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 16

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: a wasp’s heart, rearranging the ghosts, the language of cicadas, empires of the everyday, losing the moon and 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 2

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 50

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 season of lights was in full effect, along with that other holiday favorite, the year-end book list. Plus many other things. Enjoy.

I’ll probably skip next week and be back on New Year’s (Eve or Day) for the final edition of 2023. See you then.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 49

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: telephones, traumas, holiday gift ideas, cris de coeur, and a lonely vending machine. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!

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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, 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 42

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: autumn, bombs, books, cancer, bombs, the bees in Liechtenstein, theology school, and bombs. Enjoy.


A mouth becomes a stone.
A child cannot stop shaking.
Bombs fall on hospitals, schools,
Churches, mosques, homes.
Numbed, frozen, bulldozed.
The images haunt my sleep.
Over and again, what
should I do? What could
I do?

Bells ring in, what exactly?
Ring for, what exactly?

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

i’m not coming out
of this poem
i am staying here
forever
and
ever

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

ok
in here it is raining
but it is cosy warm rain

Jim Young, sunny boy

Trees are shedding their summer hair.
What a tiny comb was used for grooming –
tufts pile on the sidewalk, bright and seething.

Where were we when we lost our crickets?
Softly, softly they left us without a sound,
darkness falls hard on hard ground, the cushion

they made gone, no love or jangle to soften
obsession, cool nights, bombs, part of the ear’s fabric. 
You can never put the shriek back in the throat of the cricket. 

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

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?

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another. […]

What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

I hear the sweet voice of a young woman
making love. “Oh!” she says, “Oh!”

The birch trees tremble with sparrows. Yellow
leaves and seed husks flicker to the ground.

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

In this poem, I am accepting how it is as I say ‘let it have me’ and acknowledge I want to ‘keep it here.’ It sounds unusual, but actually I am aware of what is happening and know that at the moment there is no cure. I now turn the dark into a real person, quite sinister and let it feed on my body: ‘my body is a table so now it can feed.’ I want to keep the curtains closed to literally keep the dark in the room and get rid of colour: ‘I don’t need the glare’ and again, am perfectly happy about this.

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

The iceberg is back.
It looms out of its coat.
It shivers its keys onto the
silver tray, and drifts toward
the table for what seems like
a thousand years.

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

open its card deck of prophecies. My hand used
to move quickly, almost involuntarily, toward choice.

Now I understand that toward the end, it is good
to take time, to tend the slow simmer of soup.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Yes, I paused in the hunt for ripe raspberries this morning to listen to what must have been a catbird running through its repertoire, yes, I note a neighbor’s lilacs confusedly in bloom, noted the neighbor apparently reconciled with the wife and dog walking together. But what have I missed?

Whatever it is must be what x is equal to. And I must keep looking. It may be the next thing I need to make the poems or essays sharper, more exact, or at least, a clearer equation through which to regard x. The unknown, possibly unanswerable: life and its puzzling questions.

Marilyn McCabe, How do you solve a problem; or, More on Paying Attention

Yesterday my daughter stepped outside to play with the four-year-old boy who lives next door. As she was leaving, I heard the boy ask my daughter what her mother’s name is.

My daughter replied, “My mom’s name is Becky. But sometimes people call her Rebecca…Because she’s a writer.”

I laughed, of course. Yes, that is I! Rebecca of the Pen!

Becky Tuch, Do editors pay attention to a writer’s name?

October is my month, my favourite month. Autumn in full swing, brazen colours and spice. Wet and slowing down. I bake, I cook, I begin to build a nest to hibernate in. It’s also our autumn school holiday, so I’ve actually been able to do all those things which is more difficult when I’m working.

October is also #scotstober month. Scotstober is a challenge to learn and use a new Scots word every day. Here’s the Twitter post for this year.  I love it, some are familiar to me, and some are new. I have done various takes on the challenge, sometimes finding poems that use the word, other times writing my own few lines. This year I’m doing the latter and creating a poem using some of the words. I can’t keep up with all 31 words, but it’s Day 22 and I have most of a poem written. 

As with most of my Scots poems, I prefer to use words I’ve heard in context or am comfortable with. Some words in the Scotstober challenge are older and not used much, so they don’t feel right in my poems. So as I’m bringing this together as a poem, I’m changing some words to suit me. I’m grateful for the inspiration Scotstober brings. […]

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

ahm ettlin tae no sing thi same thrain,
but thi rain an its pebbly sklyter
drouns oot mah will

Gerry Stewart, Autumn’s Brewing – Scotstober 2023 and When the Readers Don’t Get A Poem

A lively and intriguing title for a poem sequence by our guest poet Lydia Harris. Her work has featured here before (March 2019). This sequence is from her new collection Objects for Private Devotion, beautifully produced by Pindrop Press, published last year. Lydia lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Many of the poem sequences in her new book focus on local culture, people, nature, objects – such as the prayer nut which provides the cover image.

The sequence about the fieldfare is inspired by the great Serbian poet Vasco Popa. The Blackbird’s Field is also a sequence, from Popa’s Collected Poems, close on 400 pages – drawing on folk tale, surrealist fable, personal anecdote, and tribal myth. […]

Lament

I’ve lost my folk,
my night ships,
my dear blood,
thick then thin,
night bird, stray bird.

Tongue

A whip of liver-coloured flesh
sheathed in the coffin of his beak.

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

I have mentioned before that there is a kind of pressure to – not only survive cancer – but to somehow turn it into something people call a “blessing”: a catalyst for a better life. This isn’t new to me. CSA and a bipolar diagnosis carry with them the same kind of pressure to excel: to reach a point where you say that your adversities were a “blessing” that made you who you are. That is a lot of pressure. You can’t say that and be average. Not only is the bad luck yours to deal with, it is yours to justify by way of being “better than” in some way.

Health – mental or physical – shouldn’t a competitive sport. Resilience so admired as to give us secular saints for a capitalist economy. I have to remind myself of that. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end: just a means to enjoy each day on its own terms. Have we always been such a performative species? Is it just me that sees it this way? It very well could be just me.

But there are a surprising number of cancer survivor gurus/coaches/teachers who will guide you through the process to find your better story. It is an entire industry. And it is so very seductive.

But I am not going to see this time of my life as a blessing. I do hope that I am learning things, but I have always hoped that I was continually learning to be a better person.

You know, if anything, maybe I am learning that all this effort at “improvement” is unnecessary: that maybe the clearest view is from a point of average.

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

The weekly ritual of bathing, of cleansing before church on Sunday which the son duly follows. However, he self-harms using his father’s razor. The reasoning is given in religious terms, the release of blood a sacrifice to atone for undefined and unspecified sins. Whatever those sins or perceived sins were, they seem to have triggered depression. A later poem in the same section, “The Stone In My Shoe” describes the stone as, “suicide never lets me go./I walk with its stone in my shoe”. The drugs listed in the poem are anti-depressants. It’s also a “language of this limbo.” Later, “The Idiot’s Guide to Suicide” lists unsolicited and unhelpful advice, such as “It’s just a bad mood.” “get a grip”, “keep a happy diary”, “You need to try Yoga” or “Be kind to yourself.” All things that never should be said to someone in the grip of depression.

Next section, “the universe”, a poem called “The Crab” is about avoiding saying aloud the word whose astrology sign the crab represents. The word cancer was treated as taboo as if saying it could make it contagious. Treatment leaves the sufferer,

“I’m now scared, scarred, and unable to pee.
They cut away cells, cells, and dignity
and, still, I cannot say its name.”

Emma Lee, “Red Rite Hand” Adrian Harte (in case of emergency press) – book review

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it’s all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/21/2023

Ten poems, read by 14 young poets, dazzled the packed Perspektiven Raum with brilliance and bravery. 14-year-old Grela Rabi’s as yet untitled poem that begins, “am boden kleben sie fest,“ was selected by our panel of three judges to win the 500 CHF gift certificate to Wenaweser Fahrradcentrum in Schaan. Congratulations Grela! The 500 CHF donation to the climate-themed charity of their choice, was split between the classes from ISR and Liechtenstein Gymnasium. The ISR classes chose to donate to “the bees in Liechtenstein.”  All participants received a book of poetry (from previous Word to Action participants) and a potted plant to take home. Class teachers received books on composing poetry. […]

My reflection is this: the poems were moving in different ways. It was interesting to see that the poems were different based on age group. The youngest were sad but optimistic about the future and used fantastical imagery to get the point across. Some were totally realistic about the trouble the planet is in. And the rest were a bit alarmed and made a call to action. This last category seemed to move the judges the most. At Word to Action we know that poetry physically changes those who hear it; it can move us to take action.

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

Poetry can be so healing precisely because it springs from that deepest place of reckoning with what it means to be human — the place we seek with the intellect but touch with the intuition. And down there in the depths, we don’t much differ from one another, sharing the same basic longings, the same basic fears. Clifton reflects:

Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart.

[…]

Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.

With an eye to what it means to be a poet, she adds a sentiment equally true of any creative endeavor:

I didn’t graduate from college, which isn’t necessary to be a poet. It is only necessary to be interested in humans and to be in touch with yourself as a human.

Complement with Clifton’s classic “won’t you celebrate with me” — a living testament to this poetry of personhood turned art — and her spare, stunning ode to the common ground of being, then revisit Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being and Anne Gilchrist — Whitman’s most beloved friend — on inner wholeness and the key to a flourishing soul.

Maria Popova, How to Be a Living Poem: Lucille Clifton on the Balance of Intellect and Intuition in Creative Work and the Healing Power of Connection

Sometimes I feel like all religion is a search for order in the world. Maryann Corbett’s recent collection of poetryThe O in the Air, offers order to a disorderly world; or rather points out the order within the seemingly meaningless details of life.

I started reading Corbett’s poetry with her collection Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter and made my way through all of her work last summer. Less familiar with formal poetry, I was mesmerized by the meters of her work– the surprising yet inevitable conclusions of her poems. A free verse poet myself, I felt like someone who only sings folk songs listening to someone singing opera and totally nailing it. […]

A Tennessee girl raised in the Bible belt, I kept drawing together the marriage of her Catholicism and formal sensibilities; liturgy, rhythm, and tradition are deeply connected to the spiritual in her book. Whereas in the country churches I was shuffled to growing up, we were more likely to have an impromptu testimony or sing verse four just ONE more time—and here I am, a free verse poet. Church traditions and poetry traditions can learn from each other, I believe, and I found myself learning much from yet another inspiring collection of poems by Maryann Corbett.

Renee Emerson, a review of The O in the Air by Maryann Corbett

On October 12th, I announced a $200 donation to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) who will provide aid to displaced and fleeing families in Gaza. Today, and retroactively for purchases from 10/12 to date, I am going to forgo all income for the press and donate that money to Medical Aid for Palestinians. What this means is that the $3 I would normally keep from each sale will instead be donated. In addition, I am going to match that amount with a personal donation to the same org. In other words, each book purchased gives $6 to Gaza. […]

Additionally, I call on all of you who are able to donate money to one of the following organizations:

As an added incentive, if you email me (deadmallpress@gmail.com) a receipt for a donation of $20 or more to one of these orgs, I will send you all four of my own chapbooks for free (including shipping). Just be sure to include a mailing address as well. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I have to give.

R. M. Haines, New Fund-Raising for Palestine

Human animals are still animals. We have evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly sensitive to our environment. We have evolved to survive at all costs. Our beautiful big human brains can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by something far away, and anxiety caused by something in the room. They are one and the same with the same flight or fight response. If we are feeding ourselves a constant diet of news, which is, invariably bad, terrible, frightening news, we are constantly keeping ourselves in a place in which we feel we have to be hyper aware of everything that is happening because at any moment we may need to act.

It is good to be informed. But there is a limit to what you can actually do to help, understand, prepare, protect. I feel like even saying this is a kind of failure, a sort of cowardly way of looking at any situation. But it is a realistic way of looking at the situation of the world being on fire. […]

I don’t know any single person that isn’t in pain from watching the world burn. But pain is a counterbalance to love and I don’t know any one person that isn’t feeling immense love and a fierce desire to protect and help their fellow people, fellow world citizens. To be alive and aware is an act of resistance. Help where you can, be kind where you can, but that includes yourself.

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

So there I was. Sunday morning, in a suitably poet-like dress ( I restrained myself from the Byron sleeves this time) the comfort of chunky boots and my jade pendant that goes with me to every scary situation. This was going to be the first time reading in real life. I shook ( just the one leg bizarrely) but my voice stayed steady, I managed to look up at my audience, pause where I wanted to pause and even breathe occasionally. In hindsight perhaps choosing to read a poem about one of my last conversations with my Dad added a layer of difficulty I didn’t need, but I’ve never been one to take the easy route. Unless I’m hill climbing. Then I’m scouting for it before I set foot on the path.

I felt lovely. Energised, and pleased to have spoken my poem as it needed to be spoken, with the added boost of praise from a poet I really admire. I’ve put off reading in public for a very long time and realise that it is something I desperately want to do – to hear the sounds of the language I have chosen, and to test out the impact or effect on those who are listening.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

I am overcome & rejuvenated by imbalance – complexity
it blocks out the constant nitter-natter, and is oddly calming

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

4. Then there are poems about love and lust and coming of age, perhaps. As if all life is visceral even at its most tender. “O minute hand, teach me / how to hold a man the way thirst/ holds water…” – A little closer to the edge.
5. And then of course is the end that is possibly the beginning of the narrative, the whole narrative. The look within: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. / The end of the road is so far ahead/ it is already behind us.” – Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong and “& so what— if my feathers / are burning. I / never asked for flight” – Devotion. These are the last two poems. As if the book is waiting for its sequel. Not to tell the reader more. But to tell the poet just a little bit more.
6. This is not a quick read because you will keep going back to read some poems. You can fill your senses with lines like “The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies.” – Into the breach or “How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands?” – Seventh Circle of Earth or “I enter / my life / the way words / entered me— / by falling / through / the silence / of this wide / open mouth”. – Logophobia. You always leave the page wondering if it is about the past or the future, about beauty or violence, about a person or a people, and if the one is actually possible without the other.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

news-worthy names shared
world-wide. Not Beit Lahia’s.

There, leaflets, like birds,
still fall from the sky,

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

Maureen E. Doallas, A Poet’s View (Poem)

Three or four years ago, I knew I wanted to write about the footballing heroes of my childhood, those lower-league footballers who triumphed and failed before my eyes, who evoked a sense of masculinity that was hugely different to today’s view of men, whose team generated a sense of belonging among the local fans. In short, I knew I wanted to write directly about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, but indirectly about far more. However, I didn’t know how to go about putting such a group of poems together. And that was when I read Stanley Cook’s excellent poetry for the first time.

Cook wrote two separate pamphlets on the back of his time working as a schoolteacher, Form Photograph (Phoenix/Peterloo, 1971) and Staff Photograph (Peterloo Poets, 1972). In each case, he created a set of vignettes. The first batch, of course, were pupils, while the second were teachers. He generated these portraits of individuals within a specific context, building a wider picture of society through the implicit dialogues that were generated among the poems, accumulating his effects via verbal collage.

On reading Cook’s poems, I admired them immensely and suddenly realised I could adapt his technique to my footballers. And rather than using a photo, I was drawn to the team sheet that appeared on the back of every programme, and thus ‘Starting Eleven’, the second section in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, started to take shape. Thank you, Stanley! I’d like to think you’d enjoy my poems too…

Matthew Stewart, From ‘Form Photograph’ to ‘Starting Eleven’

One of the things I’m working on now is an essay, ironically, on lyric essays, so I’ve been doing some research, reading some books of lyric essays. It’s weird for me, since I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, an ad copywriter, a book reviewer, and a poet, but until the pandemic I didn’t write personal essays or lyric essays. Even though I’ve had some essays published I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert.

But on Facebook I put up a query and got some really interesting answers, from people who definitely are more qualified than me. And as a poet I’m attracted to the idea of an essay that isn’t necessarily: theme, point, point, conclusion. That allows for leaps, long parentheticals and ellipses – in short, essays that mimic poetry in a lot of ways.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review of Flare in New Pages, Pumpkins and Typewriters, Halloween Mystery Parties and Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

I sometimes send stuff to US paper journals. I don’t know my way around very well, and depend on online ranking lists etc. As in the UK, US paper magazines are disappearing (e.g. Tin House and Glimmer Train – 2 of the top 5 in one list), and the online replacements don’t have the same impact. I think more of their journals are university based. And there’s the pay-to-submit issue.

I have trouble understanding currently fashionable US poetry, so it’s the short story market I focus on. There’s a wide range of journals. The most recent one that I was in paid me $20 for a piece of Flash and sent me (expensively, unexpectedly) a contributor’s copy, cover price $18. But it’s only 290th in one list I found, and in another list it’s categorised as Tier 4, Respected: usually small circulation, one or more “notable” prize mentions, sometimes payment.

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

I first started thinking about this post not long after writing the last one…probably sometime around the Tuesday when I started reading the book from which the poem below is drawn from. The poem below reminded me of sitting in my garden a few days before…just sitting on the edge of my patio and staring into space. It had been a rough day at work—there have been a few of those of late, but the future is hopefully looking brighter—and while I was contemplating my naval opportunities (basically setting off to sea and not coming back, a wasp came sidling up to me like some sort of stripey spiv. A fucking wasp, in October!! I ask you…

The sight of the wasp had me at this time of year had me worried about global warming, but also had me harking back the summer when another one of the apocrita critters had stung me on the back of the neck. I was also nervous having also been bitten on the back of my leg by an ant while sitting in the same spot a couple of weeks ago. What have I done to upset the insects of my garden?

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

The concept of ambition in poetry, and how one defines that word in relation to poetry, is something I first encountered in Donald Hall’s 1988 book Poetry and Ambition–still in print from University of Michigan. I read this book of essays in 1991, in between changing diapers and coordinating naptimes for two children under the age of four. It was difficult to feel ambition about career at that time, and a career in poetry was ever a pipe dream; but the notion that a writer could feel ambitious about the work she might be doing in learning about and endeavoring to craft really good poems, even should she fail most of the time, felt encouraging to me. I recommend this book, as there’s also a good deal one can find to disagree with in it, and debate is useful for thinking.

Fast-forward to today (time does seem to move in fast-forward), and I find myself retired from a career on the fringes of academia, where I taught composition to students less-prepared for college and ran the writing center at a university. But I did not teach poetry or creative writing and was staff, not professorial/tenured; so the need to be career-ambitious through poetry was null. That suited my personality well. Maybe too well. Yet somehow I managed to get a reasonable amount of my work published (see the sidebar of this page) and to get several chapbooks and books into print (see the My Books tab here). I had my own form of ambition.

What now, I wonder? I have so much work to revise! Recently, I submitted an experimental, historically-based chapbook to a publisher, and I’m working on getting a new book of older work, though not as old as The Red Queen Hypothesis‘ poems, into print. Will I spend the next few years just catching up? Possibly. Is that “ambitious”? Nah, just means I wasn’t ambitious enough to get to it earlier!

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

An AK-47 claiming he’s the delivery boy and a knock-kneed tuba tuned to the key of gloom.

Bad weather, lousy music, and World War III bearing a bouquet of bombs.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a clogged toilet doing a crappy Bob Dylan impression.

A half-dressed serial killer wanting to slip into something less comfortable.

Banging on my front door: droughts, diseases, and all the bad poems I’ve ever written coming back to haunt me.

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door