Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 10

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week in the poetry blogs, the still-unfolding invasion of Ukraine, and war in general, remained on many people’s minds, but made room for other topics as well, including dying or departed fathers, questions of identity and mask, and varying approaches to levity and grief.


Now’s not the time to tell your story. They said. Not when the
skies are ablaze, not when we wonder if the edges can be pulled

together again, not when a contrived dystopia keeps spawning
reasons for the anticlimactic end. There is a hierarchy of suffering,

a taxonomy of hurt, your role now is to pause, to witness, to
gather shards of cloud-grief and sew them into the first rain.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, They said

Even in the earliest literature, exile is a fate akin to death. A man without a community will die a slow death of some sort.

(Romeo does return from exile, but that wasn’t really a great decision.)

But how long can a blind man wander the desert in exile before he stumbles onto something venomous? But Oedipus didn’t go it alone. His children led him through it – to another town, where he was accepted. Then the earth swallowed him. Sophocles didn’t write about the years of wandering. He wrote a happy ending: death in the bosom of a community.

Maybe I will write about the desert years. What dies out there, what doesn’t.

I will write about what and who we bump into out there. How we can reach out to people we once knew – but, now feeling the contours of their faces with our fingers, we know them intimately for the first time. It is possible.

Ren Powell, What We Take Into Account

I’ve felt heartbroken by current events, as well as frightened, and not just for the Ukrainian people. Even if it is contained, the ramifications of this war will be felt by all of us, and who knows where it will end: are we, in fact, going back to the Cold War years? Will all the diplomatic, economic, and collaborative progress of the last forty years be lost? What about nuclear containment? What kind of weapons will be unleashed? Will nuclear facilities be protected, or will there be another horrific event like Chernobyl? Will the conflict spread to Eastern and then Western Europe? It’s unthinkable. The scale of the risk is so much greater and more complex than the well-meant but naive yellow-and-blue flags and sunflowers cropping up all over social media. If you send aid, please do it through established and reputable channels where it has a chance of getting through.

It is a very sober time: a time when I feel called to silent reflection, learning, and meditating on history and on the present, as we still deal with Covid and climate change and all the other pressing problems of our personal and shared lives that seem dwarfed by each day;s news. I haven’t been able to write much, but I’ve tried to draw. I hope you are finding ways to cope, and would be glad to have you share your thoughts.

Beth Adams, Day by Day

Palm trees in El Paso
are haloed in snow

rarer in mid-March
than the Russian tanks

bombarding a Mariupol shoe
factory, the psychiatric

hospital, a maternity ward,
apartments emptying to

missiles. A hotel sauna,
a subway — deep space

underground — targeted
humanitarian corridors

hemmed with smoking autos,
plastic bags and rolling

luggage left behind.

Maureen Doallas, Late Winter (Poem)

The Apocalypse feels like it’s knocking at the door. Are we going to answer?

The picture at left was taken this week after 1) spending two hours getting four fillings in my front teeth and 2) getting my hair cut and colored. These things are a total waste of time if a maniac ends the world in nuclear war or the pandemic kills me. Yes, I think about weird stuff like that. How do we respond of existential despair and threats of war and pestilence? Do we think harder about how we spend our time, our money, our love, our votes?

So, in a way, every act – going to work, kissing your spouse, petting your cat, is an act of rebellion against nihilism. Stopping to take pictures of trees – something I started doing when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer over five years ago (I was told I did not have six months, FYI…always get a second opinion, kids!) – is to make a record of the beauty as the world continues.  Until I stop, or it stops. My philosophy.

Speaking of that, I saw the first cherry blossoms this week in Kirkland, and I also photographed another early spring bloom, quince. Quinces look like ugly shrubs in the winter, and then they have these beautiful blooms and fruit. I’ve always liked those kinds of things. Apple trees with their twisted arms and shrubby height, how fragrant their blush petals are, their fruit that hangs on ’til September. Bulbs that when you plant them seem like nothing, brown little lumps, then bring their tulip petals and daffodil trumpets during the cold early spring. So here are some pictures of March flowers. Are you writing poetry, or sending it out, or getting ready for AWP? Good job. I have been struggling with poetry’s relevancy in the last week or so, I admit. It feels…frivolous. Extraneous. I know that it is good for the soul, but maybe my soul is feeling a little fractured right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Apocalypse is Knocking, First Cherry Blossoms, Cats From the Past and More History Repeating

Once a fox, feeling sad, looked up at the sky and waned to be a cloud, distant from the concerns of foxes  and casting only immaterial shadow over chickens. Then it began to rain and his small fox heart, no larger than a tulip, squirted water everywhere. The fox, his suffering now intense, ate a chicken and so was sad no more. 

Gary Barwin, Fox Fable (from a MS of Fables)

Yes, yes, I know. My promises to resume posting regularly here have been about as reliable as the Tory government’s…no, I’m not going to go there. I have the urge to blog, and to write more generally, and I suspect one of the main reasons is the utter chaos out there at the moment. So, I’m going to restrict myself to talking about poetry, and literature more generally, and birds, and history, and maybe some cricket (although, there’s not much about England that inspires me at the moment). I can’t guarantee it will be upbeat, exactly, but it will definitely be more fun than the news.

Matt Merritt, I’m back (again)

s l o w l y
lowering the volume
thick snow

Jason Crane, haiku: 10 March 2022

Next, have you read Ledger by Jane Hirshfield? If not, I highly recommend it. In fact, I did recommend it, on a recent CBC Edmonton radio program. You can click here to listen. (Alternatively you can watch me recommend another book of poetry on the CBC Ed news at 6. Just scroll to about the 28 minute mark here.

One poem in Ledger by JH begins, “All day wondering / if I’ve become useless.” And this speaks to me right now. Lord I do feel quite useless.

Shawna Lemay, Even an Angel Needs Rest

We buried my father, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l, on Friday. He was eighty-seven years old. He was generous and funny and opinionated. It will be a while before I really understand the spiritual impacts of the fact that that both of my parents are now gone.

There are so many stories. How he grew up in San Antonio with immigrant parents. How he met my mother. Work and travel and parties. (Everyone agrees that my parents knew how to have a good time!) The places he went, the stories he told, the bargains he struck. His gregariousness. His smile.

Mine are small stories, the stories of a youngest daughter. Just as the photos above are photos that are not necessarily representative of the whole: these photos show my parents as newlyweds, then my father and me, then my father and my child. These vignettes are the picture of his life that I can most easily paint. 

Rachel Barenblat, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l

On the road’s verge, geese stand looking unctuous,
vaguely irritable as I pass them
going 50 on the route I’ve taken for decades
and this time I recall two years back, when my dad
was failing, how eagerly I sought any sign
of seasonal change—
early-flowering witch hazel, or crocuses, quince,
swells in daffodils’ green emergence
while inside myself the slow emergency of his dying
began to open from probable to imminent.

Ann E. Michael, Synthesis

My dad sings “Sweet and Low”:
his doctors advised him that singing 
would strengthen his voice. It’s a song from a songbook
already old when he was a boy: we’re drifting backwards,
as old men do.

His voice wanders back and forth across the notes,
hitting some by accident. We used to sing in the car, 
driving home at night from a day on the mountain,
and I’d watch the snowflakes in the headlights:
they’d fall sleepily into view, and speed up
suddenly into white streaks that flickered away:
somewhere in the dark behind us 
they must have settled softly to rest.

Dale Favier, Sweet and Low

Emotional ups and downs these days with family and world. With weather and woe. Spring interrupted by snow. Books and poetry steady me, and sunshine! When I woke up today, it was 9 degrees. How will I walk in the parade? I wondered. In layers! It worked. The sun was shining, and I was toasty warm in boots, several socks, and various green and other layers, under a glittery green hat, handing out sunflower seeds for Ukraine on behalf of a candidate in the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In Chicago, they dyed the river green again. Here, we had a small but lively crowd, who knew to stay on the sunny side of the street. Dates and duties, tasks and meetings, appointments and worries–it all crowds my mind. Then I visit my folks, play cards, and we love each other into a state of calm. Each morning, I write a poem. Each evening, I fall asleep on the couch, reading.

Kathleen Kirk, Sharin’ of the Green (and Pink and Blue)

My last AWP was in 2019 in Portland, OR and I loved it. I loved the time spent with writers, fueled by coffee and creativity and late nights talking about writing and poetry. So while this year will look a little different, I’m still hopeful I’ll get that high from being around my people. […]

I need this time with poets and writers and presses. I want to wander the book fair and have authors sign their books – last time I bought 15 books, which I felt was a reasonable amount since I had to fly home and needed to fit them all in my suitcase without it going overweight. This year, I’m driving so I’ll have no such limitations. I wonder how many I’ll buy…

Courtney LeBlanc, AWP 2022

I mentioned on Facebook that my new glasses finally came in, and earlier than expected! The instant I got the text from the optometrist, I took off from work, dashed over to the eye doc’s, collected my new and glorious specs, and came home to pop out my contacts and try them on. The first thing I did was test out an old paperback poetry book that I’ve had on my list to read forever, but haven’t been able to with a 15-year old prescription. Voila! I was actually able to read the print. I wanted to cry. The new specs are so nice that I’ve even overcome my vanity enough to wear them to work a few times a week. Also, unbeknownst to me, it turns out that the frames are Kate Spade, so not only can I see, I’m also fancy. Look out world. I’m watching you—through my new, properly-prescribed lenses. I can see everything.

Kristen McHenry, Lessons from the Squat Rack, Farming Simulation Hell, Glasses Glory

One of my poems has been included in the Hope Rage Sunflowers anthology to raise money for Ukraine. Like many I am shocked and saddened and have been doom scrolling the past two weeks, so it feels good to have a way to help, even in a small way. 

From the editor: Hope Rage Sunflowers, the FFS Fundraiser bookje (PDF) is out now! Please donate directly to https://ukraine-hilfe-berlin.de/spende/ Send a screenshot of your donation to annickyerem@gmail.com or in my DMs with your email & you will receive this beautiful anthology of poems & artwork.

Gerry Stewart, A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

Yesterday morning, I headed over to my church to help at the food pantry.  Along the way, I stopped to get some peanut butter and jelly; the woman who runs the food pantry told me that of all the donations they get, peanut butter and jelly are the items they get the least.

I was amazed at how the food pantry has grown.  We now offer used clothing and other items (some toys, some backpacks, that kind of thing).  A local Girl Scout troop also runs a closet which offers trendier clothing for teenagers.

Our church has 2 fellowship halls, and the food and clothes pantry has taken up most of one of the fellowship halls.  Once, this would not have been possible–we would have needed that space for something else, like Sunday School classes and fellowship/outreach (like a women’s group and a men’s group).

As I bagged food, I thought about the news stories of people driving truck loads of supplies and food into Ukraine.  That is not our ministry.  We have people who come to our food pantry on such a regular basis that the woman who runs the food pantry knows about food allergies. In a way that makes me sad; we all want a food pantry to be a stop-gap measure, a response to an emergency.  In a way, this ministry feels like one of the more vital ones that we do as a small, neighborhood church.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Food Pantry Portents

Their children lived, somehow, through two wars:
the first one an invasion; the second, a war of liberation.
Because they hid in the church, they know that underneath
new tile and blood-red carpet, there used to be a crack
right down the middle of the aisle. When they left
their homes, running from the rain of bombs, one of them
carried a pair of socks but forgot his shoes. Another
couldn’t explain how it came to be that he’d lifted
the rice pot off the stove, still warm and steaming.

There are ghosts inside every bell tower, or walking
the now clean hospital halls. In front of every
flagpole in every square, pigeons peck at shadows
where prisoners were lined up for execution.
Every stone: an old name, a story.

Luisa A. Igloria, War Stories

Whether we like it or not, absolutely everything we write has its origins in our identity. Even when we use a persona, a context that’s far from our own lives, a filter of fireworks or devices, we are always writing out of who we are. That process might be more or less overt, and we might well be reluctant at times to recognise it (even to ourselves) but our identity runs through our poetry as if through rock.

Of course, over the last few years, many poets have emerged who’ve wielded their identity to terrific explicit effect – be that with an aesthetic, emotional, social or political aim. However, I also enjoy poetry that assumes, assimilates and textures its identity, using it more to enrich the genre’s capacity to create a whole new emotional world that casts fresh light on previous ones.

As a consequence, I’m especially drawn to Tamiko Dooley’s new poems on Wild Court (see here). They’re so similar yet so different, so strange yet so familiar. This is very much the effect that I seek in my own poems about life in Spain.

Matthew Stewart, Writing out of who we are

I just finished re-reading* Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in the context of a manuscript I’m working on. In the work-in-progress, the speaker confides in and seeks guidance from an alter ego named Gertie, similar to how Blume’s protagonist Margaret talks directly to God throughout the well known novel. “Luckily for Margaret,” as the synopsis on the back cover says, “she’s got someone to confide in… someone who always listens.”

Like Margaret, the speaker in this new manuscript has a built-in sounding board and companion. Gertie, however, isn’t any kind of god — that’s not my thing. Instead, what I’m trying to do is to bifurcate the speaker’s internal dialogue. Instead of the speaker talking to herself or to God, she’s having conversations and exchanges with an “other” (a persona: Gertie) and exploring what that may offer by way of protection, comfort and confidence.

Speaking of confidence, I’m not 100% convinced I can pull it off, but I’m following where it goes anyway. That includes consulting this terrific throwback, which I originally read when I was in middle school along with a bazillion other preteens.

Carolee Bennett, “luckily for margaret”

The following is the sixth in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Lisa Bellamy talks with Jeff Ewing about what’s it’s like to write in multiple genres, his use of point of view, and his unique writing process. […]

Lisa: In some poems, the narrator views characters from a different perspective, as in “As the Crow Flies,” or from a third-person perspective, as in “On the Death, by Trampling, of a Man in Modoc County.” What does this change-up do artistically for you, as a writer?

Jeff: It’s very freeing to get away from the constant “I.” Seeing the scene from an abstracted point of view—in “As the Crow Flies”—or a third person, really does allow me to put myself at that vantage. To get a wider, more objective view of the action. The default “I” point of view of a lot of poems—mine included—does convey a certain intimacy, but it’s also constricting. Claustrophobic. I get itchy and anxious after a while. It’s clearly the point of view a writer has the most authority over and experience with, but there’s a danger of coming to see it as genuinely authoritative. As a reader, it makes me suspicious and a little resentful. Like most people I get tired of myself, and it’s a relief sometimes to break out of that.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Lisa Bellamy Interviews Jeff Ewing

I like being an old man, but friend,
I have no intention of being a quiet old man.
I am going describe everything,
The sun, the moon, the North Star,
Even boring things like my family, politics,
And the sounds that trains make at night.
My ‘I’ poems will be like death;
Inescapable. I feel another coming on me.
Even as I am just finishing this one.

James Lee Jobe, the inescapable ‘I’ poems

Yesterday, at a NeMLA panel called “Hybrid, Feminist, & Collaborative,” the writer and artist Mary-Kim Arnold talked about “feeling like a hybrid” as a child born in Korea then adopted into a New York family. Explore her whole amazing website if you have time, but here’s one piece that literally stitches image to text in a stunning way. Anna Maria Hong, who organized this panel, read “Siren” and showed a clip from a forthcoming Bennington musical theater production of her hybrid novel H&G, which looks extraordinary. Scheduled to speak third–and read for the very first time from Poetry’s Possible Worlds!–I revised my prefatory marks on the fly, having realized some things. First, I don’t feel like a hybrid. I often feel monstrous, though, like Anna Maria’s “Siren,” particularly in moments of apparently unwomanly anger. And I’m always deeply interested in who gets monsterized and how and why. Second, I’m interested in genres and the spaces between them because I have a powerful drive to understand the rules. This comes partly from watching my immigrant mother studying to be a middle-class American; it’s probably also true that I’m an observer by temperament. Maybe even more importantly, I’m the eldest child of an alcoholic father whose moods were unpredictable, intense, sometimes violent. I needed to figure out what genre I was in every day to navigate the plot twists.

March has already had a lot of ups and downs, but that panel was a peak for me. That’s academic conferencing at its best: you’re rattling around in your own head then a good conversation rings you like a bell.

Lesley Wheeler, Fairy monster godmother gets the chair

We think we create our own personalities, that we have the freedom to create our selves, but this is another lie of capitalism and (often anyway) of white supremacy.  On some level Kerouac himself understood that, though he would never have framed it in those terms.  I’ve been rereading his Book of Dreams (1960), an often-overlooked novel(?) in his oeuvre, and it’s a compelling text, not least for its insight about the functioning of the mind.  Kerouac attacks Freud for his mere interpretation of hidden motivations (“Freudianism is a big stupid mistaken dealing with causes and conditions instead of the mysterious, essential permanent reality of Mind Essence” [Book of Dreams, 2001 edition, p. 282]), and instead (influenced by Buddhism) sees dreams as part of the same mind-matter that constructs the waking world as well as the sleeping world.  I think there’s an obvious component to subconscious dreams that do lend themselves to interpretation of/connection to daily quotidian conscious life, and clearly I subscribe to a certain degree to materialist “causes and conditions,” and I’d suggest that Kerouac’s unfiltered confessions in this book are in fact open to a variety of interpretations.

But again, these dynamics are perhaps merely the surface overlay of personality.  Though most of Book of Dreams is just that (the actual dreams, without attempt to explain or interpret), Kerouac at times does make comment about the nature of existence, consciousness, and art.  He writes,

words, images & dream are fingers of false imagination pointing at the reality of Holy Emptiness—but my words are still many & my images stretch to the holy void like a road that has an end—It’s the ROAD OF THE HOLY VOID this writing this life, this image of regrets—— (pp. 280-81)

We can’t escape these particulars or dynamics; they are the stuff of the world and inevitably of art.  We might perhaps be able to turn off the conscious mind’s investment in them only sometimes, through meditation, say (which Kerouac apparently was not very good at).  We (or I) might wish that Kerouac was sometimes better at negotiating the shit that the world threw his way; the alcohol didn’t help.  But before it all turned bad, and coexisting with the regrets (his or mine or everyone’s), Kerouac throughout much of his poetry (by which I mean also his prose) demonstrated tenderness for all living things, through his poetics lived deeply in the world, and elaborated an innovative style out of which good things came, and which is delightful in itself.

Michael S. Begnal, On Kerouac’s Centennial

And so I stood there, staring at it,
For too long, in an otherwise dull
Museum, wondering if Pound
Ever played the trombone, not
Just this one, any trombone,
In all of his long, weird life.
The guide hovered ever closer
As if suspecting I’d rumbled them.
I tapped the glass to alarm her more
And, seeing her jump, moved on
To a case of prehistoric pots,
Most of which were broken.

Bob Mee, EZRA POUND’S TROMBONE (SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE FUN)

If my nerves were sturdier,

if I could let your apocalypse talk
roll off my back,

if my favorite nightcap were plunging off a cliff
and being pulled back,

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

if you didn’t love to troll and tease me,

if I didn’t ask, for the sake of beauty and continuity,
Is there time to slice the cucumber,

we might roll together in bellylaugh when you predict, They’ll
just take out New York.

Jill Pearlman, Armageddon Blues

This is a terrible thing to say out loud, but here it is; judge me as you wish: I’ve found myself in a reading quagmire of not-very-good poetry.

These are collections that have risen in contests to be accorded the winning spot. By not-very-good, I mean, the poems are, for example, boringly obvious, drearily strident, frustatingly short-falling of what they seem to be reaching for, inert, so coded to some inner key that they’re inaccessible. Yes, there are some cunning turns of phrase here and there, some good sound work, some lively choices of images or words, some poems that work, by which I mean, transport me beyond themselves. There may be, and I’m being generous here, a chapbook-length (like 18-20 pages) of decent poems in each of the three full-length (and by that I mean, over 75 pages…) collections I’m referring to here. Maybe.

What am I missing? Is it just down to personal taste? Am I reading too fast, reading too crabby? Is my aesthetic too damned narrow? Do I just not know good poetry when I read it?

It brings me huge distress, because I feel I have to question what I think I know about poetry. And I have to question what I think I know about my own poetry, and how to make it better.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m on the dark side of the moon; or, On the Perils of Reading Poetry

I’m learning it’s quite easy to become the hermit I’ve always been, sleeping and working strange hours.  I am getting a lot done.  Getting the shop ready for the update next week and keeping up with daily freelance projects. Catching up on things like orders and author batches and getting new layouts polished off in the afternoons. Even with a lot of stuff to accomplish in any given day, it is more purposeful and less chaos, which has changed so much about how I feel and done wonders for my general baseline anxiety levels. Even printing is more orderly and systematic and much less tearful than it used to be (this has to do with some outsourcing, but even in the interiors are less stress-inducing when I am not constantly past my deadlines already). I did not expect quite this much of a change, but I should have. 

As for creative work, I’ve stalled out a bit on my collage series, not really liking the results just yet, but need to spend time with the poems they accompany to get unstick. The poems I am happy with, the art, not so much. I did manage to finish up what will hopefully be the final proof on animal, vegetable.. monster, and barring any significant issues, should have it under wraps a couple weeks into April.  Which of course, means I now turn my attention to promo and trailers and such. 

Kristy Bowen, hermit life and abroad

trying on dream clothes
that of course always fit well
and are tailored to perfection
I talked jazz with the assistant

there are worse ways to pass a night
than buying threads
but you wake
unsatisfied with your tactile wardrobe

no matter how hard you try
on successive nights
the tailors shop eludes you
in that vast city inside your head

Paul Tobin, A VAST CITY INSIDE YOUR HEAD

The latest from Cobourg, Ontario poet, writer, editor and publisher Stuart Ross is The Book of Grief and Hamburgers (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2022), a blend of essay, memoir and prose poem that moves its slow way through and across an accumulation of grief and personal loss, attending the personal in a way far more vulnerable than he has allowed himself prior. As the back cover attests, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers was composed “during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortly after the sudden death of his brother – leaving him the last living member of his family – and anticipating the death of his closest friend after a catastrophic diagnosis, this meditation on mortality is a literary shiva, a moving act of resistance against self-annihilation, and an elegy for those Stuart loved.” The form of lyric homage and recollection certainly isn’t new, although one might think it not as prevalent as it might be, and I can only think of a handful of examples in Canadian writing over the past thirty years, such as George Bowering’s book of prose recollections, The Moustache, Memories of Greg Curnoe (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1993), James Hawes’ writing Peter Van Toorn through his new chapbook Under an Overpass, a Fox (Montreal QC: Turret House Press, 2022), Erín Moure writing her late friend Paul through Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2017) [see my review of such here], or even Sharon Thesen writing Angela Bowering through her Weeping Willow (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2005), a chapbook-length sequence that later landed in her full-length The Good Bacteria(Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2006).

The difference in the examples I’ve cited, of course, is that each of these were composed around a single person, whereas Ross explores the layering and accumulation of grief itself, one that has built up over the years through the deaths of his parents, and a variety of friends, mentors and contemporaries including David W. McFadden, Richard Huttel, John Lavery, Nelson Ball and RM Vaughan. While this particular project was triggered by the sudden and unexpected loss of Ross’ brother Barry in 2020, twenty years after the death of their brother, Owen, and through hearing of the terminal cancer diagnosis of his longtime friend, the Ottawa poet Michael Dennis (one shouldn’t overlook, as well, the simultaneous loss of their beloved dog, Lily), all of these relationships are referenced, explored and layered through an attempt, through the narrative, to come to some kind of, if not conclusion, an acknowledgment of how best to allow for this space, and to move forward.

rob mclennan, Stuart Ross, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers

Outside my window, there’s a murder of crows that would rather you call them a choir.

For a small fee, they’ll sing a song to keep your heart from exploding.

The war of the week channel shows me that those once considered the salt of the earth can sometimes turn into quite the lousy seasoning for your slice of life.

Rather than reaching for another snack, I keep all fingers crossed.

Perhaps good fortune will arrive any moment at the local greyhound station.

Rich Ferguson, On the War of the Week Channel

Not surprisingly, the terrible destruction in Ukraine is on my mind right now, a bloody livestream in my head and heart as I go about my safe, ordinary life here–feeding my cats, doing the laundry, shopping for groceries, going for a walk.  I was at one extraordinary event, a reading via zoom earlier in the week, with Ukrainian poets and their English translators–and 850 people there to watch and listen.  There was, not surprisingly, a lot of weeping, and some of mine was for the gift of being in that group, sharing the grief and the beauty.

With Ukrainian citizens arming themselves and joining the fight, it’s hard to draw a clean line between them and designated soldiers, but I’ve when I read any battle story I’m drawn to the lives of civilians, the impact of war on them.  It only occurred to me today that might be because I am one of those affected civilians.  I was born during World War II, and my father was away in the South Pacific for the first three years of my life–something that shaped my childhood and has left ripples through my adult life.  My family didn’t suffer any of the horrendous effects of having war on their home ground, but they were affected by it nonetheless. Wars touch everyone in some way.  Those of us who write poems have to find our own vantage points, what only we can say about the unfolding events.

Sharon Bryan, Civilian Life in Wartime (via Bethany Reid)

Despite the doom-and-gloom-scrolling I do from my Hong Kong apartment, I’ve found solace recently in writing more light verse in response to the news. Reading, writing, and publishing light verse in response to current events has kept my spirits buoyed — knowing that my words are in the company of other wonderful writers of light verse who are staring into the face of tragedy, loss, suffering, and war and responding with humor and wit offers a strange kind of comfort.

It is easy to watch the news and despair. However, we all do what we can and give the world what we can. At this moment, what I can offer is not something weighty, but something light and witty. Basically, writing in response to the news has both helped me return to the comfort of the writing desk and kept me going.

Scot Slaby, Wagging news doggerel

some of my favourite movie posters
find a healthier balance
make things right
world-leading and deliberate cruelty
my new collection
women cannot send their sons to die
every day is a memorial day
increase the vegetable patch
exclusive member deals

Ama Bolton, Lines from my Twitter feed #2

Each week we talk about how to recognize and respond to the earliest hints of conflict, from the interpersonal to the global. We begin to see myriad creative, collaborative ways to respond. We also begin to recognize some of the things we’ve heard about, witnessed, or done ourselves have actually been examples of nonviolence. At the end of each session, I ask participants to share stories of peace in action. These stories strengthen our bones, build our world anew.

One day a woman describes driving home when she comes across three young teens hunched with menace over a fourth. One holds a length of wood at his side and it appears he’s used it on that boy. She finds herself pulling the car over, standing at her door, yelling leave him alone.

All four look up, incredulous. Why you stop for him? one boy jeers. She comes closer till the cowering boy stands up straight, his face impassive, and walks away.

She says, Does it matter who I stop for? Next time it might be you.

Laura Grace Weldon, Peace In Action

Any two things
are related,
the old monk says,
once you see both.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (57)

baffled
along the long groynes
the sea’s roar

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week saw poets saying goodbye to long-time jobs, grieving the dead, going for walks, collaborating on poetry videos, getting grouchy about new books or their own poems—or even the flow state in which they write, and much more. Enjoy!


It’s February 3, and I just went through the house, changing the calendars from January to February. We are snowed in. Last night’s rehearsal was cancelled, and perhaps tonight’s will be, too, which is really a preview performance, but, egad!–we have barely had a dress rehearsal. Anxiety balanced by yoga. I did not see any groundhogs in real life or on the news (because I wasn’t watching the news), but I did see what I thought was a large owl, hunkered down in the snow, scanning the yard for small prey. It transformed, via head movement, into a rabbit, a huge rabbit, just sitting out there in the snow, flicking its now visible ears.

Kathleen Kirk, No Groundhogs

All this desk work has meant I’ve been walking the dog later in the day and often catching only the last sliver of daylight. This is a good time of day to be walking – the air smells of earth and damp, grass and sheep, hedgerows filled with shouty sparrows preparing to roost. Sometimes the sun catches the tops of the beech trees as its setting, and the branches become rose gold in the light. The windows of the cottages are warm squares and the train, if I see it run through the village, is a gallery of empty seats, sleeping heads, newspapers, books and laptops slicing into the black. This winter we’ve been spoiled by some wonderful sunsets. I like to catch the sunset from a hill at the far end of the village, watch it slide down the valley, then turn and walk back as the dark encroaches, pulling the colour out of it all until the lane is silver, the hills charcoal, the village a brightness of lamps and warm living rooms.

The tax return this year was probably the worst I’ve had to submit in terms of complication and stress. […] Doing my accounts […] is a bit like travelling back in time, I can feel the anxiety and stress and weekend working leaching out of the numbers. It made me ill with stress, but also helped my business (my business being me, effectively) survive the pandemic. I lost work in lots of face to face areas and had to drive up business in the online areas and I’m proud to say that after seven years of being self employed and edging sideways towards making my living from creative writing with some tutoring and teaching, I earned the same in 2020/21 as I did when I left my job as a microbiologist. It was hard, hard work, but I have reached a bench mark that I set myself years ago, and that makes me happy. I’m still working out how to manage my time to give me more writing time, but it is happening. Small goals, small steps with an image of what the main goal is. I’m getting there. Sometimes I am so stuck in the stress I forget that the outside world exists. As soon as I’m out in the weather, though, it’s like I feel real, as if a papery version of me exists in my office, but the real me exists only outside in the dusk and the weather.

Wendy Pratt, Walking at Dusk

The ladder serves the myth
that elevation is a need. Because stars and gods
live in the sky. Because the higher you go, the

further it still is. You move seven squares forward,
dodging a venomous fang, not quite at the
lowest step. It has been raining for days. If

there was a sky, it has collapsed into the ground.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Paradox

It’s winter, nights are in the low teens, and the ground out here is covered with snow. I’m still hiking in the local woods most weekends. My class at Rosemont college is off to a good start–brilliant and insightful students. My monthly local workshop is still going strong after more than 10 years. We’re on zoom at the moment, but we all hope to be back in person soon, as soon as it’s safe.

The writing has been going well, and publishing hasn’t been too bad either. My book manuscript has been a finalist about 5 times so far. I’ve had new poems published by Greensboro Review, UCity Review, Cider Press Review, and some others. Later this year I’ve got poems coming out in Sand Hills Review, Kenyon Review, Louisiana Literature, and Verse Daily, with hopefully more to announce soon.

My 2020 book, Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, received a very positive write-up in Broad City Review, which you can read here. If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find it here.

Grant Clauser, 2022 Update

I stared into the sun.
The last thing I remember, tears

were simmering in my eyes and your name
had frozen on my tongue.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 9 – Leaving

I am elated to announce that Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology has been selected as a 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read by Georgia Center for the Book. Karen Head and I worked for seven years to find a home for this project, so this honor is a testimony to perseverance and to the brilliant poets who contributed their work. And, of course, to Madville Publishing who loved the anthology and has made the whole publication process a pleasure. 

Collin Kelley, Anthology named 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read

I’d like to say a public thank you to Presence for sending me books to review from time to time, and for having faith in my haiku. Sometimes it feels like I’m working very much on the fringes (probably no bad thing). Lockdown enabled me to follow some new routes too, but that has also led to me feeling a bit out of the loop (again, that might not be a bad thing). Nevertheless, Presence has linked me to the haiku community and I really appreciate that sense of fellowship.

Another poetic community is The Poets Directory who have invited me to read at their ‘virtual stanza’ event. So:

Join us on Sunday February 13th at 19:00 for the December Poets’ Directory Live! Virtual Stanza event via Zoom. The event is part of the Poetry Society’s network of Stanza groups and brings poetry into your home every month. With readings from the excellent Chaucer Cameron, Julie Mellor, Damien Donnelly, Rory Waterman and Pascale Petit.

I have to say I’m in awe of the poets I’ll be supporting. Anyway, I’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best! The free online event takes place on Sun 13th Feb at 7.00 – further details can be found here. Hope some of you can join us.

Julie Mellor, Reviews and readings …

A nightmare crossdresses in lullabies.

A hesitation builds dirigibles of yesness.

A quiet, quarantined heart manages a highway hum.

A fleeting second impersonates forever.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Moment’s Noticings

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?

Translation of poetry is on a continuum with writing it, even if, in a sense, it’s also unwriting (taking things apart). Having “translated” only a small number of poems, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the language of the original (Russian), I can have little to add to what real translators think and do. Even the occasion of my first involvement with translation was a bit of happenstance: In 1989, Lyn Hejinian and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko paired five American poets, of whom I was one, with five Russian poets for a sort of experiment in translation. This was during Perestroika, so before the fall of the USSR, and the enthusiasm for communication across what was left of the iron curtain was high. The idea was to do it transpersonally, not just transtextually. So the ten of us met in Stockholm and Helsinki, and then Leningrad, to talk face to face and, with that dialogue as a kind of substrate, to read and translate each other’s work. “Translation,” on these terms, involved a great deal of talking, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, walking around, guessing, second guessing—being—all activities (except smoking) that figure into my own process. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

All of the above. Definitely every instance of culture I consume, plus human conversation—the sound of people talking—really anything that crosses my perceptual bow. Lately I’ve been interested in what John Rapko calls “proto-art”—what you might think of as “found” objects in nature (or culture), naïve works, things that were once thought “primitive” or were at one time thought important, now not. The attraction is the lack of finish or determined meaning—the fact that meaning can occur unintentionally or quasi-intentionally. That there can be an unadulterated, unfiltered perceptual reward in something that didn’t mean to be art. Perhaps a weird thing for someone who makes art to say.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jean Day

why are children who will never bear a child :: the lullaby that i sing

Grant Hackett [no title]

Destiny
is rhyme
and spring

nine hells
three heavens

our
remains hard
and sweet sugar.

Ernesto Priego, 3. La calavera

I have begun to think of Higher Ed as a bad boyfriend, who breaks one’s heart again and again, and apologizes profusely and each time, one thinks it might be different. Not an abusive boyfriend, in that one’s face isn’t broken and it’s not bad enough that one knows to run away. There’s potential–one wants it all to be different. But the Higher Education bad boyfriend breaks one’s heart in so many ways.

Let me hasten to say that I feel fortunate in so many ways.  Since we spent much of 2021 thinking I would lose my job, we made alternate plans.  I am so grateful to Feb. 2021 Kristin who went ahead and applied for seminary and candidacy.  I am so grateful that we have sold the house.  I am so grateful that I have a vision of an alternate future.

While I will miss many of my colleagues, I am also grateful that someone else will have the task of leading the campus through the accreditation visit in 2 months.  I was not looking forward to many of the changes that were barreling towards us.

I will return to the campus today for a final time to box up books and load up the car.  When the HR person asked if I had any questions, I thought, I have so many questions.  But the one I asked was “I have more personal stuff in my office than I can get home today in my little car.  How do you want me to handle that?”

This morning, after a night of restless sleep, I woke up with a Meat Loaf lyric in my head:  “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.” Thanks Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend! Now listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” That man doesn’t get enough credit for his skillful lyrics.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Play List for Job Loss: Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend Strikes Again

On Friday, people at work, as goodbye-for-nows were exchanged and tiny celebrations hatched, kept asking me how nice it must be going to be to have my time be my own.  I laughed, of course and said I’d probably be busier than ever, which is no doubt true, but it will feel different.  Especially since, for one, I have the freedom to set my own schedules and routines in a way I have not for, well, really since ever. College was something dictated by class schedules and play rehearsals. Grad school at DePaul had a little more free time when I wasn’t in classes, but was largely a time of full-time study and some writing. Since, I’ve been working full-time in addition to fitting all my more creative pursuits around it (and there was that crazy 4 year span where I was also getting my MFA.) My outside pursuits happened largely in the in-betweens and in odd hours either early or late in the day. My course was entirely dictated by work schedules, which is what will change. 

Over the weeks since I decided to leave, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my day, now that I am free to choose when and where to focus efforts.  There will be the freelance stuff…maybe 3 hours a day. The press/shop which will now get 4 hours daily which will be so much more generous than the previous 1-2 and weekends. (which means more on-schedule dgp releases, more time to clear the inbox, better marketing,  faster order turnaround, and new shop offerings.)  Daily writing, time my own writing and art projects, maybe 1-2 hours rather than hits and misses all week or manic sprints to finish on deadlines.  I’ll have the discretion of nights, when I can either do more work if I want or chill as needed.  Same with weekends (this is one thing I am looking forward to..a little more work/life balance…because I have never had it.)  I’ll also be working maybe 8-9 hours daily and not 11-12 so that will be great.  Also, no commuting, but much more ample time for walks. 

Kristy Bowen, of work and time

The present is still raucous

as vaudeville, or extravagant with drama:
clumsy actors stepping into wet cement,

falling on their knees; raising their eyes
to a tarpaulin sky as a calliope whistles

a carnival song, not quite drowning
the sounds of funerals and thunder.

Luisa A. Igloria, Soundtracks

I’m wrangling with a poem right now that was sparked by an interesting tidbit of science research. This is often how poems begin for me. I spun that out a bit and then tried to bring it back home, to me, to my life, and then spun it out again to include a “you.” I liked the movement of it. (Sidebar: I got a sciency poem rejected recently because it was too personal. I thought that was funny. I’m nothing if not a science experiment myself.) But in the end it felt sentimental, that is, there was a superficial emotionality to it that was unearned.

Was it in how the poem landed? Was it a question of language? Was it some problem inherent to the poem’s…what…journey or something, its heart or something?

A friend took a squint at it, rearranged it some, took out a line, made some suggestions. That helped smooth the sentimental edge but the poem still didn’t quite…what? It didn’t do whatever it is I want a poem to do: Transcend its details or ask an unanswerable question that needed to be asked or flip my thinking on its head or suddenly rearrange the world in a new way or…well…any of those magical things a poem can do.

It’s funny, isn’t it, what a poem can do, and how a poem can fail to do “It,” that poemy thing. Such a small figure, a poem, and how vast it can be. And how confounding.

Marilyn McCabe, Cruisin’ with a six; or, Anatomy of a Revision

If I pick up a new poetry book, I want to find images, language, meaning, that provokes me into sensing or knowing something I didn’t sense or know before I began. This is a fairly basic and generalised summary, yes, but it’s a fair test. I don’t mind a lot being asked of me – in fact, it can be thrilling to find yourself immersed in poetry or writing that challenges you on several levels. I’m happy reading experimental writing where you sense the poet isn’t even sure where the poem is going, or where some images connect easily and others are hard to pin down, or is doing something that at times is just plain mad. (See previous reviews of the work of Peter Finch and Michael Kriesel.) Part of the fun of reading poetry is having to work at it. I want to sense that a writer is really trying to work at their craft – and not just in a technical sense. More often than not I find the restraints of ‘form’ tiresome.

It’s also plain that not everyone can produce something extraordinary, even once in their lives – and even the best writers can and do release stuff that is sub-standard, that is published because of who they are, not how good it is. That happens in all areas of publishing: look at Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album, for example, when as I understand it he had fallen out with his record company and just bashed something out that he knew very well was a long way short of what he could do. People still ran out to buy it. Me included. So, to a certain extent, if you want to go on reading poems, you have to allow for some forgiveness and tolerance.

However, I think the problem I found was that all six of the books I read felt similar. It felt as if they were all coming out of some kind of collective mindset, that ‘this is what poetry is and this is the way to write it’ as if they were a part of some kind of club where everyone knew what the limits and boundaries were and created collections that sat safely within them. It felt as if they had all read the same ‘How To Write Poetry’ manuals.

Bob Mee, I BOUGHT SIX POETRY BOOKS. NONE OF THEM INTERESTED ME.

I first met Dana Gioia at the West Chester Poetry Conference somewhere between 2008 and 2012. I was wearing a name tag that included where I lived at the time, Frederick, Maryland, a small city north of Washington, D.C., most famous for being the resting place of Francis Scott Key.

Immediately after we shook hands, Gioia launched into reciting “Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier. It was a delightful connection to have made! I knew that Gioia had been head of the National Endowment for the Arts and had founded (with Michael Peich) the poetry conference I was attending. What I didn’t know was how his precise recitation in that slow baritone could at once captivate and soothe.

In high school when I first decided that the rest of my life would be this lifelong journey with writing, I cherished the book Letters to a Young Poet, given to me by my sophomore English teacher as a graduation present. I’ve carried that book with me everywhere I’ve lived and worked — from the east coast of U.S. to the upper Midwest to Shanghai, China and most recently here to Hong Kong. This is part of the reason I share Dana Gioia’s six-part series below. In the same vein as Letters to a Young Poet, Gioa’s new YouTube video series is a good place to start if you’re embarking on a writing life or simply beating yourself up for not writing as much as you would like. Unlike Letter to a young Poet, Gioia’s series provides practical wisdom on engaging (or reengaging) with a writing life given the busy demands of working full time.

Scot Slaby, If you want to help anyone start their writing journey, show them this

One of the best things about sharing creativity online is when other creative folks make something beautiful and new, arising out of / inspired by / in conversation with something that I created.

Like this right here, created by two longtime blogfriends:

The Gifts from Allan Hollander on Vimeo.

The audio recording is by Allan Hollander, and the animation is by Alison Kent.

The poem was originally published in my first book-length collection of poetry, 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011). If you don’t have a copy, I hope you’ll consider picking one up wherever fine books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, The Gifts – video

Some years back my old high school friend Hilary McDaniels Douglas invited me to write some music for her aerial dance company Project in Motion, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She requested that I set a poem by Rilke and of course I couldn’t resist. I also included a poem whih appeared in my book Moon Baboon Canoe that I’d written and that felt appropriate. The overall theme of the piece was to be about water. 

Last night I began exploring a video clip of moving letters. (Full disclosure: I stole it off the Internet.) I transformed it: I layered it, expanded and contracted it, changed the colours and the movement and generally played around with it. It was riverine. It reminded me of the flowing letters in Justin Stephenson’s spectucular film about bpNichol, The Complete Works. 

I loved how the letters moved and replaced a poem that I’d stuck over top with an audiotrack of a funky distorted saxophone-based track that I’d made with a video of my hands moving. I realized that I’d need a much more flowing audio track and remembered the Rilke track that I’d made for Hilary. It was all about flowing, movement, and in my poem, it mentions hands. The whole thing worked so well together. I began transforming the video to be all about the Rilke track. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. From a series of associations and accidents, this lovely thing that I stumbled on. [video link]

Gary Barwin, On Fishes: a video setting of a poem by RIlke and another guy

My uncles worked the Ship Canal
tugmen, exempt from The Call Up
free to drink each St Monday dry.
My mother was at war with them
the hostilities endless.
I could never fathom the reason
and she was not the kind to ask
even when I was grown and she frail
with aching hands of knotted oak.

Paul Tobin, DRINK ST MONDAY DRY

This morning I learned that 65 species of animals laugh. A few years ago I wrote Are You An Anthropocentrist? with examples of our fellow creatures making tools, doing math, demonstrating altruism, and so much more. Pretty sure laughter is just the iceberg edge of what we don’t yet recognize…

Laura Grace Weldon, Where I’m Finding Delight This Week

it’s about opening your mind
unbotting the furnace
raising the sluice gates
watching the leaves rush
down to the sea’s page
too fast to stop
too fast to review
emptying the lake
that never empties
screaming the silence
of devil may care
the never ending cataract
of clenched teeth in rictus

Jim Young, flow ~ now what’s to know

For those poets who aren’t on Instagram yet, or do not feel confident using it, I have to say, I was so grateful for this Instagram book review yesterday – and unlike some reviews, this generated sales – at least as well as I can measure on Amazon sales rank – right away! What a shock!

Thank you to TheBookshelfCafeNews for the shoutout and poets, go get on Instagram and let’s start talking about poetry books there. I am still getting used to the medium (sometimes I forget hashtags, and I’m still not confident in my ability to post “stories”) but think it is definitely worth being on there. There’s less of the negative vibe that can sometimes get overwhelming on Twitter, plus as many pictures of baby animals or cool art as you want to include in your feed. Yes, it’s still owned by evil overlord Facebook (or Meta) – but seems slightly less evil? Maybe this is because I only follow poets, Ina Garten, and a lot of red panda, fox, and zooborns accounts. Anyway, I encourage you all to give it a try. You can follow me there at @webbish6 – I mostly post pics of birds and flowers, the occasional selfie and poem – a lot like the blog, without all the words. Also, if you have helpful tips for others (and me) who are writers on Instagram, please leave them in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy February, Inching Towards Spring, Hoping for a Better Month, A Nice Review on Instagram (and Thoughts on Instagram for Poets)

The world iced, every inch glistening in the sun.

Zigzag tracks of our house cat that has walked away.

Across the bay, a tanker moves at a glacier’s pace.  

V is talking — the garage door pasted shut,

my eye straying to those lights, frozen droplets

in the branches — champagne.  

If I didn’t have myself, where would I be? 

A moment deep and wide for drinking.

Jill Pearlman, driveway Olympics

I’ve been reading proofs for Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so this is a busy and stressful moment. I’m always mildly panicky at this stage, wondering what errors I’ve overlooked, but it’s about time to type up my list of necessary fixes and send it back to the designer. It makes me think of my mother’s advice on housework: just keep the counters and other eye-level spaces clean, nobody looks at the floor. What would the floor be, the bibliography? Sigh. Some reviewers, especially any scholars who may read the book, will TOTALLY call you out on a dirty floor.

Proofing this particular book makes me think of my mother in other ways. It’s about reading poetry during a time of crisis, especially focusing on my father’s implosion. I only realized late in the game that it’s also very much about my mother, and not only because she was the one who discovered his string of affairs and called quits on the marriage. She was the person who gave me piles of books as well as the habit of reading for pleasure, consolation, education, and imagining future and alternate lives. Poetry was always in the mix, too, often long poems like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I read Chaucer in the Penguin translation as a middle-schooler, not knowing I should be intimidated. They were just stories.

Lesley Wheeler, Pretending the house is clean

When winter is over,
then we will grieve.

Wait for the rains of spring,
the buds on the tree branches.

James Lee Jobe, hold it all in for now

My friend Jon Appleton died on Sunday evening at the age of 83.

Yesterday afternoon, a brilliant blue day, we drove to Mont St-Bruno and took a long walk around the Lac Seigneurial; it was the right thing to do. I may write more about this eventually, but for now, I’ll let Tomas Tranströmer speak for me. Jon loved Sweden and poetry, and although he also spent a lot of time in warm places, such as California, Hawaii, Tonga, southern France, I always think of him in the north: Vermont, Sweden, Moscow. One of my most vivid memories of him is from a visit to us in Montreal some years ago, when there was an absolutely huge blizzard, one of the heaviest and stormiest I can remember. Being Vermonters at heart, none of us wanted to stay in, so we bundled up and decided to go out and see if we could find a restaurant that was still open. I can still see Jon, wearing his Russian fur hat, cavorting in the snow-filled street and laughing with delight: “This is aMAZing!”

He was a person who lived life as fully as possible, and who for many of his students and friends was — as this poem says – “a half-open door leading to a room for everyone.” Like Tranströmer, Jon suffered a stroke toward the end of his life. It affected his speech, which he gradually recovered, but he wasn’t able to continue composing music. During our last visit to him, he showed us the art studio in his retirement complex, where he said he was enjoying doing some painting. And even in the last two weeks he was writing with great pleasure about a new recording being done by Yoshiko Kline of some of his piano works, and working with an editor on the final draft of his autobiography. The creative spark never went out, and the best way I can remember and honor him, and what he gave me, is to try to do the same.

Beth Adams, The Consolation of Snow

I didn’t know that my cousin’s favorite food was pierogis. My aunt Darlene is making a batch of them to take to the dinner after the graveside service. “She won’t get to eat any, but it’s the last time I can make them for her, so I’m doing it.” I remember my aunt Violet’s cabbage rolls (they are one of my specialties). But if I ever had pierogis, I don’t remember. So, I told my aunt I’d make them, too. She told me how she makes them — in great detail —  and then said, “You can find a recipe on-line.”

I thought of that poem by Grace Paley, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative,” about making a pie instead of writing a poem.

Bethany Reid, Pierogis

I have definitely entered a new phase of life. Where people I love, from 25 to 70 are grappling with mortality. And there are people, too, whom I do not love, but featured in a few revenge fantasies. I’m seeing how poorly written my fantasies are, how unrelated they are to real emotions. Thin storylines with hollow characters.

The wonderful – literally wonder-filled – thing about this is that I see how unfinished I am. It’s like I have opened the door to a new world. Moved from black and white to color, from a sunset projected onto flat walls, through the doorway to the “real world” which is too big to take in, and too immediate to ignore.

I want to hold someone’s hand, get my feet wet, and listen.

I read the chat messages in a quiet moment. I pay attention to the few songbirds that have overwintered near the lake. I almost wrote, “lonely songbirds”. I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love.

Ren Powell, Existential Helplessness

One last line opens,
the old monk said,
and one last line closes.
It works either way.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (126)

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 46

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets blogging dark, November prophecies, and since today was my father’s memorial service, this really resonated with my mood. But there’s also plenty of interesting lighter and more analytic fare, and things do end on a hopeful note, so hang in there.


Sometimes, these past few months, as I let the world’s news glance off me, I allow myself to sit (only for moments) with a growing truth: That the bedrock upon which I lived for more than 50 years is shifting and breaking, and there is no putting it back (any more than one can put the earth back after a quake), and that this time of relative (surface) calm (in which I can push looming catastrophe into the canyons of my life, out of sight/out of mind) might someday, in retrospect, feel like the last weeks of fall, when the beauty is mostly (but not entirely) gone and you can see the shape of the season to come, and you want only to cling to the beautiful colors as long as you can, the way you imagine the last few leaves would be doing if they could, you know, literally cling, and could know anything about the inevitabilities of temperature, wind, or their fate. We know the spring will come round and everything will bloom again, but not for them.

Not for them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Winter’s coming

A man crossing a plaza in full sun
will have the crackle of sun around him,
the scintillation of green, yellow streaks, red vibration,
all the colors on his black suit, and still be immersed
in that great color: black contains all colors.
He will be alone, old, wearing a black coat.
Complex and emotional.

Jill Pearlman, Madrid: Light, Shade, Goya

a Spanish dancer
interprets letter-forms
adrift in a vacuum

shapes of printed paper
delusions visions waking dreams
shifted to different rooms

fat little birds on strings
knit their way home
from one horizon to the other

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2021

You want to know what it’s like out there? I can tell you. I’ve been. A few times.

You’ll hear different things from different people. Some will tell you of our native drop bears, their dangerous habit of dropping straight down out of trees onto unsuspecting travellers. (Don’t walk under the trees!) Or the bunyip calling from some lonely waterhole to entice you in. (You won’t come out again.)

Some will warn you about wild dingoes – which might sound more mundane, more believable. But though they look like dogs, they’re far from tame. Or you’ll hear about herds of marauding camels which could rampage through your campsite any night. And snakes and scorpions, too.

You’ll be told to take much more water than you think you’ll need. A car repair kit would be handy as well. Also a good blanket; the desert nights are freezing. They’ll say, tell people where you’re going: your route, your destination, your ETA. They’ll tell you over and over: if you break down, never leave your car. No-one will ever find your body out there.

Yarns to scare the tourists? Only one of those things isn’t true. 

Rosemary Nissen-Wade, Beyond the Black Stump

A gate swings shut
too suddenly. A window’s
upper and lower sashes
cinch close. A stippled
blue shadow detaches from
the ceiling the way a leaf
falls. What is that twitch
like a whip or an eyelash
caught in a doorway?

Luisa A. Igloria, Autotomy

I have learned a new phrase: “severe eosinophilic asthma.” We’re trying injections to improve my breathing. After my first shot, while I was waiting an hour in the doctor’s office to make sure my throat didn’t close up, I looked up the biologic agent. It turns out to be a form of monoclonal antibody.

I had never heard of monoclonal antibodies before the COVID-19 pandemic. Who among us had? Now, of course, we all know the term. It’s fascinating to think about all of the medical terms and treatment methods, the pandemic-related language that has entered common public parlance in the last year.

During the pandemic it has sometimes felt like the whole world has been holding our breath, waiting for this to end. I realize now that that’s the wrong frame. I miss the days when we thought the pandemic would end. (And of course I think of George Floyd and Eric Garner and “I can’t breathe…”) 

Rachel Barenblat, Breathless

at midday I crunched across the cereal bowl
     floor of the forest
never out of hearing of the lunch-grabbers with      their gas pedals and squeaky brakes
in the afternoon I drifted popeward in the
     sanctuary of a Carmelite monastery still unable to escape the commuters with their      combustions and their hybrid choirs how am I supposed to hear the still small voice      when everything around me is exploding

Jason Crane, POEM: still small

This is all there is. All this time, you’ve been playing, preening, posing – but when it comes down to it, this is the now of your soft belly and your brittle bones. The now of your last breath. Your ultimate inadequacy in the face of whatever undefined plans you had for your life. The inadequate planning. Because this is it. This is all you’ve got. This life that just keeps coming at you one laboured breath at a time.

I’m not dying. I mean, not at the moment. And I remind myself that I may be sensing an ending. And that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I’ll find a better perspective on this ending.

Ren Powell, An Excused Absence Out of the Blue

The queen lies now in bed
and wears red inside.
Her life is blue, her house is yellow,
her teeth are black, her weather cold,
her kingdom ancient, her hands weak.
But her face smells of roses,
of bergamot and citrus.
She closes her eyes and counts
her children, like others count sheep,
to fall asleep or die in their sleep.

Magda Kapa, The queen wears red

Shuffling round the block with the dog around five, I peer into the lives of my neighbours, before they also move shutters towards the darkness. The black panes. Our lives reflected back to us, our reflections keeping out the gaze of those who look in.

‘Goodbye, insects.’ ‘Goodbye, marigolds’. ‘Trains hurtle by at the edge of cities’. ‘Hollow casings’. These are the lines I am taking with me as we, too, hurtle, into the darkness. The grief, the one I thought I had placated or mislaid, returns, puts on the kettle, makes itself at home in the gloomy kitchen.

Anthony Wilson, The black panes

Sit at this desk and consider eternity. The measure

Of it. Its shape and scent. Its presence. Outside,

Rain, grayness, low clouds. Fat drops slap

The window. Eternity wears a rain slicker and eases

Across the back yard, toward the street, out of sight.

A car drives by. The sound of tires on the wet street.

James Lee Jobe, age sixtyfive

I scanned the sky to the west, where I knew the moon should be setting.  Was that glow behind the building the moon or light pollution?  Then the clouds shifted, and I saw part of the moon.  Was it the eclipse shrouding it or clouds or both?  If I hadn’t known an eclipse was happening, I’d have just assumed the clouds were acting as shadow.

Tears welled up, a curious reaction in some ways, although in other ways not so strange.  It’s been a tough week, in a tough season, in a tough twenty-two months in a century that’s beginning to seem like a rewind of all the human progress that happened in the last century.  I’m old enough now that when tears come, I don’t try to suppress them (although I might try to find an unobtrusive way to cry, if I’m at work).

I got the library books to the car, and the rain pattered a bit more insistently.  The clouds covered the moon, and I went back inside to finish my poetry submission. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seminary Research and a Tree Lighting Festival

Last week, a man dislocated
both shoulders, bashed his head
on the asphalt loop that heaves
its hills through this settler’s valley.

The park road is blocked off, vacationing
bikers lined up for bikes rented by the hour,
with the duct-tape and split seam seats
of anything without a single owner,
never truly loved.

It isn’t the speed, but the curves
taken at such a speed,
the park volunteers warn us.

Renee Emerson, Biking Cades Cove

Spectrum has published “The Moon Demoted” in Issue 64.  The issue theme is “Perseverance.”  “The Moon Demoted” is about calendars and time. subjects I keep coming back to.  Why do we try to measure the spinning of the round earth and moon in little boxes?  Have you noticed how many wall calendars don’t even bother to put the phases of the moon into those little squares?  Spectrum is a student run print journal out of UC Santa Barbara.

Night, whether long or short
is reduced to a bar, straight
as a sidewalk . . .

Ellen Roberts Young, Out in the World

I’m fascinated by AUTOWAR (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2021), the full-length debut by Toronto-based poet and multidisciplinary artist Assiyah Jamilla Touré, following their chapbook feral (Montreal QC: House House Press, 2018). “i run on silences / i swallow them whole, eagerly / see? i seem to say,” Touré writes, as part of the poem “beckoning,” “a steady heartbeat taming my ear / is an assault / my recall is quartered / by any steadfastness [.]” Theirs is a poetry of direct statement composed via musical gesture; performative lines of breath-thought upon breath-thought. As the poem “acidfield” begins: “bones jutting up jagged planted in this garden / will we too be a garden on the ocean floor / an ocean so acidic, vast, roaring / the salt shearing everything in it to bone / bones for us to be too, tomorrow? / or something new where bones used to be?” There is something really compelling in the ways in which their rhythms line up, launching as a single breath from left to right, before the next one begins; each end of line an intake of air.

Touré composes a lyric of gesture and metaphor on the pure mechanics of possible survival, from being forced to create a father out of thin air and space, to navigating, as the back cover offers, “kinesthetic memory and longing, inherited violence, and the body as a geographical site.” “i am an approachable object—a carved wooden idol / if i am a deity i am of the rank closest to dirt,” they write, as part of the poem “idolatry.” Touré offers a shaped articulation of space and the body; one that utilizes performance as a way through which to speak of missing shapes, and the ability to reform, reshape and even regenerate. The poems are sharp, unflinching and even unrelenting, while holding, still, the ability to take the process and thinking seriously while simultaneously able to allow small bursts of quirky humour. Towards the end of the collection, as part of the poem “autodeity,” they offer: “every six months i shed my skin / and become new and pure, another / i spontaneously forget any language but my own / finally everyone admits i’m incomprehensible [.]”

rob mclennan, Assiyah Jamilla Touré, AUTOWAR

[David] Jones’ description of himself as ‘grotesquely incompetent’ might give an inaccurate or partial impression of his time in the army. He is possibly referring to a certain clumsiness (he hadn’t stopped growing when he enlisted at the age of 19) and an inability to turn right when ordered, instead turning left. While not being the best on the parade ground, it seems unlikely that a front line infantry soldier could survive if he had been entirely ‘incompetent’. From Jones’ enlistment straight from art school in South London in 1915 until his discharge in 1918, he was on the Western Front for the longest period of any British war poet by some distance. Jones certainly didn’t survive by any calculated evasion of risk, often volunteering for night sorties into no-man’s land in order, according to his biographer Thomas Dilworth, to avoid the boredom of repairing trench walls and other fatigues or sentry duty.

Up until submitting the manuscript of ‘In Parenthesis’ Jones had not considered himself a writer, and had no intention of being one until he found himself writing when he was ill in bed and unable to paint. He had frequent doubts about the book, made hundreds of revisions, and greatly appreciated the encouragement of friends who had read excerpts. He was unable to paint while he concentrated on writing, being able to focus on one medium at a time, and this caused him great distress.

Roy Marshall, David Jones ‘In Parenthesis’

The new and selected collection coming in 2023 officially has a title: Wonder & Wreckage. I think I mentioned this in another post, but I’m too lazy to go back and look, so I’ll just tell you again. This isn’t going to be your usual new and selected collection. I’ve selected poems from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks along with work that has appeared in journals and mixed it all up with work no one has ever read to create a story arc that stretches from Atlanta to LA. It’s unapologetically dark and expands and reframes narrative arcs previously hinted at in my other collections. Consider it a director’s cut or perhaps — with a nod to Taylor Swift — Collin’s Version. 

There will be an initial print run of 300 signed and numbered copies from Poetry Atlanta Press, which will be available exclusively from me. There will be an online store for ordering. If you don’t want it signed, you’ll be able to order it from Amazon or, preferably, your local indie bookstore. 

This is likely my last collection of poetry, or at least the kind of poetry I’ve been writing for the last 30 years. This collection puts a period – a full stop – to a very long journey that is now coming to a close. I’ll still be writing poetry, but it will come to you in various forms and mediums. I feel further and further removed from the poetry industrial complex, so leaving the traditional/expected behind is a direction I’ve been headed for a couple of years now.

Collin Kelley, New collection, Pushcart nomination & health update

This past fall, I had the wonderful news that the city of St. Louis Park, Minnesota selected my poem above to be published as a piece of public art by being sandblasted into a sidewalk.

I still don’t know exactly where my poem is located, and I look forward to others enjoying it and telling me they’ve found it. Since I’m currently overseas, I have to rely on others to let me know they’ve been to the site. So if you’re in the area, I’d love to see a pic of your “soles rest[ing] on/ my feat of verse!”

Scot Slaby, Something Concrete

It was great to attend the British Haiku Society’s winter gathering yesterday, with members on zoom sharing photographs of a place that was special to them, along with an accompanying photograph. I’ve since turned mine (above) into a photo haiku so I could share it on the blog. The place is Hebden Bridge, or to be more specific, a tiny hamlet on the hills above the town. The photograph was taken about a month ago and shows the trees clinging to the hillside, just on the edge of the tree line really – there’s not a lot else after this wood but farm tracks and moorland. The soil is so thin it makes you wonder how the trees manage to cling on. Anyway, it was a fairly cold blustery walk that day, but beautiful all the same.

The BHS meeting also included a virtual ginko, using time lapse films to inspire us to write some haiku. This was a bit daunting as I suddenly felt under pressure to produce a poem that was worth sharing. However, I can highly recommend Daisuke Shimizu’s timelapse film of Fukushima if you want to do a virtual ginko of your own. And maybe a bit of pressure on the writing process is no bad thing. I managed to get three haiku from the session, none of them jaw-dropping, but I enjoyed the process.

Julie Mellor, falling leaves

You can’t “finish” any writing task, or so I tell my students and myself. Revising and proofreading are crucial, and if it’s high-stakes writing, you should make time to do that repeatedly, but at some point you just have to call it quits. There’s no such thing as perfection.

Knowing that, I still feel incredibly anxious when I hand in a final copy of a book ms, as I’ll do very soon for my essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I’ve been working on the damn thing for ten years. My editor has reviewed the whole ms, and several editors have reviewed sections of it for magazine publication. It’s in good shape. But this weekend I found a couple of typos we’d all missed; EVERY time I go through it, I find sentences to improve. Just yesterday, I noticed some inconsistencies in how I was using italics. Small potatoes, I know, but it always makes me wonder what else I’m not spotting or thinking of, or what useful secondary source I may have missed. A few years from now, I will think, “that was an unfortunate way to put it” or “I wish I had inoculated against that critique.” I have felt those regrets about every single book I’ve ever published.

Likewise, before each revision, I go through a crazy “clearing the decks” pre-work phase–as if I could ever get to the stage when every email has been responded to and every reference letter written. You can’t put off writing until nothing else is clamoring for your attention. You just have to stop attending to the other stuff for a while.

Lesley Wheeler, The impossibility of finishing anything

I mentioned to someone the other day that I was doing an online watercolor class, and they said, oh, they preferred to just keep stumbling around with their own experimentation. They seemed to think that taking a class in this artform would teach them what they SHOULD be doing — and they preferred not to know. This struck me.

I was glad it hadn’t occurred to me that knowledge is limiting. (I wonder when it was in my development that I learned to question everything, such that “shoulds” could always be undermined with “well, maybe, but explain to me why, and we’ll see.”) A little education certainly neither prevents nor even short-cuts fumbling around on one’s own. I took the class not thinking I was going to learn “how to paint in watercolor” but rather that I could learn some techniques, shortcuts, something to bridge my own internal gap between “wow, I’ll never be able to do that” to “oh, I think I can try that.”

I went to MFA-in-poetry school not to learn how to write poetry but to learn more about what other people have done in the history of writing poetry, both so I don’t falsely feel like I’m doing something groundbreaking when I’m not, but also so that I can build on/try different/do it again only with a twist/steal a good idea and make it my own. I mean, I have that MFA in poetry and still feel every day like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Marilyn McCabe, Leave those kids alone; or, On Learning “How” and Doing

First off, I take Larkin’s notorious eschewal of the aforementioned myth kitty not as a destination but as a point of departure. In other words, I do favour poems that don’t explicitly draw on and invoke classical mythology. However, it would be absurd not to recognise that all our reading and writing is shot through with our knowledge of myths.

As a consequence, when I write poems about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, about their triumphs and disasters, tragedies and comedies, qualities and flaws, many of their stories implicitly remind us of those same myths. This is inevitable and necessary. A renewed, highly personal myth kitty such as this doesn’t ignore what has gone before. Instead, it recognises our cultural baggage, enabling us to empathise and reflect on how classical stories are played out in contemporary settings.

Specific present-day scenarios are capable of refreshing the myth kitty via new perspectives. In my view, the implicit invocation of classical myth is therefore more powerful than explicit allusion, though it forces the poet to take a far greater risk instead of reaching for shortcuts that everybody immediately understands.

Matthew Stewart, Reflections on the myth kitty

[Rob Taylor]: Near the end of the book, you write that “i’ve decided not to tell / the whole story as i know it,” and soon after, “forgive me, i don’t remember… which lie i kept // which truth i made.” Could you talk about “the truth” in this book? How does its “truth,” recorded in poems, differ from the “truth” of autobiography?

[Salina Boan]: Two of my mentors, Sheryda Warrener and Aisha Sasha John, read my work-in-progress and pushed the manuscript into a new place. They reminded me that I had to put my guts (my whole self) into the work I was making; they could tell I had been holding back. This is where the spine or “truth” of a poem lies for me—at the emotional centre. That kind of truth is one that I feel in my whole body when I’m reading a brilliant poem. It can be hard to go into the places a poem might require. I struggled and worked hard to try and do that with the poems in this collection, while also maintaining my own boundaries about what it is I wanted to share.

I sometimes changed specific details in the book, or added images, to help build and create space for the emotional centre of a poem. Our memories are fluid and what one person remembers about an event, another will not; even within autobiographical non-fiction there is always a selected narrative, there is always something left out, or altered, there is always limitation. Towards the final stages of editing, I took out a lot of specific details, sometimes to the detriment of the poem, but I wanted to respect my own boundaries and the stories of people I love and care for. It is so important in my work that I am actively caring for the people I love alongside making work that is emotionally honest.

Rob Taylor, Speaking to my kohkum Through Dreams: An Interview with Selina Boan

I Pump Milk Like a Boss” [by Kendra DeColo] is a list poem about all the contortions mothers go through when trying to fit breastfeeding into their lives. I’m a sucker for a good list poem (and have written about Ray Bradbury’s take on lists and creativity), and DeColo’s poem doesn’t disappoint. It has enough repetition to remind me of the tedium inherent to the subject (the form serves the content, in other words), while mixing it up enough to keep it interesting.

DeColo mixes up more than the repetition in this poem; like Katie Manning does in “What to Expect”, DeColo also turns our expectations on their head. OK, maybe they’re just my expectations. I have lots of drama/trauma around breastfeeding, including its monotony, but I am fairly confident I’m not the only one who considered it a chore. The life-giving, loving task filled me with resentment, and I internalized my bad reaction to it as a sign that I was a bad person and a bad mother. Thankfully, DeColo doesn’t write that poem.

What she gives us instead is lactating mother as superhero.

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about the repetitive tasks of caregiving

The “Looking for Lorca” sequence has an epigram from Bly suggesting Lorca as a secret friend, someone you read and carry with you. The second poem, “What Does Life Want?” imagines having a drink with an imaginary Lorca,

“What does life want? A touch of winter consoles the green fizz
of August trees, toes dipped in snowmelt from the Sierra.
The cathedral’s bulk echoes with shouts of unborn children
chasing you down the river and mutes the angel-boy who sings
for coins in Calle Boabdil. When silence
stills the bells and the moon comes out
its chaste rose will scent the night,
silver these streets.”

It’s evocative with specific details and packed with ghosts suggesting a fluid boundary between past, present and future. Even in the silence, there’s still movement as fragrance of the flowers fills the air. It’s a sensual poem that doesn’t offer an answer, allowing readers to figure it out for themselves, which implies that life may want different things from different people and that’s how it should be.

Emma Lee, “Inscape” Kathleen Bainbridge (Vane Women Press) – book review

I remember sitting on my bed around 1995 , and wishing there was a way to share my poems. Not just poems, but books and images and music I was excited about. At the time, I didn’t really know about the internet (there were two computers that were AOL connected on the lab on the RC campus, but I was only using the lab to type papers and write-emails.) When my grad school professors at DePaul introduced us to the web for research purposes, I was shook. I dropped hours in the P&W forums between classes just listening to other writers chat. This still blows my mind sometimes, even two decades later. That this thing exists–that we get to talk to other in these spaces. As new platforms appear and dissolve, things shift, but I will always enthusiastically embrace new ways of connecting, whatever those are.

Kristy Bowen, on community and social media

I had some good news of my own this week – a Pushcart nomination (which the journal hasn’t announced yet, so I’m waiting to announce it) and two of my  manuscripts were semifinalists in a good book contest.

One of the manuscripts is fairly new, so I was really excited – the other is four years old, and so the semifinalist status felt less like a success. Isn’t that interesting? The four-year old manuscript has been a runner-up for the Dorset Prize (so close, but so far) and a close finalist at a few of the bigger publishers, so it’s so hard to keep getting “finalist” and “semifinalist” but no one willing to actually publish the damn thing. On the other hand, being a semifinalist with a new manuscript feels better, because it’s a sign the manuscript’s not totally a messed-up failure, right? So the whole thing felt bittersweet. Isn’t being a writer weird? Or it could just be me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Friend Wins the National Book Award, the Bittersweetness of being a semifinalist, Thanksgiving Poems and Holiday Decor Weirdness, Struggling with Author Photos

So, toward digging into your work. These words by Enrique Martinez Celaya from his book, On Art and Mindfulness:

“When doubts bring you down, go back to the work not with the intention of doing something great but of doing something that marks your presence, that affirms you exist. Do not let yourself remain absent.”

In her book Index Cards, Moyra Davey quotes Lisette Model, (and I come back to this page very often):

“We are all so overwhelmed by culture that it is a relief to see something which is done directly, without any intention of being good or bad, done only because one wants to do it.”

Later in the book, she talks about how the last thing anyone needs is more “product.”

Shawna Lemay, You Exist

To be that perfect exercise song, one that exorcises all boredom off the bone.

Home song, road song.

Drum hunger laying down a steady 4/4 of going all the way song.

Rich Ferguson, To be that song

It’s very difficult to put into words exactly what the transformation is, without making myself sound like a raging alcoholic, which I wasn’t, but I was definitely someone who used alcohol as a crutch and made light of it, a lot. I figured it was probably something that needed addressing when I was aware I was very quietly putting bottles into the recycling bin, so the neighbours didn’t hear the clang and smash and notice how many bottles there were. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t drunk a bit more than usual over the plague years, and I’m not embarrassed to say that over working, husband having a stroke etc within the context of the plague year probably pushed me over what was acceptable. But, I now drink much less. And it’s brilliant.

It sounds like it should be simple to achieve, drinking less booze, and it was in many ways, but addressing it, facing the anxiety without a couple of glasses of wine was not simple. I now drink less, which means I get to buy the nicer wine. I drink less, which means I get to enjoy the wine, really enjoy it. It is not the main focus of my evening, it is now an occasional part of my evening. I haven’t had a hangover for twelve weeks, I haven’t lost a weekend to recovering from Friday’s wine consumption for twelve weeks and guess what, when they tell you that alcohol makes your anxiety worse IT IS TRUE.

Wendy Pratt, Nature and Nurture

Washed clean by the autumn sun, and by the wind blowing from the fresh snow in the mountains, and by the serious rains rolling in over the Coast Range. This Indian summer of my life: I have never been so happy, or so at ease. An unexpected reprieve. May it come to all of us.

Dale Favier, An Unexpected Reprieve

listen – look 
in mid-autumn night’s stream
otter ripples

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 1

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.

Speaking of the Poetry Blogging Network, just as in previous years (including 2018’s Poetry Blog Revival Tour), the new year brings with it a renewed opportunity to join the blog roll, hosted this year again by Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli is currently off traveling, but told me that she’d be happy to add new people after she gets home on January 15. Leave a comment below her post with your blog URL.

This digest is my own labor of love and has no official connection with the network, which itself is obviously an informal grouping with no guiding committee or anything like that; it’s up to Kelli whether your blog qualifies or not. (And I don’t think frequency of posting is a condition for being listed, so even if you’re a once-in-a-blue-moon blogger, don’t be shy.) I do want to stress that I am not competitive about this, and would be frankly delighted if someone else decided to follow my lead and start their own weekly or monthly digest! I worry about my own biases, especially my preference for personal over informational blogging, exerting an influence over how people decide to blog. Regardless, please remember that the web is a community built and strengthened by links, so if you read a post by someone else in the Poetry Blogging Network that really resonates with you, consider linking to it from your own blog and not simply sharing the link on social media (though that’s important, too).


The freeze comes. We are buried in ice. An inescapable hardening takes
each one before we are ready: the fire of want our only remedy.

Dream: I worried about you on the roads, generously. Dream: you received it
with want, and gave it back. You knew what it meant. Why it mattered.

JJS, Travel Advisory

Something kind of magical is underway in my dining room. My husband, Michael Czyzniejewski, is putting the finishing touches on the first installment in the 2020 incarnation of Story366, the leap year blog where he reviews a different book of short stories every single day.

It was a big commitment when I witnessed it in 2016. Sometimes our family travel was interrupted by the need to stop at McDonald’s, with its reliable, password-free WiFi, and sit around eating ice cream while he finished a day’s installment. It was a whole-family commitment, and we are all proud of the fact that he never missed a day.

This year I thought I might try joining him with “Poem366”—not a blog of its own, but a feature within my existing blog. I don’t know if I’ll make it every day, and honestly, I don’t have quite as many recent poetry collections to choose from (feel free to send me an ARC for a recent poetry title—within 18 months—if you’d like to be considered, to karen.craigo@gmail.com). But as a sign of solidarity for Mike’s truly wonderful project, I’m going to give it a whirl.

One thing: I’m not aiming to do reviews. My plan is to offer appreciations—acknowledgements of what poets are doing well. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t own up to my sideways goal of finding some inspiration for my own work in the concerns and formal choices and imagery offered by other writers, so I’m looking for aspects of their work to love, rather than focusing on problems.

With all of that being said, here I go, but from the family room. You can hear a lot of tap-tap-tapping in my house right now, and since the younger kid is now able to amuse himself for an hour with a videogame, there’s a good bit of pew-pew-pewing as well.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Bulletproof by Matthew Murrey

Happy New Year’s Day 2020! I decided to make a list of things I’d like to accomplish in my writing life this year. I’ll revisit the list in December and see how I did.

Erica’s 2020 New Year’s Resolutions:
[…]

4. Improve my vocabulary. I recently reviewed Michael Kriesel’s wonderful book of abecedarian poems, Zen Amen. This book introduced me to many strange and intriguing words, i.e., “Xenogenesis,” “apperception,” “tetragrammaton,” and “zygomancy.” I’m not sure any of these will work themselves into a poem of mine, but just reading them stimulated my brain. I’m glad I encountered them.
5. Explore poetic forms. I’ve written a few ghazals, one or two sestinas, many pantoums, a villanelle or two, even an abecedarian. I’m always gratified with how the limitation of forms increases creativity. Forms I’d like to try: the golden shovel, gnomic verse, and contrapuntal poems.
6. Explore essay forms. I greatly enjoyed Vivian Wagner’s article about the “hermit crab essay,” which, to quote from the article, “takes the form of something un-essay-like—such as a recipe, how-to manual, or marriage license—and use this form to tell a story or explore a topic.” […]

Erica Goss, New Year’s Resolutions

I am about to say farewell – for six months at least, and probably twelve if I have the courage – to my Facebook account. It’s been a blast, and I’ve enjoyed the playtime with y’all and at its best, it’s provided the much-enjoyed warmth and wit of human contact, but I’ve noticed that the habit of reading I’ve developed in the past couple of years is, well, excessively casual. I want to get back to it: to get further in to sustained reading.

Something about Facebook appeases my preference for the quick fix rather than the long haul. It’s like (how can I put it?) going for a milkshake rather than taking time out to cook the perfect risotto.

I want to get back into some sustained writing too, and I received the perfect gifts for this purpose at Christmas:

A. A long, warm cardigan
B. A book writing kit: [image]

Liz Lefroy, I Deactivate My Facebook Account

It’s 2020, and time for a New Year’s post, a post from Vienna where the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and cold. As I wait here in the Vienna airport, I’m reflecting on the year ahead, specifically on my writing, which has faltered for the past few years while I’ve been living and working in Shanghai, China. I could say that the demands of the job at my highly selective private school keep me from writing, and there may be some small truth in that, but the reality is that to write so is an excuse.

And making excuses about not writing reminds of Elizabeth Cooper, a wonderful former Johns Hopkins instructor of mine who gave all of her students a parting gift — mine was a book — Sonnets edited by William Baer — and she inscribed it with “Just do it!” making it clear to me that she was sick of my excuses about how busy I was teaching, rearing children, etc. I think of that gift now while waiting here, having just learned that several days ago, our family drove right by the summer home of Auden without even knowing it.

Time. Not enough of it. Never enough of it.

Scot Slaby, A New Year’s 2020 Post from Vienna

The really beautiful things in life might be discovered only when we allow our focus to drift  – from what we thought we were here for.

Improvisation is saying yes. And then looking for the openings, escapes, alternatives out of the corners of our eyes. There is so much to be said for deviating from one’s own “yes” with a “this, too”. Doing it with ease – without an awkward pinch of panic –  takes practice.

In 2020 I wish to be immersed in my own life. And have the wisdom to recognize its potential as more than a curriculum vitae: My life’s work is not my life’s art. And, well, if work is for others, it would follow it would be for others to define from their own perspectives.

I ran an art gallery for a while and found that the work I liked immediately, was the work I quickly grew bored with. It was the work that sparked ambivalence in me that would fascinate me. Unresolved experiences provide a unique kind of satisfaction. It requires participation and a kind of dialogue with the bigger world.

So today, the beginning of an arbitrarily-defined new year, a new decade, I am fine.

Ren Powell, The Overview of Burning Hearts 2020

2019 was a good year for books but a weird year for reading. For pleasure, work, and mood-medicine, I read constantly, but it’s been different lately: my poetry rate is typical, but fiction and I have had some problems. I couldn’t finish things, or I read multiple books in alternating fragments, concentration flickering. I received less solace from them.

What worked best for me were predictable genres: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction. I’ve heard others say that they’re overworking and sad about politics, so the more escapist a book turned out to be, the better. That’s true for me, too, but personal stresses have diluted my attention even further. On the happy side, reading Shenandoah subs takes time and energy I used to devote to reviewing. I’m also launching my fifth poetry collection and my debut novel next year, and an essay collection in 2021. Good LORD did I reread and revise those mss, over and over, and when you’re reading your own pages you have less time for others’.

I still read and admired lots of poetry collections–many of those listed in “best of 2019” articles, and also small-press volumes by Erin Hoover, January O’Neil, Kyle Dargan, Martha Silano, Amy Lemmon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ned Balbo, Jeanne Larsen, Niall Campbell, Hai-Dang Phan, Paisley Rekdal, and Oliver de la Paz. I reviewed Franny Choi’s Soft Sciencefor Strange Horizons.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading by the glow of a year on fire

As ever, I wish I had more to say for myself. I didn’t publish much in 2019, and submitting is time consuming so rather neglected. I read fewer books and few deeply impressed me. It could be the quality of my attention. More about that in a day or two (since I still have about 28 hours to add a book to my tally). Mostly I was working, or traveling or cleaning birdshit off my balcony.

Creatively, the biggest accomplishment of the year was finishing my book, Hotel Almighty, which is due next summer. I had a July deadline to have all the pieces finished so I had some intense months making or redoing poems. Nothing left but to be nervous about publication. […]

Now that I don’t have an overarching project in front of me, I want to be free to experiment with poetry, collage and embroidery and not feel like it all has to end up as some kind of Meisterwerk. My resolution is to get on with it and not be precious about things. Sometimes I won’t use an image in a collage because I’m ‘saving’ it for something stupendous! But when the stupendous thing is going to happen. . .

Sarah J Sloat, Where I was

The trick is
to let slip
the ladder

that brought you
climbing to this
point. Unknot it,

let it fall away.
Then reach up
through the half-

dark and flick
the latch and let
the shutter fall.

Dick Jones, The Trick

So, I did it. I retired at the end of November. I will turn 70 in February and would have waited until then, but I had a higher calling; I traveled to New York to spend a month with my niece who delivered a sweet baby boy on 12/5/19. I returned and worked 4 days last week, so retirement is somewhat of a misnomer. I have let go of my panel of patients but will still be working in the clinic from time to time as a per diem staff. If you’ve ever had a provider (I’m a nurse practitioner) leave you, think about it in reverse. It was hard, people. Hard, but it was time. Also, I got a haircut.

My writing life was active throughout 2019. I continued working as an editor of Headmistress Press; published poetry book reviews at The Rumpus and other venues; started a website for publishing reviews of poetry chapbooks; had a few poems published, and the usual amount of rejections. In January I took a workshop with Aracelis Girmay at the West Palm Beach Poetry Festival; took a workshop with Carl Phillips in July at the Port Townsend Writers Conference; and spent a weekend with friends at Poets on the Coast. I have a manuscript that I am shopping around.

Upon retirement, I immediately thought about publishing an anthology of work by retired women. Poetry and short prose. Will need a snappy name for that, if you have any suggestions. Tentatively, I’ve got: Tired and Retired: An anthology of writings by women over 65. I’m looking for a publisher.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Checking In

I guess this was a success, since I’m already planning how to get more rejections in 2020. But as always, I was surprised during this year of rejections by the way some of them broke my heart and others rolled right off me. In general, the 100-rejections practice helped take the sting out of them; when collecting them was a goal, it changed my feelings about them a little. (“Rejection? Great! Put it on the list!”) That said, it didn’t mean I enjoyed getting rejecting any more than usual. This system is not a magic antidote; it’s more like desensitization. But, as I always tell young writers when I do presentations for them, this kind of desensitization is your friend. If you’re the kind who wants to rip up every rejection letter and mail it back to the editor in a Sharpie-scrawled envelope, you’re going to get very tired of doing that when they’re coming in at this rate. You log them in and move on and send out more, and that’s what takes up a lot of time in a writer’s daily life.

Which brings up the question: When do you have time to write when you’re beating your brains out sending out all those submissions? I didn’t actually find that to be a problem; I continued my usual practice of doing two month-long writing marathons in April and August, and I sent out fewer submissions during those months because I was concentrating on a lot of writing. Through the rest of the year, I wrote about the same number of poems as usual, as well as some essays. So I guess the answer is that the writing still takes first priority; the submitting time, for me, ended up pushing something else out of the way, like Netflix or yard work. Which reminds me, please steer clear of my yard. While I was sending out submissions, I think skunks moved in there.

Amy Miller, 100 Rejections: Pain or Gain?

I think it’s incumbent on all of us in any sort of leadership position to confront, understand, and manage our own anxiety, or we cannot be effective leaders for positive change, so that is one place to start. We need to form groups, both informal and formal, for discussion and action toward positive change in our institutions and communities — the places where we can make a difference. When we are actually doing something, instead feeling helpless, isolated, and afraid, life begins again, creativity begins again, renewal happens, hope is created, and people are attracted to join us.

And surely, there is a lot that urgently needs to be done and can be done by ordinary people, without the aid or interference of governments.

When I was traveling in Greece, I kept overhearing people at ancient sites saying things like, “Well, my friend likes this, but to me, it’s just a pile of rocks,” while others were avidly exploring and trying to understand what they were seeing. Life is always like that, I think. We can look out at the ancient agora — real or metaphoric — and see ruins built by dead people that are a mere backdrop for yet another selfie, or we can use our imaginations and see beauty, lessons from the past, and potential for the future, which is — I am quite certain — the desired legacy of the thinkers and creative people of previous, equally fraught times, who were human beings very much like ourselves.

What inspires you? What fills you with awe? What do you want to see preserved for the future? Where can you give hope, or lend a hand? Where do you need hope and encouragement yourself? How can we help each other in the coming year?

Beth Adams, Thoughts for the New Year

Russell Hoban changed the way I think about the world. It started when I met him at a NATE Conference some time in the 1970s. Breakfast. He was smoking roll-ups, Old Holborn, and eating All-Bran, was Mr Hoban. He was fulminating about the teachers in his writers workshop who had asked if they could have a coffee break. “What do they think writing’s about…a leisure pursuit?”…I’m paraphrasing. He was wonderful company.  […]

After I met him, I discovered The Mouse and his Child. I’ve read it dozens of times, often when life feels unbearably bleak. It never fails to relight your faith in the human condition and the power of hope combined with love and endurance. It’s a story of a quest for self-winding, undertaken by a clockwork mouse and his child. You’d think it would be twee and sentimental. It isn’t. It’s profound, layered. Magic realism doesn’t do it justice. It sits very comfortably (or uncomfortably) alongside Angela Carter’s The magic toyshop. Saved by a tramp from the dustbin (where they’ve been thrown after being broken by a cat) they’re sort-of-mended and wound up, set down on the road and left to find their destiny. Just buy it and read it. Your life will be better.

You may even find yourself, as we did, collecting wind-up toys and bringing them out every Christmas. You might even find yourself making special boxes for them. And writing poems. So here we are, taking down the Christmas tree and the angels and lights and tinsels, and maybe lighting a candle for Russell Hoban and for the Mouse and his Child. Happy New Year

John Foggin, Last post…..for a bit

yesterday the beginning of 2020 the power flickered on and off (54 mph winds most of the day) and I listened to the racket (and my house being pummeled and thumped by pine cones and tree branches)  (at one point an actual crack! signaling a large limb had broken off somewhere in my woods) and I wrote (a. poem.) and read (Dana Levin’s brutal and gorgeous Sky Burial) and showered (quickly) and ran the washing machine (also quickly) and ate (red beans dirty rice cornbread) and watched a series that came out in 2014 that I had downloaded onto my computer (The Leftovers and holy shit) I did not go outside (flying debris) and the wind continued into nightfall (bringing a thunderstorm to round things out) but I slept through until morning (with weirdo dreams) and today I made it to the beach to consider the destruction (and raw power and beauty) and now I am going out into the actual known world (mockingbird wish me luck)

Rebecca Loudon, The new

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
She blends in nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

By 2019, I began to figure out that I just needed to pull back and to do so purposefully (i.e. let myself off the hook for all the things I wasn’t doing). And so I did. I managed, for almost a full year, to have nearly zero expectations for my creative life.

But as anyone who goes through these cycles knows, eventually some shiny object grabs your attention and warms you back up to the idea of jumping back in. For me, it was the 100-book poetry reading project I kicked off in late August. I told myself if I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) write, I could at least read. I wrote a little bit about how that began to open me back up here. I can also say it inspired me to return to blogging, which has always been part of my creative process.

Carolee Bennett, poetry goals for 2020

I think I always include that I want to blog more, but this past year, I actually hit this one out of the park.  I had upward of 250 posts–a high not seen since 2007 (and given, in those years, I used the blog much like I do social media now, this year’s crop are definitely more full-bodied content). I’d like to aim for blogging daily.  It’s probably not that tenable given general life things.  But it’s a noble endeavor.  It might be as simple as being a little more intentional in my content-planning and having a ready list of things to write about so that when I have time, it’s just a go.

Kristy Bowen, hello 2020 | writing goals

He [James Schuyler] had me at ‘Empathy’. That is my wish for 2020.

I went on a course about it, once. All I can remember is what they said at the beginning. Empathy costs a lot of time, but will save you so much more.

So that is my wish for myself, for 2020, that I can learn better to show it to others; for the managerial and political class of this country, that they might learn to listen better to the concerns of people’s lives and desist from othering those who are already vulnerable and marginalised; and to the barista where I buy my coffee I want to say thank you -because you are a living model to us all of what empathy is, daily, hidden in plain sight beneath your wonderful smile. I know it costs you. But I have noticed it.

Anthony Wilson, Empathy and New Year

On New Year Day, I always pick my favorite things to do, as a guarantee that I will do them all year long.  I was busy: revising, sending out manuscripts, eating healthy food choices; drinking 6-9 glasses of water per day;  received my first rejection; but, also 4  of my new 100 word stories were accepted; reading; watching a new TV shows, which will fall to the wayside as soon as the semester begins.  But Flirty Dancing was fun to watch.  Although, I did feel badly for the dance partners that didn’t get picked for a second date; and happened upon another show called Almost Family.  It’s complicated, nearly finished the scarf I have been knitting, using all leftover yarns from previous made scarves.  It’s fun and very warm, and I may keep it for myself. I did dishes and put things away, and took a warm shower. Tried to go see Little Women but the theater was sold out. I really want to see this film.  Maybe today, or tomorrow.

M. J. Iuppa, In the year 2020 . . .

new year
the wren as busy as ever
gone in an instant

Jim Young [no title]

There is a phrase I toyed with in French many years ago: “le ciel, c’est assis sur mes sourcils.” The sky is sitting on my brows. That famous gray Paris sky was hovering close to my head during winters when we lived there. I bemoaned the lack of sun which only appeared at the sunset in a slant flash at horizon’s edge.

The phrase sounds fine in English too, with a gentle tweak: “the sky is sitting on my eyelids.” The disillusion, the dark atmosphere of the US last year felt by far more oppressive than it did under the zinc roofs in Paris. The toxicity of news and social media made me want to retreat; the isolation made me wonder how to go out. The trapped feeling, the negative voice seeps into the bones.

Early 2020 extended its hand, asking to put me on its dance card. Mais oui! I danced like a fool, dipping, spinning and getting breathless with fancy footwork. Instead of gravity, more light! So here’s to releasing Dionysian energies. To staying in touch with the body, clearing the mind and welcoming whatever passes, bright, dark and otherwise. Here’s to sanity, my friends, and here’s to equal doses of delirium, to love, to dwelling in the crazy ether of being together.

Jill Pearlman, Dionysian 2020

Don’t be mislead by the cover – Swimming Home isn’t the ‘holiday read’ those yellow umbrellas might seem to imply. It’s a beautifully episodic book, placing a great deal of emphasis on imagery to build up an unsettling drama where so much of what’s going on is glimpsed below the surface. In the afterword, Tom McCarthy says: ‘her fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than about the interzone (to borrow Burroughs’s term) it set up in which desire and speculation, fantasy and symbols circulated’.

I think it’s fair to say the interzone is where a lot of poetry dwells too, which is perhaps why I was so taken with this novel. And that other interzone, of being abroad, in a half-familiar city, in a different frame of mind to the one I usually have when I’m in the 9-5 routine of work, that surely impacted on my reading of it as well. So, here’s to the interzone, and the hope that I can visit again soon.

Julie Mellor, Books and Bagels

Constructing stories of our days and lives is something we humans seem to do innately. It seems to be how we make sense of life and the passage of time, and how we connect to each other, each of us tumbling around in the tempests of our own teacups.

But we can also be stuck in a story. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about a “narrative” and “changing the narrative,” and in many ways, it’s a wise realization — that what we believe transcribes what is possible. If our story of our own situation is limiting, it seems entirely possible that we are limiting our situation and story, that if we edited our story, we might shift our understanding, we might open up possibilities.

Marilyn McCabe, Sing it sing it; or, Telling the Daily Story

I tend to start off each year with high hopes for what I’ll be able to achieve — and 2019 was no different. But looking back, the first half of the year was a struggle for me. Having set myself a single goal for the year, I was pushing and punishing myself to finish a novel that wasn’t connecting for me. That frustration overshadowed a lot of my work and my perception of my value as a writer.

When people asked me what I was up to, I often answered that I was hermiting — which sounds like a purposeful withdrawal from word in order to delve into self reflection. However, in reality, I was hiding, too timid to come out of my shell.

But recent months have been more positive. Letting go of the need to finish the novel was the wisest decision I made, providing a huge sense of relief. Subsequently participating in National Novel Writing Month and allowing myself space to dive into a new story and just enjoy the process of writing was a giant boon for me. The work was no less difficult, but the joy of writing was more present.

Andrea Blythe, Reflecting on My Work in 2019

The session was a 90 minute combination of yoga, guided meditation and journaling exercises designed to lead each of us to what would become a personal guiding word for 2020. The logic was that we can easily shed a resolution by screwing up and then feeling we have failed move on leaving it behind.

Out of my session, there were a series of words that flowed out of my journaling and meditation and the more meaningful ones came down to fulfillment, focus, vision, and authentic.  I have not as of this moment centered in on one word. Kristin, our instructor said some people actually use a couple or three words to carry with them throughout the year. I would like to minimize this as much as possible. 

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 BLUEPRINT

When I started the butterfly garden, I fully expected the plants to be dead by August.  I think of myself as not being good at keeping plants or any living things flourishing.  I need to change that inner narrative.  When I arrived at work yesterday, all the milkweed plants were in full bloom.  Some of the other plants are scraggly, but they may make a comeback.  Yesterday, a monarch butterfly flitted across the plants.

The butterfly garden has given me joy every day.  Setting out bread and treats for students has given me joy most days.  I love creating events and book displays for the library and bulletin boards.  The days when the writing goes well–sheer joy.  Sketching–also joy.  Having bread in the oven and coffee brewing makes me happy–as does a cup of tea at work when the work coast is calm.  Let me keep remembering these delights.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 2019:  A Look Back

My Twitter feed usually has very little politics, a range of writing news and announcements, nature pictures, and definitely no hellscapes, but this week has been different. I must have a lot of friends in New Zealand and Australia, because pictures of Hell-colored red air and smoke have been prominent on my timeline, along with fights about Iran and war. I’ve been writing about apocalypses for a while (see: Field Guide to the End of the World) but it’s always surprising to see how fast the apocalypses might be approaching on the horizon.

So what do you write when WWIII is trending? It’s not wise to get your news solely from social media, so I’ve been avoiding social media for things like reading and I’ve been checking in with my mom and dad back in Ohio to. I’m tackling my reading stack from the books I got for the holidays. I’ve been writing poems that try to make sense of the chaos.  Which is impossible, of course.

I went back to some older books, books by older authors like Stella Gibbons and Karen Blixen, which helped me remember that in the 1920s, there was irrational exuberance in the stock market, decadence and flappers and a wonderful proliferation in the art and writing world, and they were about to face World War II and the Great Depression. I went back to some of the books that helped me become the writer I am today, fairy tale and mythology writings that talk about how we tell stories, and why they’re important. 

As writers, we can do one thing: we can document the world, our world, the specifics – the moods, the visuals, the attitudes. We can try to capture the moment, whatever that moment entails. That doesn’t mean we contain or control it – but at least we can offer perspective, a point-of-view, an account from the ground, so to speak.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Wishing for a Better 2020: a Death in the Family, What to Write When WWIII is Trending, and Speculative Poetry Reading This Saturday

For Oppen, as he continues in this poem, poetry begins “neither in word / nor meaning but the small / selves haunting // us in the stones…”  It is nothing more than that, but “is less / always than that…”  This “less” seems to deliberately undercut the mystique of the poetic process – it is not the grandiose, hieratic conception of the “Poet” put forth by the Romantics.  Poetry is something enacted within human society.  At the same time, there is certainly a relationship between man and the natural world, which we get in the ensuing words: “help me I am / of that people the grass // blades touch…”  Here there is a sense of the fragility of human life in the face of uncivilized nature, but also of a connection in that touching of the grass blades.  For Oppen, there is a dynamism in this relationship, a vitality important not only for life itself but which can also be a catalyst for poetry.  The conclusion of this piece – “and touch in their small // distances the poem / begins” – again implies this connection however “distant.”

Michael S. Begnal, George Oppen’s “if it all went up in smoke”

In these last few minutes of the first day of 2020, I took Ken’s suggestion to try magnetic poetry. It’s quite interesting what emerged. [image]

Here Together

I am luscious
like pink soaring seas
light as honey
drunk from raw language
frantic in sweet milk

Charlotte Hamrick, Magnetic Poem

May we raise parade floats of truth above the white noise.

Construct monuments to being and belief, reason and relief.

Build phone booths with a direct connection to introspection.

Press all the buttons on the elevator of presence, stop at every floor of enlightenment.

Elevation before degradation, solutions before contusions.

Joyously pulse the blood of song through our beings. And just like that: 1-2-3-4.

Make breath a beat, make breath a beat.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Rich Ferguson, When Ringing in 2020

Evening. The moon
hovers. The blinds

are drawn. Still
the fallen petals,

their lingering
scent, this moment

to be kept.

Tom Montag, AFTER THE CHINESE MASTERS

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 3

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, many of the poetry bloggers I follow have been reflecting on the life and poetry of Mary Oliver — more even than I’ve included below. Not too many snobs in this corner of the poetry world, it seems. (But really, how can you not admire poetry of such subtlety and power?) Others wrote about such perennial topics as what they’ve been reading, how they’ve been teaching, the practice of writing, and the business of being a poet.


Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another.

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

[Andrea] Wulf’s book [The Invention of Nature] begins as a biography of [Alexander] Humboldt but closes with several chapters on others who were inspired by his work; she makes the claim that Humboldt’s ideas about the deep connectedness of everything on earth laid groundwork for environmentalists and the discipline of ecology. Indeed, Darwin, Thoreau, Marsh, Muir, and many others found his texts revelatory and transformative. His writing is supposedly poetic and emotional–he did not think the earth and its denizens deserved less than awe and appreciation. Even though his books are packed with measurements, comparisons, careful botanical descriptions, and minute observations of practically everything he encountered, he allows space for admiring the view. Or, so Wulf’s book says. Now, I suppose I shall have to do a bit of reading Humboldt!
~
Along these lines, the lines of the natural world’s connectedness and relationships–ourselves among these, despite our frequent destruction of them–I find myself thinking of the recent death of poet Mary Oliver. I so admire the work and the woman, or what little I knew of her from a few appearances and through friends who studied with her. My social media feed has been alive with tributes, postings of her poems, and some critique about her standing as an American poet, as if that would matter to her (I doubt it would).

I can just make note that her poems have encouraged me to continue to write about nature, even when I’ve been told nature poets are unfashionable, uninteresting, or unnecessary. Her work taught me how to observe closely, like Aristotle at the tidal pools or Haeckel peering at radiolaria. First notice, listen; then describe, then try to obtain more information, and all the while percolate what experience has created within the observer herself. Maybe nothing earth-shattering comes of the process, but sometimes  there’s a poem…

Ann E. Michael, Observations

I heard her speak at Seattle University about five years ago. She was as generous a speaker as I have ever heard. She told us how she trains herself to write and how she’s kept going over the long haul.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Write about it.

These lines are imprinted on my course syllabus and I hope, give my students the sense that poetry is for all of us. They worry so much that they are not creative enough, that their vocabulary isn’t as big as the universe. I try to tell them that they just have to enjoy; just have to have a conversation with themselves. I need to share more Mary Oliver with them.

Here’s a recent interview with Oliver that I read today. It’s time to go out for a walk.

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

I don’t think I had ever read [Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”] before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it’s not a poem that encourages us to hedonism–no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn’t realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we’d been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver’s work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving–and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short–easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It’s a theology of love and respect. It’s a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It’s a theology that tells us we don’t have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It’s a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It’s a theology so understated that many readers likely don’t even recognize it as a theology.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

Many of the people who I saw mourning Oliver’s passing yesterday were not members of capital P Po-Biz. They were just folks who ran across a handful of Mary’s poems when they needed a lifeline, when they needed a poem that said you are part of this world, your life is precious. These people felt seen by Mary Oliver. They carried her poems on folded-soft paper in their wallets, taped them to their computer monitors, and probably never bought a copy of one of her books.

Mary Oliver had little to do with Po-Biz. I always appreciated that about her. She wanted to be outside in the wild wind more than she wanted to stand in front of adoring crowds. A goodly number of the Po-Biz world looked down their noses at Mary Oliver’s work. Some of that had to do with the fact that she was a woman, a lesbian, a person who didn’t often go to glitzy parties. They said she was soft, sappy, a (god-forbid) nature poet.

Yesterday, I looked at the world a little differently because of Mary Oliver’s passing. Yes, the world felt less observed, as if a spark of love for it had guttered. But also, I thought of all the times I was warned off writing about the natural world. Poems I’ve written about trees have been held up in workshop to ridicule. Even folks in the “eco-poetry” world have suggested that my poems need more of a call to action about the environmental crisis. These are the same folks who dismissed Oliver.

I’m not arguing that everything Mary Oliver wrote was genius. But, I am beginning to connect the dots in the denigration of women (soft, gentle, spiritual, accessible, adjectives used to signify not serious), the destruction and desacralization of the natural world, and some of the poetry that is lauded in our current Po-Biz culture. And I am thinking deeply about the (at this moment) 601 people who shared the graphic I made of Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” on social media. How deeply we need to be reminded of astonishment, of our duty (dare I say sacred?) to share with each other what will buoy.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

Last night I finished Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter, from Small Beer Press. My favorite bits from the writing of her last decade were an essay called “Disappearing Grandmothers,” a diary of her time at our local Writer’s Retreat Hedgebook on Whidbey Island, “Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf” (whose letters I have been reading,) and some of her reviews, including Philip K. Dick. Quick quote from “Disappearing Grandmothers:”

“We really can’t go on letting good writers be disappeared and buried because they weren’t men, while writers who should be left to rot in peace are endlessly resurrected, the zombies of criticism and curriculum, because they weren’t women.”

I get the feeling I would really have gotten along with Ursula. And her commentary on Virginia Woolf made me realize why I’d been picking up her writings again – she really did have a way of approaching old subject matter in a singular way. I’m learning a lot from reading non-living writers, and coincidentally, a friend just sent me a collection by Mary Oliver, who recently passed away. Of course, we should appreciate and cheer our living writers, both friends and heroes, too! But it does feel fascinating to be reading letters from Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and essays by Ursula Le Guin – like the most terrific conversation with women writers across time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Star*Line, Supermoon Eclipses, A Little Seattle Color, and Surviving January by Reading Writers’ Words on Writing

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

First, you should know, I actually love reading other poets letters. Many many years ago, I read Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell’s and Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters (note: there is are many more Zelda letters than F. Scott given that Zelda didn’t bother to keep many of his letters–a fact I find rather funny and it worked for me because I have always been a little more interested in Zelda anyway). 

What I love? How Sylvia sometimes signs her letters “Sivvy,” and how as I read her letters I get a better since of her voice.  I love her boring details such as “I’d love vitamins! I’m convinced everything the British sell is without nourishment whatsoever” and “The Rice’s sent us the strangest Christmas card!…an ominous rhyme with all sorts of mixed metaphors. Well, no doubt they have good intentions.”

For me, this is my favorite parts of reading letters–the details of all of it. Plath’s words bring me into her world–which was SO Ted focus–(note: this is a LONG book, so I’m still just dabbling through it), but Ted this is and Ted got a poem here and … it’s a reminder how so much of Plath’s life was catering to Ted. Even one letter her has her telling her inlaws she made Ted eggs before sending him off.

I see the struggle as well as the joy in her writing and I can get lost in this different time very easily.

Kelli Russell Agodon, What I’m Reading… @MichelleObama @JenniferWeiner & Sylvia Plath Letters

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”
— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That’s a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

So much drama in the Twitter writing community lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We claim to be supportive, understanding, solid. We say we support emotional and mental illness or distress. We exclaim our inclusiveness and support for diversity. We’re open-minded……until someone’s opinion isn’t in line with ours. Or someone’s emotional state leads them to do/say something unacceptable or questionable. There’s no understanding or forgiveness then. Apologies are ignored and a lifetime of goodness rejected. And Twitter stays on the soap box for days and days and days, gaining momentum as it goes. I try hard to stay out of the drama and I try hard not to condemn the condemners. I don’t want to be that person. But, obviously, the whole situation bothers me. The hive mind can be a judgmental thing.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

the wound and it isn’t
there. No scar, no scab,
no knife. Shadows that mute

and marble light like waves
under water. Shadows
that blunt and block, black.

Shadows that stab the light
like spines of a cactus.
The thin blade of dusk

that separates sand from
dark. Bright at my back,
eyes that glitter and close.

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

The one class I teach on Fridays, Protest Poetry, was also hard. On Wednesday I’d taught poems about the death of Malcolm X and while most of our discussion was productive, there had been a couple of bad moments–nothing ill-meaning, but students making insensitive comments as they thought aloud about deliberately disturbing poems. I had anticipated the need to discuss a homophobic slur in Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts,” and that went fine, but I hadn’t anticipated pushback, for instance, against anger itself. (We’d been reading about Emmett Till, the Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, a mounting death toll and litany of abuses–in what world is anger not inevitable and utterly just?–but as present politics continue to teach us, we don’t all live in the same world, and many of the students in my classroom are like Ursula, full of verve but not yet alert to the reality of other perspectives.) I responded in the moment, but in retrospect I realized I hadn’t responded strongly enough. So I began with an apology, asked the students to freewrite about a recent time they felt angry and what they did about it, then handed out “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde. The discussion that followed was raw, messy, respectful, persistently oblivious, emotional, and awe-filled by turns, and I ended up having a couple of intense follow-ups with students afterwards. It didn’t do all the necessary work but it was a start.

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.
I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I  often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As [Eric] Maisel says [in Fearless Creating]: ‘Working means starting’ (p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’. That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

I haven’t felt like doing much but now I’m coming back to life and revisiting old notebooks.  I’m beginning to assemble new poems.  I finished my commission for Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes and I think that some of the poems I wrote for this project will sit well in my next book.  My poem ‘To Bring Me Luck’ about older women and ageing might also belong there.  At this stage, I’m gathering poems and being open-minded about a possible theme.  I would dearly love my next book to feel coherent and thematic and my aim is to be able to articulate this.  I recognise that I really struggle with explaining to anyone what my work is about.

One thing is sure: I feel more determined about shaping my next book but that isn’t to say that I’m trying to force a theme upon it.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

Have you ever wondered what it costs to be a poet? This year, I am tracking my readings: earnings (or lack thereof), expenses, book sales, etc. in an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, I’ve always done a bit of that for tax purposes. But what does it really cost to travel to a reading, not receive any payment, and sell one or two books? I’m keeping the numbers and making comments about each activity. I really want to know how much the effort is worth in the life cycle of a poetry collection. Here are some questions I want to know in the first year of a book’s publication:

1. Of the books I bring to readings, how many do I sell?
2. Will I peak in sales in my region, but decline towards year’s end? How can I counteract that?
3. How many readings do I participate in annually? How many free readings? 
4. If I cover travel and expenses, does that cancel out the stipend?

Put aside that poetry is an art, and it is a privilege to participate in this community. I’m looking at the numbers.

Will update you in a few months. April seems appropriate. 

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Marilyn McCabe, How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work