterum

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In the ever-astonishing Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s treasure trove of ideas delivered right to my email inbox, I read some excerpts from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Dweck’s idea is that there are two types of mindsets that people have about themselves, mindsets that shape how we think about ourselves and the challenges we meet in life: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She says this: “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself. In one world, failure is about having a setback….It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

And as usual these days when I consider something presented as a duality, I think, yes, and yes; therefore, no, the idea of a duality is just not appropriate. Spectrum, maybe. Spiral, perhaps. Of two minds, probably.

At any given moment, confronted with any particular challenge, I enter both those mindsets. What I do next depends on which one wins, which one wins depends on any number of factors, including how motivated I am with regard to the particular challenge, how distracted I am by something else outside of the particular challenge (hunger, having to pee, whatever), who I’m imagining is my judge and jury if I am imagining one, and what the next required step might be.

I used to play a fair amount of tennis and never got much better at it. At first I had a growth mindset, then, after I while, I had a fuckit mindset. I mean, a fixed mindset. Fixed on never playing that stupid fucking game again.

Often when I get a writing rejection, my thinking goes something like this: oh-crap-why-do-I-suck-I’m-so-not-good-enough-not-smart-enough-I- quit-okay-well-wait-maybe-I’ve-learned-X-about-this-and-so-I’m-going-to-try-this-new-approach. Or sometimes I think: okay-I’ve-tried-X-and-Y-and-Z-and-learned-these-things-but-I’m-not-achieving-what-I-want-and-seem-not-to-be-particularly-good-at-this-and-am-tired-of-trying-so-I’m-going-to-stop.
Marilyn McCabe, I’m Rubber, I’m Glue; or How Mindset Affects Action

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Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.

My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.

Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggins has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.
Jayne Stanton, One year on: Thank You, NHS!

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J35 carries her dead baby on her rostrum. Days pass. She doesn’t eat. Her human guardians say we won’t give up as long as she doesn’t.

I cry suddenly, helplessly, seeing her photograph, the beloved corpse pushed on her exhalation.
JJS, July 27, 2018: bad trouble

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Something blue,
this poem, the color of robin eggs,
the color of robin song,

of this day, holding us together
against gravity
for the rest of our lives.
Claudia Serea, Against gravity

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.

This week found poetry bloggers writing about where language and poetry come from, dreams, travel, reading, workshopping, and social media… among other things.

The smudgy morning, the colors
on the news, the ticking of the kettle
as it warms. Some things remain
unhinged inside me. Your mouth
no longer opening,
opening up.
Crystal Ignatowski, The Day After Your Death

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At present, my interests in language revolve about the other end of the lifespan of human communication–the loss of language abilities as people age. The elderly Beloveds in my life are displaying markedly differing changes in how they experience, and express, cognitive gaps. Often the expression of such gaps appears in the way they speak.

This would be the opposite of language acquisition. Memory losses, or slower memory retrieval functions, are common to most adults over age 70; but those issues do not necessarily affect sentence structure, vocabulary, pronunciation, descriptive abilities, and emotive communication through language. Strokes, neurovascular constriction, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other physiological alterations, can exert marked effects on verbal and written communication, however. Hearing loss and diminished vision exacerbate these problems.

All too often, the human being seems “lost” beneath the symptoms or becomes isolated as a result of the immense challenges to human relationships we have taken for granted for decades of being relatively “non-impaired.”

The loss of language skills intrigues me as much as the acquisition; my readings in neuropsychology and neurobiology have taught me that there is so much yet to learn about the brain and how it processes—well, almost everything (but my special interest is communication).

And my experience with people who are aging, or in some cases—my hospice volunteer work—dying, demonstrates on a personal or anecdotal level how uniquely individual each one of us is. How we communicate, how we express ourselves, our neurological processes, our physiology, temperament, environment, genetic makeup…so gloriously complex, random, fascinating.
Ann E. Michael, Language acquisition & its opposite

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Q~A poem from your latest collection was the inspiration for the June blog challenge on caregiving at Wilda Morris’s blog. How did that come about? Also, please tell us more about your collection.

A~Wilda is a colleague of mine and a terrific poet. I’ve learned a lot through her about how to take my work seriously, how to revise, and how to critique other’s work. She was one of the earlier reviewers of my manuscript, The Caregiver, before it got published. The collection was written over a 15-year span of time when I served as family caregiver to both of my parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Encephalitis. The poems are narrative and tell their story, but I believe they speak to anyone who has seen their loved ones age, or suffer from debilitating illnesses. […]

Q~What do you believe is the poet’s role in society?

A~I believe in Carolyn Forche’s philosophy to be a “poet of witness.” You have to write about what you see, what you witness. We have to be voices for those who can’t speak. It is a vital role, and I am still working on it.
Bekah Steimel, Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson

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A moment goes by in a flash or expands into the unstoppable. A moment can change everything. That’s what I’m thinking about and exploring in this fragment of (possible) verse. What was happening just before? How did she feel? How did the discerning moment alter her reality? An open heart can shut down in a moment such as this. It’s good to think about the before and after, to examine the reaction and the reason for it. Putting confused feelings into words isn’t easy – every word counts – and memory can throw you a curve ball. Perception of an event can change with time, causing a kind of dilution of the original feelings making a capture of those feelings like chasing a butterfly.
Charlotte Hamrick, A Fragment

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I depend on my immediate world to supply grist for my work. Some days everything sounds like poetry, and sometimes nothing does. While I’m often entranced by the busy, multi-chromatic noises of schedules and appointment calendars, I often need to subvert those notes before I can hear the whisper that signifies deep, fresh language.

For me, reading is a reliable way to begin, and reading with a pencil is best. I don’t think that it matters what you read, as long as it interests you. Poems, a George Eliot novel, the Science Daily website—write down a sentence, a line, or an image that intrigues you. Make a list. Mix and match. Try at least a page of these, then see what links them, or what sparks when you rub a few together. Don’t worry about changing or altering what you find, or throwing away most of what you collect. It’s a way to shift the brain from the humdrum to the surprising.
Getting Started after Not Writing for A While – guest blog post by Joyce Peseroff (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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Poet James Merrill’s book The Changing Light at Sandover was composed in part with a Ouija board, which Merrill and his partner were so obsessed with that Truman Capote referred to their house as “Creepyville.” Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath also experimented with Ouija-based poetry composition, less successfully it appears. Merrill, on the reality of spirit communication:

“If it’s still yourself that you’re drawing upon,” he said, “then that self is much stranger and freer and more far-seeking than the one you thought you knew.” And at another point: “If the spirits aren’t external, how astonishing the mediums become!” [p. 79]

Dylan Tweney, Occult America (book notes)

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KO’d, pain bouncing and hopping in victory, waving gloves in the air over me, I pass out.

In the black, there are hands: big hands, and muscular. There is my body, laid out unconscious. The hands reach into the small of my back, fingers ripping flesh so easily they might be parting a curtain. They sink all the way in, those hands, then tear apart: I am cracked open, I am torn and shattered muscle, blood, and bone. Separated like silk, like water, but for the pain, the sound of the structure itself cracking–being ripped apart is nothing soft, leaves nothing soft in this world.

Later, I’ll sleep again.

I’ll dream again.

It rises when stirred, the silt of lake-bottom.
JJS, July 18, 2018: in the dark

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I am alone. Beside me the world has cracked
like an egg, jagged and stretching over the horizon,
only a foot wide, but an abyss.
Sarah Russell, In the dream

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I used to feel so alien, so out-of-water in London but, over time, I’ve come to terms with that feeling of anonymity I experience there, more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited. In fact, it’s quite freeing, on occasion. Wednesday brought conversations with strangers: on the choice of breakfast breads with a woman on the next table at Le Pain Quotidien; on the joys of new babies and breastfeeding with a young mother as we shared a bench at St Pancras station; on poetry and discovering friends-in-common with three fellow passengers on the return train journey to Market Harborough (my copy of Under the Radar magazine proved a great conversation starter).
Jayne Stanton, Re-fuelling the writer: a day trip to London

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The population of Hayden [Colorado] is around 1500 depending on which census one reads. […] The Hayden Public Library has graciously offered to let me do a reading there on Wednesday, July 18, and in the morning, thanks Jane and Ana Lark. I’ll be doing a workshop with third through seventh graders in the morning also. I’m not sure what to expect. Even the smallest town I’ve ever lived in had thousands and thousands more in residence. Based on the conversation I had with Ana, the head librarian, I’m saying that the modus operandi is open arms! Not a lot of rules. Flexibility about everything. Salad bar provided with the poetry reading. Graciousness. I like it! Less anxiety, more pleasure. Today I learned that someone who runs a factory that makes yarn LOVES poetry, and she wants to know if I’d be interested in having another book-signing at her factory. What opportunity for doing that is there in Chicagoland! And having it be arranged only days before my arrival.
Gail Goepfert, POSTCARDS, ORIGAMI, AND YARN

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I did my regular 20 minute memorised set that features poems from my pamphlet, Dressing Up (Cinnamon Press, 2017) plus three poems that are not in the pamphlet; Silent Nights and Speaking to the Birds are chapters 1 and 10 respectively from a short story in verse I aim to have ready for publication as part of my first collection, and Colours, a poem about how blind people still have favourite colours.

This was the third time I’ve read with a microphone angled millimetres from my mouth … this time I managed to read without bopping it with my hand whilst reading Speaking to the Birds, in which I gesture once to the left and once to the right, and when reaching for my bottle of water to lubricate the delivery between poems.
Giles L. Turnbull, Ye Olde Poetry

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Over the past two weeks I’ve also read Ada Limon’s fourth poetry collection Bright Dead Things, published by Milkweed Editions, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s one of my new favorites. My copy is ridiculously dog-eared. I have this aversion to writing in my books — I do annotate, but in a notebook, usually — and so I fold down corners of poems I like especially. This method loses its effectiveness when the majority of the pages are folded down, as is what happened with this collection. It’s a beautiful book, with vivid gorgeous images, musical moments, and a clarity of vision and voice that delivers quiet, moving insight into the way we live and love and grieve. I heart this book.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Podcasts, Poetry, and Post-post-post Modern Memoir (and Wild Turkeys and Bathroom Demo)

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I’m not a forgive-and-forgetter. I’m more of a I’ll-let-it-go-this-time-but-it’s-going-in-your-permanent-record type. So you’d think I’d enjoy a good revenge fantasy poem. But, having encountered a couple recently, I find I feel impatient with them. Why? Do I think art should show the best we can be, not the worst? The best AND the worst, maybe. But revenge fantasy, nor even actual revenge, is not the worst of us. It’s the pettiest of us. And for that, perhaps, it has not, at least in these few poems I read, fulfilled for me the act of art. I can do petty any old day. It takes real strength of imagination to conjure the worst of the human impulse. And the best. I ask from poems this kind of imagination. In a revenge tale, there’s always a bad guy and the victim, even if the roles reverse. And the victim’s act of revenge has an aura of holy justice about it, no matter how bad is the act. There is a god-like nature of the revenge act that is not as interesting to me as the exploration of the flawed and contradictory human nature.
Marilyn McCabe, The Best Revenge: or, Writing the Human

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So now I’ve completely given up social media–so long Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. If you’d like updates—here they are!

Why am I done with being social? For a number of reasons–fake news makes me anxious, vacation pictures can make me jealous, there’s the temptation to put on a show. Ultimately, social media is NOT about being social or keeping up with friends–it is about showing off. Whether its your kids cute smile or your new car, it is in a way showing off.

And there’s also the fact that the wealthy behind-the-scenes elite use social media to control the masses and influence their emotions, thoughts, and actions…..

I kept it for so long thinking that I needed it to market my poetry–guess what? I don’t believe social media makes a drop in the bucket difference when it comes to selling poetry books. Not. A. Drop. I think that people buy books that get reviewed and that get recommended and get taught, and those are all avenues worth pursuing when it comes to marketing a book.

So I’m done with it. Why give my time to something that wants to control me? If you want to know how I am, you’ve got my number.
Renee Emerson, so long social media

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Thinking about the deeper meaning is a process I have repeated many times since then. Instead of posting [to social media], I do more thinking. I do not know if I am a better activist for it. I do know that making time for deeper thinking has made me a better writer and poet. Writing an op-ed feels like a more substantial act than a Facebook post, but does an op-ed contribute to social change? Does a poem? I do not know; perhaps not.

Real-time social media posts have changed our society. From Standing Rock to police brutality to ICE raids, smartphone recordings of crucial moments help people document and respond to injustice. First-hand accounts available on social media are unlike traditional news. From the hand of an ordinary person, a video on social media can teach a society about what is actually happening.

Part of the poet’s process allows thought to carve deep. As poets and activists, we need to use our tools to gather and distribute information, but we also need to be vigilant about how multi-billion dollar companies and corporate governments seek to undermine our work with intricate, sinister plans. We use corporate platforms to do our work, but at the same time, these corporations use us.

The survival of ourselves, our neighbors, and our planet may depend on what we do with our tools. We do not have time to waste.
Poetry, Social Media, and Activism – guest blog post by Freesia McKee (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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I spent the past 6 days going to a morning poetry workshop at the Port Townsend Writers Conference with a group of 12 poets, led by Ilya Kaminsky. If you are a poet and you’ve never met, or work-shopped with Ilya, I urge you to do so if you can. He is the most generous, funny, creative and insightful of the many wonderful poets I have work-shopped with at PTWC (and elsewhere) over the past 10 years, each of them delightful in their own way. How Ilya stands out is for his process, his ability to converse with poetry, his teaching savvy, his inventiveness in overcoming any barriers to getting the poem written. And his generosity, especially. He spent his lunch hours holding in-depth individual conferences with each of us.

I’ve been in a “poetry cloud” for the past week, and need to return to earth. Return to hospice visits, clinic work, volunteering, and the general decline of civilization. Spending time with poets this week reminds me that there is kindness, generosity, and creativity in this world, and that our work does matter.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Resurfacing

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.

Current events cast a heavy shadow over poets’ blogs this week, but we still found plenty of other things to write about as well, which is a tribute to our mental resilience, I suppose. So I decided not to impose much order on my selections this time around, emphasizing variety instead of common themes.

in the secret game in the secret room your face is circled
Grant Hackett, untitled monostich

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M.S. and I have begun tooling around with a new collaboration, something I’m working on during my morning writing sessions. Our spring sketchbook-making was such a good way of keeping me/us working through the semester, even with the chaos of classes, and I loved the experience of responding to visual art and having visual art made in response to my writing. The new project is less binary, less call-and-response, and more like two adjacent artists working around a similar theme — at some point we’ll exchange our work and reveal what we have and then move on from there. . . I think. The project springs from one of M.S.’s earlier works, actually, that I found inspiring and she wanted to develop further, so to some extent I already have visuals in my head that I can respond to . . . unfortunately she has to wait for work from me, since everything is coming out in these weird blotches of language. I’m not really interested in writing prose poems, so I’m just considering them bookmarks for poems that I’ll eventually write, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Writing and Close Readings

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When the breast is deprived of the baby
The tissue turns to stone
The ducts stiffen, become infected, inflamed
The breast weeps droplets of milk

 

There is no Promised Land
El Norte is a cruel myth
El Norte has stolen children
For hundreds of years
If the child be of darker hue
Christine Swint, Pilgrimage to el Norte

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Josephine Corcoran launched her collection, What Are You After, to a packed room, with special guest readings by Rishi Dastidar, Jackie Wills and Susannah Evans. I found Susannah’s apocalyptic poems really engaging (and funny, too; I love poems that make me laugh aloud) and I’ll be watching out for her forthcoming Nine Arches collection. Rishi and Susannah also paid tribute to Josephine’s online treasure trove that is And Other Poems by reading one of their poems published on the site.

I had my copy of What Are You After to hand for Josephine’s launch reading but found myself so drawn by the voice of the poet and the poems themselves that her book stayed on my lap (instead, it was my travel companion for the return train journey). Her poems have their feet planted firmly in everyday language; they are frank, funny, human, poignant. Afterwards, we were able to watch ‘Poem in which we hear the word ‘drone” as a film poem by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery of Elephant’s Footprint along with other poems from recent Nine Arches collections.
Jayne Stanton, Happy 10th birthday, Nine Arches Press!

So let’s watch that film poem Jayne mentioned:

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I have been musing on Rebecca Solnit’s text in which she writes about the Romantics’ “new” appreciation of Nature. I was particularly struck by her research about how in Europe, and among the Eurocentric American colonizers, pre-Romantic era society considered mountains not only dangerous but also “ugly” (in Wanderlust: A History of Walking). Aesthetics began to change in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Walking the natural world for something other than pure transportation from place to place altered our social ideas about what’s “beautiful.”

The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
—John Cage

[…]

Looking closely enough at something to find that you no longer see it as ugly requires an almost meditative change in perspective. It’s been an approach useful to me as a poetry prompt and as a means of more closely appreciating the world and everything in it. I don’t mean that I identify with the 19th-c Romantics, though I eagerly trod where Wordsworth trod when I visited the Lakes District a few years back; I don’t. My view of nature is really with a small ‘n’ and is pragmatic and scientific, among other things.

But: John Cage’s question to himself is a reminder to be compassionate, to observe with openness, information, education, perspective, and loving-kindness…while walking through the world.
Ann E. Michael, Aesthetic “therapy”

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[Octavia] Butler’s life as a writer has also been an inspiration and a comfort. I was so happy when she won the MacArthur award. I read an interview with her in Poets and Writers shortly after she won that award. She talked about the value of money to a writer, how having a funding source freed her to write all the books she’d been storing up but couldn’t write because she had to work. And in her early years, that work was often menial labor, the kind that leaves one too tired to write.

Butler was a writer who writers could love. Like many of my favorite writers, she stresses habit and persistence over talent and inspiration. Here’s a typical quote (found on GoodReads): “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler!

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I am sharing a poem today from my upcoming collection The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press). I wrote this shortly after the recent presidential election. It seems that the number of corpses on frosted asphalt has only grown larger in this increasingly unkind and immoral political atmosphere many of us Americans find ourselves in. May we all join together and be the song we need to hear.
Carey Taylor, Post Election

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In this body, which has become increasingly fragile as I age, I worry I can’t do enough – for others, for my country, for my dad. What can my contribution be? Well, I can at least not stay silent. I can at least let my politicians who care about my vote know where I stand. I can let my Dad know I’m thinking of him with care-packages and advice. I feel like I’m on the verge of yelling or crying almost all the time these days. None of it is enough. I can write my way through it – probably the only thing I feel competent to do right now.

How do you get through Crisis Mode? How do you take care of yourself and still help take care of the world? How do you, as a poet feel we should respond?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Crisis Mode, My review of Oceanic up at the Rumpus, Redactions New Issue, Lit World Gender Representation, Crisis Mode Again

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How does one wade in the water, when the water is toxic? The current United States Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, approaches this question in a variety of thought-provoking ways in her profound fourth collection, Wade in the Water. The water Smith considers is literal, political, historical, and metaphorical: the water we drink, the culture we are steeped in, the history we carry with us, and the spirituality imbued in our everyday lives. With a deeply critical mind, Smith probes these dynamics through juxtaposition, documentary poetics, erasure techniques, secular hermeneutics, as well as anecdotal narrative. Following her Pulitzer prize winning collection, Life on Mars, Smith returns to an abused and ravaged earth, and listens to its discontents, sorrows, and complaints and shows us what is essential and not essential to the human condition.

At the center of this struggle for a world we can all wade in are power dynamics. Whether political or domestic, on a grand or a small scale, these dynamics directly affect the daily existence of Americans, whether we realize it or not. Power dynamics also affect our drinking water. Water is supposed to cleanse, replenish, and revive us, and yet due to unregulated toxic chemicals seeping into drinking water, it is killing people, in America and around the world. In the eco-poetics poem “Watershed,” Smith pulls phrases from an article summarizing a lawyer’s long-standing legal battle with the megacorporation DuPont. The case exposed decades of chemical pollution that resulted not only in sick employees, but in severe water contamination in specific towns as well as contamination throughout the world. The second definition of watershed is: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. This case against DuPont was a watershed moment in environmental legislation, though for many people the outcome came too late; the original plaintiffs both died of cancer after watching the majority of their 200 cows become diseased, deranged, and die from contaminated drinking water.

It is difficult to digest the horrific ramifications of DuPont’s negligence, nearly all people have been exposed to PFOA, the poisonous chemical used to process Teflon, it is in our blood and blood banks. Tracy K. Smith could have read this article in the NYT and gone on with her day, but instead she created a lasting work of art that stands as testament to this catastrophic event. With a surgical hand Smith extracts particularly disturbing portions of this text and interweaves them with extracts from a second text, accounts of near-death experiences, which are considerably different in tone and subject matter. This kind of courageous leap in thought is part of what makes contemporary poetics so exciting. The result of this interweaving is an almost surreal poem that underlines this global health threat, and also considers what it really means to be on the threshold between life and death. The near-death experiences Smith selects are rooted in love, an action opposite of the ones corporations are accustomed to taking. In the afterlife, according to these accounts, “All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.”
Anita Olivia Koester, American Toxicity: Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

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Where I’ve been staying, most days in the early evening I hear a strange soft clatter, and look out the door to find a relatively orderly herd of goats walking down the road, kept moving along by a relatively polite and very efficient border collie. Sometimes a goat will pause to nibble at a tasty vine, but in short order the collie urges it along, and they all disappear around the corner of the stone barn next door. Often soon thereafter I’ll hear some bellowing, and I know the man down the street is calling the cows back to the barn from the field across the road, and they’ll shamble along slowly to his “Allors,” as if reluctant attendees to an obligatory meeting. Early mornings I wake to what sounds like a strangled cry which, after he clears his throat, will turn out to be a rooster’s call, soon to be joined by the dove’s ooo-ooo-er, over and over and over and over. And it occurs to me that these are my main modes of thought. And I can’t predict from one situation to the next, one impulse to the next, which of the modes will kick in. I can only hope they ultimately serve whatever the purpose: to move me along, to gather myself together, to wake me up, or get me out of the house to escape the incessant repetitions of thought. Allors.
Marilyn McCabe, I Herd You; or Habits of Mind

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What I am reading:

What Is Not Beautiful, Poems by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (The Glass Chapbook Series, June 2018)

This small book of poems can be read in order and in one sitting, a process I like to apply to all books of poems, but am not always able to. There is this joy with chapbooks, when good–as this one certainly is–in that their concentrated effect can be mesmerizing.

Starting with the picture on the cover, a small girl looking at herself in the mirror with a look that is hard to decipher. Wise and knowing? or tough and jaded? Compare this to the author’s picture on the back cover and you have the same face, the same expression, the same wonderment that presages the narrative of the book.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Report

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Ian McMillan, Elvis, Ted Hughes … I spent this afternoon at the Ready Teddy workshop organised by the Ted Hughes Project and run by Ian McMillan. Ian was as entertaining as always, but what really came through was his ability to transcend the ordinary and to take his workshop participants with him on a flight of fancy which was uncannily grounded in the real and everyday. The setting of the former Mexborough Grammar School, where Hughes studied, was a gift. We wandered the corridors making absurd but inspiring links between past and present, fact and fiction, imagining Elvis on the trail of his hero, Ted Hughes. People came up with daft theories about off-the-wall things like boiled hamburgers, and outside we discovered ‘Elvis artefacts’ including a wooden heart. We sang Jailhouse Rock to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At to get us in the mood for writing and Ian shared a brilliant tweet he’d received: You ain’t nothin’ but a thought fox.

That’s what Ian’s so good at, getting you to be absurd and creative and not to worry about what you’re writing.
Julie Mellor, Ready Teddy …

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My father Langston hands his camel jacket to the coat-check lady.
He lifts his menu with a flourish and says now you order anything, anything.
My father Thomas Stearns says use your inside voice.
Embarrassment beads his forehead.
My father Ezra chants a grace to drive the waiter mad.
My father John Keats urges a scalpel between cork and bottle.
A candle-flame repeats in glass, wine, his hectic cheeks.
My father Walt pries open mollusk after mollusk, grooves on his thumbs adoring the grooves of each inky shell.
My father Allen insists I eat my broccoli broccoli broccoli and the outrageous curry of hilarity anoints his beard.
My father James Merrill, tortoiseshell-buttoned, conserves naked chicken bones for broth.
I will bathe them, he says, with bay leaves, peppercorns, and whole onions quartered through paper to root.
When the liquid alchemizes I will strain its gold and measure in cubes of potato, crystals of salt.
This soup will be for you.

Lesley Wheeler, Paternity suit

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.

This week, popular themes included travel, exhaustion and rejuvenation, music and poetry, and fathers.

Being a poet is a condition. That’s not an original thought, I confess that some poet has uttered those words but I don’t recall who. Being a condition, if you believe that, and I do, then it is a lifelong journey or searches to find something that you don’t know you are looking for. Once you are lucky enough to discover it and wrap a poem around it, the search begins anew. It’s a bit like government work. It’s never finished. It just keeps going on and on and on.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Flan Edition

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I kept a travel journal, with small drawings. I was faithful to entering the day to day experiences, large and small. I wrote some creative work while I was away, but, since I’ve returned, I have been writing every day. Poems, essays. My perspective has changed completely, and I feel utterly calm. Not sure if that’s a jet lag hangover or not, but I think I have come to terms with a lot of life that I can’t change.
M.J. Iuppa, Imagine beauty. Imagine Sicily

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For the last week, I’ve lived in the land of the long blink. We arrived home eight days ago from the aforementioned intense trip to Europe, and I dutifully took sunlit walks to reset my body clock, swallowed melatonin at the appointed hours, and vigorously swept out my email inbox–begone, reference letters and peer review!–while getting organized for a spousal birthday and our son’s impending six weeks at the Ross Mathematics Program in Ohio.

I was plenty busy, in other words, but not desperately so, and as I ticked off the most urgent tasks, I found myself revving down. You know, my brain said Wednesday morning, before you work on permissions inquiries, there’s this poem idea. And on Friday morning, over breakfast by an open window, Hey, you haven’t taken a three-day weekend just to read and cook and hang out for a long, long time. As I let myself do less, I started getting sleepier and sleepier, “After Apple-Picking” style. The past few nights I’ve been unable to keep my eyes open much past 9 p.m. […]

Now I’m catching up with poetry in books and magazines. The new Ecotone is on my desk and, as always, it’s full of loveliness. It often contains a powerful poem by a writer I’ve never heard of, and this time that’s “Coywolf” by Katie Hartsock. I also especially enjoyed the opening note by Anna Lena Phillips Bell discussing the departure from the magazine of Beth Staples, who will move to this sleepy town come August and take over Shenandoah. I’ll be reading poetry submissions under her editorship and I’m beyond excited about the magazine’s transition. I’m nervous about the workload, too, but my term on AWP ends in October, and being a trustee during that organization’s recent changes has involved plenty of time and worry. I’m eager, at any rate, to spend time in a different region of the po-biz.
Lesley Wheeler, Hundred-year nap

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I often, in the grim thick of it, wonder why I travel, and why I try to get my work published. I can’t explain either, except for some complex cocktail of ego, hubris, drive, curiosity, and this need to connect, perhaps. We sat by a tidal river in a funky little place that was playing Steely Dan, BB King, Supertramp, and ate crustaceans that we don’t usually eat, bristling with claws and exoskeleton, toasting Anthony Bourdain’s memory. We left hungry but feeling like we’d accomplished a small thing, as I felt when I heard of my finalist spot. Staying home is nice too. Not doing the research required to send work out, not girding the loins for the inevitable rejections, just either doing the writing or doing something else entirely — that’s nice too. But before long I start listening keenly to others’ tales, pore over maps, surf the Poets &Writers deadline pages, pack my bags and set out. Again and again. That’s the only Way.
Marilyn McCabe, Long, Winding; or, Getting Published

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I was camping in Whitby for a few days over half term and The Sick Bag Song was my holiday read. It’s a fragmentary road trip, part prose, part poem. The Sunday Times described it as ‘About as rock’n’roll as you can get …’ but despite being a music fan, I read it because [Nick] Cave gives some great insights into creativity and how writing happens. For example, he tells a story about a visit to Bryan Ferry’s house where he falls asleep by the swimming pool.

I awoke to find Bryan Ferry in his bathers, standing in the swimming pool. He was white and handsome and very still.

I haven’t written a song in three years, he said.

Why? What’s wrong with you? I said.

He gestured, with an uncertain hand, all about him.

There is nothing to write about, he said.

That night I sat at my desk writing in a frenzy – page after page – song after song …

(Nick Cave, The Sick Bag Song, Cannongate, 2015)

I don’t know how true this story is, but it’s interesting to me on so many levels – the idea that success can lead to a loss of creative drive and energy, that sometimes you don’t feel like anything around you is interesting enough to write about (especially if what surrounds you is luxury) etc. But it also interests me that Cave says he fed off that experience like a vampire, that somehow seeing Ferry blocked unleashed a torrent of writing in himself. Surely that’s fear of failure? But it’s being channelled into something productive.
Julie Mellor, The Sick Bag Song

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A little peek at the change of seasons – here, sunflowers are blooming and they’ve attracted goldfinches! Another sign of summer? Butterflies and…we went to an outdoor concert (I haven’t been healthy enough to go to a concert for over a year and a half!) at beautiful Marymoor Park – KT Tunstall, Better Than Ezra, and The Barenaked Ladies – where the first two acts were really fun, and I caught a guitar pick from the lead singer of Better Than Ezra, but then – it started raining a few drops, then boom! We were evacuated because of lightning! If you’ve ever seen a large park full of concert goers emergency evacuate, it’s a mess – and I was holding a metal cane and a metal umbrella – talk about lightning rods! I also got to attend the prenuptial reading at Elliot Bay for Kaveh Akbar and Paige Taylor, who invited a ton of friends to read with them at Elliot Bay – it was like a baby AWP! Much less lightning. Poetry folks everywhere and standing room only. What a fun way to celebrate the beginning of a marriage.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Mermaid, Faerie Magazine, and Me, and the Latest in Poetry Life, Early Summer Edition

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In the first of my explorations of poetry used in modern music, I will shine the light in the direction of top UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Benjamin Zephaniah appeared on the first Imagined Village album, where he performed a retelling of the old English poem Tam Lin in words that would speak to our current times, picking up the hot potato of asylum and immigration.

This was the first of Imagined Village’s three albums, and it seemed deliberate that for this first album they employed well-known names such as Billy Bragg and Paul Weller – great musicians and a little controversial.

Benjamin Zephaniah has never been one to shy away from controversy, but in the nicest and most morally upstanding of ways – namely his rejection of his OBE. “OBE” means “Order of the British Empire”. Zephaniah said, ‘Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality…’
Catherine Hume, Benjamin Zephaniah

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At school we had to pray they’d be forgiven,
those trespassers, who rambled viking fells,
ghylls and cloughs, sour gritstone moors
and green lanes cropped by mourning sheep.
They knew the land they walked should not be owned,
wished it was theirs; coveted the cottages
of the small stone villages, their tidy gardens.
Those men like my father the woollen spinner,
namer of birds; presser of wild flowers.
John Foggin, Fathers’ Day

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John Foggin pays tribute to a multi-talented, hardworking father with three poems. His post struck a chord:

My father won the Art Prize in his final year at Secondary Modern school, aged 14. He wanted to go to art college but obeyed his father’s instruction to get a proper job: a nine-year apprenticeship as a coach painter, three years in the RAF regiment as a signaller, and an ever after of hard graft with overtime, latterly spraying cars for a local car dealership. Early retirement with a heart condition afforded him time to indulge a long-denied passion for painting and sketching, and a dawning realisation of repressed left-handedness (his legacy to me, perhaps). He died too young, aged 63.
Jayne Stanton, Fathers and the poems they inspire

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A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a young relative who is a biology student at the University of Oregon. She mentioned that one of her favorite things to do is to look at the university library’s vast collection of amateur field notes. At that moment, I realized that “Field Notes” was the working title for my new collection. Of course. It was perfect.

Here are some “Field Notes” I’ve collected since April:

Joshua Trees look like lions in an infrared photo

fog is my weakness

let’s re-wild each other

clay – what the hell

“Bad” means “bath” in German

zucchini – what a giver you are

ever left something outside long enough for the weeds to grow around it?

a bit of earth

I need a garden to stay sane

fight dirty

save me blueberry
Erica Goss, Field Notes

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The Three Poems by Emily Paige Wilson in Longleaf Review are thrilling in their use of language, like a trapeze artist making us hold our breath until the triumphant end. I love, love, love how she weaves together herbal lore, earth treasures, and the human body into her verse in the most unexpected ways, especially in “Poet as Doctor (II)”:

Write perfume in cursive until the pneumonia
in your lungs loosens. Thread silver through
your teeth to tempt splinters from your skin.
Dissolve geode into fine grains on your tongue,
swallow to ease the gout out of your teased
and tangled toes.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poems I’m Mad Over Right Now

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When I first learned about erasure poetry, I was enamored with the form. The idea that a poem could be hidden inside any text was intoxicating—a challenge I insist on pushing to the limit. There are so many variables: your source text, your mood, whether you’re working by hand or on computer, the marker or pencil you pick up, how quickly your eye scans across the page. I love that there is no one way to write erasure poems, that each writer’s process is a little bit different.
6 Styles of Erasure Poetry – guest blog post by Erin Dorney (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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So what does this mean? For one, it means that whether or not anyone agrees with my reasons for withdrawing, I can rest for a little while, because it’s done. I’ve made it official. And working at the college for the past year — maybe even the past two years — has been incredibly draining. I need some time to mellow out.

To be honest, it’s a little jarring and I’ve spent the last week feeling largely unsettled. I’ve done a little bit of everything but not a great deal of anything. I suppose that’s healthy to some degree, but it’s a strange feeling. I’ve been reluctant even to write in this blog, mostly because I don’t know what to say. I keep writing and deleting sentences. I’m reluctant to invite judgment, I suppose — particularly my own.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, More Ineffectual Shouting Into the Void

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What I am reading this Sunday:

Boyishly, by Tanya Olson (YesYes Books, 2013)– this is an amazing book, winner of an American Book Award, which I just picked up again and could not put down. Again. The preface poem, “Exclude all other thoughts” brings us mouth to mouth with a corpse in a intimate parable of how to keep the dead, dead. These poems are full of imagining how to be: how to be “boyish”, how to be in the whale’s belly, how to cross the street; “how hard it is not to buy a tiger”; how to be an “old, old, old” woman; finally, how to die “with a giant wad of love jamming up your heart.” Buy this book. Here. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Book of Poems in Hand and

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He could heal them with a single
word if they had faith.
He unrolls his yoga mat
to join them as they arch
into dog shapes and fish curves.

He’s been crucified on a cross.
He thought he understood the limits
of human pain. But on this hard, wood
floor, he senses yet another threshold.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Son Salutation”

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At the moment of her death
      she saw 10,000 children
            their white scarves streaming.

At the moment of his death
      he heard the pages of his open book
            riffling in a stiff breeze.
Dick Jones, Ars Moriendi

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. I was on my honeymoon last week, whence the double issue. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Despite the hiatus, this edition isn’t any longer than usual, because I kept to my usual pattern of no more than one post per blogger. I just feel that too long a digest isn’t going to be read, which defeats the whole purpose. (I did save for next week’s edition any post published since Sunday the 3rd.) But with twice as many posts to choose from, I think this might be one of the more compelling digests I’ve had the pleasure of assembling.

Nesting season. The earliest fledglings have begun to leave their temporary homes. Some birds seem to return to their house sites–or perhaps their offspring do so. There are ledges here that shelter robins’ nests every year; there are certain trees the orioles seem to favor over and over again.
Ann E. Michael, Nesting

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According to Hesiod, Zeus swallowed Metis in order to keep his philandering a secret from his other lovers. But Metis was secretly pregnant; her daughter, Athena–child of cosmic knowledge and the king of the sky–eventually found her way out from the nesting doll of her parents, emerging from Zeus’s head, dressed in full armor and brandishing a sword.

By the time Athena is born, the story of Metis is long over; Hesiod doesn’t mention her again.

The idea that Zeus gave birth to Athena is often interpreted as being an inversion–that is, that the act of giving life could be ascribed not to the offspring’s mother, but to their father.

It also shares striking similarities to the story of Zeus’s own birth; before Zeus became king of the Olympians, there was the ancient Cronus (the cosmic essence of time), who maintained power by swallowing all of Zeus’s older siblings, while continuously impregnating his mother, Rhea, through rape. Ultimately, Cronus was tricked into swallowing a stone instead of Zeus, causing all of his siblings to be vomited up in reverse order; Zeus, once the youngest, was now the oldest of the Titan children, allowing him to inherit the throne and become king of the gods.

So what, then, should we make of Athena, love child of sky and thought, goddess of wisdom and strategic victory, who, against the patriarchal obsessions of the Ancient Greeks, still emerged, from a certain fate, as a woman? What should we make of Athena’s mother, Metis, the anthropomorphism of thought, who, cosmic as she is, was not killed, but rather, fully internalized by a king-god who stood to lose everything because of her knowledge? Somehow, despite the attempt to silence one woman’s voice, another was born, one who was revered because of her wisdom, rather than denigrated for it–why has this version of the story persisted, despite the astounding misogyny of the Western world?
Stephanie Lane S., On Beauty: A Manifesto

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The ode’s impulse is always to praise or honor, and yet [Keith] Leonard shows us the depths inherent in honoring, and how easily an ode can slip into an elegy, and an elegy become an ode. In “Ode to Dreaming the Dead” Leonard finds himself unable to pivot towards joy, as he does in some of the poems, and writes instead:

All I want is to hear
them hum a tune—
my dead which populate
the dream like a mute
chorus of horses,
for which I unlatch
the barn gate
and point to the open
field, and click
my tongue, but which
only stand there
staring at the grass.

This ode dismantles into longing, longing to hear the voice of the dead again, but it is the immobility of the horses that is particularly haunting. And yet the ode is not written to them but to the “dreaming of the dead,” and so, though the speaker of the poem longs to release the dead from his dreams, the poet chooses to honor their continual remembrance, even though the act of honoring itself is difficult.
Anita Olivia Koester, Brazen Hope: Ramshackle Ode by Keith Leonard

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Unremarkable, that chapel
with its scattered single pews.
Then the curly-headed priest
in white, drawing the tincture,
a communion for two, into
its tiny phial. My blood, my
talkative blood, spinning
my secrets into pixels.

He reads through light
the narrative of basophils,
of monocytes and bilorubin,
antigens and ace inhibitors.
He knows the names of all
the heroes and the villains
and he calls them in, the
good shepherd, the sweet
young physiologist. His way
is calm; his song is soft and
when it’s run from clef
to staff, he turns away.
Dick Jones, Phlebotomy

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Q~Your writing has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Acclaim is nice when it comes. A greater part of one’s life is spent in doubt, I think. And, when one is in doubt the best thing is to turn inward and focus on listening, focus on process, focus on figuring out how to call out of the place that feels most singular and human in your being. Also, to read the work of others you admire. And go to art exhibits. And to jazz clubs and live music and the symphony. To both center oneself and feel oneself be unsettled by art. To cultivate one’s faith not in success but in the processes of art.
Bekah Steimel, Elk at Tomales Bay / An interview with poet Tess Taylor

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The first time I ate mushrooms
I was in Central Washington.
The dry landscape was baked
and thirsty for a drink of water.
I remember faces blurring
like smeared chalk drawings
on a cement sidewalk freshly washed
with rain. I remember voices sounding
hushed and muffled, the rumble
of the car sounding both near and far
away. We stopped to get gas and while
the pump was working away, I wandered
through the convenience store, ran
my fingers across the shelves, let
my palms brush against boxes of cereal,
bags of chips, sponges, and air fresheners.
Crystal Ignatowski, Welcome To Vantage, Washington

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–A cold claws at my throat. I didn’t have anything important to say anyway.

–A man who looks like Vladimir Putin with a crew cut takes pictures of the underside of the bridge. Is he a terrorist or someone who appreciates the machinery of a good bridge?

–I thought I was buying a box of wing nuts for $5. I bought a $5 wing nut. It doesn’t look significantly better than the cheaper wing nuts.

–We battle an infestation of mosquitoes. We have moved the bug zappers inside.

–I’ve invited a robot into our home. It vacuums until it gets stuck under the cedar chest.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Machinery of a Good Bridge

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I’m so prone to re-working and over-editing my poems that about three years ago I started making sure I kept the first draft, and often that has turned out to be the best version.

I had a poem accepted in Brittle Star this week and they asked, as magazines often do, for an electronic copy. I trawled document after document until I finally found the poem, many versions of it in fact, but the one they’d accepted was the first version.

Although I remembered writing the poem (at a Poetry Business Writing Day) what really sticks in my mind is the redrafting I subjected that poem to, a process I think of now as smoothing the life out of it. After all, it was done with such care and good intent.

I’m writing this now as if I’m free of the habit. I’m not. I still spend hours tweaking a poem or worse, battering it into submission. The end result is invariably a bad poem, but when this madness is upon me I convince myself I’m working, and therefore I’m doing something good.
Julie Mellor, It’s when you begin lie to yourself

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I was looking over a newish poem, and, of an image I used, I thought, Oh, no, I can’t use that. I used it already in another poem. But as I was exploring an exhibit about Picasso’s creation of “Guernica,” I found out how often he recycled images. I don’t mean, for example, his various drawings and paintings using the image of the Minotaur — he was obviously exploring various mythological and psychological aspects of that character. I mean, oh, there’s a variation of that screaming horse. And there it is again. And there’s a disembodied arm. There’s another arm. In “Guernica,” the screaming horse became a central image, but he had used it previously sort of beside other things. It grew into its ultimate place in “Guernica,” even moving upward in the composition even as Picasso was working it out over the short period in which he generated the piece. So if I want to reuse the image of, oh, I don’t know, the often cloudy fish tank in my mother’s old folks’ home, well, I can, dammit. It’s my screaming horse.
Marilyn McCabe, Rinse, Repeat; or If Picasso Can, So Can I; or, Using Images in Repeat

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If you encounter the heartbreak of an empty reading audience room (it happens, even when we do our best to promote a reading,) laugh it off, get a drink or browse the bookstore, and chalk it up to experience. If your book doesn’t change the world when it comes out, don’t worry – most books do not change the world. Maybe your next one will be a hit. When we compare ourselves to other people and get jealous of their success, that doesn’t really set us up for success – unless it gives you motivation to aim higher with your goals. The art of practicing graciousness – with other writers, with publishers, with reviewers, with our communities – and being grateful for the good things that come our way are key to remaining a happy and not bitter writer. And believe me, I understand where both these writers are coming from…Every time I start to feel that bitter feeling of “I should have gotten that award/grant or I can’t believe so and so rejected me” I try to think of the lucky opportunities I’ve had and the unexpected gifts I’ve been given. The kindnesses I’ve received. And I just feel that the best way to deal with those feelings is to reach out to those around us and help them. Say something nice to a friend. Buy their book, or review it or order it from your local library. A lot of times that will make us feel better, and them feel better, and maybe create a more beautiful writing community. If you add grace to the world, it will probably come back around – but even if it doesn’t, you’ve accomplished something great.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Who Will Buy Your Book Thoughts, and Skagit Poetry Festival Report

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So what really happened at each reading I gave?

People were polite, applauded.

Several people bought my book.

Sometimes one or two folks asked me to sign it.

But one person came up and confided in me that my work spoke to them about what they’d been through.

That person thanked me.

And I cried tears of joy as we hugged.

I realized I’d come full circle.

Poetry saved my life as child in harrowing circumstances. Poems reached across time, distance, gender, culture, and spoke to me of survival. Poems taught me I wasn’t alone in my suffering. And if others could survive, so could I.

Finally, my poems provided that message and reached out as well.

My words only connected with one other living soul. And that was more than I could ever hope for.

I may not have changed the world.

I may not have bettered that person’s life.

But for one brief moment in time, that person knew they were not alone.

And it was enough. For both of us.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 2

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But back to a community of poets—I think this is the essential link for finding an audience. Many poets find this in an academic setting, but it is possible to locate oneself in a community without any academic cred. It’s possible to find poets in your area or to locate a community online. In 2012, around the time I was publishing my first chapbook, I joined Mary Meriam in founding Headmistress Press. We met on an online poetry workshop, where she asked to publish one of my poems on her online zine, Lavender Review. As two no-longer-young lesbians, we commiserated on how difficult it was to get our work noticed as marginalized poets. The first Headmistress publication was Mary’s chapbook, “Word Hot.” Since then, we have published 42 books of poetry by lesbian/bi/trans poets. Take note: I “met” Mary on an online workshop. Odd as it may seem, we’ve run a press together for 6 years, living in different states, without ever meeting face-to-face.

Working outside of the larger poetry community makes it difficult to attend poetry gatherings and readings, but over the years, I’ve gone to as many as possible. I use vacation days to attend writing workshops all over the US and Canada to work with poets whose work I admire. I receive a dozen excellent daily poems in my email and comment positively on poems I like. I buy a ton of poetry, and leave reviews on Amazon or on my own blog. Most of my friends on Facebook are poets. I’ve stayed connected warmly to poets I’ve met at workshops. I’ve made connections with dozens of wonderful poets through running Headmistress Press. I’ve also found a network of regional poets and editors that I keep in touch with. As I labored over my latest manuscript, I made a commitment to see it published by a regional press and was thrilled to have slight faith accepted by Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press, here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m starting to feel accepted as a ‘Northwest’ poet!
On Getting Your Poems Noticed: The Essential Need for Community – guest blog post by Risa Denenberg (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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Earlier in the week I had to fill out some paperwork that required going back into my old notebooks and searching for relevant information, and I came across notes from the SECAC panel in Columbus last year. One of the panelists, Elaine Luther, gave us her rules for a committed studio practice. The first two are about holding space for yourself and self-love and acceptance, which are probably necessary but evoke from me this kind of visceral gag-like reaction to the new-agey sound of it all, but the last two I found more interesting: #3, Decide what to be bad at so you can focus on becoming good at your art (i.e. I’m going to be bad at volunteering, cooking, housework. etc.) #4, Create boundaries (i.e. “Build a fortress around your studio time”).

I’m going to make some drastic — for me — moves toward building that fortress. First, I’m stepping down from all college service for the next academic year. I’ve decided to be a bad colleague: No meetings, no emails, no creative writing festival, no union activities. Next, I’m going to be bad at social media, like FaceInstabookgram. I think I might just go radio-silent for the next year and either delete my accounts or log out from them, wipe them from my smartphone, whatever. Something to that effect. (I’ll keep the blog, because shouting into the void isn’t really social and it’s my form of accountability and part of my writing process.) And I’m going to take a page from M.S.’s book and the visual artists I know and create my own version of “studio Fridays” — a block of time in the morning for sustained work on my writing, i.e. my verse play.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Building a Fortress

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I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails. Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails. They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up? I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot. I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired. How misguided I was!

One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start. Maybe. Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book. The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.
Jayne Stanton, After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox

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That hot. That yellow. That blue. Dancing robots, and us,
old cyborgs that we are, all the broken bits and cracks
and worn out weakness that washes away in waters

rinsing today’s laundry; doing what has to be done,
doing the things that carry us one day closer to
when we can do nothing, with no one. Time to let go
of my own leash, at least to think about it.
PF Anderson, Bobby, Billie, and Blue

*

Coffee cup, stapler, daisies, composition book open to a fresh page.
Eight distinct bird calls, soft wind chimes, and three gas mowers are the morning sounds.
Bo cries to go outside, agrees finally to chase toy instead of bird.
Three loads of laundry and three hairballs removed.
The very wonder of it all, as if all is well.
As if all is well.
As if.

Time for writing now.
Time for writing.
Time.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning View from My Desk

*

How is time moving so quickly
Invent a new creature
and through him time emerges
At first you are the new creature
and then you can only marvel at the small
ones emerging from it seems nowhere
And the new ones make us old and uncool
which means we know the unendingness
of time has ended
And no one declares at our birthdays
Look how old she is
and still alive
except for ourselves
Hannah Stephenson, Paint the Cake With Fire

*

I realize I can walk miles backward
not once glancing over the shoulder.

Let fatigue rest in the intersections of limbs
there will always be someone to spread

ash for the plants, turn soil with bone meal.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Body Spans Three Landscapes

*

I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, Sonnet

*

A true thing: these vital organs are never domesticated. Should never be.

Another true thing: it takes the radical risk of wild love to root in place, in leaps of faith still evidence-based, in flesh and bone that is wide open.

Another: one should love oneself wildly, one’s own mortal flesh; there is no other way to survive this, until that inevitable moment when we don’t—and, it is either very brave or gluttony for punishment to extend this abandon beyond the margins of one’s own life, one’s own imperfect body; to risk again and again the holes carved out by mortality and loss.

Either way, this is what must be done to remain wild, to see or experience or be anything worthy at all.

The wild self is so vast it cannot do anything less than yes, when beloved abandon calls.

The voice of an owl, a deer, a hummingbird, a pileated woodpecker, a particular soil’s smell, a porcupine, this quality of light, a wolf, coyotes, this transient summer, this violent winter, bears, so many deer they cannot be counted: undeniable.

Inevitable, the yes, when wild is answered with wild.

When he says will you come live with me there can be only yes, I will—

Hard-won, our every step. The affirmative answer the rare and perfect point.

Wilderness to be charted, a new terrain of open.
JJS, May 31, 2018: this poorly domesticated creature

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers were plumbing some pretty deep waters: genocide, dispossession, mothers and children, writing while parenting, the importance of linking and connecting, the rewards of political poetry, the perils of housecleaning, and more. Let’s jump right in.

I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning. By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]

I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.

With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:

Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)

Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Mourning

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Ivanka stands clapping — she’s sixty
miles away — while Mnuchin pulls off

the big reveal: the president’s name
writ larger than the thing it dedicates.

We see it all, live, this Nakba, the burning
tires, the streams of tear gas, a baby

grounded, inhaling dirty smoke in Gaza.
Maureen E. Doallas, They Call it ‘A Great Day’

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Sunday afternoon in The Leeds Library… the oldest subscription library in the UK, celebrating its 250th birthday in the most fitting way I can think of. A reading with the poetry legend from Beeston. The scholarship boy who took a long slow-burning revenge on his patronising old English teacher at Leeds Grammar School by writing two Meredithean sonnets. Them and [uz]. A rallying cry for all of us, that remind the world that [uz] can be loving as well as funny. Erudite, sophisticated and articulate, too. I set that alongside another of his lines in National trust

the tongueless man gets his land took.

Tony Harrison read with his trademark relish for the heft and texture of words; it was a Leeds event and he celebrated with lots of his poems about his mum and dad, from The school of eloquence..which are rooted in his personal history and theirs, but which speak for everyone exploited or conflicted by the class appropriations of language, literacy and education. It was joyous.

Tony Harrison. He’s the reason that I ever thought I might write poems (if not poetry). This comes with stories. In 1971 I moved to Newcastle to be a lecturer in a College of Education. When I took my children to school of a morning, there were very few men doing the same, and one of them was a striking figure..lean and handsome in an RAF greatcoat, very Dostoevskian. Eventually, I asked our Julie (5 yrs old) ‘who’s that bloke?’. ‘That’s Max Harrison’s daddy.’ ‘What’s he do, then?’ ”He doesn’t do anything. he’s a poet.’ I’ve dined out on that story, but the point is that though contemporary poetry meant absolutely nothing to me, then, I mentioned this to a colleague, who invited Harrison to come and read to our 3rd Year B.Ed English students, and so it was that I went to my first ever poetry reading. […]

What Tony Harrison did that night was a revelation. Poetry could be angry, political; it could give back a voice to the tongueless, it could be passionate, it could use rhyme and structure and scholarship as a natural part of its rhetoric. It could be funny and sexy. So I was hooked. I still am.
John Foggin, One of [uz]. An afternoon with Tony Harrison

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The repeated rhymes send the poem galloping forward, the pace accelerates as the poem reveals its truth, threatening to slip out of control the way emotions threaten to slip out of control. But then [Chelsea] Dingman regains control of the poem by shifting perspective – the I speaker asks a question “Is this escape for you?” – and by returning again to the controlled syntax of a shorter sentence and by a reducing of the repetition of that aching long a. Whereas in the center of the poem we heard that sound nine times in four lines, in the final nine lines of the poem we hear it six times: escape, blame, plated, frame, ashtray, ache. Like the sound of breath slowing down after a period of excitement, like somebody who had been crying uncontrollably regaining composure. The poem ends with two sentences that are grammatically questions but which function as statements, as a move towards acceptance: “In any homecoming, what can we do but echo & ache? / To leave ourselves as one thing & return as another?”
Jennifer Saunders, “In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” by Chelsea Dingham

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She is the water drop on a lotus leaf
no grease marks on the stove
clothes folded away, dishes rinsed
on the sink. Being born afresh
is like dying in the right sense.
Uma Gowrishankar, Remembering Mother

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It has been a while since the blue heron
has shown his face, but I know he will return.
And I know my mother will shriek for joy.
She will bounce on her heels like popcorn
in a skillet. She will wave her hands like a flag
in the wind. Everything will become more real
in that moment.
Crystal Ignatowski, No Matter What Time Of Day

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You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.

Reading and writing poetry, both.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.

And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.

Family poems felt important to write.

But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.

The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 1

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Margot Kidder eased me through rising panic
every Friday at 1 p.m. as I was deposited
on the sidewalk and mother’s car shimmered
like a disappearing mirage, moving bullet time
away from me.

Margot Kidder was Lois Lane.
Feisty, brave, stubborn, in perpetual need of rescue.
Her dark hair, un-PC cigarette dangling,
whiskey voice, in love with the one man
she could never truly have.

Years later, when she had her publicized breakdown,
was found dirty and wandering the streets,
I cried in front of the TV, wishing I could give her
even a fragment of the comfort she gave me
when I was ten and in need of rescue.
Collin Kelley, To Margot Kidder, With Love

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I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.
Anne Barngrover, interviewed by Jennifer Maritza McCauley on Bekah Steimel’s blog

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I came across this article by physicist Alan Lightman on the TED web site about quiet time/mindfulness. Here’s a small sampling:

Somehow, we need to create a new habit of mind, as individuals and as a society. We need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honors the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.

I have paid lip service to these values that Lightman writes about for years — since becoming a mother just over thirteen years ago. They became values because I no longer had an easy way to incorporate them into my life. Infants and toddlers do that to you. There’s little stillness, precious little privacy, and solitude only (mostly) when sleeping. They were aspects of being a person that I took for granted when I had them, and missed fiercely once they were absent.

My children aren’t toddlers anymore. My youngest is five and more self-sufficient by the day. She has her own sense of self. Her own need for stillness and even, sometimes, solitude. And yet my children growing older hasn’t created more space for my own stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, or personal reflection. There’s less. Far less, even. But my children aren’t a cause, at this point, for my lack of that space.

For the past few years, this blog’s tagline has been “a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making.” It’s due for a change. In a conversation with A.P. this week, he reminded me that I didn’t grow up, let alone spend the last decade, thinking I wanted to be known as an educator or even an academic. I want, I have always wanted, to be known as a writer.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Reconsiderations, Reversals, Reminders

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The poem writing time usually comes out of my sleep time, and by the end of the month, I am drained and flattened with exhaustion. I do start the poems on the bus in the morning, jot bits and pieces throughout the say, but I don’t get to actual assembly until my son goes to bed and I have clear uninterrupted quiet time. As he gets older, that gets later, and my NaPoWriMo work gets harder and more exhausting each year. Realizing how much easier the strict form made things, I’m debating about perhaps taking on a sonnet redoublé or heroic crown next year. The risk of taking on too much form is that you may lose the emotional drive to write the poems. If they become overly intellectual, they are cute rather than touching, so I’m not sure about this yet. I suspect I’ll be reading a lot more sonnets while I ponder this.

Usually, I write most of my poetry during April, explicitly because of NaPoWriMo. As a single mom of a special needs kid, with a demanding professional career that is most definitely not poetry, it’s … hard. But I have always been a poet and always wanted to be a poet, and turned down a fellowship in a poetry MFA program to go to grad school in a program with a future that would allow me to support my kids on my own. Each year, I want to keep the poems going, and just become too tired. I really want to not drop out this year. I’m thinking I might be able to keep it going if I try to do one poem a week. I’m thinking probably Sundays. So, watch this space, and see if I can do it. Moral support welcomed!!
PF Anderson, On Writing a Month of Sonnets for #NaPoWriMo

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Unintentional Spring cleaning has come to the Typist household of late, but rather than serving to tidy things up, it’s caused widespread chaos. First, there was the aforementioned filing, which I did actually tackle last weekend, causing allergic reactions from an explosion of dust and masses of toxic ink particles released from shredding five year’s worth of old paper. Then….there was the rat. I’m not going to talk about the rat. It’s too upsetting, and it’s currently unresolved. Experts are coming over to assess. I can’t think about it. I’m just ignoring the fact that the contents of our hall closet are currently strewn all over the living room floor and under no circumstances am I to open the hall closet door.

But the big one is our bookshelf. I shall explain: Those Little Free Libraries that are getting popular are now everywhere in my neighborhood, and they’re like catnip to me. I cannot not stop and browse through them when I see one. I also can’t not take a book that I’m interested in. However, I have been violating the Little Free Library social contract by not contributing books as equally as I procure them, or let’s face it—by not contributing at all. The other day Mr. Typist suggested I “pick out a few books to give away” and we could do a Little Library stroll during which I could make good on my debt. I smiled and nodded agreeably in an attempt to hide my rising panic. “Pick out a few books to give away”??? That would be akin to picking out a few of my children to put up for adoption. My books are my precious. I have cultivated a beautiful, and to my mind, pristinely organized collection of poetry tomes and classics, and I could not possibly let go of any of them. “Pick out a few books”, indeed. What a monstrously callous suggestion.
Kristen McHenry (AKA The Good Typist), Spring Entropy, Bartholomew Cubbins Bookshelf, Hoard Denial

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Last year’s house-to-bungalow move necessitated a massive cull of STUFF that I hadn’t so much as glanced at in years. Operation Study took me three days of hard graft, during which time I faithfully reappraised just about every single sheet of paper in the filing cabinet and heaven knows how many ring binders, lever arch and box files. The poetry ones fared much better than a teaching career’s-worth of policies and planning but I decided to keep only those poems I love, or like enough to go back to (at some point…).

Since The Move, I’ve become firmer with myself about what I keep and what I give away. I no longer keep poetry magazines (I do keep contributor copies, though). Instead I pull out and box-file those poems that jump off the page and ‘grab’ me: the timely or current; those I wish I’d written; those that elicit a That’s it! or a fist pump; interesting forms, etc. In turn, I take some of these for discussion at Soundswrite and stanza meetings.
Jayne Stanton, Collecting poems

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Links appeal to me because they mean connection. The interconnectedness of the web parallels the many relationships among human beings, societies, and environmental entities from forest to desert, as well as infrastructural connections from town to city and across waters and the physiological connections that make life in a carbon-based embodiment possible. And neuro-connections that maintain our pulses and our consciousness–without such linkages, what would we be?

Our genetic linkage influences what we look like, what forms of illness or robustness our bodies possess, and the likelihood of carrying those traits to our offspring.

When we link ideas or concepts or theories, the resulting concatenation can be innovative, revelatory, novel–even if the result is a failure, there’s much to learn from trying to solve the puzzles we encounter when putting together unlike things.

Writing a poem, for example, involves such a combinatory effort. Combinatory logic is a mathematical concept but an intriguing metaphor for what poets do when we mash together observations with ideas and emotions and whatever values each writer operates under.
Ann E. Michael, Linkage

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As I was too sick to celebrate on my actual birthday, Glenn invited a couple of friends over for coffee and cupcakes on this last beautiful weekend, and it was great to watch up with all of them. Roz is a fiction writer, Natasha is a poet (and she’s writing a novel) and Michaela is a visual artist and writer, so we had great discussions about art and publishing and I realized how much it helps us as creative folks to hang out with other creative folks. I am also lucky to have such fun and talented friends, seriously. It helps to remember that each of us is part of a community – we are not actually alone in the artistic universe. It can feel that way sometimes.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating Friendships and Art, Spring Fever The Importance of Perseverance in Poetry & Looking Forward to Skagit Poetry Festival…

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It was time again for my task as first-round reader for a poetry book contest. Once again I approached with self-doubt and angst. Once again, I learned some things to apply to my own work.

The twenty-five or so manuscripts I looked at were uniformly pretty well-written, which tells me that people are taking the time to learn something of the craft of writing (or at least reviewing the rules of grammar) and the art of poetry.

But I found that several of these full-length manuscripts felt more like solid chapbooks with other stuff stuffed in around them. This is interesting and a useful cautionary tale. I need to examine my own current full-length ms to make sure I have truly a full group of good poems and not a core of good ones and some bubble wrap.

A corollary to this is that it seems like collections are getting longer and longer. And I’ve noted in an earlier post that contest rules are asking for mss that are of higher and higher page count. I just don’t think this is a good thing. I want a book of poems to be a small world I live in, roaming around, revisiting streets and vistas. I don’t want to wander forever in strange terrain. Too many times I’ve encountered collections that after a while make me say “Enough already.” This is not good for poetry, already fighting an uphill battle for readers. Too many poems invites too many weak poems. I favor shorter and stronger throughout. Whack ’em with some good stuff and go.
Marilyn McCabe, Another Round of Notes from the First Round

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A review is generally considered to be a critique, or a work of opinion. That’s true for many reviews, whether they are of literature, film, food, or art. The reviewer is out to convince the reader of a particular point of view; i.e., the book was delightful or boring, the film sensational or regrettable, the meal delicious or average, the art shocking or banal.

In the exploratory review, however, the reviewer’s opinion is less important than the potential reader’s experience of the book. In other words, the reviewer is less concerned with convincing a reader of a book’s worth, and more concerned with making the book available for the reader’s own judgment. This process respects the reviewing triad: author, reviewer, and reader.

When I review a book of poems, I’m not looking for something to criticize. As Anjali Enjeti writes in Secrets of the Book Critics, “I’d much rather celebrate a book than criticize it.” This doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of Pollyanna, heaping praise on every book I review. Nor am I aiming for a balance between the two; i.e., “this was bad” but “this was good.” My goal as a reviewer is to pry open a book of poems and let the light out, or dive deeply into the dark.
Erica Goss, The Exploratory Review

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Seeing pictures of people playing golf in the foreground, with the plumes of smoke from the erupting Hawaiian volcano in the background, makes me want to scream, “Get out of there!” Sure, they should be safe. But there were people in 1980 who went camping near the spewing Mt. St. Helens volcano thinking that they’d be safe. But they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the mountain exploded sideways, which no one anticipated.

I’m also thinking about the first case of urban ebola. That’s a bad, bad sign. But at least the actions being taken have been swift.

Still, it’s the kind of news nugget that makes me wonder if at some point, we’ll look back and say, “We were so upset about the latest Trump debacle that we didn’t see ____________.” Readers of this blog know that I’ve spent time preparing/thinking about the wrong apocalypse. I scanned the horizon for mushroom clouds, not seeing the oceans steadily warming and rising.

Of course, history often works in circles, not straight lines. Perhaps all that time scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds are still ahead: I feel fretful about Iran and Israel and North Korea.

In the meantime, I do the work that must be done: teacher observations, annual reviews, buying food for both school and home, paying bills, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes–these tasks too run in circles, making me feel that I’m never done.

My creative work, too, feels circular, not linear. I return to the same themes, the same ideas, but execute them in different ways.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse and Other Upheavals

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets seemed especially cranky. Or maybe it’s just that I’m cranky, so I’ve been gravitating toward posts that reflect my mood. But I’m pleased to see the poetic blogosphere in such good health. I’ve been off Facebook for two weeks now, and surprisingly, I don’t really miss it all that much… thanks to Twitter and Instagram, LOL. I do like having places to post mind-farts, snapshots, and other ephemera; it makes for a less cluttered blog, among other things. But I was pleased to see that one of the co-founders of the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, Kelli Russell Agodon, has also left Facebook, at least for the time being (see below). Is this something we should think about doing collectively? Is there a better, less bad-boyfriend-like social media platform where we should gather instead? Or should we return to more tried-and-true ways of building community, contributing to the conversation, feeling recognized and being seen?

I spend a lot of time editing and mentoring and talking about making a sustainable writing life, but at the same time I find myself relying so much on “positive feedback” in order to propel myself forward. I think I have less, not more, confidence as I get older. Is that unusual? I suppose I’ll find out eventually.
Mary Biddinger, Take on May

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Welp, in other good news, after all of my griping and whinging and whining, the universe has thrown me a bone. I’ve been accepted into the Bread Loaf Sicily program for September 2018, which means that while I may not be doing a sabbatical or a true residency next semester, I will be granted five precious days at the end of the summer to concentrate on my writing.

In Sicily.

Thank you, Universe.

Obviously, it’s been uplifting to receive good news. On the other hand, I am seriously veering into burnout.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Effusiveness and Mania and Other Qualities You’ve Come to Expect From This Blog

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I’m so grateful and utterly blown away by this in depth and thoughtful review of my chapbook Footnote by Janeen Pergrin Rastall published by Connotation Press this week.

Rastall’s careful reading and insight captured so much of what I was after in this collection of poems. Her familiarity with the work of the writers and artists who inspired these poems was not only on point, but touching in so many ways. I couldn’t be more honored by the time she spent with my work and in writing this review!
Trish Hopkinson, “Book Review: Footnote, by Trish Hopkinson” – by Janeen Pergrin Rastall via Connotation Press

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I am so stoked to have been invited to be Poet-in-Residence at the Seattle Review of Books for the month of May. What this means is that each Tuesday a new poem of mine will appear on the site with a small tag that states, “Susan Rich is this month’s Poet-in-Residence.” There’s something about being offered this platform by Paul Constant and Martin McClellan that makes me feel a bit more connected to my city. A bit more located.

This week, my poem “Profiled” is featured; a poem about a student I had a few years ago who was both more fascinating and more frustrating than most who had come before. It is exhausting to be challenged on each word, each sentence, each assignment. And yet. He was engaged with his educational experience and wanted to learn. For the very last reflective assignment, an assignment that students had the option of writing as a letter to me about their experience he wrote: “I no longer feel the need to be invisible. And I thank you for that.”
Susan Rich, Poet-in-Residence for the Month of May @ Seattle Review of Books

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I was sitting on a sofa in the Taliesin Arts Centre on Swansea University Singleton campus and somebody came up and said, “Hello, Giles.” That sort of thing doesn’t happen to me often, certainly not on a university campus where I was last a student 24 years ago! Back in March I sat in on a Long Form Fiction 2 module workshop given by tutor Jon Gower, and it was the very same man who had recognised me and sat down to chat and, eventually, guided me into the auditorium to listen to the Dylan Thomas interviews. He mentioned that he’d seen my photo in connection with the Abergavenny Writing Festival. I think that is something I’ve always done — attending things. That is my best guiding advice … don’t just go to events you’re performing at, attend other events too … faces do get noticed and me travelling to Swansea to support the Dylan Thomas Prize and its shortlisted authors is as important as me being photographed as a performer on the last night of Abergavenny Writing Festival. I would share the Abergavenny Writing Festival photo with you here but, as with any photo, I cannot tell which one I’m in … you’ll just have to take my word for it, I was there ;)
Giles L. Turnbull, Shoot the Poet!

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Let me start with the card. On the left is a photo attached to a homemade card from someone who I believe I first had contact with several years ago as a result of an April – Poetry Month Book give-a-way. This kind person sent me this card wishing me a happy Easter, it went back to her because we had moved and the post office did not forward it. She messaged me for my new address and resent it. There was a personal note in it, she shared a story about visiting the 9-11 memorial and enclosed a SF Giants window decal. Marianne is aware of my love of baseball and all things SF Giants. […]

Over the years the mail has changed. Drastically so. In fact, I rarely if ever get so much as a bill in the mail these days. I’m not complaining. Part of that is because I have almost no bills any longer, but also because account statements are usually available to me online. What I do get, is an ever-increasing amount of junk mail. This mail offers me everything from hearing aids to timeshare get-aways. There are siding offers, new windows, funeral plans, car deals, and God knows what I’ve pitched without delving too deeply into specifics. Rarely do I ever receive personal mail. Again, the arrival of a new book is about as good as it gets.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Mail Edition

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This morning I received a fat paper letter from a writer and friend–it’s so marvelous to get a letter on paper! The internet has swept away such things, except for those who rebel against its winding tentacles, its sneaking power. Luckily, I know such persons.

And one of the things he asked me was why I capitalize the start of lines in poetry. […]

For me, a capital letter at the start of a line frames the line, separates the line, and forces the writer to think about the whole with its relationship to the part in a more focused way. To pluck an image from Modernism, it is like a tiny Joseph Cornell box; it needs a certain richness of sound and meaning, even when spare. Like meter and like rhyme, this framing of the line is yet another form of discipline that I set as a bulwark against the an era in which the short, self-focused lyric has dominated to the point of banishing poetic drama, long narrative, and a whole wide range of once-useful poetic modes. (Although I simply woke one day with it already in my head, Thaliad must also be part of my own rebellion against such a narrowing of poetry.)

In my own writing, I’m not attracted by the syntactical shiftings and disconnections that provide an uneasy order to so many lyrics, often suggested as the natural result of the disjunctions and chaos of “today’s world”; I’m concerned with a wholeness and clarity constructed from well-made parts. Whether or not I succeed, the framing of the line makes me more conscious of those parts, sets up a demand that each one work and be worthy. […]

Like every obsessed writer, I have made my many choices. Long ago, when such jobs were hard to obtain, I gave up a tenured job to write, to escape from a realm where poets were part of and supported by the many-tentacled system of academia. Since then, writers have made most of their income and their useful connections in academia, so it was a bad decision in a worldly sense–a bad decision in terms of worldly success and support from the system. But I persist in thinking it was the right sacrifice for a poet and writer. Outside those bounds, I have worked and groped and thought my way, making books as I felt it best. Whether I have made my choices rightly or wrongly is not for me to say. But it is essential for me as that odd creature called a writer to have made them. For a writer, for a poet, it is essential to know and follow and sometimes change those choices. That little, seemingly-wrong choice of the initial capital is, for me, one of many decisions that have made me the sort of writer I am.
Marly Youmans, A capital choice

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When someone says of a movie “the special effects were great” I don’t bother to go. If that’s what the movie was then it’s not what I want to do with my time. When poetry does fancy things on the screen, or if I can “interact” with it, it better be worth my while in terms of what I get out of the experience. I can be impressed, sure. I can be diverted, yes. I’m easily distracted from tasks at hand by something shiny and moving. But give me yourself, not what your technology can do.

I struggle with this in making videopoems. My grasp of technology and visual arts is tenuous, my understanding of what sound can do rudimentary, and my distrust of the way emotions can be manipulated by sound is high, but I stick with it. Because this is the era of the audiovisual milieu, and I’m interested to explore how poetry can be engaged actively in it.

I watch a lot of videopoetry. Most of it does nothing for me, I’ll tell you the truth. Often the text puts me off. (But as I’ve discussed here, I am having a problem with much contemporary poetry, and I know the failing is often mine. But sometimes a poem that is a string of barely connected lines is just a bunch of barely connected lines.) Often the visuals are repetitive and flashy for no purpose that adds value to the equation: text+visuals+audio=videpoem.

The end product must be more than the sum of its parts. How to do this? Damned if I know.
Marilyn McCabe, Burning Bright; or, Innovation and Authenticity in Videopoetry

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I start to sober up, the day is wasted. I spent my hours on magical beans that grew nothing, plus I’m out a sandal.

I’m annoyed with the world and its terrible news. And I realize my boyfriend has been making money off me– it seems he is paid for the time I spend with him because ultimately, he has stuff to sell me…and he has people who work for him that want my attention. And the more I show up, the more money he gets, which seems like a terrible deal. I lose hours of my one-time-on-this-planet and he gets a revenue stream?!

So Facebook, I am breaking up with you.

I am taking a break to reclaim my time and my mind. But with any truly dysfunctional relationship, I know I’ll be back, as I always seem to return. Facebook is like the boyfriend I don’t need but who always has the best snacks when I’m hungry for nothing.

But I’ve gotten better at staying away from you even longer because I realize, the secret to Facebook is 1) The less you’re on Facebook, the less you want Facebook. Like Fight Club except instead of hitting yourself in your own face, you’re actually writing blog posts or poems. You’re actually sitting in a lounge chair in your own backyard reading American Poetry Review and Poets and Writers.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Breaking Up with My Boyfriend, Facebook…

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I find that most often the biggest frustrations I find in writing are when my visions for a project / poem / etc don’t match up to my ability to execute. More often than not, my ability to execute is limited by TIME (lack of time, lack of time). Everyone gets the same 24 hours but not everyone has so many people pulling to have some of that time. And my love language is quality time so I give my time to what and who I love–I’m not going to go to something I don’t care about or spend time with you if you mean nothing to me. I realized recently at a church ladies women’s retreat that Quality Time being my love language trickles down into a lot of decisions I make–my biggest fear in parenting? that my children won’t get enough time with me (and won’t feel loved–but that is how I feel loved, not necessarily how they feel loved!). one of my main reasons for homeschooling? so we can spend our time on what we love to learn about (not what the government bids us learn about). my favorite ritual of the day? coffee + chat time with my husband in the mornings. Time weighs heavy on me. As it should–it’s fleeting (favorite book of the bible: Ecclesiastes. A time for, a time for, a time for….). and also this: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12). Like any quality a person has, my appreciation/ apprehension of time can be a strength (wisdom) but it can also be a weakness (fear). I pray that God mold me to turn this to wisdom and set my eyes on things above rather than cling to my minutes and hours with a cold-hearted fear.
Renee Emerson, ambitions, love languages, and the fleeting quality of time

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We do not tread nimbly upon the back of time,
we trample its soft belly.
Risa Denenberg, Forebear

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Q~What would you like to share about the backstory to this poem?

A~This poem came from seeing Twitter’s collective reaction to Roy Moore’s defeat and the fact that black women showed up against him the most. We stay doing that. We stay showing up when it’s time to protect the best interests of others. No one does that for us, and I’m fuckin tired. This poem is about the black woman’s mammification and black fatigue and a little bit about politics and a little bit about Emmett Till; how no one but his mama showed up for him. Black bodies are expendable until they’re useful, and, again, I’m tired.

Q~What do you hope to accomplish with this piece?

A~I want to make people who subscribe to mammification and respectability politics feel really bad about it. I also want them to know they can fuck all the way off.

Q~Did the poem come easily to you or was it hard to write?

A~Emotionally, it was very hard to write. But, it came easy. I was, I AM, so angry.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I smoke weed and then write whatever comes to mind. Obviously, I don’t only write when I’m high, but lately I’ve been doing that to see what I produce. I’m generally delighted with the results.
Bekah Steimel, Every Election Cycle, The Wind From Birmingham To Chicago Smells Like Ashes / and interview with Khalypso The Poet

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Strange to feel inferior, but that
was the job of live-in European servants:
to confer shine for a pittance. English nurses,
Scottish maids, Estonian women doing laundry,
German POWs pruning roses.

Out through glitter, back to the dock.

Mrs. Anthony motored around town
in a humble Ford wagon, but in her garage,
a Daimler banked its gleam. I had to study
eight degrees of grandeur for the table,
a bewilderment of china. Her daughter
Kitty curtsied to me once, a faux-pas.
Those manners were too silver for the help.
Lesley Wheeler, My mother as live-in nurse, 1962

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There’s a subtle hierarchy being reinforced here. [Etty] Hillesum’s talent is positioned as naive witness, “conscientious” in her craft (a backhanded compliment if there ever was one). She is a vessel. Homer, Merrill–they are agents. The irony is that this essay earnestly and sincerely wishes to wrangle with the issue of who is ignored, and why, and the legacy of poets as “legislators” of our collective spirit. The author wants to interrogate our impulses toward memory and history-making. He should begin with questioning why this essay cites who it does, and in what proportion.

My point is not to drag any one author, especially a poet whose work I admire, and one who is making time for the under-compensated track of literary scholarship. My point is that these approaches to writing about craft are endemic and entrenched. This is not a matter of the teachers who are “woke” or not “woke.” This is a process of not only wakening, but questioning the conditions of your previous slumber. That’s why I’m wary of anyone determined to enshrine a syllabus that features a particular contemporary author (“a genius!”); you’re telling me, on some level, that your mind is already made up on who the next generation of the canon should feature. That’s still changing. That’s in our hands.
Sandra Beasley, On Craft & Canon

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Now that Napowrimo is over, I’m settling back into my routine of morning online reading. This is my time to look for wonder-full flash and poetry and get lost in other places and other lives.
Charlotte Hamrick, Women of Flash


I’m in the UK for the summer, so these digests will be going out about five hours earlier than before. But don’t worry, if you’re in my feed reader, I’ll still be considering later Sunday posts for the following week’s edition.

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were pondering time and memory (well, OK, poets are pretty much always pondering time and memory) in between trading tips on how to start a poem, how to know when it’s finished, how to promote a book, and — most of all — what to read.

Unable to sleep, I sit before
the heartless brilliance of the screen
with the real-world darkness

hovering, fearful but persistent,
at my back. It seems as if time
has packed her bags and left

for the coast and then beyond.
I take off my glasses, knuckle away
the mess of my tears. And then,

like importunate drunks through
a suddenly opened door, the geese
are overhead.
Dick Jones, Their Voices in the Night

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Spring’s been happening in fits and starts–blossoms one minute, wind-strewn petals the next. I walk a nearby trail most mornings, and on Tuesday, Woods Creek churned and roared from heavy rains; parts of the path were massive puddles, and the lowest bridge was half-underwater. The next day was frigid; others have balmy and still. National Poetry Month basically occurs during the year’s moody adolescence.
Lesley Wheeler, News flash: in April, poet feels moody

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Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share on writing?

A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing. Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know). And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.
Jayne Stanton, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

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One of the writing strategies I like to use almost every time I begin a draft is to generate a list of words from another source, from a book of poetry or fiction or from almost anything written that’s lying about. Sometimes there’s some intentionality and sometimes not. I look for words that aren’t in my personal lexicon–not that I don’t know them, but I may not think to use them. Then I prop up that list of words in front of me at the computer or on my lap. SOMETIMES a word on that list will generate an entire poem.

I’m always looking for a way in–and about 80% of the time I’d say, my poems spring from a list. There’s nothing proprietary about a list of words from another source, but I love how the list pushes me in a new direction or actually becomes the prompt or allows me to use much fresher language than I might otherwise. It eliminates hum-drum, I hope.

I’ve divined words from poetry books like Break the Habit by Tara Betts and Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, and Pattiann Rogers’ book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, and even a fiction book, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I still marvel at what gets spit out on the page. I’ve read through entire books circling words as I read or just found and used a single longer poem. Rarely am I looking for a specific type of word for a specific subject. Rather, the goal is to gather words that do not seem to fit together or the subject, if there is one. The list IS my entry to the draft whether I’m writing about Frida Kahlo, the hospice caregiver bathing my mother, or my brother’s childhood clubhouse.
Gail Goepfert, Behind the Purple Door–One Way In

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Of course, invariably, each retyping meant a new re-entry, a complete opportunity to alter, change, fudge, reconsider, letter by letter, the whole poem and its possibilities. Even if you didn’t change a thing, it was a true revision opportunity for the poem. I also enjoyed how it was to re-enter those poems that way, too. Maybe it was the punctuation of the line with the return of the carriage, the clacking of each letter, the meticulous folding the manuscript into thirds to fit into the envelope. That slowness, that luxury, that inefficiency seems so distant now.
Jim Brock, Old Inefficiencies, Old Joys

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A month or so later the audiobook was finished. The recording was done by Lily Ricciardi, one of eBookit’s professional readers. She has a beautiful voice and did a great job. The book is reproduced in its entirety except, of course, for the Table of Contents, the bio notes, and the Index.

I wondered initially how someone might use an audiobook of this sort, as opposed to, say, a novel. But it seems that people are enjoying it as they go walking and as they pound away on the treadmill. Some listen and learn in bed. Someone told me she begins her morning writing session by listening for 10 minutes; what she hears then inspires her writing that day. Excellent! Others listen while traveling in the car or plane. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about audiobooks.
Diane Lockward, The Crafty Poet Goes Audible

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People sometimes ask me how they might know when a poem is “Done.” I resist that term, actually; I think of poems as ideas gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation the ‘poem’ available to that poet at the given moment. There’s no one definitive version of a poem.

The practical advantage of that attitude is that I’m pretty easygoing about accepting other people’s edits or even typos in reproduction. Poems aren’t like cars; you can’t ding their bodywork or crack their glass. Poems are clouds you get to ride, if you’re lucky.
Sandra Beasley, Heirloom (Old Poem / New Poem)

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It’s been a while since I read her work, and though I often think of Ruth Stone (1915-2011) along the lines of girls in dresses of Alice blue, and mares beneath the apple trees, I was pleasingly surprised at how bawdy Stone’s poetry is. Men line up like silverback gorillas at the counter of the donut shop. At the bus station, “two couples are not just kissing / they are dry fucking.” In these poems we are not allowed to forget that we have bodies. A younger sister lies in the grave, her breasts, “wizened flaps.” A husband dead of suicide haunts the poems (an insistent “you”). Time doesn’t merely pass, but runs through our fingers as we clutch at what cannot be held onto. The title of the book, Ordinary Words, seems to insist on the humble subjects and (sometimes) plain speech of the poems. But I tiptoe through these poems, never sure where a trap will spring open.
Bethany Reid, Ruth Stone’s Ordinary Words

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I learned to vanish, was saved by my knack
for flying away with fluttering sleeves
and hair through wet grass and over trestles,
falling, and hiding again. A vessel
is coming, I will leave. My mother grieves.
Light and shadows fold themselves around me;
feathers brush my face, erase memory.
PF Anderson, Kaguyahime Sonnet

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Why do some things hold in our memories when others go? Was it less painful for my mother to think of me as the young girl she could dress in nice clothes and whose hair was consistently combed? Was her memory loss entirely organic or was there something else involved? And why, oh why, can I remember so little from certain periods of my life? What have I put into storage and then thrown away the key?

The first poem of Every Atom includes the lines: “The world we are born into / is not the one that clings to us as we leave.” We change the world by moving through it, by the stories we choose to tell, by the ever-widening ripples of our actions. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself of what my world contained during different times. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself who I was in those worlds.

Sometimes I don’t recognize any of it. But there it is, in my own handwriting, like a river ebbing and pulsing, continual and irreversible.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The River of Memory

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An amalgam of ground pecans, chopped apples,
red wine, and nutmeg
primes us to recall the taste of mortar—

the timeworn saga of servitude and how despots’
sovereignties always hinge on slavery.
But instead, it is sweet as honey

and reminds me that all history
is gloss, and how recollection, like nostalgia,
adds false notes of harmony to bitter herbs.
Risa Denenberg, Charoset and Bitter Herbs

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The poet community is one less. I confess I did not personally know Sam Hamil, but I knew of him. I knew some of his rugged past that probably had a lot to do with the person he was. I became acquainted with him during the Poets Against the War lead up to U.S. Bombing Iraq. When I think of Copper Canyon Press I think of Sam. When I think of Sam, I think of Copper Canyon Press. It’s that simple. Sam was all about peace. There was a quiet spirit that resided in Sam, but Sam also had the ability to unleash tremendous indignation where appropriate. One thing I don’t think I ever saw in Sam was much optimism. His worldview of governments including and perhaps especially our own was highly pessimistic. War, hate, violence, greed, corruption. These were things that kept his vision from seeing a reason for optimism. But Sam gave us poetry. His gift to us all, are words that will continue to speak to us if only we will listen.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Schizophrenia is in Full Bloom this Spring

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Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I like the poetry itself. The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry. Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.

I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.

I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.
Juliet Cook, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

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The conversation in this lovely book between text and image is direct and intense, without seeming constricted or constrained. Although its visual and verbal components are fully capable of standing alone, together they make magic. Seasoned and grave, yet crackling with irony and pleasure, these poems are also erudite, salted with references to Duchamp (a “nude descending an escalator”); Orpheus (a narrator who “turned back to see you disappear”); and Turner (“the red buoy bobbing on the waves.”) Their engagement with the paintings yields a tapestry of responsive, but imaginative, tropes, such as the structure of matter, fragmentation, the entangled relationship between creation and destruction – and, of course, static. This book handily refutes the counsel (mentioned in “where was it I”) of those “frozen in place” to “stay inside the lines.”
This! On “breath to oblivion no ladder no chaser” by Charles Borkhuis–guest blog post by Susan Lewis at TrishHopkinson.com

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Think about Browning’s My last duchess. There’s a poem about the predatory male gaze if ever there was one. But whose gaze is turned on the Duke, and whose on the woman whose portrait the Duke is showing off? What is the poet assuming about the duchess? Or think about Philip Larkin’s The less deceived and how he imagines (gazes on) the little street girl abducted and taken into fulfilment’s desolate attic. At every turn I feel the ground slipping away from under my feet.

At this point, I’m going to go back to an earlier post, (December 2014) in which I was equally uncertain of what I was arguing about or why. I started with a quotation from George Eliot…who had to assume a male persona to get published.

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity.”

I went on to write about my response to work by Pascale Petit, Kim Moore, Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt, and to wonder whether I could access their experience of the world via their poems. I wrote:

“I read these poems, and then I read what I’ve written in the last two years and I see what isn’t there, and I wonder if I have access to what’s missing. Just to explain why I chose that opening quotation from George Eliot; for the last 18 months or so I have grown gradually more deaf. It’s something that can be dealt with, and will be, but at the moment I hear the world through a soft sieve. I miss the point of conversations and questions if I’m not attending. It’s like listening to French. I recognise songs on the radio by the bass lines and drum patterns but I can’t hear the whole tune. And now these poets. It’s as though they’ve shown me emotional registers and harmonies that I can’t hear or feel for myself, as though, in George Eliot’s word I’m ‘well-wadded’. I’m writing rhetoric and well-observed landscapes, and anecdotes, but I’m not accessing the whole picture.”
John Foggin, Here’s looking at you: the male gaze

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The cacophony of voices – high & shrill, low & gruff –
pressed in on her as the knobs of her spine pressed
into the wall, mouths opening and closing
like hungry baby birds, insatiable and demanding.
Beneath the din she heard the whisper of leaves

rubbing in the breeze a promise of disappearance,
of peace caressing her ramrod body. Her eyes
found the door as the sea of prattle parted.
She gathered her resolve and lifted one foot.
Charlotte Hamrick, Not a Party Girl

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Q: Readings make me anxious – how many do I have to do?
A: I say in the book PR for Poets that many poets sell most of their books through readings, and though that’s true, there are plenty of other options that I outline in the book for you to sell books, including sending out an e-mail newsletter, book postcards, or talking to professors about teaching your book. Every book is unique, and every poet is unique. Some people are extroverted and confident public speakers – those people should do lots of readings as long as it makes them happy. But if they’re torture for you, do one or two readings in places you know you have lots of support and see how it goes from there.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Q&A for PR for Poets

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I think that poetry offers what Plato calls psychagogia— “an enlargement of the soul” in C.S. Lewis’ definition, or see John Joseph Jasso’s dissertation chronicling it as “the idea that rhetoric can lead souls to their own betterment; that is, guide them in an ascent along a metaphysical hierarchy through beauty, goodness, and truth to a fuller participation in being.” Poetry provides such enlargement by permitting the reader to imaginatively undergo transformation via images and places the poem offers, to experience the turn in the poem’s rhetoric, to feel ‘along with’ the poem’s nature. The poem is a threshold at which the reader stands and makes the choice of whether or not to enter.
Ann E. Michael, Imaginative, not imaginary

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This is all to say that sometimes dramatic lit does exactly what it’s supposed to do: remove us from our own lives, provide catharsis, and then place us back into our lives with a better sense of perspective, a little more wisdom, and a little more clarity — or even more with more confusion, but a confusion that lets you know a veil has been lifted, and that somehow you’re un-seeing something that was distorted (for you) previously.

And it’s nothing short of amazing these days when something works the way it’s supposed to work. And that’s not pure cynicism — it’s more celebration than anything else. I really love other people’s writing.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, When You Come, Then You’ll See: Real Drama! (i.e. Not My Own)

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And all the cycles in between- the river running dry
for fifteen years, the earth knotted in stubbornness

loops of suffering, the cycle of mourning, the womb
stretched and inelastic filled with the husk of grief.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Cycles