Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 18

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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

A shorter digest than usual this week, reflecting I suppose a general exhaustion among poetry bloggers after NaPoWriMo and the winding down of the academic year. Those who did blog were in a reflective mood, writing about self-acceptance for poets, points of connection, finding balance, considering the reader, and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 13

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week—the last before NaPoWriMo madness descends—had poets blogging about surreal fragments in walnut ink, pantsers vs. plotters, ectoplasmic connection, combinatory play, an ancient math teacher, a cracked cathedral, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: panic needles, jellyfish tentacles, the poem as a begging bowl, mixed mental arts, and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: active hope, the anti-ship of Theseus, knocking the brain off its pedestal, smutty Persephone poems, slow stitching, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

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

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.


All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox

All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger

All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blankets

Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE

Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?

Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.

Tim Love, Some books

I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –

the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is

grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,

Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves

Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!

At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.

In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.

Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!

To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.

Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.

Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude

For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”

Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”

rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen

Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.

Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.

Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:

Purr and Yowl

Kristen McHenry, Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!

if you haven’t been laying on a roof
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
being misunderstood.

Robin Gow, 11/25

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,

close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,

don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.

Sue Ibrahim, Some days

One is a beekeeper.
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
Cold mornings.
Rainy mornings.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.

Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner

2

In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.

3

A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toy
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.

Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)

The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.

But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?

But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.

It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.

Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty

Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.

James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’

‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.

In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland

I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?

We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.

And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.

Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:

The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.

This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising

The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.

As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:

The Key of S

Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.

This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:

Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023

I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.

We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”

And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:

You write often of    Trees   Dogs   Birds
she says       and I feel disappointed      because I wish

her to tell me       You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.

(“Dear Friend”)

In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.

What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.

Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL

Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.

Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.

Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review

Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,

“slip themselves into various
shoppers’ pockets.

I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”

Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review

It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.

Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.

Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built

Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?

Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued. 

RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?

RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.

Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr

What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud

I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.

Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.

Ann E. Michael, Practice

The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles.  Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city.  It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.

In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings.  But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab.  I took this picture because I felt like I should.

Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles

I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.

In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)

Grounded hope. Yes, please!

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year.  In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service.  We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.  

Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional.  No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving

And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.

I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.

But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.

A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.

As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.

Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners

I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:

The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.

Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.

And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first. 

When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.

This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4

Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.

Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.

Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.  

My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).  

When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.  

I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination. 

As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness. 

It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work. 

Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace 

This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.

I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up.  I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations

Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:

sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.

The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.

I wish I could have that back. My parents,
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Blue

You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find

again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know

where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether

someone remembered to save the seeds
from the fruit of once abundant trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?

the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.

Marilyn McCabe, Geese

and then i found you
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 45

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we embrace the miscellany: the poetics of wrongness, chaos and magic, love and rage, untethering, unknowing. Enjoy.


This one is 17×57. It’s tentatively called “A Mother Who Loves Books,” because I was thinking of my mother when I made it, and the text is a poem from Let it Be a Dark Roux, “My Mother’s Perfume.” It’s linen, and I am loving how unfinished linen looks like on the edges. I’ve been working on a few more, unfinished, pieces using torn linen, and I can’t imagine tiring of the tearing for awhile. There’s something powerfully, almost…archaic about linen that’s unraveling a bit at the edges.

Sheryl St. Germain, Color Dreams

Last week, I attended the launch of Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press) and Mat Riches’s Collecting the Data. The latter, available here from Red Squirrel Press, is Mat’s long-awaited and excellent debut pamphlet. The launch itself was a joyous and merrily raucous occasion, with readings not only from the two launchers, but also some mighty fine guest readers – Eleanor Livingstone, Hilary Menos and Maria Taylor.

There was a lot of love and affection in the room for Mat and his warm, witty  and well-crafted poems.

Matthew Paul, On Mat Riches’s ‘Half Term at Longleat Safari Park’

And it’s only now that I’ve managed to really sit and think about the fact that I have an actual book out there in the world. I’m not 100% convinced I will ever truly come to terms with it. There’s certainly a feeling of well, what now…? The poems are out there, people actually own them in a book. I’m not there to read them to them with an intro. That’s quite a strange feeling to come to terms with, but I’m getting there. What do I write next? When? How? For who? All good questions, but not for today. And not a question for this book.

I’ve found myself sitting and staring at it whenever I’ve had a spare moment. It’s a beautifully produced thing, just looking at it as an object it astonishing.

Mat Riches, Dating the collective

Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”

“How come?”

I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.

There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.

“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.

Rita Ott Ramstad, It’s been a lot

this room this bright quilt
winter waits on the other side
of these dark windows
elsewhere cities
in dust and rubble
everywhere cities

on fire all this has nothing
to do with me the naked child running
through fire has nothing to do with me
these buildings become dust
have nothing to do with me
I sit on this bright quilt

blue and white and red
patterns of flowers and thread
I drink from my modern porcelain
blue and white cup a pale
version of Italian cappuccino
what is true? who is to blame?

Sharon Brogan, there is no good news

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

A poem usually starts for me with a bit of language that I overhear or receive subconsciously. Many poems start with my wife, the poet Kodi Saylor, saying something incredible. I’ll often respond, “That sounds like a line of a poem,” and she’s usually like, “Well, go and write it then.” Usually that little snippet of language has some rhythmic quality that suggests a next line. That’s usually enough to get started. I let the rhythm and associations of sound and image suggest themselves and just go with it. The poem emerges. I try not to overthink it, but of course I do sometimes. Currently, I’m much more of a writer of short pieces that accumulate into a larger project. The stakes are lower for me that way which is important for me to combat the voice of the perfectionist that lives inside me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matt Broaddus

My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA.

“Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road.”

All sale proceeds go to Singapore Unbound, the NYC-based literary organization that envisions and works for a creative and fulfilling life for everyone. You can find the book on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

Jee Leong Koh, Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

[The Poetics of Wrongness], published earlier this year, is made up of four sections of newly edited texts originally delivered as lectures as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series (2016). Publisher Wave Books calls it [Rachel] Zucker’s “first book of critical non-fiction” and refers to its sections as “lecture-essays of protest and reckoning.” It says the poetics of wrongness itself — the list of anti-tenets Zucker offers as a new poetics — offers a “way of reading, writing and living that might create openness, connection, humility and engagement.” […]

This book strips off the itchy robe of what’s presumed to make poems successful (“Oh, teacher, I say you are wrong,” p. 8) and streaks through the halls of academia and publishing. It jumps over gates. It walks on the grass. It picks locks. This book encourages a build-our-own poetics. This book is a middle finger to the tools of the patriarchy embedded in so many of the “rules.” It disturbs the universe that makes oppressors comfortable and offers renewed, modern senses for beauty and time.

Carolee Bennett, my love letter to “the poetics of wrongness”

tonight i will show you
one thing. here is the bowl of whipped cream.
here is the spoon i use. here is
the way my stomach feels full of clouds
when i am done. here is how
i try to lick the last tastes of sweetness
from the bottom of the bowl.

Robin Gow, 11/11

One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don’t suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange worlds. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, etc. how does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen? I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, but what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. So we will see how I fare.

Maybe it’s chaos. And maybe it’s okay that it’s chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won’t. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won’t. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It’s terrifying and sad. But it’s also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.

Kristy Bowen, chaos and magic

In 2000, friends of mine saw [Stanley] Kunitz read at the Dodge Festival. They both witnessed him helped to the stage and from their seats, they could see nothing but the crown on his balding head. But then something incredible happened. As Kunitz began to read, he became taller, his face appearing above the podium. It was as if poetry (they said) had restored his youth. Reading his poetry to a receptive audience brought him more fully to life. I have never forgotten that…

Here is a stellar interview I discovered today between Gregory Orr and Stanley Kunitz taped when Kunitz was 88 years old. He reads “Father and Son,” a poem written when Kunitz was a young man, giving a hard and uncompromising vision of his dad. Orr offers that Kunitz is the first poet to write of his father in this way. Kunitz shakes that accolade off but he has lots of important things to say about poetry. He also reads, “The Portrait,” a kind of self-portrait, perhaps one of the first pieces that has led to our preponderance of self-portrait poems today.

GO: What purpose does poetry serve?

SK: Poetry is most deeply concerned with telling us what it feels like be alive. To be alive at any given moment….Before the poets we had no idea what it meant to be a human person on this earth.

Wow. Kunitz lived to be 100. He won the Pulitzer prize when he was 63, became Poet Laureate at 95. He is an incredible example of poetry being a life long pursuit. When it was an incredibly unpopular thing to do, Kunitz consciously chose to elevate domestic experience in poetry. This was before Roethke, before Lowell, before Plath.

Susan Rich, Stanley Kunitz on my fridge, in the garden, and the joy of surviving.

Are your dreams shuffling
like cards (a random draw
flashing in the dim light),

stretching like strange cats,
or climbing upwards,
clutching to rockweed,

stiff salt stalks of kelp
guiding seaworthy
travelers from weight

of the waters to
the weightlessness
of approaching stars?

PF Anderson, Dear You

Writing is noticing, but it can also be the song of oneself. It can speak of who you are. And it gives you the opportunity of declaring it in your own voice and in your own words.  As UK writer John Berger writes, “Nobody knows exactly why birds sing as much as they do. What is certain is that they don’t sing to deceive themselves or others. They sing to announce themselves as they are.”

We can speak of the experience of others. We can speak of the experience of ourselves. In writing, you take agency. It is your story, your words and you are saying them when you want to. And writing imagines community. Perhaps you imagine sharing your words with another. Of creating a connection. Of being in this—all of this—together.

There’s an iconic poem called “Motto,” by Bertolt Brecht that you perhaps have heard:

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

What does singing about the dark times mean? If we sing a happy song in a dark time, we know we are singing in the context of that dark time. Maybe it is a defiant, subversive act, a refusal to despair or be cowed by the darkness. If we sing darkly about the dark times, we name what is happening. We name what we are experiencing. We remember our humanity, our shared humanity. Our story may be dark, but we are the ones telling it. To tell the story is to have agency. […]

As a small child in Ireland, I remember hunting around my dad’s office and finding a little box that perfectly held a hundred blank index cards. The box seemed so magical and full of possibility I knew I had to write some magic spells, some mysterious incantations. I snuck the box into my room and immediately began writing on the cards. I didn’t know any spells but I wanted to capture the feeling of magic so I just made up a script. No one could read it, not even me. But that wasn’t the point. I filled all the index cards with this cursive hoodoo. My goal was to create a feeling, to use the form of spells and the loops and swirls, scratches and knurls of my invented script. I was whispering to life itself. We were connecting. My writing put me at the centre of speaking. In the middle of secrets. 

Gary Barwin, THE SONG OF OURSELVES IN THE SHADOW OF NOW, a speech about the importance of writing in dark times

This poem had its genesis in my move from London to the village of Rottingdean on the south coast of England, where you can stand on the South Downs and listen to the sea at the same time. Words and images often float up when I’m walking here, and I type them into my mobile app before they disappear. Then, when there are enough of them and they’ve had time to ripen, I sit at my computer and see what happens.

Winter shadows are accentuated in open spaces. When there are contours too, you get shadow magic, where you see your shape, or that of others, distorted, elongated, living a separate existence. Much of A Pocketful of Chalk is about seeing the ordinary from a different perspective, finding new aspects of yourself in the full glare of nature. We create mechanical things such as a windmill to harvest nature, and perhaps, because of this, become giants in our own minds. By the end of the poem, however, I’m insubstantial, ‘I float in the beaks of birds’.

Drop-in by Claire Booker (Nigel Kent)

At the terminal’s

edge, sunset outlines a row of cranes so they look
like a fleet of otherworldly sentinels, snouts

scouting the air. And I can hardly bear to watch the news:
for instance, today, a father wept as he dug, in vain,

for his children’s bodies. Around the bombed ruins of homes
can we say it is by luck or grace the living grieve? Even

the youngest ones can’t stop trembling: this word, from
the Latin tremulus—pertaining to the trauma of a wound.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremble

My first purchase from Trickhouse Press was the inaugural Oulipo Puzzle Book (Spring 2022), one of a series of four delightful anthologies of poem puzzles that are informed by various constraints. In your introduction to Issue 4, you write:

‘My secret belief about Oulipo, in poetry and otherwise, is that the joy of Oulipo lies in the crafting of an Oulipo work moreso than in the reading of one…. What I’ve attempted to begin with this series of puzzle books is to put the pen in the reader’s hand, quite literally, and create spaces for readers to engage in Oulipoean thinking themselves. An Oulipo puzzle isn’t just a puzzle or a word game – it can also be a writing prompt, a springboard, a summertime, an autumn leaf, or a winter wondering land.’

Can you expand on this, with particular reference to your own relationship to poetry – as a reader, student, editor, and writer?

Dan [Power]: When I was a kid I was obsessed with wordsearches and mazes – actually I still am – and I liked making them and drawing them even more than trying to solve them. It’s very satisfying when you’re putting together a wordsearch or a crossword and you find the perfect word that intersects with the other words you’ve put down, and fills the space you’ve got left. Similarly with Oulipo, I like the challenge of writing under a constraint. I’m not great at it, and I think the things I’ve written that I’m most proud of came about from writing with absolutely no constraints, but it’s much more satisfying to complete an Oulipo poem because it has a kind of finality to it – there’s set rules, and a task to be completed within those rules, and eventually you get to a point where you can say for sure that it’s finished. There’s no finality with an unconstrained poem, you can keep editing and changing it forever. I thought of Oulipo writing as a kind of problem-solving, and a puzzle book working with Oulipian constraints seemed like a logical thing to make.

The idea for the Oulipo puzzle books came a few years ago when I was trying to get my head around how cryptic crosswords work, and I realised they had their own pretty consistent sets of constraints, and I wanted to see what other kinds of puzzles were possible by placing different sets of constraints on different kinds of puzzles. I also liked the idea of Oulipo as a method or a process, and was always more interested in the process of creating an Oulipo work than the finished work itself, trying out different combinations of words, exploring all possible avenues, tracing all possible connections… placing constraints on a piece of writing really makes you consider all the different detours it can take! As I said in the quote you mentioned, the puzzle books are about trying to give the reader that experience. The unfinished puzzles aren’t the poems, and the solutions aren’t either, they’re more like prompts – the poetry is going on in the reader’s head, it’s the thinking and the problem-solving itself.

Marian Christie, Anything could happen – An Interview with Dan Power of Trickhouse Press

The launch event for the Hastings Stanza Anthology last month was standing room only, and we were thrilled to raise several hundred pounds for the brilliant Refugee Buddy Project. Copies are still available (ask me) and since we’ve covered our costs all sales income now goes to the Project. The cover features a painting by the multi-talented Judith Shaw and there’s lots of lovely work in this book as you can see from the below.

I went to the London launch of Clare Best‘s new collection Beyond the Gate last month and it was a super evening. Unfortunately, having to leave to catch a train while Clare was still surrounded by a crowd of acolytes, I was delighted when my signed copy arrived in the post. It’s an excellent collection. I do love Clare’s work.

Also on my ‘to be read’ pile: Isabel Galleymore Significant Other (Carcanet) and Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe), both poets I’m going to be interviewing soon for the podcast. Jane’s book was shortlisted for the Forward Prize this year and is on the TS Eliot shortlist. And I’m pretty sure Isabel’s collection was on the shortlists a couple of years ago.

Good news on the submissions front – Pindrop Press has offered to publish my collection next year and I’ve signed the contract, so I guess it’s official.  I’ve been so impressed with editor Sharon Black’s communication and enthusiasm. I feel very fortunate indeed, and in safe hands.

Robin Houghton, Currently reading, plus an anthology & a contract

I find it impossible not to feel guilty that I’m living a life without hardship and pain when others are not. But guilt is a pretty useless emotion, isn’t it, and rather self-indulgent. I have allowed myself to switch off the news and to think of other things once I’ve written and donated and done the small empathetic actions available to me.

On Saturday, I met with others from Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, and I ran a workshop centred on the Penned in the Margins anthology Adventures in Form. There were ten of us, reading about, trying out exercises, writing and sharing fragments of writing that might become poems. The session was quite tiring but fun and stimulating, according to feedback!

Josephine Corcoran, Guilt and Empathy

We stand on the street corner
for those whose streets run red
with blood and fire.

We stand on the street corner,
praying to awaken
from our collective nightmare,

to discover it was all a dream,
that we are safe in the arms of loved ones,
that all we hear are birds

and the laughter of children.

Jason Crane, POEM: Vigil

It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Peace, Peace! They Say but There Is No Peace

gale force
how the shadows gesticulate
on the morning wall

Jim Young [no title]

“Where” was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who died in October 2000 after suffering from both cancer and Alzheimer’s. The poem began with a realization that what I wonder about more than where she is now, after her death, is where was she then, at the end of her life. Watching a loved one deteriorate is heartbreaking, and witnessing my vibrant grandmother lose access to her own memories—to her own life and sense of self—rocked me to my core. It was a formative experience for me as a human being and as a writer. I don’t think it’s an accident that so much of my work is concerned with memory.

I found myself, early on, testing the elasticity of the opening sentence. How much could it hold? How long could I extend it? The unwieldy nature of that first sentence reflects the difficulty I was having grappling with the subject matter. How best to articulate something that resists articulation? Then again, this is the work of poems, and—I think—work that poems are uniquely suited for. I think the commas create tension; those pauses that slow the reader down while at the same time building momentum because many of the sentences go on and on, and they’re loaded with repetition.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Where”

I’ve read many memoirs and non-fiction books about cognitive decline and living with a beloved person who has a neurodegenerative condition; from Oliver Sacks to the recent biography of Terry Pratchett and many of the books we’ve read in my “morbid book group,” information in these texts connects with the personal emotions involved in deeply complicated human ways. There are also quite a few poetry collections themed around this type of loss, and I ought to compile a list one of these days, because poetry has been helpful to me as my family and I contend with elders dealing with forms of dementia (and there are many forms). That fact has led me to wonder whether readers even need another poetry collection centered around cognitive loss. Since so many of my poems during the past four or five years intersect with or explore that topic, I have considered making a manuscript of them. I hesitate. Too much sadness?

Yet while the circumstances that evoke such poems are usually sad, the disease progression differs, as do the personalities of the persons with cognition loss and the personalities of their loved ones. Perspectives on the persons and the diseases also vary a great deal. Similarities exist–enough to make a reader feel recognized–but situations and value systems mean there are as many ways to write about dementia as there are to write about anything else. […]

These days, my mother sometimes seems unmoored from the present moment, but not absorbed in memory either–just kind of lost in the ozone. Self, language, memory…sometimes they slip away from her physical body. In this process, though, she has things to teach me. Just as my hospice patients do, and as their families do, by helping me to widen my understanding of human beings and how we get by in the world. Or how we flounder differently from one another. Or how we rescue one another.

I take this gradual loss into myself–that’s what most of us do–and it’s hard, it’s painful to keep myself open to learning and love when what I first notice is untethering and loss. But yesterday when visiting my mother I noticed she has a cobbled-together notebook in which she sometimes writes (in tiny, indecipherable script). Some pages she had divided into three columns, some have scraps of letters or newspaper clippings stapled to them. Are her pages a record, or a practice? She cannot tell me. Yet it was kind of amazing to realize she does this with apparent intent. She has her reasons, if not her reason in the classic sense.

Ann E. Michael, Untethering

I came across the most astonishing gentleman on YouTube this week named Troy Hawke. His entire shtick is dressing up in a ridiculously ornate suit, complete with an ascot, and walking around in public complimenting people. It’s really quite magical. I believe he is bestowed with a Godly gift. His compliments aren’t random or insincere, they are extremely incisive and show that he really sees the people that he compliments. In complimenting people, he shares a moment of joy and recognition with them. For example, he stops by a bench where two friends are chatting and says, “You look very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a lovely way to be with another human.” They light up with with delight at their friendship being seen and appreciated by another human being. I find his videos light and humorous, but also truly uplifting. And who doesn’t need some of that in the midst of what the world has become?

Kristen McHenry, DP Progress Pics, I Baked Bread, Compliment Man

I had a brain-wave a couple of months ago when I was out walking. Using my copy of Mammals of Prince Edward Island (And Adjacent Marine Waters),  my plan is to respond to entries in the book with a poem and a sketch. It’s a winter project for my personal enjoyment but I’ll share what I make on this blog. Please excuse my rough drawings – maybe just maybe, I’ll get better as I do more of them. Here’s my first poem and sketch.

E.E. Nobbs, The Flying Squirrel

It’s World Basking Shark Day. Airplane Mode Off.
Text Predictions On. Personal Data Up To Date.
I read your diary from before you knew me.
Bombs fall on refugee camps, hospitals, schools.
Ten thousand dead in a month. Save Draft.

Bob Mee, ON WORLD BASKING SHARK DAY, I READ THE BEEKEEPER’S BIBLE

I’ve been trying to prepare a 15-minute talk for my winery bookclub this Wednesday. We’ll be discussing the late Louise Gluck’s terrific book, Meadowlands.

I’ve taught classes to veterans and disadvantaged high school kids and college students, but I thought since I usually teach creative writing, I would instead talk more about how to write a poem than how to read one!

I know what I don’t want to say—poetry isn’t supposed to be an escape room, it’s supposed to be something enjoyed or appreciated the way a piece of visual art or music. Poetry isn’t autobiography—it can be memoirish, but it can also be fictionish.  But there are some tools poets use that non-poets might want to understand or know about, so I thought I’d talk about those—tone, diction, punctuation, sonics, images, metaphors, etc.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, How to Read a Poem, In Between Holidays, and Galloping Toward 2024

Yesterday I tried to take some old wooden rabbit run panels to the tip. It turns out that the tip is closed on Wednesdays, which I knew but thought, inexplicably, that it was already Thursday. I’ve not been well this week, which might explain my confusion. I’ve had a stupid a virus; which has been bad enough to make me uncomfortable and a bit brain-foggy with a cough and a heavy, liquid feeling in my lungs, but not bad enough for me to cancel work. I hate feeling vulnerable. And illness makes me feel exposed, and miserable and like my body is not my own. I have, however, enjoyed my work this week which has mostly been running early morning writing groups. There is something particularly special about the dark morning turning to light as you sit quietly, writing with others. It’s one of my favourite parts of being a facilitator, and of being a writer. I’ve fallen into a pattern of working from 6.30am until about 9am and then going walking with, and sometimes without, the dog. We don’t go so far anymore on account of the dog being quite elderly. But last week I walked up to the river which runs along the edge of our village. The river Hertford is a strange river, it rises just outside another nearby village, Muston, and despite being just a mile from the sea, it flows inland, down the wide, glacier carved valley where I live, where I have always lived. On the day I walked up to it I’d seen a fellow dog walker in the lane. I stroked the long muzzle of his lovely greyhound and we passed the time of day, talking about the ash and the beech leaves and how autumn had arrived so suddenly, how it seemed to do this every year, and that each year we were surprised. His dog waited patiently. My dog wound himself around my legs. He told me he’d been up to the river and had seen a king fisher for the first time in ages. I had never seen one, though had been with people when they had seen one. It seems I have often had my head turned the wrong way when the king fishers appear. On the day we; the dog and I, walked up to the river, we were lucky. We arrived on the wide metal bridge and stood patiently, or rather I stood patiently, but the dog got bored and started winding round my legs and trying to get into the river and then suddenly, out from under the bridge, there was the kingfisher. It was the colour of an Egyptian amulet, jewel-like, the most beautiful, bright blue I have ever seen, completely at odds with the brown, draping, wet landscape. I watched it flit down the length of the river and away and stood with my mouth open in an O of surprise. Perfect.

Wendy Pratt, If the Landscape is a Body then the Hertford is a Wound

Can we pray for rain yet?
Has time stopped?

Are we still family
even if we disagree?

Where is everyone else
in this cloud of unknowing?

Rachel Barenblat, Unknowing

I have been immersed in quilting since Wednesday afternoon.  It has been strange to resurface, strange to do other things.  I’ve gotten my reading responses done for tonight’s seminary class.  I’ve thought about other writing that I haven’t been doing, the writing that always slips to the bottom of my to do list when I have a chance to immerse myself in a retreat.

I’ve also been thinking about poets and quilters, wondering if there are similarities to what I’ve seen and experienced.  At the risk of talking in huge generalities, let me muse a bit.

–I am a person making it up as I go along.  I’m more in love with the fabric than with the quilting process.  I create quilts because it gives me a reason to collect fabric, but then I have to do something with it.  Once I might have thought about making a living with this art–even more reason to collect fabrics!  But now, I’m happy to be in my own corner of the world.

The same is true of writing.  Once I wanted to make a living with my writing, and if it should happen, I won’t complain.  But I want to do the writing I want to do, not what is likely to sell in the wider world.

–This week-end, I’ve watched many quilters working from kits.  Not only do the kits come with instructions and pictures, but they also come with pre-cut fabric.  There are designers out there that not only design the finished quilt, but they also design the fabrics.

I look at the pictures that come with the kit, and I think, no, I’d do it this way.  Nope, that color choice is all wrong.

In the writing world, the kit might represent an MFA program or a literary journal–that hope that there’s one way to do things, that we can unlock that one way if we go to the right school and get the right publications.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilters and Writers

The mixed-use heart.
All warmth and passion

or is it all red fury? 
Red Alert – a love or war 

emergency? 
Blood as in beating and alive,

or draining on a sidewalk?
We are unhappy people

in a happy world.  I heard
it said.  And it wobbled

in the red, fully lit garden.
Something will happen

We just don’t know what.

Jill Pearlman, Code RED

I talk to the birds about complicity
and courage. How both need wings.
How both burn red. How both grace
and macabre defy gravity. If only,
briefly. They come every evening.
Pied Wagtails with homes somewhere
I cannot see, to hop around on the
tiles and sing from the terrace walls.
All. All things can be obliterated in
moments.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -9

It’s a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, sunny, with bright fall leaves blowing down and gray clouds massing in the distance, after days of rain, and that’s a peacock on the roof. I came here to help my daughter have a baby, and that has indeed happened. A beautiful baby named Lola, 8 lbs, 12 oz, 22 inches long. So far, she likes to sleep in the daytime and keep her parents awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., like lots of babies who sleep while the mother is active by day and kick around nocturnally. I am happy to hold this baby and stare at her. The activity that rocked her to sleep in the womb included a daily neighborhood walk that I got to do with the family a couple times before the birth, and that’s where the peacocks come in. Just as there is a flock of wild turkeys back at home, or trail turkeys, since they walk the Constitution Trail as well as the neighborhoods, here there is a flock of wild peacocks. Or you might say a pride of peacocks, a muster of peacocks, or an ostentation of peacocks. Although these local peacocks are quite modest and unostentatious. Shortly after getting this picture through my son’s window, I got to witness this one fly gently down to earth.

Then time stood still, as they say, suspended itself, and we had days of labor in a hospital room. The baby was born, and then my mother died, as if she had been waiting for the baby to come into the world before she went out of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Peacock on the Roof

立冬や椅子一つある古本屋 西生ゆかり

rittō ya isu hitotsu aru furuhonya

            beginning of winter−

            a second-hand bookstore

            with one chair inside

                                                Yukari Saisho

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

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (November 9, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we’re in the thick of it, with odd dreams, recalcitrant language, blockages, burning letters, dwindling daylight, and poems struggling to be born. Enjoy.


For the first time in a long time, I reached for my poetry drafting notebook, to capture two lines that came to me suddenly: “Remember the knife / and the tiny spoon.” These are a cake knife and a salt spoon, brought home from the farmhouse–the spoon because it is so tiny and charming, the knife in case I bake a cake. But who knows what they will be in the eventual poem? It is assembling itself in fragments. “Will there be a piano?” I don’t know where it will go next.

Kathleen Kirk, My Nasturtiums

Watch this space. There is the kernel of a poem in there but at the present it isn’t clear. It’s definitely a case of some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you and some days you both go hungry. Wow! I was looking up the origin of the phrase when I came upon this long thread relating to The Great Lebowski. I love the internet for this sort of thing!

Paul Tobin, ALL THE BEAUTY DRAINS AWAY

who cried eight tears into the heart of each star

who runs the circus of death

whose martyred howl shall be restored as flesh

Grant Hackett [no title]

While a couple new poems have wriggled their way out of the ground, I am still not back to full productivity, but October can sometimes be a fruitful time even with the landscape dying off and folding in for the winter. November is never particularly kind to me, as the last few years have attested, so I am determined to enjoy thoroughly what comes before it.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/1/2023

Our minds take us wherever they need us to be.
Whenever’s another matter but that too.
I remember when we had no particular place to go.
All the same we knew the way.

Cluster bombs of napalm follow orders, are buried with full military honours.
Out on the bright sea something sparkles.

Bob Mee, THIS VIOLENT SKY

In physical chemistry, the critical point is where the temperature and pressure of a substance are both sufficiently high that there is no longer any difference between its liquid and gas states. In mathematics, the critical point is where the rate of change of a variable of interest is undefined or zero. In the rest of the world, anthropogenic climate change is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Climate scientists warn us that once we cross some critical climate tipping points, there can be no turning back: things will only get worse and the “new normal” will be largely undefined.

Nevertheless, we can guess how things might look. When language fails to describe how we feel about the disasters occurring around us now, we must invent new forms of expression. As the world contorts and reshapes to the stresses we place upon it, we should bear witness and record what is passing, what is coming to be.

Ian Gibbins, Critical Point at FELTspace

In my sighted days I had a very cluttered Windows desktop. Sometimes I would intentionally position an icon so that it overlapped and obscured one of the other icons. One of the mandatory icons was a shortcut to the Training and Development folder. An icon interfered with this, resulting in raining and velopme. I had exotic dreams about a pair of star-crossed lovers from ancient Greek mythology called Raining and Velopme! Maybe it’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold … the repair enhancing the beauty.

The opening asks us to consider what if everything was beautiful? Can something only be considered beautiful if we have something that is not beautiful to compare it with? What if the broken then repaired item is more beautiful than the unbroken item? Maybe the average person is more beautiful than the supermodel simply because the scars of life have created a resilience and beauty beneath the surface.

Giles L. Turnbull, This is the Way the Pamphlet Ends

I decided to start Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn’t lull me back to sleep.  Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed.  The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets.  In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020’s, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life.  But it’s still an intriguing read.

I just finished Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet.  She’s from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950’s.  She’s working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan.  I’ve read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I’m not sure why.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now

I loved hearing the poems of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire, and Maria’s fantastic poems, also. And what an honour to share our reading space in the gallery with the stunning artwork of Sandra Suubi, selected for this year’s Liverpool Biennial.

Yes, I did wear the second-hand red silk dress (mentioned in my previous post) that arrived at my house folded neatly into a large envelope. Thank you Oxfam Online!

Josephine Corcoran, One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone

This week the fatigue has caught up with me. 7 weeks in to this new chemotherapy, and writing is difficult. Mid-sentence I stop typing, because I’m not sure where my thoughts were headed.

Right before I sleep the words come rushing. The images. The poignancy that may or may not have real.

In the evenings, I’ve been trying to concentrate on poetry. Learning to identify dipodic meter. Attempting to write in it. But my attention span is short when I’m sitting still, I can’t get past a quatrain. The body objects to a stillness that is not sleep.

Oddly, the best way to fight fatigue is to exercise. So I am either exercising or falling asleep.

Ren Powell, AWOL with apologies

A good poem can create links and resonances that overload a melody. You can go forward and back, pick up echoes, go slowly through a stanza, stop at a phrase or skip a line. You have time and attention for layers of meaning or step outside a poem altogether to enter a whole new landscape. And you can afford to make every word, every line, new and different. A reader has the headspace to pay attention.

Listening to a song is very different. Familiarity is important. Simplicity and space is important. Rhymes matter, because a good rhyme might be predictable, but it is as welcoming as a well-prepared cadence. It doesn’t matter if you have filler syllables the way it would in a poem:

The weary earth we walk upon
She will endure when we are gone

Karine Polwart Rivers Run

because the voice makes good use of them. Words are there to guide you through the music, and the music is there to interpret the words. You may visit the realms of thought and imagination, but more likely you will find your emotions stirred and become deeper acquainted with your heart. Writing a good lyric is a synthesis, and requires knowing what not to do, how to create space, when to leave well alone. A poem that falls flat on the page (like most of Burns, as far as I am concerned) can fly as a song.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Words of Mercury

In their strange cosmogony predating Copernicus by two millennia, the ancient Greek scientific sect of the Pythagoreans placed at the center of the universe a ball of fire. It was not hell but the heart of creation. Hell, Milton told us centuries and civilizations later, is something else, somewhere else: “The mind is its own place,” he wrote in Paradise Lost, “and in it self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”

Grief and despair, heartache and humiliation, rage and regret — this is the hellfire of the mind, hot as a nova, all-consuming as a black hole. And yet, if are courageous enough and awake enough to walk through it, in it we are annealed, forged stronger, reborn.

That is what the non-speaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson celebrates in her shamanic poem “Center of the Universe,” found in her extraordinary collection The Kissing of Kissing (public library), song of the mind electric, great bellowing yes to life.

Maria Popova, Center of the Universe: Non-Speaking Autistic Poet Hannah Emerson’s Extraordinary Poem About How to Be Reborn Each Day

I’m not convinced the pigs know what dessert is but they seem to have survived their nightly road crossing, so far. The scene they create is timeless enough to be considered for embellishing a decorative jar. Better still if humans weren’t around to interfere and build roads that endanger the pigs in the first place. Harsh, perhaps but the rhythm is gentle and the language simple so it doesn’t feel didactic.

In the title poem, a ginkgo tree, thick with age, offers shelter to Taoist poets, one of whom calls it “A Tree Becomes a Room” […]

Emma Lee, “A Tree Becomes a Room” J P White (White Pine Press) – book review

Did I ever tell you about the time I was on an AWP shuttle bus and a publicist’s assistant told me that my sacral chakra was blocked? We were chatting about reiki, so I’m clearly receptive to that kind of random conversational offering, but it’s pretty bold to diagnose a stranger. I instantly knew that I’d landed in a funny creative-writing-conference anecdote. What surprised me was that it also felt like a serious and sincere exchange: she was trying to be helpful, and for my part, I suspected she was onto something.

I don’t use the term “writer’s block” because I find it unhelpfully mystifying. There are tons of reasons to feel paralyzed at the keyboard: fear that you have nothing worthwhile to say; fear of certain audiences’ criticism; illness and exhaustion; and the sheer difficulty of articulating some material, for emotional or intellectual reasons. Blockage IS a perfectly good metaphor for those obstacles; I’ve certainly spent years of my life getting in my own way. But I have to diagnose the obstruction in a more specific way before I clear it. Plus, calling it a “block” implies complete stoppage, and I seem to spend my writing time discovering side roads. If I can’t write a poem, maybe writing a blog will show me what I’m bothered by. If I can’t bear to finish that article, could it be the wrong project? Do I need to re-route completely?

Lesley Wheeler, Blockage, re-routing, clearance

The story of her suicide seems, like many suicides, improbable. She jumped/fell off the bleachers of Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Hadley, Massachusetts. At the time, I remembering one of her sons protesting that she would never have committed suicide. Now the narrative of her jumping seems the single story. But anyone who has studied suicide knows that women rarely jump, or shoot themselves, or do anything that distorts the body.

She came from a family of ten children, was married three times, and had two sons. None of these are points of connection with my life and yet I deeply connected with her poems. Poems that often spoke of the dead; of the thin veil between this world and the next. Image and sound, the real turning into the surreal.

Susan Rich, The Lasting Work of Deborah Digges

Somewhere in time the mother is depressed. The child doesn’t know this, the child has never heard of depressed. The child watches the mother from behind her eyelash curtain, not knowing this is the beginning of secrecy. She watches for the slightest upturn of her mother’s lips, for the lines on her forehead to smooth out like waves on a sunny, sandy beach. The child has never been to the beach but she’s seen it on TV, broad and sparkling like thousands of smiles.

Charlotte Hamrick, Curtained

Under a froth of mosquito netting, an island
from which to push off toward sleep. You tucked
every fold carefully around the mattress, leaving
no space. In the ceiling or in the floor, some houses
held a secret door—one rusted handle coupled with
an iron slide lock. Before the grownups retired for
the night, sometimes they walked around the house
perimeter, checking windows or scattering salt.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (3)

Contrasting Kinetic Kissing with Mekong Delta shows something of the range and variety of the collection. This is also a poem about relationships, but very different in form, tone and style. There’s is no hyperbole on this occasion: it is infused with melancholic realism. The narrator in the poem has kept some love letters from an old boyfriend. The opening line, ‘They’re white as rice that wasn’t thrown at us’, suggests that this had been a very close relationship that might have resulted in marriage given more conducive circumstances. However, the lover served and died in Vietnam. She had kept his letters, meaning ‘to re-read, gather them for warmth’, but she resolves to burn them instead: ‘I light a match, red breast flames releasing/ Angels illegible in their ascent.’

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Apprenticed to the Night’ by LindaAnn LoSchiavo

I dream of elevators
in a large hotel. A wish
to be lifted up? One is
too crowded, the next
stops at floor nineteen,
my room on seventeen.
As I realize I could
walk down two flights,
the doors close, reopen
on floor twelve, my fear
of yielding control
justified.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thinking about dreams

I’m facing a blank grey concrete wall.
The desk came in a flat-pack box.
I assembled it with the included
Allen wrench, named after the
Allen Manufacturing Company
of Hartford, Connecticut,
the town where my father was born.

An Allen wrench is also called a hex key.
Will it, if properly applied, free me
from this curse?

Jason Crane, First Poem At A New Desk

In the Dean Koontz interview I mentioned last weekend, he also said something interesting, if a bit harsh. He said that if you’re constantly writing yourself into a corner, then perhaps you’re not meant to be a writer.

Harsh, because I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell anyone else that they’re not meant to be a writer.

Harsh too, because I am literally constantly writing myself into corners.

I have written myself into so many corners my home office is actually the shape of a megagon.

Finding one’s way out of such corners, I suppose, is part of the satisfaction of writing. It is also, at least for me personally, part of the anguish. It feels as if I never know if I will actually make it back toward the other side of the room, where there are merciful doors and windows, or if I will stay in this particular corner for yet another week, month, year, eternity.

Becky Tuch, How do you get out of a writing corner?

All I want is house filled with color.
A little bit of privacy.
A green vine.
A sky filled with water and sun.

Carey Taylor, Enough

How did your first book change your life? The first book truly gave me confidence.  It confirmed that it was possible to do this thing I thought impossible which was to write and publish a book of poems.  How does your most recent work compare to your previous? Aurora Americana and my previous book, Radioactive Starlings, are both thinking through the notion of place.  They are doing this in different ways but the notion of place is the link by which they connect.  How does it feel different?  Aurora Americana is a dawn book.  Most of the poems take place during or close to dawn.  I’ve never centered time in this way. […]

I write every day.  I wake up very early, before sunrise.  I like to have that new day’s sunlight fall over the page as I write.  I usually write for four hours in the morning.  I end the morning writing session with a run.  I dedicate the evenings to revision. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Myronn Hardy (rob mclennan)

The end of September brought rain (from Tropical Storm Ophelia) and cool weather. I returned from Chicago, the most recent leg of my book tour and spend a whole week with my pups – hiking muddy trails and getting out as much as the quickly fading daylight would let us.

I love fall – the cool weather, the turning leaves. But I hate that the sun is setting earlier each day, that I have to rush home after work to try to sneak in time on the trails. Still, I appreciate every mile and every minute we spend outside.

Courtney LeBlanc, Autumn is Here

Welcome to October! Here we had a weekend of cool sunshine after a week of a deluge of cold, crazy hard rain. I had a new fairy tale poem appear in the journal The Broken City and a kind new review of Flare, Corona in TAB journal. I had a really delightful Zoom book launch with Malaika and Redheaded Stepchild Lit Mag and a wonderful group of North Carolina readers and writers. We also had book club (We read The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes of New England at Bookwalters in Woodinville, and we chose Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo for next month), plus a Supermoon! And I got together with an old friend to catch up and wonder through a sunflower maze. Whew! I am ready for sleep.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome October! A Busy Week: Reading Reports, Supermoons, Writing Friend Dates, New Poems and New Reviews of Flare, Corona and Pumpkin Farm Visits

After we’ve whispered the name of our country like a curse and a cure.

After mistaking rupture for rapture and exit for exist.

After we’ve stuffed all our love and differences into a time capsule, telling ourselves we’ll revisit them on our deathbed—

Rich Ferguson, After and Before

The third level he identifies is being willing to ask for help in promoting your work. Yeah, this is tough. It’s a little “please, sir, I want some more”-ish, in that I’m holding out my work in trembling hands to the Great Creative Orphanage Master who will sputter down at my little bowl astonished at my temerity and utter, “What!”

But of course, it’s not that way at all. There is no such orphanage, nor master. My bowl is not empty. I am not seeking gruel. I’m just one among many looking to complete the circle of creation: a writer wants a reader, a painter wants a viewer.

There are in this world people who can help you get read or viewed. It may seem like they’re gatekeepers, that is, that some people slip through skippingly and the portcullis slams down on the rest of us. But it’s not really that way. People by and large like to help other people. Not all the helpers can help all the seekers. That’s just a fact. But many help many. And sometimes the one who is helped is you, and sometimes it isn’t.

Marilyn McCabe, So much younger than today; or, On the Art of Being Helped

Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) … must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” An interesting detour into the apparently meaningless episodes that happen and are forgotten though Kundera points out that “In infinity every event, no matter how trivial, would meet up with its consequences and unfold into a story.” That is if we, like god, were eternal.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -16

If there was ever a time to learn to set boundaries, it was when I needed to work to a deadline, on my own published book. Alongside taking the app off my phone, I began to say no to unpaid and low paid work, I began to change my own working patterns, I moved to Substack and I took a risk on myself as a writer, or to put it another, more healthy way – I invested in myself as a writer. My wages dropped, initially, but though growth is slow, growth is growth. I am making it work.

A couple of days ago I logged into facebook and felt a familiar sense of dread and guilt. Because I’d not been on the site for a while I had missed so many people’s news – sad news and happy news – I felt a terrible guilt to have missed birthdays and anniversaries and competition wins and publishing news etc. And it was at that point that I realised that Facebook was no longer enjoyable, I found that it provoked anxiety rather than joy.

Wendy Pratt, Leaving Facebook

Last month Tesserae: A mosaic of poems by Zimbabwean women, was released into the world. Working on this book with Samantha Vazhure, founder and editor of Carnelian Heart Publishing,  and the wonderful poets whose voices are featured within its pages, has been an immensely rewarding experience. 

During the Q&A session following the book launch on Twitter/X Spaces, a participant asked: what poetry do we as poets read? It’s an interesting question to unravel. I’ve been thinking how my answer would have evolved  over time.

At my all-girls’ school in the nineteen-seventies, English literature was exactly that: English. It was also dominated by men. We read Chaucer and Shakespeare, John Donne and Andrew Marvell, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wilfred Owen. Golden daffodils fluttered and danced in the breeze; brooks bickered from haunts of coot and hern, whatever those might be, while outside our classroom the African sun blazed and jacaranda trees wept purple tears. 

Marian Christie, What poetry do we as poets read?

october 
in the corner of every window
a sleeping snail

Jim Young [no title]