Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: mothers and mothering, silence and mental noise, wonder and wreckage. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19”

Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 12”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

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

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

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

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

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

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

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

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

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

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

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

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

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

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

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

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

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

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

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

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

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

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

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

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

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

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

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

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

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

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

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

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

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

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

Kristy Bowen, webs

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, poets were deep in their feelings about the end of summer/beginning of autumn, those who teach were girding their loins, but there was still plenty of time for reflections on the writing process, spirituality in poetry, the latest great book, and much more. Enjoy.


Ordinary poems about ordinary days, grey

pigeons and pallid skies, ashen self-pity and line
after monochrome line of mundane mediocrity.
Poems that taste of bile. Of an inertia that

stretches long and undefined. Poems like tepid
beer. Like days that have forgotten themselves.
Poems not brave or sad enough to cry. That

evening by the Vistula, I traced the contours
of my formless quiet into yet another faded,
anaemic poem. A train rumbled by, unnoticed.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 60

Growing up out of the stone ground, a large cast aluminum tree was tangled in the branches of second tree — like two hands grasping each other—while the second tree hangs suspended upside down in the air. The grey metal of the trees, surrounded by white walls is starkly devoid of color, while the roots reach upward toward the sky, untethered and seeking some ground in which to root itself.

Andrea Blythe, The Flourishing Beauty of Ariel Schlesinger’s Interconnected Aluminum Trees

In a week where southern California is under a tropical storm watch, with storm Hilary expected to dump as much rain in 2 days as some parts of the southwest get in 2 years (2 years!!!), and wild fires continue to blaze across northern Canada, and a heat dome will break all sorts of records across the nation–I began this week of historic weather by getting my contributor copies of this book, Dear Human at the Edge of Time:  Poems on Climate Change in the United States: [photo]

I’m very pleased that “Higher Ground,” one of my Noah’s Wife poems was selected.  One of the joys of blogging is that I have an easy way of looking up my writing process, at least for this poem.  This blog post tells the genesis of this poem, the day in January of 2020 when my boss insisted that the registrar put unqualified/uninterested students in classes so that we would meet our ARC goal, which brought the wrath of Corporate on us, which made our boss enraged, an unpleasant day all the way round.

I look back and think about the ways our lives and our school were about to unravel, all of the power struggles that would mean so little in the end, as the pandemic unspooled, and new owners arrived to change the school in ways that meant that very few of us would still be employed there. I think back to days like the one in January of 2020, and I’m amazed that I could tolerate that work situation as long as I did.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Climate Change and Poetry and an Acceptance

The 3rd of my poems published by Verse-Virtual. There are so many beautiful poems in this issue. I’m honored to be among them.

Seaweed calligraphy at the tide’s edge.
A crab tracks through, smears the ink.
I wait for the fog to lift. The gulls argue
over someone’s sandwich crust, get on
with survival. I remember your words,
the undertow.

Sarah Russell, On the Shore

This time of year always makes me think of the past somehow, which probably has something to do with the start of school and the bygone sense of blank pages. This morning, I was thinking about 10 years ago, a period of time that seems sort of muddy with a relationship that was well past its sell-by date, but also good things like the release of shared properties of water and stars and Pretty Little Liars marathons complete with a very tiny Zelda racing back and forth across the back of the sofa. Late in the summer, we visited my cousin who lived way up in northern Wisconsin, which already had a fall-ish tinge to trees even in late August. We drank overly elaborate Bloody Marys and went antiquing in a tiny town with many stores where I got my prized Roloflex camera for a steal at $10 and several pretty antique postcards. I’d wake up in the mornings on the sofa with my cousin’s enormous golden lab sprawled across me. Smallish bears would ramble through their yard from the surrounding woods at dawn. The weekend was campfires and pontoon rides and, perhaps most importantly, both my parents were still very much alive and healthy.  

20 years ago, I was 29 and on the verge of starting my MFA studies, going to overly bougie and posh several-course lunch orientations at the Union League Club back when Columbia was spending money like it had it.  Later, at the meet and greet with other students and faculty, I would feel like I didn’t fit in–a feeling that would pervade me for the next four years of study. On my one day of full classes that fall, I kept returning to the Art Institute, which was pay-what-you-can in the afternoons to gaze at the Cornell boxes–still in their location in the old modern wing before the new one was built. A project that would also take four years to finish.  I would take my notes to the cafe across Michigan and turn them into poems that eventually became at the hotel andromeda. I was tentatively sending out the first version of what would eventually become the fever almanac, though it would change a lot before getting picked up two years later. I was still mulling the idea of starting a chapbook press that wouldn’t bloom until the spring, but it was a tiny kernel of thought I’d turn over and over in my head while waiting for the bus or working nights at the library’s circ desk.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/20/2023

Well, writing this missive from inside a smoke attack so bad that we have the worst air quality in the world right now. Just two days ago, it finally cooled off from the nineties to a more pleasant 75, and I felt good enough to make a brief trip out to our local Woodinville Flower Farm […]

We came home, having spent time with finches singing and coming home with handfuls of corn and flowers, and decided to stay in for a couple of days while the smoke came in. It might be gone as soon as tomorrow. We’re also keeping a close eye on our friends in California which is facing a hurricane and flooding, so soon after the disaster hurricane/fire in Maui. We are hoping everyone stays safe.

So when the weather isn’t trying to kill us, we’ve got to get out and try to enjoy it. My second favorite season, fall, is approaching fast: Facebook is full of back-to-school pics, and I’m ready to shop for office supplies and cardigans—rituals I continue even without the school year structure.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Writing from Inside the Smoke: with a Brief Respite in a Flower Farm and Is It Fall Yet (September Readings and More)

In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.

Boy, that’s not me.

Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.

So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of dreams and time warps

This morning I set out with the old dog down the lane now overhung with trees heavy with seeds. There are now sloes in the hedges and crab apples, and small hard plums (bullaces?) appearing. As we turned onto the old bridal path and began to cross the grass I felt the dew on my skin of my feet, through my sandals; not unpleasant, it was refreshing, seeping under my soles, and up to my ankles, cool and silky. The horse chestnuts are already beginning to turn, already beginning to brown at the edges, the conkers already fat and spiked. There’s a scent to the air that is difficult to place: something loamy, earthy. We are nearing autumn.

This week I received some exciting news about a new poetry collection I’ve been working on. I can’t say anything yet, but it was the sort of news that made me leap about the room yelling. That sort of news doesn’t happen very often. It’s the sort of news that feels like a real step up the ladder. It came at just at the right time as I was feeling a little out of love with poetry and wondering where my work fit into the poetry ‘scene’. I need to take the advice I so often give mentees and just write the poems I enjoy writing, write for myself. It’s hard to write truthfully, to write authentically without feeling the pressure to conform to a certain style or a certain fashion. I don’t want to say too much about the collection until news is made official, but with this collection I took risks and pushed my own boundaries, and was worried that it might not work. Even though I felt it worked and that the poems had worth, another part of me was rubbishing my positivity. I have been working on undoing that internal voice of late, but it’s lovely to feel the validation of someone I respect hugely seeing worth in my work.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Touch of Summer

The cat can tell the moment I’m awake.
He purrs because he knows breakfast will come.
It’s dark: I’m not so thrilled to be alert
this rainy Tuesday dawn, brain sputtering
on far too little sleep, running on fumes.
Next time the former president is indicted
for racketeering I shouldn’t stay awake
refreshing headlines, waiting for the news.
Of all the things that don’t belong in poems —
though justice does, blindfold and sword and scales.
This week our Torah portion is called Judges.
(I cannot make this up.) Too on the nose?
“Justice, justice” — Moses said it twice.
I live in hope. What else is there to do?

Rachel Barenblat, Pursue

I’m a little surprised I never titled a blog post “Home Again, Home Again” until now. I did title one “Jiggedy-Jig” on October 1, 2006. That was a short, Millay-Colony-aftermath update that included a prescient announcement: New manuscript title: “Theories of Falling”… 

As I type that, I feel both the nostalgic wave of joy that I got my first collection published at all, and then one of sadness that New Issues Poetry & Prose—which gave a start to so many poets, including Jericho Brown and Chet’la Sebree—was recently shuttered by the university that should have protected it. I have to link to the University of Chicago Press’s distribution page here, because that’s the last place one can easily survey the incredible back catalogue. You should grab copies while you can! The future of that distribution relationship is TBD once October 2023 is behind us. The New Issues website is down, perhaps for good, since there’s no longer staff to follow up on getting the URL registration renewed. Ooof. This is such a harrowing time for university presses and MFA programs on an infrastructure level, which is in such sharp contrast the vitality of these programs in person. 

People still sometimes find “Chicks Dig Poetry” through a particular archived post, or because someone mentions it while using an old bio note to introduce me at an event. I don’t plan on ever retiring the blog entirely unless (until) technology forces my hand, even if it survives simply as one or two posts a year. Everyone should have a place to speak freely on the internet, and recent months have made it clear that Facebook, Twitter/X, and other social media platforms are only “free” up until it is the whim of their owners to dictate otherwise. That surely applies to this place too—I notice that one of my posts has been flagged for “sensitive” content, though I can’t tell which one. But for now, I’ll treat it as the closest I have to a soapbox in the public square.

Sandra Beasley, Home Again, Home Again

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

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

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood. I’m not sure it would be possible for these different kinds of writing to get tangled up with one another if I was starting everything on a computer.

The impact of word processing is rarely discussed, even by writers. Like all technological changes, it is hard to see the scale of it from the inside. In this case, the key villain is the ‘document’. These are individual, bounded off from one another in the way that pages of a notebook aren’t. They also present themselves, on the screen, as something already published. The purpose is fixed from the beginning: there are no cracks left to grow in.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Attempting fiction and nonfiction writing in college was how poem writing first happened to me–I’d jot down ideas for essays or stories I couldn’t actualize offhand, stuff to unpack later, and littered a bunch of notebooks like that. When I of course never unpacked anything I realized I was enjoying more than anything the poetic potentiality of that shorthand. Then weirdly poems taught me how to reapproach prose with a more poetic posture, which has helped prose feel lively again. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?
Poems tend to start as sound for me, in the air, usually when I’m walking or in a space in the day where it feels possible to ask a question, even a basic one, like what now? Then I work something out by hand in a notebook, pen and paper, sometimes many times, then transfer it into a document when the pages start to get so cluttered I can’t see the sound/thing anymore. So I go from trying to hear the thing to trying to see it. It’s in the document phase, when I’m working with something as standardized text, that it starts to harden into something that feels like a poetic object, as if the ease of pushing something around in a text doc is concurrent with the imminent sense of its hardening. That’s when I think I try to feel the poem, fix it until I think I feel it as an organism. Essays actually work similarly, or I’ve been applying my process with poems to prose writing. Books are still mysterious to me. I have no idea what a book is but I would like to write a good one.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jed Munson (rob mclennan)

Play with these tools a while, and you begin to recognize a pretentious, generalizing style that’s heavy on ecstatic adjectives. There’s no formal analysis in the ChatGPT essay, either; this is an irregular sonnet, a detail I consider pretty relevant. But the essay as a whole is fluently written, logically organized, and full of plausible points. Honestly, many first-years even at a highly selective college struggle to hit that baseline.

In fact, asking an AI tool to write an essay (or blog post) about a poem works better than asking for the same about a novel. If you can’t feed in the whole text, ChatGPT “hallucinates” evidence including, if you nudge it for textual analysis, atrociously fictitious quotes that a half-conscious teacher would instantly recognize as not part of the original. But cutting and pasting a short piece, such as a poem, into the query slot is easy and results in accurate quotations. The essay ChatGPT generated for me even noted a mix of abstract and concrete nouns in one of my lines–from a first-year writing student, that would impress me. […]

I remain worried about the students who struggle to write clear sentences. Now they can dump a draft in a query box and emerge with something pretty. Is that a great equalizer, enabling them to succeed and me to focus more wholly on the quality of their reasoning? Can they learn what they need to know by examining how AI “fixes” their writing? Or do they struggle with how to punctuate for the rest of their lives, needing to run every single email they write through an editing program, when in a previous world coursework might have nudged them to learn the rules?

Some good results I anticipate: literature and writing teachers will have to think hard about why we read and write, and how those reasons should inform what we teach. A sense of intimacy with other human minds via their personally chosen words will become even more electrifying. And easy generalizations about challenging texts will never again pass muster among anyone who is paying attention.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing about poetry with AI

To celebrate Poetry Month in Australia, I am sharing video poems and performances of some of my poems. I’ll also include a synopsis, a bit of history about how the poem came about, and the full text of the poem. Here’s the first one: LOST, a video poem. Enjoy!

In 2017, I won my first poetry slam hosted by Draw Your (S)words. As part of that prize I got to work with emerging film-maker Pamela Boutros to make short film or video poem of one of my poems. We spent a day shooting in Port Adelaide (Yertabulti) and made LOST. […]

regrets / i’ve had a few / but then again
the only thing i truly regret is
that i didn’t listen more
to the wind, shifting / the earth, trembling / and to my heart, that old chestnut
bcs if i had known how to listen
i might have discovered sooner how to trust
getting lost in these spaces / these places
between poems

Caroline Reid, Short Film: LOST, featuring Caroline Reid & Port Adelaide

I’ve been reading I Am Flying Into Myself, Selected Poems 1960-2014 by the “perpetually insolvent” poet Bill Knott. In his introduction, Thomas Lux describes Knott as a “quintessential, almost primal lyric poet, primal in the sense that his poems seem to emerge from his bone marrow as well as his heart and mind.” Knott was fond of creating neologisms, such as “shroudmeal,” “Rilkemilky,” and “gangplanking.” He was also, according to Lux, “thorny, original, accessible, electrical, occasionally impolite, and heartbreaking.”

Reading Knott’s poems made me want to stop reading them and start writing. I decided to try to decipher what they were doing to my brain, and how I could funnel the experience into some practical writing advice.

Erica Goss, Write More Poems

As the months wore on, and spring turned into the heavy heat of July, Sophie blurted out in the middle of a Monday, repotting a ficus benjamina, (a weeping fig) that her previous employer had killed herself. Sophie had previously been employed as a live-in cook/housekeeper, and the beautiful boyfriend had been there, too, working as the family’s car mechanic. “A poet,” she said.

HER KIND

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton died on October 4th, 1974 and I met Sophie in the spring of 1975. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots. I so wanted to ask questions about what Sexton was really like, did she like working for her? But the only thing I remember is the anger that poured out of my co-worker. Angry at Sexton for leaving her family, for leaving her.

Sexton’s suicide, coming only 11 years after Sylvia Plath’s, shook the New England poetry world all over again. It was a terrible message to leave to a teenage poet. Did one have to kill herself to be held in high esteem as a woman poet? Did poetry and the hyper tragic go hand-in-hand? Somewhere in the backrooms of The Plant Company, Sophie taught me to reject that pain-filled legacy; to embrace weeping figs and date palms, jade trees and succulents instead. It’s a lesson I hold onto still.

Susan Rich, Anne Sexton and Me

All of my life I’ve been a one book at a time reader. My younger self would immerse herself in long sessions of a singular story. I could do that because I was young with few responsibilities and limited demands on my time. Even into my 20s life was simpler so reading mega-paged books was doable. Of course, as life became more complicated my reading suffered. It took much longer to read novels or memoirs. My working life got busier and busier so reading books became sporadic. Watching TV was easier, demanded less focus.

Fast forward, I discovered litmags on the internet.

Sidebar: when I bought my first laptop it sat on my coffee table closed most of the time. I couldn’t think of anything to look up! I’d only used a computer for work til then so I associated it with work. Then, Hurricane Katrina happened, making my laptop a communication line to events in my neighborhood and city while I was in exile and opening the online world to me.

Once I discovered litmags, most of my reading time was there. I still do lots of litmag reading, especially now that I “know” writers that I seek out to read. But I had an epiphany a while back: it’s ok to read more than one book at a time. I can do it. I am doing it. The key for me is reading in different genres. I know if I try to read, say, two novels about an inter-generational family I’ll get characters confused.

Charlotte Hamrick, Books: Down & Dirty

Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca (1894-1930), in her life and work, reminds me quite a bit of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The disadvantaged background giving rise to huge literary ambitions. The New Woman of early 20th century. Loving the sonnet form for its combination of control and ecstasy. The sustained aesthetics of late Romanticism and early Modernism. Her frequent use of exclamations is off-putting to my ear, but the deployment of ellipses gives her sonnets a rare quality of inarticulateness before the ineffable.

Jee Leong Koh, This Sorrow That Lifts Me Up

A J Akoto’s “Unmothered” explores the taboo of the failure of maternal love and becoming an unloved daughter. It does so without sentiment or the daughter, who voices most of these poems, feeling sorry for herself. Akoto has kept focused on the relationship, its fragmentation and fall out. The mother’s viewpoint is explored as the daughter tries to understand her behaviour, but mother claims her behaviour is motivated by love, a position the daughter struggles to follow. A startling collection which is confident enough to allow readers to inhibit and react to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Unmothered” A J Akoto (Arachne Press) – book review

In Metamorphosis, the next and final collection published during [Sanki] Saitō’s life, much of the work of answering the question ‘What is Life’ focuses on coming to terms with death, the deaths of family members and fellow poets:

A fly on his dead face –
I whisk it off.
just whisk it off

This sense of almost numb acceptance is frequently juxtaposed with a sense of personal struggle, a need for escape that is apparent in the poem that gives the collection its title:

On the green plateau
an unbridled horse, my metamorphosis –
Escape!

The sense of ecstatic relief expressed here is, I think, uncharacteristic. More mundane, yet for me at least more moving, is this poem from a few pages later:

Wanting to gain the strength
to rise and run away,
I eat potatoes

Here the need for escape is grounded in the earthy need for sustenance, for connection to the body. It’s fine, moving poem that opens up more and more on rereading.

This is a typically handsome Isobar volume, and Masaya Saito has, insofar as a non-reader of Japanese can judge, done sterling work in bringing a large representative sample of Saitō’s work to an English-speaking audience. In addition to selections from all the books he published when alive, he gives us a body of work that was either published posthumously or published in journals but never collected. For those of us interested in haiku as more than a museum piece, it’s a vital volume.

Billy Mills, Selected Haiku 1933–1962, Sanki Saitō, trans Masaya Saito: A Review

This week I have been reading issue 46 of The Dark Horse. To cut a long story short, it’s a tribute issue to Douglas Dunn in his 80th year, and a poem that pops up repeatedly in the contributors’ recollections and comments is Friendship of Young Poets—not sure this a a sanctioned link/publication of the poem, but have a look if you don’t know it. I didn’t, having only read Elegies and bits of Terry Street. I will be working my way through the lad’s catalogue now though.

After a week where there’s been some fractiousness in what we can loosely call “poetry world”, or at least a small corner of it, a line like “the friendship of poets,/ mysterious,[…]” seems apt enough for me, and a good place to end.

Mat Riches, Putting in a fest-shift

In the first half of the poem we’re very much looking down: the leaves, the path, the mud. I can almost see my welly boots nosing into the picture. As we near familiar territory though, attention drifts upwards to the leaves in the trees, the wind, the birds. Time seems to slow down as we join the poet in attentive presence, in “quiet applause”. And then this lift at the end, as we’re swept into a more expansive kind of consciousness that reaches out and beyond. It’s a beautiful, transcendent finish. Big-hearted, and at the same time emotionally complex, embracing human connectedness and limits. Spiritual, we might call it.

Indeed there is religious imagery here – the congregation, the dove. Incidentally, I love how the speaker doesn’t just perceive but “joins” the trees. There is a deep appreciation for the natural world in this poem. Or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it, implying a kind of separateness. We’re not looking on here, but from within. At the centre of the poem is this line, “they have no book”, and I find myself thinking that the spirituality here is one that’s available to all of us, regardless of faith: to “breathe, drink light and listen”.

Jonathan Totman, Morning

The rain falls and falls
cool, bottomless, and prehistoric
falls like night —
not an ablution
not a baptism
just a small reason
to remember
all we know of Heaven
to remember
we are still here
with our songs and our wars,
our space telescopes and our table tennis.

Here too
in the wet grass
half a shell
of a robin’s egg
shimmers
blue as a newborn star
fragile as a world.

Maria Popova, Spell Against Indifference

My own sense of the spiritual, of the divine, has always remained at a distance: I was raised attending religion but never garnered a faith (I write poems for a living, so I don’t think I can claim to live without faith), growing up amongst the dour, stoic and unspoken ripples of old-style Scottish Protestantism. It was years before I understood my father’s own devotion, let alone the depth of it, attending weekly services as far more than a matter of routine or cultural habit, always appearing to me as a matter of custom, gesture and rote. I’ve long repeated that I’m somewhere between atheist and agnostic – I’m not sure what I don’t believe – but hold an admiration for those who carry spirituality as a matter of good faith, instead of, say, those who believe uncritically (including a refusal to question, which seems unsettling), or use any of their beliefs as bludgeon, or as a false sense of entitlement or superiority. Listen to Stephen Colbert, for example, speak of his Catholicism: an interview he did with Jim Gaffigan a couple of years back on The Late Show I thought quite compelling, in which they spoke of their shared faith. There are ways to be positive, and through this collection, [Kaveh] Akbar not only finds it, but seeks it out, and embraces it.

There is such a lightness, a delicate touch to the poems assembled here, one that broadcasts a sense of song and a sense of praise to the notion of finding that single spark of light in the dark. “Somehow eternity / almost seems possible / as you embrace.” writes Ranier Maria Rilke, as part of ‘The Second Duino Elegy’ (as translated by David Young), “And yet / when you’ve got past / the fear in that first / exchange of glances / the mooning at the window / and that first walk / together in the garden / one time: / lovers, are you the same?” There is such a sense of joy, and hope, and celebration across this collection of lyrics, traditions, cultures, languages and faiths. If there is a thread that connects us all together, might it be the very notion of hope? If this collection is anything to go by, that might just be the case. Whether spiritual or otherwise, this is an impressive and wonderfully-expansive collection that can only strengthen the heart.

rob mclennan, The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine, ed. Kaveh Akbar

We went to Edinburgh for the start of the Festival to see the Grit Orchestra, and it has developed a few more thoughts on culture and tradition first inspired by a short on-line course I took dealing with the archive at Tobar an Dualchais, which I want to develop over the next few posts. There is a crossover with the thinking I was doing on healing and recovery earlier this year, and the work I am still trying to do on the Nine Herbs Charm, via the concept of ‘Lǣc’. I wrote about it a while back

‘Lǣc’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Lǣc’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’.

It’s a bit more than healing, though. It’s a communal activity, with a link to the sacred. It is demanding, and needs ‘duende’ – when I first read about it I thought of the Zen art of archery, or the tea ceremony, and the ‘lek’ where grouse and capercaillie meet in forest clearings to strut their stuff. And this brought me to the Eightsome Reel and the William Wallace quotation in the title, from before his country-defining victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It occurs to me that this art, this culture, is serious stuff:

To sing here you will need
to open the heart,
the lungs and voice,
and meet it square.
You can’t sing from hiding,
nor drunk or afraid.
You can’t sing this softly
like chocolate in the sun.
You must give yourself
to the fight with all your strength.
It will take all you’ve got.
It will feel like death.

The Outcry from The Wren in the Ash Tree, in Haggards

Now that summer is over, I am here, at the ring. Now to see if I can dance!

Elizabeth Rimmer, I Have Brought You to the Ring

What is spirit: This is a question much addressed in poetry. There are many questions much addressed in poetry that weary me, but this is not one, this mystery, one that confronts us with every loss.

Here is the first portion of a poem by Michael Klein called “Scenes for an elegy”:

I haven’t learned to live abandonedly yet
mother & wonder when I dream of you
if I’m meant to & if there’s such a thing as light
going on without us–or if we die into what
I think we do: something already finished
that we’re just adding us to

And I love this image from his poem “Captured”:

…the empty field with the wind thrown over it.

Isn’t that great?

Klein writes many poems that feel elegiac, and beautifully so, whether he is mourning a lost marriage, a lost youth, or a dead friend, so beautifully that life rises inevitably from these poems. I had not known his work before but have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it this week. He has a new and selected volume coming out some time soon from The Word Works. Keep an eye out for it.

Marilyn McCabe, Gathering up the tears; or, On Elegies

who hasn’t an eye that refuses light

        and helpless blood in their breast

when shall our honey smell faintly of death

Grant Hackett [no title]

I only bought Linda Pastan’s collection, The Last Uncle (WW Norton & Co 2002),a few months ago. I bought it after reading the title poem on a poetry website. It rang so true as I lost my last two uncles at the end of 2022 and the beginning of this year and one of my cousins had said, ‘We’re the older generation now.’ I wrote about it on here. 

Reading through the collection today it’s another poem (‘The Vanity of Names’) that reaches me. It’s about a house staying ‘fixed in its landscape./ Rooms will be swept clean/ of all its memories. Doors will close./ Even the animal graves out back/ will forget who planted the bones/ …’ I am selling the house I was born in, two years after my parents died. In those two years I have spoken to them there and watched grief change shape. I felt less of their absence and more of their eternal presence. I came to be comforted by the home they lived in from the moment it was built in April 1957 until March 2021. But it is still hard letting it go. And that’s going to happen in the next few weeks: my last visit, the last time I open the front door. The last time I step into the room I was born in. The last time I close the door and turn the key. Before handing it to a stranger.

Pastan understands that her house ‘will enter/ the dreams of other people’ but ‘to acquiesce/ is never easy. It is to love the unwritten future/ almost as well as the fading past./ It is to relinquish the vanity of names/ which are already disappearing/ with every cleansing rain …’ Yes. A leap of faith into an unwritten future. And, ‘the cleansing rain’. I can work with those. 

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

But everything sinks that once
rose; everything returns to the cradle

where it was forged. There is talk
about planting barriers of seagrass,

raising walls against the onrush of water.
With arms the sheen of oyster pearl,

the current pulls its retinue of ship-
wrecks and prehistoric fish.

Rivers dream of the day
they are returned to themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Riverine

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Welcome to a special May Day edition, with earthy celebration and worker solidarity in equal measure. But I must inject a sombre note as well: this week we learned via a post at her blog that M.J. Iuppa has died. I’ve been sharing her work since I first started doing this six years ago, and I’m sad to lose her luminous posts (see for example October 30, 2021), but cheered that they’re starting a poetry prize in her honor:

We are organizing a fund through SUNY Brockport in M.J.’s memory, the “M.J. Iuppa Poetry Prize”. It will reward young writers with a cash prize for their poetry to help continue MJ’s teaching legacy.

Click through to make a donation.


The April dusk bursts with metaphors.  Night had sowed magical rain, the day comes forth in pea green, yellow green, everything green. Pavement of scattered chartreuse pollen with tire marks.  The daffodils mesmerize me: tiny geese with pointed head and tucked wings fly arrowlike across the smooth sea.  Spellbinding.  They are both rapid and still, hovering in the folds of time. They oscillate, back and forth, in and out.  Not long ago their flowers were plush, wet and sticky.  Now its daytime hosiery has been washed out and is hanging on the line.

The nonexistent in the existent steps forward so delicately.  The familiar and worldly array of things holds worlds in its grip.  A just-dead flower as fleet bird, then cast-off sheath.  Luxuriant, terrible, ridiculous, eternal. 

Jill Pearlman, Exactly As Spring Is, Only More So

The resonance of bone –
my knuckle rapping
on the brain pan.
Loose earth blows free
as if blood was
at some point of decay
pulverised.

Dick Jones, sheep skull hollow

How can I write about spring coming to the Berkshires when so much is so profoundly broken? It feels like fiddling while Rome burns, or admiring pretty wildflowers while ignoring forest fires. 

Then again, how can I not write about spring? To live in this beautiful world without noticing it, without being grateful, is a dereliction of my responsibility to see with open eyes and to offer praise.

I do not help my friends and beloveds suffering oppression in red states by cutting myself off from the beauty around me. I think of these lines from Bertolt Brecht, from Svendborg Poems, 1939:

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

There is still beauty, in dark times. There is springtime. There is singing. There are parents who love our children fiercely and want to support them in growing into whoever they most deeply are.

Rachel Barenblat, How can I

A rich man telling those of us who aren’t rich “accept we’re poorer than we were” may generate a few searches about his pay on Google but meanwhile the French are burning whatever’s to hand in the streets, and conversations I’m having here, in non-Europe, is why we are taking it?

Far too late, me and my women friends realise we rolled over when we were robbed of £50,000 or more, our pension age forced up to 66. The Bank of England chief economist’s official salary is beside the point, it’s his work history that tells us what we need to know, as it does about anyone. 

Looking at work history’s a bit like getting under the bed with the hoover. It’s there you find the artist with decades of highly paid corporate branding work to subsidise his art, novel, or album. It’s there you find an economist with years in investment banking that has assured he never has a shred of self-doubt. 

Financial security, wealth, money call it what you want, it’s an airbag – no counting coins in your hand, you swipe a contactless card, you don’t pull your own teeth out, you pay someone and then you get implants. 

What’s the plan then? Do we keep on taking it? I’m for asking difficult questions about entitlement and the rich forever the most numerous at the table with their mutual understanding. We could start with the arts or we could start with the banks. It almost doesn’t matter. The point is to ask awkward questions, to learn to protest. 

Jackie Wills, When the rich man tells the beggar

–Today is a good day to think about workers, workers of all sorts.  We’re having more of a national conversation these days about work, about gender, about who takes care of children and elders while people work, about the locations of work.  I look forward to seeing how it all turns out–I’m holding onto hope for positive change, even as I’m afraid we can never make the improvements that need to be made.

–If we’re one of the lucky types of workers, the ones who aren’t under threat by bosses or by globalization or by robots, we can support those who aren’t as lucky.  Send some money to organizations that work for worker’s rights. I’m impressed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which works to protect the migrant workers in the fields of Florida, but you certainly have plenty to choose from.

–Can’t afford to make a donation? Write letters on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, everyone who needs a better job or better working conditions. Write to your representatives to advocate for them. What are you advocating? A higher minimum wage? Safer worksites? Job security? Work-life balance?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Solidarity Forever! Happy May Day

we could lift into the air & become
part of the indistinguishable wave of laughing gulls above
a lover’s hand composes the body it touches –
Love, like water!
How it gives and gives

Charlotte Hamrick, Wrapped in Salty Air from The Gulf: A Cento

Away from my personal life, April was a chance to attend the online and in-person launch of The Big Calls by Glyn Maxwell. I’ve never bought a book so fast after hearing readings from it. In his latest collection, Maxwell takes well-known poems from the English canon and ‘shadows’ them, maintaining each poem’s structure and poetic metre, to write about recent significant historic events. So issues such as the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic, the Grenfell Tower fire, the handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan, the tabloid hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police, deaths of migrants at sea, and more, are transposed into poems shadowing writing by Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins and other famous poets. If you’re at all interested in the craft of poetry writing, or poetry in general, and you want to read succinct and insightful political commentary, I urge you to seek out this book. It’s available direct from small press Live Canon and the Poetry Book Society, and all usual venues. Also, check out Live Canon’s YouTube channel where you can see films of Glyn Maxwell reading poems from his book.

Josephine Corcoran, April News

I’m blue like old potato sky. I was afraid of penny-farthings and of men with tall cylinder hats. My own hands are on a photo, making a gift of a miniature penny-farthing to my parents, an anniversary party.

Fokkina McDonnell, Before 11am I am not human

I’ve read lots of poetry, but the book which has haunted me most of late is one which I’ve been wanting to read for years: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s collaboration A Fortunate Man. It contains so many insightful passages about the human condition that it would be invidious to single any out here. Suffice it to say that it’s up there with the Into Their labours trilogy and Bento’s Sketchbook as my favourite of Berger’s many beautiful books. What an extraordinary writer he was. Incidentally, he was an early champion of Fullard.

In my most recent poems I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’, like I am in haiku, rather than dwelling on, and in, the past – albeit, of course, that every second of time contains the past and the future as well as the here and now.

Matthew Paul, May Day mayday

Subtle associations, the nature aesthetic, the sublime
moment of awareness: I was grappling with Haiku.
There was no starting point. Not here, in the morass of
the city. To even acknowledge the want of the rain is
to know smog-blackened dreams, the wretched lust
of the mundane inside an unrequited morning, human
refuse, refused humans, stained sky, bubbling sores, lies
leading to lies, streets leading to streets leading fucking
nowhere. There was little to exalt. Little that could exalt.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 44

Writing is a necessary madness but is participating in publishing and paid memberships? Some people opt out or self-publish, which misses the benefits of mentorship and editing sometimes.

You may as well own the means of production and enjoy the process instead of feeding yourselves to the cogs of commerce. You don’t get your money back commensurate for time in writing a poem or a book anyway, rates for publication having been stagnant since about 1930.

Doesn’t it add insult to pay to be considered? Write a poem for a month, get paid $50 if lucky, but probably paid in copies. Write a book for a few years, and get $500 advance against copies. You may never work off your advance with sales. I’m nearly earned out with one book after over a decade. I soon might be given $50.

Being a part time continuing ed. teacher without contract for decades, that seems like a lot of income. I haven’t worked regular hours in the cash economy since 2001. I do contracts here and there, editing or data entry. I have the luxury of a partner who has marketable skills.

Income from writing compared to say, $160 an hour, even if listening in on a conference call, in high tech, it’s sad.

Pearl Pirie, Economics

In the open green part of the park
a solo garlic mustard stood tall.
I considered it, its cheerful leaves,
imagining a crop-worthy crowd
of them, enough for pesto pasta.
I considered my neighbor’s passion
for eradicating invasive
species of all kinds, sighed, & turned back.
Plucked up by the roots, I was surprised
how clean they were — white, thick, sturdy, strong,
not a crumb of dirt that stuck or fell.

PF Anderson, WEEDS #NaPoWriMo

Friday was one of my favorite days of the year: Power-washing day. Every spring there is a day when we bring the power-washer out to clean the backyard patio and sidewalk, and this year it was Friday, the third day in a row of morning gardening.

For some reason, this year, before I began, I told myself that maybe the patio didn’t even need washing. It didn’t look very dirty. Maybe just in a few spots. Then I began, and I could see how wrong I’d been.

This is the thing I love about white space: How it helps us see. It’s only when I create white space on the patio that I can fully appreciate the story winter has written on our home. As I twirled the water nozzle over the concrete canvas, making designs, I thought about all the things for which white space is essential: poems, graphic design, architecture. A garden, a marriage, a life. I thought about how, sometimes, I love white space for what it reveals, for what it shines a light on, and other times I love it for itself. There are times when the clear blank space–not the dark matter it weaves itself through–is the thing of beauty, is the art, is the point of it all.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Spring gleanings

I think it’s like sex: you can’t really tell if the other person’s heart is in it or if it’s just an athletic activity for them. I am not sure we will be able to tell the difference with AI generated works, either. But I think – maybe in theater, especially, it being such a collaborative art that it craves a personal physical presence for the full experience – some of us purists will be looking for fingerprints. We will want to know that we are working with other living, breathing humans. Maybe we’ll better appreciate the wabi sabi aspect of art?

I think that the angry discussions are actually about money.

There was a time when dishes were made by artisans. Then at some point, factories could spit them out cheaper and faster and satisfy everyone with their ubiquitous, utilitarian presence. I think the same thing will happen with stories. We will find ways to pass the time, if that is what we want. There is money to be made!

Our lines of who is an artisan, who is an artist, who is a hobbyist will come into question yet again. And at some point, maybe we will learn not to give a shit and focus on the doing of art?

Who gets to make a living at it has always been arbitrary. Are you in good with a Duke, or a Pope?

Ren Powell, Progress

If my poet colleagues think of themselves as artists, I respect that and will not argue. Perspectives, right? Not the same as pretensions, although I will admit that in my opinion, there are some people who write poems, and other things, a bit pretentiously. I have been guilty of the same, especially when I was young and getting the practice underway. Pretentiousness may even be a kind of motivation. We learn humility as we practice our missteps.

Contemporary Western society casts a great deal of gravitas and status on the word “artist.” So to answer my spouse, I replied that well…I do consider myself a writer and a poet, but I seldom think of myself as an artist. However, if you think poets are artists, I am an artist. Because I do indeed think of myself as a poet. I cannot get away from that urgent need to observe, imagine, interpret, restate, turn into metaphor, reflect, create into form, and otherwise do the making (Poiesis) of word play.

Ann E. Michael, Artistry, art

boy, it’s hot, says the man to his wife,
rubs his face with the sleeve of his shirt
and we know it may not be sweat on
his forehead
but the days
the weeks
the years
pouring out of all of us
as we come back time after time
to sit like this
and wait for the gods to begin again
with the same old stories
the same old moves

Bob Mee, THREE OLDER POEMS

Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012) started a relationship with Michelle Cliff, Jamaican-born novelist and editor, in 1976. The following year Rich published a pamphlet, “Twenty-One Love Poems” and her later poems and socio-political essays, notably “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, explored her sexuality. Like the poems in Rich’s pamphlet, [Julie] Weiss’s poems are numbered rather than titled and kept short (Rich’s were around 12 to 16 lines, Weiss keeps hers in 10 line couplets). […]

Weiss left America for Spain and the second poem asks questions of language, “Who needs translation when our bodies/ speak a thousand different languages,// all of them born of the same tongue?”.

Emma Lee, “The Jolt: Twenty-one Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich” Julie Weiss (Bottlecap Press) – book review

I meant to write about another poet today, and their 2023 book of poems, but for some reason this morning I took down Eva-Mary and opened it to the first poem, “The Apple Tree,” dedicated to the poet’s mother. “Oh, yes,” I thought. “I remember this book.”

I was misremembering it.

Yes to blossoms, yes to family kitchens, yes to horses, yes to Irish ballads. But also yes to women raped with rifle barrels, to incest, to judges ordering women home to abusive husbands, priests ordering bruised daughters, “Mind your father.” The time-line stretches into adulthood, into divorce and custody battles. Even so, Eva-Mary is beautifully wrought, the winner of the Terrence Des Pres Prize for Poetry, a finalist for the National Book Award, in its 3rd printing by the time it came to me. I read every page (as if I’d opened a dystopian novella, I couldn’t pry my eyes away), and even so I can’t seem to offer this review without a trigger warning.

One reads this book, from the second poem (“To Judge Faolain, Dead Long Enough: A Summons”) onward knowing exactly what the subject matter is, so I’m not giving away the content. And, on the chance that one of my readers needs permission to write her or his own devastating truth, I am happy to recommend this book. McCarriston does it brilliantly. (You could take nothing away but the metaphors and be redeemed.)

Bethany Reid, Linda McCarriston, Eva-Mary

The trainer at the gym hands you a 25-lb. weight
for what’s called the one-hand suitcase carry—

weight of a sack of rice, weight of a squirming
toddler, weight of three gallons of water

like the ones you somehow carried from
the busted main in the park, days after

the earthquake in your city. How did you do it,
how does anyone manage a new hardship

that arrives without warning, without
instructions or any period of training,

that simply drops at your feet so you
have no choice but to learn by carrying?

Luisa A. Igloria, One-Hand Suitcase Carry

This intimacy with the small things of the world [in Tre Paesi & Other Poems by Peter Makin] leads almost inevitably to ecological concerns. In ‘Cumbria’ we see the interaction of the human and the natural via the 19th century mining and railway building industries, now being reabsorbed by nature:


out of the cutting
you could
see from the moon
is now a rabbit-home:
galleried and interconnected
rabbit-home,
wormed and tunneled like old cowshit,
under a crust likewise thin


Rabbits come to represent this human/nature interaction throughout the sequence, with another flip in the balance of control occurring in ‘Lincolnshire’:


My Myxomatosis
Rabbit, with
shrunken skull and fat eyes
you are your own universe, all hell,
and nothing to wait for.


In the concluding, conclusion, section, the rabbits regain their rabbithood […]

Billy Mills, Recent Reading April 2023: A Review

The fourth full-length collection by Buffalo, New York “poet, critic and junk bookmaker” Joe Hall, following Pigafetta Is My Wife (Boston MA/Chicago IL: Black Ocean, 2010), The Devotional Poems (Black Ocean, 2013) and Someone’s Utopia (Black Ocean, 2018) is Fugue and Strike: Poems by Joe Hall (Black Ocean, 2023). Fugue and Strike is constructed out of six poem-sections—“From People Finder Buffalo,” “From Fugue & Strike,” “Garbage Strike,” “I Hate That You Died,” “The Wound” and “Polymer Meteor”—ranging from suites of shorter poems to section-length single, extended lyrics. Hall’s poems are playful, savage and critical, composed as a book of lyric and archival fragments, cutting observations, testaments and testimonials. “[…] to become a poet / is to kill a poet,” he writes, as part of the poem “FUGUE 6 | JACKED DADS OF CORNELL,” “cling to a poet / in the last hour, before slipping into the drift / atoms of talk bounce in cylinders down Green St, predictive tongue / in the aleatory frame stream of vaticides […].”

Throughout the first section, Hall offers fifty pages of lyric lullabies and mantras towards a clarity, writing of sleep and machines, fugues and their possibilities. “each poem / an easter egg,” he writes, as part of “FUGUE 40 | DEBT AFTER DEBT,” “w/ absence inside and inside absence / you are hunger, breathing this time and value / particularized into mist, you are there, at the end / of another shift […].” The second section, “Garbage Strike,” subtitled “BUFFALO & ITHICA, NY, USA / JAN-MAY 2019,” responds to, obviously, a worker’s strike that the author witnessed, and one examined through a collage of lyric and archival materials from the time. Echoing numerous poets over the years that have responded to issues of labour—including Philadelphia poet ryan eckes, Winnipeg poet Colin Brown, Vancouver poet Rob Manery and the early KSW work poets including Tom Wayman and Kate Braid—Hall’s explorations sit somewhere between the straight line and the experimental lyric, attempting to articulate a kind of overview via the collage of lyric, prose and archival materials. There is something of the public thinker to Hall’s work, one that attempts to better understand the point at which capitalism meets social movements and action, all of which attempts to get to the root of how it is we should live responsibly in the world. There’s some hefty contemplation that sits at the foundation of Hall’s writing.

rob mclennan, Joe Hall, Fugue and Strike

Every year I desperately wait to be out of the Finnish winter and into spring. Every year Finnish Mother Nature slaps me in the face with my birch allergy. If you’ve ever been to Finland, you’ll know this is a totally unfair allergy. The snow is finally gone, the sun is shining and I can’t work on my allotment, my garden, go for a walk or enjoy a Vappu (May Day) picnic without suffering. I was working our annual Finnish Scottish Society ceilidh yesterday and even though I didn’t drink I’m suffering because we left a lot of windows open to keep the place cool during all the cooking and dancing. So today is a good day for couch writing with cats and a quick review of my April Poetry Month GLOPOWRIMO – Global Poetry Writing Month.

As expected I didn’t write or post every day, but I think I only missed a few days. Some days were token writing exercises as I just couldn’t find a prompt to inspire me, other days I wrote a whole poem. There are bits that might be expanded into a poem, some that just aren’t worth it. It was nice to have a kickstart into writing regularly again. I especially enjoyed @toddedillard‘s prompts as they were unexpected, sometimes surreal but always very original and fun. He has several years’ worth of prompts linked there, so I think I will continue to dip into them for inspiration. 

I also used the https://www.napowrimo.net/ site and was introduced to the Finnish poet Olli Heikkonen. He’s the first Finnish poet I really could connect with and I could almost understand all the Finnish. It was great to hear him read it on the Poetry International website. It was really inspiring and I’ve written two poems from that prompt. It also led to some interesting discussions in my writing group about the difference between moose and elk and whether I can use them interchangeably as the Finnish word is the same.

Gerry Stewart, A Rough Spring Start and GLOPOWRIMO

Replace pancreas with Prince, liver with Franz Liszt. Substitute Maryland for one lung, a postage stamp for the other. Kidneys: rivers, spine: Rod Stewart. What about the Fortran programming language, mollusks and a square-headed screwdriver? Adrenal gland, urethra, heart. Stomach as an amateur choir. Black rhino as bladder. Someone left a surgical cloth. It’s Beethoven. Extract gallbladder, insert Andromeda Galaxy. Lymph nodes: an AK-15. Bill when done, empty-headed sky, dovecote, wingbeat, penchant for Bronx cheers during coitus, tiny movements of fingers during burial of the young.

Gary Barwin, CHANGE THINGS

Years later, I discovered the local poetry scene. Many were poets who wrote about things that were familiar to me – steel works, pits and Thatcher –  and they inspired me to write more and share my poems. I had a few poems published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. […]

My poetry is about celebrating the ordinary things in our lives. The settings are familiar and recognisable – supermarkets, laundrettes, cafes and people’s kitchens. I picture my reader as someone who hasn’t got a great deal of time to read poetry and so I give them enough to think about while they are stood at the bus stop. My poems aren’t going to make anyone scratch their head, elbow or arse.

Drop-in by Roger Waldron (Nigel Kent)

In the living room that is
also the kitchen, a man hunches
over the keyboard.

Two robins play tag
on the front lawn; a single
bluebird alights on its box.

Soon there will be washing-up
to do, and then the long hours
until sleep.

(After 20 minutes on hold,
the music cuts out and
the call is disconnected.)

Jason Crane, POEM: Please Wait

Releasing a new book means having lots of conversations. I feel like “podcast guest” has been a part-time job for me since the end of last year. I love chatting with other writers and artists about creativity and the creative process, maybe more than I like talking about anything else on earth, but this particular conversation with Andy Pizza on the Creative Pep Talk podcast was maybe the best I’ve ever had on the subject.

Andy and I talked a lot about “showing your thinking,” finding your “secret sauce” and bringing that to your work, living as a poet or artist vs. making a living that way, trying to make poetry more accessible and less intimidating, and so much more. It was such a good talk—fun and wide-ranging and nourishing. We got deep, but we also laughed. A lot.I came away feeling so energized and ready to hit the ground running creatively, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen, because I think you’ll come away energized, too.

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

One of the downsides to last week’s hangover was that I didn’t get to say thank you to Robin Houghton (of Robin Houghton and/or Planet Poetry fame) for her call back to my last post about writing workshops. I was very happy to see Robin refer to this as “a writer’s blog”. I get very uncomfortable about saying I’m a writer, but just as I’m learning to stand up straight and tall to help with my knee injury, I’m learning to stand up straight and call myself a writer/poet. Robin’s words came at the right time and were/are still a welcome boost.

I think the standing tall and accepting of what I/we do as writing has been on my mind forever, but it was catalysed while listening to the audiobook of You Could Make This Place Beautiful by the American poet, Maggie Smith. The book has loosely been called a ‘Divorce Memoir’, and it is, but to me it’s also a meditation about roles, ownership and permissions. As you will no doubt be aware, Smith gained some prominence in early 2020 with her poem, Good Bones. How many poets get their work read out in dramas (this was read in an episode of Madam President?) And whatever you may think of the poem (I like it), it’s another landmark achievement for poetry.

However, the blessings also became a curse. As Smith was growing in popularity, and in demand, it had a severe impact on her marriage. Her husband began resenting her travels and for not being around to perform the unpaid labour of parenting. He is unnamed in the book, and doesn’t come across well at all (and Smith doesn’t spare herself either), but the book raises questions and revived guilts I find myself feeling when I take time away from my family to write.

I’m certainly not comparing my situation to that of Smith, but should I be more involved, do more…there are always chores to be done, etc…Sometimes the dishes can just fucking wait!!! Sometimes the dishes are a way to out off the hard work of writing, and it is hard work. I will, however, urge you to read YCMTPB. And to sign up to her newsletter? I’m working my way though Goldenrod at present and finding lots to love.

Mat Riches, Oh Captain, my Captain Barnacles…

Maybe love makes us stupid. Careless. Casting our nets wide in the sky. Maybe love makes us terrible people. Keeping secrets and telling lies we think are true. Love, the only weapon to yield sometimes. The brick through the window. The knife through the cake. We’d fake it if we could. Wrap our limbs around it and call it ours. But love makes us scavengers. Searching the yard for mint or poison. Putting it in our tea.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #30

The Home Child feels like an attempt to right the wrongs of historical forced immigration, or at the least to acknowledge those historical wrongs. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like any sort of political statement on the rights and wrongs of child immigration, it feels like a very personal story. What were your intentions when you set out to write the book, did you find this aspect challenging?

That’s such an interesting question! When I first began writing the poems that became The Home Child, I don’t think I had any clear or definite intention, only a feeling that I wanted to honour Eliza’s life in some way and not allow it to disappear into the darkness of the past unmarked. I knew her story was a sad one so I made myself look for moments of light and tenderness, so we can feel Eliza’s humanity. Twelve-year-old girls are full of curiosity and wonder, defiance and spark, and I wanted the reader to feel that.

Through the book’s factual introduction and my use of archive-based material, I hope I give readers the information they need to make up their own minds about the Child Migration schemes. One of the most interesting parts of my journey with The Home Child has been chatting to others about it and hearing their opinions. It’s surprising and often troubling how relevant the issues in the book feel. […]

How does the writing of The Home Child compare to your other works of poetry?

I like to imagine there’s a thread that runs through all my books and allows my reader to travel along with me from poem to poem, project to project, even though the subjects might be very different. One of those threads is Black Country dialect but there are others too.

However, this book did feel different to write. I began by working poem to poem, as I always do, but as the collection grew and began to form a narrative I had to consciously think about how to structure it, what to tell and what to leave out, pace, character, moments of light and shade etc. My editor at Chatto is also a fiction editor and so was helpful but at points I felt very challenged and out of my depth! To help myself move forwards, I did two things. Firstly, I asked the poets of Twitter for their advice about writing a long poetic narrative. People were wonderfully generous with their responses and gave me book recommendations, tips, essays to read… Completely invaluable! Secondly, I asked a few poets I know and admire for their advice. I approached people who were very different from each other but who all had the skill of telling stories through their poems. I think you should never be afraid to ask for help or to be a learner again as there’s so much to be gained.

Wendy Pratt, Liz Berry Answers Questions on The Home Child

I’m okay, financially and otherwise. I have a few keepsakes from my mother and, in her stories, riches. I know poetry always comes back. But I’m sad as well as tired, even as I wonder whether April will always bring some version of these feelings now.

The poems I’ve published recently about my mother are about her dying, but here’s a much earlier one, “Dressing Down, 1962” as it first appeared in Poetry (the poem was later collected in Heterotopia). It’s written in her voice and based on what she told me about the first big adventure of her life: how, as a provincial twenty-two-year-old from Liverpool, England, she boarded one of the first transatlantic jets and was gobsmacked by the cultural differences she encountered.

My mother called her first U.S. jobs “home nursing,” but her high school education ended at 16, followed only by something like a nursing internship. As far as I can tell, she was more of an au pair–an underpaid immigrant living with rich families in New York and taking care either of their children or elderly dependents or both. It was a giant leap from a Liverpool tenement to the Anthonys’ estate on Fishers Island, where even their summer house had eight sets of china… both liberating and, in other ways, shocking, because she had never expected her English accent becoming someone else’s status symbol. I tried to write a poem about my mother’s early work life once but it didn’t quite fly. Maybe I should try again? Her voice has never quite left my ear. In my latest dream about my mother, she told me, “Your brother is a turkey,” pronouncing “turkey” in that British way that always made us laugh.

Lesley Wheeler, Working unpoetically

春宵の母にも妻にもあらぬ刻 西村和子

shunshô no haha nimo tsuma nimo aranu toki

            spring evening

            the time when I am not

            a wife or a mother

                                                            Kazuko Nishimura

from Haiku Shiki (Haiku Four Seasons), February 2023 Issue, Tokyo Shiki Shuppan, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (April 24, 2023)

Yesterday was my 50th birthday, and wow, I was so excited to be celebrating with friends of 20 years from all over (including across the water!) and my family (including my parents who flew out from Ohio to be here. We had the celebration at J. Bookwalter’s Winery in Woodinville, there were wines and cupcakes and a poetry reading (I mean, should all birthday parties have poetry?) and Glenn did a toast and Kelli read an old poem I wrote that made me cry and I read poems from Flare, Corona. People brought beautiful flowers, my whole book club was there, and we stayed way past closing time celebrating. Having MS means today I’ll pretty much just rest but it was so worth it – we threw open the doors and windows at the winery and it (almost) felt like the last three pandemic years of isolation were over. Someone (John Campos, who is also J. Bookwalter’s Woodinville manager) gave me a beautiful painting rendition of my book cover (I love to be friends with artists!) and I just felt so much love and support. I didn’t get a ton of pics (even Glenn was too busy to take pics) but here are a few including my family pre-party, the editors of Two Sylvias Press, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, and my friend poet Ronda who just had her own book come out, Chaos Theory for Beginners.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, 50th Birthday Celebrations with Wine, Cupcakes, Books and Paintings, Poems in American Poetry Review, Feature at DMQ Review’s Virtual Salon, A Visit to the Tulip Festival, a Parental Visit – It’s Been a Week!

In 2019, poet Howard Debs contacted me and asked if I would like to contribute to an anthology he was putting together. The title would be New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust.

Rather than have writers submit whatever they wanted, each writer was assigned a specific time period and subject within that time period. From the book description:

The editors selected 58 images from noted collections consisting of vintage photography, propaganda posters, newsreel stills, etc. matching each to a poet, short story writer, plus features by essayists…The book includes four parts: Part I covers the rise of Nazism and heightening antisemitism…Part II revolves around forced labor, ghettos, and extermination, dealing with such topics as death squads, the “final solution,” and collaborators. Part III is all about escape, rescue, and resistance…Part IV deals with the aftermath, the liberation of concentration camp prisoners, the refugee crisis, and the Nuremberg trials.

I was assigned to write something for Part III: Escape, Rescue and Resistance.

In particular, I was assigned to write about The Sobibor Uprising of 1943, and to tell the story of Chaim and Selma Engel.

Are you familiar with The Sobibor Uprising? It is a fascinating part of history. I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of it. My paternal grandparents were Jews who fled Germany (and went to Shanghai, China). I’ve heard many stories about their lives. I had never heard of The Sobibor Uprising.

The assignment led me to various articles, books and movies on the subject, all of which I would highly recommend. My work of flash fiction, featured here, is written from the point of view of Selma Engel. She and Chaim were two of the few who organized the revolt, escaped and survived. They went on to marry, have children and live into old age.

This is a long introduction to this month’s Lit Mag Brag, I know. But I find this history to be fascinating and the people whose stories are featured here so inspiring. Plus, after four years, this anthology is finally out in the world!

Becky Tuch, April lit mag brag!

The thing about writing and being influenced and living in this world and trying to get some of its weirdness down, is that we’re going to be coming at it from both similar and dissimilar angles from those attempting same. We all get to do it in our own way. And if you’re trying to get it down in your own way, please know that there is room for all of it. Just pour it down out of your paint can and drip it onto the canvas like Jackson Pollock. Or you know, just throw the paint at the canvas or also try just small brushes and many details. But do keep pouring it out of yourself. That’s the best advice I have for right now. Don’t worry if anyone will read it or publish it. Just create your weirdness and keep creating more.

Shawna Lemay, What Makes You Do It Then?

When they saw each other, arms reached out,
and I was forgotten in their greeting. They didn’t hug,

but held the other’s face gentle in their hands,
tears in their eyes. There would be time for memories,

photos of children and grandchildren, husbands now dead.
But for now, they stood close, reading lifetimes in lines

and furrows—refuge, intimacy, secrets and confessions,
first kisses and heartbreak. I searched my mind for a friend

like that, someone so close we’d need no words if we
should meet again. Then I headed toward baggage claim.

Sarah Russell, Friends

spring fog
weathered snow fence
sagging in a field

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: April ’23

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

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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!)

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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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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?

*

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)

*

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