Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week included some searing posts on death and illness and several thought-provoking posts about the vocation and political economy of writing. Plus many other wonders.


What’s there to fear
of the old men on Rikers

condemned to die —
not for their crimes

but for living long
enough to pick up

the lethal virus from
their concrete beds.

No visitors allowed.
The men on the island

can’t speak of how
spring pushes up

not daisies not miracle
cures but takes away

their little breath left
the crown of the virus

colonizing their lungs
robbing their hearts

of energy enough
to beat bad odds.

Bio-containment rules
rule out the six feet

of physical distancing
but not the six feet

down where the trench-
diggers go, where

the bodies, their own,
come to rest four deep.

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XIX

Everyone who knows me knows this story. How does it become more than just another story of someone losing someone they love? Especially now, when there’s a whole new category of how to lose a loved one? Maybe recognizing cycles and honoring them is a story we all need.

Yesterday morning I had a committee meeting of the land trust board I’m on and I did the Zoom call on my porch. Other people on the call could hear the birds in my yard and there were texts about the birds, asking what they were. I know I have robins, sparrows, chickadees, mourning doves, bluebirds, mockingbirds and bob-o-links in the pastures across the street.

But when I was asked what the song was punctuating the call, I didn’t know. I pay attention to the birds in my yard, but I’m not sure I want to be able to name the ones that mark the descent into illness for Eric.

Grace Mattern, Birdsong Yahrzeit

I know what’s coming. At the same time, I have no idea at all. It will be terrible, it will be beautiful, it will not be what I expected. It will live with me every day. It is already living in me.

As we say, the memories ‘come flooding back’. Whoever first said this has a lot to answer for. Sometimes they drip drip drip away at me, in the dark, not a flood at all. Other days (nights) it is a torrent.

The sound of her laughter. The smell of onions frying. Her lack of solemnity. That time the car broke down on the way back from school, the steam, the searing heat that day.

The sheer look of joy on her face in this photo, unguarded, not posed. That’s a rare thing to encounter in this life. And I am grateful.

But still I want her back. And it hasn’t really started yet. This is just the beginning.

Anthony Wilson, On the Edge

Over the weekend, my body finally succumbed to months of stress and I got sick with some sort of illness that had me deliriously wondering why miscreant elves were appearing in my stomach and stabbing me from the inside at unpredictable intervals. Hence the very late post this week. I’m on the mend now—still a bit weak, shaky and wrung out, but climbing out of it. It wasn’t the ‘Rhona. I know because I got tested, which was a weird experience involving people in space suits at multiple confusing checkpoints and about fifteen seconds of deep unpleasantness while an alien tentacle molested my nostril. The world has become a very strange place.

Kristen McHenry, Down for the Count, I Got Tested, Bitchy Reviews

Does it start with that viral Unseen Photos Of Frida Kahlo at the End of Her Life! photo essay?

COVID means the world reduced to Facebook, to what is viral.

She was softened, later. And toughened, too. The strongest leather thong; her face my jess.

I wrote: fire is a praxis of leave-taking.

[…]

Equivalent, the falsehood, the heart rate, the oxygen, the glue. My spine screams. Hypoxia makes it vague, and impossible:

this body:

a false equivalence

between love

and death.

JJS, to shapeshift impossible leave-taking: an essay in embodied quarantine

I shivered when I took them off,
those masks of forty years —
goodgirlgooddaughtergoodstudentgoodwifegoodmothergoodgoodgood.
I stood naked in a new day.
Who was left?
Could I find her?
Would I love her?
Would anyone?
I set out to build a woman
without masks.

Sarah Russell, Unmasked by Sarah Russell (WEARING A MASK Series)

When we believe fate’s deck is stacked against us. When kindness, science, and common sense play a zero-sum game against the government.

When we carry ourselves like a forlorn flower heading to the gallows. When perpetual anthems of inner rain dull our spirit to rust.

When, during these rootless and ruthless days, our calendar minds are stripped of their pages—

may we call upon instinct’s North Star to guide us home.

May we rely upon muscle memory to recall our most cherished embrace.

To say these things, it is not my wish for us to walk on water. Instead, to rise from it should we feel like we’re drowning.

Rich Ferguson, Humming This Song Until I Discover a Better One

While a wild wind blows
and changes the weather like
a light switch: on, off,

on, off, we listen
to mixed tapes dedicated
to teenagers’ dreams.

We remember those
days in our rooms, in ourselves
well now, as we try

to figure out this.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – May so far

I write smoking a cigarette 
blindfolded extinct among the scribes 
does my spirit without fleshy gravity 
rise or is this then an angel 
in the stupid theory of angels
we ate thanksgiving in May 
it felt like dying a little
I am an angel arm stretched 
to catch a pink star on a pole
that never stops swinging

Rebecca Loudon, corona 20.

The second blackbird to come was bold. He drank five beaks-full, stretching down to fill his lower beak, then tipping his head back to swallow. All this within two metres of me. Well, within two metres of my head. My feet were considerably closer. […]

Over lunch, I chatted to my son about the meaning of social distance. He pointed out that his head is socially distanced from his feet, unless he’s engaged in yoga. A reason to stop doing yoga, if you were looking for one, I said.

This confusion seems to be widespread – why else would some people veer into hedges or oncoming traffic when another person approaches, and others keep doggedly moving forward, passing by, bringing our heads no more than two feet apart.

The blackbird was at just the right distance from me for me to appreciate his bold glory. We both kept safe. He left after his drink to sit on a nearby branch. His song stretched from there to here, causing soundwaves to vibrate my maleus, incus and stapes – reaching right inside of me.

Liz Lefroy, I Socially Distance

Female bees will also burrow
deep inside the shade of a squash
flower: the closer to the source
of nectar, the warmer and more
quilt-like the air. In the cool
hours of morning, look closely
for the slight but tell-tale
trembling in each flower cup:
there, a body dropped mid-flight,
mid-thought. How we all retreat
behind some folded screen as work
or the world presses in too
soon, too close, too much.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts

The kids in Finland went back to school on the 14th for about two weeks before the summer and I started subbing yesterday for 4 of the last 7 days. I’m not going to get into the wisdom of that decision as I’m not sure where I stand on it, but regardless, we’re all looking forward to a break from this new normal.  

On the days I’m not working, I have plenty of things to keep me busy with my course, my writing and other things on my To Do List. They’re opening the libraries to pick up reserved books, so that’s something to look forward to. As I’ve said before I’m used to social isolation, it’s the strain of home-schooling 3 kids on my own that’s been getting to me. 

My focus has changed, so I’ve struggled to keep up with this blog. I’m back on my course work, trying to get my allotment sorted before my birch allergy gets so bad I can’t go outside and I’ve finished painting my stairs, so I can focus on the kitchen cabinets next, if I’m not going back to work. I’m still trying to write my poem a day, but usually late at night, so I barely remember what I wrote in the morning and it feels like a new poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus: Week Nine: Back to Semi-Normal

It’s the end of the third week of May, and while many states are opening up, my area in Washington State is still mostly in lockdown. This really doesn’t change anything for the likes of me, someone who’s high-risk and immune-compromised, honestly, but I can feel others getting impatient. We still don’t have enough: tests, PPEs, viable treatments. If you feel stressed, remember we’re living through something unfamiliar, unprecedented in either ours or our parents’ time. It’s like the Great Depression plus tuberculosis, with a number of dead in such a short time it rivals a fairly big war. People say, “When are we going back to normal?” and I think to myself, the answer is maybe never. Maybe we won’t go back to crowded concerts or lots of packed-in-sardine-can planes, maybe the sky and water will be cleaner, maybe we won’t shake hands anymore or ever dole out casual hugs to people we don’t know well. Maybe more companies will let their employees work from home and voters will decide universal health is maybe kind of important. Maybe hospitals and retirement homes will be redesigned with more privacy, better ventilation, more sunlight. And we went from “normal” to isolated and scared, dealing with scarcity in all kinds of things (thermometers? vitamin C?) in a matter of days and weeks. We lost 100,000 people, just in America, in about three months. Of course you don’t feel normal, of course you feel scared and stressed. It would be remarkable if you did not. Don’t worry. I’ve got bird and flower pictures, as well as recommended reading for grim times, farther down the post.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in Baltimore Review, Field Guide on a Grim Times Reading List, More Pink Typewriters and Birds, and Weathering May Gloom

Has anyone else been struck by how elegant, how almost attractive, some of the images for the coronavirus are on television?

Image Problem

All those flower-like
protrusions as if marketing
designed a logo for it, as if
it were not ugly—and
too small to see.

Are these trumpets signaling
attack, mouths to gobble
the good microbes, suction
cups structured to latch
onto surfaces or cells?

Ellen Roberts Young, Image Problem, In Reverse

There with the native plants, and aggressively overtaking the undergrowth, are amur honeysucke, asiatic rose, barberries, wintercreeper, japanese knotweed, mugwort, ragweed, burdock, thistle, garlic mustard, and whole hosts of plantains and creeper vines. One part of me abhors them. But I admire their tenacity and their ability to adapt to new circumstances. They’ll probably be thriving long after humankind has departed the planet.

As, perhaps, will the whitetail deer–a century ago, become scarce in the wilderness, considered almost “hunted out”–they managed to recover their numbers through adaptation to suburbia, where they are now “pests.” They graze on front lawns, nibble at ornamentals, gobble the leaves and bark of decorative trees, and gather at street-side puddles to drink, leaving heart-shaped prints in the mud and grass. But on my walk yesterday, I observed a doe lying amid the brambles; and she observed me. With the eyes of the wild, darkly liquid, meeting my gaze with her own. I did not move. Nor did she. I made no sound. We watched one another until, with a fluid motion and almost soundlessly, she leapt to her feet, twisted in the air, and fled in an instant. A brief rustle of trampled branches in her wake.

Ann E. Michael, Wild places

It is a rainy Sunday morning, but not the flooding kind of rain. I woke up thinking, is that rain hitting the windows or the tiny feet of a creature in the attic? Hoorah! It was rain.

I spent much of yesterday looking for rain, as threatening clouds came and went and then settled in for the evening. It was sunny early in the day, and we had a great time outside, reading by the pool and then getting in the pool. I hadn’t gone on my walk, so I spent 45 minutes swimming back and forth.

And then, fighter jets appeared out of nowhere, out of the south, flying north. My first thought: I hope they’re ours. My old habits kicked in: listening for explosions, keeping an eye open for a mushroom cloud, wondering if I should go inside to be safe from blast burns or the stuff exploding away from a blast site.

None of that happened, and come to find out, it was an Air Force squadron flying over to say thank you to various hospital workers. I still find it a curious way to say thank you.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, So Normal, So Not

We are defeated. From over the ocean the warplanes return like dragonflies flying over a fishpond. The stars above them hum and whisper in diamond light. The world is a whirlpool of churning thought. We are defeated, indeed, both sides are defeated. No one really wins a war. The graves of the innocent villagers are shallow and hard. The broken arm of the night will not mend, and the soldiers know this. Some of the soldiers sleep in sleek caskets. We should bury them together, two to a grave. One American, one Afghani. They could rest forever in each others arms.

James Lee Jobe, We are defeated.

Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac

under an iron sky
sleek as hematite

and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes

blown past velvet houses
where light recedes

into the settled darkness
beyond the earth’s shoulder

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Breath’

The worst part about the current crisis for me personally, other than intense sadness about the loss of life worldwide, has been the loss of making music with others through singing. Added to that is the growing awareness that, because singing is one of the most dangerous activities, it may be a very long time before we can return to it. I was already fearing that I might be getting toward the end of my time as a choir singer, though I waffle back and forth about that. Now, in my worst moments, I wonder if I will ever return to it, after a lifetime of being in church and cathedral choirs.

However, our choir has just produced their first virtual-choir video, and we’re working on two more which I’ll share with you here when they’re completed. It’s a bizarre and quite self-conscious process, where you  record your own part, solo, while listening to a backing track on headphones. The tracks were then assembled by our music director, Jonathan White, and the resulting video recording sounded remarkably like us — the way our own particular voices blend and sound together. This video was played during the cathedral’s Zoom service last Sunday morning, and a number of parishioners told me they were very moved to hear and see the choir again.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 24: Remembering Patrick Wedd

It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keyboard in service of creative writing. Too long and I don’t really know what to write here. I write for work, and while challenging, and creative in problem solving and working on teams, it doesn’t really provide an outlet for making something new.

I’ve collected some various prompts and images in the last few years. Kids were born, bought a house. Life continued, which should provide plenty of material to generat-icise new poems.

I even have the start to a chapbook that I haven’t looked at in… at least two years.

One line I have written down is

This poem will piss you off.

I think it’s supposed to be in the voice of the president. But I can’t even see through my own anger to start writing it. I have no distance.

I have pictures of various atrocities. But again, I have no distance.

There is a way in which my jaw has not unclenched in almost four years. Longer than that, I guess.

There’s a need to pull it out of the gut like gutting a fish it should be messy and a little gross and inelegant. Righteous hellfire wrath were faith still important. Though it’s all some people have they’ve swallowed the hook. There is not a pretty way to exorcise that barbed point.

Eric M. R. Webb, Need to write

I’ve been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions. The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news articles and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I’ve been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience. Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel. […]

Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community, full of comments and interactions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things. I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me, who still loved long-form content too much to give it up. But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space. You know it’s making music and broadcasting, but aren’t quite sure if it’s reaching anyone’s ears. And maybe it just feels that way because we’re now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart. Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself. You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back. Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar, You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?

Kristy Bowen, space music and paper boats

The other meaning of the word “career” got me thinking about my “career” and my life’s career, and about how much I love double-entendre and the tricksiness of words. So as I careered (derived from horse riding) and careened (derived from ship repair), from one kind of life to another, little remained that looks like a career (derived from wheeled vehicle).

In fact I cleaved from path after path, quitting this, trying and quitting that, cleaving to a desire to be true to myself, whoever she was at any given time.

I buckled up in each trajectory’s car, buckled down to the work, but inevitably buckled from the pressure to sit.

I overlooked clues to what make me satisfied, overly concerned with some imagined authority who overlooked my choices.

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the game too far. But I love that these are known as “Janus words,” that old two-faced bloke. But truly, I have careered, and cannot claim to have had a career, a definition that includes the notion of durability, of a devotion of time.

And the only thing I can say I have been devoted to across time is words. I have also loved silence. And there we have poetry.

Marilyn McCabe, And you always show up late; or, On Words (and Life) That Go Forward and Backward

I’ve been ashamed for twenty-two years now to be a teacher. This was supposed to be a stepping stone to being able to call myself something else. But it is what I have chosen to do to be able to afford the doing.

The price and the prize. Somewhere between them is the doing. I guess I found the price I couldn’t pay to call myself a writer was not the studying, but the salesmanship – networking, presentations. And what I thought as a kid would be the prize: fame, respect – wasn’t really what I was after.  I thought those things would raise me above the trolls in the world. Ha!

I’m fine fighting my trolls in the dark, anonymous corners…

and sometimes I get a quiet notice that someone read my work – not just my bio with an eye toward networking.

I’m not exactly off grid – but looking for a middle way. And I’m beginning to wonder if teaching isn’t really the oldest – and most indispensable – profession any way?

Ren Powell, What  We Do for a Living

Much of my adult life has been shaped by the literary-academic system. I have both an MFA and a PhD, and I could go on about these things at length. But I want to focus on the more recent events leading up to my decision to self-publish my collection of poems, A Dark Address. It first took shape in 2016 as part of my dissertation. Between then and now, it shed its skin multiple times, many new poems were added, and it is mostly unrecognizable from that earlier draft. Also in the intervening years, I submitted the manuscript to book contests and many of its individual poems to journals. However, going through this submission process in a rigorous way for the first time (I made some very clueless efforts with a previous, jettisoned book around 2008), I soon began to question whether or not I wanted my work to reach the world in the way this system makes possible. All along, the process of submitting felt exploitative and increasingly unrewarding. Fees kept adding up. While I could find exceptions for journal fees without much problem (though it cut down my options by about 50%), avoiding book submission fees severely narrowed my possibilities. Too many books are attached to contests, and these very rarely cost less than $25, with a few bucks tacked on to cover Submittable fees. Even open reading periods at many presses run $25 or more. I explored various very small presses, many of whom I greatly admire, but many of these focused on chapbooks or micro-chapbooks, or they simply did not seem like a good fit for my work. I felt stuck.

The thing is, even my successes felt hollow. I managed to land some “prestigious” acceptances of individual poems from the manuscript, but I had no idea if the poems were even being read. It went like this: finish a poem, submit incessantly, receive acceptance after three or more months (amid multiple rejections and some very long waits, and some submissions just falling off the radar, apparently), and then wait six months to a year or more before it appears in the world to little or no notice (except in the very rare case where a journal had a strong social media presence). Sometimes I got paid, sometimes not. In sum, it all felt a bit hollow. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a parade; I know it takes patience and that one can never really know what their work is doing out there in the world, or what it might do years later (and perhaps only for one individual you will never meet). And I also know that, ideally, this is a form of participation in something larger than I am. And yet it seemed less and less like participation in anything, really, besides paying fees and waiting to read form letters from anonymous readers and editors. Increasingly, I realized I was adhering to a process that I intensely disliked — and which cost a lot of money — all in order to perpetuate…what, exactly? Why was I doing this?

R.M. Haines, Poets Should Be Socialists

I have thought a lot about how to be a writer, a woman writer, over the years. I have spent my entire adult life contriving to find time and energy, the energy! to write. I have looked closely at the lives of women’s writers trying to find the secrets to apply to my own life. I have asked, how can I do the work I want to do, the work I’m able to do, and what is the work I am “allowed” to do, what is the work I will be hindered from, the work I will be given credit for and the work I will be erased from having done, what is the work that I will be thwarted from, and who will thwart me? and given all those variables, how will I refuse to be thwarted, and how will I manage to work in spite of, because of, because of. How will I continue, how will I contrive my own particular set of circumstances so I can say what I want to say, however small?

It’s the strangest thing of all about this Covid-isolation. I have been basically given my dream life on a platter, my hermit writing life, and it turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. (Mainly because of the worry….). But that’s fine. Imagine Jane Austen writing, and having all her worries about where she would next be living, who she would be reliant upon, what obligations she need fulfill.

We just want to work. I in my room, you in yours. I don’t want to be in competition with you, but to send my good wishes to you so that you can send yours to me.

This is what I learned from reading Eavan Boland. How to wonder about you, the importance of that wondering, and to remember that you are wondering about me.

The terrible regret I have is that I might have told her, I might have written her, and did not. And now it is too late, and I hate that. I hate that.

Shawna Lemay, The Hour of Change – Thinking About Eavan Boland

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

Julie Mellor, P is for …

Reading Ned Balbo’s sixth collection is a powerful and eerie experience right now because of its mix of isolation and intimacy. The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize and published in December 2019, takes its title from a poem about plants at the Cylburn Arboretum. A companion shows the speaker how leaves recoil at human touch. After they walk away, he wonders about “green fronds unfolding till/ the surface of their sea is calm again”–as if ease can be restored after an interval of shocked separation. Balbo’s title phrase recurs in a poem called “With Magdalene, near Daybreak,” when a resurrected god tells Magdalene, Touch me not. Balbo wonders why Jesus would return only to “order her away” and how she would have felt: “she who’d grieved already,/ shocked, stopped where she stood,/ the world strange, unsteady// though he was radiant…” This book, written well before the novel coronavirus, is about social distance.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #12 with Ned Balbo

Simply put: this is an extraordinary book of leave taking and home coming. 

The lyric poems are collaged into a moving narrative of one family’s journey. And while Bone Road documents the story of Geraldine Mills’ great grandparents leaving the north of Ireland in 1882-84 with assistance of the Tuke Fund, this also can’t help but echo peoples around the globe who are forced to leave home due to famine, war, and poverty. 

The twist in this history is that the family returns to Ireland. The faux gold of New England does not hold the family. They return to Ireland just as impoverished as when they left. What is that pull called home?  Untumble the walls of the house / Uprise its lintel from the overgrowth /…Unbreak the heart. 

Susan Rich, Recommended for Everyone! Bone Road by Geraldine Mills and Asking the Form by Hilary Salick

As a reader and as a writer, I’m fascinated by the way [Rick] Barot pulls together, for example, in “Cascades 501,” an overheard story of heart surgery and the view from the train window of “Punky little woods,” “The bogs that must have been left / by retreating glaciers” (which expands the poem into prehistory), “the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball,” and “the pickup truck / parked askew in the back lot,” noting “Each thing looks new / even when it is old and broken down.” Then the poem moves again, but I’m not going to spoil the ending.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: The Galleons

Raw with shared pain, these are not angry poems. They are cries of hope and compassion, demanding change/not the promise of change/not a panel to study change/not a worthless piece of paper

Full of questions, they do not offer slick answers; how much light asks the poet, does each falling body take with it as it hits the groundhow many days does one have to wake up with less dignity … how many years can you look for the one who is still missing … I want to open every fist they put around your heart/and listen as you tell me again how close liberty is to where you are standing.

Ama Bolton, Letters to Iraq: “listen to the hope and beauty”

it frightens me – sometimes.
how the words seem to come from a spirit
just behind the edge of hindsight,
beyond the dusk at the back of my mind.

is there a hole in space-time leading to where
the poets rail that their words must be heard,
must be still the font of all of their times;
and am i chosen as this conduit?
a vent in the dam of the damned words!

Jim Young, ‘how he wrote the flow of our pouring’

Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.

As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.

Andrea Blythe, The Vibrant Effusive Creative Spark

The earth stretches
into morning mist.

Happiness is not the exact
word, but it’s close.

So says the red-tail hawk.
So says the dove.

Tom Montag, THE EARTH STRETCHES

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: reluctant prophets, paper tearing, suntanning, finding the words, coping mechanisms, self-doubt, rejecting rejection, writing about one’s own death, writing about one’s own life, losing Jesus, the Buddha of recycling, coordinating a literary festival, thoughts on London, the gift of an empty house, poems to take camping, praise for chapbooks, praise for used bookstores, Janice Gould, poetry and current events, John Sibley Williams, the suburban gothic, and a heatwave.


in a beached whale a party of reluctant prophets

Johannes S H. Bjerg, ku 11.12 2011 (4)

Yokogami-yaburi
is Japanese for tearing paper
against the grain —
like that article you want to keep
but don’t wait for scissors
and rip into the story so the gist
is lost, or being stuck at 40
in living-the-dream, left holding the bag
of groceries or laundry or dirty diapers,
so you hide your stretch marks in a one-piece,
toss your hair like Farrah, and smile at strangers
on the beach while the kids make sand castles […]

Sarah Russell, Yokogami Yaburi

Here and now even boys
don’t swim topless, exposing chests
to the depredations of our star, but
when I walk to the condo pool for a dip
I still notice whether or not I’m in
the good tan window. And later
in the shower when I see my forearms
darker against the soft pale flesh
of my belly, I feel at home in my body.
I don’t look like you. But
after an afternoon spent dipping
into cool aqua waters festooned now
with tufts of fluff from cottonweeds,
my warmed skin comforts my touch
the way yours used to do.

Rachel Barenblat, Sun

I’ve been taking notes, wanting to return to poetry and I’m stuck in diagnosis and doctors notes and lists of possible problems. There’s words for it all though and I need to find them. Words for the NICU, the diagnosis and syndrome, the desperate sort of way she breathes even when sleeping. Her doctors say I’m doing so well. I think all you need to pass the mental health survey, given at every one of Kit’s appointments, is to not be willing to call it quits. I’d walk hot coals for this baby. Walk hot coals and eat them after! I’ll find the words soon I think, because I know there’s light here even if I can’t see where it’s coming from.

Renee Emerson, Finding the words

You’re going to see a lot of picture of smiles, hummingbirds, art, and flowers in this post, but it’s really a post this week about coping mechanisms and the realities of self-care for writers, regular people, and people with chronic illnesses that get worse in the summer.

I think this summer has been  hard on people. The news has been pretty bleak. I’ve heard from friends going through unexpected tough times, and I have been struggling with about a month of trigeminal nerve pain, as well as regular MS symptoms that generally get worse during summer. I’m also shopping two books around, which means I’ve been getting rejections for not just my regular poetry submissions, but books as well. There’s record heat around the world, and right now, wildfires near where several of my friends in Alaska live. So that’s where my own survival skills, self-care skills if you will, come in.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summertime of Art Galleries, Hummingbirds, Haircuts: Self-Care During Hard Times

I had a rough time getting started this summer and tried slogging doggedly through the doubt. Then I put myself on a course of related and unrelated reading, and that helped more. Reading is the best tonic I know (which probably explains some things about my career choice). I finished a draft of the short project that was killing me, put it aside, and then moved onto work that feels more congenial. This is a standard cycle in my writing life, and some combination of grit and rest always gets me through it, eventually.

The self-doubt that I find hardest isn’t about my relationship to the work itself. It’s about my relationship to other people. Like the juvenile giant squid in the video above, I’m both curious and wildly reticent. I’d much rather submit work towards publication or a grant from a distance, say, than approach an editor in person, at a conference. I’ve shied away from conversations and connections that might have helped me about a zillion times. And when you’re a middle-aged woman without influential mentors, no one’s rushing to hand you opportunities because you’re doing such good work in your quiet corner of the deep. I mean, it happens–I’ve put the work out there steadily, and sometimes nabbed a win–but it would happen more if I didn’t sabotage myself and hide in the murk. I’ve vowed to do better, especially with new books coming along. I WILL put myself and my work forward, because I DO believe in it fiercely. We’ll see.

Lesley Wheeler, Dear poetry professor: self-doubt

Summer is officially here and we have colorful plants blooming to show for it.  Cathy gets truly excited with plants in summer. I think she gets that from her grandmother – who was affectionately known as granny. When I leave in the morning or when I come home in the evening I am greeted by colorful unfolding nature before my eyes. I confess I love this. I love knowing that she loves gardening with flowers too.  By the way, we have tomatoes on our tomato plants (our one cash crop). 

I had a rejection of poems in a contest since my last confession.  I don’t often dwell on rejections. I am sure this was a form one too. But it did happen to be the same place that  I once received a form rejection with a handwritten note that said,  “you were close.”  But, I digress, the part of this rejection that caught my fancy was as follows… “We strongly believe that a poem’s value is not determined by its publication, or by the selection or non-selection by a limited group of readers. The editors urge you to wholeheartedly reject this rejection, and send these poems out again and write some new poems, and sent them out too.”  I confess this made me smile. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Little Slice of Confession Tuesday

Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”
He tripped and fell off the curb
Into a thousand foot abyss and went splat
On the perfect granite boulders below.
Splat flat, man. It happens.
He swallowed a sickness into his lungs
And wheezed until the dark angels came
To drag him away again.
The last thing anyone heard
Was some intense coughing up in the sky.
Or maybe the coughing was down below,
Deep inside the earth. One or the other.

James Lee Jobe, poem – “Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”

While I’m comfortable writing about my life, I’m not comfortable with opening my self to being explored in my writing. Cracking open a nut to find the insides too bitter. I’m trying not to shy away from the challenge these prompts are placing in front of me, but I can feel myself resisting. My writing is too pat, contrite lines trying to sum things up when there’s no exact answer. 

It all depends on my mood, what’s happening around me, a multitude of things that can tip my attitude one way or the other. Writing daily on a variety of subjects can capture this, the wildly swinging up and down of my moods, my opinion of my self.

I’ve been meeting online a few writers who write a daily haiku or short poem and post them as a kind of diary. My daily writing works in the same way, I guess, though I don’t always share them. It’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of my thoughts. This blog written over the last weeks also shows that flitting. 

I’ve been talking on here about struggling to find outlets and my support for my work. I find sometimes when you complain about something out-loud, verbalise the frustration or pain, the knot eases in some unexpected way. I started this blog originally to lay out some of the issues I was having with conceiving my last child, the guilt and grief, but shortly after starting, I conceived after years of trying. So the blog eventually changed to be about writing.

Gerry Stewart, Writing Your Life

But life itself came tumbling in – a cavalcade of
           catcalls,
           whistles,
           brickbats,
           silk ropes
           and roses.
And one day he wasn’t there at all.
Instead, out on the road, across the fields,
over the trees, in the sky,
           everything else was.

Dick Jones, Holy Writ

A Buddha appeared by the side of the freeway in Redwood City in the past year or so. I’ve long wondered about it, so yesterday I found my way over to see it up close. As I circumambulated it respectfully, I was surprised to see what was on the other side of the pedestal: An opening containing two dumpsters for the office building next door. Irreverent? Maybe. But then I considered that recycling and garbage is an essential part of the universe, no less than lotuses and Buddhas. Why wouldn’t the Buddha sit serenely atop a trash container? Or anywhere else, for that matter?

tending the garden ::
the trees this mulch was
and will be

D. F. Tweney, Someone asked the eminent Vietnamese Zen master Tue Trung: “What is the purified Dharmakaya?” He replied: “Buffalo dung and cow urine.”

So excited to have my poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal’s current Summer 2019 issue. The issue includes a lovely variety of poems and is worth spending some time reading through.

This year has been a whirlwind of Utah Arts Festival coordination as their Literary Arts and WordFest program director. You may have noticed I had to take a break from posting on my blog and interacting on social media while I pulled together all the details, performers, and such for workshops, a literary stage, and a kids art yard program. Everything went very well and it was an amazing adventure. I met so many talented writers along the way and it truly was an honor and a pleasure. That said, I’m glad to be back! Regular posting is about to commence! I’ve really missed my blog and the online poetry community.

Juniper is a new online poetry journal, published three times a year, in February, June and October. I love the simple, yet pleasing design of this web-based journal. It’s easy to navigate and easy to read. You can read more about Juniper in my interview with founding editor Lisa Young. They reopen for submissions September 1.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal + I’m back after a break!

I spent two amazing weeks in London earlier this month. It was my first time back to the UK since 2014, and I was worried that the city would have changed so much that I wouldn’t recognize it. Yes, there are more skyscrapers, Battersea Power Station is becoming a luxury mixed-use development and Crossrail (or the “Elizabeth line” as it will be called) is still under construction, but it also felt fabulously the same. I slipped right back into the hustle and bustle of it all and it was fantastic to be there again. […]

The biggest highlight was reading with Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, who has a new memoir called Mama’s Boy, at the Polari Literary Salon at Southbank Centre. Angela Chadwick read from debut novel XX and Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott read from her entertaining novel Swan Song. Paul Burston reallyl knows how to curate an evening and is the most dapper host. He’s also got a new thriller novel, The Closer I Get, which is getting rave reviews. It was wonderful to be in such company and the audience was spectacularly responsive and attentive. I was satisfied at how well the poems from Midnight in a Perfect World were received and that Foyles sold so many copies.

I must also add a word about my friend, poet and novelist Agnes Meadows, who always so kindly puts me up at her flat while I’m in London. One of my favorite bits of this trip was our evening trips up to the N1 Centre for coffee and writing time at Pret (love the flat whites and brownies). I wrote seven new poems during our evening retreats, and I am chuffed. Agnes also challenged me to go in drag to Loose Muse, the open mic for women she’s been hosting for 16 years. Men are welcome to read, but they must come in drag. No man had ever taken Agnes up on the offer until I agreed to do it. My alter ego was named Dame Colleen.

Collin Kelley, Thoughts on London and what lies ahead

Sometimes it’s sad when everyone leaves but sometimes it’s just what you need.  It’s not always possible to go away to write, on a course or retreat or holiday.  Even if you can afford it, even if it’s free or subsidised, it’s just not always possible – for many reasons, commitments, time or ability constraints – to leave your home and set up camp somewhere with nothing to do but attend to your notebooks.  Last week, for four whole days, I had the house to myself, my family all away doing their own thing. I got a lot done.  Not so much new work but a chance to sit with newish poems and give them some careful attention, free of all distractions.

Perhaps it was simply because the timing was right for me, for once.  It’s not that I don’t already have plenty of free time.  This year, I’ve had a pretty clear calendar and many opportunities to write and I have been accumulating poems but in a rather messy fashion.  But, recently, we’ve had more than the usual amount of admin to do, fetching and carrying people and belongings, family stuff, and my need to be alone has been growing, building a kind of tension that put the brakes on my creativity. Somehow, knowing I wasn’t alone in the house, even if Andrew was at the bottom of our garden in his office, interfered with my work-flow.  An uncluttered four days alone has meant that I’ve taken a clear-headed look at what I’m writing, organised poems into folders on my computer, even put together a submission to a magazine. It feels like a massive relief.

Josephine Corcoran, The gift of an empty house

Yesterday on Twitter I posed the idea that I’d like to do an anthology of poems to take camping. Why? Because when I go camping, I always take books of poems—usually poems that go along with the whole getting groovy with nature feeling of camping. I once told Jane Hirshfield that I’d taken her book Given Sugar, Given Salt on a camping trip, and she seemed to think that was an appropriate book for the woods.

Much of my own writing begins in the woods (either in reality or in my head). I don’t go camping nearly as much as I’d like to, but when I do I always turn to poems, peacefully reading under the trees, under the stars, with campfire smoke or fireflies drifting around me, or hiding in the tent because it’s raining. In my day job as an editor for a technology review site I spend hours sitting in front of two computers, each with about 50 tabs open. To escape from that mania I need to get out of town and out of my head.

But still, why? There are several good anthologies of nature poetry and ecopoetry. What would this camping anthology do differently. I see it as a book to help you get out of town—whether you’re already sitting next to a campfire or sitting in your living room. On my last camping trip I took Jim Harrison’s posthumous collection Dead Man’s Float, Song by Brigit Pegreen Kelly, and Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. For this hypothetical anthology I envision poems that help a person get into the spirit of being out in nature, poems that examine or celebrate it, poems that help us ask questions of ourselves, of the world. Poems to experience the experience.

Grant Clauser, Words for the Woods, or Whatever

A good chapbook packs a punch. It’s tidy, compelling, digestible. A good chapbook is a joy and inspiration, and leaves one wanting more…but just as happy not to have it. A good chapbook invites a second read.

Look at Nickole Brown’s fantastic To Those Who Were Our First Gods. When I say it’s a page-turner, I don’t mean I was eager to turn the page, but rather, I was eager to linger, and then to find out what the next page had to offer.

A chapbook by Frank Bidart was a finalist for the Pulitzer. But that was back in the early 2000s. I’m not sure any other chapbooks have received that much industry love. […]

In this time of short attention spans, isn’t the chapbook just the right thing — a subway ride, a coffee cup, and, if it’s the right size, shoved into the other back pocket where the cell phone isn’t. Plus a small size would make the book feel inviting even to the poetry-shy. Such a cunning little thing, this book of poems, approachable, nibble-able, something you can cup in your hands, a butterfly, a bird.

Marilyn McCabe, Little Red Corvette; or, In Praise of the Chapbook

First editions, clean and jacketed?
I prefer those lived with,
lived in, a note card
slipped between pages.

I see myself in a used bookstore,
on a back shelf, loose cover,
yellow pages, among books not
classified: is it history, is it

romance, is it worth the paper
it’s printed on? The bookseller
does not come to dust.

I lean against another
volume, convinced there are
worse ends than this.

Ellen Roberts Young, Booklover

Janice Gould, beloved Koyoonk’auwi (Concow) poet, friend, musician, and teacher, left our realm on 6/28/19. Headmistress Press joins with others in our grief at losing her much too soon, and our deep condolences to her beloved partner. We are proud that we published two of Janice’s books, “The Force of Gratitude” & “Seed.” Her words will ring their truth forever. The last time we spoke with her, Janice said, I would still love to meet you and talk with you.  I so appreciate what your press has done for my poetry.

River

How strong this channel has become,
the river widening at the bend,
creating shoals and back currents,
where chilly water will be warmed
by sun, and willows sprout
along the graveled shore. I hear
bees among the blackberries,
can smell their prickly fragrance,
and some days I think I see her
on the other side, near the edge,
surveying the wild current, noticing
how the wind rips along the surface of water.
She watches all that shining where forces collide—
otherwise known as my heart.

Risa Denenberg, Janice Gould, 1949-2019

Long ago, before I wrote poetry in a serious way, my favorite, much loved undergraduate English professors declared that there had never been good poetry that wrote about current events.  She talked about how aesthetically bad all the anti-Vietnam war poetry was.

She taught British Literature, and she was much more likely to spend time with Wordsworth and Coleridge than any poet still alive.  It would be much later that I would discover that one could write compelling poetry about current events, poetry that was both powerful and aesthetically admirable.

Rattle has a feature called Poets Respond, which it describes this way:  “At least every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse.”  I’ve often thought that it would be a cool practice to write one poem a week and submit it, but I often don’t do that.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I wrote not one, but two poems that dealt with the crisis at the border.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry and Current Events

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. The newspaper-like columns of prose poetry provide a social critique of the violent side of American culture centered within the boundaries of self and family. Although an apocalyptic tension permeates throughout, these poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  
“Dust rises from the road & there is
too much curve to resolve the edges
of embankment & asphalt. Backfire
keeps the pastureland carefully lit.
Static keeps us wanting for another
kind of song.”
— from “Story that Begins and Ends with Burning

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

I worked with something similar in the shared properties of water and stars--that dark shadow sitting squat under suburbia, but this project is more personal and grounded in my experience as a child who loved horror and grew up in the 70’s & 80’s. Last spring, one of the speakers at the pop culture conference on horror touched on the definition of the gothic–how even in the Victorian ages, it’s appeal lie in a safe way to transcend the relative safety of the middle class.  If we were comfortable–not in actual danger–we sought out ways to experience similar danger from a a safe remove.

When I was a teen, I had all these romantic fantasies that involved whatever boy I was crushing on at the time saving me from something–a disaster, a plague, a plane crash. the apocalypse.  It was a twisted princess fantasy I suppose–the prize not so much security, but survival.

“Sometimes, I’m swimming and there’s a body, floating bloated in the water. I scream and the man who saves me gets to have me.  Which is pretty much the plot to everything.”

The rush of being afraid, that rush of endorphins was similar to that of love.  Or at least my fevered teenage mind thought so.

And of course, imagined fears only go so far in touching on the REAL fears of suburbia–kidnappings, rapes, school shootings. (less prevalent, of course, in my years, but viewable in the lens now.)  But even these need a safe distance–survivors of actual trauma do not always like horror (with a few exceptions). All the urban legends we think we’re are afraid of vs. the very real things there are to be frightened of. 

What I wound with is a series of vignettes mixed with personal experience, something not quite just prose poems, not quite lyric essay, also something that, by presence of myself as “writer” addressing you, as a “reader” becomes a little bit meta.–an echo to victorian gothicism. 

Kristy Bowen, the terrible place and suburban gothic

When people ask where I come from
I say a small market town on the edge of the Pennines.
We have the usual mix of good luck and suicides.
Occasionally farmers are arrested
for growing cannabis in barns.
It’s not the sort of place where the sax
is commonly heard in the street.

The writing workshop at Café Crème
was cancelled tonight.
They’re digging up the road
and the electricity’s off.
Nothing for it but to sit here trying to write.

‘This is a shit poem,’ I say when you come in.
‘Well, it’s a shit saxophonist,’ you say. ‘What do you expect?’

Julie Mellor, Heatwave

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

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

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

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

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

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

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

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

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

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

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

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

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

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

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

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

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

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

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

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

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

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

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

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

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

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

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

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

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

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

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

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

I wandered lonely as a cloud

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 49

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive. (Note that I’ve just corrected the numbering of the weeks going back to early September, when I began miscounting. Sheesh.)

A somewhat shorter digest than usual this week, as the end of the semester looms and the holiday season gathers steam, but those bloggers who are finding the time to post seem to be in an especially lyrical mood, as you’ll see. On a geekier note, Friday saw the release of a major new version of WordPress (for self-hosted sites; not sure when it rolls out at WordPress.com) with a completely redesigned post editor and site builder called Gutenberg. Of interest to poets: one of the basic tools they include is a Verse block, as an alternative to the standard prose paragraph. It wraps everything in Pre tags so that all formatting, including intraline spaces, will be preserved exactly as you type it. And there’s a style definition so that one can easily specify a preferred font, font size, line height, etc. using CSS in the customizer. Anyway, if that’s all a little over your head, don’t worry about it. The main point is that the WordPress lead developers are looking out for us poets. Which makes sense, because the WordPress motto has always been “Code is poetry.” Now at long last, poetry has its own code.

One of them keeps sticking a stray beach ball from god knows where down her shirt to make a mono-boob, or up her shirt to make a nine-months-blown. Another keeps collapsing into howling giggles, falling out of her chair. I’m giving them words: poema, poeisis, onomatopoeia: the creation, the act of creation, the summoning of a thing by its name.

I call her name, the collapsed one, and say, in the midst of trying to define the etymologic relationship between psyche and breath, inspiration and the necessity of oxygen for life, I don’t even know what’s going on with you right now, and laughing a little, I hold out my hand to the one fooling around with the beach ball—give it up, here. I take it when she passes it, put it on the desk behind me. She says: we made you laugh, though, didn’t we, and I nod. You always look so sad.

Gut punch, her notice.

I take the etymology lesson and wrap it around some fairy tales, then ask them to write: inhabit someone, I say. A character, maybe minor. Write in their voice. Summon them into being. Make of their voice a creation: their story, from their point of view. Make us understand.

What are you going to write, one asks. I share some ways I have answered this particular prompt in the past, and get them started.

Their pencils stutter, then stroll, then gallop.

I do not say

I will write the voice of a frozen river, black
under feet of ice; I will envy that ice, forming
into carillon bridges, islands and trunks; the voice
of a woman under ice screaming the last air
from frozen lungs, each bubble become an ice bell
someone stops by the side of the road to photograph.
JJS, December 9, 2018: ice bells

*

When I read a wonderful poem, I do feel the piece has exerted its power, that language, words, imagery have the strength to sway my emotional field. After reading an entire collection by a good writer, I sense a resonance–intuitive, unsettling. Sometimes, the work evokes in me a desire to do what that writer has done. That’s one type of influence. The list of such writers would be lengthy indeed.

~~

Other influences, though–amazing works of art, thrilling architecture, deeply moving music or dance–I could not exempt those as streaming into my consciousness, awakening me to something new. Or human beings, especially those I love best.

And places. Environment matters to my poetry. In the city, I wrote city poems. In the country, I write country poems. After I’ve traveled somewhere new to me, I conjure the place in my mind and it exerts its own kind of power on me.

Influences, in my writing life, are generally bound to experiences; I’m not a very imaginative writer. “A change in the weather is sufficient for us to create the world and ourselves anew,” wrote Proust. I am not contradicting myself in this paragraph. But I think I will have more to say on this topic soon, once I mull it over a little longer.
Ann E. Michael, Influences, personal & poetic

*

Q~Your contributions helping other poets through your blog and social media were part of the inspiration for this interview series. What made you decide to do this work?

A~I’m so thrilled to hear that my blog helped to inspire your interview series! My blog really has been a happy accident. I originally created the site just as a place to post poems for others to read when asked about my work. As I started submitting and looking for writing resources online, I found that my blog was a good place to save them. Then I shared one of my posts in a Facebook group and received such positive response, I decided to keep sharing. I also noticed that in the writing community some writers are competitive—they don’t want to share opportunities for fear that someone else will be published or win the contest instead. It seems to me that poetry just does not get enough attention in general, and the more I can share, the numbers of poetry readers might just grow, which means a larger market for my work while supporting other poets along the way. I kept trying new things based on my own research, like lit mag submission calls, then interviews with editors, guest blog posts, etc. and continued to get more followers and great feedback. I’ve learned so much along the way and I’m still learning every day.

Q~How do you balance your time between your own writing, the work you do to help other writers and your life outside of writing?

A~This is a great question. I do have a lot of poetry projects going on, locally with my poetry group Rock Canyon Poets, Provo Poetry poemball machines, Poetry Happens (a monthly radio feature of poetry events in Utah), an annual community writing workshop, two annual anthologies, festivals, readings, open mics, the list goes on and on. And, of course, a full-time career in software product management, my blog, and my own writing. It’s a delicate balance to be sure. Ultimately, all the work I do for poetry feeds and supports my own writing practice as well. I’m continually learning, finding inspiration, and growing as a writer. Timewise, I focus a lot on efficiency, large blocks of time to work on specific projects or to write, so I’m not stopping and starting too often. And, I have a very patient husband and family, who let me spend hours in my office uninterrupted. They know how important poetry is to me and have been an amazing support system. I often combine poetry activities with other things—like weekend trips, family time, dinner before or after an event, etc.
Resurrection Party / an interview with poet Trish Hopkinson (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

*

–“I have a uterus with puppies in it”: you can either file this under comments one usually doesn’t hear in the halls of academe as I did this week–or you could use it as a line of a poem–or you could create an interesting short story. And for those of you who are wondering, we have a Vet Tech dep’t, and I overheard one of the faculty members discussing visual aids that she has to show students.

–I posted this haiku-esque creation on Facebook, but I want to keep it in a place where it will be easier to find:

Write me from the camps.
Be my Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Teach me how to live.

–I am still enjoying my online journaling class immensely. It’s interesting to see how our sketches are informing all of the future sketches–and also interesting to see how I have begun to recognize each person’s individual style.

–Here’s one of my favorite quotes from this week of the journaling class. It didn’t come from the book we’re reading together, but I might not have noticed the Rumi quote if my classmates hadn’t been quoting Rumi. I found it in Anne Lamott’s “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace”: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.”
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Saturday Snippets: Fetal Puppies and Other Vagaries

*

Intentions: Double my submissions next year.

Should I pay more in entry fees? I don’t think so. This amount [$350] made me gulp, but it supports a variety of publishers I want to support, and that feels supportive of my work, whether it got accepted or not.

Is it all worth it? Can’t I just be content making work?
No. I want it out there. I want it read or viewed. I want it appreciated. Or criticized, or whatever.

Yeah, I know, friends, that I get down at the mouth throughout the year. But I also feel buoyed sometimes, amused often, engaged in my work, and hopeful. Do I fail to mention that? Remind me to mention that.

I sometimes get the sense from people that they think I should be content just making the work, that there’s some kind of purity in that. That the search for publication success is somehow a sullied enterprise. Egotistical, perhaps. Or at best, a fool’s errand.
I say, it’s part of the artistic process — do the work, put it out into the world, take your shots and huzzahs as they come. Complain bitterly along the way; dance foolishly around with glee. It’s all part of the equation.
Marilyn McCabe, An Accounting; or, Writing Submissions by the Numbers

*

I was reading The Fish the other day, the classic anthologized Elizabeth Bishop poem, and it is just so good. And I read Crossing the Water by Sylvia Plath (the book before Ariel–I like this one better for some reason, though its considered transitional), and it is so very good. Listening to the Daily Poem podcast, they played Mending Wall by Robert Frost — as anthologized and read and reread as it is, it is so good and worth reading and rereading. I want to write poetry like that! Like Robert Lowell and Louise Gluck, Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson.

I don’t want to be famous–I don’t even care if I write these poems and only my family reads them. But I want to be able to write. those. poems.

How do I get there? Chances are, my talent has taken me about as far as it goes and I’ll only get better in little increments, never reaching the lofty heights of a truly great poet like the ones I so very much wish I could write like.

But maybe that is ok, and that is what drives me to keep writing–the tension between what I can create and what I envision creating.
Renee Emerson, Mediocrity

*

Funny how I got here. I woke up thinking about the earthquake that just hit Anchorage Alaska, which was a 7 magnitude with all-day aftershocks and how quickly these life-threatening events dissipate on the news “cycle”. Amazingly there were no deaths reported and no tsunami. I was also thinking about how magnitude is reported in logs. I’ve felt a couple of distant 4-5 magnitude quakes; a 7 magnitude is 100 times stronger than a 5; and a 9 would be 10,000 times stronger. Although I’m not sure that magnitude equals strength exactly, so I’ll just think : ten thousand times worse.

But there is still poetry. For now.

Here’s a poem about rain:

Rain

Most days, I no longer long
for you. The rain has become
my welcome mat.

I soak clothes and skin in it,
bleach these personal stains,
staunch my body’s needs.

I dream in haiku
as it taps at my window
in tart syllables.

Nowhere is it fully documented
how terrifying it is to be me.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse in the Rain

*

In response to a challenge at Ekphrastic Review. Here are all the poems generated by this photo of a Colombian Breastplate. Thanks, Lorette, for including my poem with the others!

A golden, first century breastplate —
mythic protection in battle. Mortals
have sought aegis from the gods
since time began, it seems.

When my youngest was three,
he wore an Incredible Hulk T-shirt
every day for a year, certain his kinship
with the angry green goliath
could transmogrify a toddler
to a Titan older kids would fear.

I hope the Columbian warrior
with a flying deity on his chest
found more success than my guileless,
doomed boy, whose brother and sister
held him down and made him smell
the lint in their belly buttons.

Sarah Russell, Birdman, Colombian

*

I’m so grateful of the reading and work that went into this in depth and thoughtful review of my chapbook Footnote by Deborah Hauser published by Stirring, one of the oldest continuously publishing journals on the internet. And they are always open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. A link to their submission guidelines is below.

Hauser’s careful reading and insight captured so much of what I was after in this collection of poems. She gives thoughtful descriptions and commentary on several of the poems along with samples. I couldn’t be more honored by the time she spent with my work and in writing this review! Here’s the first paragraph of the review where she describes the format and theme of the collection:

Footnote, Trish Hopkinson’s clever new chapbook, is a multi-layered journey through literary history and popular culture. Each poem reads well on its own, but the footnotes (represented with an appealing * at the bottom of the page rather than the usual, academic 1) add context and meaning. Hopkinson embraces the anxiety of influence and openly engages with her predecessors who include the canonical (Emily Dickinson), the avant-garde (David Lynch), and the radical (Janis Joplin). It’s as if, in these poems, Hopkinson is answering the question “Which artists would you invite to a dinner party?” and the reader has been invited to eavesdrop on the ensuing conversation.”
Trish Hopkinson, Book Review: Footnote, by Trish Hopkinson – by Deborah Hauser via Stirring (always open for submissions!)

*

I have been a huge fan of KateLynn Hibbard’s work since her first book, Sleeping Upside Down, was published in 2006. She followed this up with her luscious collection, Sweet Weight. And now, after way too many years, her third full length collection, Simples, published by Howling Bird Press has just been released — a haunting collection of historical poetry inspired by women’s experiences living on the Great Plains frontier.

This is a book you do not want to miss. And while the music of the lines allows you to feel you are floating across the page, there is also true pathos in the work. Hibbard time travels through the Great Plains employing a variety of personas: healer, teacher, locust swarm and Jewish bride-to-be. In a lesser poet’s hands these characters might seem contrived but not in Hibbard’s hands.

Trees bowed over with the weight of them and they ate—
the tall grass the wheat the corn the sunflowers
the oats the barley the buckwheat the bark

(from Swarm)

The poems accrue and create a dreamscape of life where the work is unrelenting and the landscape both awe inspiring and cruel. Hibbard’s background in Women’s Studies (both as a poet and a scholar) is integral to this project.
Susan Rich, Simples: The Joy of Reading KateLynn Hibbard’s New Book

*

There is a lot that I don’t talk about on this blog, as I am very conscious of respecting the privacy of those around me. So I will keep this brief. There was a sudden and tragic death of a young man in my family this week, and we are all reeling from it. I am shocked and saddened and very concerned for those who were closest to him. I’m unable to concentrate well enough to write anything at all today. So I will simply leave you with some poems, and a plea to hold your loved ones close. […]

On Emptiness
by Kristen McHenry

When I stick my hands in there to feel around there’s nothing. Once I sat for emptiness alone, entire months, flailing blindly in the spaces where emptiness had weight. Nothing rolls off of my palms, nothing mocks my efforts. I’m parched and have received bad information. All that time I sat, breathing in, only to know my own low feelings. To kneel there open-handed and say, this is all I have to offer. My palms no longer ferry light.

They say within a void lies all possibilities, but I think there are only two persuasions: Corpulent emptiness, and a nothingness that drifts above our heads, that will not acknowledge us. In second grade we planted seedlings. They came up vivid, lusty shoots. I understood then there was a kind of order, that this was nature’s outcome. It was impersonal and pleasing. Could I now proclaim, I am feeling full, or I must fill up, or, I am fully felt. I flounder with seeds and window boxes. The problem is that emptiness has teeth, and wishes of its own. The emptiness is un-content. It will not do with the least it can survive on. No stones, no feathers, no shells settle in my hands. Only a crusted thing, grown around its nut, seed of all nourishment, jewel of the essential.

Sit and think of nothing. Sit and engage only in the hollowness of breath, its motion in your veins. I tell people all day long because I believe it is important: We breathe in oxygen, we breathe out carbon dioxide, the lungs lunge, the lungs do their job. There is nothing easy in the effortless.

I remain to this day faithless despite everything I knew my heart could do. I stick my hands in there to feel around. I bring up tangled in my fingers a clear and weightless substance that slips off into space.
Kristen McHenry, Hard Days

*

Even as this term’s portfolios and papers come snowing down and I organize next term’s particulars, however, I’m trying to bask in another grand finale: the re-launch of Shenandoah. It’s stunning how much Editor-in-Chief Beth Staples has accomplished since she started in August: the dated-looking website has been radically redesigned on a new server, but most importantly she recruited exciting new work–a few pieces by distinguished writers who’d appeared in the magazine under R. T. Smith’s editorship, but many, many others from writers who might not have considered sending to us before, so that the issue is more inclusive than ever along every possible axis. I say “us” because Beth, who has a collaborative spirit, included her new colleagues as volunteer readers from the beginning, and by mid-fall had appointed several of us as genre editors, including Seth Michelson for translation, Chris Gavaler for comics, and me for poetry. I didn’t read every entry or make every call on acceptance or rejection in my genre, and that will be true of the next issue as well (towards which a lot of work has already been accepted) but I did read thousands of pieces (and am still processing the last few from our fall reading period).

So, OF COURSE I’ll be teaching poems from the new issue next term. My syllabi always include plenty of books on paper; I love print as a medium. But a digital issue can be a great addition to the mix: free, ultra-contemporary, and diversifying a reading list in interesting ways.
Lesley Wheeler, Teaching from online magazines

*

And after over a decade of submitting to Shenandoah, I have a poem in their newly relaunched issue. When Beth Staples, who recently took over the literary journal at Washington and Lee, sent me the e-mail a few months ago, I was in shock. A dream journal for me for sure, and happy to be part of the relaunch. The poem is called “Introduction to Writer’s Block.” It’s also an extremely personal poem for me, as it describes trying to write poetry again after a severe MS flare hospitalized me last fall, and I was struggling with memory loss and aphasia, trying to literally find my words again. Anyway, so happy to be in the issue! […]

Today the morning is clear and cold again, Stellar jays darting in the trees, hummingbirds around our feeders. I am looking forward to seeing some writer and artist friends for “art dates” in the next two weeks. I am thankful for publishers who send out royalty checks (this time, thanks to Two Sylvias – they always send royalty checks right before the holidays, which seems a lucky time to get a check) and thankful for people who volunteer at our zoo to keep red pandas and snow leopards alive and healthy, thankful to all people who create art – and those who support art with their time and money. I am thankful for days I have enough energy to get up and go out of the house to experience the lucky world I have around me – flowers, trees, holiday lights – and thankful that this year I am not as sick as I was last year around this time. I am starting to think, in a hopeful way, about 2019. May it be a better year for all of us.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Lots to Celebrate Edition- New Poems up at the newly relaunched Shenandoah and SWWIM, Zoolights and Red Panda Cubs, Thanks to Escape Into Life for a Pushcart Nomination

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 41

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a number of poetry bloggers wrote about deaths of loved ones and about seeking inspiration in art — sometimes in the same post. Other bloggers wrote about their quests to become more organized or more productive. There were a couple of interesting reports from conferences, and as usual, plenty of other random delights.

The morning sears its way into my day. There is the sparkling glint of sun on water and across Discovery Bay I can see the snowy top of Mount Baker and the backside of Port Townsend off to the East. I am blessed with this view when it appears out my window as I sit at my desk and wonder what to do next. How different life seems to me on a day when no fog rises up to obscure my view, no rain smacks at the glass. And yet, some days I can convince myself that Port Townsend, Mount Baker, the whole damn universe, is still there, even when I can’t see it. Or feel it. Or find it. Or be a part of it. My own fear of death seems easy to overcome with the thought that this, all of this, will all go on with me or without me.

Embracing death, notwithstanding, I am able to feel anxious about my many failures. I’ve fallen behind in promises, and nothing feels worse to me than not meeting deadlines, failing to fulfill a commitment, or having a dirty house. These are things to get over. The universe is made of dust, as I was recently reminded, and moving the dust around is not always a productive activity. Determining what is really worthwhile can be debilitating. So much seems worth so little.

Writing a Sunday blog joins me with others in a way that helps me to connect with a common purpose. I seem to be able to continually write poems. I’ve started meeting with a small writing group in my rural area that is proving to be a remedy for the sense of isolation I feel most days.

I’m sick with worry about our planet, but I guess that’s nothing new. Just because I am a nihilist at heart does not mean I am disengaged. I am trying to uncover meaning, step up to the plate, look for opportunities to serve, seek crevices of hope.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musings

*

Sit down here, by this closed window
and consider it this way:
that not even dust remains
of how things were
before the sleep of reason;
that not a carbon trace is left
of what once might have been.

Relax. Sit back in your chair
and listen to my voice.

You know the properties
of hope,
of dreams,
of rumours.

You know how rich
the imagined landscape,
and how true that stranger’s voice,
its cadences so clear.
Dick Jones, The Way Things Are

*

After supper, after gin rummy and pages
turning and the rhythmic click of a sweater
growing row by row, bed greets you
like a childhood friend, and sleep
keeps company with the blue black sky
and the owl’s whispered flight.
Sarah Russell, Home

*

Earlier, as I was walking up the stairs that started the trail’s steep ascent out of Mill Valley’s Old Mill Park, I had been glancing at the plaques embedded into the concrete risers. Most of them paid tribute to loved ones, or memorialized families, but one caught my eye. “Enjoy this wonderful moment,” the plaque said, which was somewhat amusing to consider from the point of view of a person suffering up a brutally steep climb equivalent to the height of a 55-story skyscraper. But it also reminded me of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writings repeatedly remind us to recognize the present moment, to enjoy this wonderful moment. So I was savoring that saying, and the awareness of the wonderful moment, as I jogged through the ancient trees, the filtered light, the ferns and dirt and rocks of the trail above Muir Woods.

And then I noticed the trail wasn’t connecting with the Dipsea. In fact, it was curving back down to rejoin the lower, level path through Muir Woods. Dammit! I had jogged back almost to the entrance of the park! Clearly, I realized, I’d taken a wrong turn — again.

Rather than head back out and start over, I decided to take a second jog through Cathedral Grove and turn the correct way this time. Looking at another sign, it was clear that I needed to turn to the right, not left, immediately after crossing Bridge 4, so that’s what I did on my second time across. And as I made my second ascent from Bridge 4 I realized where I had gone wrong the first time: In my rush to pass the large extended family on the trail, I had jogged past the turnoff to the Ben Johnson Trail. The people I was passing had probably stepped aside onto the trail I actually wanted to take in order to let me go by on the wrong path. A lesson in mindfulness: You can enjoy this wonderful moment, but don’t forget to look for the trail signs.
Dylan Tweney, How Not to Run a Double Dipsea

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I intended to publish this post last month, actually in the month of September, but life got in the way and so here we are, nearly halfway through October and I’m only just now finishing this and getting it online. Sorry. The below is still relevant, just a little dated.

Twitter has a hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to honor and recognize women poets. My Twitter feed was filled with women poets all month, something I absolutely loved. And it would seem the poetry gods were shining upon me this month as I had six poems published and several more accepted for future publication.

Aside from the wonderful publications, it was a very busy month for me. I spent most of the month on work travel – in Hawaii and then Tunisia.

Hawaii was its usual mix of lush green hiking, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and 60-hour work weeks…

Tunisia was also beautiful – the weather was still warm and the days were clear and once I got on antibiotics for strep throat and started feeling a little better, I was able to enjoy it. I even got to do a little sightseeing after my meetings wrapped up. (Side note: I’ve never had strep throat and I had NO IDEA how painful and awful it is!)
Courtney LeBlanc, September Women Poets

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It seemed to me to have been a long time since I devoted serious focus to my creative work–I mean in terms of organizing, keeping track, revising, submitting to journals, compiling a draft manuscript of newer work…the so-called business of poetry. I resolved therefore to spend a weekend at the task. Alas. The weekend revealed to me the extent of my benign neglect: ten years of not-really-being-on-the-ball.

I do not consider myself a particularly prolific poet, but I found myself faced with well over a ream of poetry pages, many poems only in their second or third draft and far from “finished.” Maybe an average of 70 poems a year for ten years. Do the math: this is not a weekend’s work. [le sigh]

Where to begin? There is no beginning. After an hour or so of trying to prioritize the various components of the job, I gave up and just started at whatever had become the top of the pile. Analysis: which drafts had any glimmer of possibility? Some erstwhile poems could easily be culled into the “dead poems file” I keep under the cabinet with the dust bunnies. Others required considerable revision.

Fascinating process, despite aspects of tedium. I encountered poems I forgot I’d composed. I looked at the dates I began and revised them, tried to discern where my thoughts and feelings were at the time. Somehow, going through poems in no way resembles looking at old photographs–it’s not that sort of memory jog. Indeed, the poems are not involved with the memory part of my brain but with the creative part.

And that is exactly what I have been neglecting: the creative, imaginative, intuitively analytical side of myself.
Ann E. Michael, Neglecting the work

*

Small press magazines are invaluable – they give poetry a space in the world. I’ve had a good run this year. Lots of magazines have taken my work. I’m grateful for it, but I don’t take it for granted. Of course, I still get plenty of rejections. That’s no bad thing because it keeps me (and the work) grounded. What I really appreciate though, is a quick turn around (from submission to acceptance and publication). It seems to me that when magazines are able to go to print quickly, what you’re reading is the freshest work, poems that give you that sense of excitement and discovery, that sometimes confound or confront you (it’s good to be challenged once in a while). For me that’s what makes these magazines so special. Long may they continue to print new work.
Julie Mellor, Shearsman

*

I was also determined, since I lost a little over a month of writing and submitting time, to get back on track, so I sent out a couple of submissions, but I notice that the way my brain functions since the MS, I’m a little slower putting together submissions, making sure I’m following the guidelines of different journals…what used to take twenty minutes takes more than two hours now. My reading times have also slowed, although my vision didn’t get worse – it just takes my brain longer to process a poem, a page of prose. I should send my book manuscript out some more as well. […] Autumn downtime seems so decadent, to me – a time supposed to be a flurry of business, returning to school, coming back from vacation, paying bills, rearranging closets to reach coats and scarves and boots – but it feels the most necessary, too – extra sleep, extra vitamins, extra consumption of pumpkin and apple. It seems like good poetry-writing time. My own recent poems, I notice, have been full of death and dahlias.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, October Adventures, Playing Catch Up, Art Gallery Openings, and Autumn Downtime

*

It has come to be natural, not trusting my eyes, how their hyperopic excellence can no longer be drawn in: ask me about the horizon, about that hawk’s messy neck or which of the treeline’s members are healthiest, but book, but my own face, but scale? It cannot be, these vague numbers down below and too close, they make no sense. My body is massive and stone, vast as desert and as desiccated, miles and tons of body, these numbers dysmorphing before my eyes. Fewer now than before, it makes no sense. Corrective lenses unmorph nothing. Pressed far enough, only incongruence is real.
JJS, October 12, 2018: disembodied condition

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I am so thrilled to have a poem up in Hyphen Magazine and so deeply grateful for Eugenia Leigh’s thoughtful, generous comments! “Cheongomabi / 천고마비” was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run three years ago, and I wrote quite a bit about working on the poem here.

Autumn is my favorite season, and while it’s been humid and rainy here lately in Kansas, I’ve always reveled in the blueness of the sky this time of year. It must be something about the particular angle of the sun in the fall and how it affects the way molecules in the air scatter more blue light, but there is some depth to the color I’ve always found especially moving. I love how “천고마비” evokes that quality with a feeling of height rather than depth, the sky reaching upward and upward into an blue that seems boundless, that can hold hope and fear of hope. That can hold everything.
Hyejung Kook, October Poetry: “Cheongomabi / 천고마비”

*

  1. Every U.S.-residing woman I’m in conversation with, of every generation, remains upset about Kavanaugh’s confirmation. For me it’s like trying to do my best work as some disembodied voice mutters in my ear, Even when we believe you, we consider the “assaults” you have suffered laughable. This is worth remembering about people as we walk through the world, how some are raining on the inside.
  2. The day I rotated off the AWP Board of Trustees, the scale read two pounds lighter. You think that’s related to salt consumption, and you’re entitled to that opinion.
  3. Grounded by Hurricane Michael, I missed my last board meeting in San Antonio. I’m sad to have missed catching up with the AWP staff and other board members, who are really the most wonderful people. But I wrote a poem (about Kavanaugh). Rested. Caught up on some work. As soon as I gave up trying to rebook flights, the sun came out.
  4. One of the papers I graded argued that while it was offensive for Sylvia Plath to use Holocaust metaphors in the persona poem “Daddy,” she may have appropriated that collective persecution because she knew that her own story, as a survivor of domestic abuse, would not have been believed. It was such a measured essay, not excusing anything, yet tending towards empathy in a way I found moving. People have to stop trash-talking millennials.
  5. The other essays were pretty damn good, too. Messy, sometimes, but we’re all messes, right?

Lesley Wheeler, October list, with bright spots

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Before we get to the vacation slides, though (I’m channeling every 1950s father here . . .), I’ll share that Bread Loaf Sicily was a really wonderful program. Far less formal and intense, I believe, than the regular program in Vermont, but no less useful for this particular writer. In fact, I’d venture to say — even though I’ve never attended the regular program — that it was probably far more useful than the regular program ever could have been.

I learned much from observing C. Dale Young teach our poetry workshop — practical things (skills? techniques? I’M A WRITER!!) that I can carry back to my own creative writing classroom, and my conference with him was extremely helpful in terms of my new, emerging manuscript (there, I said it). Also: writing time! I continued with my a.m. writing sessions, albeit NOT fueled with coffee because it wasn’t available that early in the morning — and between that and the airplane travel, and even without the caffeine, I wrote 6 new poems over the course of the week.

BAM. Also, also, A. and I met some of the nicest and most charming people, which felt lucky. I mean, being thrown into these conference things, you can’t trust that you’re going to find anyone you genuinely like and admire, let alone a whole table full of them, but we did. Including two Jonathans, one prose writer and one poet, both talented writers, but whom A. and I sadly could not convince to fight to the death, Highlander-style. Because, you know. There can only be one.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Bread Loaf Sicily 2018 Recap

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Speaking of artsy, I’ve been spending a good deal of time this weekend working on some edits for some poems that are going to be in an upcoming anthology. For some reason, I’m finding it extremely difficult to make decisions. I haven’t written much poetry since finishing the novel, and the poem section of my brain seems to have atrophied. I don’t believe in overthinking poetry too much either when writing it or reading it, but even simple decisions about commas are feeling loaded and daunting to me. But on the plus side, it has inspired me to sit down with my gigantic Wallace Stevens anthology and start reading poetry again, with the aim to find my way back into writing it again eventually.
Kristen McHenry, Fancy Fail, Brain Tangle, Cow Punching

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As I walk around with words whispering just unheard in my head, I’m engaged in the ritualized act of seeing that is museum-going. As I spent time in one small gallery, I noticed the rapid coming and going of five or six people, who were in the what’s-this-what’s-that mode that I too get into often when I’m visiting a museum. Some of that has to do with the sheer volume of work to absorb in a day’s visit. You have to measure time and energy in such a situation, and I appreciate that. I wish museums offered multiple-day passes to allow this kind of focused attention absent the anxiety of time and what-am-I-missing. As an artist in residence here, I have the leisure to return again and again.

Because I’m here on a mission of art-making, everything is more alive to my eye, ear, nose. I feel the rubble of metal plates underfoot or the knobs of gravel, the yield of damp grass. Being here I feel art begetting art, and I want to crumple my page of poem into some shadow-casting form to attach to a wall, or mutter my words into the tunnel of an old air duct.

I begin to experience “ostranenie,” a term meaning to defamiliarize, to make the familiar strange. And in that state I can relook at my own work, my usual turns of phrase and modes of expression and come to embrace it, clarify it, discard it as too limited, pile on it, twist it, shatter it open, hone it to a knife-edge. Ideas of new work I might make emerge as bright possibilities just beyond the edges of these buildings, skittering leaves glimpsed through a window, a stalking crow, and I can’t wait to give myself over to what might happen.

I am giddy with the world, the mind, imagination.
Marilyn McCabe, Art for Art’s Sake; or How Other Artistic Media Can Generate New Writing

*

A couple of weeks after David’s funeral my good friend Bob Hogarth, the Art Adviser said: why don’t you do a painting of him? Why don’t you paint his life? I set out on a collage of maps of the city, photographs of his childhood, images of a small attache case and a strange ugly ring that he’d left on the top floor of that block of flats behind the Merrion Centre, an old atlas open at a map of Africa. Buddleia. Hydrangeas. I worked on it for a week or so. And then stopped. Just a layer of collage and thinned down acrylics. Every couple of years I’ll have a look at it, and resolve to finish it. But I don’t think I want to. I suspect I understand why. It took a long time…more than twenty years…to find out that for me the answer lay in writing. Maybe it started with a friend of a friend buying me Jackie Kay’s Adoption Papers, and then started again with being told about Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons.

It started with rediscovering Greek myths, and particularly the story of Icarus. It was discovering, through the process of retelling the story, that the character no one pays enough attention to is Daedalus, or points out that if Daedalus had used his amazing gifts well, he would never have needed to build a labyrinth, would not have given away its secret, would not have been imprisoned in a tower with his son, would never have needed to conceive of making wings. I understood, through this that if you make wings for your children, it’s not enough to just watch them fly. Whether they fly into the sun or the heart of darkness, if they fall, then are you responsible, and how will you live with that.

Tony Harrison wrote that in the silence that surrounds all poetry

articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting’.

I believe articulation is healing, a way to atonement and to being able to forgive yourself. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Articulation can be confessional, too. You can’t change the past; ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ simply make you spiritually ill. We know this, rationally, consciously, but living by it needs help. Two poets have given me that help. Clare Shaw’s credo “I do not believe in silence” and her unwavering frank gaze at her history of self-harm, and psychological disturbance gave me courage. As did Kim Moore’s decision to use poetry to deal with her experience of domestic abuse. And, finally, one moment in a writing class that Kim was running that somehow unlocked suppressed and unarticulated belief, guilt, knowledge. I remember I wept silently all the time I was writing. It only lasted five minutes, that task. But an insight, an acknowledgement takes only a moment no matter how long the process that leads up to it. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine says Prospero at the end. I think I understand the release he must have felt in that split second.
John Foggin, A loss you can’t imagine: young men and suicide

*

Four years and three months ago, Mom had a major stroke, and while she had, up until then, maintained much of her independence, the stroke put her on the fast train into dementia. We moved her into a skilled nursing facility, thinking we would lose her soon. Four years…

Yesterday, Mom’s journey ended, or — as a wise friend put it — her brand new journey began.

During the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to carry on as though nothing was changed. After Mom took a turn for the worse (and was no longer speaking) in September, yet continued to hang on, I told myself that I’d better get on with my life. I was scheduled to teach two classes at my college, and on the first day of classes (completely unprepared) I pulled myself together and got started with that.

I also had an on-line course all set up and ready to go, and I launched the free opening of it from my blog. The on-line course is small — just a few prompts so far (possibly an actual course, depending on interest) — you can read about it here (if you haven’t already). But one of the reasons I wanted to blog today is to say that my heart is really not up for it right now. Laura Day, in The Circle, says that our desires, our hungers, are what make us human, and I agree. I continue to believe that it’s helpful to identify what we want to achieve — in our writing lives as in the rest of our lives. I think it’s better to see these things clearly and I think it’s better to bring them out into the open, than to keep them buried. I also think it’s good to winnow through our desires and decide which are the truly important, which are for “some day” but not now, and which are really the universe’s job, and not ours at all.
Bethany Reid, What Do You Really Want?

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Getting back to oils has been in my mind over the past year or so — a kind of nagging little voice in the back of my head. When we lost our friend and fellow artist, Jenny, at the end of the summer, and I thought about my own upcoming birthday, I realized a decision had already been made, almost without consciously realizing it. Jenny had also worked in many different media over her lifetime, but in recent years she had turned to ceramics and was making fantastic, often whimsical objects and sculptures that were a reflection of her personality and spirit — and she loved it, she had really found her perfect medium. At the musical wake the day after Jenny’s memorial service, I sat on the couch in their apartment, singing and listening to music being played, talking to old friends, while looking at Jenny’s ceramics arrayed on a long window shelf, the towers of Manhattan rising behind them. On a perpendicular wall, over the piano, was an oil painting of mine that I gave Jenny and Bill a long time ago, accompanied by one of Jonathan’s photographs, and a portrait in oils of Jenny’s mother by a well-known New York artist. It made me think. To some extent, my desire to start again in this medium is a way to remember and honor our friend, and acknowledge that time is passing. If not now, when? […]

It makes me happy to be doing this. Painting always feels like a miracle to me, as do all the arts: beginning from blankness and silence, then creating and building something that grows out of what felt empty, but was always actually filled with potential. What could be more hopeful and life-affirming than that? And yet it’s so easy to get caught in the destructive and doubting void, particularly now, when the world often feels hopeless and negative, and so many are despairing and angry. I don’t want to be like that; I want to work, as long as I’m able, to see and express something better and more beautiful about our world and my small place in it. That’s the real decision that was made.
Beth Adams, Back to oils

*

Sorting through my mother’s belongings, I uncovered a perplexing life. She was an artist and a connoisseur of the absurd. As a child, I admired her paintings, but tiptoed past the stranger ones. In nightmares, my mother stood in a dark closet behind a portrait of a gnarled crone. Glowering from the canvas, the old woman clutched a terrified goose.

Disturbing questions followed me as I traveled to the vacation condo my mother shared with my stepfather, who was also deceased. I needed to clear out the place, but wanted to leave time for writing and contemplation. I scrubbed years of grime from tile grout, pulled down mildewed curtains, and gazed out at the ocean. Words shimmered on the horizon and dissolved. To write about my mother, I had to look—really look—at her paintings. And so, during a solidary stay in Florida, I took a deep dive into ekphrastic poetry. […]

Excited by the possibilities, I explored ways to interpret, confront, question, and hear my mother through her art. For the first time, I studied the angry abstract she displayed by the door to the kitchen. Orange and black slashed across the tall canvas. The colors, applied in slabs, shrieked for attention. The shapes were incomprehensible. Even more puzzling: On the back of the frame, the carefully printed words, “Lahey 10 A.M.”

A Google search for “Lahey” unleashed a string of associations. A person named Lahey declared, “I am Alcohol in the Flesh.” Another Lahey “turned to art late in life.” My poem about the abstract painting segued into a meditation on wild departures from lifelong patterns. The incomprehensible shapes, I suddenly realized, were crows in flight.

Ekphrastic poetry invites non sequiturs, digressions, and surprises. The disturbing image of the old woman and the goose, painted several months before I was born, transported me to a mother I didn’t remember and had never considered: an ambitious and frustrated painter who “must’ve felt queasy / perched on her artist stool, // swooping her palette knife / side to side while I swam / inside her.”
Ekphrastic Poetry: A Writer Finds Messages in Her Mother’s Art – guest blog post by Jackie Craven (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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The morning started with keynote speaker Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate and son of legendary Pacific Northwest poet, William Stafford. Kim shared one of his father’s quotes (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “William Stafford said that he wasn’t impressed with people who said they wanted to support the arts; what impressed him was the person who confessed a weakness for the arts.”

After I gave my workshop (“Beyond the Sonnet: New Poetic Forms to Boost Your Writing Practice) I attended six more. I’m happy to report that I came home with inspiration for poems leaping off the pages of my notebook. “Facing It,” given by Judith Montgomery and Carl Barrett, dealt with the challenges of care-giving, including “diagnosis, treatment, and healing.” From the paragraph I wrote in response the word “diagnosis:”

One week later I was in the “mental health” section of the brand-new, beautiful library, whose huge open ceiling and light-flooded bookshelves contrasted starkly with the dark subject I researched. That day I checked out a wobbly armload of books with titles like Loving Your Crazy Kid, Freedom From the Voices, and Bi-Polar Joy. How it hurt to imagine him ending up like the people in these books: alone, afraid, even homeless. I didn’t know what was coming. I held the books against my chest like armor.

In Joan Dobbie’s workshop, “The Mask Speaks,” the only session that included craft supplies, I made a butterfly mask and wrote it a list poem:

If butterflies vanished
I would draw them
on walls on car doors
on windows I would
cut them out of paper out of
cloth I would pin them
onto flowers onto trucks
leave them in hospitals
in daycare centers
paste them all over the bathtub
eat only butterfly-shaped food
wear my butterfly mask
everywhere

In “The Ordinary as Muse,” given by Cecelia Hagen, we explored the poetry of Mary Ruefle. Using her poem “Full Moon” as inspiration, I came up with this:

Kilauea

It looks like an unfinished pyramid,
as if the Egyptians had run out of mud bricks
one hot Wednesday

and abandoned the job
resigning the future dead king
to a roofless tomb.

Erica Goss, The 2018 Oregon Poetry Association Annual Conference, September 29-30, Eugene, OR

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 29

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

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

*

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)

*

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

*

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

*

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