Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: love and chocolate, the return of light, bringing scarecrows to life, the cost of beauty, and much more. Enjoy,

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 5

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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

This week: a journey to the underworld, an allotted plot, becoming your own god, finding joy as a writer, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This edition begins and ends with small trees, and features tongue fire, a dandelion seed, a shirt soaked with life, little pooping monsters, and magic shoes, among other signs and wonders. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, poets were visionary, resolute, hunkering down, easing back into the grind. Some evinced minds of winter, while others dreamed of warmer times and climes. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Poetry Blogging Network

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

Poetry Blogging Network

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

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

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


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: change and other challenges, the life of the text, book launches, unanswerable questions, and much more. Enjoy.


I read an article yesterday (it scarcely matters about what.) Afterwards I spent a long while working on a terrible poem. Righteous indignation is not a good motivator for poetry. But the news so often fills me with grief and fury. Everyone I know is living close to the emotional boiling point, these days.

We haven’t wholly grieved [a] global pandemic, and meanwhile climate disasters intensify (and climate deniers pretend), and democracy is under attack, and the state where I was born is making it illegal to drive on state roads if one’s purpose is to escape to a safe state for reproductive health care —

— and how many of us live with all of this simmering in our hearts and minds most of the time? It’s no wonder that even when we’re doing all right, it feels like we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Still, that’s no excuse for terrible poetry, so the poem in question will remain locked away.

Rachel Barenblat, Untie

As summer begins to give way to autumn here in New Jersey, six new poem signs of mine are on display outside the Hopewell Branch of the Mercer County Library System — three out front, and three around back.

As Election Day approaches and the landscape becomes cluttered with campaign signage, I like to imagine someone noticing these poem signs and thinking “Wait — what?” LOL!

Vote for … poetry?

Bill Waters, Autumn Poetry @ MCL, 2023

As we come into fall, the cicadas are loud outside and constant from the afternoon into the evenings. As soon as the heat clears, it will no doubt feel more like autumn and I’ll probably feel that same excitement that occurs every year, beholden to the academic calendar or not. That new seriousness in new projects and maybe a push to finish others. Every year around now for years, my parent’s house would be overflowing with harvested tomatoes. On the deck, piled on tables and counters and in baskets. A few days in the overheated kitchen and she would turn them into jars of salsa.  I feel like I am still in my gathering phase when it comes to new poems–piling them in a basket and hoping for cooler weather and a greater sense of urgency. 

Kristy Bowen, beginnings and endings

Even close observers find it hard to discern changes around them when those changes are gradual. In the real world our attention is far more distracted. We miss subtle differences, even though noticing something “ordinary” as the sky impacts (and reflects) our mood and attitude.   

Consider most people in human history. Chances are they were good at noticing. When a person spends time gathering food, hunting for game, weaving baskets, or engaged in myriad other hands-on tasks their minds have plenty of time to wander, wonder, and notice. It’s likely they were tuned to sights and sounds and changing seasons, connected to (and sometimes buffeted by) history’s encroachments. It would have been the same for those living 10 generations before them as it would continue to be for 10 generations after them.

In contrast, we’re tuned to a far more frenetic pace, so much so that with each screen scroll and each multitask we wire our brains to expect more distraction. To need more distraction. How do we use our in-between moments, those times when we might wonder and notice? We distract ourselves. People get out phones when standing in line, put a movie on for kids in the car, go for a walk or run with earbuds in, scroll social media while hanging out with friends or family. These behaviors are ubiquitous yet also significant changes to the norm from just a generation ago. […]

I saw the video opening this post thanks to Rob Walker, author of a marvelous book: The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday. He writes, “Small change, and the ability to spot it, matters. These small changes, over time, often turn out to be a lot more important than today’s flashy distraction. What’s the smallest change you can notice this week?”

Laura Grace Weldon, Noticing Change

What we lack of information, we frame
as conjecture. Imagine

how puzzle pieces fit
together or not at all, how a missing space
can have the sheen on the inside

of an oyster shell. It takes work,
even skill, to pry them open—

The waters salt them by degrees, leach
the taste of place into them.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Short History of Oysters on the Eastern Shore

Louisiana is a mystery to me. It feels like a puzzle I will never know enough to solve or adequately describe. I suppose any place is to someone from outside of it, if you scratch even just a little bit below the surface of its food, language, and tourist attractions. Our weeks there were challenging and hard for me in so many ways: physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. I loved having extended time with Cane’s family, with whom I felt moments of true joy and ease, but disorientation and disequilibrium were far more common. I remember telling my students more than once that learning is often uncomfortable and can even be painful. I learned a lot in our time there. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of my husband and his family, of our country and its people, and of what it means to love.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The work of our hands

The graffiti on the NJ and NY Palisades sent a thrill through my childish mind and body. I first recall seeing words spray-painted on the cliffs when I was under age five and barely cognizant of letter forms. The view puzzled and frightened me, partly because of the heights (I was acrophobic from a very early age) and partly because I had no idea what those huge, high-up letters signified. When I got to kindergarten and began deciphering letters, the graffiti confused me because it contained signs that weren’t in the alphabet I was learning at school: Ω, Φ, the scary-looking Ψ; θ, Δ, and Σ, which resembled a capital E but clearly wasn’t. Once I could read and still could not understand them, I asked my father what those letters were and why they were up there on the rocks. They reminded me of the embroidered on some of the altar cloths in church, but I didn’t know what that stood for, either.

Frat boys from the colleges painted their Greek symbols on the rocks long before spray paint was invented, my dad said, possibly as part of hazing rituals. By the time I was a child, the 50s-era “greasers” had begun announcing their love for Nancy or Tina through daring feats of rock and bridge painting; then the graffiti era came into full swing after the mid-sixties, and the process got colorful–the Greek symbols vanished, replaced by “tags.” All of which just reinforces the importance of words in the world.

Ann E. Michael, Language power

In his study of aesthetic experience, Peter de Bolla argues that “Literary works of art are produced in the activity of reading.” I love the verb produced here—it seems to suggest that the reader renders the text fully alive, that the life of the text continues inside the reader’s mind. De Bolla goes on to say that though it seems logical to read a text first, and only subsequently develop an aesthetic response, “this is impossible given that the reading and the response are interactive; that is, one develops in the shadow and in step with the other.” Word by word, line by line, we metabolize what we read, and our singular reactions organically unfold. We question. We discover. What we read changes us.

When we apply the lens of wonder to this idea, we find that wonder can be passed from writer to reader through the page itself. This is no small miracle.

Aristotle (and later Aquinas) suggested that wonder catalyzes the poetic impulse by provoking a restlessness that seeks shape. The poem wants to unearth, discover, and question; it is, as Anne Carson writes, “an action of the mind captured on the page…a movement of yourself through a thought, through an activity of thinking.” It shares psychic ground with the conditions of wonder—there is something unsettling, and therefore generative, about trying to wrestle into language something that exceeds it.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I’m always reading something but I’m probably worse than ever at floating from book to book to book…and so on. This is not a bad method in so far as comparing ideas, and seeing how one mind sparks off another. It means it takes quite long to actually complete a book, though!

The first volume I read lately in one sitting and then re-read in another was the very delightful book of poems by Sarah Salway, titled Learning Springsteen on my Language App. (If you’ve been here a while you’ll know immediately why this was an insta-buy). The title poem is as delightful as I was hoping, but there are many memorable poems and lines. I’ll talk about one of them, and let you have the fun of reading the rest. In “She did her best” the line comes from a grave stone, and the poem thinks through how that might not be how the speaker would like to be remembered. She says, “It’s important to discuss how we want / to be remembered…” So many devoted and beloveds, all well and good, for sure. The poem ends beautifully:

finding always in the act of writing
the truth: a simple gravestone,
to die with all my words used up but one —

more.

Shawna Lemay, 3 Books for September

Ostensibly, Seven Sisters, which can be found in my collection Street Sailing, is a simple poem about a moment when the narrator (me), watches a hovering kestrel, alongside a similarly awestruck friend; the ‘gawping booted witnesses’ near the eponymous Sussex cliffs. We’d been crossing the downs nearby, winding our way towards the cliff walk, when the kestrel appeared, as if out of nowhere, as though it had beamed in from some other dimension.

I remember standing transfixed for what seemed like an age, as the bird hung there, untroubled by us nearby humans. At the time I recall thinking that it was a kind of living echo of all the tiny skeletal body parts of the microscopic creatures that made up the layers of chalk beneath us – the countless coccoliths and foraminifera.

It was this sense that I wanted to capture when I started writing a poem about the incident. I also wanted to convey the notion that, while this occurrence seemed significant to me, the kestrel would have likely been oblivious to my presence and was just trying to get on with doing what it always does.

Drop-in by Matt Gilbert (Nigel Kent)

[W]e finally succumbed to the rave reviews and saw an Oppenheimer matinee yesterday. I disliked it intensely, although I appreciate many striking elements of the movie others admire: the way the main character visualized the quantum universe in his early years was beautiful, the history often intrigued me, the film’s sound design was great, and it’s full of dazzling performances. I’m as haunted as anyone by an emaciated Cillian Murphy’s slow blue-eyed blinks. There’s even some poetry: a copy of The Waste Land flashes by, and Murphy quotes Donne’s three-personed god sonnet as they name the Trinity project.

There are much more profound critiques of the film than the one I’m bringing–for example, that it gives no time to the profound damage wrought on human beings living downwind of the Los Alamos experiments–but my emotional reaction was also shaped by many shots of Princeton and other elite graduate schools. To quote Jack Stillinger’s book on romantic poetry, Oppenheimer leans hard on “the myth of solitary genius.” Apparently, certain white men are special in their talent and drive; they recognize, help, and fight each other, often working in groups, but the important thing is that their vast intellectual gifts make them profoundly lonely in pursuing their visions (as well as, in poor Oppenheimer’s case, victim to Robert Downey, Jr.’s dangerous spite). What an obnoxious way of portraying insight and discovery: to heroize a few figures and downplay the prejudices and myopias supporting them, as well as the toxicity of their obsessions. Christopher Nolan basically celebrates Oppenheimer as the tortured, talented Batman of physics.

Lesley Wheeler, STILL mythologizing solitary genius

An elderly man in Muncie believes the water stain on his bedroom ceiling is the face of Jesus.

In Syracuse, a woman witnesses random tar stains on the sidewalk and reassembles them into the disapproving look of her mother.

While out for an early-morning L.A. walk, I marvel at how somber gray clouds have formed the chilling shower scene from Psycho.

In moments like these, the entirety of the universe is interconnected, and we are all threads creating the cloth of miracle and madness.

Rich Ferguson, Pareidoltown

With the arrival of my new book of poems, Between a Drowning Man, imminent, I thought it would be useful to re-blog a piece I wrote and posted early in 2019 about one of the key sources and inspirations of the new book’s main sequence of poems called ‘Works and Days’. It was my fortuitous reading of AK Ramanujan’s collection of vacana poems, early in 2016 (all explained below), that set me off experimenting with a similar clipped, plain, rapid, fluid style with its (refrain like) repetitions. I was staying in Keswick at the time and I vividly remember scribbling down brief pieces at all times of the day and night. Outside, and interfering with the various walking expeditions we had planned, the great storm of the winter of 2015/6 (googling it now, it was Storm Desmond) had taken out many of the ancient bridges in the Cumbrian countryside. Inevitably, this fact found its way into the poems and provided the refrain I used in many of them.

It has been a long haul between that period and the poems’ eventual appearance in this new collection and the whole sequence was further formed (or reformed or deformed) by pressures of a second literary antecedent (I’ll blog about that next week) and by the divisive political events in the UK between 2016 and 2019. Click on the blog title below to read the whole of the original post. My first public reading from the new book will be on the evening of Tuesday 24th October at The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell. I’ll be reading alongside 2 other Salt poets:  Elisabeth Sennitt-Clough – ‘My Name is Abilene’ (Shortlisted for the 2023 Forward Prize); and Becky Varley-Winter – ‘Dangerous Enough’ (‘daring, danger and risk in poems that are packed with imagery from the natural world’).

This Thing Called Bhakti: Vacanas and Ted Hughes

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #1

I have been awake for hours, and I’m inordinately proud of myself for not spending my time scrolling through social media feeds that have minimal value.  I’ve been preparing poetry submissions, which means various kinds of scrolling:  through my submission log, through websites, across the Submittable platform.  I’m astonished at how much it costs to submit now, and no, I don’t think it’s a similar cost to paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps.

I’ve just been to the post office, so I have a sense of how much stamps cost.  My local post office has such a great selection of stamps.  Plus, I love getting mail.  I do love the ease of submitting online, but it’s such a huge cost if I tally it up.  I don’t know why I don’t mind spending 84 cents on postage, but $3 is almost always a deal breaker.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Stealing Away

Missing things still wander, still wait to clasp my hand.

So I make sandwiches
and drink tea, but plant moon flowers at sundown
and keep my shoes by the door.

Charlotte Hamrick, While I Wait

Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray, The FM Press, 2023, ISBN: 979-8988288701, $24.99

Towards the end of this book, the first in a projected three-part reissue of his monumental work on Dylan to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition, Michael Gray quotes this from Pete Welding:

“the creative bluesman is the one who imaginatively handles traditional elements and who, by his realignment of commonplace elements, shocks us with the familiar. He makes the old newly meaningful to us…”

It’s a quote that might serve as a kind of summary of Gray’s intentions in this first volume, but with a wider remit than just the blues. The book consists of a series of chapters on various traditions that Dylan’s work draws on, folk music, literature, rock ‘n’ roll, mysticism, the blues, along with a couple of chapters on Dylan’s language, charting a move towards and then away from complexity, and one on books about the man and his work. These are wrapped by an introductory introduction to his albums (studio, live and Bootleg Series) issued between 1962 and 1988 and a closing roundup of sorts.

Straight away I found myself in disagreement with Gray’s judgements, his dismissal of Self Portrait as ‘a mistake’ and praise of Under The Red Sky as ‘an achievement that has gone entirely unrecognised’ should, in my view, be reversed. But this is a good thing, I don’t want to read a book on Dylan that confirms my biases and Gray certainly doesn’t do that. In fact, throughout the book his contrarian opinions, such as the complete dismissal of Dylan’s protest songs as ‘rarely of outstanding quality’, draw the reader in to an engagement with the book’s more central preoccupations. And to be fair to Gray, he’s quick enough to self-correct. One outstanding example of this is an almost incomprehensibly wrong-headed reading of ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ which misses  almost everything about that great song, but which ends with a footnote that begins ‘When I read this assessment now, I simply feel embarrassed at what a little snob I was when I wrote it.’ If only more critics possessed that degree of honest self-awareness.

Billy Mills, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray: A review

Though I was born of women
too diligent to dance,
I did not inherit vigor–
just one pair of viridian stilettos, never worn
nestled in cardboard like two shining birds.
Nights, they glow like foxfire
on the barren closet floor.

Kristen McHenry, Inheritance

Jane Bluett explores tales, familiar and unfamiliar, how to make sense of a place in the world and find a path through it. She doesn’t restrict herself to the local or current day. In “Almah”, which means young girl in Hebrew and is the word used for Mary, mother of Jesus, whose husband “wrote me down” until “they came to read me, translated, interpret”,

“In England they changed the colour of my skin,
wrote in whispers, gave me a sister.
I became the great impossibility,
and she, the other me, a silent whore.”

A woman’s voice is taken from her, subjected to distortion through a male lens. Further translation even changes her origins, turns her into a saintly, impossible woman. Dehumanised, she’s no longer recognisable. Her story has been lost and the woman behind them reduced to the Madonna/whore template. This theme is picked up again in “Nushus”, focused on the language of Nushu, the world’s only single sex language from Hunan, China, however, the last fluent user died in 2004, “Our nouns slipped silent, our verbs deafened,/ loud as sirens, loud as words” but it ends, “her breath betrays our meaning,/ disappears.”

Emma Lee, Jane Bluett “She Will Allow Her Wings” (Five Leaves) – book review

The second full-length collection from London, Ontario poet (and, from 2016-2018, that city’s poet laureate) Tom Cull, following Bad Animals (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2018), is Kill Your Starlings (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2023), a collection of poems that appear, carefully and delicately, as though carved out of stone or ice. Across this book-length suite on family and place, Cull offers an assemblage of descriptive, first-person lyrics, setting blocks down as if to build, writing on cars, family, Ikea, masculinity, toxicity and landscape. Listen to how he describes heading west by train out of Ottawa (specifically, Fallowfield Station): “Outside, land is drawn and quartered. / Wild turkeys step through / split-rail fences; a lone coyote pauses / in a pasture, head thrown / back across its body watching us pass.” Cull’s wisdom, as well as his humour, emerges quietly, to rest amid rumination, offering one step and then another, further, considered step: not one word or line out of place. As the back cover offers, this is a book about family and place, although there is a way he writes about masculinity is worth mentioning: his articulations are different, although equally powerful, than, say, Dale Smith’s Flying Red Horse (Talonbooks, 2021) [see my review of such here], offering a sequence of poems, for example, on the male gestures offered through car commercials. “Set it free.” he writes, in the poem “Subaru Wilderness,” the fourth and final poem in the sequence “AUTO EROTICA,” “See the Subaru in its natural habitat; / a hundred thousand mutations, / bionic selection stalking slag ridges— // terrarium interiors—synthetic protein / seats, hot mist, pitcher plants, / neon salamander toes suction cupped / to the windows.” Cull’s threads are subtle, offering a book heartfelt and deep, writing of a father he learned from by example, benefitting from the man’s quiet dignity. “Years after my dad died,” he writes, as part of the wonderfully graceful “AUTOPSY REPORT,” “I moved home temporarily to help get the farm ready for sale. I hired plumbers, roofers, contractors to do the work. Over the course of that year, I met several men, who’d had my dad as their teacher. They all praised his patience, his care, and his demand for discipline and hard work.” The poem ends:

A few years ago, my mom wrote a poem about my dad. The poem
ends with details from his autopsy report:

BUILD: moderately obese
BRAIN: unremarkable
HEART: massively enlarged

rob mclennan, Tom Cull, Kill Your Starlings

Back in the days when I was known as Elizabeth by my school teachers, I compiled a project called ‘Western Australia’. I was in Lower IV 26. 26 was the room number, Lower IV was year 8. In her feedback, written on a pale orange card, my Geography Teacher, the lovely Miss Smith, wrote: ELIZABETH: mainly WESTERN AUSTRALIA. In the corner of that card, she drew a fairy penguin. I’ve had a soft spot for penguins ever since.

On the other side of the small card, Miss Smith wrote this: “Your nice grassy folder had some original and interesting ideas in it, with good illustrations. The range of relevant information was wide, from Continental drift to Camels, and even though you veered from your subject by discussing the Barrier Reef, it was still a good effort. A(-)”. 

Not much has changed in my approach to projects since 1976-7. The anthology I’ve been working on, Festival in a Book, A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival, also has some original and interesting ideas in it, most of them not my own. The illustrations (by Emily Wilkinson) and design (by Gabriel Watt) are a bonus. The range of relevant poetry is wide in terms of the Festival itself, and the poets also veer (as you’d expect them to do) towards love, childhood, loss, celebration of nature, and death. 

A brackets minus. What a mark. Thank you Miss Smith. In old school terms, A was for near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, and minus was for not quite. The brackets? They were for but nearly. My project was: not quite near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, but nearly. I was very happy with this grade. If the anthology is judged by contributors and readers as: not quite near as damn excellent considering her age and stage, but nearly, I’ll be delighted.

Maybe it was that carefully-wrought mark and Miss Smith’s recognition of the effort I’d made that set in my 11 year-old head the bouncy thought that one day I would visit Western Australia, and the other parts of that country-continent that aren’t WA but are closer to it than South Hampstead High School, 3 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3. It’s certainly been a thought leaping kangaroo-like around my head for a few years: a thought I put into action back in the spring when I booked tickets to Perth, via Singapore. I leave in 5 weeks, once I’ve completed the distribution and launch of the anthology. 

Liz Lefroy, I Draw A Comparison

I’m excited to be reading in Liverpool for the first time, at the launch of my new micro pamphlet One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone which was one of the winners in the Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast Poetry Prize. Along with two of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire (a fourth winner, Sarah Mnatzaganian will launch her pamphlet next year), I’ll read from my new pamphlet on Saturday, 16 September at the Open Eye Gallery, 6pm – 8pm. Tickets are free and bookable here. Come along if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast is an initiative created by writer and artist Maria Isakova Bennett who designs and makes limited edition hand stitched poetry journals. This means that my poems will be published within a beautiful handmade cover. Take a look at previous journals Maria has made to see what I mean. I submitted twelve poems to do with clothes and fabric as my competition entry, and the title – One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone – is a line from a poem after a self-portrait in stained glass by artist Pauline Boty in which the artist is wearing a red dress. Because of this, I’ve had the idea of wearing a red dress at my launch. I’m not sure how wise this decision is (!) but I’ve found a rather sweet red silk dress from Oxfam Online which seemed to be calling out to me when I viewed it on my computer.

Josephine Corcoran, September and ahead: some workshops and readings

It’s been a long journey getting to this point with Look to the Crocus but I’m delighted with it. 

Through the creating and editing process, the manuscript has gone through many shapes and forms like a snake shedding skin. The final result is a tripart collection: Flowers & Trees, The Long Water, and Mother Moon, and each section is prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

It contains my versions of Scottish ballads, close encounters with nature, my relationship with the Firth of Clyde, and elegies to my parents. The presiding poets include Roethke, Transtromer, Plath, W.S. Graham, Sujata Bhatt and D.H. Lawrence.

The cover art was created by Irish artist Brigid Collins after I met her in a special garden.

John Killick was central to bringing this book to publication and I’m hugely grateful for his support for my work. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I don’t usually embark on project collections, that is, collections of poems that focus on something particular. I usually just write what I write and hope that some of it can sit together companionably when there’s enough stuff to think about a collection. But I find myself in the interesting position of having created a “project” collection…but it’s about 10-15 pages short of what would be considered a full-length thing. I’m staring at my page count and the empty pages are staring back from the void.

What if I have nothing more to say on this subject? What if the whole output has petered out and I have this too-big-for-a-chapbook-too-small-for-a-book mongrel of a hybrid thingy? I haven’t written anything new in its world in about a month. I scribbled a few things but they went nowhere, and were of that death-knell tone: self-conscious. Now that I THINK I’m working on a “project” the thoughts are stiff and forced.

Can I trick myself into writing more freely on this same matter?
Should I quit while I’m ahead and just, I don’t know, split it into two chapbooks and be done with it? Should I set the whole thing aside and come at it later, hoping I’ll find something more to say?
Should I sit myself down to keep writing and see if I circle back to the topic eventually?

All those things are reasonable possibilities. What am I doing, though? Staring at the void staring at me.

Marilyn McCabe, Ooh, what’s that smell; or, When a Creative Process Peters Out

You Could Make This Place Beautiful is out in the UK today with Canongate Books! I’m grateful to Jamie Byng, Jenny Fry, Helena Gonda, Anna Frame, Catriona Horne, and everyone at Canongate. (And thank you for welcoming this book so warmly, for telling your friends about it, for giving it to people who might need it…word of mouth, reader to reader, is the secret sauce, isn’t it?)

What else? I found a tiny cardinal feather in my backyard and picked it up before it floated away. Beauty emergency! It now lives in a tiny bowl in my office, where it makes me unreasonably happy.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Seattle people tend to have a bit on panic in their eyes this time of year because their FOMO is activated by the arrival of the “Big Dark.” We are probably no different, having been here so many years that we automatically go into outdoor plan overdrive on nice days.

Now, getting to Seattle from Woodinville took an hour because literally every way to get everywhere was closed due to city construction—and feel sorry for those dependent on the Bainbridge ferry, which was down for cars, bikes, and scooters for a week. Does Seattle DOT have problems? It does! Do they have a ton of tax money to fix it but somehow manage not to? Yes!

Anyway, once we got downtown, we didn’t want to waste the trip—so we hit everything at once—after navigating the construction on the main UW hospital campus (yes, also a nightmare)—we chilled out at the Japanese Garden and went to the UW district’s awesome Bulldog Newstand, which has a ton of obscure lit mags and foreign magazines of all types, and now they also have fancy ice cream.

The second downtown trip we originally wanted to hit the zoo and Roq La Rue, but because of traffic, everything was closing as we arrived, and we made the decision to only hit Open Books before they closed. We got new books by Oliver de la Paz, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, and checked out a ton more. After we stayed ’til closing time, we went a couple blocks down to Elliot Bay Books, where we picked up the new Lorrie Moore book, marveled at the terrific poetry section (where Flare, Corona was fronted at the top—squee!), bought a few more lit mags, and chatted with the friendly book salespeople about our favorite releases and theirs.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking Advantage of Sunny September Days to Do the Things We Missed All Summer: a Visit to the Japanese Garden, Open Books, Elliot Bay Books, Time at the Flower Farm

There are so many writers out there; so many writers aspiring to publication, so many writers pushing boundaries, climbing out of the constraints of the traditional, so many writers climbing up, up, up towards prizes and winning and poetry collections and debut books. It can be off putting if you yourself are a writer who is not competitive, or are a writer from a non traditional writing background where the rules of the literary world seem undefined and confusing, or if you are at the beginning of your long journey to discovering your own voice. How do you keep writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese is like a quiet place to come and refresh yourself. Each sentence could be a mantra in its own right, but tied together it is a cool corridor to pass through on the way to your place in the world. […]

This has to be one of the most famous Mary Oliver poems. It also happens to be one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems. Last night, after a challenging day (unexpected overdue tax bill hell) I went out with the dog for a walk. A thick sea fret had rolled into the village. The world was a place of malleability and strangeness. The sound became dulled. A tractor was rumbling across a field, only visible by its headlights. The world was shrunk to the moment and what I could see in my own small sphere of existence. Nothing else entered the sphere. I could see no one outside of the sphere. As we were heading home we turned into the lane and I heard, in the distance, the unmistakable calls of geese in flight. I stopped, stood still and waited until the geese came over our heads, appearing out of the mist in a huge V, their wings beating with a soft, dull feathered sound. Immediately the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem sprang to my mind, and into my mouth. I whispered it to myself You do not have to be good.

Wendy Pratt, The World Offers Itself to Your Imagination

Finally it rains. Slapping and paddling the thick leaves; gliding down (d)rain pipes to be spit out onto recumbent weeds, filling puddles that I see mixed with the mesh of my screen window.  Puddles like a running woman, arms outstretched, hair flung behind her, legs poised and bent.  Now a drip, now a piling, now a pulsing on my phone: Flood Watch in your area!

Now at the risk of life and death, to wonder what becomes of rain after a poet dances it into language.  Does it still slap as sound on the receiving mind, as rain but more so? Do we lose it to a “finely woven curtain – sheer net perhaps – thinly broken, relentless in its fall, but relatively slow, which must be down to the Lightness and size of its droplets, an ongoing, frail precipitation, like real weather atomized.”  So poet Ciaran Carson writes in a poem inspired by the Impressionist painting, “Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877,” the poem a riff on Francis Ponge, ‘La Pluie.’”

Ripples upon ripples in ripples. Enchanting patterns as droplets outside my window dissolve one upon another into larger radiating ripples –teasingly certain, never answering the question.

Jill Pearlman, Wording in the Rain

whose vision dies at the entrance to dawn

on which side of my skin is sky

if dream is the cradle, who is the child

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the transition to autumn, Labor Day and the meaning of work, Sealey Challenge results, a book-burning, and more. Enjoy.


Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive — one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.

It’s California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents’ generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment — why not gathers such crumbs as fall? — I’m content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now. 

Dale Favier, Interregnum

The months inspire their own sort of synesthesia, don’t they? I can feel, taste, see, in flashes of associations, each one, its distinctive personality, color, shape. Still, September carries a particular presence. Wallace Stegner spoke of that “old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air…Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” That may partially explain it—the month is forever colored by notebooks, pencils, early wake-ups, and autumnal routines after an indulgent, restorative summer.

Maya C. Popa, Poems about September

It’s the time of year for making still lifes, anyway, isn’t it? The flowers won’t last much longer. Bring some in, make a still life won’t you? Then make your way to the couch.

There’s a short poem I love to read at this time of year by the Italian writer Patrizia Cavalli (translated here by Gini Alhadeff):

“We’re all going to hell in a while.
But meanwhile
summer’s over.
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!”

Shawna Lemay, A Whole Life in Every Day

Today is rainy and cool, and we tidied the house, I organized and put away my summer clothes, and we started to really prepare for fall. We bought the last doughnut peaches for cake and made barbequed chicken and cornbread with the last good corn. I lit a couple of pumpkin coffee candles. We paid attention to the cats, who felt they had been very neglected the last few days.

I did a few submissions this week in a bit of a daze, because submission windows can be short and demanding, even when life is chaos. I also tried to catch up a bit with my reading—even picking up a few new books to start (ambitious, I know, but fall seems like a good time to acquire new books—especially important when you’re spending a long time at the hospital with a needle in your arm).

As the seasons transition, a few of my friends noted the stress of the change, the return to different rhythms. In Seattle, we pretty much say goodbye to the sun and hello the “the long dark” of the next nine months. I’m hoping to catch a few good days to visit the pumpkin farms, to pick the Pink Lady apples from the tree in my front yard I planted at the beginning of the pandemic, and even a few figs from the fig tree I planted two years ago. Fruit from new trees is always a good sign—last year we got neither apples nor figs—so I hope my trees will stay healthy until next spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Supermoon, a Surgery, and One Perfect Fall Day, Plus the Importance of Joy and Healing

Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I’m old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day.  My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day.  In terms of weather, I’ve always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.

Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it’s a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I’m thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.  I’m thinking of our creative work.  There’s so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.

I’m thinking about our attitude towards work too.  I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online.  Here’s my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism:  “Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, ‘What work am I called to?’ we might ask, ‘How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not ‘How does this work cooperate with material creation?’ but ‘How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?’ Not ‘Am I doing what I love?’ but ‘What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?’”

And here’s a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, “Teahouse practice means that you don’t explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She’s not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn’t say, “This is the Zen teahouse.” All she does is simply serve tea–but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it’s just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups” (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Labor on Labor Day

I’m fascinated by American poet and lawyer Mary Leader’s fifth full-length collection, The Distaff Side (Shearsman Books, 2022), a curious blend of a variety of threads: the needlepoint the women in her family held, dismissed as “women’s work”; her mother’s refusal to learn such a thing to focus on poetry, and publishing in numerous journals yet never seeing a collection into print; and her own engagement with these two distinct skills, articulating them both as attentive, precise crafts. “My mother couldn’t sew a lick.” she writes, to open the sequence “Toile [I],” offering her mother’s refusal to learn as something defiant across the length and breadth of women across her family, “But that was a boast to her.” As the following poem reads: “1950, 1955, / 1960. What girls and women got up to / with distaffs flax spindles standards / happles and agoubilles was not called ‘their art.’ Not remotely. Needlework / was no more ‘creative’ than / doing the dishes, and trust me, / doing the dishes was not marveled at, [.]” That particular poem ends: “And my / mother’s hobby morning after / morning after morning, every morning, / every morning, was reading and writing / poetry, smoking all the while.” There’s a defiance that Leader recounts in her narrative around her mother, and one of distinct pride, writing a woman who engaged with poetry. A few poems further in the sequence: “I have / the typescript of what, in my judgement, / should have been my mother’s first / published book, Whose Child? I have / here the cover letter she labored over.” I’m charmed by these skilled, sharp and precise poems on the complexities of the craft of poems and needlework both, stitched with careful, patient ease.

rob mclennan, Mary Leader, The Distaff Side

It seemed to me all around me was a message: “Work. Look.” I wrote that in my journal. That night I’d had a dream in which I was trying to develop an artistic goal for the immediate future, which morphed into me stating that I was going to memorize one song on the piano and play it for people, which morphed into me explaining excitedly how I was going to make scones to bring to their party, but the host approached me and said, “Please don’t bring them. We don’t like them.” And I woke devastated. When I finally shook off the devastation and entered the day, I was fascinated by how that urge to focus creatively ended up with that dream that no one liked what I was making. How powerful is rejection, how powerful the pull of external validation.

Marilyn McCabe, I have heard you call; or, On Creative Work and the Inner Voices

Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.

Jill Pearlman, Age, Relatives, Lo-Lee-Ta

I learned, while teaching college freshmen the past few years, that many younger adults do not know how to write or even to read script. Many children never get the lessons in handwriting in the second through fourth grades the way I did. Instead, they learn keyboarding–a skill I got to in my junior year of high school but never really have mastered (yes, even now I use a self-developed version that’s sort of an advanced hunt-and-peck method). It’s hard to believe that reading script is a task that will be relegated to specialists in years to come, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. To many of my college age students, handwritten script in English is almost indistinguishable from the marks of ash borers. They don’t see the need for that particular skill. Handwriting is going the way of letter-writing.

Perhaps we live in a post-script world?

I have been thinking about the handwritten word recently because of a recent incident while visiting my mother. She received a small refund check from an insurer, and though she understood what it was and that she no longer uses her checking account–we siblings take care of that through power of attorney–she was confused about what to do with it. “Sign it, Mom,” I told her, offering her a pen. “We’ll deposit it for you.” I turned the check over and pointed to the line for signature on the back.

She wavered, pen in the air. “I don’t…I don’t,” she said (her aphasia has advanced past the point of expressing full sentences). It took me a moment to realize that she could not recall how to sign her name. I placed my hand around hers and helped her start with the capital B.

I didn’t cry, but the experience hasn’t left me alone. I suppose there may be a poem in this incident, but if so, it’s a sorrowful one.

Ann E. Michael, Script, postscript

Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother is
what kids today might describe as #fighting, A month in the hospital
and she’s rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once,
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light.

Luisa A. Igloria, Talisman

Somewhere in time there’s a darkened room with just enough light to see a circle of grief. In the center of the circle is a woman in a hospital bed. Sharp angles under white sheets. Cool, pale flesh stretched over forehead, cheeks, chin. Weeks of a vigil fading into the past. A decision has been made, connections have been unconnected. It is silent in this room except for sighs and sobs. One of the grieved takes the woman’s hand and begins to sing a sweet hymn to accompany the woman from the room, from the earth. This is a moment that lives forever for those who loved this woman.

Charlotte Hamrick, Mood #2

whose skin has not awakened to green

whose heart is blind with eyes

where are there hands to bandage the sky

Grant Hackett [untitled]

One of the most menacing things about depression is its elasticity — its way of suddenly receding, swinging open a window of light, only to return just as suddenly with redoubled darkness, just when life has begun to feel livable again, even beautiful.

On September 16, 1962, a voice unspooled from the BBC airwaves carrying an emblem of that cruel elasticity.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — who spent her life living with the darkness and making light of the barely bearable lightness of being, until she could no more — had composed the poem a year earlier, shortly after moving to a quiet market village in Devon. For the first time, she had a room of her own to write in. “My whole spirit has expanded immensely,” she wrote to her mother as she filled the house with “great peachy-colored gladiolas, hot red & orange & yellow zinnias” from the garden, that great living poem.

Within a month, in the fading autumn light, her spirit had begun contracting again in the grip of the familiar darkness. One night, unable to sleep, she tried a meditative writing exercise: to simply describe what she saw in the Gothic churchyard outside her window. That exercise became one of her finest poems and one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature.

Found in Plath’s indispensable Collected Poems (public library), it comes alive with uncommon poignancy in Patti Smith’s planetary voice — one of her regular poetry readings from her online journal.

Maria Popova, The Moon and the Yew Tree: Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s Haunting Portrait of Depression

old pond
old frog
waiting

Jason Crane, haiku: 30 August 2023

Today was a full press day (no freelance work) since there were quite a few things that needed final corrections before I start printing.  I have only dipped a toe into submissions, which wrapped up Thursday in a final flurry of activity, so will begin greater forays into reading next week likely. I still have a couple delayed books in the works, but am now working on the set I accepted for this year. Amazingly, since I planned to start those in August anyway, I am only a month behind schedule for 2023 accepted titles. This year’s inbox is a little unruly, since I was once again allowing sim subs after a few years of not. This means some things have been withdrawn in the time since they were sent b/c they found another home. Logistically it’s rougher to keep track, but I feel like I take a little too long in responses sometimes, esp. for things I am interested in–so it’s only fair they have other opportunities when I am slow. 

As for my work, I had a brief flurry of activity on new poems, but then told myself I should take a break and return when fall arrived officially, which I suppose it has now, at least according to the meteorological calendar if not the celestial one. Since I really need to be working on recording and editing the videos for villains right now, I may just hold off til the equinox to get back to daily poeming, completely reasonable, but I do get itchy if I go too long without writing much at all, so we’ll see. I won’t be submitting much in the immediate future, so am going to share snippets of the poems I’ve written this summer on Instagram, so keep an eye out there. 

The decor and lifestyle stuff is turning out many fall and spooky season offerings like this, this, and this.) A gig that I had initially turned down earlier in the summer b/c the pay-per-word count (writing literature study guides) actually came back with a poetry-specific offer that is shorter guides but still the same pay, so I will be doing a couple of those every month going forward. Since the AI poetry thing ghosted me and didn’t work out, and any poetry lessons for the online learning site I already write for are few and far between, it will be fun to write poetry-specific things again after a few months of other subjects like dance, history, and visual art. While denser and more time-intensive than the decor, food, and restaurant stuff, the researcher in me loves them nonetheless.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/3/2023

You can link to my London Grip review of Katharine Towers’ superb chapbook by clicking here.

What I didn’t adequately suggest in the review itself was how beautifully the booklet is designed and produced by Philip Lancaster and the The Maker’s Press. Everything except the Tasting Notes is printed in a way that combines visual clarity with softness (the paper is a very pale ivory rather than white). The Tasting Notes are shaped as concrete poems and printed in a pale slightly greenish grey, which to me suggests the elusiveness and obliquity of attempts to describe nuances of flavour. It’s altogether a remarkable physical production.

Edmund Prestwich, Katharine Towers, let him bring a shrubbe – review

I had to double check myself re an idea I had about Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches (Faber & Faber 1993). So I Googled, and yes, I had remembered it correctly. The 30 fourteen-line poems/sonnets in the first section are each, supposedly, meant to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn. I guess the clue is in the opening stanza of the first poem:

“My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life —”

Well, you just have to, don’t you?! My first match burnt out after a few lines and I realised the draft from my writing room door that opens onto the garden was to blame. My second attempt, different poem, had a second or two to spare. My third one had me squealing and blowing it out as the flame licked at my fingertips a couple of lines before the end.

But gimmicks apart, I like the poems in this collection. I like Armitage’s command of form and language, of rhythm and rhyme, and how none of those ever dominate the poems, only contribute to their music. What he has to say always transcends the engineering work. I feel he understands that the audience matters. He’s a poet that cares about his readers. The work can be both playful and serious. Serious but not solemn.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge – Simon Armitage

When August started I was on a fantasy novel kick.  Patricia Briggs, Megan Bannen, Neil Gaiman, and Andri Snaer Magnason, Kimberly Lemming and Sangu Mandanna. Sure, I could do those and continue poetry, right? I often alternate between poetry binges and novel binges but I could do parallel binges. Push more through the head, why not.

Sometimes pushing through the slog of hard-to-understand is good for stretch goals, to push past normal comfort. Part of Sealey Challenge is to read different and to share the love of what you uncover. Stretch is the theme. (I shared some of what I read as Poem of the Day at bluesky and instagram and in past posts here.)

So it’s September and I’m still standi— er, still sitting.

Reading causes writing sometimes so I wrote more novel scenes, and a chapbook. Was it more than normal? Not sure. I’ve done 50,000 words over the last 4 months in poetry, not counting scraps of paper and convenient but not in the right folder files.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge

I believe in the general theory that one should finish what one starts. However in my real, practical life, that’s a different story, as evidenced by a plethora of uncompleted crafting projects, poems started and never seen through to their final form, and books began but never finished. Today I shall provide you with a glimpse into some of these of unfinished titles, as well my justifications for putting them down early: […]

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I complained about this book in a previous post, but at the time, I thought I could get past the atrocious degeneracy of its characters because the writing was so beautiful. It turns out I can’t. The beautiful language just isn’t enough to carry me through this one. I don’t care about any of the characters, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that Daisy is some tragic pre-feminist figure. I think she’s a brat. I’ve never been able to figure how this book became such a literary darling, until a bit of shallow research informed me that it was an initial failure. Years after it came out, The Council on Books in Wartime distributed free copies en mass to soldiers serving overseas during World War 2, thus exploding its popularity.

Kristen McHenry, Book List of Shame

In my second published poetry book, I have a poem called “In the Left Breast”. I wrote it after I’d found a lump (turned out to be nothing). I was in my early 30s.

Thinking about this made me wonder if we are really ever unprepared for possibilities? There is another poem in that same collection that questions whether “imagination is a good thing.”

In my mind, it is all about staying flexible enough to adjust. Adjusting is a response to the world. Sometimes it’s positive. In the context of my world view, a positive attitude is not the same thing as a positive outcome of a response.

I don’t believe celebrating a possible future outcome manifests that outcome.

This morning I am thinking about singing. Last week I sang with the radio while I was driving. It had been a very long time since I was in that kind of space. I remember now that magic spells require chanting, or singing. That’s a kind of effort, too, so I will leave room for that in my world view.

Right speech. Right action.

Right diaphragmatic effort.

Ren Powell, After a Week Not Writing about It

My phase of reading nowt but historical novels is over (for now) as I get my poetry head back on in preparation for Season Four (gulp!) of Planet Poetry.

First up, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Leontia Flynn‘s brand new collection Taking Liberties (Cape). It’s wonderful work and I’m feeling quite energised by it (meaning: it’s inspired me to write something that may be a poem.) I’ll be interviewing Leontia on the pod, really looking forward to that.

Also on the ‘to be read’ pile is Caroline Bird‘s The Air Year (Carcanet) which picked up a whole ton of awards in 2020. I’ve not yet been hit by the ‘Bird Love Bomb’ that many others speak of, so I shall read it with keen anticipation.

I was a fangirl in my teenage years of Brian Patten, and I’m still hoping we can coax him onto the poddy. In the meantime I’ve been loving, loving his Selected Poems (Penguin 2007). Even lovelier is that having bought it second-hand, I discovered it’s a signed copy, ‘To Liz’ – the name I was given at birth. Spooky!

Robin Houghton, Current poetry reading and podcast prep

You mentioned on Instagram that After Curfew  was inspired by Rowan Beckett’s Hot Girl Haiku. Can you say more about that inspiration, and how it helped you write and shape your collection?

Rowan held an online launch party on Facebook for their book, Hot Girl Haiku, in May 2022. My friend, haiku poet Susan Burch, reminded me to attend. I’d never been to an online launch party. It was fun! Rowan had posts and videos set up on a schedule. One of the prompts was to write our own “hot girl haiku.” It brought me back to that time in early adolescence and young adulthood when I wanted so much to be a “hot girl” but I was more of a “geeky girl.” I wrote this in the comments:

face-first
in a stranger’s lap—
tequila shots

Joshua Gage, of Cuttlefish Books, wrote back that he’d like to hear more of that story. I said there wasn’t much to tell — I didn’t think I had too many “hot girl” moments. But it got me thinking, which led to writing the collection. 

On a related note, I read online that you wrote most of After Curfew in one sitting. Do you usually write in big spurts? How was creating this collection similar to or different from your usual process? 

I rarely write in big spurts! This was very different than my usual plodding along. I just felt inspired. It was like Rowan gave me permission to write about my past. 

What was your editing process like? Did you have to cut any haiku? Was there a point where you found yourself needing to add some to supplement the original poems? 

I wrote the poems quickly at first, jotting them down as they came to me. When it came time to order them, I wanted to tell a cohesive story: of first love, of loss, of moving on. When I realized that I really did have a collection, I wrote a few poems to fill gaps in the narrative, and I dropped a few that didn’t fit. Originally, I had a few tanka in there too.

In English-language haiku, poets are often instructed to focus on composing from the present moment. After Curfew is written in the present tense, but concerns the past. Did you make a conscious decision to keep the poems in the present tense? Or did that emerge organically during the writing process?

I think the present tense brings an immediacy to haiku — writing in past tense puts some distance between the reader and the poem. I’d like to say something profound about how I wanted the reader to share in my awkward moments, but the truth is, I was reliving my memories as I wrote them.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Julie Bloss Kelsey

Here are a couple of Annie [Bachini]’s haiku in the book which I especially like:

faint breeze rolling a scrunched paper bag

waiting room
the rhythmic squeaks
of the cleaner’s shoes

The one-liner is a concrete haiku of sorts, in that the bag is rolled horizontally with the text. What I especially like about it, though, are that the word ‘rolling’ is used transitively, rather than the much more common intransitively, and that the movement is engendered by a faint breeze. Yes, it’s a fairly straightforward ‘cause-and-effect’ poem, but it’s subtly done. The highlighting of an item of litter may or may not be seen as an incidental comment on today’s selfish society. And which reader wouldn’t enjoy the sound of that ‘scrunched’? The way in which the wind is interacting with a thrown-away item reminds me of that strangely captivating scene in American Beauty in which the camera follows a plastic bag through the air. The haiku is very neatly done.

The three-liner is equally fine, not least in how it makes art out of what, in lesser hands, could be a mundane observation. The waiting room might be at the doctor’s, dentist, train station or wherever – though probably one of the first two – but it’s the attentiveness of the second element of the poem which beautifully commands the reader’s attention. It’s an exemplar of how a well-chosen adjective can add so much: as well as providing visual and sonic balance, ‘rhythmic’ implies so much. The cleaner, it seems, is doing a thoroughly professional job, as perhaps they’ve been shown how to do. We might intuit, too, that the cleaner is taking pride in their work, but earns very considerably less than the professional in the consulting room. That it’s the shoes which the poet draws our eyes and ears towards makes this, for me, a real masterpiece.

The book, rather prosaically entitled Two Haiku Poets, is available from Iron here.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Annie Bachini

THE BOOK BURNING

was everything you’d expect it to be.
Self-righteous men, always men,
directing the children, laden
with armfuls of the banned, damned books.
Casting them into the inferno
with a wide eyed giddy intensity,
ecstatic in this act of vandalism
we are burning books!

and the air is full of charred letters.
Stray words set free
from carefully constructed sentences.
The ink knows as it sizzles,
that every book is a temporary alliance
of print and wood pulp and glue.
If the men had been more patient
eventually it would have returned to dust

Paul Tobin, STRAY WORDS SET FREE

I don’t think I have read a poet like Susan J. Bryant before, so it’s impossible to give readers a steer through comparisons to better known contemporary poets. The best I can offer you is to say that her work is clearly influenced by the formal satirists of the past for Elephants Unleashed is made up of biting poems in beautifully handled forms, such as villanelles, triolets, sonnets and ballads.

Nothing is safe from Bryant’s critical eye. The institutions of Church, Government, Education and Royalty are all subject to her cutting wit. Politicians are given a particularly rough ride. TONGUES SPIN AND WEAVE is typical in both theme and style. She writes: When syrup-dipped toxicity/ Disguises vile duplicity/ With evil veiled in virtue’s flower/ Your liberty they will devour./ Perceive, beguiled society-/ Tongues spin and weave.’ There’s something of a modern-day Pope here, both in sentiment and the music of the form, the rhymes working hard to give emphasis to the destructiveness and danger of politicians and those in power, who disguise their true intentions with feigned morality.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Elephants Unleashed’ by Susan Jarvis Bryant

It seems
AI is writing our poems
and books
and we can’t tell
the difference

All this is normalized
All this consumed
All day, all night

Our ruin is streamed
on all kinds
of devices

It seems
we can’t bring ourselves
to care

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What’s Going On?

[Months have gone by] and what have I been doing? Not writing. Sadly. I am beginning to wonder if I’m sliding into dementia. I have some of the symptoms: Lack of energy, isolation, loss of interest in things which used to interest me. Having trouble retrieving names of people and sometimes names of books or other objects. Then, again, in other ways I am fine and even perky. The garden absorbs my mornings and evenings. Watching British murder mysteries on my laps. I was completely alert and energized on a recent very long drive to Evansville INdiana. I am also somewhat addicted to watching short videos of horses , deer, birds, and babies on Instagram. I recently realized that as an only child of older parents, I was hardly ever around little babies, those under the age of two. I am fascinated by their faces, their eyes, the thinking that is obviously going on. Maybe this entry will break through my inertia.

Anne Higgins, Months have gone by

In early spring it’s wild ramps,
dark blades of onion-scented grass.

Then come the fairytale eggplants.
On the cusp of fall, tiny plums.

In winter I splurge on clementines
though citrus won’t grow here, at least

not yet. Sometimes I treat myself
to marzipan at Christmastime, though

almond trees are struggling.
We’re running out of groundwater.

How long until the memory of coffee beans
will be implausible as the days

when silvery cod were so plentiful
we walked across their backs to shore? 

Rachel Barenblat, Impulse buys

This morning the air felt crisp. There was a certain blueness to the sky that made me think of frosts. The fields were so dewy I got soaked walking the dog. This was the first day where it’s been too cold to wear shorts from the off. But by lunchtime the sun had burnt this faux autumn off and it was sunshine and warm air, except in the shade. It’s difficult to admit that the summer is nearly over, and I’ll miss my days of bare skin and sandals, but all things must pass, and there is so much to love about autumn. Now though, and for the next two or three weeks we are in the liminal place between seasons. It is a place of change. It is a place where we are not quite experiencing the riot of reds and oranges and crispy leaf walks of autumn, but not quite able to experience the BBQs and patio drinks, the golden evening walks and thick green foliage of summer either. And all the time we experience this change, we are physically and emotionally in change ourselves.

The catalyst for the turn towards autumn for me, and my feelings around it is always the migration of the geese. The geese now fly over my house in thick lines, long lines full of voice and each time I hear them my heart is taken somewhere wintry and still, and it stills me to hear them. In summer I felt vibrant and colourful, in autumn I will feel calm and aware and I want my days to reflect that. I shall change my practice and my focus to fully embrace the season, to be connected to the world around me, the natural world.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer a Sensory Experience – The Colour of Summer

Although the mornings are sunny
the heavy rain that lasted half an hour around dawn
has left the grass wet.
Small oaks are springing up where I planted acorns last year.
Today I will dig up the next batch of potatoes.
Together we will pick blackberries.
I will look again at my fantasy football team.

Bob Mee, ONE OF THOSE ‘I DID THIS, I DID THAT’ RECORDS OF A WEEK

星月夜ホモ・サピエンスなにをしに 矢島渚男

hoshizukiyo homo sapiensu nani o shini

            starry night

            what are homo sapiens

            doing here

                                                Nagisao Yajima

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (August 30, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 28

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: apocalyptic weather, gardening, mentors, making time to write, giving “cancelled” writers a path to redemption and reconciliation, and much more. Enjoy.


We were so lucky to have some rain yesterday, first a scattering in the early afternoon, which returned with increased seriousness around 530 pm, while I was getting a hair cut. I could see the rain in the long mirror reflecting the street behind me. It was falling on the cobblestones and between the rails of the tram tracks and my annoyance at the hair cutter who kept me waiting 45 minutes dissolved there.

Before midnight it rained again, and into the small hours. This morning is fresh and in the 70s — absolutely lovely. It is a relief to forget about the apocalypse for an hour or two.

Which puts me in mind of a poem! Many poems, actually. But also a visual poem of mine that recently came out in Ballast, “My Darling,” which I mean with all my heart: [Click through to view]

the best of wives
is fresh air

Sarah J Sloat, the best of wives is fresh air

We’re in the middle of summer and shattering records for heat, both in the water and on land.  I am so glad I have a house in the mountains.  I thought about Cassandra, who made predictions that no one believed.  How does Cassandra feel when predictions come true?

It’s not a new subject for me, but this morning, I returned to it, as I created some lines that are building into a coherent poem.  Here’s a taste:
I cannot save you from the sea,
but I understand how it has bewitched
you, leading you on with false
hopes, thinking maybe you will be spared,
one of the lucky ones to emerge
with your habitat sustained
while others bleach and burn.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra in the Mountains

The collection begins with poems that convey the transience of life and the inevitability of death. A Scene Outside the Window of a Country Church is typical. The preciousness of existence is conveyed through the beauty of the natural images: ‘Shocks of green/ flutter/ and shimmer-’, ‘dewy butterfly wings’, ‘emerald and jade’. The vibrancy of the scene outside penetrates the sanctity of the church, yet so does the presence of something ominous: the sky is described as a ‘mourning’ sky and the horizon is ‘grey’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Blind Turns in the Kitchen Sink’ by David Estringel

The raw, unblemished
landscape claws the back of your eyes. Even
the air is like parchment, brittle, crumbles in
your hands, turning white. This place asks you
if you can be honest in the presence of so much
beauty. It asks about your truth. The perimeter
of your conviction. What is the difference
between life and cloud? What is the distance
between death and rain?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 55

I liked last year’s conference so much that I went again this year, seeing many people I’ve met before. When I set off at 5.30 on Saturday morning for Bristol, I saw a snail on the car roof – an omen of weather to come. After a useful day of workshops I slept in my tent while a storm raged, waking in a puddle, finding enough dry space to battle on. On Sunday I went to more workshops that showed me how much I need to improve my close reading. I read at the launch of “51 and a half games and ideas for writers with example responses”.

Tim Love, Flash Fiction Festival, 2023

When I pick the beetroot, I think of my Dad.
When I pick the green beans, I think of my Dad.

I will think of my Mam when I cook them,
the conversation we could have had about

how long I sautéed the chopped stems
of the beet leaves, before adding the leaves,

how much garlic I added, and how the beans
didn’t need any salt. So tender. So fresh.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Harvest

And it takes friends who’ve heard your self-doubt, excuses, attempts to change the subject. If writing is like gardening, if the garden is a place for working it all out, for being in a place without words, or naming things, a place you’ve made, planting tomatoes outside and hoping there won’t be blight, risking seedlings to slugs, wondering why this year there are so many opium poppies, friends offer a view of hills, all the different greys and a dawn sky, reminding you that after midnight in the dark woods you heard a nightingale three nights running, and then the wind shook everything up. 

Jackie Wills, Friends and a view of hills

People suffer and throw themselves 
into the Seine. The buildings have scars 
which grow lighter like our skins. 
Shop women roll their cat eyes jealously,
hearing we’re American.  

But what provocateurs they’d be, 
their loving presentation of breast
set like cake batter inside a bodice,
the body as curse or chalice.  
So frank, so chalice the flesh in Paris. 

Jill Pearlman, How to Break the Ice in Paris

My weird summer virus coincides, weirdly, with a huge heat wave—temps of 90 (and humidity levels at 30) meant an almost desert-like feeling to Seattle in the last couple of days. We were watering the hummingbirds, two bird baths and fountains, our poor flowers and baby trees – and ourselves. We have air conditioning, but it struggles to catch up with temps over 80. A common Seattleite’s summer retreat to a cooler area, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, had to close today because a mountain lion went to the beach to cool down!

On my sick days, I had a chance to catch up on movies—and I watched Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (which was cute, and very true to the book, except for I remember the mother worked in the book?) and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, which felt like a mashup of many of my own poetic obsessions—apocalypse, the Cold War era’s paranoia, mistrust of the government, aliens, nuclear testing anxiety, quarantine and its reverberations, and of course, death, Shakespeare, and witches. Some of my friends really did not like this movie, which highlights artificiality in a sort of odd black and white narrated Rod Serling juxtaposed with a tableau of the American West in color and admittedly does not have a linear plot. But I loved it—and more than that, it was the first movie I’ve seen that made me want to make a movie. (I have a friend with a fancy Ivy League degree in film and I suddenly had the urge to ask to borrow all her books from the program.) This film almost felt like a visual poem—a pastiche of Wasteland-like fragments. The other thing I noticed was influences from my generation—from Futurama episodes (I recommend watching “The Series Has Landed” and “Roswell That Ends Well” for shot-to-shot comparisons) and MST3K fifties apocalypse anxiety films. Wes is four years older than me, so we probably watched and read a lot of the same things growing up. I loved Moonlight Kingdom, but I strongly identified with this film—it’s practically set in my childhood home of Oak Ridge with its massive government buildings and kooky genius children in nearby schools, called “Atomic City.”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Birthdays, Heatwaves, and Thoughts on Asteroid City and the Poetry World

These are the ghosts of cities we loved
                    and lived in: perfect, scaled-down houses,

rooms now vined with glossy overgrowth.
                   Landmarks loosened from the horizon bond

closer to their ruined shadows. Which bird, which god, 
                  delivers these triumphs of otherworldly scale? 

The universe: nothing but a battered suitcase, its insides 
                 carpeted with remembered skies and glowing 

mycelia. Maps of the world,  speckled with fruiting spores.

Luisa A. Igloria, Terminal

My second full-length poetry collection is finally available. Whew! It took a good bit of patience, some frustration, and considerable persistence to get here, but I believed that this was a manuscript worth plugging away on. And thank you to Highland Park Poetry and to judge Cynthia Gallaher for choosing RQH as a prizewinner.

Persistence doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, we tend to focus on how important it is to keep on keeping on. However, I’m not sure I wholly believe in the process of sticking-to-it no matter what; there are times when you do need to let go of an unattainable goal or the pursuit of a not-terrific idea, and just–well, fail. I have let go of quite a few goals, plans, and previous manuscripts when I honestly evaluated my feelings about them and their possibilities for becoming realized. It’s okay to fail. You learn more from failure than from success. I have gained quite an education that way myself.

But I wanted this book to get into print. I like the poems in it. I like the things I learned as I played with meter and form and (mostly slant) rhyme. It was fun to find a range of topics that managed, one way or another, to work together. Mostly, I wanted an audience, to find out whether readers find it thought-provoking or entertaining or interesting. Also, I was starting to sense that it was getting in the way of my next manuscript. Yes, of course I have the next manuscript…

Ann E. Michael, Aloft at last

Once a week I would knock on the door of Madeline’s office with a copy of my typed-out poem. Madeline would invite me in, her red ballpoint in hand. Each week I fervently hoped that she wouldn’t find a word to circle or a phrase to underline. I prayed for a mistake-free poem. One day she explained to me that “the poem was only as good as the weakest link in the chain.” Once the weak chink was excised from the work, a new issue would take its place. In other words, my wish was impossible.

But it didn’t matter! Through Madeline’s teaching I was first introduced to the poetry of Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds, and Richard Hugo. Through Madeline I learned the art of revision—whether I wanted to learn it or not. Without that tough and (at the time) tedious lesson, I never could have become a published poet.

And as tough as Madeline was with me, she was also kind. For our last class together she invited me to her home for lunch; the first and only time this happened to me as an undergraduate. After the meal, we took my poems and laid them out underneath the dining room table. Here was my teacher on her hands and knees peering at my mess of a manuscript.

I think this was the first time I ever saw anyone care about my work, anyone take it seriously. Underneath her table! Thank you, Madeline.

This would have been enough but she also came to my small graduation party at my group house. She modeled for me what a professor, a mentor, could be. When I moved to Seattle, several decades after graduation, Madeline had moved here, too. And at each of my book launches, Madeline was there, sitting in the front row.

For Madeline’s 90th birthday, I worked with her literary executrix, Anne McDuffie to try and make the event memorable. We had a broadside done of one of her poems by local poet and printmaker, Joe Green, and there was lots of cake. Anne had asked me to speak to Madeline’s time in Massachusetts and I was both honored and terrified. And once again, there was Madeline in the front row, watching.

Susan Rich, Madeline DeFrees: a poet you really should know; I’m very thankful that I did…

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

I tend to write in many different styles, depending on the needs of the work, and my mood. One day, as a student, I went to Sharon Olds’s office, and she had my poems spread across her desk in a grid. She showed me how different styles I was practicing worked (or didn’t work) in relationship to one another. She told me where she thought my strengths were. I cherish that advice. It helps me remember the ways of writing that feel natural for me, so I can challenge myself by writing in other ways too. […]

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?

Visual art has always been an inspiration. When I was in grad school in NY, I would take the subway to the Met and spend all day walking and observing, or sitting in front of a sculpture and free writing.

However, in the past decade, I’ve swung the other direction. My book banana [ ] was very research-based, and I loved coming home from work and reading history books, writing down any fact about the fruit that struck me. Right now, I’m writing poems that begin with cardiac studies that I perform at the hospital where I work. I’m very interested in what happens when we combine language that is supposedly “poetic” or “beautiful” with scientific or academic language that intends to serve a different purpose.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Paul Hlava Ceballos (rob mclennan)

This morning I saw a piece by one of those pedants who declare that writers must write every day. Or what? I thought, and of course the answer came immediately – if you don’t write at least something every day, you can’t call yourself a writer. […]

[I]t occurred to me that for the last couple of weeks I haven’t written a thing. A new, confusing, incredibly annoying laptop hasn’t helped. Why are the people who make these things seemingly so intent on ‘upgrading’ them? I suppose they get paid to think of new stuff a laptop can do but I suspect they forget that most of us just want something that’s simple to operate and quick to fathom out. In my case I’m far too thick to adapt to a new and complex system of icons and symbols. I even had to be showed where the on-off button was hiding… Mostly this has driven me away from technology to the point where I’ve hardly even used my phone, let alone the internet. Please don’t get me started on the vile idea of closing physical ticket offices at train stations. I have no interest whatsoever in buying a ticket online and downloading some App or other.

I’ve taken to transcribing old poems stored forgotten in some ethereal hole (like this site) back into longhand. I’ve been busy looking after hens, arranging for new middle white pigs to come at the beginning of August, watching Test cricket, working on bits and pieces on our smallholding. I’ve also read a fine book about the West Bromwich Albion championship-winning season of 1919-20, part of a novel that bored me so much I tried reading it from last chapter to first. (No improvement.) I also read about a protest march by London’s wig-makers in 1764 when, it seemed, wigs were going out of fashion and ‘wearing your own hair, if you have any’ was becoming so popular they faced ruin.

Writing poetry? Nah. Though I did dig a book from 20 years ago off the shelf, Rain On The River, by a Californian poet, Jim Dodge, which reminded me why I kept it. Take his poem The Banker, which begins: His smile is like a cold toilet seat. [Mind you, that’s sometimes preferable to a very warm toilet seat – Ed.] He shakes my hand as if he’s found it floating two weeks dead in a slough. These are poems of madness, fun and impulse but also of domesticity, of a family and working life full of ordinary, extraordinary, passionately respected events, of a life shaped by memories passed and recorded through generations where you strive to live what you’re given as well as you can. It’s one of those books where the writing feels relaxed almost to the point of diffidence but is anything but. I think from what I read about him, Dodge has concentrated on novels since Rain On The River was published, which would seem the novel’s gain and poetry’s loss. If you can pick up a copy somewhere, I’d heartily recommend it.

Bob Mee, TOO BUSY TO WRITE? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Recently I realized I’ve begun marking the passing of time through words and growing things. When I wake up in the morning, that day of the week begins with my thinking about what I will be reading, writing, or editing. I have a schedule I follow because I like order (or routine) in my life and I have other people depending on me. And yet, the “order” the hours take are not strict and unbending. Sometimes, I’ll wait to edit an essay 3 or 4 days before it’s due to publish, thereby spending several hours doing that one thing, or I’ll begin writing down a story a week before the submission deadline. Sometimes, often actually, the urgency lights a fire under my ass, makes me accountable.

I keep a journal, of sorts, that includes gardening notes – when I planted seeds or bought a plant, what seeds took and what didn’t, dates of first blooms, dates I fed or cut something back, all sorts of notes. I can look back for several years and see what grew well and what bombed. Although I keep great notes, the garden itself is wild and somewhat overgrown. Plants that shouldn’t be together end up in the same pots or seeds get planted past the “plant by” dates because I don’t always follow traditional gardening advice. Freedom. I want to see what will happen and, more often than not, everything gets along just fine as long as I tend to watering and feeding. Accountability.

There is order, accountability, and freedom in my approach to writing. Order doesn’t have to be limiting at all when you mold it into what works for you. Something I’ve realized recently is that I’ve been fighting against the “write every day” blueprint because I thought that meant you sit down at a desk every day at a certain time and write at least 1000 words, no matter what. Google “write every day” and you’ll get a plethora of advice, workshops, and classes and yet, I believe you will be happier and more prolific when you design a practice that works for you as an individual.

Charlotte Hamrick, Order, Accountability, Freedom

I exercised my way into a knee injury, and turned my writing life upside-down. That’s because I do a lot of dictating into my phone while walking. And now I’m not walking much. I also use stair-climbing as part of my thinking process. Doing chores in our house means stairs, and that’s some of my best thinking time. Though now I have more stair-thinking time, as I take it one step — good foot, bad foot — at a time.

I’m doing more of my thinking seated. Poetry and editing, however, seem to benefit from my staying seated. Fiction, not as much, because thinking of those plot twists requires me to be in motion.

Many of my poems were composed while walking and dictating, but yesterday I started a new practice of sitting poems. Even better if I’m sitting in an unusual places, such as a hot car while waiting for my husband to come out of the store, or on my deck while watering plants while sitting down. Instead of walking through it, sitting in a lovely field. Under a giant oak that tells me it loves me by dropping twigs on my head.

Rachel Dacus, The Benefits of a Writing with a Knee Injury

Perhaps we should talk more about formulas and genres. A romance novel has a formula, as do most chart-topping songs. The content creators are usually adhering to some sort of formula based on what they are drawn to themselves or the styles of other creators. But then so does literature sometimes–even poetry.  Insta poets are an obvious example. New Yorker poems are another. I would also say certain avant-schools of poetry also have a style you see again and again. 

And ultimately, unless you are one of those rare exotic birds who doesn’t want to share your work, your work eventually becomes content, whether you read it at a reading, post it on FB, or submit it to a literary magazine. At the point where it meets a consumer, no matter how lofty its aims. So this at least makes me feel less weird about calling my art content. 

But I will confess that doing so, at least in the past year or so, has made things like promotion and social media little more fun. I used to see them as separate, the art-making and the content creation, one the meat and potatoes, the other the flavorless broccoli, or the necessary evil of getting your work out there and enticing readers/viewers to look at the art. But much of what I do now I see holistically as part of the same process. I used to focus so much on the end product of book sales and gaining attention, but now I try to focus more on sharing things–whether it’s poems or images or video. The sharing is the point (though if it leads to book sales or website visits all the better.) But I’ve used the analogy before of the museum gift shop. Nice if you stop in, but absolutely not necessary. You can still enjoy the museum. This shift in thinking has taken a lot of pressure off me to see myself as failing if I don’t get enough likes or hits or sales in the shop. The content and the sharing/consuming is the point, not these other markers. 

Kristy Bowen, art and content | the dirty c-word

This week has been a wild, adrenalin and caffeine driven power march through my own edits on The Ghost Lake, galloping towards the deadline and swinging between elation and something like dread. But I am loving it. I am living a life that I began working towards ten years ago. Most days I’m up by 6.00am. I brew my coffee, I sit in the office space I created for myself, I listen to the jackdaws and the wood pigeons outside my office window and feel the sun creeping up behind the blinds to greet me. I can hear people getting in their cars and heading out to work and I feel utterly lucky to be able to do the thing that I do – writing, workshops, facilitating, mentoring. Because I’m an early riser I generally have a couple of hours of some sort of writing related activity (more on that later) in the bag before the day really begins. […]

Last week someone I know from the poetry community commented on one of my many morning pics (the taking of the morning pics is an act of accountability that gets me to my desk) and asked if I had any blogs about managing time as a freelancer and writer. I do…somewhere in the mists of time on my website… but I realised my process has changed so much over the years that it probably wouldn’t be relevant now.

Not everyone has money to sit on while they write. It’s one of the biggest blocks to people from non traditional backgrounds, from non affluent backgrounds, to getting into the arts. I’ve literally just been writing about this in my book so I’m a bit riled up about it. If you’re like me and from a working class background, without the nest egg, you will need to first accept this, accept that the aesthetic of the writer doing nothing but writing, of being an (unpaid) intern for a year building contacts and learning publishing skills or media skills while you plan your novel, fresh out of university…that’s not for you. That wasn’t for me. Though I hold onto the dream that at some point I will be successful enough to make writing my priority all the time, I am realistic enough to know that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But if you want it, and ‘it’ is different to all writers – you will find a way of working for it, kicking down the doors and making it happen.

Wendy Pratt, Manage Your Freelance Time, Protect Your Writing Time

Fake Math by ryan fitzpatrick (Snare, 2007/ Model, 2022) in the copy I have, is reissued, with some of the 2007 edition culled, and the whole somewhat expanded with a section “Fake Math (20xx)” which written in the same spirit in the intervening 15 years. 

It is extremely dense. The poems examine inside the urban over-stimulus of capitalism. It is not narrative but changing sentence to sentence like Lisa Robertson’s Boat (Coach House, 2022). Boat uses repetition of the idea of imaginary doors as portals to create touchstones between non-sequitur lists. fitzpatrick’s has no such device acting as a connector except a hyperglossia speed. In Robertson’s

Every angel is fucking the seven arts.

Each leaf had achieved its vastness.

A young woman is seated on a kitchen chair, black wings spread out as if drying.

It was August and the night was hot.

What we were proposing already exists. 

Lisa Robertson’s Boat

Whereas in Fake Math, fitzpatrick’s non sequitur leaps cluster physically tighter with “less breathing room” as they say, even stand alone phrases rather than “full sentences”. 

Just because we screw doesn’t mean.
Just because we assume swoosh pants. 
Tradition and the tattooed cerebellum. 
Sweat and swoon of commodity fetishism. 
Totemic icon of commodity, and test drive. 
Art is a dirty word.
A heart of purina.
In the sun on the beach.
Loving the V-8’s hum.
Bud of calm, blossom of hysteria.
Why gold confronts the linen as money. 

ryan fitzpatrick’s Fake Math

The stress against capitalism and “jinglistic” noise (“ a heart of purina”) is rolled out frenetically as it was rolled into the head but with a twist. Academia and intellectual spin is in both poets, and a critical posture rather than self-reveal.

Yet, there’s beauty that stops you in your tack to fill your sails in each work, whether a leaf achieving its vastness or bud of calm, blossom of hysteria. 

Pearl Pirie, Fake Math

If you turn the stereo down low enough, you can hear the downtrodden aching for an antidote to oppression.

You can understand how hard it is to change horses mid-breath when the final breath is being choked from your body.

On the streets, I hear rumblings that the gun has taken a shot at writing poetry.

Perhaps it can teach bullets how to sing Ave Maria.

Rich Ferguson, Season of Goodbyes

Sarah Bakewell writes books on people who have ideas, which does not on its face sound interesting, but they are. The books are less about the ideas per se than about the people, their influences, their time period, who they were, and who they influenced, and she tells it all in a wonderfully breezy way, making links and telling sidebar tales. I just love her work.

What I’m reading now is called Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope. It’s not what you might call riveting, but it’s been a good read. Humanism, in broad brush, is the idea that humans are capable of great moral acts, great artistic and technical achievements right here in this life on this Earth, and our lives should be dedicated to joy and radical understanding of all things. The idea that maybe was best captured in Rodney King’s plaintive, “Can’t we all get along?” and in the nonjudgmental “don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto you, cuz hey, if you’re into that other stuff, whatever.”

They might believe in a god or gods, these humanists, but they think worrying about the afterlife is not the best way to make living in this life the best it can be. Some were perhaps overly humanocentric, but many had made the connection between humans and, well, everything else. Humanists over time may have disagreed on some stuff, but essentially they all believe that human beings have the power to not be dickheads, and we should use that power.

All kinds of interesting people have thought this but their voices have been drowned out by louder voices of intolerance, greed, war, stupidity. She mentions, for example, J. M. Dent, who in 1916 in England founded the Everyman’s Library. Which put me in mind of those encyclopedias peddled door to door. It was with enormous sadness I chucked our family’s World Book…but only because I couldn’t see my friend Helen’s family’s slightly newer edition get chucked, and I still have it hoarding valuable shelf space. How many out of date encyclopedias does one household need? One, certainly.

Marilyn McCabe, It’s gonna take a miracle; or, On Reading Bakewell’s Humanly Possible

I’ve been a fan of Gaia Holmes’s poetry since the publication of her third (and most recent) collection, Where the Road Runs Out, available from Comma Press here, which is among my very favourites of the last five years, if not all time. I’m pretty sure that it I bought on the recommendation of a typically warm-hearted review by John Foggin on his blog, here. I subsequently bought Gaia’s two earlier collections, which are both very good too. To paraphrase Orwell, all poets’ voices are unique, but some, like Gaia’s, are more unique than others’.

So I was really pleased to see today from Gaia’s blog that she’s uploaded a recording of her short story, ‘Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep’, to her Soundcloud page, here. It’s a terrific listen.

Even better is the fact that there are also loads of other atmospheric recordings, interspersed by music, which she made two/three years ago, of her (and other poets’) poems. I particularly like how, each time, Gaia paired one of her own lovely poems with somebody else’s to provide intriguing comparisons and contrasts.

Matthew Paul, On Gaia Holmes

Peter Kenny and I have just wrapped up the last episode of Season 3 of Planet Poetry. Our guest was Richard Skinner, a fitting ‘finale’ as he led us through a fascinating poetry landscape in which OuLiPo, curtal sonnets, Caedmon and cutups all made an appearance. Then Peter and I had a chat and a beer in the potting shed. It’s been an exciting but exhausting season and we can hardly believe the poddy is still going strong! […]

Yep, last week I got some new photos done (in readiness for all that Booker Prize publicity – tee hee!) Nothing makes you feel more confident (in my humble opinion) than a professional photoshoot. I’ve rubbed along with selfies and ancient headshots for a number of years, but as Nick needed photos too we asked photographer Sarah Weal for help. I can only describe her as an absolute magician, making us look like we mean business, but still very much us. I couldn’t help myself but use one of the shots she took as a featured image to this post. Forgive me! Anyway, even if the book deals never happen, I will love looking at these photos in ten or twenty years’ time (fingers crossed) and say  “look how amazing and young we were!”

Robin Houghton, Round up: poems, podcast, garden, new photos…

David King is an award-winning experimental filmmaker, video and photo artist whose works have screened at the Australian National Museum, the Museum of Experimental Art in Mexico City, the BFI Theatre in London, the Nova Cinema in Melbourne, Affero Gallery in USA, and many international film and video festivals. He also curates screenings of experimental films and videos, with works collected from around the world. I’ve been delighted to have some of my videos in his curations.

Earlier this year, David contacted me asking if I’d like to write a poem for a new experimental video he was working on. David’s visual style is very different from mine, so I thought it would be really interesting to collaborate with him on this project. The subject of the video is loosely about the ocean, which is close to the hearts of both of us.

So I wrote a poem called King Tide to fit the video. David liked the text and we decided that I should record it, and make a matching sound design. I wanted to have the audio closely linked to the video, so I used a program, Photosounder, that converts images to audio to generate a base set of audio samples. This program encodes parameters in the image, such as intensity, colour and location, into pitch and duration of the audio, which can then be altered by a wide range of filtering, re-sampling and play-back options. I selected a single frame from each scene in the video and from each of them made a sample set of audio files. These were then taken into Logic Pro for further processing, such as re-timing, re-pitching, filtering, and looping. There are over 85 of these samples in the final mix. Each set of samples is introduced when the corresponding source scene begins in the video, although most of them re-appear, or continue on later in the video.

The voice is mine, but it has been re-pitched, re-timed and had various filters applied in five layers. The little melody that appears under and around the vocal is also my voice, feeding a sample of the text into two separate vocoders.

Ian Gibbins, Topography of an Imaginary Ocean – video poetry collaboration with David King

Greg Thomas’s Border Blurs is a long overdue study of the impact and role of concrete poetry on the turn away from the Movement and towards the modernist legacy that stimulated an explosion of interesting British poetry 1950s, 60s and 70s. Thomas takes four of the most interesting of the poets involved as the spine of his narrative, two of them Scottish, two English: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Bob Cobbing. From this grouping it is clear that one of the blurred borders is the English/Scottish one, but the title refers just at much to the blurring of boundaries across genres that typifies the work of the four.

Thomas opens with an introduction and background chapter on the early development of concrete poetry, focusing on the Brazilian Noigandres group and the German Constructivists including Eugen Gomringer. These early concrete poets were, he argues, rejecting Dadaist chaos and looking to create work that was both experimental and supportive of the new post-WWII ideals of social order. This is an important counterpoint to the narrative arc of the British adoption of the genre, which can be traced as a move back towards Dadaist disruption. They were also influenced by developments in the area of information theory, which seemed to point towards a potential universal language; for the early exponents of concrete, this reinforced the idea that they could produce work that evaded the communicative limitations of language as it is and create work that could be understood by anyone, anywhere.

Billy Mills, Border Blurs by Greg Thomas: A review

More advice, although tongue-in-cheek this time, is offered in “How to be a Proper Poet”, where amateurs have to sit at a reading

“far away from the proper poet pack, to hang over the side of the pew to give you any kind of view because’s there’s another proper poet in front of you with big hair that’s soooo debonair, extraordinaire, laissez-faire, spectaculaire, yeah big, big hair that blocks your field of vision, resulting in a gale-force, full-frontal eye flicking big-hair collision – barn – move on, move on – oh dea, leaving you to strain to see and hear and wonder at the thunder rumbling in your head that says just smile and clap and nod, poor sod, even though the punchlines drowned by those with seats saved at the front you can’t expect any different, you’re only a pretend poet after all, small, insignificant, slightly deaf, lacking the intellectual heft to rarefy your silly rhymes but next time, next time… so if you want to be a proper poet and show it at another gig, bring wine, wear scarves, wear heels, oh just wear a wig.”

Advice that finds the right balance between letting the rhymes run on yet the poem is still readable. The breathy rhythm catching the sense of a ideas floating out from the annoyance at having your view blocked, sitting further than back you’d planned so hearing is a strain, yet it retains its focus and never feels as if it’s drifted out of control or let the sounds drive the poem at the expense of sense.

Emma Lee, “Devon Maid Walking” Clare Morris (Jawbone) – book review

A few years ago, a young poet was caught plagiarizing another poet’s work. They were not just called out and asked to be accountable, they were brutally made fun of, and to this day the occasional cruel reminder will be posted online about them as if they are not even a real person. You could tell it was never really about accountability to many of the people who went after them as, when this person accepted full responsibility for their transgression, and apologized personally to the poet whose work they had plagiarized from, no one cared. It wasn’t what they had really wanted. They wanted someone to make fun of. They wanted someone to take their anger out on. A person who is trying to be accountable is just spoiling the fun.

I reached out to this person, as had been done for me, and found that they were actually handling it much better than I had. I admired the tenacity, perseverance, grace and maturity with which someone so young was handling such a hard life event. We both had recently lost grandparents we were close with, and this person shared with me a poem that they had written for their grandparent, a beautiful poem, in their own beautiful and unique words, and I couldn’t help but feel so sad for this immensely talented young person who had made, and genuinely sought to atone for a mistake, and who told me “I will always keep writing, but just for me. I will probably never publish again.” It sounded like both a deeply personal choice and an inevitability of the current culture we live in, where redemption is not as desirable as cruelty.

I hope this person does one day publish again, but oh the hard difficult work we’d have to do to make such a thing a possibility. It was cruel enough to have gone through what they went through, but to have to go through it when they lost both of their grandparents, and to have to see the online vitriol, must have been even more painful. I know as I too lost a grandparent that I cared for on hospice during my “cancellation.” In my case, people used it as an opportunity to make fun of my “dead Grandma.” I want to think that these deeper stories would matter to those who often refuse to see the hurting and human face of the other, but for whatever reason we live in a time in which we just do not take the time to really see and hear each other in these deeper, more thoughtful ways.

Two other poets I know were “canceled” for personal conflicts with their ex-partners. They both permanently deleted their social media and quit publishing in addition to having much of their work removed from magazines. While I didn’t know them as well as I did the poet described earlier, I can only imagine their solitary journeys of exile were very similar and just as painful. The events surrounding their cancellations were very confusing, as personal conflicts tend to be, and it wasn’t obvious to me why it was a community concern.

Many of the same people were involved in their cancellation (if it isn’t obvious by now when I use the term “cancellation” it is used as a placeholder for what is more accurately bullying, scapegoating and dogpiling group behavior, which often leads to removal of a writer’s published work and/or a writer’s own decision to quit.) Once again it seemed obvious that accountability was not the goal, whatever that even would have been in such a personal situation, an apology and making amends to one’s ex I would imagine. Why that should translate into never being allowed to publish again eludes me. How sad that we have made a world for these young people in which redemption is derided and held in contempt, that they should feel they have to abandon their creative passions publicly rather than find pathways towards repair and reconciliation.

James Diaz, It’s Time to Confront Conflict in the Poetry Community

The facebook algorithm is interesting. Since I began cross posting from this “cancer blog”, my feed suddenly started showing posts from people whose posts never show up – and all of them working through cancer or other serious illnesses. One the one hand, this is good because I feel less alone – and it is humbling in a healthy way (as in “yeah, so, you and everyone else…”) – but on the other hand, I think: wow – I am putting a lot of “ick” out there that may be showing up in people’s feeds who don’t need to see it.

But then, isn’t that true of everything we put out there. Sometimes I am astonished by the amount of social regulating that we do online: Don’t whine/winge, Don’t flaunt, Don’t crow, Don’t overshare, Don’t be needy, Don’t be prescriptive.

“It’s not a good look” is my least favorite comment now. The irony of people using this to censure and censor other people: appearance being the gateway to authentic… anything? I don’t know if the phrase is “not a good look”, but I think it is a window into the authentic concerns of person who typed those words. I have even seen this phrase used by journalists on major news outlets. (Do we even call them that now? “Media outlets”.)

I am thinking that life is too short to spend so much of it sneering. And yep, I see that I am sneering when I write about the sneering. Vicious circle of social interactions?

I saw something this morning that (really) made me smile. In a video clip about the light beer controversy in Nashville, a woman with a sequined American flag cowboy hat said something to the effect of who cares what other people do. I have to admit, I saw that hat and expected something completely different from that woman’s mouth. There is one of my prejudices laid bare for me to look at and work to let go of.

Ren Powell, No More Number 2 Pencils

These plants springing from cracked pavement remind me of nature’s beautiful impulse for life. It restores my hope everywhere I find it. A handful of dry lentils taken from my cupboard, after a few days of soaking and draining, grow into cheery little sprouts I can use in salads, or feed to the chickens, or plant to grow into another generation of lentils. Seeds brought from Cyprus decades ago, shared by a friend, grow each year into giant hardy winter squash that keeps well until late winter –providing nourishing meals along with more seeds to save and share. Organic potatoes in my pantry wrinkle around tiny rosettes and from them, pale tendrils fragile with new life reach out in search of sunlight. I plant these eyes two or three times each season, from late March to late August, for fresh harvests of tender heirloom potatoes.

Life’s impulse can’t always survive what we humans are doing to this planet. As a direct result of human activity, the rate of species extinction is up to 10,000 times higher than the natural, historical rate. Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows ocean heating is equivalent to between three and six 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. The UN says “climate change is out of control” and experts in Earth’s climate history are convinced this current decade of warming is more extreme than any time since the last ice age, about 125,000 years ago. It’s exhausting to think about, let alone act on, this spiraling disaster.

We need new stories that reawaken us to the lived wisdom of this planet’s First Peoples and lead us to the most ethical, scientifically grounded regenerative lifeways going forward. It helps when we recognize nature isn’t just what sprouts from cracked pavement. It isn’t confined to wild places we long to visit. We are nature, right down to the life processes of every cell. It helps when our new stories speak to our descendants. It helps when they answer our ancestors.

Laura Grace Weldon, Honoring The Impulse To Thrive

“You are dreaming for humanity,” is what Jean Valentine once said to Hafizah Geter in a Paris Review interview on poetry.

If you’re a poet interested in line breaks, Valentine is the place to learn. Geter says of Valentine’s:

“It makes you trust yourself to the gap. Using everything you’ve ever known and forgotten, your mind and your imagination construct a bridge beneath you in real time. Suddenly, instead of “minding the gap,” you cross it. Studying her poems, I learned I could build a bridge between anything I loved—a poet, a song.”

And so when people are asking why they should read poetry, there, that. THAT.

Because we need to know how to bridge gaps. We need to get one thing talking to another through a gaping space, over a vastness, a chasm. Poetry can do this. We can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Jean Valentine with C.D. Wright

The poem describes walks I’d take with Violet every day, strapping her into the baby carrier and walking her around the historic German Village neighborhood where we lived the first year of her life. We’d walk through Schiller Park—yes, there is a bronze statue of the German poet Friedrich von Schiller there—and I’d point out things to her as we passed, as if I were a tour guide. That’s sort of what early parenthood felt like: being the tour guide for someone new to the world.

I wanted my daughter to love this place I brought her to, and I wanted the world to deserve her. This theme comes up in other poems of mine. “Porthole” from Goldenrod opens like this:

I was hoping the world would earn you,
but it rains and rains, too busy raining
to win you over.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “First Fall”

I said in my last blog that I had started writing some different, fresher material. This has coincided with me going through all my poems and retiring poems that I didn’t feel were strong or good enough. Most of these poems were not in one of the two or three collections I have in progress, so it was easy to just pack them away in a Retired Poems folder. I might go back in the future and have a look at them to try and refresh or reuse some of the material and I know they’re still there if I want to use one or two, but it feels good to shift them out of sight. 

I write a lot, see note about having three collections going, but many of the poems I write are good enough on their own, but don’t work well with others or my style has changed and I just don’t find them as appealing anymore. I then went through the collections and had a cull as well. I didn’t take out as many poems, but I changed the direction of one book, so I did need to take about a third away. It feels liberating to pare things down, to turn towards this new direction. 

I have one of those collections with a publisher, but it’s been stalled for four years. In the meantime, I’ve rearranged and edited it over and over. It’s better, certainly, but it doesn’t make the wait feel any better. It’s just so frustrating, not knowing when or if it will happen. I don’t know if I’d be happier to have the collection the way it is, basically better, or to have it earlier, so I can move on. I sometimes feel like I’m still stuck in that place where the collection inhabits until it’s published as I keep revisiting the poems as I edit. It will be nice to be free of them, in a sense. Until then it’s a waiting game. A wading game as I move through the poems, just up to my ankles, occasionally plashing about.

My writing group is having its third annual retreat in two weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I have to drive, but besides that it will be just hanging out with people I like, writing, talking writing, eating and drinking, jumping in the hottub. It’s a blast and I always manage to write a poem or two while I’m there. The day after we come back, I’m off to work. So that will be the end of summer, a proper send off. 

Gerry Stewart, Rewriting Memories and Poetry Collections

The day before my birthday storm Poly (Beaufort 11) raged at speeds of 140 kms an hour: overhead lines and trees came down. The day after my birthday the Dutch government fell.

On my birthday I treated family to lunch. It was a joyous occasion. My uncle (born 17 years after my mother) turned 85 in June. He has only recently given up playing volleyball: too much for his shoulders. He’s taken up Jeu de Boules instead.

Here are two verses from an extended sequence titled Briefly a small brown eye.

Primary school demolished,
protestant church a community centre.
Our old house extended.
Forty years on no reason to visit
this town other than the old uncle.

Lunchtime, my aunt brings out
the special table cloth.
She has embroidered signatures,
some in Arabic, some in Cyrillic.
I’m looking for mine.

Fokkina McDonnell, The special table cloth

Those mornings when you realise there is no plan for the day; no thing. Yet knowing it will unwind like a clock’s chime. A pal to call upon; a decision of direction to be made. An adventure to be had that has not thought itself through yet. It’s early. A deep breath turns to the window lightening slowly; everything is slowly today. The mind curtains the breeze, the light as still as a deep breath turning a stretch into a swing of legs. The length of a smile about nothing, the thought of nothing to do. Out of the window a gaze is held in perpetuity, in deliberate incomprehension turning. Slowly. Breakfast spoons time in the milk of childhood. A determined plan to do nothing with determination. To reduce adventure to the unraveling of a day’s indecision.

Jim Young, So much about nothing to do

After some time, the light

extends a long leg, a dark root,
bending toward me, a giant
curious about small things.

Lopsided butterfly
slowly opens and closes
torn white wings.

PF Anderson, Fixed & Floating

on which side of my skin is sky

have all suns held inside a dawn that never arrives

Grant Hackett [no title]