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.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 4”

Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. 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, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3”

Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. 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.

The first digest of 2024 is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. (And yes, I know that expression dates me. I am an old.) Ten inches of snow fell and then were partly washed away again as I compiled this post today, which is quite Janus-faced: half looking back and half looking forward, half summarizing and half summoning. Let’s begin.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 23

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: summering, fathers, writing by hand, homecomings, and more. Enjoy.


These lovely, almost-summer days have gone on and on, and I have been outside whenever I can be, reading on a wooden glider draped with an ivy-patterned comforter. Meanwhile, the ground was parched and the creek has twice gone dry. Until today! Sprinkle, then steady light rain, episodic, but enough to make all the plants stand up happy and straight, with some of them appearing to grow an inch in a day. The first day lilies have opened, making it seem to be true summer! 

Swimming started this week–oh, how wonderful! That, too, makes summer seem here to stay…though it doesn’t stay, and already I am aware how swiftly it will go by. I lap swim early, wash the chlorine out of my hair, and walk to work. Sometimes at work, during our 15-minute breaks, we take walks around town. Friday, we walked to the university library and saw a ceramics display, 100 pieces based on poems. I love my life.

In it, this lucky life, I am balancing my sorrow. And some ongoing stress. I am grateful I can do so. And glad that these clematis blooms opened on the fence, despite the weeks of drought. Some vines did not even produce buds. But seeds I planted at the re-mounted little free library did come up. More to be glad of and grateful for!

Kathleen Kirk, Rain, Finally

I dreamed the other night of discovering a sonnet by a woman writer whose name I only knew vaguely. Someone had taped it up on a door frame. I don’t remember the words, just that I found it moving and skillful–all one enjambed sentence, shorter than usual lines, hitting the rhymes and iambics in a satisfying way. I guess I wrote the sonnet, really–I am a woman writer whose name some regular poetry readers only know vaguely–to whatever extent the poem existed at all. Talk about ephemera! A poem “read” by one person, in a dream.

I haven’t been writing poems in my waking life, although I’ve been rereading H.D.’s poetry and researching what scholars say about her use of Tarot cards. Next week I’m taking a family vacation in midcoast Maine, and on the way home I’ll get dropped off in New Haven, CT, so I can spend a few days with her papers at Yale’s Beinecke library. We know H.D.’s book-sources for the Tarot but not what decks she used, it seems, at least when she started, around 1930, mailing readings from England to her childhood friend Viola Jordan, who was by then raising children in New Jersey. H.D. scholar Susan Stanford Friedman quotes a 1941 letter to Jordan in which H.D. wrote, “I got one pack in Vienna and have an English one with rather silly pictures” (202). The pictures on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck that was widely available don’t seem silly to me, although another very knowledgeable H.D. scholar tells me the RWS deck is likely, given how widely available it was then. These questions might not lead to recoverable information, in the end. There were lots of European decks floating around because Tarot was a game as well as a divination practice. Ephemera.

I don’t know what I’m doing with this project, really, other than following curiosities and seeing if there’s an essay in there somewhere, probably a hybrid scholarly/ personal one, as in Poetry’s Possible Worlds. There are H.D. connections in Maine, too, so in a way I’ll be bringing these thoughts on vacation. She sometimes summered as a child in the Casco Islands near Portland, a landscape that strongly influenced her first collection, Sea Garden, although she casts her references in that book as Greek. I won’t get to the Casco Islands but we’re going to visit Camden, Maine–Millay territory–if only for a few hours.

There’s a great verb: “summering.” Dreamy, with a wealthy scent. I don’t think I’ve ever done it, but maybe I should post the word on the frame of my office door for inspiration.

Lesley Wheeler, Summering, ephemera

We proceed error by error in our writing rooms, in our studies and in our studios. But also, as Cixous talks about, there is the ecstasy of technique. There is the endless practice, the attention to detail, to form, to the mechanics. The beforehand is work work work. The truth of a piece lies to some extent there. There is the knowing, the accumulating of knowledge regarding the materials, the history of art-making broadly and then super specifically pertaining to the work at hand. And then there is the letting go of all that you know once it’s been absorbed so deeply. It’s not something you hold but something you are. And maybe this sounds a bit flaky. But that’s the point where the beauty leaks, the light seeps, the mystery glows.

Shawna Lemay, Tornados and Truth in the Atelier

I always make final choices about line and sound while sitting at my laptop, reading the poem aloud to myself over and over again, making changes in service of the rhythm, music, and pacing. Here you can see several places with assonance (vowel sounds, like the long “I” in pines and fire); consonance (consonant sounds, like the “L” in smell and soil); and alliteration (consonant sounds specifically at the beginning of word, like the “L” in little and lashes).

I broke the line to create pauses where I wanted them, slowing the poem down, and to build tension and suspense. Look at the line endings I’ve marked with arrows. Here the reader has questions that they must read on to have answered. Some lines I liked on their own because they have their own integrity and meaning apart from the rest of the sentence. For example, “I’m thinking I don’t want to die” means something on its own, so that line feels charged. When the reader reaches the end of the sentence on the next line—“in a room”—the meaning is clarified, even transformed.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “A Room Like This”

Mid-flow, everything screeches to a halt. Mid-pentameter “doth” and I am thinking, what the Hell am I doing? Sacrilege to mess with Shakespeare. Where do I get off?

How do I marry the archaic language to a heightened, but accessible language? And then there is the fact that my lines just beg to run into hexameters. Alexandrines. I have no idea why. But I am tired of fighting it.

So be it.

But then there is the question of whether I should toss out all of the names and give the characters new ones. I find myself giving Regan’s lines to Goneril to better build their spines and distinguish one from the other, as I see them in my story. I’m thinking someone in the audience is going to be scrolling through their memory at that point, instead of following the dialogue.

On the other hand, why not. Regan has digested Cornwall. Kent, the Fool. This is not an exercise in paraphrasing doctrine. More like sampling. And drawing from the well that is deeper than even Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s passages as Easter eggs in something new. Nothing really new here in terms for “stealing”.

Ren Powell, Crisis of Confidence

A friend said the other day she’d seen no bumblebees in her garden this year, another wondered why there was so little buzzing in hers. 

Often in my mind when I’m on the allotment is self-taught French scientist, Jean Henri Fabre, whose Book of Insects is probably in my lifetime top ten. Observe,  he urges, learn. 

Fabre bought a patch of barren land in Provence and on it studied insects. He replanted thyme and lavender which had been dug up for vines, and from then on wrote about bees, beetles, the praying mantis, wasps….

Jackie Wills, A man, his land and its insects

Eventually the group ran its course. Matt became instead my unofficial, unpaid mentor. We wrote to each other frequently, and we would speak on the phone once a week too. He would sometimes ring me up to read me a poem he’d just written. When he eventually got a computer, he’d email them, then ring me up for my thoughts. Over time, our relationship changed from great poet and mentor, to one in which we [were] more equal and would help edit each other’s new poems. He had a small circle of poets he would show his work to, and I was one of them. He said I had the gift for putting my finger on just where the problem was, but this was because he I had absorbed so much from his ever-generously given edits he’d suggested on my own work.

In 1996, I edited a festschrift for him, which was no mean undertaking, because it had 83 contributors and was all done by snail mail. I had to type up the whole book myself, alongside a full-time teaching post and being a mum to two young children. But it was a labour of love, for by this time, after a friendship of 23 years, there was a deep, close and loving relationship between us.

This only deepened further over time. I was a regular visitor to his house and I also went into college on many occasions. I used to attend readings with him, because he wanted company. We travelled to Anne Stevenson’s 70th birthday party together and stayed at the same B&B. When he retired from full time lecturing, he was even more keen for me to visit, and we enjoyed going for a swim together in his daughter Cathie’s swimming pool. He would always email me afterwards and thank me for coming.

He dedicated one of his critical books to me, as well as a pamphlet. I was heartbroken when he died of complications after a heart-bypass operation we were hoping would make a ‘new man’ of him, as he himself said. It was 2009, the year I left full time teaching and was hoping to be able to spend more time with him. Sadly, that was not to be.

I learned a lot from Matt’s poems and from Matt himself. I learned working class people could be poets, that Latinate lexis could be mixed with local dialect, and never to be ashamed of my education. He wasn’t an influence over my work, but I learned how to edit my own poems without remorse.

Angela Topping, A brief history of my friendship with Matt Simpson (1936-2009)

I had set aside the summer writing time to work on my middle-grade novel draft that has been languishing on my jumpdrive for a few years now, but after deleting the horrible prologue, I’m not sure I have the energy to go back to it just yet (besides that, novels are just a different beast)

Instead I’ve been thinking about pantoums and sonnets and sestinas. Formal poetry was scarcely taught to me–not once in high school, maybe very breezily in undergrad, and a hard week in my MFA (me, crying in my professor’s office, telling her I was simply too stupid and redneck to write in meter).

I am interested in form, but struggle to hear meter. Is it the way I talk? The Southern accents I grew up with? What I read or don’t read? Though I do read a number of formal poets.

Renee Emerson, thoughts on form

While I’ve struggled with reviewing today, and I’ve managed about 15 minutes all week to look at a draft of poem (and that was mainly about cutting the repetition of conjunctions out), there has been some positive poetry news this week. I’ve been putting off approaching the various writing societies out there for readings. I may have mentioned I have a book due out in November (and don’t worry, I will mention it a few more times in the coming months), but having now 85% sorted the launch of my book (Venue sorted, readers almost all sorted, setlist started…I just need to sort the actual books, outfit choices, a haircut, flyers, invites, etc), I’ve got to think about getting the book out there and promoting it.

These things don’t sell themselves, so having written to a few places that are within striking distance of Beckenham I now find myself with two gigs booked already for 2024..and one more TBC. Ok, so the two booked ones are in January and September, so I’m not sure it constitutes a tour, but it is incredibly pleasing to see that people who have no idea who I am (as far as I know) prepared to have me come and read to them.

Mat Riches, Let’s get critical…

Our regional drought continues. I sometimes entertain the idea that the universe is telling me I might as well consider moving to the Southwest–where my children now reside–since the Mid-Atlantic area currently has less rainfall, higher temperatures, and lower humidity than where they are. Granted, this is likely to be a temporary situation; but for the present, I get the chance to walk on crunchy grass and hard soil daily and see how I like it. And to see blue skies for days on end, and see how I like that. What next?

Speculating on “what next” comes rather naturally to me, a reflective sort of human being; but making goals and ambitions toward accomplishment–not so much. Lately, though, the years-ahead thinking has been moved the forefront of my thoughts. It’s all those dang Medicare and Social Security and AARP mailings, in part, and my peers and I heading into the so-called retirement years. Inescapable: the conversations crop up around the dinner party table, while having coffee with a pal, or on a phone call with siblings. People keep asking me what my new goals are. I suppose, having reached the age Social Security (used to) kick in, I was expected to come up with new goals? Must have missed that memo.

Goal: the word is of uncertain origin, says Etymology Online, but appears in the 14th c “with an apparent sense of ‘boundary, limit.’ Perhaps from Old English *gal ‘obstacle, barrier,’ a word implied by gælan ‘to hinder’ and also found in compounds (singal, widgal). That would make it a variant or figurative use of Middle English gale ‘a way, course’…” And there’s the further meaning of a stake that signals the end point of a game. Interesting that goal can be an obstacle, a limitation, an end-point, or a pathway.

Ann E. Michael, Goals, sort of

A high-backed, slatted chair
as throne in a long-stemmed garden.

A city beyond it with glass, suits, revelers:
It changes by the hour.

Cars bead the bridge, a laudable
organization if only we knew what it was.

Jill Pearlman, Waiting for June

We were really fortunate. I don’t want to romanticize this moment. Lots of people lost a lot. Some people died. I almost used the term “terrible beauty” above to describe it but no, it wasn’t beautiful. There’s a sense of relief that comes when you realize that you’ve come through mostly okay and so have your people, but that’s not beauty, terrible or otherwise. It’s just life.

But you can find humor in the way you view these terrifying storms. And so now, given that hurricane season officially started just a few days ago, I bring you this poem, “Problems with Hurricanes” by Victor Hernández Cruz.

Hernández Cruz was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York when he was young, and has been a distinguished member of the Nuyorican movement for decades now. I have loved this poem of his in particular for years in part because of the way he grasps the absurd power of the storm by treating it was great seriousness. He does this by putting most of the poem in the voice of a campesino, a peasant farmer.

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it’s not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I’ll tell you he said:
it’s the mangoes, avocados,
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

And if you’ve never been in a storm like this, never experienced a tornado or derecho (for the record, I’ve been through those too and would rather a hurricane), then you might think “that’s crazy, of course it’s the wind and the noise and the water.” What damage could a banana do? The answer is that anything can do a lot of damage if It hits you at 90 miles per hour.

Brian Spears, It’s Hurricane Season Y’all

The planet excising parts of itself as a cancer–fairly standard imagery now.  The planet practicing plastic surgery has a nice alliteration.  The planet as feeling trapped in a wrong body and excising the parts that don’t fit–forest fire as corrective surgery–perhaps this imagery is too transgressive?

But maybe we want transgressive imagery.  Maybe in an era of apocalypse, transgressive imagery is what we need to shake us out of our complacency.

Living in the most southeastern part of Florida, cleaning up flood after flood after hurricane after flood, I always wondered how people could be complacent.  Now that I live in the mountains, where climate risk is much lower (not true of all mountains, I know, but true of mine),  I understand complacency.  Yesterday, it took me a few hours to wonder if the haze outside might be more dangerous than I thought.  I looked up a different chart from a different government agency, one that measures fire risk to lung health.  Our particulate levels weren’t particularly good, but for those of us without breathing issues, it was fair.

I looked up my old address in DC.  This morning, the code is purple.  I am glad I am not there.  My air quality here in the NC mountains is green.

A new apocalypse, a new metric to be learned, new charts to follow, new numbers rising and falling.  But don’t turn your back to the ocean, which is always rising, and faster than we’ve been told.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse in Flames with Tint of Ocean

I can’t stop the dog writing a book on the history of dogs
(It’s still in the research stage but I haven’t the heart to interfere.)
The dog insists on silence while he’s working.
We tiptoe around him, communicate with an elaborate
Selection of signs, try to avoid boiling the kettle.
The sound on the television is muted.

Bob Mee, A POEM WRITTEN WHILE UPPER CLASS POLITICIANS AND THEIR FAWNING ACCOLYTES SPOUT LIES ON A SUNDAY MORNING TV SHOW

In what has already become a somewhat forlorn attempt to arrest my book-buying urges, I thought I would, at long last, take up book-borrowing from Rotherham Library. I’ve been a peripatetic but often prolific library-user over the years since I was allowed to join Old Malden Library when I was six, so it’s a wonder, really, that it took me two years of living in Rotherham before I availed myself of the local treasures to be had. That’s right, treasures. In my experience, every library has them, and much serendipity can be gained by stumbling upon them. […]

As in all public libraries, the ‘Poetry’ section is especially random. But I came across Helen Dunmore’s penultimate collection, The Malarkey (2012), which was a bit of a curate’s egg for me. But when she was on form, she was a brilliant poet, e.g. in the strangely chilling, NPC-winning title-poem and, especially, in the remarkable ‘Barclays Bank, St Ives’, in which she framed – with her unerring, almost-mystical eye – what are presumably the bank’s customers:

Old men with sticks and courteous greeting
who have learned the goodness of days
and give freely the hours it takes
to reach the fathomless depth of the pipe’s tamped bowl
or the corolla of that daffodil
damply unfolding [. . .]

It’s a true exemplar of how poetic magic can be conjured from unlikely material.

Then there are university libraries. I suspect I’ve written before on this blog about the kid-in-a-toyshop wonder I experienced when I went to university and discovered that its library contained every poetry collection and novel I’d ever wanted to read but hadn’t managed, in those pre-internet days, to track down. There was also the University of London library in the superb Art Deco Senate House – used for the Ministry of Information during the war and, thanks largely to Orwell’s first wife working there, the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – in which I wrote my (dreadful) dissertation; and the library at Essex University, into and out of the paternoster lift of which I was wholly incapable of swanning and instead clambered with Stan Laurel-ish inelegance.  

Matthew Paul, On library going

In relation to music, people sometimes talk about hauntology, about the ghosts of imagined futures haunting the present, in the form of musical styles from the past and the technology used to produce them, a nostalgia for a future that never came to pass. Could the same be said to apply to poetry? Movements in the arts don’t change simply because it’s ‘time for a change’ but because the world changes. The brighter future many saw to be promised by the ideas, social movements and technological advances of the twentieth century has not yet materialised. If poets in 2023 still find themselves writing poetry that would not have seemed out of place forty years ago, it may be because they still find themselves working, in many ways, in a similar milieu.

Dominic Rivron, Hauntology in Poetry

Or maybe you’ve got good omen bones, enjoy the taste of homecooking bones.

Bones glowing like a Van Gogh nightlight. Bones doubling as billyclubs to pummel away those blues bones.

Open-road bones, home-sweet-home bones. Dream bones, tree bones.

Rich Ferguson, 206 Bones

Today, I was thinking how dare the world celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day so carelessly close together. Especially here at the top of the summer, where I feel like I am finally climbing out of a dark hole. And yet there it is. In the months after my mother’s death, I wrote an entire book of poems. I don’t have the urge to do so for my dad, though the home improvements series references parental losses more generally. Really, my father and I’s relationship was far less fraught with the stuff poetry is made of, though maybe it’s just a different kind of poetry I don’t really write. […]

Perhaps, it’s a book already written–my love of horror that charts so many projects, but particularly DARK COUNTRY is all him. As is perhaps my reading and writing habits in general. I am thankfully a little less shell-shocked than I was all of 2018..maybe because it’s easier somehow to lose the second parent than it is the first? Or is it that we were there with him in the last moments? His illness and death came on and went out even more suddenly than my mom’s. He was there and then gone in a matter of a couple weeks I have often debated in darker moments whether it was better to be there in the final moments or to not to be there in the final moments. I’ve decided both were just their own special kind of horrible. At the very least, my dad does not appear in dreams thinking he is still alive. He doesn’t appear in my dreams at all, though my mother still knocks around from time to time. But then again, his absence is another kind of sadness.

Kristy Bowen, the year without fathers

It’s been slow-going to say the least.

And for that slowness, I am so grateful. I can’t believe, reading back through the years and my process in these many entries, that I am finally at a place where I can say that truthfully, but I am. I am grateful that the agent didn’t sign me. I am grateful that I put the book away many times. I am grateful for the publishers who passed on it saying it was “lovely but too quiet” or “memoir is impossible to sell without a large platform” or “you can write but it’s clear you’re too close to this subject to be objective.” (That last one stung the most and was also the most correct.)

I am grateful that the old saw, “it only takes one YES,” turned out to be true with CLASH–a publisher that has seen and is excited about my vision for the book– and that it turned out to be true at a time in my life when I am no longer feeling frantic about the project. I am no longer desperate to write a book that will honor or memorialize my father out of some sense of writerly/daughterly obligation. The book is not about (and never was, really, about) my father.

Sheila Squillante, Sustenance, Redux

In a similar tone, ‘The Acceptance’ concludes with the word ‘Welcome’ being signed. But the 30 lines preceding this hark back to that ‘complicated man’ (a phrase from ‘Dementia’, from The Perseverance), the poet’s father. Though dead for several years now, he continues to haunt his son’s dreams and a number of these new poems. In ‘Every Black Man’, the ‘dark dreadlocked Jamaican father’ meets his prospective, English mother-in-law for the first time. He’s already drunk, there is shouting, he lashes out, she racially insults him: they never meet in the same room again. The father’s ‘heartless sense of humour’ is turned into a slow blues: ‘I think that’s how he handled pain, drink his only tutor’ (‘Heartless Humour Blues’). And the man’s ‘complication’ is reaffirmed in the poem, ‘Arose’, in which, talking to his embarrassed son, the father boasts of the great sex had with the boy’s mother, but then is touchingly remembered, calling out her name: ‘Rose? And he said it like something in him / grew towards the light.’

But All The Names Given also pays more fulsome tribute to Antrobus’ mother. In ‘Her Taste’, despite her conventional, English, religious background, she drops out, joins a circus (literally, I think!), has various relationships, and eventually gets pregnant by Seymour, the ‘complicated man’ from Jamaica, who left her to raise the children. Thirty years on, she’s defiant, independent, ‘holding her head higher at seventy’. We see her leafing through a scrapbook of her past, ‘rolling a spliff on somebody’s balcony’ or again, ‘in church reading Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I’m Not a Christian’.’ Despite such moments, the maternal portrait does not quite possess the vivid distinctiveness of the paternal one. But, with the benefit of the passing years, Antrobus can now write, ‘On Being A Son’, in which he unreservedly praises Rose in her neediness, her self-sufficiency, her helplessness with IT, her helpfulness in so much else. He concludes, channelling her voice: ‘mother / dyes her hair, / don’t say greying / say sea salt / and cream’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘The Man Overstanding’ – on Raymond Antrobus’ ‘All The Names Given’

Was it impetuous, inconsiderate, almost arrogant? Was it an opportunity deliberately contrived, a portal jimmied open, a shaft of light dragged through it, not to see but to make shadows dance? Wanting to say it all — without knowing what ‘it’ was, what ‘all’ might contain and what ‘saying’ would beget — to write without a plan, with trepidation, without an endgame, with a surfeit of angst, is, even at this age, either stupidity or violence. Very likely, both.

But it had to be done. Not because it was unique. Not because it was the most terrible thing in the world. Not because it almost killed me. But, because it was ordinary. Because it happened. And because I survived the way ordinary people survive ordinary things — with ordinary difficulty.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (42)

Someone on Twitter this week talked about how depressed she felt after her first book came out. I tweeted back something like: “That’s normal, you’ve got it all built up in your head so there’s inevitably let-down, book launches (now more than ever before) take so much effort on the part of the author—social media, readings, constant promotion. It is tiring.” And those things are the truth. Flare, Corona is my sixth book of poetry, and my eighth book altogether—but you never really get used to it. It never gets easier. Even if you have a great press, even if you’re totally healthy, even if you’re not coming into year three of a pandemic.

See the goldfinches in that picture. One of them is about to get off his perch—the other is mid-flight. You get the sense these birds are putting in a lot of effort. If you’re mid-flight, you’re thinking about your destination—if you’re just launching, you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it. It’s sort of like that with books.  There’s the book launch—maybe a party with friends or with your publisher—a few readings, a few reviews, maybe even good ones. Maybe you sell a fair number of books. Then the excitement fades, and guess what? You’ve launched, but you’ve still got work in front of you. My first poetry book still has readers, believe it or not—and it was published in 2006, the publisher changed hands, and I don’t even know if you can buy it through regular channels anymore. The point is, after the three months of book launch activities have faded, the book goes on. Sometimes you get tired. Sometimes—and this is completely normal—you feel discouraged that the book didn’t do as well as you’d hoped.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Dentists, Downtime and Summertime Rain: The Ups (and Downs) of New Books

I’ve been a letter-writer since childhood; since first I felt confident enough to summon words that would magically describe my inner world (more than the little events of my life, which interested me far less) to anyone willing to read them. I wrote to my great-aunts, to peers I found in the “pen-pal wanted” section of the periodicals I read, to the few friends I’d made during our summer holidays at the Adriatic seaside: more than anything, this was perhaps an excuse to indulge in an inner monologue necessary to understand myself and the world by relating them to others.

I loved the feeling of the ink flowing on the paper through my fountain pen, of words gliding through my fingers to become materialised thought on stationery. 

As happened for many, my epistolary habits decreased with the advent of computers, e-mails, the Internet, mainly because people stopped writing me back, but I never quite lost my enthusiasm for the written (written, as opposite to printed) word, the scent and feel of various kinds of paper – nor my notion of letters as papery birds. I somehow always envisioned them, and still do, as intricately folded aeroplanes in the shape of cranes, sparrows, swallows, gulls, for how else could they reach their destination, if not by flight?

When someone very dear to me was suddenly and unexpectedly jailed, shortly before Covid held the entire world captive, written letters became once more my only possibility to reach the person I so desperately needed to talk to – this time, not to develop my own thoughts and ideas, but to keep him, and myself, alive. A prison sentence always extends to everyone involved, not only the inmate.

I resuscitated my paper birds, and sent them on an uncertain journey across the North Sea, from where I lived to where he was locked up, and along with the 243 letters I would write – one for each day he would spend in prison – poems would come to me as well; poems that were probably what my letters had been before: a way of understanding what was happening, and of coping with it.

Drop-in by Alexandra Fössinger (Nigel Kent)

I believe that preserving the human component is not only necessary in order to save art or to show that there is something essential and inalienable about the human experience. Of course that is true. But I also believe it is the act of writing itself that is so very precious and worth saving.

It makes me quite sad to think of a new generation who may never keep a private diary, kids who may never turn to writing as a source of knowledge, self-discovery, privacy and solace. Why write, when there are programs everywhere that can get the job done for us?

As you all know well, writing is not about getting the job done. It is not yet another task to complete, a form to fill out, a set of data to input. Writing is a best friend when we’ve needed one, a pathway into ourselves when we could find no other way through. I don’t need to go on. You, my dear readers, all know exactly what I mean. That’s why you’re here. Each one of you knows how much writing, the act itself, has given you over the years. And you know I’m not just talking about lit mag credentials. I’m talking about really given you, whether you’ve published a single word or millions.

With all these programs doing the writing for them, will the next generation know the joy and power of the act of writing?

Becky Tuch, How should writers & editors handle AI submissions?

The decision whether to use a contraction (e.g. who is or who’s) might seem insignificant at first sight, but like any syntactic choice, it’s pivotal to how a poem works. As a consequence, it’s one of the first things this poetic geek notices when reading a poet’s work for the first time, taking it as something of a signpost to how they treat language, to their love of detail.

First off, one thing seems clear: we should never turn our back on any resource when attempting to achieve poetic effects. There’s no fundamentalism along the lines of always going either for the full or abbreviated form. Instead, the strongest poets seem very aware of the importance of their choice in each case.

Matthew Stewart, To contract, or not to contract, that is (or that’s!) the question…

For instance, fiddlehead
              fern seems identical to nail;
and the word for coconut resembles 
              the word for being discovered,
exposed— it all depends on 
              the accent mark—whether
it is acute, or grave, or circumflex.
              The cow in the field perhaps
thinks it grazes on the breast
               of the earth while underfoot,
a snail undertakes its epic journey.
              Two eyelash marks can help
tell apart lover from friend. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Diacritics

I’m coming out of the deep woods, twice in a week. How’s about that huh?

First this Wednesday for a pre-press fair reading (often held on Friday night but a changed up time slot and venue this year.) and then again on Satuday afternoon at the Jack Purcell community centre where I’ll have a table, or more exactly, a half table. Come and chat. Come and trade or buy, or bring me snacks.

Wednesday the 14th, I’ll be reading from 2 or 3 new chapbooks. I’ll be reading with writers I enjoy which will be a particular delight. Dave Currie, Jennifer Baker, Vera Hadzic and rob mclennan. I am something of a completist getting all the writings of these people.

Pearl Pirie, Public Appearances

I’m struck by the poems in If I Could Give You a Line (Akron OH: The University of Akron Press, 2023), the first I’ve seen but the second collection by Rhode Island poet Carrie Oeding, following Our List of Solutions (42 Miles Press, 2011). If I Could Give You a Line is a collection of poems borne out of a landscape, set as a book of cartography that seeks meaning through placement and mapmaking, examined through sentences. “A man walks through a field and makes a line.” the sequence “THE MAKING OF THINGS” begins, ‘’It is made of nothing but breath, // legs, the willingness of soft grasses. The failure of pencils. // The success of pencils. The phrases that failed you, // but you still have a body. // It is a field of wheat and blindfolded children.” I’m amazed at how Oeding composes moments through which her poems transcend themselves, such as the “blue, blue, blue” offering of the short poem “I KEPT A VOICE IN MY PEACOCK,” the first half of which reads: “It said it wasn’t a peacock. It was a map. / It said it was meant to be read. I read my peacock / and got lost. Peacocks don’t roam. I got lost on very little. / I wanted more, so I left my voice. I didn’t have any / plumage, so I shouted blue, blue, blue, and hoped someone would notice / I was doing all of this without a voice. I hoped someone would notice.” Her poems are composed as extended sentences, stretched-out thoughts that accumulate into lyric prose via deceptively-straightforward narratives. “I forget the line is simple,” she writes, further along the extended sequence “THE MAKING OF THINGS,” “but then remember the line is simple.”

rob mclennan, Carrie Oeding, If I Could Give You a Line

One of the opening poems in If I Could Give You a Line begins with my obsession with artist Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking.  Visual art is a major influence in If I Could Give You a Line, and this particular work excited me for how much it said and proposed about the physical line. The brilliant simplicity of thinking about mark making and the line in this way. It prompts me to think about the line and art making in the eight-sectioned poem.  

In If I Could Give You a Line, I play around with the traditional triangular relationship between artwork, poet, and reader. I don’t think my relationship with the reader is as traditional as a lot of ekphrastic poems. The book started with my envy of contemporary visual art and the immediacy I feel when I walk into a gallery or museum and experience that engagement with something made. I like that it’s a little impossible to be that immediate to my reader, but still be gesturing to them. I am exploring what it means that a moment of looking, as in a museum or as speaker in a poem, can feel both public and private at once. That tug and pull also connects to some of the speakers as mothers who want to be heard as artists but feel limited. What is the value of making something when they often feel ignored. Making art as a parent changed in something for me, and I am trying to figure that out, even though I am not always directly writing about motherhood. I am always writing about artmaking. I guess I can’t shake that every poem is an ars poetic, for me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carrie Oeding (rob mclennan)

I started writing poetry around the same time as I started getting into philosophy, back in middle school, bumbling my way along, so they’ve always influenced each other. I’m always asking myself what the difference is between these, well, acts of mind. What does poetry do? How does it work? I’m fascinated by how people answer these questions. My first book is Remains, which was republished in 2022 by Tiger Bark Press. My mum died in a bizarre car accident in 1995, and the book is my way of understanding her, I mean, the complicated, wonderful person she was, not just the fuzzy memory. I spent a couple of years talking with some of her childhood friends, college friends, talking with my family. We had two large trunks of letters and photographs and artwork in the basement. But Remains is also about how that whole idea, understanding her, isn’t really possible. The Pigs is my second book, and I’m glad, kind of stunned, really, that I finished it. I changed so much while writing it, and it’s so different from the first book.

I know that The Pigs is a very personal book for you, as it is rooted in your experience as a public school teacher. That experience unfolded against the backdrop of multiple school shootings, from Sandy Hook to Parkland, as well as the increasingly hardened police presence in our schools. Can you tell us more about that history and how this book came about?

Hardened is a good word. After the shooting in Uvalde, there was talk about “hardening” schools by locking doors, restricting access, and increasing the presence of things like police and security cameras. These are often proposed with the conviction that they’re protecting kids. This is how The Pigs began. I was angry. I wanted to open, and soften, this idea of what it means to protect kids, what it really means, especially in the context of a school, which is not about protecting but about growing. And I resist as much as possible these forms of love that are really forms of coercion and control. The more I read about school shootings and the people involved, the more I found myself writing about who I was in middle school. I was a violent, angry, lonely white kid. Change a few small details in my life and I imagine that things could have ended much differently. How did I make it out of childhood? What did I learn, then, to start becoming who I am now? I’d forgotten. I was trying to remember. The Pigs is my attempt to give that back to myself more intentionally.

An Interview w/Tim Carter (R. M. Haines)

Luke Samuel Yates focuses on everyday life and small details which show how relationships are built on little interactions, brief conversations and people pass without really communicating and missing the signals each is trying to convey to the other. The poems are packed with characters too busy to move into the future to pause a notice what’s happening in their present surroundings. Wry observations from a poet who recognises the importance of the immediate.

Emma Lee, “Dynamo” Luke Samuel Yates (Smith/Doorstop) – book review

When actors are in rehearsal they will often have a person whose role is to supply the correct line when the actor forgets or fluffs the script. I was recently asked to be the prompt in a production and this poem arrived as a result.

today’s unique selling point is that when words fail us
we can call line
and the appropriate dialogue will be supplied
all we have to do is repeat what we hear
and this drama that is our lives may continue until
the next person fluffs their speech

the director tells us to take ten
we look at each other and wonder what to say

Paul Tobin, TODAY’S UNIQUE SELLING POINT

One of the first clues into the framing narrative of Dear Outsiders by Jenny Sadre-Orafai comes straight from its stunning cover. This image of two people blending into one only to reveal the sea, one learns through reading, works to evoke the experience of the two siblings who serve as the speakers for this collection. Sadre-Orafai makes use of the first-person plural throughout in ways that reflect the blurring of boundaries and experience.

The presence of the sea is a starker matter; its presence speaks to the death by drowning of the siblings’ parents. The other element to take note of is the title itself. The first-person plural “we” here often feels like it’s addressing the reader in a direct, intimate way, similar to a letter.

These elements come together in startling and powerful ways. In “Low Recitation,” for example, a scene of the two siblings looking over maps quickly devolves:

We try to see different pictures, but the blue is kudzu, silencing the land. Name the world’s seven continents. Name the world’s five oceans. We think we see our mother’s body shape there.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Dear Outsiders by Jenny Sadre-Orafai

15. The stories in Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures) land differently when one can see the topography of spring and desert, valley and hill.

16. Even the names used for places, neighborhoods, and structures here convey identity and politics. Settlement or neighborhood? Security fence or separation wall? 

17. To really describe this place of promise, maybe I would need God’s voice: conveying all possible meanings and nuances at once.

18.  At the Great Mosque in Ramle one might sit on the floor, press palms to the lush carpet, and ask God for peace and wholeness for this place and its peoples. Of course, one might do that anywhere.

19. Everyone is on top of each other here. Different communities might be only a stone’s throw apart. I’ve known that for years, but when I’m away I forget just how true it is.

20. In her poem “Jerusalem,” the poet Naomi Shihab Nye travels from “I’m not interested in who suffered the most” to “it’s late but everything comes next.”

Rachel Barenblat, Fifty truths

After the headache cleared, I took a quick trip up north to my parents’ place. There was a moment, not recorded by my phone, when I was driving on a road that follows a shore’s path, and the swath of trees that borders the road gave way to a clear view of the water. At the moment of clearing I could feel something in my body shift and calm. When I was growing up, my parents were not boat people or water people, despite where we lived. I did not grow up on the water, in any way, but it was always there. Big bodies of it, surrounding me, as if I were a peninsula. Where I live now there is a big river–several of them–but a river is a straight line running past, not a surrounding sea.

As we got in the car to leave, my son said to me, “I can smell the beach,” and I took in a deep lungful. Yes, I could smell it, too, and feel it, standing on the pavement next to the car next to the house. Something damp and fecund and salty. I miss it when I am there, in it. I get it in my lungs and realize that I don’t feel as at-home anywhere else, even back in our neighborhood park full of fir trees that stand like sentinels, reminding me so much of the trees in my first neighborhood, the one at the top of the trails that took us to the beach, that I took a picture of the park trees this week, days before my trip home, while in the midst of the migraine that almost canceled the trip.

Migraine is another kind of home.

A notebook is a kind of home, too. This summer, I will be living and working in a place without easy internet access, and I’m wondering if I should go old-school–do all my reading and writing off-line, with paper and ink. I wonder what that might do, how it might feel?

I wonder if it might feel like going home. (You can never go home again.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of roots and wilting and home

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 20

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: writing and landscape, poems haunted by death, poetry as prayer, and more… a bit more. This is a shorter than usual edition, due I suppose to the start of summer vacations and/or immersion in that too-long-postponed writing project. Regardless, enjoy!


To bite down on the very thing itself
that gives shape to our sounds, voice
to our breath? Holding the idiom close
one would think what we’d say was so
powerful, it required warding off in a
deliberate act of self-harm—and yet
the bite is most often accidental. O
Friend, my wish: please let it shape
every syllable, every blessing and chant […]

Lori Witzel, Biting one’s tongue / Che le sa

This is a time of writing. I wonder how I will look back on this time of early mornings at my desk, moving through the book at pace, pouring myself into it as if I was trying to fill a well with myself. This is how it was with my last poetry collection too: an unstoppering of myself, a release of all the animal thoughts in my head that have been sitting caged for years, waiting for their freedom. It is both exhilarating and exhausting. So much of memoir writing, and this is a memoir of sorts, is about excavation of self and I find myself in a strange position of actively grieving my dad whilst capturing that grief on the page and linking it in and in and in to a sense of belonging, or a lack of a sense of belonging. I once visited Wharram Percy, an abandoned medieval village near Malton. The place had a magical feel about it, and by that I don’t mean Disney magic, I mean something earthy and unseen, as if the lives of the people who had lived there flickered under the ground, a turf fire never quite going out. It was beautiful: the little lake with ducks bobbing, the roofless church, the little graveyard and the footprints of houses, the paths you could walk where the last inhabitants had walked. Seen from above, on google earth, it’s easy to see the village laid out. But up close it is raised mounds, fields with those typical medieval plough lines still embedded in the ground, trees, water. It doesn’t really look like a village. You have to bring it back with your imagination, you have to rise above the ground to see the impressions. This is what it feels like to write this book. This is how it feels right now to walk through the chapters, placing a house here, a field here, a lake here, a bog, a fen, a marsh here. I place wolves at on end and the sea at the other. If the landscape is an archive of ourselves and itself, then these are the scars we leave on it and in it.

Wendy Pratt, The Shells of Ourselves Left Behind

Last night, I considered how solo walking, especially at night (again I’m aware of my positional privilege in this) is not like being in a bell jar but a diving bell, carrying your own environment with you yet having a connection to the outside—the air tube. It’s ultimately about the self and our connection and individuation from the world. Is it “I am because my little world knows me?” or “I know the world and so I know myself?” Mark Strand: “In a field/I am the absence/of field./…/ We all have reasons/for moving./I move/to keep things whole.” We send out feelers, signals. We echolocate. It’s psy(e)chogeography. We sense the shape of our inner landscape by travelling through the one surrounding us. 

Walking with my dog expands this landscape. I think about how he echolocates, what sense of the world and himself he might experience, how we experience each other—a kind of conceptual leash between us, a dog-human umbilical cord. At night, I walk Happy without a leash so our connection, like Philip Pullman’s daemons in The Golden Compass, is entirely relational, an invisible attractive force between us. We walk in parallel yet always with one eye on the other.  

I quoted Mary Ruefle’s line about the creation of the lyric poem, “the moon was witness to the event and…the event was witness to the moon.” That’s like my dog and me. The world and me. And, walking while wearing headphones, the beginning and end of a Möbius strip made of music, story and imagination. A strange loupe. 

Gary Barwin, The Selected Walks

I was flicking once again through the Down At The Santa Fe Depot anthology of more than fifty years ago when I settled to read the calm, confident poems provided by DeWayne Rail, who was then a young teacher in his mid-twenties. […]

He creates/ recreates the sense of place, or more accurately, of an isolated farming family battling to scrape some kind of living against the odds. It made me think of how much our upbringing roots our poetry, of how far we really travel. Although I have lived all my life in the English Midlands, as have most of my ancestors these last three or four hundred years, my working life was carried out on the move, which offered another perspective, of what it is like for those whose life consists of leaving, of going, of shifting landscapes, of life among strangers with their own histories.

For many years it was this life on the move that seemed to dominate my work but as I get older I find the sense of a home, of the ghosts of childhood and of a more distant past before I was here, comes to the surface more often, if only to provide a balance. Perhaps this is why renewing my acquaintance with the poems I have by DeWayne Rail has been so fulfilling – and has led me to find out more about him.

He remained in Fresno, teaching at the city college for thirty years, writing stories, poems, non-fiction, enjoying his family, with interesting in birding, gardening, chess, and playing the guitar. It sounds like a life quietly, honestly, fulfilled.

Bob Mee, OF DeWAYNE RAIL (1944-2021)

Taking care of myself is taking care of the writer in me. And as I talk to friends, walk, run, even watch TV, I’m thinking and experiencing. I’m making connections. I’m not at my computer and I may not even write anything down (in my notebook or my phone), but thinking is part of the writing process. Yes, thinking counts. Inspiration can strike at the unlikeliest of times.

Earlier this year I moderated a book event for Lee Martin in support of his beautiful new novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife. He said something about research tricking you into thinking that you’re actually writing, when really all of that work is “pre-writing.” But I’m all about the pre-writing. It’s an essential part of the writing process. It counts. We’re all filling the tank with gas, then revving the engine a little, before we speed off.

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

I’ve had some publications out over the past months. One I’d like to mention is Bluestem, which published some of my little box poems this month. I make these with small pharma, cosmetic, cough drop and light bulb boxes. And whatever else is at hand. With these, I like working with the idea of the interior landscape. A kind of revelation. It remains hard for me to give up language and do pure wordless collage. Have I done it? I don’t think so.

I was lucky to have someone ask to buy the one pictured, as well as another one with the same short text:

the window was open
and the poem left slightly ajar

This text is one of my favorites because I like the idea of the poem being left slightly ajar for something beyond words to come in, i.e. visual poetry. At the same time, a poem left ajar also makes me think of the reader entering with her own memories, associations and point of view. I will make more of these.

Sarah J. Sloat, Interior Landscapes

In retrospect, what felt best: thoughtful reviews such as those quoted here, and private notes that affirmed the book’s success at reaching people. Riding the small press bestsellers list for months was awesome. Holding the book in my hands and knowing I did well by its ambitions. I didn’t achieve everything I fantasized about–no top venue reviews, and many of my applications for events and post-publication prizes struck out–but so it goes for everyone. There will be a next time. I’m very slowly building toward a book in a similar hybrid mode with the working title Haunted Modernism (that’s the concept, anyway–the title is probably too common). I’m revising a second novel. And my sixth poetry collection, Mycocosmic, is already contracted for publication with Tupelo in winter 2025. Meanwhile, it feels good to be heading into a summer of writing and revision–challenging activities but quiet ones.

Yet I’m aware that I still owe plenty to Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Publishing industry energy is all about the three months after a book appears, but the whole point of a book, I think, is that it lasts, and with some luck holds up over time. A slow burn is exciting in its own way. I will keep stoking its little fire, because what I want more than anything is for the book to appear on the radar of people who might enjoy it.

Lesley Wheeler, Voyaging to and through Poetry’s Possible Worlds

The Taste of Steel / The Smell of Snow, containing poems by Pia Tafdrup originally published in 2014 and 2016 and translated by David McDuff, was published by Bloodaxe Books last year. The Tafdrup/McDuff/Bloodaxe collaboration goes back more than 10 years now. The Danish poet’s work inclines to themed series of collections – The Salamander Quartet appeared between 2002 and 2012. The current volume presents in English the first two collections of another planned quartet of books, this time focusing on the human senses. In fact, the ‘taste’ book here feels much less conscious of its own thematic focus than the ‘smell’ one, not necessarily to the latter’s advantage. There is often something willed, rather laboured, about some of the work included here, which is most disappointing given Tafdrup’s earlier books. But her curiosity about the world remains engaging, her poems are observant of others, often self-deprecating, her concerns are admirable (environmental, the world’s violence), plus there are several fine pieces on desire and female sexuality. […]

In both collections, Tafdrup gathers poems into brief, titled sections of about half a dozen poems each and the ‘War’ section extrapolates the sense of personal conflict and loss to more global/political concerns. ‘The darkness machine’ opens plainly, if irrefutably, with the sentiment that a child “should be playing, not / struck in the back by a bullet”. The point is made more powerfully (because less directly) in ‘Spring’s grave’ with its repeated pleas to “send small coffins”. ‘View from space’ adopts the even more remote perspective of the Cassini space probe’s view of the planet, but also ends with plainspoken directness: “that’s where we ceaselessly produce / more weapons, practise battle tactics, / turn our everyday lives into a night of hell”. The concluding genitive phrase makes me wonder about the quality of the translation; I have neither Danish, nor the original in front of me, but does Tafdrup really use such a cliché?

Martyn Crucefix, Pia Tafdrup: recent poems from Bloodaxe Books

I was going to write about metaphors. And the language of cancer. About cancer that is an inside job. Radical little cells just wanting to live.

When I touch my breast, I know this knot of cells isn’t the fault of something I ate, or inhaled, or thought. It’s not a manifestation of unresolved anger. It’s a slip-up in cell division. This, too, is nature. And nature is not our romantic notions of symmetry and dividing lines between the good and the evil. Trees are uprooted in gale winds. Bacteria hitch a ride in a flea, on a rodent, on a boat to land on a pier and ultimately all-but wipe out a human culture. Life happens. Sometimes it is not to our advantage. That isn’t the same thing as evil. That – this – is nature.

B. told me last Christmas that she didn’t believe in silver linings. I understood that to mean she didn’t believe we’re handed something nice in a kind of yin-yang balancing of good and bad as comfort or recompense. She did believe in the “this, too” and in choosing to hold everything – and not in spite.

My junior high art teacher told me that there are no true lines in nature. We impose those in our imaginations.

And I see now that painting is just another form of storytelling.

I am not sure how I want to talk about cancer. But I am not going to offended by anyone using language and imagery that differs from mine. Understanding other people’s perspectives is everyone’s responsibility. Discussions should be everyone’s little sandbox for joyful exploring. Build a castle. Knock it down. Start again.

Life is not a book that comes with an answer key in the back.

Ren Powell, How to Metaphor

The beautiful thing about keeping a searchable blog or journal, either online or offline, is that I not only rediscover my past poems, but I also see how cyclical my despair is.  I came across a post from 2013 with this nugget:  “I can’t remember when I last wrote a poem, although I could easily look it up. It’s probably not as long as I think.

But more importantly, I can’t remember when I last felt like a poet. When did I last make interesting connections of unusual links that would make a good poem?”

It is good to remember that my brain has been making those links, even when I am not conscious of the process.  It is good to remember that I’ve felt like a failed poet before, often just before the times when I would go on to have creative bursts.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I haven’t written many poems lately.  I want to remember the writing that I have been doing:  blogging almost every day and doing a variety of writing tasks for the 6 graduate classes I’ve been taking–not 6 hours of graduate classes, but 6 classes.

I have a bit of a break this summer, so let me do some strategizing to reclaim my poet self, to let the poems in my brain make the ascension from my brain onto the page.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letting Our Poems Ascend from Our Brains

I have two poems from my new chapbook Love and Stones on New Writing, an online project showcasing new writing from alumni, staff and students from the University of East Anglia (where I completed my MA in Creative Writing in 1997). I’d recommend that you read the poems on a laptop or similar, if possible, rather than a mobile phone in order to see my intended line breaks, particularly of my sunflower poem.

My first poem ‘In Lockdown, Solitude Becomes a Flying Lover’ was inspired by a postcard of the painting ‘Over the Town’ by Marc Chagall, and refers to the first lockdown in 2020 when my solitary writing life was interrupted by my family returning home.

The second poem ‘sunflowers exist, sunflowers exist’ was written during the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when I saw a widely shared clip of a Ukrainian woman telling Russian soldiers to leave her country and offering them sunflower seeds “so that sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here.” This poem is after the book-length poem Alphabet by Inger Christensen, translated by Susanna Nied.

Josephine Corcoran, Two poems from ‘Love and Stones’ at New Writing (UEA)

The class begins Friday, May 26 — two classes, sort of — one on-ground, 3:30-5:00 (at my house; there are a couple seats left), and one on-line, 11:30-1:00 (plenty of room).

The title is “Your Memorable Poem.” My theme is inspired by a friend who, looking at a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, said, “I could never write a poem like that.” Of course it’s not easy (if it were, then we wouldn’t need NSN), but I think you could. The way to begin is to look very closely at how the poem is made, not to “slice and dice it,” or “master it,” but to sit with the poem, as if interviewing it, or sharing a meal. What did this poet do, in order to create this poem’s effect on us? We’ll have a little time to write, and time to offer feedback to each other.

Bethany Reid, Upcoming Poetry Class

The cover image of Harry Clifton’s Gone Self Storm is Mark Tracey’s beautiful black and white photograph of Howe Strand, which shows a ruined building silhouetted between the running sea and the sky. The poems themselves are haunted by death. Parts One and Three are dedicated to the memory of dead women, the first being the speaker’s mother or stepmother. Part Two begins with a short sequence set in the Glasnevin cemetery, and most of its poems are elegies or addresses to the dead. What’s really distinctive, though, is not this elegiac subject matter but the way ideas of change and disintegration have been absorbed into its style and expressive procedures.  Many of the poems slide like dreams between poles of fragmentary but extremely sharply focused distinctness on the one hand and uncertainty on the other. This is clearly deliberate, suggesting how ungraspable things become as they slip into the past. Moreover, the speaker’s uncertainty about things surrounding him extends to uncertainty about himself.

Edmund Prestwich, Harry Clifton, Gone Self Storm – review

the trumpet player
leans in and whispers
into my ear
a poem about death

Jason Crane, poem: (untitled)

My debut essay collection is coming out in November, and when I began writing it, it was to be a memoir about my relationship to the loss of my father through the lens of food. It has morphed and changed many times in the intervening years (and I will write about that process, too), and now it also includes my life as a mother to my children, as well as my relationship to my mother and her death. I didn’t expect that when I started, just like I didn’t, for a long time, expect that I would miss my mother when she died. That sounds horrible, I know. But she’d want me to tell you that, too. She was big on honesty and acceptance and done hiding behind alcohol or shame. We had a rough time for a long time. I understand now, in a way that I couldn’t when I was younger, that she had a much rougher time inside her addiction–a place where you are ultimately very much alone.

Sheila Squillante, Our Lady of the Artichoke

The book is marked by a “mollusk dawn” of self-awareness, a tectonic paradigm shift, a reevaluating and resetting the axis of meaning or towards gelling into meaning. And (spoiler alert) a finding of core truths in the value of family and of love.

We are witness to [Diana Hope] Tegenkamp as she realizes the other side of the binaries as on p. 14—

Her mother mouthing the words in a choir as instructed is recast wider, “mouth moving,/making its own silence” with “Song, and cries/held in”, meditating on the implications of not being heard, at an individual level or the level of Highway of Tears. A mandated silence numbs. If you are closed to your grief, you are also closed to your joy and your history.

Pearl Pirie, Girl Running review

In the old days, the dead were not 
            immediately escorted to a final 
resting place in the earth, nor lifted
            onto a funeral pyre. Their hair
was oiled and dipped in the fragrance 
            of orange groves, their faces
turned toward the high-shelved
            mountains where they would perch
in rows like figured birds— No longer on 
            the ground terraced by the farmer’s 
plow but not yet in the canopy of the gods, 
            wreathed with smoke they presided  
at the house-front wrapped in blankets. 
            Coming and going, you’d feel 
it was you they held vigil for; you 
            they couldn’t yet bear to leave. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Vigil

It just happened that this week I have been editing and laying out three chapbooks that are appropriative in nature. One is Catharine Bramkamp’s Unconscious Words, poems plucked and molded from bestselling novels from the past decade or so like Game of Thrones and Gone Girl. The other is Colleen Alles’ collection of poems found in Jane Eyre, Reader to Tell You All.  The third is Erika Lutzner’s chapbook of centos Think of a Have Made of Glass, All the Bees, Theoretically At Least, amazing centos created from the lines of older and newer contemporary poets like Plath and Sexton and, blushing, even me. I am a fan of these kinds of poems–centos and blackouts and related forms.  Appropriated and re-worked texts. I have written my own (from Plath) and published quite a lot of chapbooks through the dgp series that include them. Obviously, as a collage artist, most art feels like appropriation in some way (though you should always credit your sources and be honest about your process, especially in writing.)

And of course, AI springs to mind, especially as I embark on training for the project I’ve recently signed on to that is supposedly supposed to help AI be a better poet. Exciting and slightly horrifying. Because AI is all appropriation (the bad kind with no credit, which complicates things.)  The very worst a bot could do would be to go off and start penning centos, stealing lines of poetry, but I am not sure even this is something a bot could do well without dissolving into chaos.

Kristy Bowen, plunder and reveal

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

It’s very weird to care deeply about scribbling in notebooks and blackening pages and reading all the time and buying too many books and hosting a podcast about writing and being interested in what your friends are reading and writing and sending actual letters and postcards to people and agreeing with Morrissey when he sings “There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more” and then finding yourself talking to some guy in an airport bar and the guy says, “Why read books? I haven’t read a book since high school” and he’s proud of it. I’m all for whatever gets you through the night—and for me it’s books, it’s always been books—but for most people, and more and more, it seems to be other stuff. If people want to spend their time playing Shiny Bubblegum Princess games on their phone that’s up to them, but it doesn’t give me any pleasure. The writer’s role is clearly much diminished. But all that really means is that if you still feel compelled to write, knowing nobody gives a shit, it means you’re really a writer. It also means you’re free to write whatever the hell you want. Not having a role, or having a role so small it amounts to the same thing, means spirit is free to play where it will. And maybe that then becomes the role. The more people who are free, on whatever level, to do what they love, creatively, the more energy must be injected into the larger culture. In any case it’s very pretty to think so.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jason Emde (rob mclennan)

To say that poems are prayers is now so common as to be somewhat hackneyed. (A poet I know Tweeted an attempt to update this with the pithy but somewhat unconvincing edit that poems aren’t prayers, but rather why we pray.) If poets can bend religious imagery toward secular texts in this way, then I think it’s not too bold to think of literary criticism as a type of sacrament, a ceremony or ritual one does in order to connect more fully with the divine.

In the Quaker tradition, they do not speak so much of sacraments as of disciplines, such as fasting, meditation, prayer, and quiet. I think of writing criticism in this way. With a discipline, it isn’t necessary for us to be in a completely perfect mindset before we start. The point of a discipline is to do it, and in the process, the right mindset will sometimes come. Do the disciplines enough, and eventually you’ll be in the right mindset more often. Wrestle with sloth and envy through criticism, and maybe, one day, you’ll have just a little bit more control over these things all the time.

Jacob R. Weber, Literary Criticism as a Secular Spiritual Discipline

May I recognize my hilly landscape
and not expect to live in the plain.
Know that I am the hills and ravines,
the sun-drenched fields and deep shadows, 

gulleys, mustard fields, yellows,
veils of light that drape like silk slips […]

Jill Pearlman, Confused Spring Prayer

It was a day of record-breaking heat (and no air conditioning), so I doubly appreciated the people that came out, and the store putting out several fans. I also packed a cooler with water bottles (and sparkling rose) and boxes of macarons—because people need sustenance during a book signing.

The reading itself went okay—you can see the whole thing here on my YouTube channel—did you know I had one? Minus Martha Silano’s excellent introduction. (Hey, you have to be there in person for some parts!) […]

Any reading where I can walk out with new books and a borrowed recording of Sylvia Plath readings is a good reading in my book, and it was a really good venue, especially the “Parlor” for afterwards visiting.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Open Books Flare, Corona Reading, Interviews and Podcasts, Things Breaking Down, Heat Waves with Goldfinch and Hummingbirds

When I reached the Cliffs of Moher, a
thick fog covered everything. Cold, damp, not
a glimpse of rock or sea or sky, as if something
had bitten off one edge of the world. Isn’t a
lot of life just like that? Opaque? Ill-timed? A
function of disconsolate variables? Like us.
Ordinary. Incomplete. There are no reasons to
wake up. There are no reasons to continue.
There are no prizes for winning. You find a
level that is just enough. That works as long
as the tea is warm. That is good for a couple of
verses. That is as short as a long sigh. Enough.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 47

that garden moment
when the only thing moving
is the music

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

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


When, in 1982, I first encountered William Carlos Williams’s now-famous 1923 poem ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, readable here, it was instantly inspirational and probably the first poem that I really loved. Like my devouring of the works of Kerouac, Ginsberg and the other Beats, this came about because my brother Adrian, four years older than me, had undertaken a poetry module as part of his American studies degree at Essex University. We both loved WCW’s poem for its directness, immediacy, exactness, brevity, shape upon the page, and absence of punctuation and upper-case lettering; so much so that Adrian, with no little pretension, asked our mum to knit him a jumper which featured a red wheelbarrow against a grey background. I don’t think anyone ever ‘got’ the image without prompting, but we knew – and somehow that sufficed. To us, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ seemed a significant advance on Ezra Pound’s 1913 poem ‘In a Station of the Metro’, which rather clumsily attempted to transmit the spirit of haiku into English poetry.

Over the years, my admiration for ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ has reduced, partly because my tastes have broadened to include poetry far more florid than Imagism and perhaps because, like WCW’s ‘This is Just to Say’ (which, due to the abundance of social media parodies it has spawned, has become more well-known than ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’), the poem has, within the poetry world, become famous to the point of infamy. In my own poetry, whatever concision and specificity they contain are qualities I first grasped from WCW’s poem. But by 1983, I’d discovered the Penguin Book of Japanese Verse and its translations of Bashō, Buson, Issa, Shiki and other haiku poets and retrospectively found Imagism to be verbose in comparison. Nevertheless, I retain a certain nostalgic fondness for my first love.

Matthew Paul, On ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ and what Donald Davie had to say

I still have the copy of The Will to Change: Poems 1968-1970, by Adrienne Rich that my sister, B. Ruby Rich , gave to me for my 16th birthday. The first single author book of poems I ever owned. What did my teenage self make of it? Dear Reader, my mind exploded. I was just turning 16 and already I was more than ready for transformation.

Looking back at this copy, here are the only words which I underlined in a time when I didn’t believe in underlining in books:

To read there the map of the future, the roads radiating from the

initial split, the filaments thrown out from that impasse.

To reread the instructions on your palm; to find there how the

lifeline, broken, keeps its direction.

from “Shooting Script,” final section

Now, more than 40 years later, I am amazed at how deeply the images and syntax have metabolized into my own work: maps, palms, and pushing to establish new roadways into a reformulated self. Poetry as alchemy.

Here was a woman (with my last name, but unfortunately, no relation) writing of the inchoate world that I’d intuited without having the words for such ideas. Was the wreck (I immediately purchased Diving into the Wreck:Poems 1971-1972 with my babysitting money) actually submerged underwater or was the wreck more of an internal, carved out shell of the mind?

Susan Rich, Adoring Adrienne Rich

Metaphor is risky. Sometimes I feel like a distrust of metaphor is the primary feature of contemporary poetry. If this is true, it goes right back to modernism and the revolt against (terrible mixed metaphor incoming) the debased coinage of flowery Victorian verse. It has something to do with modern conditions, too – alienation, transitoriness, the destruction of old certainties. All metaphor is a kind of dance between an individual’s sensibility (I think this is like this) and what can be expressed in language, but what you can risk depends in part on trusting your adience to make the leap with you. But modern audiences, where they exist at all, are necessarily unstable.

Instinctively, I know poems need metaphor even as I shy away from it. It can be tempting to squeeze one in at the end of a poem, in the same way we might close on a rhyme though the poem had previously shown no interest in such things.

Jeremy Wikeley, Billy Collins, Middlemarch and Metaphor

Grief turns everything on its head; the reason and logic of language can fall short. This poem doesn’t make logical sense because grief doesn’t make sense. It has to be felt, not reasoned with, and we need to make adjustments to include loss & grief in our lives. Hence the repetition of the word ‘adjust’ in the poem. 

Here’s a bit about how I approached the making of this work: I began by Googling ‘tips for dealing with grief’ and included some words from my searches. I also reference the ritual of tea making, punning on the phrase ‘adjust to taste’. Since reading Megan Devine’s book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, I’ve discovered that the stress of grief can show up as physical pain, which was certainly the case for me. Days after my mother died, while I was still in hotel quarantine, I began to experience acute physical pain in my left shoulder (which still hasn’t completely healed. I reference that shoulder pain in the poem.

When I showed ‘Tips for Dealing with Grief’ to Donna she was inspired to made a teeny book, typing the words of the poem onto pages made of teabags (you can see them in the photograph). We included the book in our recent exhibition, SOLACE, as part of Adelaide Fringe. I also used a fountain pen to write the poem on rice paper, which was hung in the gallery. It was bought by someone who planned to hang it in their workplace as a way of prompting discussion about grief and loss between work colleagues.

Caroline Reid, Tips for Dealing with Grief

I’ve not read the whole that this is from, but the words by C.K. Williams about how “each death demands / its own procedures / of mourning but I can’t / find those I need” really helps. Each death is universal; each death is utterly its own. And then, when the losses build up, I wonder what happens to our ability to find the right ways to mourn? The trauma gets embedded into our bodies in ways that are not easy, though loss is never easy. The layers of loss and trauma though, that must be different now.

Shawna Lemay, Marking Occasions

I have no blueprint. I’m getting younger. One poem does not have to sound or look like the next. I make coffee, sit down and see what happens.

Before I begin, I check if a payment has gone from the bank account. A message pops up: We’ve made some exciting changes to our Log-In Page.

A brochure for community living for the Over-60s drops through the letterbox. A home is built on laughter and good company, says the brochure. Enjoy stress-free retirement living, says the brochure. There are friendly faces everywhere, says the brochure. Our friendly on-site staff ensure everything runs smoothly, says the brochure. Our friendly team will be happy to help, says the brochure. Find out more about our affordable way to buy, says the brochure.

I make another coffee. Look out at our lawn full of forget-me-nots, daisies and dandelions. The neighbours, who will mow their grass if they spot a single daisy, call it a jungle.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING, 13 MAY 2023

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Really depends on the project. In the last decade or so, as I explored drawing on research for book-length projects, my whole creative process shifted from writing individual poems in short bursts to a slower, longer framework for completing a book, even if poems were arranged in series. I discovered a remarkable slave story in New Orleans right before I was leaving for another position, the last slave to use the courts to sue for emancipation on the eve of the courts being closed to slaves with the signing of the Fugitive Slave law. This slave, Cora Arsene, won her case. Dred Scott, in a different state but the same year, did not. Writing that long poem entailed a decade of research about Southern slave history (including the Haitian Revolution), and much much consideration of genre. The new collection, instead, it is dark, beganwith the shock of my husband’s massive heart attack. He was born into occupied France, and my rather inchoate impulse as I began the book was to honor his life by turning some of his memories and dreams into poems. I conducted a lot of research and ended up interviewing his extended family in France for this collection.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Cynthia Hogue

As a child I used to love exploring the old fortifications in the south and east of Zimbabwe, as well as the rock art that is dotted around the country. The rock paintings, by semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, are difficult to date but are believed to be at least a thousand years old. Many may be much, much older, dating back several millennia. They are found in caves and rock shelters, or underneath massive overhanging boulders. 

These extraordinary works of visual poetry use the surfaces and materials that were available to their creators at the time: natural earth pigments, mixed perhaps with animal fat, painted on smooth, weathered granite. Large slabs of rock allowed the artists to paint freely and expressively; splits, curvature and irregularities in the rock face are integrated into the compositions. […]

When thinking about poetic constraint, we tend not to consider surface. It’s interesting to contemplate how poetry has been shaped by the surface on which it is written – rock, stone, clay, wax, parchment, fabric, paper, electronic screen – and how this has evolved over time. 

Marian Christie, Rock, Paper, Scissors: Shape and Surface as Constraint

Yes! is a sensation. Creating is a sensation. Editing in a groove is a sensation. Poem is a sensation.

Get enough stimulant and take away enough sleep, add enough stress and you’ll addle yourself into invoking a sensation, but labelling it poem doesn’t make it one.

Sometimes it’s as if the muse exists and you channel something into something close to final form. Some dark half of your brain has been working on that while you were doing the business of life. Sometimes these poems are your best that people like the most and yet they took the least effort while what you laboured over, invested in consciously, took pains to perfect, receive a meh.

Pearl Pirie, The Joy of Editing

I’ve been thinking about my heart condition and looking at poems I wrote shortly after having a heart attack. Contemplating my mortality is a new thing for me. I’ve had to adjust my thinking about time and the future. It’s a subtle shift but a profound one to consider that my time to be, to write, and to love is limited. It’s unsettling in the most interesting way to think of the body as having a mind and deadlines of its own.

Rachel Dacus, A poem on mortality & the heart

David and I enjoyed many happy visits to Laugharne and the Carmarthenshire coast from our Swansea home. You can barely make out the Writing Shed, but the Dylan Thomas Boathouse is the last white building beyond the castle on this side of the estuary, where the tidal stream bends to the left. […]

Lidia Chriarelli has once again curated an anniversary website to mark the occasion – here. My thanks to Lidia for including my Swansea-based contribution, a picture-poem. You will find it here, if you click the link and then scroll down. 

You might also be interested in Dear Dylan, an anthology of Dylan-inspired poetry and prose from Indigo Dreams Publishing, edited by Anna Saunders and Ronnie Goodyer. This volume (see here) was published on #DylanDay 2021 and contains one of my poems, ‘Tentacles and Tar’. 

Caroline Gill, International Dylan Thomas Day, 14 May 2023

I’m writing this from my little ex council house, my little pebble-dashed paradise, in the room that I set aside for myself as a gesture of belief in myself. I’m listening to the birds in the garden and the sheep in the next-door field and the sound somewhere (already?) of a lawn mower and the sound of people getting into their cars and heading to work. I am relaxed. As far as ambitions go, this is where I am and what I want. I want to make enough money to do the thing that I love and the thing that I think I’m good at. The relief knowing that this is entirely in my own hands is wonderful. And yet there is still an element of writer’s block going on in my little peaceful office.

This week I finished a block of mentoring in which myself and the mentee worked together to look at what she wanted out of poetry, out of being a poet and looked at how to get to that place. There is something that happens to poets in particular, I think, in that they have an idea of what they ‘should’ be and forget to ask themselves what they ‘want’ to be. It is perfectly acceptable to not want to dominate the poetic scene, to not want to climb over people to get to the top. We forget that joy does not always come from conquering, it often just comes from existing in a contented manner.

Wendy Pratt, Writer’s Block and How to Beat It

Cannot fall asleep from having Mother-
worry for so many things I never can
put adequately into words. I have
Mother-ache and Mother-sorry,
Mother-lonely, Mother-poor and
-poorly, Mother-never-will-come-
up-to-measure. Mother-who-has-left,
-has-left-behind, -has-herself-been-left,
who cannot finger the space in the middle
without feeling the old pulsing that once
came through her, bound her, unbound her…
Picture Mother as a mime whose arms
close around her, rock her, remind her:
who will save you if not yourself?

Luisa A. Igloria, Mother-

Identifying her body at the funeral home before cremation (because they send the wrong ones so often, did you know that? I didn’t, but I do now) the thing is, all her beauty was restored. My father’s mis-shaping blows. The drunk decades of absence. The rapes she suffered. The dead brother, her mother’s voice saying it should have been her. All of it. Generations of trauma, the things we do not say. Gone to wild violets, dogtoothed, in the forest. Gone to horses. Gone to freedom and innocence, cliché or not: just gone from her, her elegant bones gone to the before, before any of it went wrong. Only beauty left, invulnerable at last in this extremity of our mortal situation. That face, her beauty, burned into me too: that final loss of her, but in tenderness now. In tender surprise at so much beauty in the corpse of her, impossible and true.

So what, then, of all her consequential failures, or of mine. I still carry them, but so much else too. She tried, for a long time, and consequentially, to amend, as I did. Some we failed. Some we won. 

JJS, Mother’s Day

“Latch” is a quiet, studied exploration of what ties us to home and the shifting role of motherhood, from being mothered to becoming a mother. The poems are an intimate sketch of family life from a child’s view and then a mother’s view, that use the personal to make a broader point. We are shaped by our parents’ actions and our landscape. The country with its floodwaters, weirs, rivers to swim in is as much a character as the people. Water nurtures in warm baths and drinks, and also cleanses. Rebecca Goss invites readers with a poised engagement and rewards with precise language guiding the reader through the accumulation of details to cross the threshold.

Emma Lee, “Latch” Rebecca Goss (Carcanet Press) – book review

My father, my ancestor, was kidnapped by shadow. Late in the afternoon, a shadow crept through the window and lay like a carpet on the floor. My father bent down to examine it for though he was a master rug maker, he did not know how to weave darkness. 

As soon as he touched the floor, he was taken, where we did not know. My father was a clever man and over the years of his disappearance, learned the secret of weaving shadows. And so, though he never returned, my sisters, my brothers and me, our children, and our grandchildren, learned also. We saw our father’s patterns stretched across the road, in long shadows near the end of day, the dark woven into his name.

Gary Barwin, Father of Rugs

I’ve been working on some fun little aesthetic vibe videos inspired by other writers on Instagram I’ve seen..usually for novels and never for poetry, and yet, I realize that poetry books also, though they may or may not contain narrative and stories, definitely DO have a vibe. In fact, you could always say that poetry is sometimes JUST vibes. An experience, a moment, an intangible piece of communication. It’s yet another thing I am not sure that AI could produce of translate, even with hashtags. I did an experiment earlier with the image generator where I typed the phrase of one of my favorite Tik Tok aesthetics–dark academia (which is really just all of our styles in the 90s if we read too much Donna Tartt) and it gives me nonsense, and yet, most people would understand what I’m talking about. It’s a mood. A set of moods. A vibe. […]

These are glorious fun, and I actually made a couple in the past year about works in progress, sort of inspo boards in video format as a taste of what I’m working on. Last summer, GRANATA, and earlier this year, RUINPORN, the manuscript I just completed. In both cases, they both help reflect and inspired me as I go. I even did a similar one just for my shorter series, villains because I had the images saved for making daily NAPOWRIMO reels. There’s something about them that appeals to the collage-ist in me (plus music!) Be on the look out for more of older books and newer projects…

Kristy Bowen, all about the vibes

This weekend has been all about stripping…Paint-stripping specifically, and it is slow, laborious but dull work. It has meant I’ve been able to catch up on some podcasts as I strip away at layers of paint in my hallway.

Each one has had lots of interesting things to say, so in the absence of anything else I shall point you to them.

1. Rebecca Goss being interviewed by John Greening. It’s in two parts (part one and part two, because that’s how two-parters work.) This was recorded before her latest book, Latch, came out, but you can here in the podcast the book coming to fruition. I loved lots of what Rebecca had to say about being a poet, about her trajectory to becoming a poet, about learning to fight against defaulting to the same form—in her case it’s couplets and being labelled “deceptively simple”. You can also find transcripts here and here

2. The comedian Steven Wright being interviewed by Conan O’Brien. This is a new podcast to me, but I love Steven Wright’s sense of humour. His one liners are incredible.

For example, “Support bacteria – they’re the only culture some people have.”. See here for a list of 100 or so, and get yourself his albums, ‘I Have a Pony or ‘I Still Have a Pony ‘.

The reason I note this podcast, despite being it just being incredibly funny, is that he describes the 4 rules he set himself when he started out. You’ll have to listen to get them all, but essentially he talks about not doing political, topical material or swearing in his work. The first two help to give his work a timeless quality, and the last one is to help make the work land more. A joke with swearing in can be funny, but if you take the swearing out it makes the line work harder. This may or may not be useful in terms of writing poems. I am on the fence, but see what you think.

Mat Riches, Anthropocene and not heard

This week I’d like to celebrate the debut poetry collection of stellar poet and friend, Amanda Galvan Huynh: Where My Umbilical Is Buried (Sundress Publications).

I’ve admired Galvan Huynh’s work on and off the page for some time now. She’s a committed Xicana educator as well as an editor, alongside Luisa A. Igloria, of the essay collection Of Color: Poets’ Ways of Making :: An Anthology of Essays on Transformative Poetics.

I had a chance to read the collection and provide a blurb. Here’s what I wrote:

“From the title, Where My Umbilical Is Buried, Amanda Galvan Huynh invites readers to engage with the metaphor and image rich sensibility that drive the poems within. From the roads, nights, and fields where memory lies ‘buried’ under the sounds of voices whispering, Coke tab bracelets jangling, and cumbias, these poems grow and flourish into a lyric gift, an expression of affirmation and presence for gente y familia—the living, the dead, as well as who we must be in between.”

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Amanda Galvan Huynh

There seem to be plenty of launches and other events coming up. I just read today about Josephine Corcoran’s new pamphlet from Live Canon, to be launched on May 21st. Tomorrow Jill Abram’s launch for her debut pamphlet from Broken Sleep is happening in London – I had booked to go along, but then was offered the chance to talk about Planet Poetry to 3rd year students at Brighton University at their end of year publishing course. Peter and I couldn’t resist the idea of being on a panel and talking about the podcast! Thanks to Lou Tondeur for the invitation. On June 2nd I’m delighted to be reading at Frogmore at 40, Frogmore Press’s 40th Anniversary event in Brighton. I’m a tad daunted to be honest, looking at the names of the other readers. So I just hope I’m not reading first. Please come if you’re anywhere near Brighton, it should be a grand night!

Robin Houghton, Launches, project updates and two disputed works

Poems in this short collection are set where I live, against a Wiltshire backdrop of standing stones and henges, at the time of extreme heatwaves, a global pandemic and the start of the war in Ukraine. At the time of writing, my two children were growing up and becoming adults and I was re-establishing life with my husband in a long marriage. All of these events have found their way into the 20 poems collected in Love and Stones […]

Josephine Corcoran, My new chapbook ‘Love and Stones’ is available to pre-order

I’m so happy to share that my debut essay collection, All Things Edible, Random and Odd: Essays on Grief, Love and Food, is now available for pre-order through CLASH Books! The official release date will be November 28, 2023 and I’ll be using this space and others to share information as the date approaches.

For now, I’ll just say that this is a project –let me catch my breath here–twenty years in the making.

So, you know: maybe don’t give up.

Sheila Squillante, All Things Book News!

I had author photos taken in advance of The Familiar‘s publication (and found out that the official launch date of the book will be February 2, 2024. Yay!) The author photo experience was a strange one: I promised myself that when I had a new book I’d have a proper professional photograph taken (also, I believe in updating author photos. I don’t want to be one of those people who uses the same photo for 10 or 20+ years — aging should really be documented and acknowledged, even if it ain’t pretty). But I may have moved too far out of my league, because while Priyanca Rao (of Creative Headshots NYC) is a really personable, highly talented, super-skillful photographer, I’m definitely feeling imposter syndrome when I look at them, to the point I *had* to poke fun at myself when I reposted some of them on Instagram.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, All the Stuff All at Once

I’ve got my poetry set all set up and so excited to be at my favorite all-poetry bookstore tomorrow with my friend Martha Silano (whose poem was a clue in NYT crossword this week, what what!) and we’re bringing fancy macarons to share during the book signing afterward in the Parlor.

This is my first time reading at Open Books’ new location in Pioneer Square. I’m hoping we can keep it cool (and I’m bringing a few cold drinks with me just in case) and that people show up since we are having beautiful sunny weather after an entire spring of rainy gray cold days. I had to drag out all my summer dresses and sandals after wearing sweaterdresses and boots earlier in the week. I’m happy to say you can also order a personalized copy of Flare, Corona from Open Books here. Support indie bookstores!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Book Launch and Straight into Summer, Interview with Kelli Russell Agodon, BOA’s Blog Post and Making a Flare, Corona Cocktail, and Readings Tomorrow and Monday!

Under it all there is a low not-sound; a subtonic grinding of plates; while above are the netted lines of swallows too shrill to be heard, too quick to be traced; letters that  dissolve in the sky before they can be read. The book is there. Here, rather. Anywhere that a fool might reach. Did you really think you were the only exception? God may be merciful; I wouldn’t know; but that would be bizarre.

Dale Favier, Books

Amorak Huey’s latest collection of poems is titled Dad Jokes From Late in the Patriarchy. It came out almost exactly two years ago from Sundress Publications—get your copy of it here—while the pandemic had been going on long enough that I was thinking the end was maybe in sight, though of course I had no idea what the end would look like or if it would ever come. I’m trying to remember just what it was like to open this book up and read these poems but that time is squashed together into mostly one big shitball. I can look at the date and know what must have happened around then but I can’t make it work in my memory.

What I do remember is the way I read this book slowly, because after every second or third poem I just needed to take a breath and ruminate on what I’d just read. I told Huey as much on Twitter, back when I was on there.

Brian Spears, Backwards Poets Write Inverse

An apology has to hold
the whole universe in its
hands. It has to be heavier
than the wound. How many
words make up a universe?
How many words make up
a universe that is forever
expanding?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (38)

One thing about being a writer is that, after awhile, you meet other writers one way or another: sometimes through social media, Zoom events, or in person at book signings and readings; sometimes through conferences, workshops, or various educational programs; sometimes by finding local writers groups or getting an introduction to someone through a friend. When you meet writers, you get the additional privilege of reading their work. It so happens that lately, many of my writerly friends and colleagues have published books, and I’ve been busy reading them! […]

The near-abstract imagery and the concrete place-names and lyricism in Heather H. Thomas’ 2018 Vortex Street appealed to me on several levels, from the scientific (a repeating pattern of swirling vortices, see “fluid dynamics”) to the particular: my husband grew up in Reading, PA, where some of these poems are suspended in recollection. I’ve also loved reading Grant Clauser’s latest, the 2021 Codhill prize-winner Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, a collection of poems that strikes me as both deeply beautiful and tenderly sad. Poet Lynn Levin has published a terrific book of short stories that remind me of the wry sense of humor and wide-ranging knowledge her poems have while proving she’s also a deft hand at plot and character. Maureen Dunphy’s memoir Divining, A Memoir in Trees, brought to mind parallels with Lesley Wheeler’s memoir in poems, Poetry’s Possible Worlds. In both books, the authors have chosen a locus [an American tree, a contemporary poem] and used the exploration of that “trigger” to draw out something personal. What better way to connect with readers than through something we love and value? Which brings me to a shout-out to Jane Satterfield, whose poetry collection The Badass Brontës isn’t in this photo because I’ve already lent it to someone who’s a Brontë fan.

Ann E. Michael, Reading friends’ books

Tell us about the new collection

I haven’t put out a book. Instead, I’ve collected a few spoken-word’n’beats’n’rhymes together in either an extended EP or a short album and called it Funkinism.

It covers a lot of ground: from comedy cannibalism to nature-funk, from forgotten black women to people (like myself) who aren’t that good at dancing.

I’m releasing pieces one by one via my Bandcamp and sharing snippets on Facebook and Instagram too. My Patreon supporters got the whole thing as a free download for backing me […]

How has the poetry business/scene changed over your life time?

I think the arrival of the spoken word/performance poetry scene has given a big boost and a youth-injection to poetry, which is great. Actually, before that in the 1970s, the rap scene began with street poets battling it out verbally. Rap is poetry and hip hop is massive. So I guess I’ve witnessed rhyming words becoming super-popular and travelling right around the world.

In the 21st century, social/digital media invites poets to reach audiences they might not have (although we find ourselves shouting into the void unless we spend some advertising dollars). It also invites us to spend a lot of time learning how to use these digital tools. Time that could have been spent doing your do. I’ve definitely succumbed to too much tech, not enough artistry, which is why I wrote this piece, called Watchin’ It or Doing It.

I’ve seen festivals increasingly offering poetry tents (which are packed): a brilliant antidote to atomised creatives performing snippets of their work to a camera screen, only for that worked to be watched just 3% of the way through until the audience scrolls on to another bit of eye-candy.

Paul Tobin, MAMA TOKUS THE INTERVIEW

They’ve built a new wall between the park and the motorway. I had to strain to hear the cars over the birds. Not that I put effort into it, once I satisfied my curiosity. Once I grounded myself in the reality of a kind of “this too”.

There was a soft rain. Perfect running weather, though I can only walk right now. I like that tug in my center that tells me: run. It means something different now. Not a running from or a running to – but a way of being with the world.

Art pour’art. Life imitating art. Life for its own sake.

I recognize this feeling. It’s not a high. It’s filled with gravitas. Maybe this is what contentment feels like: joy tethered to the deep unknowns. Fear has a story, I think, while this is something akin to reverence.

I will return to running. I am ready now for the familiar.

Ren Powell, The Familiar

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, an exceptionally varied gathering of posts as the semester winds down and the holiday season is upon us, ready or not—a “stripped, dry, testing time at the end of the year” as Beth Adams calls it, a time that seems to prompt writers to look and think more deeply about their lives. Enjoy.


I found this portion of a poem in Etel Adnan’s Time (trans. Sarah Riggs): “… In the splendor of the/gray morning,/in the death camp/of Beit Sahour,/with a little dew/and a handful of clay,/we created/life…”

And then this snippet from Martin Amis’s Sweet Tooth: “…ultimately reality is social, it’s among others that we have to live and their judgments matter.”

And I think about the poem I was trying to write about a kingfisher, that quickblue and chittering presence I value so much when I encounter it, and why it is an image in my mind just now, as I rail in my way against my own petty sufferings. Yes, I see you, self. What ails thee? And I find myself finding myself rich in the presence of other minds.

Marilyn McCabe, I been all around this world; or, On Thematic Convergence

We have raked our leaves toward the street–but not into it, which is bad for the storm drains, etc.–and they await the second coming of the great leaf-sucking machine. We’ve had glorious warm sunny weather for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I took long walks, alone and with friends. I took a notebook with me on the long walk alone and was grateful to have poems tumble out. I stopped at various benches to write them down. At one I found a key and a dog leash in the leaves underneath, attached the one to the other, hung it over the bench, and moved on to the next. A woman came by, looking at her feet. “I’m looking for my keys,” she said. “I found it,” I said, “a single key, and a dog leash.” “That’s it!” she said. Yay! 

Kathleen Kirk, Leaves, But No Leavings…

I would have called you
today to tell you this, 
on what would have been 
your 90th birthday. Instead

I am holding this jar, a gift, 
and proof of something 

I am struggling to find 
the right words for

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Pulse

Poetry in general feels not at all important but maybe then that’s when I need it the most. That when I am not writing is maybe exactly when I should. I looked at the very pretty proof copy of the book yesterday and felt the weight of sitting down to make those final edits.  To even care about releasing a book when I do not feel like reality is quite real anyway. Or that poetry life and real life are not even meeting each other. Not to mention the drag of December when I swear yesterday it was well on its way to darkness at 3pm. 

But then again, barring the heft of all that has happened, this feeling is always here, the uncertainty of December, especially without even a glimmer at the end of Christmas, which is less bright this year and sort of murky in the distance. I will hopefully snap out of it by New Year’s–all of it, the holiday funk, the SAD depression, the writing fallow ground. Or at least I hope so.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/2/2022

Maybe then I’ll get back to writing? I hope so. I miss it, truly. But the words seem stuck inside/between endless spreadsheets and Zoom meetings and oh my god the emails. (This is not about my students. I love teaching them.)

Is it any wonder my synapses are scrambled?

But painting is not stuck. Painting un-scrambles me in continually surprising and energizing ways. I am excited to paint almost every day. (Will I ever feel this way about writing? Did I? Is it even possible to?)

My son recently discovered he likes watching World Cup soccer. This is surprising. Shocking, even, to all of us living in this totally un-sporty home. But he’s delighted and I told him I was so glad he allowed himself to be open to discovering this about himself.

That’s what this year of painting has been for me. An incredible process of discovery.

I had no idea how much I needed it.

I can’t imagine my life, now, without it.

Sheila Squillante, Still at It

This graduate class was a beautiful gift. Maybe it wouldn’t have been if I was submersed in a regular semester of teaching at the community college, but I kind of doubt that. There’s something to be said for students who show up ready to learn … whether it’s from me or each other or the work that we’re reading and discussing. There’s something to be said for older students who have shaken off the cloak of high school and undergraduate nonsense and are present because they’re in possession of themselves as people in the world.

To be clear, I’m also really appreciative of my students who are decidedly NOT in the world. Students who don’t really know what they want to do or where they want to be — I love having honest conversations with them and acknowledging that sometimes not-knowing is part of the process. But it takes a particular kind of energy to engage like that — and after almost two decades of that kind of engagement, I’m happy to try something different.

The difference comes down to the students who wrote some really cool prose and poetry this semester. And some of them failed in their aims, but it was awesome to see them try to meet those aims, and to hear them speak about what they learned in the process. AND to hear them talk about their “final projects” in terms that made it clear that the projects themselves aren’t over, aren’t final, aren’t anywhere near complete.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Lessons & Gratitude

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A couple of years ago, I asked one of my poetry mentors this same question. She chuckled and told me about how she recently dug up the Microsoft Word file of a poem that was published many years ago and started editing the poem again, because she “felt like it.” That was incredibly liberating for me. My relationship with poems became much more fluid once I understood that a poem may never be finished and instead, I could aspire for the poem to be good enough. 

Thomas Whyte, Jaeyun Yoo : part two

So Peter and I managed to get the latest episode of Planet Poetry edited and up last Thursday, featuring Peter’s interview with Sarah Barnsley on her first full collection The Thoughts. It’s an excellent book, in fact it’s one of my recommendations in the forthcoming edition of Poetry News. The poddy is going well. Now all we need are <unsubtle-hint> a few kind donations to help us pay the costs of the recording and hosting platforms! </unsubtle-hint> We were especially chuffed to hear that Kim Moore (who we interviewed in our Season 3 opener recently) won the Forward Prize! We bask in the reflected glory! Our Christmas episode is coming up on December 15th, featuring my interview with Matthew Stewart plus party hats, carols and bloopers. Don’t miss it!!

Meanwhile I’ve just sent out the updated spreadsheet of poetry magazine windows, and although I’ve lost patience with a few of the mags that seem to be permanently closed and/or never updated, there are some interesting additions. Even one journal that’s finally open for poetry after I took it off the list some time ago because it was never open and didn’t respond to queries. Perhaps poetry mags never die, they just pass out for a while (to nick a line from Prole).

Robin Houghton, Subs, pods and mags

This morning I read Anne Helen Peterson’s latest newsletter offering (linked above), on reading, and so much hit so close to home. I miss reading the way I once did. I keep trying to find my way back to it, and it eludes me. I then spent a good amount of time deleting apps from my phone. I’d already deactivated the dumpster fire that is Twitter, which I rarely used anyway, but I’ve put both Instagram and Facebook in timeout. I really love some Instagram accounts I follow (e.g., poetryisnotaluxury), but I would rather be the kind of reader I once was. I’m not sure this will do the trick, but I’m willing to try it.

Not much in store for today. I’m sitting at our dining table in the living room, on new-to-us old chairs we bought and recovered last weekend, watching snow blow out the window. The weather app tells me it’s supposed to be rain and 37 degrees, but my eyes tell me those are snowflakes and that they are sticking to the ground. I’d rather believe my eyes than my phone.

Rita Ott Ramstad, ’tis the season…

There is something curious about how so much poetry out of Vancouver is centred on movement, whether [Edward] Bryne’s compositions while riding BC Transit, on bicycle or on foot, comparable to Meredith Quartermain’s walking [see her 2005 collection Vancouver Walking] or George Stanley riding a similar Vancouver bus route [see my review of his 2008 collection Vancouver: a poem here], to George Bowering thinking his way through Duino Elegies via Kerrisdale. In comparison, there aren’t many poems I’m aware of composed overtly across the lines of the Montreal Metro, or Toronto’s GO Trains, let alone their expansive subway system (although bpNichol famously spoke first-draft thoughts into a hand-held tape machine while driving the distance between Coach House and Therafields). In certain ways, there’s almost something comparable to Vancouver’s transit-poems to England’s handful of poems composed on foot, responding to the uniquely-English meditative tradition of walking vast countryside distances [see my review Mark Goodwin’s 2014 collection Steps, for example, here]. Frank O’Hara may have composed a collection of poems during his lunch break, but, more recently, Mary Austin Speaker composed her 2016 collection, The Bridge, while riding daily commuter distances across New York’s Manhattan Bridge [see my review of such here]. How much, we might begin to ask, has literature been shaped through the physical requirements of each author’s particular geography? As Byrne offers as part of “MORNING SONGS”: “I saw Kirilov / fifty years ago / on the Barton Street bus / and again this morning / on 6th Avenue // One of us hasn’t changed / in all those years [.]”

rob mclennan, Edward Byrne, Tracery

Once I had writing habits, some that worked better than others.  This past year has given me one disruption after another:  job loss which might have opened up extra time, had I not broken my wrist, coupled with a huge move mid-summer and a smaller move at the end of the summer and a heavier class load than in the past.

Next term, I will try to set up some writing habits that will result in more writing time.  What will that look like?  I don’t know yet.  Let me think about it before 2023 gets away from me.  For now, I’m trying to keep my poetry legal pad close to me, and to go ahead and start writing, even if I only have a glimmer of an idea.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast about the end of Byzantium.  I thought about the Yeats poem, and as I read it, a line came to me:  This is no country for young women.  I decided to write it down and to keep going.  I decided to have something inspired from the Yeats poem in each stanza. […]

I will continue to work with the poem–one of my habits that has developed in the past few years is that I write a draft and don’t return.  I’d like to actually finish a poem, type it into the computer, and send it off to see if anyone would like to publish it.  But more than publication, I want to have the joy of having crafted a rough draft into a more finished draft.  These days, I often end a writing session without a complete rough draft.  I write a few lines or stanzas and drift away, thinking I’ll return when I’m more inspired, and I don’t return, not yet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sailing from Byzantium: Process Notes

Downtown, counterfeit angels wander dark streets drop kicking smiles for kicks.

Mispronounced junky dreams fumble through alleyways, mistaking fentanyl for sentinels.

All across the city, many spend their time waiting for something great that comes a little too late, like winning the lottery while on the way to the electric chair.

I press an ear to a cloud to listen in on the heavens.

I hear someone say a kiss is fluent in all languages.

Rich Ferguson, When Pondering the Language of Salvation

A while back I wrote a series of poems about Amy Winehouse. I’ve always been a huge fan of her music and her second album, Back to Black, will forever be one of my favorites and I listened to it on repeat when my first marriage fell apart so those songs and these poems weave together a lot of emotional topics: her untimely death, disordered eating, dysfunctional relationships.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the poems – they didn’t fit in my forthcoming collection but there weren’t enough for a chapbook. After thinking about it for a while, I decided I would handmake a microchap of the Amy Winehouse poems. Of course, I just had to figure out how to do that…

I spent an afternoon figuring out how to format the pages correctly. Then I spent $500 on supplies – paper, an awl, book binding needles, heavy duty thread. Once I had the supplies I spent another afternoon printing all the pages. I decided I wanted to make 100 copies. Which seemed ambitious but still doable. Famous last words? Maybe…

Courtney LeBlanc, Your Hands are Going to Ache

I’m just back from a very wintry dog walk with my very slow and elderly dog. There is something to be said for the slow walk and the honesty of bad weather, how a really good soaking freezes you so deeply it’s like it’s cleaned the very bones of you. And going so slowly allows for a close examination of the landscape; not just the valley and the hills around you, but of the landscape with a small L, the place where we exist every day, the areas that, in some ways, become background. I think of hedgerows like that. Hedgerows are a constant in the landscape, acting as dividers, boundary lines, shade for livestock. They sew the lands together, tracking across the countryside and lining the lanes. The hedgerows around my village feel timeless, and some are in fact likely to be boundary lines going back a thousand years or more. Hedgerows are like that – timeless, ancient, magical. Even the name – hedgerow, feels old and rounded with time, so close to the old english hegeræwe I can feel the weight of all those years in my mouth as I say it. I like the way you look at a hedge and see its history. Here’s a picture of a hedge in my village that has a history of being maintained in the traditional way, in which the living Hawthorn is cut down through the stem almost to the ground and then bent over and woven through the other stems to create a living fence. This is called ‘plashing’ and the bent part is the plasher. It’s an ancient technique that is lovely to see still in use. Sometimes you might see a lovely old hawthorn on its own and you might notice that it has a strange ‘elbow’ shape to some of its lower branches. That is the history of the tree, its brethren all gone and only the angle of its branches telling how once it was part of a hedgerow, a living fence that kept sheep in.

Wendy Pratt, The Winter Hedgerow

I’m delighted to announce that The Wind and the Rain, my sixth collection of poems, will be published with Blue Diode Publishing in June 2023.

The Wind and the Rain is a book of loss. It combines personal and environmental grief through the metaphor of rain.

You can read recently published poems from the book by following the links here.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain – due in June 2023

I was gathering strangeness, like little stones. Tossing
them into a jar, waiting for the water to rise to the
top. A thirsty crow, negotiating with the universe.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 23

According to a 2006 study funded by the Poetry Foundation and the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, the sneak attack is the best approach when attempting to reach people who say they don’t read poetry.* Non-readers of poetry were more likely to read or listen to a poem when they were exposed to one in unexpected places. These unexpected places include billboards, public transportation, events, and the newspaper. 

I wonder if this willingness to tolerate a poem is due the nature of the encounter. If a person doesn’t like poetry, and knows she’ll have to sit through one at an upcoming event, she’s probably already prepared to tune out. But if she happens to glance up while driving on the freeway and pass a poem in giant letters on a billboard or see one while riding the subway, the surprise might just startle her into a new appreciation.

When I was Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, I decided that the most important part of my job was to increase those chance encounters with poetry. I tried my best to put poems in places where people were forced to stand or sit for undetermined lengths of time: the bank, grocery store, cleaners, coffee shop, hardware store, dentist’s office, etc. 

My hairdresser hung a short poem by Hafiz on a wall in her salon, framed like a painting. She told me that people would look at it, first thinking it was a picture, and then, puzzled, ask her about it. I also organized a “Poem in Your Pocket” day, where volunteers handed out poems to unsuspecting members of our town. The reactions were varied—some people seemed delighted, some confused, and a few shrank back in horror. I also conducted holiday-themed poetry events (Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day), which were surprisingly well-received.

After three years of being the town’s self-appointed poetry sniper, I was worn out, happy to retreat back into my previous persona as a private person. But every once in a while, I’d come across a tattered poem printed on mint-green cardstock, taped to a cash register in a local business. And I would smile a secret smile of satisfaction. 

Erica Goss, Poetry: the Sneak Attack

One cool perk of blogging is that occasionally complete strangers contact me out of the blue and ask if I would like to have a book. My answer is always, Yes! Book, please!

This week’s mail brought me a chapbook of poems from Atmosphere Press, a debut collection by Damian White, of Columbus, Ohio. When I receive poetry books, I often set them aside until my April poetry blogging binge (a book a day), but I Made a Place for You was just released, and I told Damian I would blog about it right away.

The poems are short—“language poetry crossed with gospel,” as one reviewer puts it—but they well up from the poet’s own life and are a testament to how dire circumstances (in White’s case, homelessness) can be “channeled … into poetry to heal a fractured identity.” Predictably the poems are often ontological, a chronicle of a spiritual journey.

Bethany Reid, I Made a Place for You

the urn is light but heavy
weight upon his shoulders
unscrews the lid

grey ash onto white water
tips three times
on three outgoing waves

shakes the canister
grey motes on the air
retraces his footprints

Paul Tobin, GREY MOTES ON THE AIR

I had the pleasure of being on library shift with Wakefield’s Village poet emeritus, Phil Cohen. Phil started in New York City, went to MIT in engineering, and somehow ended up Quebec by 1984. […]

Phil’s a big deal in town, with his birthday celebrated as part of February’s Dragonfest. There’s a DVD of his poems in tribute. He has at least 2 books. One of his poems was the source of the name of the TaDa arts fest.

He says there are big P poets who do it for a living, small p poets who do it seriously and no p poets like him. He says poetry is in the living, and in involvement in the community.

Pearl Pirie, Village Poet

As it is poetry manuscript contest season, and I’m once again finding myself reading manuscripts, I thought I’d offer some “notes from a manuscript reader.” These are all just my opinions, and your mileage may vary.

  1. If you’ve never heard this before, make sure your first five poems are doing a lot of heavy lifting for the book—and then the last final poems. Because you know what? Tired and (mostly) unpaid readers are probably not going to sift through every single poem unless you’ve already hooked them.
  2. This is for contests that allow acknowledgements (some do not, so just ignore this if that is the case.) Do acknowledgements matter? Well, if you have none, it might. I think if you haven’t done the work of submitting individual poems for publication, you’re probably not ready for the work of publishing and publicizing a book. I don’t really pay attention to number or the names of the publications, but having none or only one or two acknowledgements kind of puts you in the danger zone. Now, if I still loved the poetry, I might still put it through. Just know that getting individual poems published shows you’re trying, you’re part of the literary world, and you’re trying to build an audience—all things I’d care about as a publisher, and as an extension, a reader.
  3. For books leaning heavily on one historical period or incident—this can work for or against you. I’ve read terrific books done in this way, but also a lot of boring ones. If you choose this route, make sure you vary voices, styles, and forms to keep the reader’s interest.
  4. There is a weird sameness of tone in the manuscripts I’ve read this year—and granted, it’s just a portion of submissions from one publisher—but there’s a monotone in the manuscripts. They’re not poorly written, but they lack emotion, power, passion. I wonder if this is possibly the effect of pandemic fatigue—it’s flattened out our voices, our writing? Anyway, don’t be afraid to be a little weird, out there, or show you care about something or someone. It’ll likely jolt the readers – which is usually a good thing.
  5. Good titles never hurt you. Once again, don’t be afraid to be a little weird.

I hope this was helpful! (And not too cranky! Anyway, as I said, this is just one person’s opinion.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Snow (with Power Outages, Haircuts and Holiday Things), Pushcart Nominations, Notes from a Manuscript Reader

Because we’re about to embark on our other family Xmas tradition of watching a film together on a Sunday evening in the lead up to Xmas (Mainly Xmas films, obvs), time is tight today, but I do want to post a poem—especially as I have permission to do so from the poet themselves.

Given the last thing we put on the tree was the star, this poem feels even more timely. It’s Each Star is a Sun by Jo Haslam from her second collection, ‘The Sign for Water‘. Sadly, the book appears to be out of print, but it’s one of the earliest poetry books I can recall buying in Waterstones, Norwich. I hadn’t read the book in years, but stumbled across it on my shelves last week. I knew I had to post something from it, and asked Jo’s permission. Out of the two I suggested this was her preference, and it’s the perfect choice.

I love the way the poem contains an element of the magical, and alludes to the way that we know the science of things, but still ascribe some sort of magic to the light that reaches us from such a distance. The way the lines of the poem seem to expand and contract like a galaxy and the universe seems entirely right.

Mat Riches, It must be a sign (for water)

Someone kept
watching the stars.

They were always
watching the stars.

They kept listening.
That’s how we

got here today,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (354)

Issue 59 of antennae – the journal of nature in visual culture is now out on the theme Microbial Ecologies. It is an extraordinary collection of multidisciplinary practices, approaches, methodologies, and conceptions to help us see and value the microbial worlds that until recently have remained invisible. As editor Giovanni Aloi says, “It is only by recognizing and engaging with microbial agencies that fuller networks of interconnectedness will enable us to tell the stories we truly need for our time and for the future.”

I’m delighted to have a piece in this edition. Ferrovores: the iron eaters is an extended version of the text of my video The Ferrovores.

Iron is the most common metal on earth. Indeed, it forms much of the molten core of the planet which in turn generates the earth’s magnetic poles. The red soils of the world are due to iron. At a biochemical level, iron is essential for human life, amongst other things, making our blood red. In the societal domain, iron is essential for manufacturing, electricity generation, and much more. Certain bacteria can derive energy for life directly from dissolved iron compounds (“rust”) rather than from oxygen as we do. Perhaps, at some time in the future, we, our descendants, the Ferrovores, may need to do the same.

Yet the Ferrovores are a product of digital code: generational, mutating, synthesising. Even so, the environment collapses around them, as they mine the language of pre-industrial times for reassurance and comfort, dreaming of the days when manufacturing really was handicraft and shared skills.

Ian Gibbins, Ferrovores: the iron eaters in Antennae

In her book Index Cards, Moyra Davey quotes someone saying that everyone should take a one year sabbatical — the person dares her listeners to “imagine what that would be like.” And I think the word “dares” is meaningful here, and maybe now especially. Because it did feel even quite daring to take a month (especially during a pandemic, admittedly). The idea, Davey says, is that everyone in their time on earth should get to experience an interval of just freaking joy. Just as Cixous talked about fecundity being the natural state for writers, I believe that the state of feeling joy and being delighted on a daily basis is a basic human right. Which of course is so hard to attain. But there it is.

And I don’t think we’re likely to feel delighted and joyful all day long or anything like that. But in my month in Rome, doing whatever we wanted every single day which included looking at amazing art, writing, photographing, being creative, really reset my beleaguered pandemic brain. For the last couple of years, I have not felt myself. I’ve hit some distressing levels of depression. I know I’m not alone in that.

And so, to live a month in utter happiness, contentedness, joy: I can tell you that it rewired my brain, reset my soul. Obviously, I want to keep those good vibes going. How? So that will be my ongoing quest.

Shawna Lemay, A Month in Rome

Friday: Late fall in the north: this is the stripped, dry, testing time at the end of the year. Short days, distant pale sun, bare trees, and an increasingly penetrating cold. Ironically, when there’s more snow covering the ground, it often seems warmer, and easier to be outside: during these current weeks, though, the landscape feels like a bed without a blanket. We are all driven more and more into the interiors of our homes, and of ourselves. 

I swam, early this morning. Sleepy and not in the best of moods when I pushed myself into the elevator, into the locker room, on with the suit and cap and goggles and into the water, the rhythm quickly took over and after five laps I was already feeling better; after twenty-five I felt renewed, at home in my body in spite of its creaky and achy parts, ready to face the day.  A couple of afternoons ago, I rode down and walked back up the many flights of stairs to my apartment — this is something I should, and could, do regularly. And while swimming does stretch and use most muscle groups, some yoga focused on balance and strength would be good this winter too.

For someone who tends to be pretty consumed with thoughts and words, I know that I can’t live entirely in my head, or let myself become distracted and immobile for hours on end. I need to use my body to make music, make art, knit and sew, chop and cook, move from place to place. It helps to feel my lungs breathing and my heart pumping blood. I think that one of the problems of living in harsh winter climates, especially as we get older, is the feeling of enclosure and constriction which can lead to a lack of embodiment.

Beth Adams, Squalls

“Hope is a Silhouette” is a contemporary, empathetic look at life, particularly love and desires. Lana McDonagh explores how hope can become two-edged if ill-defined: it can keep a gambler hooked on his downfall, it can make a building look like a home, it can consume lovers and trick them into isolating themselves from a wider world. It can be as in/fallible as memory. Slender but thought-provoking, like a song you somehow keep noticing in the bar, on a passing car radio, an advert’s anthem that becomes a soundtrack to life.

Emma Lee, “Hope is a Silhouette” Lana McDonagh (Wordville) – book review

Often enough, I don’t fully understand the origins of what I write until long after. I had a funny correspondence with a high schooler a couple of months ago, not long after “Prescriptions” was published in Poetry. She asked, “What does it mean?” I knew that I’d drafted “Prescriptions” shortly after my mother’s death; that it was originally longer but I had to pare it down; and that while I was grieving as I wrote it, I was also relieved for my mother that she got to shed some of the harder aspects of her life. It consoled me to imagine her moving back to a state of openness and possibility. As I tried to distill all these thoughts into a short email, I realized there had been a more specific trigger: the hospice nurse advising us to tell our mother that it was okay to let go, if she wanted to; that we were grateful for her years of caring for us but we would be all right without her. She was unresponsive by then, but my siblings and I did, one by one, speaking to her privately. She died that night.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted Matisse & packing light

surface ripples
the songs my mother
knew by heart

Almost as soon as I’d pressed ‘publish’ on my previous post (in which I mentioned I had a poem forthcoming in Tinywords, ) the poem was published. So, here it is (above) a little more abstract than I’m used to writing, but hopefully it works!

Far more important than my small poem though, is this bit of news: let’s celebrate Kim Moore winning the Forward Prize for best collection. What a fantastic achievement. I was fortunate enough to read alongside Kim when we both had pamphlets published by Smith/Doorstop in 2012. She is hugely talented, and also incredibly hard-working. Since I got into haiku, I’ve been a bit out of the mainstream poetry loop, but luckily I had 6 Music on the radio on the way home from my guitar lesson today, and there was Kim, being interviewed by Cerys Matthews. So, congratulations Kim. I’m so happy for you and I know there will be more prizes to come! You are an amazing poet who works incredibly hard and your achievement is testimony to that. Hats off to you!

Julie Mellor, Surface ripples

May the leaves continue 
to open their pores and soak up carbon 
          emissions. May we reward the industry 
of their green and saffron, their ruby 
          and bark. May we bring the parched  
envelopes of ourselves and be filled with
          the languages of all we love, at tables 
overflowing into the end of the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prayer in Aid of Continuance

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, spring was on hold in some places (including here in Pennsylvania—brrr!) and busting out all over in other places. Those participating in #NaPoWriMo still mostly seem to be at it, though I believe it’s beginning to cut into people’s blogging time, as there were noticeably fewer posts in my feed reader than there were last Sunday. But I was still able to find lots of good stuff, and now my brain is too tired to write a better summary so this will have to do.


I found it in one of my mother’s desk drawers. Mostly the drawer contained pens, mechanical pencils, a few thick yellow highlighters. And then there was this little metal case, shaped like a teardrop with a rounded tip. At first I mistook it for a white-out tape dispenser, though Mom hadn’t owned an electric typewriter in years. When I pried it open, I found a vintage pitch pipe. The cylinder is silvery (probably made of tin) with a shape like a stylized cloud at one end, engraved with letters representing the chromatic scale. On the back it says MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Crafted there, but engraved in English: it must have been made for export. An internet search suggests that these were common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Did this one come with my grandparents from Prague in 1939? Did Mom pick it up to sing camp songs with her friends in 1950, the year she returned home and told her parents she’d met the man she planned to marry? There’s no one left who can tell me its story, but its sound is pure and clear.

Rachel Barenblat, Vintage

The snow and ice are hanging on in Finland. Another teacher and I celebrated seeing mud at the edges of the park yesterday at recess when the rest of the world seems to be enjoying bluebells and planting out in their gardens. My back garden is still under half a meter of compacted snow, but the sun is slowly working on the front flower beds. Spring will properly come, later than I hoped, just like almost every year here. 

Amidst the uni deadlines, full-time work and kids, worries of war and whatever else feels like crawling on my plate at the moment, I’m writing. It’s Global Poetry Writing Month and every day I’m scribbling a few lines that might or might not become a poem when it’s grown up. I haven’t been able to do much as I’ve been so overwhelmed and so, so tired so this is a relief. 

But there’s good news. I’ve secured a short summer job that will take me abroad, so that’s something to look forward to. I’ve finally had a few acceptances after a long dry couple of months. The Scottish publisher Crowvus has included my poem ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ in the first issue of their journal Hooded.  And Dear Damsels has published my poem ‘What We Inherit’ in their recent batch. So things are looking up after a long winter. 

I’m writing whatever small thoughts come into my head: old memories, new hopes, nonsense lines, noticing the landscape change, my mood brighten, the days until summer release getting closer. I am writing and that makes it all good. 

Gerry Stewart, Global Poetry Writing Month – Spring Will Come

I am here, on the couch (again? still?),
the dark gritty / bubbling / swaying, sirens
strobing stripes on the curtains above.

I shiver under the arc of stacked books,
swaddled in sweaters and blankets. Light
from the phone glows on my shimmering face.

Across the rooms, in a corner of
a different window, I see the sun
rise behind black pines, so red, coal bright.

First published / posted with illustrations at Luisa Igloria’s Poetry Postcard Project as 05 April ~ Poetry Postcard Project.

PF Anderson, Here

I want to recommend to you Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys and published by nine Arches Press. It’s a collection of essays by poets on (you guessed it) why they write poetry, but also on how they approach their practice and the big and small things that they have done to find their own way, to find their own voice, to be true to themselves, to write authentically. The essays are wildly different from each other. Vahni Capildeo’s essay – Skull Sutra: On Writing the Body – is a piece of incredible creativity in its own right and simply couldn’t have been written by any other poet, such is the strength of their voice that I felt the essay could have been a prose poem. I absolutely recognised the connection to landscape and the way of responding to that landscape that I found in Jean Sprackland’s In Praise of Emptiness: On Writing about Place and Paying Attention, and found myself experimenting with my senses when out walking and writing because of that essay. There are essays in this collection that gave me insights into backgrounds that I could never have known about, Romalyn Ante’s essay – Pusikit: On Working as a Poet While Working for a Living is incredibly moving. I found it inspiring, it made me look at myself and ask myself where my own obstacles were and whether they were truly obstacles, or excuses. I found Daniel Sluman’s essay How I Built a New Voice: On writing and Living as a Disabled Writer astonishingly good also. The idea that a writer would choose to take the risk of stepping away from publication, awards, the striving and comparison that makes up so much of being ‘successful’ as a poet in order to develop a new way of writing authentically about their own existence struck a chord with me, in fact seeing someone else doing this was like being given permission to do that myself. Similarly, the way that Jacqueline Saphra writes about her own journey to poetry from a different career is just beautiful, invigorating. He essay Keep Ithaca Always in Your Mind: On the Journey and value of Poetry is another essay that has allowed me to revisit my own practice but also to remind myself of why I want to write in the first place. I posted on social media that I simply cannot recommend this collection of essays highly enough, it is better, in my very humble opinion, than any ‘how to’ book of craft, because the voices in this book are not talking about how, but why, which must be the most overlooked question in writing. Why do you want to write, what is the purpose? Why does it matter to you that you pull down your poems and set them on the page, or unwind the spool of thread that is your own story, or that you create a place of joy and safety for others in a world that you create. As a species we have always created, it is the thing that separates us from other non human animals, it is the thing that joins all of us together. That compulsion to change and translate experience into art is powerful, incantatory, magical. If you are a poet, you need this book in your life. I read one essay a day as part of my morning routine alongside journalling, morning papers, reading poetry etc. I found such solace in the beautifully curated pieces. It really is one of the best collections of essays i have read and one that I will come back to.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Demon of Pretension

You thought that you would try the villanelle.
The sonnet form just didn’t work for you.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

Your free form was… too free, so what the hell,
You thought that you would really turn the screw.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

You confined yourself to your small writing cell.
You thought that it might take a day or two.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

You thought, at first, that it was going well.
You thought it couldn’t be that hard to do.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

The police were called because of the bad smell.
All your efforts had just made you start to stew.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

I’m afraid that it’s a sorry tale I tell.
Dylan Thomas, Auden, Bishop, Plath, they knew.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.
But the villanelle’s a bugger to do well.

Sue Ibrahim, Villanellia

How do we make space for brightness, for the possibility of joy, when we are worried about a war across the world, or about waiting for test results, or a root canal? How do we make space for poetry? I’ve been trying to write a poem a day this week, but haven’t felt super inspired. So when I couldn’t write, I tried to do a submission, or read some poetry instead.

When life keeps handing you problems, pain, rejection, and challenge, prayer/meditation/spending time in nature/purposefully changing your scene can seem stupid, like a waste of time, but these things can also remind us that life isn’t all suffering and pain, give us a much-needed sense of perspective, wonder, gratitude.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! Tulip Festivals, Poetry Podcasts, a Poem in Diode, Snow Geese – and Illness (Plus Broken Teeth) – and The Importance of a Change in Scenery

what is the weight of a letter?

how long is a semi-colon?

what does a semi-colon feel like in the hands?

on the tongue?

what does a semi-colon sound like?

is it possible to make a hyphen reach to the Kuiper Belt?

what if you took off your skin and made a word out of it?

would there be silent letters?

how would you pronounce the freckles?

Gary Barwin, art ± language

Lord the enormous days are hard, lord the contradictions build up, lord the stakes are high and higher, lord the idiocy is hard to drown out, lord we are asked to be kind to the unkind and it is abhorrent.

I had begun a post about renewing my vows to beauty. I had remembered a post from years back where I had renewed my vows to writing.

And then, as often happens, someone else said likely better most of what I wanted to say. From Anne Lamott on Facebook:

“Well, how does us appreciating spring help the people of Ukraine? If we believe in chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, that the flapping of a Monarch’s wings near my home can lead to a weather change in Tokyo, then maybe noticing beauty—flapping our wings with amazement—changes things in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It means goodness is quantum. Even to help the small world helps. Even prayer, which seems to do nothing. Everything is connected.”

Shawna Lemay, Renewing My Vows to Beauty

I woke up today to the music of Beethoven, Für Elise. No one else in the house was awake, so I lay still under the blankets, listening. The notes from the piano were rich and slow, rolling over me the way waves roll over a beach. The ocean water was cold, and the sand was cold on my bare feet. A gray sky, the sound of gulls. And in the distance, a freighter moves out into the sea. A lovely three minutes indeed, and then I rose, and went to the kitchen to make the coffee, black and strong. 

James Lee Jobe, sleeping with the radio on

The pub was noisy, a debate raging over how the
world would end, the degree of inebriation deciding
the vector of war, of climate, of pestilence, of broken
supply-chains. The more grotesque the imagined

dystopia, the more reason there was to drink. The
world-order won’t change tomorrow, someone said,
but you will wake up one morning and the couches
and chairs would have turned away from the

TV to take in an alternate reality.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Around 10:15, last night…

The British National History Museum’s image database is online. I’m researching Ichneumonoidea. And telling myself to keep looking, to become so familiar, so intimate with them that they become beautiful in my eyes.

There are close-up photos of veined wasp wings, and of wasp eyes that look like woven mats. The antennae curl like ribbons shaved with the edge of a knife. Deep black thoraxes.

Or thoraxes as pale as a waxy layer of old Nordic flesh – mimicking the semi-permeable barrier between life and death. Almost translucent, almost obscene.

Maybe there is a kindness in some deceptions. Death comes over the flesh – dappled first, then like a curtain of darkness with the elegance of opera gloves: somehow stuerent (socially acceptable).

The tarantula hawk has a body as black as ink. And wings as bright as persimmons.

Make sense of that emotionally.

Beautiful.

*

In America, it is National Poetry Month. I am not good with everyday constraints, so it is just as well that I am not an American. But I am working every day on this project. Posting or not.

Ren Powell, A Quick Field Note

I used to long to hear the sound of copters
rotors thumping the compliant air
getting louder drawing near

there were times when
such a B-movie rescue
would have suited me

I chose to forget that after the credits roll
the actors return to playing themselves
in the films of their own imperfect lives

bridges are a safer bet
you climb above the trouble
just walk away

Paul Tobin, A PIPEWORK OF VEINS

I’m spinning too many plates right now. Some plates that should be spinning are actually still packed in the box, but I’m limited, and between the ongoing pandemic and the violence in Ukraine, it’s hard to continue on as usual.  Even so, here are some poetry highlights from the past month…

In early March, I got to be a virtual featured poet for Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly open mic in the country, and it was a joy to share some of the poems for my spouse from How to Play.

Also in March, I received my contributor’s copy of Dear Vaccine, the print anthology created from the global poetry project of the same name. It’s fun to see work by friends in here with me, and I was excited that Naomi Shihab Nye was one of the editors.

At the end of March, I got to release the new spring issue of my journal, Whale Road Reviewand it’s amazing. Even when the rest of life is chaotic, I love doing this editing and publishing work.

Katie Manning, Shows & Publications

I’m learning about Walter Rodney.
Headphones on, listening to
the intertwining guitars
of Remmy Ongala from Tanzania.
This world is its own multiverse.
I have a constant opportunity
to see and hear and taste new wonders,
despite the efforts of my ancestors
to own what cannot be owned.
Water Rodney was from Guyana.
I had to look it up on a map.

Jason Crane, POEM: Walter Rodney

Next week I should receive my advance hard copies of Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I feel like I’m facing a portal, a door to strange woods opening at the back of a wardrobe. I know book launches are lucky and thrilling, but they also ramp my anxiety right up, especially the tasks that involve talking up my book’s amazingness and asking people to give it various kinds of attention.

Other boundaries precede and follow it: a doozy of a Winter Term ended Friday, so onward I forge into grading and revising committee reports. The barrage of university deadlines is slowing, though, so maybe I’ll be able to celebrate part of National Poetry Month for real. I’ll certainly read a lot. Starting to write and submit again, though: that gives me the alarming facing-the-portal feeling, too. I know, as a practically grizzled person in her fifties, that the ability to write and think has always come back in the past and probably will again. But crossing the threshold from busy-busy to slow thoughtfulness is always hard for me. As I tell my writing students, starting from a cold stop is HARD. Once you’re into the swing again, there are different kinds of difficulties–finding structures and words, killing your darlings–but that panicky feeling subsides. Until you’re ready to publish, when it roars back again in altered forms.

When I was finalizing the ms, I fizzed with worry about my last chance to get it right. Now my apprehensions are less about the book’s content and more about my responsibility to give the 10 years of work this book represents a better chance of reaching audiences. With that in mind, I’ve done it: I’ve hired a publicist, Heather Brown of Mind the Bird Media, for a few months to help launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Many of us learned via Twitter this year that the top publicists charge something like $30K or more for a book launch, which is a little startling, but I also don’t feel like judging people about those choices. That level of investment isn’t in the cards for me for a LOT of reasons; the publicists I interviewed offer their services at much lower cost and, not incidentally, specialize in small press books. They use their contacts to pitch media coverage; help send out review copies; query potential reading venues; and more, depending on what an author needs. One observation from early in the working relationship is that it’s helpful to have an ally whose job it is to stay enthusiastic when your own confidence flags! I don’t know yet how much success we’ll have; everything is still in process. But it feels like the right career moment to try this strategy. I couldn’t have afforded it as I was starting out, but these days money is easier to spare than time. I’ll keep you posted.

Lesley Wheeler, Hard lines, soft lines

We tell the same
stories

Revision: ocean
dredging up

glass and shells
Velvet kelp

Oracles
from a future

Manifest with
illegible names

Luisa A. Igloria, Mythopoeia

Sarah Mnatzaganian’s first pamphlet, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter (Against the Grain Press, 2022), is as refreshing as the fruit it evokes and invokes. Of course, as its title immediately indicates, a key theme is origin and identity, but this is not wielded as a statement. Instead, it’s explored via fierce curiosity. […]

The clarity, freshness and light touch of this pamphlet are the qualities that lift it out of the hubbub of contemporary poetry, especially when considered alongside Mnatzaganian’s refusal to take short cuts or reach facile conclusions. For not much more than the price of a dodgy pint in a flash London pub, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter encourages the reader to pause, breathe in its vitality and return to everyday life, newly invigorated.

Matthew Stewart, Clarity and freshness, Sarah Mnatzaganian’s Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter

In the fifth grade, I decided I was bad at art. I couldn’t draw a vacuum cleaner well enough for my teacher, who pointed out all the problems with it at every turn. Why is the hose so long, Sheila? What’s with the weird cross-hatch thing over here? Is that supposed to be metal? Didn’t you understand the lesson on perspective? I erased and tried again, over and over. I desperately wanted to draw a good vacuum for her! I have lived a lifetime of trying to please teachers. But it wasn’t to be and I ended up dreaded going to art class. Can you imagine? What’s more expressive and freeing and welcoming than art? I turned to words, then, a different sort of art, and have had a beautiful love affair/career with them ever since.

And then, the pandemic came.

These years have made us all a little strange, but they’ve also engendered some surprising delights in my life. For instance, I ripped out my front lawn and installed the pollinator garden I’ve always wanted. For instance, I bought 85 house plants. For instance, I stumbled, tentatively at first, and then with voracious desire, back to visual art–bold, colorful abstracts this time (I am nothing if not a maximalist), with nary a wonky vacuum to be found.

Sheila Squillante, No More Vacuums!

the river is constant here
we mourn through it even when we want to be
shut out children aren’t supposed to die
the mud banks rear and churn daffodil
fields pulse like giant earthlights even in early
spring when the Pacific tide breaks its bounds
we hold grief like stars hissing in our mouths
the tide has no heart for us the lower angels
sink and rise from the smokestack’s painted sides
to the hospital’s last call

Rebecca Loudon, April 8.

Yesterday we carved out a new section of garden and began planting it. In the house, we put away candles and the little lamp we’ve kept on the dining room table to light our morning and evening meals. It’s been weeks since we’ve turned it on. “Candle and fire season is done,” I said, moving a basil plant to the spot where the candles had been and opening the front door to let in fresh air.

The world’s first green is still gold, but the tulips have already begun their wilt, and the willow’s blossoms are turning into leaves. It’s high spring in our part of the world, when the grass needs mowing more than once a week and branches transform from bare to blossoms in two days. If you blink, you miss it. Sometimes, writing is a way of seeing more deeply and clearly, but sometimes it’s a way of blinking.

I didn’t want to blink this week.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Don’t blink

The author grew up in the midwest. Festered beneath sunlight like a blister. Cartwheeled through summers thigh high with lake grass. Couldn’t keep her fingers out of her mouth, the butterflies out of her hair. The author built a church out [of] books and hid inside it for years. Fumbled with light switches and lawn ornaments, and still, the holes in her body slacked and grew larger til she contained so much. BBQ grills and record albums, tackleboxes and bottles of pills. The author would crack open every so often and out would fly a river of fish the size of her palm. The author would go slack with all that wanting, would fold and list in the wind.

Kristy Bowen, napoowrimo #5

My book Little Pharma is my first book. Years ago when my partner got a short story accepted by the magazine he most admired, our friend John called it the “Velveteen Rabbit moment,” after the (very dark!) children’s book by Margery Williams, about certain toys becoming live animals by the force of a child’s love. It’s the moment when someone’s loving regard for you (or your work) turn you from a crumple of cloth and stuffing into “the real thing,” whatever that is. I want not to believe in this – I want, rather, to believe that I would be just as “real” a poet even if no one ever offered me the chance to publish a book – but being a social animal, having a book that can circulate in society has felt like a personal metamorphosis.

Most recently I’ve been working on a hybrid memoir in prose that uses my own development as a medical trainee and a poet to cut a rambling path through the history and philosophy of medicine and art. I’ve always been a magpie of art and history, and sometimes of autobiography. But as a poet, I’m somewhat unused to making arguments that need to stick. It’s a different rhetorical muscle.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

A shallow and a somewhat deeper answer. My first college crushes were all poets, and I wanted very badly to have a chance with them. Longing does wonders for work ethic. But in fact, even as a much younger child I immediately grasped and loved the uselessness of poetry, that it could communicate unstably and without necessarily teaching, that it could say several things at once.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Kolbe

It is National Poetry Month again, and this year, in recognition of the celebration, I have started a practice to experiment with, just out of curiosity and to give myself a nudge. Many of my poetry colleagues invest a month in writing a poem a day or reading a poetry book each week or posting a poem daily on their social media platforms. It’s important to remind ourselves why we treasure and delight in poetry.

I chose a simple project that requires frequent re-imagining/re-imaging. For my starting point, I picked a poem at random from a collection of Fernando Pessoa’s work. I copied the poem, by hand, into my journal and re-read it a few times. Then I turned the page and rewrote it, “revising” it in the way I might revise a poem of my own. My plan is to repeat this process after a day or so, each time revising from the most recent version. In a short time, the poem will have moved away from being Pessoa’s piece–perhaps bearing little to no resemblance to the original…a sort of whisper-down-the-lane approach. The intention is to consciously alter image and voice in each re-imagining of the draft, though I’m not sure how well I can hew to my intentions. We shall see.

Why I decided on Pessoa for this project, I don’t really know; but I think there’s something perfect about using one of his pieces as springboard. Because Pessoa was kind of a springboard for himself–he created several writer-selves who wrote poems and critical prose: heteronyms, he termed them. The poem I used was “by” his persona named Ricardo Reis. Adam Kirsch wrote a good introduction to Pessoa’s peculiar obsession with being a non-person in a 2017 New Yorker article. By revising something by Pessoa in my own voice and through my own images, perhaps I nurture his pursuit of dissolving the self.

It occurs to me now that the poems of several contemporary writers may have induced me to try this writing prompt, most recently Daisy Fried in The Year the City Emptied (which I highly recommend). Her collection consists of “loose translations” of Baudelaire, reimagined in Philadelphia during the covid outbreak while her husband was dying. It’s not a cheerful read–but then, neither is Baudelaire–nevertheless, the resulting poems are powerful and vividly interesting.

Ann E. Michael, Revision practice

Our tiny minds blown by ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, ‘Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves’ and ‘As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire’, we found solace in its opening of utter clarity. The cricket season upon us, the big roller on Longmead, time running out on everything we touched. ‘Just a few poems more, then it’s over to you.’ With no idea how to revise, let alone parcel out days into chunks that might mean something more than another wasted study period deciphering Remain in Light on headphones. Anouilh. Camus. The French Revolution (which we had not even covered). The green-eyed monster. Trips to pub theatre in Bath in the back of a Transit to see Zoo Story, Rhinocerous. Phil Smith lecturing us with Paris au Printemps. Generally not having a clue. A fifer. Pub nights, chips and lager, running the whole way back in darkening lanes. The longing to be elsewhere. Wanting to put it off. Discovering Holub’s ‘Love’ in an anthology no one taught from. ‘Sweepings./ Dust.’ What the? ‘When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.’ Misquoting the line in the paper. This was it. Something to cling onto in the wreckage.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

held breath
first one and then another
cherry blossoms

Jim Young [no title]

Meghan Sterling: The poems in House Bird, which are lovely, have a thread of masculinity/an examination of men and manhood running through them, both painful and yearning. Can you talk about how you came to a place of writing about manhood? What do you feel is most urgent about doing so?

Robb Fillman: To be honest, I don’t believe it was a conscious act. In other words, I did not set out to write about masculinity per se. I think I started writing poems about the relationships I had with the people around me—my wife, my children, my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my childhood friends, and so on—and I started thinking about what it means to be a father, a husband, a son, a brother. And it wasn’t until well into writing that I noticed that I was actually trying to speak the words that had been, for whatever reason, difficult for me to express in conversation.

Sometimes, I think men and boys feel as though they can’t talk openly about their feelings, so we talk around the “thing” we wish to say, or we don’t talk at all. And I suppose, one of the reasons I started writing poetry was because I felt inarticulate. In that way, the poems could speak for me. And really, it was after I had children when I began to think: I don’t want my kids not knowing what their dad thought or felt. I want them, when they are older, to have a map, to know I was (and still am) a “work in progress.” I never want them—my son or my daughter—to be afraid of their own feelings. Poetry opens up that space.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Meghan Sterling Interviews Robb Fillman

RICHARD HOWARD was a towering figure (one of his favorite words) in American literature, from his own poems to his insightful, wide-ranging essays on American poets (see Alone with America and Preferences: 51 American poets choose poems from their own work & from the past), to his numerous translations of French poetry and prose (Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal is one of the best known).

He also cut a figure, in his round glasses and red shoes.  Everyone who met him has vivid impressions of him, and stories that feature his erudition, his wit, and his generosity.  He taught in writing programs at Columbia, at the University of Houston, and the University of Utah.  He didn’t teach workshops, but gave lectures  on campus and invited students to his home for conferences.  He was a true mentor, publishing their work and supporting their careers.

I don’t remember when I first met Richard, but I do remember feeling nervous and intimidated.  He immediately put me at ease–something he must have had to do often throughout his life as he moved among people whose minds were not filled with what one writer describes as the equivalent The Great Library of Alexandria.  He was wrote a blurb for a book of essays I edited, Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition, and took part in a translation conference I helped organize.  When I taught for a semester at the University of Houston, I stayed in his apartment there while he was in New York.  Much of it was his favorite color, red–the telephone, a table, a chair, plates, cups, pillows.  Ever since then I find myself sprinkling smaller amounts of red through my rooms–I think of it as Richard Red.

Sharon Bryan, Richard Howard, 1929-2022

THEN COME BACK: THE LOST NERUDA POEMS, Pablo Neruda, trans. Forrest Gander. Copper Canyon Press, PO Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 2016, 163 pages, $23 ($17 paper), www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Well. What does one say about Pablo Neruda? Lauded as the greatest poet of the Americas, the greatest poet of the 20th century, influencer of all subsequent generations of … Nobelist … etc. I can’s imagine what I might add.

All I will say is that I attended the Seattle Arts and Lectures presentation of this book — back in those lovely old pre-Pandemic days, and heard a number of the poems, first in Spanish (which was like listening to music), then read by Forrest Gander (a remarkable poet in his own right), the translator. The book is part poetry collection, part artifact, with color plates. It’s funny, and loving, and generally just worth the trip.

I’m compelled to share a scrap from poem #20. Although Neruda died well before our current age of iPhones, it so anticipates our enslavement: “raising my arms as though before / a pointed gun, I gave in / to the degradations of the telephone.” “I came to be a telefiend, a telephony, / a sacred elephant, / I prostrated myself whenever the ringing / of that horrid despot demanded” — and so on (pp. 60-61).

The Prologue, by Gander, is worth reading (and rereading). He tells about how these poems overcame his reluctance to do the translation (“The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.”) And he shares the process with us — not only his encounter with the locked vault of the Neruda archives, but with his own journey through the poems, often hand-written on menus and placemats.

Bethany Reid, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

I wanna create a monument called BookBinge—

a megalithic circle of books set firm within earthworks, towering skyward like Stonehenge.

There’ll be poetry, fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, and more.

You can touch the books, read them, breathe in their history, discuss them fervently with family and friends.

Or you can remain silent within the center of the monument’s immensity and watch the seasons pass.

Time will become irrelevant. You will grow wiser, not older.

Rich Ferguson, Book-Binge

old salt road
filling our pockets
with stones

Julie Mellor, Hunger Hill

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, you can probably guess what many poets were blogging about. But there were also still books to review, publishing news to share, and other delightful things.


In Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, his sprawling novel of poets, revolutionaries and Pinochet, I remember most vividly the scene of a poet trapped in a stall of the bathroom as riot police entered her university.   Where else would she be?  She is Auxilio Lacouture, poet and auxiliary individual, manic monologuist.  She is bound by the ordinary, which becomes extra-ordinary, in spite of and because she’s a minor actor in the stream of history.  She missed megaphone calls to evacuate because she was reading poetry in the can. Thus she becomes part of the surreality of reality overlaid on the streets and in her own vivid consciousness, as public and private eruptions, of multiple narratives over several days of her own obsessive confinement.

Lacouture recalls: “I lifted my feet like a Renoir ballerina, my underwear dangling down around my skinny ankles and snagging on a pair of shoes…I saw the soldier who was staring entranced into the mirror, the two of us still as statues in the women’s bathroom…I heard the door close…

“I saw the wind sweeping the university as if it was delighting in the last light of day.  And I knew what I had to do.  I knew.  I had to resist.  So I sat on the tiled floor of the women’s bathroom and in the last rays of light I read three more poems by Pedro Garfias and then I closed the book and closed my eyes and said to myself: Auxilio Lacouture, citizen of Uruguay, Latin American, poet and traveler, stand your ground.” 

My daughter and I were burning onions for a French onion soup the day the insurrection took place.  We witnessed the coup by play-by-play accounts, by a torrent of words as we were darkening onions.  We were pouring broth over heaps of caramelized onions stuck to the bottom of the dutch over, scraping up the brown bits when the coup was going down.  We are part of a river and it’s going somewhere and we don’t know whether we’ll be judged for some other bit of goodness that we did, or didn’t do.

Where were you? 

Jill Pearlman, Stuck in the Stalls of History

It’s been a long year, and it’s only January 9th. It’s taken a couple days to process what actually happened on Wednesday enough to write about it coherently–mostly I was taking in memes (thank god for humor, or we’d all be crying 24/7) and articles and collecting information the remainder of this week. On Wednesday, I was mid-way into a post-break catch-up week and humming along with work, my eye on the troubling covid deaths. That morning, I’d had my first test myself as a campus requirement, and despite it being a bit uncomfortable, nothing too traumatizing. It was a good, sunny day in Chicago, and that afternoon, watching the live coverage from DC it seemed alarming, but also sort of silly. I’d suspected there might be violent protests happening, but not that they’d actually get inside and vandalize the Capitol. And if they did, it seemed kind of ridiculous, since they’d surely eventually be forced out and the count would continue (which is pretty much what happened on the surface.) In the past couple days, far more insidious things have been revealed..zip tie toting para-military, violent threats on social media, hanging gallows and the police that moved a barrier aside to allow the rioters to pass right through. The deaths and injuries to other police.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/09/2021

I’m thinking tonight of particular photographs of yesterday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol: the image of the burly white guy carrying a confederate flag through the Capitol rotunda. The image of a blonde white woman and her friend, seated on the dais of the Speaker of the House, taking selfies. A line of Capital Police on the steps, two of them jostling each other and laughing as the mob ravaged the building and milled around below them. A video of the President of the United States and his family in a tent, keeping time to loud pop music, while watching the rally on large screens, like it was a party. And then inciting that mob to unprecedented actions inb the history of the country, before retreating into the White House, behind the barricades.

A friend posted the phrase that this would go down as “one of the whitest moments in American history.” Many of us are well aware what would have happened if the people storming the Capitol had been black.

The Italian newspaper, La Stampa, published its front-page story today with the headline, “Once Upon a Time, there was America.”

I’m afraid that sums up how I’m feeling.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 53. Few Words for this Horror.

After this week, it’s hard to discuss anything but politics on some level: chiefly, that failed coup incited by the supposed Leader of the Free World and put down with considerably less lethal force and speed than last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were; but there’s barely any moral high ground here in England where our disgraceful government has presided over more than 80,000 deaths from Covid (and those are just the official figures) and pushed the NHS to the brink of collapse, and headteachers and so many others to despair. Meanwhile, Stanley ‘Acquiring French citizenship and vaccinated’ Johnson is all right Jack, as is Murdoch. Still plenty of idiots say or imply, ‘They’re doing their best’ – yes, to line their and their donor-friends’ pockets. Of course it’s impossible to take to the streets to protest during the Covid lockdowns. As Robert Lowell observed in 1964, ‘a savage servility / slides by on grease’. The only people who are out protesting here are the scarily gormless anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers, with many of whom I had a seemingly endless Twitter spat back in August.

So it’s been appropriate for me that one of my poems published this week in #36 of Poetry Salzburg Review is (mildly) political: ‘The Ballad of Mike Yarwood’. Yarwood was the first variety act I ever saw in person, when I was five, at the Winter Gardens Theatre in Bournemouth, with Peters and Lee as the music act. At home and at junior school, we all loved Yarwood, and he ‘spawned the nation’s mimicry’ in playgrounds and workplaces alike. But having made a fortune from impersonating politicians and celebrities of different kinds, he became a Tory donor and cheerleader and drank himself off our screens. My poem’s ending sees him stuck in one of those hideous Apartheid communities for the absurdly rich which litter parts of the Home Counties and elsewhere, and which JG Ballard described so chillingly in Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes.

Matthew Paul, Bloody politics

What I can
count on, when

democracy might be dying
at the hands of white men

and women waving
Confederate flags, wearing

Camp Auschwitz shirts,
brandishing zip ties:

the havdalah candle’s
sizzle, plunged

into wine; the scent
of shankbones, simmering;

the song of Torah
where every sentence

culminates, with no
uncertainties;

the winter sun
lingering

just a little longer,
promising better days.

Rachel Barenblat, Count on

“Hah, Ramstad!” a student crowed one day, waving a paper in front of me. It was an assignment written for a different teacher. “Total McWriting and I got an A!”

“Well,” I said, “at least you know what it is. I guess I’m glad you know when and how to use it.”

He grinned.

“And when not to,” I added, a statement more of hope than fact. He shook his head at me and went to his seat.

I knew that he didn’t see himself as the kind of writer I hoped he might become, but I never lost belief that he could. I never lost belief that he should. While in the classroom, I never gave up on my students as writers the way I gave up on myself as a cook. I never lost my belief that they needed to be able to tell their stories from scratch. When I told my students that everyone has the capacity to be a good writer, I believed it. When I told my students that stories–the reading and writing of them–have the power to save lives, I meant that, too. The stories we listen to and tell ourselves have everything to do with why and how the world is what it is. These are things I still believe, to my core, which leaves me, at the end of a week in which those who lack the ability to tell true stories from false have wreaked formerly unimaginable havoc, in a place of wondering.

How did I get to a place where I could stand in my kitchen and tell myself a story in which it didn’t matter if my students couldn’t tell their own or understand enough about others’ to see into and through them? Was I wrong to search for some middle ground; did my acceptance of McWriting for some situations undermine every other message I gave about the value of telling stories true? What skills do we all need to sustain life in situations for which there are no formulas guaranteed to save us? What kind of stories do we need to live and tell to get to a better place?

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

After flinging an arm across the seat next to him to save a tomato plant from toppling over, [Ross] Gay writes [in The Book of Delights] that the motion is “one of my very favorite gestures in the encyclopedia of human gestures” (214). I agree that it belongs on a “best of” human behavior list. And yes, so delightful. In response to potential impact, our instinct is to buffer the one next to us, the other.

… which brings me back to the googly eye on my lawn and another fascinating human gesture: making stories to explain the world. That’s another kind of buffer, isn’t it? Again, I don’t mean anything close to a silver lining. And I don’t mean for our fabrication to imply any kind of lie; instead, by fabrication I mean the act of creating.

The stories we tell ourselves can be raw and true and hard. But the telling is itself a buffer, something — in Gay’s case a daily delight — that fills some of the space between us and the crash. It braces us for impact.

Carolee Bennett, “something deeply good in us”

As a child, I learned that kindness could cure the snakebite of others’ poisonous actions.

That was so many moons and wars ago.

Wars started by humans and wars that got humans thinking maybe our shared gardens would bloom better with wisteria than wounds.

And so goes this battle for decency and democracy, beginning again amidst its many unendings.

Some endure these conflicts by standing firm in their hate while I exchange shadows with strangers to feel how others move through their lives.

Our shared humanity hasn’t disappeared;

it’s simply huddled in a bomb shelter at the intersection of insurrection and serenity.

Rich Ferguson, At the Intersection of Insurrection and Serenity

I’ve been reading much analysis of the events on Wednesday. I haven’t read much that startled me out of complacency, that made me want to think further and more deeply, but this article on the NPR site did.  Sociologist Alex Vitale says we shouldn’t be focused on the police angle but on the larger issue of justice in society.

But he’s not talking about justice the way most of us have been talking about justice.  Most of us want people punished, want people put in jail, want officers fired.  Vitale says, “Well, look, Americans are deeply committed to their retributive impulses. The United States has become a gigantic revenge factory. So obviously, people are falling back on these impulses — imagining justice as a question of punishment. Imagining that accountability is going to be measured in years of incarceration.”

But then he pivots–he doesn’t leave us drowning in our retributive impulses.  He sees that we have a 2 year window to deepen the conversation.  He says that in the past, we’ve been content to turn a variety of problems over to the police:  homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness.  The police aren’t equipped to handle those issues, and as a result, we see the fractured and broken society that we have today.

He also notes that the people in charge along with the people who benefit–white people, to be specific–prize order over justice.  If we commit to justice, we have to tolerate some disorder, some messiness.

I see two issues here, the one of what to do about this specific group of people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol building and the issue of how to craft workable public policy that works for more of us.  In terms of punishing Wednesday’s rampagers, I have a vision of education, not prison.  Let them read the books that were on the smashed bookshelves.  Give them a choice of whether or not they’d like to serve their sentence in prison or in the U.S. Congress, being useful to Senators and Congress people and the Capitol police.  Make them write research essays about the artifacts that they trashed.

The question of public policy is even thornier.

We’ve had decades of public policy crafted by wealthy white men, mostly for the comfort and benefit of wealthy white men.  What would happen if we started to listen to other groups?  Not just black, brown, and indigenous groups, which would certainly be a good start.  But what if we listened to mothers and fathers?  What if we listened to immigrant groups and those seeking shelter from ruinous policies in other countries?  What if we listened to artists?  What if we listened to members of religious groups that aren’t mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to poor people?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Committing to Justice, Not Vengeance

Who put their lips
to the hose and siphoned the gas,
so all we heard when we fired
the engine was a mindless buzzing
like bees? They run up the steps
of any sacred temple, dressed
in stolen furs. They smash
the windows in with their horns.
Whatever they touch turns
into bricks or bats or stones.
They straddle every chair as if
it were a sow or a mare.

Luisa A. Igloria, Defiler, Despoiler, Pillager

When 9/11 happened, I didn’t feel guilty about being here. I was still a citizen, but I felt displaced. My friends still in the States, from California to Kentucky to Michigan all wrote to tell me about how “we” were feeling — assuming I was outside of the “we” affected. When Norwegians consoled me, it was difficult to shake the feeling of being some kind of fraud. I didn’t know how to feel. Which feelings were “legitimate” for me to have, and which I was appropriating. I kept hearing my grandmother calling me a drama queen.

When the children were murdered here on July 22nd, 2011 a lot of my students told me how “we” felt about it — sometimes describing the cultural framework of Utøya, not considering that I’ve lived longer in this country than they’ve been alive. Or that my own children were in that age group that was most intimately affected.

Recent years have been even more difficult. No longer holding legal citizenship, and no longer recognizing the culture I knew, it’s almost like having an out-of-body experience sometimes. Hovering over an old life. Like a character in Sartre’s No Exit. Or like watching loved ones heading for a car wreck, helpless to intercede.

Distance helps you find different perspectives. While different doesn’t mean more correct, but I do think it means more complex. It’s why there are grants for emerging American writers to live abroad a while before returning to write about their home country. I thought that having grown up in a white-trash dysfunctional family, I was savvy to the “real” America. But being here, I’ve learned things about the hidden realities of the culture I thought I knew.

But lately, I think I am having the same kind of epiphanies that so many Americans are: every myth I was taught in school — from the Cherry Tree to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — has been turned on end, toppled like theater scenography. Part of it is just a matter of maturing, I guess — a matter of crossing demographics and cultural boundaries. The fact that social media has made diversity more visible to many of us.

A huge part of it is the BLM movement.

I don’t think I am finished crying about Wednesday’s seizure of the Capitol Building. I don’t think the chapter has closed. The hand-wringing and helplessness seem both familiar and not. This out-of-body experience seems like something many of us are sharing right now.

There’s the scene in the Wizard of Oz: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I feel like the curtain has been drawn back and I still am waiting for whatever is there to step out of the darkness.

Ren Powell, Things I Do Alone in the Car

what became of the childhood innocence
when we all played together
tag hide-and-seek stickball kickball
and then later but still really children fell in love
and those first nervous kisses and fondlings
and going out with your friends
your crew
feeling like the whole world was wide open to you
and how on earth does that degenerate
into some of those same children growing up
into a frothing rage
storming the capitol building
screaming the language of hate
surely we could still be like children
laughing together

James Lee Jobe, screaming the language of hate

It’s a few days later, Sunday. I have talked to my little brother, who actually lived through a coup attempt when he live in Thailand. I tried to tell myself I was safe, I drank liquids and slept at irregular hours. I’ve tried to write some poems about America, but they weren’t any good. I sent out a sample from my pandemic manuscript (yes, I’m probably not the only person who wrote a book of poems during the last year – we certainly had the time on our hands) and sent one of my other manuscripts to a publisher. I tried to take pictures of my birds. January is a cold, wet month typically, but we’ve had colder, rainier weather than usual, resulting in landslides and giant trees coming down around my neighborhood. Talk about pathetic fallacies.

So I’ve been reading poems – old poems, that I loved as a kid. Fragment 68 by H.D., sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay. Does poetry fix anything? No. Does my furious doomscrolling or tweeting at Mike Pence or the GOP congresspeople to impeach or invoke the 25th amendment do anything? Maybe not, either. Being a poet sometimes means being an observer. Being an observer sometimes makes you feel powerless. I’m in bed right now, looking at the rain, feeling tired and anxious.  I know there will be better days ahead. Sending love and hope out to you, my friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week to Make Us Think, Is 2021 Going to Be Worse? Attack on America from Domestic Terrorists, and Poetry as Solace

It’s not going to let up, is it? Does it feel like there’s more news because I’m at home more? Probably not, but it does seem to be getting more momentous as the days go by.

Arguably, it’s always politics, all of the time, but as Matthew Paul rightly points out here, it’s almost impossible to ignore the sheer amount of politics going on. However, I’m aware he mentions me in his post and I don’t want this to be a circlejerk, so I’m going to move on. I don’t think there’s anything that I can add to the weight of discourse around current events beyond relief that there appears to be grown-ups on the way in in the US (for all the faults of Biden and Harris, they are at least stringing sentences together and not calling for mass insurrection) and positive news about the vaccines (for all the uselessness of our own government in organising the rollout).

In an attempt to distract myself, I’m going to focus, for now, on the small coincidences of oranges and a poem.

Mat Riches, A Coincidence of Oranges

You wouldn’t think that a book of essays on disasters would make you feel better, but somehow it did make me feel better. Because it’s less about disasters and more about, as she says, the way we think about them. She says on the end of the world, “I’m not sure the doom will occur like a moment, like an event, like a disaster. Like the impact of a bomb or an asteroid. I wonder if the way the world gets worse will barely outpace the rate at which we get used to it.” 

She also notes that her research into disasters was comforting. “We’re still here, after all.” But goes on to say: “But I can only take so much comfort in the past. This point in history does feel different, like we’re nearing an event horizon. How many times can history repeat itself?” She wrote this before Covid, before these recent events, obviously. But you have to hope that this is some kind of a turning point.

We’re seeing more, the fog is lifting, the mirage is revealed as a mirage, even though most people were calling the iceberg an iceberg all along. A disaster, as it recedes into the past, can be analyzed, dissected, essays can be written about them. Questions, new questions will be formed. How did we get used to this? How inevitable was it?

Maybe it’s naive to just ask, when we’re deep in the thing, how are we to get through to the end of disaster? To the other side? Are we to be musicians playing on a sinking ship? Maybe?

You’ve heard me talk about a strategy I’ve used to get through to this point, which is to do one fun thing every day.

I recently read the inspiring article on Neil Pearte, drummer from Rush, in Rolling Stone Magazine and here’s the quotation I keep coming back to:

“What’s the most excellent thing I can do today?” he used to ask himself.

So maybe that’s a better way to put it. Either way, I don’t think it’s frivolous.

The best ideas, creative ideas, and I think going forward we’re going to need a LOT of those, comes out of play, out of different ways of thinking. If you want to get rid of brain fog, see things in a new way, do something fun, do something excellent. Or, I don’t know, go down to the river and play with ice shards. Do something excellent and then write about it, or sing about it. Because that’s worth something. It’s worth a lot.

Shawna Lemay, Mirage on the Horizon

What an up and down week I’ve had, I’m talking rollercoaster levels.  Terrible news, terrible weather, low energy, low light.  Then, from somewhere, a blast of a good joke, eating something delicious, a dazzling shot of sunshine, something captivating on telly (iPlayer),  poems that speak to me, music that brought me to my feet to dance (after a fashion), making headway with a project, making plans about another project – and then, back to feeling a bit despondent (actually, very despondent).

You’re often like this in January, says Andrew.

Yesterday, we drove five minutes to the Avon and Kennet canal (or is it the Kennet and Avon canal?  I’m never sure) and walked for about an hour, thinking, chatting, stretching our legs, being outdoors, smiling at and being smiled at (mostly) by a few other walkers.  It cheered me up.  Don’t criminalise people for doing this please, anyone.

Josephine Corcoran, Reasons to be or not to be cheerful, or not. Or something.

Ok, so it was a terrible week.

But in other news, not such a bad one.

My friend Katherine sent me her Christmas poem and it left me feeling elated. That I had already read the poem of the year – in early January!

Anthony Wilson, Reasons to be cheerful

they show me the bees
tweeted from the antipodes 
in a blizzard

Jim Young [no title]

My fourth poetry collection, Strangers, will arrive in the world in April 2021. The book will be published by Biblioasis, with (loving and fastidious!) editing by Luke Hathaway and (beautiful and striking!) cover design by Christina Angeli. I can’t wait to get it into readers’ hands.

Strangers is a themed collection drawn from a decade of writing (the earliest in the book date their composition back to 2011), but written in earnest since the birth of my son and the publication of The News in 2016. The poems explore lineages – familial and literary – and all the ways those we hold closest are both a part of us and, in some ways, forever beyond our reach. 

Written during a time when my two half-brothers died, my son was born, and my mother was diagnosed with dementia, it’s also about early middle age: a time when the great loves of our lives begin arriving and departing simultaneously, with little time to fully attend to them all. Strangers is one small attempt at such attendance. 

Rob Taylor, “Strangers” is on its way in 2021!

The shape
the poem
takes,

the bones
of what
it means

but does
not say.

Tom Montag, THE SHAPE

My recent reading has also delighted me with word meanings. I was reminded in Chess Story that a dilettante, that dabbler so often despised for surface involvement, is simply someone who delights in, say, the arts, as an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. Zweig speaks of “a true dilettante in the best sense of the word, one who plays for the pure delight–that is, the diletto–of playing.” I also looked up “antimacassar” (I think in The Queen’s Gambit?), a word I always get from context, and delighted in the discovery that this upholstery protector = anti + Macassar, a brand of hair oil. Perfect!

Kathleen Kirk, Chess Story

And by reading, I mean, reading like a practitioner. That is, when we meet a poem that affects us, we need to take it apart and figure out how it did its magic. And we need to do this over and over again with all kinds of poems. And we need to try the tactics, retry, try something else.

And I believe — I have to believe — by doing this over the course of who the hell knows how long, we’ll develop some instincts, some skills, and some confidence. And when the poem isn’t living up to itself, something in us will feel uncomfortable, our skin will not fit us quite right, our ears will flick forward and back at some sound that’s not quite right, some voice inside us will whisper, “Sorry, you just don’t have it yet.”

And we’ll sigh and unscrew the carefully packed poem, pull all the guts out, and start all over again, adding this, taking away that, turning the pieces around, and putting it together again, then sitting with it to let those hard-won instincts have their say, their little jabs and hmms.

Marilyn McCabe, Barrelin’ down the boulevard; or, One Last Thing About Revision (This Week, Anyway)

Darklings, I have missed you and now I am finding my way back to written language to writing to poetry after my return to reading in such great gulping swallows and healing myself of the hunger that that particular loss opened in me. Here is my hand seeking in a dark room if you wish to take it. I miss you all but have followed your voices now bringing mine back in. Hello. Hello from the island. Hello.

Rebecca Loudon, Sending out tendrils through the stars

The podcast is back for 2021! In yesterday’s episode Peter interviewed Mario Petrucci, and then we had a bit of banter about prose poems, New Year’s resolutions and whatnot. We have some very interesting interviews coming up over the next few weeks, including Mary Jean Chan, Inua Ellams, and a number of other lovely poets and pundits to be confirmed ….why not have a listen and sign up?

Robin Houghton, Readings this coming week, Planet Poetry & Uni stuff

I seldom review prose on Rogue Strands, but I’m making an exception today for Liz Lefroy’s book, I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) (Mark Time Books, 2020), simply because it contains far more poetry than the vast majority of collections that are brought out by major publishers.

I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) takes Lefroy’s long-running blog as a point of departure and shapes it into 52 pieces, most about a page long, one for every week of the year. It offers snippets of a life, a family, a job, sometimes portrayed head-on, sometimes aslant, but always accompanied by a feeling that (like the best radio presenters) Lefroy is engaged in a one-to-one chat with the person who’s reading her book.

This effect is achieved via the presence of a fluidity and a supple cadence in each sentence, Lefroy’s excellent poetic ear underpinning every entry to such an extent that I’m tempted to label them implicit prose poems. What’s more, the easy-growing language then lends additional impact to her invocation of arresting images at crucial points, which is another extremely effective poetic technique.

Matthew Stewart, Prose that’s packed with poetry, Liz Lefroy’s I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence)

One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work. […]

In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.

José Angel Araguz, poetry feature: Lisa Summe

A poem that returns the reader to the individual is ‘Ode to a Pot Noodle’. Owing something to Neruda’s Odas elementales (1954), the narrator is taking a short break from “fast-paced” hospital duties – a Pot Noodle is all there is time for. In the daze of night and fatigue, images arise (of course) of her distant home, her grandfather, of Philippine food and conversations that, in the time it takes to boil a kettle, vanish as quickly. She addresses those distant people: “this should have been an ode to you. / Forgive me, forgive me”. But the Ode has already been written in the course of Antiemetic for Homesickness. The collection is a testament to the presence of the absent, the persistence of memory, the heroism and suffering of those who we hold at arms’ length, invisible but without whom our modern society – our NHS – would fail to function. In the time of Covid – and after it too – Romalyn Ante’s book is reminding us of debts and inequalities too long unacknowledged.

Martyn Crucefix, Tagay! on Romalyn Ante’s ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I do think writers have a responsibility to observe and record culture. I have great admiration for poets who take up current events in their work. I don’t mean that poems need to be explicitly political (though we could argue what that word means), but that they are making space for ambiguity and complexity of human experience on the page. I have edited a nature journal (www.thefourthriver.com) for the last seven years, and we are always discussing how to refresh notions of what a “nature poem” can or should be. Our nature is not the nature of Wordsworth or Thoreau or even Marianne Moore and our art needs to reflect that.
[…]

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

“Learn the lessons of boredom.” –my husband, Paul, to our kids.
[…]

12 – What fragrance reminds you of home?

Uh, vaguely damp dog?
[…]

17 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Luck.

18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? 

I recently finished Carolyn Forche’s memoir What You Have Heard is True, which tells the full story of her time as a young poet in El Salvador. It was riveting. With my teenage son, I recently watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time. It was also riveting, for many of the same reasons the Forche book was. Human barbarism and human beauty & resilience inextricably twined.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sheila Squillante

To this, I’d like to add a haiku by another Snapshot Press author, Ron C. Moss. A poet friend of mine, Sue Riley (winner of the 2019 Ginko Prize) leant me The Bone Carver by Moss and I’ve loved it from start to finish. The ‘reflections’ poem I’m going to quote is this one:

highland lake
burnt button grass
on both sides of the moon

Firstly, I’m impressed that this ‘reflections’ poem doesn’t actually mention the word ‘reflection’. We see the image of the ‘highland lake’ as a mirror in which the moon appears without the writer having to hammer it home. The idea that we can see ‘both sides of the moon’ somehow suggests, to me at least, that not only can we imagine the reverse, the dark side if you like, but we also see a half moon rising above the water, with the other half reflected below. If so, this might also indicate the time of day – twilight.

The very specific type of grass, ‘button grass’ locates the poem in the southern hemisphere (Moss is a Tasmanian writer and artist, plus Wikipedia will tell you that button grass forms part of a unique habitat in Tasmania). The alliterative use of ‘burnt’ is precise in its evocation of place too (Wikipedia says ‘buttongrass is relatively flammable and the ecological community is adapted to regular burning’). So, within three lines the poet has managed to convey both the visual image of the moon on/ or reflected in, the lake, draw a comparison with the button grass’s spherical flowerer heads and the rising moon, and also imply a contrast between the heat of the bushfire with the quenching waters of the lake. In the author information, it says that Moss serves as a volunteer firefighter, but it’s not necessary to know this – the poem subtly conveys his knowledge and experience without needing to state it.

So, I want to say thank you to all those mentioned in this post. You created a web of connections that led to me focus on this poem and write down my thoughts on this chilly Sunday afternoon. Outside, the paths are slippery with wet ice and the dog is content to lie on his back near the radiator rather than go trekking across the fields. Nevertheless, I shall be going out shortly, well wrapped up, to experience the thaw, such as it is, and hopefully to take inspiration from it for a ‘reflections’ poem of my own.

Julie Mellor, Reflections …

My video floodtide has been selected to be shown at the Gallery for Sustainable Art in Berlin as part of their 1.5 degrees international exhibition, running from 15 January – 12 March 2021. The exhibition is about whether or not we reach our climate goal and includes object, installation, photo, painting, video, and readings.

floodtide imagines a city in the near future when sea levels have risen significantly. What does it look like? How will we cope?

The composition process making the video was very complex. Nearly every scene has been composited from multiple sources requiring more than 500 individual sequences from original footage filmed around Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Inner Suburban Melbourne, the Western Highway, and Far North Queensland. Each scene required matching of lighting intensity, colour and direction, as well as wind direction (in clouds, water, trees, etc), atmospheric haze, perspective, scale and more. In most scenes containing water, footage of the sea has been added to the landscape or cityscape. Similarly, nearly every sky and cloud bank has been composited from mixed sources. Almost none of the building skylines is from a single location.

These scenes might be imaginary, but the reality may not be far off…

Ian Gibbins, floodtide exhibited in Berlin

I gave a reading yesterday in the Poetrio series at Malaprops Bookstore, run generously and flawlessly by poet Mildred Barya and Malaprops Director of Author Events, Stephanie Jones-Byrne. I forgot to take a screenshot or watch the clock because my co-readers Kathy Goodkin and Eric Tran were so amazing, but the recording is here, and you have the option of supporting a great indie bookstore by ordering any of the books (or others) here. (Speaking about clocks, I should say we each kept to our time of 12 minutes-ish, which is basically a holy miracle of restraint where poets are concerned.) Mildred introduces writers not by listing their accomplishments but by reflecting on their poems, setting a mood that was both thoughtful and celebratory. In this case, she noted how many ghosts populate all of our new books. Kathy spoke to that in a wonderful way by reading a poem about the period costumes ghosts are described as wearing, speculating that in twenty years we might be haunted by ghosts in tee-shirts and skinny jeans. Eric began by talking about building an altar to ancestors, noting that everyone wants to escape the ghosts of 2020 but maybe, instead, we could consider how to honor them. It’s a moving idea.

I was also impressed by the emotional range of Kathy’s and Eric’s poems–grief, hilarity, anger, love–and how they talked about that in the Q&A. Eric’s advice for infusing a serious poem with humor is to take your first draft and make it gayer. Add glitter.

Lesley Wheeler, Winterred

Twelve of the thirteen members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met for two hours in the Land of Zoom on 2nd January. Thanks to Thalia for the use of her account.

It’s taken me a week to lick my notes into shape and collect everyone’s photos.

There was a new energy in the air. In our separation we are meeting one another at a deeper level. Trees have been planted at the Dove. Some of us are taking online courses in a variety of different art-forms. Spaces are being cleared. We have rediscovered old diaries and commonplace books. We have been connecting, via stories and photos, with our foremothers. We spoke of the family stories behind many of our Christmas decorations. We are wondering how to pass our knowledge on to the next generations as a gift, not a burden.

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2021

But we are spirits of another sort, which is to say
That kindness walks among us, and grief,
And uncertainty about how to greet this guest.
Do we offer him a seat, hang his black
And faded hood up on the hat rack, stand his scythe
With the umbrellas?

Dale Favier, A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly