Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

condemned to die —
not for their crimes

but for living long
enough to pick up

the lethal virus from
their concrete beds.

No visitors allowed.
The men on the island

can’t speak of how
spring pushes up

not daisies not miracle
cures but takes away

their little breath left
the crown of the virus

colonizing their lungs
robbing their hearts

of energy enough
to beat bad odds.

Bio-containment rules
rule out the six feet

of physical distancing
but not the six feet

down where the trench-
diggers go, where

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Mattern, Birdsong Yahrzeit

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, On the Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

this body:

a false equivalence

between love

and death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to figure out this.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – May so far

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

Rebecca Loudon, corona 20.

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

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

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

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

Liz Lefroy, I Socially Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Problem

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

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

Ellen Roberts Young, Image Problem, In Reverse

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Wild places

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, So Normal, So Not

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

James Lee Jobe, We are defeated.

Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac

under an iron sky
sleek as hematite

and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes

blown past velvet houses
where light recedes

into the settled darkness
beyond the earth’s shoulder

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Breath’

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

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

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 24: Remembering Patrick Wedd

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

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

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

One line I have written down is

This poem will piss you off.

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

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

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

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

Eric M. R. Webb, Need to write

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, space music and paper boats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, What  We Do for a Living

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

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

R.M. Haines, Poets Should Be Socialists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Mellor, P is for …

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

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #12 with Ned Balbo

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

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

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

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

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

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: The Galleons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Blythe, The Vibrant Effusive Creative Spark

The earth stretches
into morning mist.

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

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

Tom Montag, THE EARTH STRETCHES

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 52

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, bloggers were looking backward, forward, inward and outward. Like most weeks, really. Only with a bit more seemingly at stake.


The closet in my study
holds picture frames, half-empty
boxes of stationery, old books,

pillows and blankets
for the guest bed. And tucked in
amid all of these, a small box

emblazoned Priority Mail,
addressed in your handwriting,
postmarked two years ago.

It slipped behind the quilts
and the crates of journals,
unseen and forgotten.

As I slice open the packing tape
I can scarcely breathe.

Rachel Barenblat, Chanukah gift

It’s so easy now (spoken from the vantage point of a contentious political climate in the U.S. and from the utter devastation we continue to cause on our planet) to imagine that the only writing that could possibly carry weight is writing that challenges systems like government and capitalism. But Oceanic is a good reminder that it’s okay to write about love. (And honestly, what’s a better counter to greed than affection?) As Aimee Nezhukumatathil says in an interview in BookPage, the poems are her way of “following environmentalist Rachel Carson’s belief that the more attention we pay to the natural world around us, the less appetite we have for destruction.”

Also on that note, she tells Tin House, “I want readers to really sit, really think about words and beauty and what brings you joy and wonder and how you can also reflect on past hurts but use that as a strength in facing the future, especially when there are little ones like my son who are looking to me and my husband and others for how to interact in this wild and disappointing and confusing and buoyant world.”

The natural world is so carefully woven into these poems that the collection is a good reminder that we are not separate from the skies and oceans. We are part of one another.

Carolee Bennett, “every mighty beast”

–I have really enjoyed the ability to sit on a balcony and gaze at the ocean.  I’ve watched the sky change and the ocean change, and it’s been amazing–but in a different color palette than I’m used to.  Lots of grays and silvers and subdued blues–there’s a slate and flintiness that keeps the colors away from the Caribbean colors on my side of the Florida coast.

–One of the books I’ve been reading has been Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, the Booker Prize winner along with Margaret Atwood.  When I first picked it up and flipped through it, I thought I wouldn’t be able to make my way through it.  There’s a startling lack of punctuation and capital letters, except when there’s not, and that kind of inconsistency usually drives me nuts.  But the content is so good that I don’t even notice.

–Most of the people in my family are beyond the age of enchantment.  It’s been great being on vacation at a resort area where there are plenty of little ones who are still enchantable.  There’s a melancholy, too–missing the times when we had enchanted littles amongst us.  But enchantment can still be found, even if we must now try harder for ourselves.  And if we can’t manage it, we can smile at the wonder of others.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Vacation Snapshots in Words

There is a silent murmuration of starlings over the neighbor’s house. I’ve been wondering if the new bright red bird feeder has frightened the sparrows. I haven’t seen one in days.

The dog needs walking. And he’ll pull and pull on his harness. Like he knows where he is going.

I told E. today that I don’t want to know what the dog is thinking.
It might be a huge disappointment.

Ren Powell, Solstice

We cannot always get things right. We can be gentler with ourselves when we fall. Some years the frost kills the blossom, bees abandon the hive, a single swallow cuts the dusk for one evening and never returns. But here we are still looking up at the sky, grateful for what we saw, that one small bird found its way home.

Lynne Rees, New Year 2020

Who can summon the voice of the river weighed by slurry?
In my city even the crows have grown less clamorous.

It is left for someone to bring home what lies cold in unturned earth
that hasn’t known the warmth of a worm’s breath.

Uma Gowrishankar, Writing A Poem Through The Solar Eclipse

This morning we watched
four grebes float across rain-pocked water,

watched as one dropped from sight,
then another, then all, and all popping up again
in comic succession, lifting small white wings

and throwing back their heads as if to crow.
What draws us beneath the surface of our lives,
if not minnow or eelgrass, insight

braided, strong enough to pull us deeper?

Bethany Reid, The Pear Tree

Boxing Day. Traditionally, this has been a day of curling up on the couch with a new Christmas book, but for the first time I can remember, I didn’t receive a single one! I wonder if this is a trend among readers of this blog too. We don’t buy or receive as many physical books, and maybe our friends and families are less likely to give them to us. I wonder, and, as a publisher, I worry. No matter — trends haven’t affected my reading patterns very much, except for the change to reading e-books borrowed from the Overdrive service at my library, or purchased on Kindle. I read almost exclusively on my phone, unless I’ve borrowed a physical book from the library. And though I did buy myself a couple of books about Greece that haven’t arrived yet, I’m trying not to acquire too many these days — the shelves are already overburdened. But read, I do.

Beth Adams, Books of 2019: eclectic as usual

I don’t make resolutions or choose a word for the coming year, valuable as those traditions may be for others. But I do have a ritual for the end of the year. I take down my old wall calendar (where a Luddite like me keeps track of life) and refer to it as I enter birthdays and anniversaries into the new calendar. There are plenty of digital solutions that would relieve me of this task, but I like going back over the last 12 months. Each day is scribbled with names, places, and events. As I write important dates in next year’s calendar, here are some of  my 2019’s most memorable contents, randomly ordered. […]

Vigils, rallies, marches. Fewer this year than last because I simply feel broken by all that’s going on, although what needs to change is ever more urgent. And I am ever more likely to cry at these things. Tears are not a useful measure because I also tear up at musical performances, fire trucks hurtling by, and any act of kindness.

Wonderful opportunities to read poetry at Loganberry Books, Wm. Skirball Writing Center, Lit Youngstown, Visible Voice Books, Wick Poetry Center, Ohio Poetry Day Association, Second Sunday Poets, and Literary Cleveland.

The incredible honor of having an excerpt from one of my poems stamped in a public sidewalk, thanks to Lit Youngstown. […]

A poetry appreciation group called Flat Tire Poetry Society, so-named because the idea for the group came about when four of us were stranded late at night somewhere in Cleveland on our way home from a poetry workshop. In the hour it took for a tow truck to arrive we talked about poetry that had changed our lives and decided we wanted to do this more often. Not the stranded part but the poetry discussion part. Now we meet seasonally with whoever of 20-some members can make it.

Laura Grace Weldon, 2019: What A Year

It always good to get new year plans ready in the the week before New Year’s Day. This week has been luxurious and slow moving, and I have had time to write without interruption, which feels very serious and determined, but I hope as the days move on in the break, I will find another rhythm, something that is a bit less serious, yet still mine. Hopefully, I will be able to carry this through the Spring semester.  Again, six courses. But, at the end of this semester, the Earth will be green and ready to encourage us to take off our sensible shoes.  I will be listening. I know I am in a position to make each day significant in big and small ways, and like a cat I will see what I will see. I will nap, purr, hiss, mess around, ignore, annoy, hide all the day long.  It will be quite a year.  Hope it is for you, too.

M. J. Iuppa, Not Chinese Calendar, but this Year, 2020, is self-declared The Year of the Cat.

As we inch closer to 2020, we also inch closer to the impending release of sex & violence from Black Lawrence and some attendant festivities..I am determined to make a book trailer in the next few weeks, and get a start on planning some sort of release party in early summer. I’ve talked a bit about the genesis and nature of the entire book before here, where I wrote:

It was on the heels of some weird and troubling times for women in general, during which I’d been working on some prose poem series centered on some of my favorite things—Plath, horror movies, the work of Salvador Dali, while also working on a series of pieces about relationships and how difficult it is to reconcile love as a straight woman with male privilege and violence. I started to notice threads of ideas connecting all these disparate bits and suddenly had a manuscript that made sense thematically as an encapsulation of all sorts of anxieties that I foster as a woman in the world-about love, about violence and fear, about artmaking itself. 

And it’s true—so much of this book and pulling it together was shaped by a few things that were coinciding in 2017 as I was finishing it– our visit to the Death Museum in New Orleans (very much a church to the terrible things men do (usually to women), the Me Too movement, mass shootings, my own relationship and anxieties (all of these explored in the how to write a love poem in a time of war pieces).  The dirty blonde section, which is older,  is about uncomfortableness with female sexuality and agency.  The Plath centos in honey machine are about domestic routine and the idea of “the wife.” The Dali poems are told from the point of view largely of Dali’s wife in the guise of the ghostly little blue dog.

Kristy Bowen, love and fear

Sometimes I write.‬
‪Sometimes I don’t.‬
‪If it never came back – so what?‬
‪I’ll read what I have already written, ‬
‪and maybe I’ll write about that,‬
‪maybe not.‬
‪Who cares?‬
‪There are many acorns but‬
‪not many trees.‬
‪From a chopped tree make a coffin‬
‪and fill it with acorns.‬

Jim Young, Acorn I can’t

Like an old shirt or nightgown lost in the attic, sometimes the dark needs to hold onto a little piece of us for comfort. And certain nights, a lonesome wind will blow our way, write its legends of wreckage across our skin. Nothing in this life is as solid as love and trust. But sometimes those things break. Sometimes they slip away. There are times the songs of sorrow need our voices more than those of joy.

Rich Ferguson, Sometimes the Dark

the wrecking ball swoops past textile warehouses
skims the metaphors of decline: buckled street signs
an abandoned car      the grainy image of a bird
which must be a crumpled piece of newspaper
blown on the stateless wind

not one scrap of nature here
unless you count the man behind the camera
or the woman on the swing

Julie Mellor, What does time mean to you?

A poet friend and I often talk about how writing poetry gets harder to write, not easier. The voice in my head that chides, you’ve spent decades of your life on this and where has it gotten you? seems to grow louder with each passing year. And yes, I’ve been writing and publishing poems since my late twenties, the voice has a point.

I am not the next Shakespeare.

And yet. Now in the last day of my stay I can see the clipboards lined-up on the countertop with poems I’ve completed, poems I’ve begun, poems in that sweet spot in the middle—the space when I know that they will actually be completed but aren’t completed yet.

I’ve generated new work with the help of the Two Sylvias Advent Calendar (it has a gorgeous design and presentation) and scoured my writing notebooks for drafts written over the past 12 months. And although no one would accuse me of being especially woo-woo, I’ve been faithfully pulling Poet Tarot cards each day and for the last three days, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath have all showed up. I don’t know how many cards a tarot deck has (a lot) but statistically speaking, these three favorite poets visiting here everyday is against the odds. 

And along with my poets, I’ve had visits from a family of deer, a gang of bald eagles and many birds I cannot identify but they certainly know how to sing. And I bet they aren’t concerned with how good their voice sounds or if the chickadee or nuthatch in the next tree sound better.

If there is one thing I’ve learned is that writing poems is not a sprint but a marathon, it’s a relationship developed over a lifetime with words like samovar and seesaw, atlas and archipelago. The writing of poems has made me live more intensely, persist even when there’s a 1001 reasons not to, and brought incredible people into my life. And so yes, I’ll be back next year. And hopefully, the next.

Susan Rich, The Christmas Eve and Hanukah Edition 2019

I know that for most people, the ability to set a physical goal and execute on it is a normal, non-earth shattering experience, but for me it’s been huge. I literally didn’t know I was capable of it. I am stunned to find that I enjoy the physical sensation of pushing myself hard, overcoming my physical fatigue and my mental self-doubt, and seeing progress. It’s strengthening me both in body and mind. In essence, I am finding the spiritual through the physical, which is the last place I ever would have looked. In all honestly, I always had a slight contempt for people who I deemed “too into” their physicality. I made the incorrect assumption that they didn’t have anything going on in their brains and that they didn’t have very much depth as people. I was wrong to let my bitterness blind me in that way, but I’ve turned over a new barbell and shall move forward all the wiser for my mistakes. This new series will be an evolution of my poems on The Body. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m interested to see what emerges.

Kristen McHenry, Body Verses Body, Lessons in Strength, My Date with Kahlil Gibran

I walk a circular path among the oaks,
listening to the news of the world.
Not to brag, but I’m quite skilled
at going in circles. In fact it may be
the only pursuit to which I’ve devoted
ten thousand hours.

Jason Crane, POEM: Lederer Park

Today, at almost the end of the year, I’m trying to stay healthy, battling off various bugs, worried about my father in the hospital for pneumonia (a lot of bad germs going around this year, folks, so be careful!) and still awaiting my first root canal, it’s easy to feel anxious about what the next year will bring. My manuscripts are making the rounds. I have 45 active poetry submissions out right now. I’m trying not to worry about what kind of havoc multiple sclerosis might wreak in the coming years, on my life, my body, my work, my marriage, given that we don’t have a lot of good treatment options or a cure. But I try to continue to have hope.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Last Days of the Decade, Post-Christmas, What to Do with Long Cold Nights, Looking Forward to 2020, and Grateful for Artist Friends

I’m still trying to edit my collection, I have a pile of forms I need to fill out for my son’s therapy support and I need to go over my numbers for my submissions and publications as I sometimes log things wrong, have to chase up long-held submissions or miss publications like my two poems recently published at Nine Muses Poetry. There’s more application forms waiting in the wings. […]

Every year for Christmas I make a photo book of favourite pictures of the kids and our year, so I can be reminded of the good things, the fun we had. As soon as I click print, I come across another memory I want to add or I take photos that should be there. I will add them to next year’s book, but it’s a nice reminder that things keep moving on and that there will always be something more.

Gerry Stewart, A Messy End to 2019

While re-reading May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal, I recalled reading this essay about the book, by Jeffrey Levine, in June. I first read At Seventy when I was, I think, 40 years old…I recommended it to my mother-in-law, who–like Sarton–lived alone and loved to garden. I now recognize in Sarton’s journal aspects of life and aging and creativity that I had not thought much of when I was younger–at 40, I felt envious of her freedom as a single woman. I was raising young teens, managing a busy household, working on a master’s degree, feeling I had no time to myself.

One thing that interests me about Sarton is her decision to keep journals intended for publication, beginning I think with her journal about recovering from cancer, though she had written at least one memoir before that journal. […]

The concept of writing a daily journal intended to be read seems either brave or a bit dishonest, like a persona. Then again–many early weblogs were exactly that: daily public journals read by whatever online audience stumbled upon them. And perhaps this blog acts as my public journal, mostly about what I read, what’s in the garden, and what I’m teaching. Those pursuits, made public, do not mask who I am. They are the things I choose to reveal.

Ann E. Michael, Journals

I believe and have believed for years that Christmas would be much improved if it occurred in February in that long bleak stretch of unbroken winter where nothing is green and the sky and water jostle for a bit of blue I could really bring the joy in February now of course we are in that liminal space between Christmas and New Year’s day where everything seems to stop completely except the eating of cheese and chocolates of course 

yesterday I drove to Mount Vernon to look at the snow geese and the trumpeter swans and hawks and eagles that live there in abundance in the now abandoned cornfields that drive along Old Pioneer Highway is gorgeous to me and absolutely teeming with Animal Gods three times now I have seen red foxes standing alert in those cornfields I stopped and looked at the Skagit River of course I got out of my car and slid down the muddy bank and just stood there breathing

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

It was in part that tendency I had anyway of sitting and watching and taking note that had attracted me to animal behavior studies in the first place. And, as it has turned out, is the skill I use most as a writer of poetry. Thanks to my anthropology studies, I can understand what I’m up to as I sit in whatever milieu, observing, and trying to look like I belong there.

I was reminded of all this recently as I have been reading Akiko Busch’s How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. The book is Busch’s extended meditation on the powers and prisons of invisibility. I’m not entirely sure what the takeaway is from this book as a whole, but each chapter provided an interesting set of thoughts ranging from the deliberate invisibility of some species’ adaptations to the imposed invisibility of homeless people on busy streets.

She talks in one chapter of Keats’s assertion that the poet specializes in being a chameleon: of becoming a planet, a creature, another person. Busch was moved to write the book, she says, by the vehemence with which society insists on flouting the self, branding the self, identifying the self as a political act. Maybe, she suggests, a little wallflowering isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe if we keep still, we can see more clearly.

Marilyn McCabe, Somebody was watchin’; or, On Participant Observation and the Artistic Urge to Tell

The cook is
frying a ham steak.

The sear of it,
the aroma.

The waitress is
pouring coffee,

hot and black
and slightly burned.

Somewhere
in the distance,

a siren.
There are stories

you can tell and
stories you can’t.

Tom Montag, ANOTHER MORNING

The most profound experience for me as a human being so far has been parenthood. It’s testing one’s greatnesses and inner devils everyday. It trully means sacrifice and everyday self-restriction. Of course there is a chance that when children become adults everything will get easier and their lives will run fine and thus the work you’ve done will be rewarded with gratitude and obvious results. But the reward is much more immediate, though not obvious, and already there. For this kind of love you grow a prophet everyday, if lucky, if strong enough. You go to the desert every morning and come back to the well at night. Circle after circle your heart gets stronger.

Last but not least: Our body. Our body will, as a friend put it in his wonderful essay about his battle with his own once female body, finally betray us at some point, but it won’t ever go down silently. Our body doesn’t care about others. It exists on its own terms. It won’t care about motherhood or marriage or age, won’t care about your female or male strangles, won’t care about distances or time. The body won’t care because its mind is the sensual touch. Your body will always seek the tasty food, the good light, the warm water, the other skin, this earth itself. For most of us it is the only mythical relationship we’ll have, and the one we must constantly manage with all its dramatic ups and downs. We’re animal and human, we live in reality and in our physically real at the same time. We’re centaurs, we are minotaurs, we are wanderers between Olympus and Hades. Decade after decade.

Magda Kapa, Decade after Decade

Let me be a weed in the river, let me be one speck of dust in the desert. A thought that came and went. Let me be the dream that could not be remembered upon awakening. That’s for me. Let me be small, the universe is so large. Inhale, exhale. Life is what is happening right now.

James Lee Jobe, Let me be a weed in the river, let me be one speck of dust in the desert.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 46

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, but this week, poetry bloggers seemed especially off-beat. Which isn’t to say I didn’t still find some common themes: morning meditations, anecdotes about sharing poetry in public, discussions of book covers, and appreciations for poets of unvarnished originality, among others. Enjoy.


I have been awake since 4:30 this morning listening to the rain caught in a bit of fairy magik during the quiet that happens when waking after my guts feel sorry and strained then calm it’s still dark one or two cats purring at my feet or near my side the day has not yet intruded my email goes untended the house is settled the day still out of reach shiny as a wrapped present and I read a little bit usually the online version of The Paris Review or some other journal to the blue glow of my iPad this is when my brain works at maximum flow this is the time in which I should write but more often than not I just lie in bed under my snow white comforter and bask until the owls hoo their wake up question I don’t know when exactly I became a morning person I think it must have been when the composer disbanded the orchestra and I stopped going to rehearsals every Tuesday at 7 pm then went out after to The Berkshire Grill with everyone until very late then woke too early to get to work on time I used to practice at night and write at night inside my most creative self but now that I have the forest and the sea to care for mornings have become touchstones they have become magik the fairy time in between sleep and solid wakefulness

Rebecca Loudon, The blue hour

The fish rejects my worm, the old dog does not wish to be petted by me, and my perfectly tended tomato plants yield amazingly few tomatoes. I am learning, through much trial and error, to not take life personally. Looking up, I notice that the sky is the same shade of blue as the eyes of my grandmother, Rosemund.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The fish rejects my worm, the old dog’

… a free verse of peeling paint,
the rust working in silence. 

Claudia Serea, The locked door

When you write a poem that resembles a spell, prayer, charm, curse, or blessing, are you trying to make something happen, and if so, what or how?

That’s what we talked about on the Uncanny Activisms panel I organized for the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference last weekend (the conference as a whole was wonderful, especially the keynote by Camille Dungy). “We” from left includes Hyejung Kook, Jane Satterfield, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Anna Maria Hong, Ashley M. Jones, and yours truly, talking with her hands again. Some brilliant tidbits I scribbled down from this brilliant cohort: Ashley remarking that all poems are spells; Anna Lena responding that spell-poems are the poemiest kind of poem, and speaking about how poems help us focus attention; Jane musing about shape-shifting through reading and writing, and how poetry can be a means to power, sometimes as an alternative when legal recourse isn’t working; Hyejung talking about poetry as an act of transformation (and about Icelandic fart curses, which I have yet to look up). I LOVED this conversation and it seems as if others did, too, which made me happy, as if we might be a small band of spellcasters setting out to fix the world through verse. If you want to join the effort, check out the amazing prompts I gathered from these writers for a pretty handout (less prettily listed below). We will be soliciting uncanny activist work for a future issue of Shenandoah, but for the moment, note that poetry subs open today (11/15-12/15), and there’s a special prize for Virginia poets: $1000 for the Graybeal-Gowan award, no entry fee, judged by Beth and me. Everything submitted will be considered for general publication as well as the prize. I’m excited to start reading but also a little worried about managing the deluge. My novel galleys just came in, and my students need lots of conferences this time of year, and I’m trying to squeeze in time to apply for book promotion opportunities…oy.

Lesley Wheeler, Uncanny paneling

restaurant 
the curry waiter sparkles
i too write poetry

Jim Young (untitled haiku)

One afternoon we were meeting with our French colleagues at L’ecole Militaire and because we have a joint project with them, we wanted to get to know each other a little bit better. We went around the room stating our name, our background, and something interesting about ourselves. When it was my turn I stated the required information and then stated that I was a published poet with a new book coming out in March 2020. Few of my US colleagues knew this and certainly none of my French colleagues did so everyone was quite surprised.

That evening, after our required social event — which had us drinking champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres while enjoying a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower — my colleagues and I settled into the hotel bar for another drink.

My colleagues inquired about my poetry and I told them a little about my book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, and about my poetry in general. Then someone asked a question they may have ultimately regretted: “Can you read us some of your poems?”

Never one to shy away from reading poetry, I told them I would read a poem that had been published that very day, Did Not, published by Dovecote. They fell into a hush when I started reading and then the look of surprise and on some faces – shock – stared back at me. I continued with Butcher, which was a finalist in Furious Gazelle’s 2019 Spring Writing Contest. And then I laughed and said, “I’ll read you a lighter one!” and read To My Ex Who Asked if Every Poem was About Him. By the time I finished most sat in stunned silence. Yes, I could have eased them into my poetry with poems that are a little less intense…but that’s not really what I write and I’m proud of these poems and think they’re a good representation of what I write. I mean, if you’re going to jump into poetry you may as well do it head-first.

Courtney LeBlanc, Then Paris, Always Paris

If you have anything in print, always always always carry a couple of copies of it wherever you go! Naturally the best source of sales is at poetry readings and open mic events, but I’ve sold two copies of my pamphlet and one of the audiobook version on two different train journeys. I’ve sold one at an art exhibition I attended to support a friend. Yesterday I went to a conference about how technology is being used and developed in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. I lost my sight and have a kidney transplant as the result of diabetic complications and, still being a bit of a geek, I like to know what technological devices are currently available and might soon be available. Diabetes Cymru allocated two sighted guides to meet me from the taxi and help me to the auditorium and out again to get my lunch. As we talked before the first speaker, I mentioned that I wrote poetry … ‘Just a moment,’ I said, ‘I have a copy of my pamphlet in my bag!’ … first sale ensued :) Then while I was talking to her and the man she was at the time talking to, she told the man I wrote poetry,
‘Oh really? That’s marvellous … can I see a copy?’
Indeed you can, sir! Sale number two! Those two sales paid for my taxi ride home ;) I live in the poetry economy ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Hangings

When I send out poems for publication I look for a trifecta of things (+2) that have made me happy in the past. Do you have a list of things that make you go through the permutations of cover letter, bio, final revisions of revised poems? The longer I do this, the longer this whole process seems to take. And that’s why when I find a magazine like December, it makes me want to share the news!

1. Most importantly, the magazine must be physically gorgeous. Call me shallow but I do judge a journal by its cover. And its font, quality of paper, layout. I want to know that a good deal of care and yes, love, went into the making of this object. There are 1,000s of literary journals publishing today. You get to choose where to send your work. The poem you perhaps worked on for years deserves the best!

2. In this world, I want my poems to also have some on-line presence. While December selects a few poems to place on their website (and mine wasn’t one of them this time) they do have a user friendly site. At the end of this post I will share the beginnings of the the two poems I published in their recent issue so you can get a sense of their taste although the journal a a whole showcases diverse talents and tastes. As an aside, The Baltimore Review publishes every poet on-line and in an annual journal. I should say, however, that their annual journal is not as elegant as December. But they also pay in gift cards!

3. Cool fellow poets. This one’s self explanatory. I love being in the same issue with friends or poets that I look up to. My poet friends and I are always trading sources and so it’s imperative to read the journal before you send them your work!

4. Payment. Yes, I want to be compensated for my work in the exchange material that our culture values. And no, $20 for a poem is not an hourly fee. I don’t believe anyone who writes poetry does it for the money. (Okay I once met a Zimbabwean poet who told me he was getting rich off his poetry but that’s a different story.) I worked on “Binocular Vision” for many years and so even a small check feels as if the world is valuing my poem a little more. I did come across a press recently that gives all their books away for free as long as the reader makes a donation to an organization of her choice or passes the book along. I like this model, too — although the funding must be all donations?

5. And this last one might be a bit more controversial. I look for a woman editor. Thank you Gianna Jacobson! Yes, gender matters. In my decades and decades of sending work to journals and being published in all 50 states, I’ve noticed that women editors tend to be more communicative, more generous in offering small but important edits, and more interested in my work. I know there are many exceptions to this statement. For example, Rick Barot at New England Review and Peter Grimes at Pembroke Magazine are two exemplary editors and people.

Susan Rich, 5 Things to Look for When Sending Out Your Work: December

The rejections keep coming, difficulties pop up when you’re least expecting them, but I’m trying to keep focused on the occasional acceptance or bit of good news. I wait for the days when the rain stops, so I can rake the carpet of leaves that still covers the lawn. I remind myself that I have a pamphlet coming out next year. I’m getting more teaching jobs, adding a new school this week. I try to make things to look forward to, I’m planning a short holiday with some friends. I keep on writing poems whenever I can. Forward momentum. 

And on the pamphlet, I’ve been looking at artwork for my cover. I have no firm ideas, I have feelings and themes, but staring at Pixabay isn’t getting me anywhere. I’ve also contacted a photographer about getting my author photo done. Ahh, too real. 

Gerry Stewart, The Ups and Downs of Writing Life

Diane [Lockward]: I recall that the first image we seriously considered for the cover of Sugar Fix was a single slice of red velvet cake on a plate floating in air. It initially seemed perfect for your book which several times references red velvet cake. We both loved that image. I enhanced the colors, then muted them. I worked up several sample covers. You did too, but we ended up not using the image. Tell us why we had to abandon it.

Kory [Wells]: I am quite taken with the work of Charles Keiger, and as you say, his red velvet cake was so tempting to use. On his blog he even says that the painting to him is about nostalgia and longing, two themes that  occur in Sugar Fix. Ultimately, though, the image didn’t pass my gut check. Although some of the poems in the book turn toward darkness, the painting felt too moody for the collection as a whole. Some might consider this a poor aesthetic, but I wanted a cover that simply made me feel happy when I looked at it.

Diane: I recall that you next zeroed in on the art of Janet Hill. What attracted you to her work?

Kory: I’d discovered Janet Hill not too long ago when I was adding images to my Pinterest board “The Art of Reading,” paintings that show people engaged with books. To me, much of Hill’s work is a delightful combination of romantic and quirky; they feel vintage and yet contemporary. Her paintings have a charm that seems very Southern (although Hill lives in Ontario) and are at times darkly comic. I like to think all those same descriptions apply to Sugar Fix.

Diane Lockward, Finding the Right Cover Art for Your Poetry Book

I have been settling back into press duties after the upheaval, and despite occasionally not being able to find things–tape, the staples, covers for books in progress–shuffled during the move, things are going well. […]

I am still battling printers, of which I am less than happy with the cover finishes, and am shopping for a good color laser with a smooth finish-I have my eye on a Canon ImageClass model that seems to be more what I’m looking for (the Brother is good for insides, but the color seems a little chalkier than I like.).  Meanwhile, I have a stock of the last covers printed on the Lexmark for the latest titles before I tossed it and the little Epson inkjet, which works for some things and has a scanner/copier if I need it. But I need the new probably within the next week as I run out.

I am also just happier to be working at a more efficient, but still more leisurely pace than my studio time used to allow. Now, if I can’t finish something before I go to bed, it’s easy to make time in the morning, and not lose a whole day until I can get back to it. So much progress was stalled by limited time, by stops and starts, and while it took me a long time to admit that I really had to do what I had to do, I am certain it was the best decision. The stranglehold of never having sufficient time in the workspace that I’ve felt for the last 12 years has eased a bit, and already I feel like I am the better for it. 

Kristy Bowen, dgp notes | november edition

It took some time for me to figure out how I wanted to capture my thoughts on what I’m reading as part of my 100 books in 12 months project. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to slow down enough to write formal reviews, I decided to use a reading notes format where I keep a list of thoughts as I read, quote some lines that knock my socks off and include links to reviews and poems from each book.

While doing that for Donna Vorreyer’s Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story, I stumbled upon her non-traditional book review of Amorak Huey’s Boom Box.

The review is a sketch. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

And I loved it.

She tells us a lot about the book with quick impressions and short quotes and, of course, an image that aligns with the book’s title. She sketched a cassette tape along with the folded, detailed card stock inserts that — back in *my* day — served as “album” cover for the cassette… and lyrics, if we were lucky.

Donna’s nontraditional book review delighted me, as I was already curious about inventive ways to respond to the books we read. I had written a nontraditional review to an essay collection a couple years back, but I had no idea what else was out there. With this blog post, I attempt to correct that.

Carolee Bennett, book reviews with unexpected style

This week, I’m reflecting on Kyna Leski‘s marvelous little book The Storm of Creativity. How to describe this text? It’s written by someone who teaches architecture as well as designs spaces, and who reads across disciplines and thinks both deeply and widely. It is not a how-to book; more of a how-it-works book. I learned of this book through Deborah Barlow (in 2015!) and finally have gotten around to reading it.

Leski uses the analogy of a storm system, from moisture in the ground or bodies of water through the gathering of the storm organizing itself into, say, a hurricane, and takes the process all the way through to dissipation (a kind of “death”) and restarting the cycle, when what we have is new again–and will not be exactly the same next time. […]

Here’s the thing: she captures the process as I myself experience it. I keep re-reading sections of this book and nodding in recognition. I am not the sort of person who spends much time analyzing creativity; I prefer to read how other people analyze the process and decide whether their reflections or analyses dovetail with my own. In this case, yes. For me, anyway, the creative process organizes like a storm.

The gathering part of the work coincides with that aspect of writing that I call observing. Gathering is a good word for it (Leski uses denotations and etymology as she defines her process, so that appeals to me, too). There’s a phrase my relatives used referring to someone daydreaming or loafing reflectively: “woolgathering.” Despite this interesting inquiry into the appropriateness of the phrase to mean loafing or daydreaming, in our family it meant daydreaming. I used to think the phrase referred to watching clouds–one of my favorite activities as a child–because clouds often look like wool. At any rate, woolgathering’s essential to my writing practice.

And sometimes, those clouds collect together, and create a storm.

Ann E. Michael, Storms

The poem that I was somewhat more satisfied with last week underwent another procedure this weekend, and is again transformed. It’s interesting what time and distance will do in providing solutions to tricky poems. One of my co-workers recently ask me how my poetry was going, as she knows I have a reading coming up soon, and I told her that it was going okay, but that writing poems isn’t the sort of thing that you can do effectively on a strict production schedule. I’m finally starting to accept that poems evolve, ever so slowly and in their own time, and pushing the process is almost never effective. Part of the strain for me is this entirely self-created pressure to ensure that I have something “new” to read, because I feel like such a failure for not have written much poetry over the last few years. But I am trying to let go and trust in the poems to reveal what they need to bloom.

Kristen McHenry, I Miss Cats, Anatomy of A Poem, Puttin’ Some Stank on It

I hear the tick of drips off my metal roof onto the deck, somewhere a low hum of a machine in the neighborhood, far off a rumble of a truck just discernible, the leaves are moving outside my window but I can’t hear their titter in here. I hear the steady jangle of my tinnitus in one ear. Now the truck is gone. Now I hear the dehumidifier in the basement kick in. More drip drip from the roof. This sounds like noise on the page, but feels like quiet to me. Most of the year my neighborhood is blessedly quiet. […]

I wonder if this is why I was drawn to poetry: the importance of silence in it, the tension between sound and silence that often resolves in a sound spoken into and reverberating in silence, and then dying away, leaving silence (or the post-poem moo) once again, replacing the noisy self, at least for a moment.

I need silence. It’s a visceral thing sometimes. […]

I’ve been experimenting in my poetry with placing white on the page among words. We had an interesting conversation about this at my recent writing retreat — how do you decide where the space goes in such a setting? Natural pauses, deliberate choices to withhold information or make the reader wait, and some instinct about what words or phrases could use the kind of emphasis that silence around them can provide was our best guess at an equation for such decisionmaking.

Sometimes I fear it makes the poem look too self-conscious on the page. Ooh, look at me all spread out here. But mostly I like it. It eases me somehow to allow some light and space into these poems I’ve been working on, and even imposing them on old poems in revision. Nothing worse than a poem that barks at you from the page, incessant, tied to a pole in the backyard.

Marilyn McCabe, So Quiet in Here; or, In Praise of Silence in Poetry

I was at a poetry reading at the The Albert Poets on Thursday. It was a room full of people who loved Mark Hinchcliffe. Mark had been in intensive care for days, surgeons fighting for his life after his liver transplant. At some point in the evening, his wife texted his close friend, Stephanie Bowgett, to say that Mark had died. At the end of the evening, Steph gave us the news. We’d all lost someone important to us, and something irreplaceable. I’ve known Mark for six years or so, sharing so many Monday evening workshops, listening to yet another of his remarkable poems arrive in the world. I guess most of you won’t know his work. But Ted Hughes did. That’s recommendation enough, I think. […]

This is what another of the Albert Poets, Carola Luther, wrote about Mark’s work. She puts it better than I can.

“Mark Hinchcliffe writes love poems, praise poems and poems of lamentation and devotion…these are not ironic poems. They weave myth into both the dark and the everyday with a seriousness and attention that could be prayer”

The phrase that really nails it for me is these are not ironic poems. Nor are they naive or innocent or playful, though they might be any or all of these things. I said at the start there are things I just don’t ‘get’ and I should end by saying there are things I think I ‘get’ but can’t explain. I just know that I keep re-reading these poems because they keep puzzling me.

I find it unbelievable that there will be no more of them. But those cats , those hares, The Green Man, the mermaids and foxes are out there, now, and always will be. A boy who looks for aeroplanes on the moors is out there too. You may meet him out on the cottongrass millstone Pennines. Give him good day.

John Foggin, Out of the ordinary.

Anne Barngrover wrote in her debut book, with simply smashing imagery. “I feel like a wasps nest nailed to a door, all the stingers dried to rose thorns.”  This was another Mary (knows how to pick them) Biddinger find. The book, Brazen Creature.

Loving, losing,  and all that happens in-between in these poems. Each is bold and unapologetic. Each is brazen. It could be in some ways a feminist manifesto. 

Metaphor is not lost on the revenge of the brown recluse. “Our hearts are nothing//but lies and lilac bruises. Old friend, we both want/each other dead tonight.” This collection of poems was like an emotional workout. I want more of her work to read!

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday: My 2019 Poet Crush Six Pack

I posted a post on Facebook about coming to the realization, as I was doing poetry submissions of my poems and books, that perhaps my poetry is not going to be for everyone. Here’s what I wrote:

“Sometimes when I’m doing poetry submissions I get insight into why not everyone wants to publish my poetry: it’s funny, but in a dark way; the worldview is pretty depressing; it’s environmental, but not in a warm-and-fuzzy way, more in a mother-nature-is-a-scary-avenging angel way. It’s feminist, but also not in an easy, “dancing in a circle celebrating menses” way. I mean, I write love poems, but not a ton. Anyway, I recognize I’m not an easy, feel-good poet. I’m not a Netflix holiday romantic comedy. I get it. I’m the indie movie your film friend recommended and then you’re like “Why did she make me see that?” But still, I’ll probably try knocking at your door, poetry editors…”

When Sylvia Plath complained in her letters and journals about not getting publishing enough or not getting recognition, she doesn’t seem to realize her writing might be off-putting to the conservative patriarchal poetry world that was on the rise in her lifetime – her husband was being actively encouraged by T.S. Eliot for goodness’ sake, while she could barely get a mentor. Virginia Woolf, before Sylvia, suffered because she lacked getting enough critical attention for her ground-breaking fiction – but her style is just now being recognized as genius and ground-breaking. I just read in a British magazine that Daphne du Maurier – one of my favorite gothic fiction writers from my childhood – is regaining a reputation as a fine literary writer after years as being denigrated as a writer of trashy horror/romances and PhD students are newly studying her archives. I read an article about Margaret Atwood where she talked about self-publishing her first book of poetry and  hand-selling it to bookstores; she didn’t write The Handmaid’s Tale, which shot her to fame, until she was in her forties – my age, in fact. I mean, my writer heroines – such as they are, a motley crew – have never really had an easy time of it, especially early, even if they had more success than I’ve had in my lifetime yet. So I’ve got to remember that my writer heroines struggled and suffered and continued to write and send out their work even in an unfriendly hour, at an unfriendly time.  I will continue to write what I write and send it out into the world, hoping it will find its audience.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Notes from November, How to Cheer Yourself Up and Stave Off SAD, and Surviving Being an Idiosyncratic Woman Writer

This morning, I wrote a poem.  I’d like to say that I wrote a poem, as I do every morning.  But I don’t do that every morning.  I wonder if I would wrest more meaning from life if I did write a poem every morning.  I suspect I would have a similar reaction as I do to liturgical seasons.  Some of my poetry writing mornings would feel important and significant, but many more would leave me wondering about the larger meaning of it all and reflecting on drudgery.

This morning I baked the gluten free communion bread.  It needs to be made on the day of the worship service because of the nature of gluten free bread; I know from experience that it doesn’t freeze well.  As I stirred together the ingredients, this line came to me:  On the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, I bake the communion bread.  Once I got the bread in the oven, I sat down to write.

I played with the line–should it be bake or create?  The idea of Hildegard of Bingen bubbled up in my brain–a creative woman of her time, a woman I see as subversive, although I don’t know that she saw herself that way.  I wanted to hear some of her music, and we live in a wonderful age where the Internet can provide.  I spent some time writing my poem and listening to this group sing the medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen.

I was struck by the woman with the green swoosh in her auburn hair and the chunky boots visible from the slit of her formal gown singing the music written by a monastic woman centuries earlier.  What would Hildegard have said?

I like to think of Hildegard of Bingen smiling at the many ways we’ve seized her legacy and taken up her mantle.  Some of us do that by writing, the way that she did.  Some of us have seized her mantle by singing the music that she left us.  Some of us tend our gardens, the ones we grow for food, the ones we grow for herbs, the ones we grow for the beauty of the flowers, the interior gardens that we may or may not share.  Some of us take on the Hildegard’s mantle when we scold bishops and legislators and remind them of the obligation of creating a more just society.  We wear Hildegard’s mantle as we care for the next generations, some of whom we’re related to biologically, some of whom we will never meet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Hildegard of Bingen’s Mantle

Into the lives of the wealthy and weary, the healthy and homeless, buddhists, brawlers, and churchgoers with shoes spit-shined to Sunday. Into the hearts of families and friends, caretakers and gravediggers, the warring, wounded, and those rolling along on rackety wheels of glad. Into the eyes of dogs and drunks, landlords and store clerks, the old, infirm, and young lovers loud and lavish at the borderlands of yes—the new glow of this lighted living sun.

Rich Ferguson, Another Day in L.A.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 39

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 found poets settling into an autumn mindset, with all that implies. Considering how momentous the political news has been in the US and the UK, it’s frankly amazing that anyone took the time to blog at all. But there are still poems to read, and to write, and—for many—to teach. There are manuscripts to revise. There are creative partnerships to nurture. And always there are new surprises to wonder at, a tiny minority of which ever make the news.


Those short,
sharp lines of autumn, and the last
lightning bugs grounded now
by the density of their own end.
The Milky Way, just there, close
enough to touch.

JJS, Pinhole

If we lived in an earlier culture, we would celebrate Michaelmas today.  It’s one of the harvest holidays, one of the quarterly celebrations that kept people rooted to traditions of the seasonal cycles. […]

I am trying to slow down, even as the world encourages us to zoom, zoom, zoom.  I want to savor the way the afternoon light slides into evening from a different angle now.  I want to enjoy the seasonal decorations that we have now.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Hinge Holiday of Michaelmas

It is, for me at least, a new year. Wishing everyone a happy Rosh Hashanah with hopes for a year in which we all move forward in all of the ways that we are able, hold on to one another in health and illness, and hang on to our own and each others’ goodness.

My new year starts with retirement in exactly 8 weeks. The scramble is on to apply for Medicare supplemental insurance and social security benefits. and then, at Thanksgiving, I am leaving my peninsula home for a month of family visits. More about that another time. But I am still looking for someone who would like to retreat at a lovely private home with water and mountain views in exchange for catsitting while I am away, in case you know anyone who might be interested.

And ! There are new chapbook reviews to check out!

I have a review and interview with Carl Phillips up at the Adroit Journal!

And there are new chapbook Reviews at The Poetry Cafe!

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing over What’s Next?

Shortly after I published a post about the connection between writing and self-care, I received an email notice about a new post from Trish Hopkinson’s blog* on reframing your poetry manuscript. The post — which is a guest post by  Natasha Kochicheril Moni — caught my eye because I’d been contemplating publishing an update about the status of my poetry manuscript.

That update is simple: I no longer know who it is.

I can relate to the standstill/stare-down Natasha describes in the opening of her post. When I go visit my manuscript, it doesn’t even welcome me. There’s no room for me in it anywhere. Not even space for me to park my car out front. Like the warning I saw on a recent trip to Brattleboro, VT: “No parking EVER. Violators will be towed.”

I have been telling myself to grab the poems that still mean the most and start over. But for months and months that felt too much like a break-up (a feeling Natasha also identifies), and I wasn’t ready. I’d nurtured the thing for more than six years. And anyway: I don’t have enough new material to make a clean break. At least not yet.

But new things are brewing.

Carolee Bennett, violators will be towed: a manuscript update

Every
day is like
this, a white

bird in the sun.

Tom Montag, Old Man

This has been a super-hard September, beginning with emotional transitions–dropping my son off for his first year at college, establishing my daughter in her first apartment–and proceeding through too many doctor visits and grant applications on top of the usual stuff. And the usual stuff brings its own challenges. It’s hard to kick off classes well; students and advisees need and deserve a lot of attention. One of this month’s biggest difficulties, though, arose from the good luck of having two books scheduled for spring publication. Edits for my poetry collection arrived in late August, but while finalizing any ms makes me super-anxious, those edits weren’t heavy. As soon as I turned them in, though, the novel edits began arriving, and they have been much more demanding, in large part because I’m newer at prose fiction. I had more to learn about economy and precision than I realized. […]

I’m most likely to push myself when the writing obligation involves someone else’s time and effort, as is the case in delivering mss to editors, and if you’re like that, too, you can find ways to create obligations that don’t involve imminent book contracts. One colleague made a lot of writing progress this summer, for instance, by blocking off non-negotiable writing time on her calendar and making public commitments to get a certain amount done. Another has started a writing group for two hours a week: with snacks, in silent camaraderie, we sit together and work on something not related to teaching, then set goals aloud for what we’ll do in the week ahead. I’m usually very solitary about writing–I’ll always choose a shut door and a quiet room over a cafe, for instance–so I’m surprised to be enjoying it, at least in small doses. I’ll probably be happier when I can use that time on new work rather than face up to the endless failings of this endless ms, but it’s good to be reminded that all the writers you know are waging similar battles with themselves.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever just hang up the towel on the stress of publication, but I guess this post is one possible answer: I would keep writing even if no one wanted to listen anymore. I seem to rest from writing by writing in other modes, or at least reading. Lunacy, probably, but here I am.

Lesley Wheeler, Pacing

Clear from the first poem, “Blessing for Beauty,” is the indisputable truth that the speaker has cancer.

Maybe the universe wants to spare me the apocalypse,
maybe it wants me to counsel the dead,
maybe the cancer finds me so delicious
it wants to eat me from the inside out…
Oh trees, flowers, small animals at the bird feeder—

And so the poems unspool, sometimes in high lyric and sometimes in plain truth. Many of the poems are also love poems to Kusnetz’s husband, poet and writer, Brian Turner. One of my (many) favorites comes late in the book and is not technically a love poem at all, “Meditation on “Cottage Window, St. Remy de Provence.”

And so perhaps we cannot furl the lit hours
inside ourselves, relive their sinuous grace

The poems range from the philosophical to science fiction, to nature, to a love of ginormous proportions. In my copy the pages are folded back, marked and reread again. I promise Angel Bones will make a difference in your life. It has in mine.

Susan Rich, A Must Read: ANGEL BONES by Ilyse Kusnetz

I recently read a new and very special pamphlet by Valerie Morton and Karen Dennison where the two co-writers respond to each other — a conversation with poems. Two of the poems from their sequence, and ordering information is here. I asked Valerie a few questions about the project. When answering, she first passed along this quote:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”       Seneca

Elly: How did Still Born come to be?

Valerie: It has been an enormous pleasure and privilege to work with Karen Dennison on this pamphlet which began as an idea after I had been reading about response poems and how they could inspire and rejuvenate poets into discovering places they may not have visited before. Karen and I both had ‘a poem in waiting’ and the pamphlet was born.

As we continued we realised we had created something special and that we could put it together into a collection and publish in the hope that we could raise some money for a charity.

Elly: Please say something about the title. After reading the poems, I was struck by how well it reflects, what seems to me the themes and multiple possible ways to respond  to the pamphlet.

Valerie: I am glad you read it that way. The title plays on the word stillborn because I believe that even though this is such a big loss that person stays very much alive in the mind and memory and so they are still born and with you, if that makes sense?

E.E. Nobbs, Two Poets & Their New Pamphlet “Still Born”

Often I am asked about what it’s like to work–I always think the verb should be dance–with artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins. He has illuminated and beautified my books for a long time now. I often thought of us as metaphysical twins (I can’t remember who first came up with that thought) when we first tumbled into correspondence. The first year of exchanging letters was so inspiring! It’s marvelous when you meet a person who inspires you and whom you inspire in turn. […]

Somehow when I’m in a Clivean-Marlyan mode, congruence seems to increase, and not just a congruence of minds. Surprise happens: things happen that suggest that the world is a more enchanted, spark-lit, symbolic place than we commonly know. It’s as if we are turning around a hidden center, that we live in a place of abundance. And for moments I’m more congruent with the deep shapes and patterns of the world, and I feel heart-struck and tied in spirit to someone on the other side of the sea.

Marly Youmans, Hands across enchanted seas

Soon, he closes his eyes to listen
            to my new poem.          Soon,
                        I stumble.   Again,
again.     These words
            don’t relate to us.   They are torn
from the fragile body of things
                          that can be told simply.

I walked slowly with my father.

Romana Iorga, Genesis

Do you find that the writing of poetry can be a way to process the kind of intense emotions you have gone through?

Poetry is the way I have been expressing myself since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved horror fiction and films so as an adult I found that combining my real life experiences with horror imagery was a way I could deal with my sorrows from a distance. Horror in my work is like a distorted lens I can use.

One of the ways your poems seem to work through the horrors of adulthood and loss is through traditional horror imagery of blood and monstrousness? What is the value of horror as a genre in addressing emotional experience? 

I turn subject matter like cancer, chemo and child abuse into the horrors that they truly are but allow the readers to feel their own pain. The value is that readers can can see their own monsters in the words. They can step into my shoes or draw on their own pain. We all have monsters hiding under the bed. We all have moments, that if we were deranged, we’d kill the ones who caused pain or watched us, with dead eyes, groveling in the dirt of our horrors.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Michelle Scalise on the horrors of grief

A dog barks;
a man calls.
The sounds curl away.

The men sleep
wrapped around
their prey
like lovers.

Dick Jones, Night Poachers

This five week hospital stay I think I’ve only drafted two poems, but they are two very  hard won poems. I used to think of writing as something like exercise…like “oh I haven’t gone for a jog in a few weeks, suppose I should…” except I was always far more diligent with writing than I ever have (ever!) been with any sort of exercise. Instead I think of the habit or hobby or practice, whichever you prefer, of writing as a gift. Not necessarily a “gifting” but a gift. When I come to another mid-week of driving hours in the car to and from the hospital with the children, trying to keep things a little balanced and half normal for them as I work so hard to just get the chance to hold my baby, when I come again to that mid-week, I know that I always have the gift of writing. I can use that to sift all of it through, to categorize it, put words to it. I can put words to it. And that is a gift, it is truly a gift.

Renee Emerson, writing in hospitals

Have you been reading the depressing news about the extinction of trees in Europe (in particular, the Horse Chestnut tree is in trouble) and the disappearance of about half of the bird population in North America since the seventies? Oh, right, you were focused on all the impeachment stuff in the news? Totally understand. But it is a reminder to appreciate and notice the birds and trees around us, especially the ones that are difficult to grow and maintain, the birds and plants susceptible to changes in habitat and climate and invasive species. Also, there have been some really interesting articles about how spending time in nature literally helps your body heal, and I believe that’s probably true. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more interested in planting things, and trying to appreciate the work that goes into maintaining public spaces, parks and gardens. I’ve been trying to plant things around the garden that butterflies and hummingbirds like, and planting sunflowers for finches and other small birds. […]

I hope you have had a good beginning to fall, full of promise and good cheer, celebrating the changing seasons as much as you can. I am hoping to fill the increasingly dark and rainy days with writing and reading (I just got a new stack of library books) and hoping to find good publishers for my two book manuscripts, placing poems and hopefully getting to do some writing-related social things (I have a reading scheduled for the first week of October in Auburn so hopefully I will be better for that!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Glass Pumpkins, Appreciating Fragile Things, and the End of September

Don’t want us to become Hitler-haired hate machines. Don’t want us to become snuffer-outers of incense and childhood dreams. Don’t want us to make our bed to now only lie in it. Don’t want us to become the uncorrected manuscript all about treating one another incorrectly. Don’t want the alphabet to ever lose the letters MLK. Don’t want Mother America to become a scullery maid for the criminally corrupt. Don’t want us to become a movable feast that loses its groove. Don’t want us to become the strange fruit in bitter homes and gardens.

Rich Ferguson, When My Therapist Asked What I Didn’t Want Outta Life

talking to my cat
slowly the sunshine returns
an autumn morning

Jim Young, [untitled haiku]

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 31

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, lamentation and celebration—like every week, I suppose, only thrown into sharper relief by current events. But mostly the joy of reading and writing poems.


America is now a map of lies, a map of bigotry. Perhaps it always was, and I just didn’t see it. It is easier to buy a gun than it is to find a safe place to live. If you hate the right people, the bulk of the population will love you; your hatred will be admirable, like an achievement. If you hate the right people, the brown ones, the map of lies will unfold at your feet. At last you will have a place to go where hate is love, where servitude is equality. The collective hatred and bigotry will take on the shape of hot air balloon to lift the true believers up to their make-believe heaven.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘America is now a map of lies’

I’ve curated a new prayer for Tisha b’Av that interweaves quotes from Lamentations with quotes from migrants and refugees on the United States’ southern border today. In reading the prayer aloud, we put the words of refugees — parents separated from their children; children separated from their parents; human beings suffering in atrocious conditions — into our own mouths. May hearing ourselves speak these words galvanize us to action.

Here’s a taste:

They told me, ‘you don’t have any rights here,
and you don’t have any rights to stay with your son.’

I died at that moment. They ripped my heart out of me.
For me, it would have been better if I had dropped dead.

For me, the world ended at that point.
How can a mother not have the right to be with her son?…

The prayer is online (and also available as a downloadable PDF) at Bayit‘s Builders Blog, and you can find it here: Lamentations (Then and Now).

Rachel Barenblat, A new prayer for Tisha b’Av

This poem [“Your Body” by Ann Gray] confronts and unnerves because, unlike the Victorians, we have removed ourselves from physical contact with the dead. Some of their customs persisted into the 1950s. As a child I was shocked when a classmate of mine in Primary School, Geoffrey Brooke, died of meningitis (none of us knew what that was; just that it was frightening, that it could visit any of us). More shocked when his mother invited us, his 8 and 9 year old classmates, to come and see him laid out in his coffin in the single downstairs room of their terrace house. When it came to it, I stayed outside. Some of my friends went in, and when they came out they would say nothing about it. Not then, and not later.

When my dad died, and years later, my mother, they were whisked away before I could see them. They vanished.

I wonder what I ever made of Sassoon’s line from The Dugout
You are too young to fall asleep forever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

It was just an idea, a notion. I think we too often persuade ourselves we understand. Unlike Hamlet, we are happy to conflate sleep and death and leave it there.

Which is why I need poems like Your body. One of my sons committed suicide by jumping from a high rise block of flats. The police told me that I wouldn’t want to see him, and I was too stunned to argue. I have no idea who identified him, or how, but it wasn’t his mother, or me. We couldn’t have a funeral until a long-postponed inquest was over, and his body was released. In his coffin, only his face was visible. His face was like the death mask of a beautiful stranger. It was unmarked, and he really did seem unnaturally asleep. I kissed him, but he didn’t wake.

Years later I had to go with my partner to identify the body of her ex-husband in the morgue in Wakefield. It was so bizarre, so unreal, like a piece of theatrical still life. I thought I would never find words for it and maybe I shouldn’t try. Now I know I was wrong in that, as in so many things, because of this lovely, tender, terrible, astonishing poem. 

John Foggin, Poetry that really matters: Ann Gray [Part One]

We text. She sends me Poké gifts,
and I say thank you. She says for what, and I flash
my phone so she can see we’re both in the same app.
We roll our eyes at the same time. We drip. We drift.
We cheered the drag queens, hot sun on glitter and sequins.
Drag queens still dance, music pounds, but us? We are done.

PF Anderson, After Performing at Pride

There are so many magazine and literary journals out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to not know where to start. For me, Twitter is a great place to discover new poems, poets, and journals I want to follow. Here are a few poems I read recently and loved. And yes, I discovered all of them via Twitter.

“People call her Bride of. The Bride of. Of this broken man
who made a broken man from parts of broken men.”
~ from The Bride of Frankenstein Considers Her Options by Meghan Phillips, published by Strange Horizons

” —& so i am learning to call unpleasant histories by their real names—such as what i demand of love—and that i used to be a boy—to think that if this body was a prison what happened when i escaped”
~ from If the Body is a Prison-House Where is the Warden I Have Some Complaints About the Plumbing by Danielle Rose, published by Third Point Press

” In other news, this is the top. Weep for what little things
would make them jealous. I publish a poem”
~ from In Which I Am Accused of Sleeping My Way to the Top by Jill McDonough, published by The Threepenny Review

Courtney LeBlanc, A Few More Poems I Love

Away from my normal routines for ten days in Portugal, I looked at Twitter occasionally and kept seeing references to “that essay” by poet Bob Hicok. I’ll scout it out later, I thought, first busy with the MLA International Symposium in Lisbon; then laid up in my hotel room with a stomach bug; and finally traipsing around Porto, making up for lost time and calories. I arrived home late this Thursday, and catching up with other people and tasks seemed more important. Scrolling through social media Saturday morning, though, I saw a smart set of questions Paisley Rekdal had posted in response to the piece, along with a link to the essay itself (which had been a little hard to find–people clearly don’t want to promote it). Okay, okay, FINE, I grumbled, brewed another pot of chai, and read it.

The essay isn’t good, no matter what you think of the argument. It belabors its point, which is basically that Hicok is “dying as a poet” (meaning, apparently, not attracting as many readers as he used to), and while it’s good, he concedes, that writers who are not “straight white men” like him are now getting attention, and he’s grateful to have had a good run, he’s sad to lose the limelight. If a writer-friend had told me this privately, over drinks, I would have felt embarrassed for him–listen to yourself, dude! Literature is not a zero-sum game, and nobody has taken your micro-celebrity away from you! I suppose it’s useful, though, that someone has voiced all this in print. I know other people think similarly: I’ve heard the asides, and seen the facial expressions, by white writers of various ages and genders, although whenever I’ve sensed a lament like this emerging in my company, I’ve either cut it short or walked away. […]

It is certainly true that while there are more presses and contests than ever before, there’s now a larger pool of people competing for them, as well as a real hunger from readers for stories and poems from less-familiar perspectives. I’m one of those readers, and I’m very glad publishing is more inclusive than it used to be–I hope the trend continues, and as poetry editor of Shenandoah, I try to help it along. Such richness benefits everyone who cares about literature. It’s also true that I’m striving, meanwhile, for my own foothold in the scene, and I get sad about the difficulty of that sometimes. What I keep coming back to: the only way to stay sane is to make sure your writing is urgent, well-crafted stuff, and to use whatever space and advantages you have to help others do good work, too, and feel some love for it. Then, whether or not you earn a lucky spot on the stage yourself one day, you’ll feel okay about how you’ve spent your hours.

Lesley Wheeler, Sharing space in poetry (“that essay”)

So, I posted a couple of observations on that Utne reader Bob Hicok essay on Facebook (if you are interested, you can read the threads here) and thought I might develop further here. This is not just to pile on to Bob’s racist/sexist/privilege issues but to discuss other issues his essay brings up. I think he’s missing a few larger issues in publishing, book sales, and mindset.

  • Bob has won two (!!) NEA fellowships and a Guggenheim, as well as a pretty cushy teaching gig, and has published ten books. I just, sorry, don’t feel like weeping for him because I (and most of my friends) have never had any of those things. Never been in Poetry or the New Yorker either. So, you know, he needs to check his privilege before he gets whine-y. Lots of poets have never been the flavor of the month, but Bob has had a lot of time in the sun. So it was an insensitive essay in more than one way.
  • My friend Kelli is always talking about “scarcity mentality” in poetry – the feeling that because someone else gets something, you get less. She points out that it is not true, even if it feels true, and not only that, it’s destructive. I wrote a little last week about poets cheering on other poets and how important that is. It definitely makes being the poetry world more rewarding. Helping others – by mentoring or reviewing or publishing – will increase your happiness, I guarantee. Everyone feels hurt when their book doesn’t sell or get reviewed or their book or grant gets rejected – but that hurt can be mitigated.
  • What Bob is lamenting – that his books sell less, that he gets fewer reviews – has nothing to do with poets of color, LGBTQ writers, or women getting more air time. It has to do with the landscape of publishing. The print book market is very fragmented, and I’d bet that most poets are selling fewer books and getting fewer reviews because there are so many books out there now. Gen Z have their own book buying tastes and habits – very different than his generation. Instagram poets, for instance. It’s not bad, just different, than it used to be. I’m sure, say, Billy Collins is still doing fine. Book publishing in general is changing. Book reviewing is in flux, too.
  • Also, it seems strange to talk about how all these troublesome non-white-male poets are taking up space when most of the prestige poetry presses and journals ARE STILL RUN BY WHITE MEN. I was trying to name the poetry presses run by women and people of color – can you help me? Are they the ones most poets want to be published by with, or get good distribution? (People have mentioned: University of Akron Press, Mayapple Press, Alice James Books, Sundress, Two Sylvias Press. as presses led by women..I’d love to hear more (especially presses run by people of color?)
  • Most tenure track teaching jobs are still given to men. In academia in general, women have much less chance of being offered tenure, and I’m sure poets of color and poets with disabilities could talk more about their experience with this. You’ve already lucked out if you’re an older poet with a tenured teaching job.
  • I don’t know about other reviewers, but there’s a reason I like to shine a spotlight when I do reviews of poets of color, women, LGBTQ poets, and poets with disabilities. In general, these poets are more vulnerable to prejudice, so I think it’s more important that their voices are heard above the crowd.
  • What am I missing? Anything else to add to the discussion?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking the Fall, A Few Thoughts on that Utne Poetry Essay, and Poetry Reviews, Sales, and Empowerment

Ammons’s poetry is a poetry of open-endedness, rather than of closed forms.  In line 121 [of “Corson’s Inlet’], he eschews the “easy victory” of traditional formal poetry (identified in the “narrow orders, limited tightness” of line 120), knowing that the deeper nature of the world is anything other than such “narrowness” of form might imply.

In some sense, poetry, of course, is inescapably form.  So Ammons admits in his conclusion to “Corson’s Inlet” that he has no choice but to try
     to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
     that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.

This statement suggests that, at least in Ammons’ view, a new poem must also create poetry itself anew, that a poet cannot simply rely on the predictable patterns of form but must allow the poem to find its own form in response to nature and the changing world it grapples with.  Ammons asserts that that world is necessarily disordered and in a state of ongoing change and that, therefore, instead of trying to show one’s poetic mastery by imposing a predetermined form over it, the poet must listen to nature, must listen to language itself, and allow him- or herself to “go with the flow” of that flux: “I have perceived nothing completely” — a nor can one ever, for all is mediated by the particular dynamics of the mind.

It is interesting to compare this poem with another Ammons piece, which is overtly an ars poetica, being titled “Poetics” (pp. 26-27).  It does very similar things.  Where, in “Corson’s Inlet,” the poem runs “like a stream,” here it is “spiralling from a center” (line 3).  Ammons opens himself to “the shape / things will take to come forth in” (4-5), yet when they do, as the birch tree in lines 6-10, it is merely or even “totally its apparent self.”  The poem, for Ammons, is not only the shape of the poem as written down, “but the / uninterfering means on paper” (17-18) — and more important is that the poet be
     available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours. (20-24)

In other words, it is not about the individual poet, the supposedly autonomous individual artist (as “great,” or what have you) but in fact more about forgetting the self, the ego, and opening up outwardly to — let’s call it the “cosmos,” at the risk of sounding over-serious and for lack of a less grandiose word.

Mike Begnal, On A. R. Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet” & “Poetics”

The last few months, I’ve been working on a more meta project, spawned by some less coherent thoughts I had when I was working on my actual artist statement. How to convey a whole world–a whole aesthetic framework, without delving into something a little more creative when it feels like you are supposed to be more expository somehow.  What wound up resulting was a lot of fun.  How to write about the endeavor of writing poems (and I use “poetry” loosely since most of my stuff takes the form of prose lately).

The subject matter of the pieces take a lot from my experience writing as a woman, of subject matter, of the academic-poetry complex.  Of desire and sex and writing.  The closest thing I can compare it to in my past writings would be this poem, which opens major characters in minor films, which touches on some of the similar ideas, but in a less specific way. Some of the artist statement pieces are coming soon in an issue of TYPEHOUSE, so watch for that to get a sampling. 

Kristy Bowen, artist statements

So I have some news. It’s kind of stellar and I just can’t stop smiling. It’s been almost a week and the effect hasn’t worn off yet. I am beyond thrilled and mega excited to announce that my book, GALLERY of POSTCARDS and MAPS: NEW and SELECTED, will be published by Salmon Press of Ireland (with US distribution). This makes this getting older thing not so hard to take. 

Over the past 20 years I’ve published four books of poetry starting with THE CARTOGRAPHER’S TONGUE / POEMS of the WORLD which focused on my time in the Peace Corps in West Africa, my Fulbright in South Africa and the death of both my parents. This book won both the PEN USA Award and the Peace Corps Writers Award. Next was CURES INCLUDE TRAVEL and then THE ALCHEMIST’s KITCHEN and CLOUD PHARMACY, all published by White Pine Press. You might notice they all seem to be on sale at the moment!

There are so many people to thank for helping make this book and its publication a reality (well, it’s not going to be out for a little while) but let me start with the main inspirations: Ilya Kaminsky, Geraldine Mills, Sandy Yaonne, and of course, the amazing Jessie Lendennie.  Sometimes the stars really do align. Or as my dear friend, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon says, maybe it was the chipmunk that came out of nowhere to stare at me for a good long while on a summer morning.

Susan Rich, Announcing a Forthcoming Miracle from Salmon Press: GALLERY OF POSTCARDS AND MAPS

One of my favorite poems in the collection – since I also mine pop culture for images and inspiration – is “Mission Dolores.” That’s the church in Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak when she leaves flowers on the grave of Carlotta Valdez. The poem not only summons up Hitchcock and Novak, but Dusty Springfield, Pet Shop Boys and Bridget Bardot, while noting that the 80s have become reminiscent of the 50s for the fearmongering and dread. Let’s not forget that it was nearly a  decade into the plague before President Reagan even uttered the word AIDS.

The mythology derived from the symbol might be an illusion
but not the reality in the fact that Thank God and thank you
General Motors Cadillacs are getting bigger again
so that this dreadful era becomes reminiscent of the ’50s
as if escape were indeed possible
as I walk by the Mission’s garden and all at once a stiff breeze
affects even my pompadour stiff with pomade 
and from out of the fog a long black Cadillac passes me by
and I needn’t wonder if inside the body is still alive. 


That poem was written on my birthday, Sept. 17, in 1989. It’s just another incident of synchronicity and a sign from the other side as I begin compiling my next manuscript, which focuses on my late uncle, Terry Graves, his time in San Francisco and his death from AIDS just a year before Karl. Terry and Karl were in San Francisco at the same time, and I can’t help but wonder if they encountered each other. Maybe in a poem they will.

I have a love//hate relationship with San Francisco, but I’ve been feeling the need to return. Urgently. And Karl’s poems only solidified that. It’s amazing when poetry can move and motivate you enough to want to travel across a continent. That’s what Karl Tierney’s will do for you.

Thank you, Sibling Rivarly, for bringing this book [Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney] into the world and making Karl Tierney immortal.

Collin Kelley, In the Castro with Karl Tierney

I love breaking words apart, especially words in foreign languages, and learning their etymology and usage. The idea of having a word warehouse in my head feels like the perfect analogy. The words all stored in various boxes and filing cabinents. I’m sure the organisation is an absolute mess, like most of my real-life storage. Items organised by need, use and more random connections rather than some systematic method. When I lived with my parents I kept my library card in a laundry basket in the basement. If someone moved it, I could never think where it should sensibly be, but I could always find it with my way. Our own systems work.

So when I look for the word ‘door’ in Finnish, I know I’d be shuffling through files of Scottish Gaelic to find it. I was just watching a video of the Scottish Poet Laureate Jackie Kay reciting her poem ‘Threshold’ to the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2016. She mentioned that in Gaelic they say ‘dùin an doras‘ for ‘shut the door’ and that took me back to learning Gaelic in Glasgow, so many years ago. ‘Don’t shut the door’ was also one of the first phrases I learned in Finnish when my son shouted it over and over at nursery when it was time for me leave. These memories pile up on top of the word ‘door’ in a wonderful scrapbook.

It’s also how my writing works, I start with a prompt, specific or more general and I just follow it where it leads me, jumping from one image or connection to the next. I might look at crafting a poem from the idea of shutting the door in several languages just from writing that paragraph. My poems have begun to cross over into Finnish and other languages more and more as I shuffle through the collected images and memories in my brain while I write. 

Gerry Stewart, Scattershot

And then the door swung wide
and the music bloomed like a tin flower:
John McCormack singing The Rose of Tralee.
And a four-square farmer’s wife came stepping
high over the tussocks, scarved and booted,
ringing a bucket like a broken bell.

And she’s singing too, singing in a wild
soprano, keen as the edge of a spinning
slate, plaiting her voice around McCormack’s
skinny tenor, scattering the gulls and lifting
a fishing heron out of the shallows
and into the all-accommodating sky.

Dick Jones, Looking for U2…

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 18

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.

The end of Poetry Month last week prompted not just progress reports and posts about favorite books and poems, but also led a number of poets to ponder larger questions about productivity, ambition, and the nature of work. Several wrote about sleep and insomnia, and others talked about the importance of writing in community. And as usual there were a few miscellaneous posts that didn’t really fit anywhere but were too damn fun to leave out. Enjoy.


Today I clicked on a random link to a recent poem in a fancier journal (someone liked it, I’m not sure why) and reading through was kind of embarassed for the journal for publishing it.  (and kinda for the dude for writing it.) It committed the cardinal sin in my poetry church–the breaking of sentences into lines with no real “poetry” quality about it except it looked like one on the page.  Also, it was boring, and in places abstract and cliched. The venue in question misses the mark quite a bit, but this was supposed to be one of the poetry world darlings, someone who people hold up as an idol (not me, but other people).  I started laughing and literally could not stop for about 5 minutes.

I realized for every time I think to myself, question myself, that I do not know what I’m doing…my own work, even at it’s very throwaway worst was far better than this sampling.  That yes, maybe I totally DO know what I’m doing and am doing it pretty damn well.  And in fact all of us–poet friends, dgp authors, the mss. I help out with –ALL of us are doing so much better than this fancy poet with our work.  If this came across my desk as an editor it would be an immediate “no” not even a “maybe.”  I’ve met poets who have been writing for a year or less who are considerably stronger than this.  Don’t worry, we got this.

Kristy Bowen, poet pep talk # 786

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all.

This set me to think of my own predilection for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets. I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial. Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equivalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

John Foggin, A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

I have returned to the poems in QUANTUM HERESIES many times in the last two months. How can a debut  collection of poems be so arresting, so superb?  One answer is that Mary Peelen has been hard at work on her craft for years; she is not a dilettante but rather a true poet. Also, she has lived a fascinating and hard-won life.

Take for example these lines from “String Theory,”

Here at the horizon of theoretical extinction,
we cut flowers for the table.

We sing the way weary mourners do,
praising geometry as if miracles could happen.

The environment, mathematics, love, and loss in two couplets. I am in awe of these lines and from many other poems as well including: “x”, “Unified Theory,” and “Sunday Morning” to name but a few stellar examples of Peelen’s deft and spare language.

Elizabeth Bishop once said that what she liked best in a poem was “to see a mind in motion.” And she then added that this was of course an impossibility. That the poems that did their best to mirror the mind’s movement were working hard to display such ease.

Susan Rich, Mary Peelen’s QUANTUM HERESIES is here and you want to read it!

I confess that I love finishing books because it gives me a chance to move to another one on my to read pile. That pile grows like the National Debt. But I’ve finished another and will be looking to start another. I’ve finished reading The Veronica Maneuver by Jennifer Moore.  I will be doing a review of the book soon. (adding to my growing to do list).

Goat Yoga. There is such a thing. I kid you not. (no pun intended) Yesterday I joined others at Paradise Park for a session of goat yoga. The cute little things wander around among us and challenge our focus. They will occasionally have accidents. My mat was missed by inches. Their poop looks like Raisinets.  See photo to right. Aside from, the experience was fun and we did get some light yoga in, which at this stage is about where I am at in the yoga experience overall.  Anyone who knows me well quite possibly knows my affinity towards goats.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – OM to the Goats Edition

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s terrifyingly useful PR For Poets is packed with ideas completely new to me, even though this is my third book. (Or fifth, depending on how such things are counted.) […]

Like nearly every other writer I know, I’m a friendly hermit with a serious allergy* to self-promotion. So I didn’t follow most of Jeannine’s good advice, like developing a PR kit or getting a headshot. But her book did foster another idea. “Hide in the house,” I said to myself. “Make something fun to help sell the new book.”

Book swag can include postcards, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pens, custom-decorated cookies, toys, and more. All the stuff most writers, let alone most publishers, can’t possibly afford. Jeannine calmly explains postcards and business cards are the most useful, and how to produce them at a reasonable cost. Of course I wanted to do something complicated. […]

Initially I hoped to create tiny replica book necklaces that could open to a poetry sample, somewhat like this project on Buttons & Paint. The time required, however, was too daunting, especially with time constraints like my actual editing job.

Then I decided to make book pendants that could be worn or used to mark one’s place. It seemed simple.

Laura Grace Weldon, How Not To Make Book Swag

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

When pondering what to post today, the last day of April and therefore the last post in this series of Great Poems for April—no pressure!—I realized a strange thing. Even though I’d been concentrating on going through my own trove of favorite poems through the month, I hadn’t really thought about which one poem is my very favorite. You know, that one that accompanies you through life, whose lines remain with you like bits of a song that you find yourself humming while doing dishes or driving to work. As soon as I thought that, I immediately knew which one was my favorite: “After Apple-Picking.”

What I love most about this poem is its unusual rhyme scheme. This being Frost, of course there’s a pattern. But it’s so erratic, so—dare I say—rebellious that I wonder if Frost was thinking, screw the establishment; I’m gonna go all Picasso on the old end rhyme. And he was a master of the old end rhyme. And yet he was young when he wrote this. And probably somebody out there knows what that was all about, but I’m kind of glad I don’t know, in the same way I’m glad I don’t know for sure what the different kinds of sleep are that he talks about. Or whether this is about the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the banishment from Eden. Or about the burdens of fame (that’s my go-to—“I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired”—but again, he was young, so I’m not so sure). And if you want to see what other people think about all those things, spend an amusing hour or so surfing the internet, looking at the different theories. Those people are all so sure they know what this poem means.

What I do know about this poem is that it’s beautiful. Phrases of this poem are, I think, among the best in American poetry (“ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” “load on load of apples coming in,” and that low-geared, four-word musical breakdown of a line, “As of no worth”). I love the way he changes up the rhythm and sentence length, and of course those erratic line lengths that sneak the rhymes in there among all the truncation where you can barely hear it. The phrasing is so memorable that I literally can’t pick up a stepladder without whispering “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still,” or cut open an apple without thinking “Stem end and blossom end.” And this line—“Essence of winter sleep is on the night, / The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.” I can go back and read that for a lifetime and never get tired of it.

Every year that I reread this poem, it means something different to me; I find some small part I hadn’t thought much about before. (Right now it’s the “pane of glass / I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough”—can’t you see it? Don’t you sometimes go a whole day, unable to rub that strangeness from your sight?) Loving a good poem is like a friendship. You go through time together, and even though you never know everything about that poem, you keep discovering things that it didn’t tell you before. And your relationship with it changes too. If it’s really a great poem, the poem weathers the changes. And so do you.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 30: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

As we come to the end of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you a few poems I read and absolutely loved this month. Do yourself a favor and read them.

This one is an old poem – published in April 2017. But I only just discovered it earlier this month and it’s worth sharing:

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake.

~ from Yellowshirt Elegy by Meghan Phillips, published by Barrelhouse

Another one that was published back in July but thanks to the powers of Twitter, I just discovered it this month:

An analogy:
Pac-Man fills his mouth with pellets: you fill
your house with wine, your head with songs.

~from Nine Ways in Which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition by Katie Willingham, published by Paper Darts

Courtney LeBlanc, Read These Poems

April is finished, thank goodness, it’s been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month – my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses.

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn’t count as going anywhere, so I haven’t counted them. That’s just over 30, so I’m very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem a day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I’m not in the mood or don’t like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

Gerry Stewart, My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

I wrote 30 poems, one each day, as a sonnet cycle. It was surprisingly easy to keep going, as every day I had a prompt from the previous poem. By about 4/12, I found that I didn’t have to count lines, I just wrote 14 and stopped. The form entered me. I will be working on revisions for a good while, but I’m hopeful that I have something here. The cycle starts and ends with this line:
It was a warm day in April when the coleus died.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with My April Roundup

& so, I did what I set out to do: I exercised the necessary discipline to draft a poem a day during National Poetry Month, and I pushed against my “comfort zone” by publicly posting those drafts as they came to me. Usually I do not share my initial drafts with anyone other than fellow writers in my writer’s group or a few poets with whom I correspond. This was an interesting experiment on the personal level, therefore, a sort of forced extroversion as well as effort in productivity. I now have 30 new drafts to reflect upon, revise, or ignore.

It has been years since I came up with that much work in four weeks’ time. For the last decade or so, my average has been closer to six or seven poems a month. And I would not have posted any of them as they “hatched.” I would have waited until I spent some time with them and figured out how best to say what they seemed to want to say.

That’s not an unwise approach in general; I see nothing wrong with letting poems stew awhile. And quite a few would have ended up in the “dead poems” folder. Nevertheless, trying something innovative tends to prove valuable. The takeaway is that I am glad I finally managed the NaPoWriMo challenge. A few of the poem drafts you may have read here stand a chance of evolving into better poems. Maybe some will end up in a collection (years down the road). That result feels good.

The takeaway is also the realization that I no longer worry about how others judge my poems, the way I did when I was starting out and discouraged about having my stuff rejected by magazines. Not because there’s less at stake–indeed, I feel as invested in my writing as I ever was. The difference comes with the kind of investment, the ambition to write something meaningful or beautiful, and not viewing the poems as results waiting to be determined as valuable by someone more authoritative.

I’m 60 years old and well-educated in poetic craft, style, purpose, analysis. I’ve been writing poetry for over four decades. At this point in my life, that’s authority enough.

Ann E. Michael, The takeaway

Here’s wishing you a happy May Day and hoping that you enjoyed a marvelous Poetry Month.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of stones. Those make the line between the lawn’s lush green abundance and the scraggly patch of winter rye. Okay, some lawn grass is mixed in between the rye and the irises. But it’s had me thinking about what we cut and what we keep, about censoring and not censoring, about how we tend our writing. Even about where I’m putting my energy.

In thinking about writing, I’m seeing the two kinds of grasses not as separate things but as the different attentions required. There’s letting the creative rush run over, there’s perhaps (for me, always) the need to trim, to shape, and there’s the need to tend, to wait patiently.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day four

If you’re reading this, it must be some time between 3 -5 am and I am up listening to Vampire Weekend’s new song “Harmony Hill” on repeat.

I’ve written 2 poems and answered a few emails. I haven’t spoken to anyone in 36 hours, and this is the gift of the writing residency. I wonder–what if I didn’t talk to people for days in real life, would I have more to write? It seems the less I talk, the more I have to say when I write.

I know it would be almost impossible to achieve this at home, but it encourages me on my next retreat to see how long I could go without speaking.

Solitude, when chosen, is a gift. 
Solitude, when forced upon someone, is a punishment. 
Solitude, when not wanted, is loneliness in disguise.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Making the Most of Insomnia…

So we know all kinds of stuff about how the mind works, but we don’t know what this feeling is of knowing. Which makes me so confused I feel sleepy. And, let me tell you, from all the articles people insist on forwarding to me, we really know very little about sleep — how it works, why it works, why it works the way it works, and what’s going on when it doesn’t work, not to mention how to fix it. So we not only don’t know what this thing called “I” is but we don’t know why “I” can’t sleep. I’ll tell you, it keeps me awake at night.

Marilyn McCabe, Wake Me Up When It’s Over

One after the other you fall asleep
as the light moves on and wakes up
the ones at the other end of the line
We move so fast that we cannot see
A merry-go-round of dreams

Magda Kapa, Globally Speaking

Staying up most of the night working on poems. Oh Lonely Bones – can’t you rest? Why should I? Even now now a strong wind carries some pine seeds to the earth. Even now the boats slide down the long Sacramento River to the bay. A new day begins and I am alive.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Staying up most of the night working on poems.’

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.

PF Anderson, On Aurality

The wipe-out of my hard drive and the subsequent computer clean-up continues. I went into my main drive this weekend to organize my years of fiction and poetry output, and was at once heartened and saddened by it, the sad part of which threw me immediately into the throes of writing self-pity, a very unbecoming state of being in which I lamented the failure of my novel, wallowed in my fear that writing poetry about my new-found passion for shooting will be roundly rejected by anti-gun leftist poetry publishers everywhere, as poets are almost universally anti-gun leftists, and lamented the  fact that I am hopelessly prone to writing run-on sentences. But I am also proud to report that I was fairly pleased overall with my review of my previous work. I read some things that I had forgotten I wrote and that can firmly say I stand by to this day, despite their thickness and amateur-ness. To balance this, the most hopeless amongst them were unceremoniously deleted. So it’s been a mixed bag.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Projection, Ear to Mouth Ratio, Self-Pity Sunday

I’ve been ruthless this week, in a way that feels quite alien to me. I’ve shelved so many jobs in order to stick to my goal of writing two (yes, just two) pages of my notebook every day. The things I’ve put to one side include reading (poetry and prose, weekend supplements) making art/ collages, cleaning the bathroom, weeding the garden (although the weather was against me on this week). Still, you get the picture. What’s interesting is that because my target is quite low, in terms of word count, I’ve exceeded it nearly every day. This has been really positive. It’s given me that ‘Can do’ feeling, and made me keen to carry on, so much so that yesterday I treated myself to a new notebook, in anticipation of finishing the current one. I’ve stuck to A5 so I can keep the momentum – there’s something about turning the page that makes me feel I’m being more productive.

Writing is important to me, and I’ve said for a while now that I’ve embraced distractions as a way of feeding the work, but the bottom line is, if you’re not setting aside time to do the work, then anything you’ve gleaned from these distractions isn’t being given a fair chance to flourish into something new on the page. So, instead of finding excuses (or allowing the distractions to take over) I’m concentrating on finding ways to fit my writing into what seems, at times, an impossibly short day.

Julie Mellor, No excuses

Many years ago the doctor told me the best thing I could do for my mental health was to keep a routine. Take the mornings predictably, and slowly.

So since my kids hit their teens, I have been up early to run, write and do meditation. And for the past year, I have included a morning flow sequence.

How I wish I had done this when my children were young. I’ve spent most of my life – all of my adult life – obsessively attempting to be productive. The unquestioned belief being that my life would be of value only if I left something important behind; that I am somehow required to justify my time on earth by creating works of art. On days, and during months scattered with rejection slips from publishers, I’d rethink my life’s choices and feel obligated to toss my humanity degrees and get a nursing degree, or a counselling certification: the kind of thing that makes a person valuable, makes them the kind of person who can sign up with Médecins Sans Frontières and do good in the world.

Ren Powell, An Art of Living – Day 1

After that glass of wine, I walked home through a small town under construction and swarming with alumnae/i, pondering ambition. It was very much on my mind in my mid-forties, when I started writing the poems in my forthcoming collection. My current working title for the latter is The State She’s In, but whether or not my editor ultimately agrees about that, I’m polishing the ms now and the book will be out in March or April 2020. The collection, in fact, contains a sequence of five list-poems called “Ambitions,” and I considered whether I could or should incorporate the word in my book title. I guess I was asking common midlife questions: what is all this striving for? Am I on a path towards something good, goals I genuinely care about? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to other people, to my work, and as a citizen–not the trivial stuff, but the deep obligations? Then an ambitious woman ran for office, and a man who despises women trumped her, and some of my struggle over that episode is in the book, too.

As I veered off Main St. onto the smaller road that leads home, I realized I may have turned a corner where ambition is concerned. I’m not sure how much of the change comes from turning fifty, or other revolutions in my life, or even just the fact that three books I worked on for years all have contracts now, so I can afford to be less anxious! Maybe my state of relative equilibrium is temporary. But while I still think many kinds of ambition are good and important, and anyone who’s nervous about ambition in women is a sexist jerk, I find I’m not fretting about productivity this summer, for once. I can’t even drum up worry about the reception my poetry book will eventually meet (the novel’s a bit different–still feel like an imposter there). I have a number of writing projects percolating, and I’ll be helping my kids launch into college and the working world, but I’m mainly grateful that a summer slow-down is allowing me to strengthen these mss and plan for how I can help them find audiences. My chief ambition, I’m realizing, is to make the books as moving and crafty and complicated and inspiring as possible.

Lesley Wheeler, The ambit of ambition

I’m thinking about trying to start a series of get-togethers at my house, since it’s become more difficult to get out and about but I’m still an extrovert who gets inspired by spending time with other creative people. My house is pretty good for entertaining, and Glenn is good at making snacks. Should I try to create a new writers feedback group, like the one I was in for thirteen plus years, or try salons, with a bunch of different kind of artists? I’ve been finishing up a series of Virginia Woolf letters, and I’m inspired by the way, though she was limited in the amount she went out or went to London, she brought a circle of artists around her houses, not always together at the same time, but encouraged them, published them, provided tea and conversation. She really did get inspired and enjoy helping others.

I was thinking about ways to help others and maybe start working again, a little bit, from home. But what? Technical writing or marketing writing? Offering manuscript consults again? Or perhaps some coaching for doing basic PR for poets with new books? When I’m feeling good, I’m pretty effective, but I do have these “slips” in time that happen when I’m sick, so I need something that’s flexible.

Women Writing Despite…

In fact, many of the “major” women writers that we read, including Flannery O’Conner, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Charlotte Bronte, all had limits on their health – physical and mental illnesses, constraints on their time and energy. They still managed to produce a ton of work, not just published books, but tons of journals and letters that I find fascinating and great research for women writers – how they succeed, how they struggled, how they maintained friendships and family demands. (Frida Kahlo is kind of the patron-saint of sick women creatives, too. Not only is her art getting more attention these days, but I read that her garden was recently restored – how I would love to see that!)

I think one reason I’ve been attracted to researching the lives of these writers is that they succeeded despite. Despite family opposition, money problems, health problems, during a literary time that was – shall we say – unfriendly to women’s voices. How they guarded their writing time, and struggled with “doing it all” – a woman’s problem for centuries, not just now, the expectations that women will be supportive of their family’s needs, domestic work, taking care of spouses or family members, plus write and spend time and cultivate connections with other creative people. So what I’m saying is, really, in this age of phones and internets and social media, it’s easier for me than it would have been for any of those writers, despite my illnesses, the physical limitations I might face, the frustrations I feel.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Another Birthday, Spring and All, Thinking About the Modern Salon and Writing Groups, Women Writing Despite, and Planning for the Year Ahead

As I’ve traveled, from AWP a month ago to the creativity retreat last week, I’ve been thinking about tribes, the tribes we choose and the tribes that claim us.  I saw many AWP posts that talked about the ecstasy of being back with one’s tribe, but I don’t feel that way at AWP.  I’m a different kind of participant, with a very different kind of non-writing job for pay than most people there.  I still have a good time, but it’s a much more industrial feel for me–it’s not the sigh of relief, the “I’m home again!” feeling for me.

Last week’s retreat was that way.  Let me preface by saying that I don’t always feel that way.  I’ve been coming to this retreat since 2003, and I’m not sure why some years it’s easy to settle in to the retreat rhythm and some years I never capture it.  This year I felt like I knew fewer people (in part, because we had a larger crowd with more new people), yet surprisingly, I had that return to the tribe feeling.

I don’t have many areas of my life when I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the intersections of creativity and spirituality; in fact, this retreat might be the only place where I am in a larger group of those kinds of people.  There are a few at my local church, but at the retreat, I’m with 70+ people who are.  And we’re interested in a wide variety of creative expressions.  It’s exhilarating.

It does take me away from poetry writing, which is strange since the retreat almost always happens during National Poetry Month.  But it’s great to be distracted by a retreat, not by the drudgery of administrative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tribes and Poetry and the Focus of a Month

This week I submitted a proposal for AWP 2020, which will take place in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t had a panel picked up for the conference in a few years, so maybe I’m due. I hope it’s accepted — it gives me a chance to collaborate with a couple of my friends: one from college, J.C., who is a playwright and TV/film writer and essayist who lives now in Los Angeles. The topic is on DIY residencies and retreats — granting yourself time and space to write — and she’s been doing these kinds of things for years now; also with C.Y.M., who completed an Artist Residency in Motherhood a short while ago.

M.S. and I have been planning, and putting the final necessary pieces in place, for doing our own Artist Residency in Motherhood this summer, for a week in July. We have all of our kiddos signed up for day camps, and we’re renting a tiny apartment not far from the camps. We’re going to use an apartment booked through AirBnB as a joint workspace. The plan is to use 3-4 hours in the morning for work on writing and art-making, break briefly for lunch, and then either go back to work or go on some kind of excursion we wouldn’t normally be able to do with three kids in tow. Also, our work, our writing and art, will be focused around a joint theme — so that possibly we can exhibit or publish it somewhere together. Or maybe we won’t. We’re trying not to put too much pressure on the week — just enough to provides some focus or direction.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Returning to Blogging, More Bathroom Renovating, DIY Residency Planning, and a Cover Reveal

windless our sails of blood and bone become moons in a jar

when all else is emptied your name takes on the shape of a swan

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, seq. 30.04 2019/sekv. 30.04 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: Of making many blog posts about making books, there is (thankfully) no end. Also this week, as Na/GloPoWriMo winds down, posts about the making of many poems. Plus thoughts about productivity in general, questions about dream presses and whether there’s a distinctly American way of writing poetry, and several advanced cases of the walking blues.


What I learned from my understanding of the medieval Books of Hours and what I felt I could translate into my project were the following aspects: the text, (in my case the poems) would be an embarking point for reflection. This reflection would not be a religious one but a contemplative one, offering responses to the modern world. It would be presented in a calendar format, following the months of the year, times of day and the seasons. It would contain a linear structure  (a calendar year) but the reader/viewer could choose when and where they accessed the films. My final aim was to somehow replicate the everyday quality of the medieval Books of Hours, and to depict the ‘illustrations in the margins.’ By creating a digital project which utilizes our accessibility to screens and downloads, I could also replicate the portability of the medieval books. I wanted the colours and sounds of the films to complement the total experience just as the illustrated pages in the medieval manuscripts complement the texts in the book. The themes which link the whole collection are reflections on the passage of time; reflections on the impact of urban lifestyles on rural landscapes and the transience of memory.

Each poetry film was created ‘in conversation’ with the film-maker rather than me ‘giving’ them a poem to adapt. Sometimes we started with an idea, sometimes we started with a sound track, or static or moving images. So all the poetry films in The Book of Hours have been created in collaboration with other artists.

Lucy English, The Book of Hours

[Susan Rich]:   Who are the poets (or other writers) that you recommend? Who do you return to over and over?

[Lena Khalaf Tuffaha]: I recommend reading everything. Classics, newly-published works, what you friends are reading, what your favorite indie bookseller recommends. If a writer you admire raves about a book, check it out. And don’t just read; listen. Go to a poetry reading. Watch a video of a spoken word performance if you can’t attend one. If you know another language, even if you’re not proficient, give yourself permission to muddle through poems in that language. I’m always reading in Arabic, in French, and stumbling through original Neruda poems (in the privacy of my own reading spaces). Nourish the sources of sound and prayer in your poetry.

I’m currently obsessed with several hybrid works: Marwa Helal’s Invasive species (Nigthboat, 2019), and a book of essays, All The Fierce Tethers (Sarabande, 2019), by poet Lia Purpura. Books that have awed and thrilled and taught me in recent years include Solmaz Sharif’s Look, and Ada Limon’s The Carrying. I’ve spent this poetry month tweeting a poem a day by an Arab American poet, a love letter to my community, and in the process I’ve revisited so many treasures. Books across centuries, from Khalil Gibran to Suheir Hammad to Fady Joudah to Nathalie Handal. In my writing practice, I often return to June Jordan, to Sharon Olds. So many loves, too many to list!

Susan Rich, Five Questions and Answers with Poet On the Coast Alumna Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

I went to Jeremy Dixon’s reading from his pamphlet In Retail, a sequence of numbered, untitled poems resulting from his time working in a well-known pharmacy chain. “Most of the poems,” writes Jeremy in his introduction, “began life as hurried lines scribbled on the back of a length of till-roll in the lull between sales. As staff members were not allowed to carry any personal items while on the shop-floor, I hid these scraplets in my sock and prayed that today wasn’t the surprise-spot-search-in-the-store-cupboard day.” Now, that is what I want to read! Urgent poems that demand to be written. Poems smuggled out of a hostile environment.

The design of the book (by Cherry Potts at Arachne Press) deserves mention for its meticulous attention to the spirit and origin of the poems. The head and foot of each page carry mirror-text in a faded grey utilitarian font: very much like what one might see showing through the flimsy paper of a till-receipt. Moreover, the text at the foot of each page can be read in either direction as a found poem running through the sequence.

Ama Bolton, Bristol Artists’ Book Event 2019

I didn’t know what she was:
that brittle, reed-like,
human-like riddle.
A paper whisper.
A burn.

She made an ark
for a language the color
of loneliness.
Words rushed to her.
So did the clouds.

Romana Iorga, Alter Ego

This mind map was on the wall near the entrance to the exhibition of Eva Jiricna’s architecture, so I’m not sure if she created it, or if it’s there permanently. Either way, I identified with the creative process it details: the mess-ups and detours, the going in circles and the dead ends. It also made me question the way I work. Look at the right hand side, ‘work, work, work’. Is that really me, nose to the grindstone. Probably not, at least, not in terms of writing. Why? Well, things get in the way, my job for example, cleaning the house, walking the dog, going for a swim, going to the pub or a gig, messing about with collages and composite fictions (a phenomenally rewarding distraction).

I used to be able to cut myself off and I probably had more focus (in terms of poetry at any rate). These days, however, I embrace distractions. I won’t allow myself to feel bad about this because it’s a way of feeding my thoughts. I do realise though, that when you’re fixed on a goal, writing or otherwise, your work has more of a purpose. You know (at least vaguely) where the writing’s going, what you want to achieve. I’ve had eighteen months or so where I’ve not been sure of where I’m heading, even though I still write and get poems published fairly regularly.  This lack of direction is self-induced; after my last pamphlet was published, I was determined to experiment, and to do something different. Up to now, I’ve let that principle guide me.

Julie Mellor, Follow the map …

I had a bad week at work, or I should say a difficult week, since, truthfully, nothing bad actually happened. It just felt bad. Like I was driving a clunker, almost out of gas, miles from an off-ramp, behind an 18 wheeler going about 40 on a 55 mph highway. And more than just slowing me down, with me watching the little red gas pump light up on the dash, I couldn’t see what was up ahead.

I have, however, kept my commitment to write a poem a day all of April, and now I have 28 sonnets sitting on 28 pages, pretty as you please, waiting for the revisions to begin. Writing is the joy, the reward. Of course there were some very disappointing rejections to swallow, and, I’m afraid, more of those to come soon. I’m usually pretty tolerant of rejections, but I have to admit that when slight faith didn’t make the long list for the Suk prize, it stung. It’s been out for almost a year now, and it feels like it’s run is over without really getting out of the starting gate. Lord, I’m full of corny metaphors today.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with 28 Poems and an Herb Garden

The last time
I wrote daily poems
during April

you printed them
and paperclipped them
in a sheaf.

I was so grateful
that you saw me
even a little.

When I spotted them
on your bedside table
my cup overflowed.

Rachel Barenblat, April dailies

What prompts a poem, really? Probably differs from writer to writer to such a degree that discussing inspiration can be an intriguing discourse among fellow poets but not a method to instruct anyone “how to.” A poem, or any work of art, can be interpreted or reconstructed through analysis, but simply following someone else’s instructions is unlikely to lead to meaningful results.

Among my Best Beloveds are a few people who are excellent how-to writers. They can write about how to build a boat, debug a software program, light a face for photographic portraits, construct a Windsor chair, use a beading pattern to make a bracelet. This sort of work is surprisingly challenging to write well–think of how many times you’ve been frustrated by a poorly-written manual for one of your digital or mechanical devices. Good, clear, concise how-to writing requires intelligence, accuracy, awareness of the reader’s skill level, critical analysis, and a clarity of style the unpracticed writer lacks. And by unpracticed writer, I mean most of us!

After 25 days of writing poetry drafts, I cannot suggest to anyone how to write a poem. Perhaps someone with more experience in the process (such as Luisa Igloria) can weigh in on how to write a poem (she teaches creative writing, after all, at Old Dominion). At the end of this month, I will resort back to my usual process of intermittent drafts; though it’s possible that this month of discipline will stick–maybe I will be more productive for awhile. Mostly what I will need to do is to REVISE! Because with 30 drafts to work on, I can stay busy tweaking and reworking (and giving up, occasionally) on poems for months to come.

Ann E. Michael, How-to

But what does “self-sabotage” really mean for me in regards to my art and how do I avoid it? It means, if my life is falling down around me, I will still put poetry, writing, and art first. If I made a commitment to a group of friends that I am going to submit my work once a week–I do. If I signed up to be in a group where I said, “Yes, I promise to show up and write a poem each day”–I do.  If a magazine writes to me with the proof of my poems and says they need the contract back in 3 days and they need my poems proofed–done.

Yes, my house may look like a ransacked mess. I may be pulling my clothes from laundry baskets or more so, the actual dryer. We may be having appetizers for dinner or I’m eating canned chili I found in the pantry. I may be driving and be so tired I have to pull over and sleep in a parking lot for 30 minutes before I get home. I may have a list of things I need to do, appointments I need to make, but when it comes to my writing life, I will be the worker bee as I love the honey, the sweetness poetry can grant me even in the toughest of time.

And I know for me, my writing is my place of flow. It’s why I’ve been writing a poem-a-day since March (and only missed one day–Easter). It’s where I can disappear from the world, or better, take my over-the-top, this-is-terrible life and turn it into art–I actually wrote a poem last month called “My Husband Falls Down a Flight of Stairs and Lives, and I Cut My Hair.” Because all of this is fodder for our art. And sometimes the stress life is giving me actually makes my work better because it offers a tension in my poems–note: I am not asking for more stress and do not believe in creating drama or struggle for the sake of writing, I mean, if nothing was going on, I’d still be writing. BUT if life is going to be kooky, it’s going to end up in my poems…

Kelli Russell Agodon, Catching Up and Undoing the Art of Self-Sabotage

I am discovering that I can use my free time to actually disconnect from the time-is-money 24/7 network, and remember what writing was to me before all this noise. What reading was to me. What painting, bookbinding, ceramics, dancing, yoga were to me — all these things I did not need to signal to the world and find a way to monetize it to justify/signal my existence as a “deep and knowledgeable” person.

I am a teacher. And how many times have I caught myself designing an entrepreneurial project that would allow me to … continue to teach, but with a fancier title? And a sh*tload of uncertainties and risk.
 
I am a writer.
 
But I am done trying to sell that identity to anyone, or contemplating twisting my life around to it written on my tax returns.
 
At least for today.

It is so easy to get sucked back in.

Ren Powell, April 27, 2019

Sometimes I think I just submit poems to American magazines via Submittable, the portal which many magazines use for receiving work, just to get my reject rate up. I’ve had very few acceptances via Submittable in general, but of the six over the last 4 years, half are from American magazines, the other half are international magazines. I don’t seem to appeal to American writers, even the ones I approach via email. Of the nine acceptances I’ve had so far this year, one has been via Submittable and I think it was the only American one, the others have been from Europe.

I was brought up in America, studied literature in America and started writing my poetry there, but it seems I can’t write poetry that American publishers like. I wonder if I write in a British or Scottish style or if it is like my accent, a hybrid of the three with a dash of that foreign flavour that can’t be pinned down.

There are lots of styles of poetry in both groups, many poetic ‘schools’, but I’ve never been able to categorise the differences between British and American poetry. I could Google of course, find articles to give me ideas, but I’m not sure how up-to-date they will be and it is a more organic thing, I believe. There’s the language, of course, I can hear America in so many American poets’ poems, the casual, loose sound of the language. It’s not that British poetry is more stiff and formal, but there is a feel to American poetry that I can’t emulate or properly explain.

Gerry Stewart, Can you write American?

What does your dream press look like? Mine looks like this: pays royalties, does some PR for you, helps get your book reviewed and puts it up for awards. What qualities does your dream press have? Does the press help you place poems after they take your manuscript in high-profile journals? Get blurbs for you instead of making you beg for them? How many author copies does it give you? Does it give you input on the cover? Answer e-mails promptly? Helps you set up a book tour? Helps promote you on social media? Has great distribution in bookstores? Has careful editors? Tell me more about your dream press in the comments!

I’d love to see this in public conversation, because my perception is that most poets (and even fiction writers) are so excited to get a book published, they don’t think about what kind of press they want to work with and send to every contest and open submissions. Does the press represent poets of color, women, people with disabilities? That’s something I look at now more than I used to. […]

I’m thinking hard about this as I send out manuscripts for what will be my sixth and seventh books. I feel like at this point I need to think hard about what presses are a good fit for my work and would be great partners in the process. If this means I send out a little less than I used to, that’s okay. I’m hoping to find the perfect partner for each book.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Review of Deaf Republic up at Barrelhouse, Blooms and Studies in Pink, and Let’s Talk About What Makes a Dream Press

[John] McPhee described the process in one story of realizing that an encounter with a bear that happened, in chronological terms, about three-quarters of the way through the narrative, could serve to shape the entire piece. So, understanding that particular story as a circle, he started with the bear, and everything else led back to that moment.

It seems like a good idea to start with a bear. I find often people are committed to the chronological narrative of what they’re talking about in a poem, and can get visibly shaken when it’s suggested that they throw that chronology out the window.

I was thinking about this while reading Diane Seuss’s poem “Still Life with Turkey.” The center of the poem is her recollecting being asked, when she was a young child, if she wanted to view her father in his coffin. She said no, and the poem reflects on her role now as someone thirsty for seeing. So the poem starts with sight, not the father but a turkey in a still life: ” The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot…” The poem lingers on the turkey for a few lines, then wanders to the memory, reflects then, “…Now I can’t get enough of seeing…” and ends with the turkey: “…the glorious wings, archangelic, spread/as if it could take flight, but down,/downward into the earth.”

The journey of the poem, like the journey of a story, should start with — and take you to — the bear.

Marilyn McCabe, Coming round again; or, THIS is the post on structure I meant to post last week

I like to read poems that hurt like I hurt,
that swell in my throat like sugar, and cut
my tongue like rosehips (red, bitter, and curt),
like black tea carves new landscapes in the mouth.
Poems that don’t fake it, and don’t have to. They
can take it, being chewed up like gristle,
and sometimes you have to put them away
or swallow whole. Standoffish ones, bristle
and glare, part bear, part ice, loping across
a bridge crumbling under their weight, and fate
alone says if the bridge falls or they pass
thru.

PF Anderson, I Like to Read Poems (A Double Sonnet)

Reading it out loud to that roomful of people, I realized that one of the great strengths of this poem is that each line ends at a spot where you’d pause or
take a breath. This poem talks, like the poet is sitting next to you in a café and relating this story. And the way he tells it, it’s one remembered assertion after another, just as you’d say it to someone: “No, / I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton, / I said confetti, and no / not like the confetti / a tank can make of a building.”

Every time I read this poem, I think about how many conversations we have like this on a national scale, in our jobs, and in our personal lives. How many white people are going around saying they know how things are and how to fix them, when they don’t know the reality at all? And how often are misinformed people trying, and succeeding, to control the narrative when they don’t know what they’re talking about? Whitesplaining (as in this poem), mansplaining, a whole lot of other splaining. When really, what they should be internalizing is “Shut up and let someone else do the talking while you listen.” This poem says that, beautifully. What a gift.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 23: “There Are Birds Here” by Jamaal May

Sometimes, it’s hard to determine where I do my best work.  There’s home, where much of the creative plotting and dreaming happens in places like the shower and the bed.  There’s my daily bus ride, where I come up with a lot of ideas for all sorts of projects (and also where I get the bulk of my daily reading done–obviously related).  Weirdly, I sometimes have amazing ideas walking down Michigan or waiting for my coffee on my way to the studio.  I do however, have several intentional workspaces where any number of different things happen and I’ve been musing over the right conditions under which things bloom and are constructed.

Kristy Bowen, places and spaces

We are walking, with every step
Our shoes caress the broken sidewalk.
An old song comes to mind
And when we are sure we are alone
We begin to sing aloud.

James Lee Jobe, ‘A hot day in the valley. The sun’

Ladybugs had chosen the same beach to rest
We tiptoed on the stones trying not to step on them
They and we, all helpless in the strong north wind
They couldn’t fly away and we couldn’t stop walking
Pretending that the sun was enough was difficult
Just like in the lives one leaves behind
So sunny and colourful death can be

Magda Kapa, Ladybugs at the Baltic Sea

I felt raw-boned & rusted
Dragging my hands in pockets full of scared

Pockets full of scared &
Walking a road rutted with wanting to get out

I was wanting to get out
That red dirt prison, that green-treed mess

Charlotte Hamrick, Raw Boned

So last night I had a dream that  I was visited by another poet. We drank wine, overindulged in pastries. Chatted with my wife. Listened to music and I must have taken my blood sugar three or four times in the dream. Talking shop might have been fun but we didn’t do that.  I don’t often have poets invited into my dreams for some reason but when it happens it is usually a delight. I confess usually there is something a bit eccentric that happens.

It seems that living in the now becomes harder with all the stuff in the world going on. It’s not at all easy to do and not think about worldly problems.  I hope to immerse myself more into reading and writing in the week ahead. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Good Week for Writing & Stakes

Napoleon’s site of self-coronation
burns, but the work of daily life must
continue. I revise the accreditation
documents again. Others complete
their taxes, clean, make sure to feed
the children, the pets, all the helpless
creatures. Parisians gather to sing
the hymns we had forgotten
that we needed.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Lessons from the Cathedral”

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 11

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: aging, mortality, ambition, procrastination, and books; preparing for the AWP; preparing for spring.


I don’t remember the first time I read W. S. Merwin’s work. I feel as if his words and spirit have always been with me. I do remember the first time I met him in person. Another student poet I knew, Andie, from Pamela Alexander’s weekly poetry class (held in Pam’s living room outside Central Square) had heard that Merwin would be at Harvard for a reading and reception. This very quiet poet and total rule follower asked me if I would attend the reading with her — and then crash the reception.

My friend and I (young, awkward, and brave) sidled up to the very small group where Merwin was chatting and joined in. Was it a Harvard Review event? The fancy pants people (dresses and heels and perfect make-up) stared at us. We did not fit in. My friend addressed Merwin telling him in a flash flood of words how important his poems had been to her, how they allowed her to believe she had permission to write her own. Andie went on for awhile. I had never heard her talk so much.  And when she was finished, perhaps believing that we were both about to be ejected from the premises, she stepped back. And then I remember — as if it was not 34 years ago though it was — Merwin smiled broadly and said, “Thank you. That makes me feel useful.”

And there was no doubt that he meant this. Andie’s effusiveness, her awkward praise, visibly filled him with a humble gratitude. There were so many ways the conversation could have gone but this gentle thanks from Merwin altered the universe of poetry for me. This poetry god had just ambled down the mountain and spoke to us as if we were his trusted friends. He was the only one in that stuffy room who welcomed us in and made us feel as if we had a right to inhabit the poetry world. Or at least try.

Susan Rich, Remembering W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

At 76, I’ve lived longer than anyone on the male side of my Dad’s family (and all his sisters, too). Sometimes I’ll do the maths, and think something like, “well, with a following wind I could probably have five or six or seven years left. Four would be good. Every day’s a bonus. You’re a lucky man.” It’s not for a moment depressing, but it’s made me notice that I’m reading poems I might not have taken much notice of before. Life enhancing poems that didn’t seem that relevant or interesting at one time. Your stories will be similar, I imagine. When I was in my 30s and my Dad was dying I found myself reading and re-reading Tony Harrison’s sequence of sonnets from The school of eloquence… Book ends(especially), Continuous, Marked with D.They gave me a vocabulary, a language to shape my grief. In the break-up of my first marriage, and in finding a new love, it was A kumquat for John Keats, that midlife thankyou for coming through, for love, for survival. I remember him reading it when it had just come out, the relish with which he read the lines

I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42

I loved the way it came after:

Then it’s the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.

I saw him reading last summer, still going strong at 80. And I wondered how those lines sound to him now. I think he might give them a wry smile. It’s the same kind of wry smile I reserve for young men’s poems about their imagined end. Rupert Brooke, for instance

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England……….
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less

I don’t imagine for a moment that he had any intention of ending up like that; he just thought he did. Since he never got to the Front he never got to rethink it, unlike Sassoon, or Rosenberg, or Owen and the rest. But I’m pretty sure it spoke to me differently when I was 16, when I believed sincerely (because of the H Bomb) that I’d not see 21. We read who and where we are. We change and the poems change with us.

John Foggin, Staying Alive: me and Mr MacCaig

In 62 years this body has become worn;
Lumps and bumps and bald spots. Aches.
Places that hurt and I’m not sure why.
Other things have changed with age, too;
I spend more time thinking about the sun and moon,
The trees and watersheds.
Much less thought goes to the curve of a shapely thigh.

James Lee Jobe, ‘In 62 years this body has become worn’

I have been reading Hayden Carruth’s poems, admiring the breadth of his experiments in styles from sonnets to jazzy free verse to prose poems and extremely short poems–even haiku. One thing becomes clear after awhile: his appreciation of song, of the poem as song, of the need to create song as an expression of life and against the things one wishes to resist, even when (especially when) it is impossible to resist.

His poem “Mother” says all of the things I wanted to write about my mother-in-law’s death, and more. It is achingly honest and achingly sad and deeply loving.

After reading it, I thought to myself, “You do not need to write those poems; Carruth has achieved what you are trying to accomplish.” But we compose poems under individual circumstances and for personal reasons, and I suspect that reading “Mother” will help me to revise my own poems in probing ways.

This is why we read other poets’ work. One reason why, anyway.

Ann E. Michael, Come let us sing

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

This morning I was feeling like a dried out husk, with no ideas for writing, a poet who would never write a poem again.  I thought about approaches that often work:  taking a real or fictional character and writing a poem from a different angle or taking a minor character and giving the character a voice.  Nothing.

I scrolled through my blog posts that get an “inspiration” tag so that I can find them when I need inspiration.  I went back several years and again, nothing.

Then a line drifted across my brain:  I keep this garlic press although it only has one purpose.  I thought of my juicer, which also only has one purpose but takes up more room in the cabinet.  I was off–and I finally wrote a poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Poem Composing and Travel Fretting

I happened upon this great piece from Susan Minot this weekend and it got me thinking about not so much how we write, but how the world, in fact, opens itself up to us in possibility every day.  I’ll be sitting on a bus, or pushing a cart of books through the library, and there it is, that shimmering idea.  Or in that weird morning space between waking up enough to look at my phone to check the time and the alarm actually going off.  Admittedly, so much is lost because I didn’t write it down.  Didn’t force myself to commit it to memory for later when I had time to consider it as creative impulse.  This week, one night, I was up in the stacks and heard strange inexplicable noises a few rows away and got to thinking about the plot of a horror movie or novel where a woman is haunted by the ghost of herself from the future. She would then have to solve her own death like a puzzle.   Or a title for a poem, or a concept for a book will come to me. Friday, I was tweaking the dgp website and for a second “&nsbp” or “non breaking space” seemed like a great title for a book of poems written in html code style.

Kristy Bowen, sometimes the world writes itself

In a desert zoo, a jaguar slashes a stupid tourist who felt entitled: all I can think of is her cage, her pacing, her desperate desire to kill something. I nightwalk on ice, in dark, on thickly beaten-down snow. It’s exhausting, how fast it slips out of our hands, claws, teeth. How hungry we are. To be ourselves. All things are happening at once, they say, as though this is news.  All the endings. All the beginnings. Vitality and decay, simultaneous.

JJS, March 10, 2019: jaguar stars

If we’re to be nothing after death
let it be nothing like nothing on,
like a dress you take off
on a very hot night
to feel the slightest breeze,
a dim light that gives you goosebumps.

Magda Kapa, Like Nothing On

I took the train from Paris to Chartres.  It was a Friday in Lent, and on those Fridays, they take the chairs off the Labyrinth, which is designed right into the cathedral floor.

Not too many other people there.  I walked it.

Later, I wrote this poem:

Thin Place

I walk the labyrinth at Chartres.
The subtle knife can cut the veil.
I hear the whisper on the other side.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.

The subtle knife can cut the veil
where walls are thin as plastic wrap.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.
Heaven and earth just feet apart

where walls are thin as plastic wrap. […]

Anne Higgins, On this day last year

The picture of my cats contemplating the excellent Joanna Russ’s How To Suppress Women’s Writing is here to inspire some pre-AWP reading – of course you’ll come home with a bunch of new reading material, but I’m trying to warm up – trying to place a review of a new book, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, (excellent!)  and I’ve been trying to mix up my feminist reading material – sometimes being outside of academia I feel I miss out of some books that are familiar talking material in the academic world, and this book is one of them. (It was mentioned heavily in Sophie Collins’ Who is Mary Sue?) It’s a fascinating, fairly easy read, sharp and funny in places. Joanna is a science fiction writer as well as a critic, so I’m going to look for more of her work.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP, Part I: Schedule, Packing Tips, And How Not to Panic

Speaking of the bookfair– The bookfair has become SO LARGE, you actually need to spend A LOT of time there… AND it’s worth it.

Here’s why–while sitting in on a panel, may feel like “wow, I am learning important things,” walking around a bookfair actually connects you with people and publishers and poets and presses. You will make connections, you will learn about the presses you want to publish you, and you will meet the editors behind the scenes.

This is SO important as a poet or writer. You will have the opportunity to hold the books they publish, look at the covers, read the words and decide if this is a press you’d want to have publish your work. 

So take the time. Buy books. Support presses and poets. Look at the books and educate yourself in what kind work presses publish. Ask questions. Present your best self. Be professional. Learn about all the presses and what they do.

Kelli Russell Agodon, AWP 2019: Tips from an Introvert #AWP2019 #AWPTips

Looking awkward is one of my natural gifts. I probably look awkward in photos because I am awkward in real life. Like the time I was attacked by vegetation. Or the time I threw myself into a cute boy’s locker while trying to play hard-to-get.

But now, to my horror, I’m told I need an author photo to promote my new book. Although I successfully eluded requests to put my picture on the back cover, I’m told I need such a photo for publicity materials. Whaaa? This is my third book (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) and I’ve never had to assemble anything resembling publicity. But book reviewers, apparently, want to check the flesh-covered skull I smile from before they consider cracking open a copy.

In an effort to put this off longer, I have procrastinated by looking up what sort of photos truly laudable writers have gotten away with over the years. [Click through to view examples.]

Laura Grace Weldon, Author Photo Angst

I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately, not just found poems but collages to compliment them, even a found poem in a box (see below). I loosely term all this stuff ‘composite fictions’ and last week I started to realise I’d got quite a number of these pieces. So, I’ve created a gallery page on this blog where you can view them under that heading.

Sometimes, the cutting and sticking has felt like it’s taking over from the poetry all together, but I’ve kept at it, in the belief that that you learn through doing, and completing, things. That’s not to say I’m happy with every finished piece, but completing is a stage in the process. Unfinished work makes me feel uncomfortable. What would it have been if I’d got round to finishing it? Good or bad, I’ll never know – unless I complete it. And it’s reassuring to be able to put one project aside in order to concentrate on something else, then go back to the first one later.

Julie Mellor, Side projects and procrastination

Not really a blog post but an ageing woman cycling on a static bicycle half crying, half laughing listening to an old George Michael song and thinking that she used to imagine George was singing to her about

oh there was so much unrequited love in those days! and she never imagined anyone wasn’t straight, she was very young

now Paul McCartney is duetting with George, she didn’t know about this version, the wonder of spotify, looking sideways through the windows she could almost be cycling down a country lane

it would be a good idea

Josephine Corcoran, Not really a blog post

What’s it all about? The tendency of “life” to want to live in the now and onward. The meaning of life? Well, I don’t think there is intrinsic meaning to this random fallout. You want meaning? Make it yourself. We just flail around, a bunch of bacteria and dividing cells, and then it’s over. Well, except for the bacteria.

Which brings a certain amount of perspective on the idea of success, something else about which I’ve been thinking.

I’ve tried a number of pursuits in my life. Had a number of ambitions, both realistic and outlandish. Numerous fancies. Many dreams. One by one, all these things fall away. Pursuit falters; ambition lapses or faces the grim reality of oh-just-forget-it; dreams, well, dreams are forgotten, tossed aside with regret, relief, bitterness, or remain clutched in the hand like a magician’s coin, invisible but caught in the fingers.

I thought I’d be this thing, do that thing, or be that kind of person. With each passing life phase I’ve tried to get clearer who I am, what I’m here for, and how I define success. It’s an ongoing project.

Marilyn McCabe, Pass Go; collect $200; or, On Success…or Successishness

I am always smoldering
like a stubborn campfire
or a pair of new lovers
two months into their affair
I am not a flickering candle
fearful of the wind
or even a strong set of lungs
I cannot be snuffed out
blown out

Bekah Steimel, Lit

Look, Mom, he’s taking up

needle and thread to be like me, and I’m
taking them up to be like you, to finish
the canvas you started. Isn’t that what

we all do, in the end: add clumsy stitches
to the unfinished tapestry of generations?
He’s trying to make something beautiful

from hard work and yarn. I told him
I’m proud of him. I told him
wherever you are, you’re proud of him too.

Rachel Barenblat, First letter

This morning I dawdled more than usual and was a half-an-hour late to hit the trail. But it is spring now, and the sun is catching up with us. For now, a half-an-hour is the difference between running in the dark, and running in predawn’s pink and blue watercolors. Next month the sun will beat me to the trailhead every morning.

The lake is still edged with ice and roughly textured in the soft light.
The ducks’ calls can sound like mocking laughter, but I no longer mind.
They are a promise (and a reminder) for the day to come.
Let it come, and go – and keep it easy.

For now, there are sunrises.
There will be sunsets in the autumn
when it comes.

Ren Powell, March 11, 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

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

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

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

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

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

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

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

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

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

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

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

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

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

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

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

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

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

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

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

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

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

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

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

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

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

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

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

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

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

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

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

I wandered lonely as a cloud

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Observations

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

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

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

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

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

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

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

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

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can listen to the episode here.

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

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

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

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

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

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

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

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

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

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

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

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

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

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

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

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

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

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

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

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

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

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

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

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

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

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

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

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

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

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

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