Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week was especially rich in thought-provoking essays. I also noticed a lot of fear and foreboding, but with plenty of bright notes, as well. As I write this, here in central Pennsylvania we’re getting our first big snow storm of the year. The woodstove is roaring in the next room, and behind me in the kitchen, I can hear what may be the last of his clan tugging at the peanut in the mousetrap. It doesn’t go off. For some reason I breathe a sigh of relief.


The devil’s daughter has been dreaming a long dream about a castle of arguing horses. People who stare at her from below her apartment don’t see a woman but just some slow moving dashes of the colour terracotta, black, and gold. The devil’s daughter is a beautiful sloth, who has been sleeping in the warm sunlight of the flamingo city for the past two years. No one knows, not even herself, when she might wake up. A Tamil fisherman on the coast of Trincomalee saw one of her fingers move in another dream two weeks ago. He woke up in silence, terrified. He knows that when the devil’s daughter wakes up, she will erase the tender writing from thousands of wasted pages and write, in her own hand, the enchanted fatal phrase.

Saudamini Deo, The enchanted phrase

It has been by inch and trickle that the continued isolation and stress of COVID has covered the person I want to be. The person who has friends and laughs a lot and has time to walk on the beach. The person who feels hopeful and creative and connected.

Now we’re heading into another year of rampant COVID and I live in a community where vaccination rates and mask-wearing are low. Another year when I wistfully look at pictures of travel, readings, conferences, and art openings, but feel like I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was the person who passed on COVID to someone who got really sick. It happens. People infect their beloved grandmothers or friends undergoing chemotherapy. Since March 2020, 836,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID. […]

So, I’m back at this small corner of the web with some thoughts. A little life ring buoy thrown out into rough and dark seas. A lone candle in the window. A chance to talk about poetry a little, life a little. Perhaps to strategize on how to find my way back to a life when I truly felt like I was “being poetry.” I hope that I’m able to commit to being here with you.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isolation and Poetry

It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution–I do not bother with those–but I have promised myself to spend more time on poetry again following a fairly long interval, not exactly a hiatus, but…

Serendipity, then, to learn of Two Trees Writing Collaborative‘s poetry workshop that is taking place online in the early months of the year when motivation’s most welcome. As well as a chance to meet other writers where they are as the pandemic limps along. This online workshop is facilitated by Elena Georgiou, who was one of my advisor/mentors when I was in graduate school at Goddard. Feels like old times (not. because modality-virtuality-experience much altered). I have drafted four new poems, and the process is fun though the output has been mediocre so far; well, one must sometimes prime the engine.

I’m also reading Anthony BurgessNothing Like the Sun, wildly Shakespearean rollicking-with-language, a novel that reads like iambic pentameter. I’m thinking of poetic cadence, which is a craft aspect of poetry that has not been much on my mind until renewed by this novel. Not that rhythm is unimportant to my work, but thinking about it hasn’t been foremost. I have been thinking more about lyricism lately, it seems my default mode.

And I’m thinking about winter, and snow.

Ann E. Michael, Winterwords

To my surprise, ahead of my self-imposed schedule is the first poem from the Poem-a-Month series—a simple rhyming ode to mangoes, one of the few fruits I have found I like since embarking on my goal to add more fruit to my diet. I bought a mango for the first time in my life a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know how to slice it. I had to look it up on YouTube.

The hardest thing for me about diving into writing poetry again has been learning to embrace the crap. I wrote pages and pages of utter dreck this week and had to remind myself that the dreck is essential. It’s the fertilizer from which the good stuff grows. And who do I think I am anyway, that every word flowing from my pen shall be transcendent perfection?

Kristen McHenry, Learning How to Be Bad Again, The Illustrious Mango

In my desire to challenge my own anxiety and to research for the book/s I’m writing and to reconnect with myself and the landscape, I have been taking some solo walks. I’ve been listening to the trees.

I’ve been back up to the beacon and the bronze age cemetery and I’ve been out to Star Carr and I have been finding myself and my life in these places. This week, as part of Spelt’s ongoing workshop series, we had RM Francis running a workshop on ‘Topological Presence’. I didn’t attend the workshop as Saturdays are the day in which most of the Spelt work gets done, so I had to go to the post office. But I knew it would be good. I caught little bits and pieces of it as I was going about my work and picked up on one comment from Judi Sutherland, whose book Following the Teisa has just come out. She described feeling like writing poetry about landscape was a way to connect to the place she was in, having moved around so much. It struck a chord with me, for a different reason. I have always lived where I am, the landscape and the stories embedded in that landscape are embedded in me and are part of my personality. But I have never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere. It’s been a long journey to recognise my nerdy, quirky, not-pretty, not-slim self as entirely valid. In fact, it is this embracing of that nerdy quirky, sensitive person that allows me to write, so no wonder I write so much about the land I live in and how I fit into it. because i do feel like I fit in when I am out walking, or out in nature in general. I feel like I fit in when I am with animals or in nature, and also, mostly, when I am with creative people. They are my tribe because I think most creatives have that sense of not quite belonging in one way or another. This sort of thinking allows me to write, allows me to give permission to myself to writer, from my entirely valid point of view. I find that the new poetry collection is very much about that sense of roots and belonging that nature and landscape give. It’s not an easy collection to write, it s so different to the very personal stuff I’ve been writing with Horse, it’s difficult in another way, but I find I am enjoying that exploration, that challenge.

Wendy Pratt, A Sense of Belonging

So I’m having my bubblebath, this little self-care ritual that is really just a drop in the bucket of self-care that we all need, but at least it’s something, and I’d been wondering about how one even goes about collectively or as a group thinking-things-through these day when we’re all so separate. And then one is dropped into this profound conversation courtesy of podcast technology and bath bubbles. So that even if it wasn’t group think, at least one feels part of a conversation, somewhat. It’s something, right? It’s something.

And then [Jane Hirshfield] says: “I have been given this existence, these years on this Earth, to accept what has come into my lifetime: wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness. I must take them. I must find a way to live in this world. You can’t refuse it. And along with the difficult is the radiant, the beautiful…” Which is a bit of an answer. How do we go about living in the fullness of the world when we’re all apart and gathering isn’t easy. You have to live everything, you can’t refuse it.

I suppose this is why I’m finding the act of blogging even more important than before. (And if you’re interested in doing same, please check out Kerry Clare’s Blog School). So back to the “trail detour” sign. Maybe we’re not gathering in rooms and having conversations in the old ways, but what are the new ways in which we can still engage? And maybe it’s just something to even start asking ourselves the question, what is our conversation? In a 2007 book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett quotes St. Augustine who said, we keep speaking in order not to remain altogether silent. And she says that in her conversations she’s been able to fill her head with “many voices, elegant, wise, strange, full of dignity and grief and hope and grace. Together we find illuminating and edifying words and send them out to embolden work of clarifying, of healing. We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.”

Shawna Lemay, Thinking-Things-Through

Write Bloody has long been a dream press for me. I first learned of them back in 2013 – Megan Falley was on tour for her first book with the press, After the Witch Hunt, and she did a reading in DC. I went to that reading and fell in love with her words. A few years later, I took a one-on-one workshop with Megan and fell further in love, with both her writing and the press.

I bought other books from the press and fell in love with the poetry they published – Jeanann Verlee, Jon Sands, Seema Reza, Clint Smith, Arhm Choi Wild – and so many more.

I submitted to Write Bloody for the first time in 2016. I was rejected. I submitted again in 2017 and 2019. Rejected and rejected again.

I applied to, and completed, my MFA in poetry. I had two chapbooks published (both now out of print) and two full length collections published, Beautiful & Full of Monsters and Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart. I kept writing and submitting. I took workshops with Jeanann Verlee and Seema Reza and Jon Sands. I kept writing and writing.

And then in end of 2021, Write Bloody opened their submissions again. I sent in my poems. And then in early January, they announced their finalists and my name was on the list!

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming

Very cool to see that our book was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  Thanks to Tolsun Books for figuring out how to combine Jia Oak Baker’s photographs and my poems in convenient paperback form exactly how we envisioned but better.

Since all of my celebrations are virtual, here are a few more of those “Poetic Distancing Reading Series” video sessions that I did instead of whatever book tour I was planning before the pandemic.

I almost had to give up on this one in the canal because every take kept getting ruined by screeching jets from the nearby airbase. Another example of the Military Industrial Complex budget squashing local arts. I will edit together a bunch of these outtakes that feature me cursing at the sky as if those pilots might be able to hear me. 

Shawnte Orion, Metaverse Book Tours for a Southwestern Book Award Finalist

This Sunday is going to be me celebrating the publication of my poem Phantom Settlements over at The Friday Poem. I am overjoyed with the kind words that Hilary and Andy said about it.

We chose Mat Riches’ poem ‘Phantom Settlements’ as this week’s Friday Poem because we love its playfulness and humour, and his obvious love of language. Riches ranges far and wide to tantalise, amuse and intrigue us, leaving us a trail of clues starting with the title and sub-title. But he demonstrates a deeper intention too, as the poem brings up issues of authenticity and truth. Definitely one for our front page.

I especially like it as it has a neat symmetry with the poem I mentioned above in The Alchemy Spoon as that has a line in it about ranging far and wide. Well, the final version says “ranged”, but an earlier version said far and wide too. You’ll have to wait for the Complete Poems of Mat Riches to be published after my death to see that though. (Yes, I could just put it up here in a few weeks, but let me dream about a Complete Poems for a bit longer please.)

Mat Riches, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a four-door hatchback

Now, with those professional years behind me, it’s still the way I tend to organize my time, but I also get distracted because although I finally have more time to do my own creative work, there are also more people around me with needs and desires which are important to me. So I find it’s even more crucial, if I want to get anything done besides the daily tasks of ordinary life, to be intentional about certain areas: reading, music, language-learning, writing, making things, exercise. I don’t make task lists, I don’t have a daily schedule, and I don’t make resolutions. I just have certain things I try to do every day (exercise, language practice, some reading, ongoing correspondence and/or journaling); some I do more or less weekly (write a blog post, for instance) and others that I just try to move forward incrementally, not necessarily all at the same time (drawing, knitting or sewing, piano/music, larger writing and publishing projects). Hopefully, there is also some unstructured time to dream, relax, think and meditate, and to be social.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because of two things.

One: a friend asked me what I’m addicted to, and after thinking a bit, I answered “accomplishment.” By that I didn’t mean the sort of accomplishment that results in praise, but a sense of having done something with my time, having learned, having grown a little, and having contributed to others. If I don’t feel that way, I can get discouraged, angry, even depressed.

Two: the pandemic has insisted that I see myself as the age that I actually am, and that age is no longer young. Mortality has been in my face, and in the face of everyone over 60, whether we like it or not. Regardless of how young and energetic I feel or appear, I’ve been forced to face the fact that life is finite, and my own time is running shorter.

Beth Adams, Incremental

Tracing-paper pages show hairline cracks
in their creases. In-between, the arthritic limbs
of a Photoshopped tree glow like a bone x-ray.
Your desk is flecked with gold paint.

I think of the traces of gold in our bodies, how all the gold
on earth was forged by stars; how you read that its glitter
is caused by the speed of electrons in its orbit,
the relative slowing of their time;

and of the crazy idea you had
that the point of death was like falling into
a black hole’s event horizon, where you could cram
a lifetime of thought into a second.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 8 – Event Horizon

It’s been a cold, dreary January here in Seattle, and Omicron is peaking across the US. Our state’s National Guard has been called up to aid hospitals and testing sites. Schools in my neighborhoods are mostly going virtual. I have to say my anxiety is worse than it has been during most of the pandemic; it’s been hard to get out of the house to get fresh air or exercise, I’ve seen lots of vaccinated friends and some family get covid and even get hospitalized.  It’s not been fun.

So one day, when the rain and snow gave us a break, we went out in the fog to birdwatch, and got these shots of sunset with fog and cormorants, and a few Wood Ducks. It was good to get some exercise, even in the chilly gray day. Being immersed in nature is excellent for anxiety, even if I needed a lot of hot tea and a shower to get warm when I got home. I also taught an online speculative poetry class yesterday; it was a lot of fun – thanks to everyone who came out for that!

It’s been tough to keep my spirits up. I try to be optimistic; I try to be pro-active, I meditate and do breathing exercises, and I’m trying to distract myself with positive things (see my last section below) but I saw a quote: “You can’t self-care your way out of a pandemic.” You also can’t ignore the deaths of 850,000 in your own country. In February, it will be two years since the first US cases of covid appeared in Kirkland, a few miles from my house. So I’m submitting more, researching PR, reading, organizing. Waiting for spring…and hopefully more good news.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Dreary in Mid-January, Interview with Water~Stone Review, Distracting Myself with PR Research, Submissions, and Organizing Projects, Birdwatching w/Towhees and Wood Ducks

The stars are
already conspiring

to make the next
universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (107)

Last January, at this time, I was sleeping 18 hours a day and quarantining in my basement away from children and husband, battling a second round of COVID-19 (probably Delta?) and feeling like absolute garbage. When I finally emerged from my psuedo-coma on the futon, joints aching and fifteen pounds lighter than I’d been in 2020 — having subsisted on little other than broth and Gatorade for three straight weeks — I developed tremors. I shook so badly I couldn’t drive. My handwriting was barely handwriting — which didn’t matter much anyway, since my brain was still fogged.

The way every other member of my family struggled isn’t my story to tell, of course, so I’ll just say that it’s been eye-opening and humbling — what happens when two people struggle to keep themselves and their partnership intact, when parents are so beset with problems that it becomes difficult for them to parent, and to guide and help their children, who suddenly have developed their own serious problems, challenges I never would have imagined my children would face pre-pandemic.

We always imagined disaster and apocalypse to look very different than this, didn’t we? I mean, I’m not walking down I-95 toward Florida in a cold gray landscape, evading roaming packs of cannibals and scraping subsistence for my children from abandoned farms. There’s no hellfire falling from the sky or radiation pulsing through the air (that we *know* of), but survival is still a preoccupation.

When I write the words survival and apocalypse I’m not intending to be hyperbolic. Rather, I see a very particular world coming to an end. It’s not happening under a curtain of falling ash, and for the most part the sky is still a beneficent sky and the earth provides and nurtures — but something has been destroyed, and with finality.

And when we look at the old life, pre-pandemic, why are we so keen for *it* to survive? What fire from the old life are we carrying into the next life, and is that new life worth this trouble?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Something Has Been Destroyed (But Maybe That’s Okay)

It’s not that the well’s run dry.
The walk feels too far. It’s uphill
in the snow both ways, and
who has the strength to carry
those dangling buckets balanced
on their shoulders now? I’ll stay
on this secondhand chair, wrapped
in my mother’s holey shawl.
Make another cup of tea, stay quiet.
Grief sits with me by the fire.
Out the window, tiny birds track
hieroglyphics across the icy ground.

Rachel Barenblat, The well

2022 isn’t starting on the best foot. I’m in quarantine with my four kids, two have tested positive and we’re just waiting to see if any of the rest of us get it. Some of us will already miss one day of school/work when we go back next week, so I’m hoping we can hold out and not miss any more. 

I’ve gotten lots of little home projects done but missed the chance to catch up on things like buying new clothes for my constantly growing kids, picking up a few replacement items for the home. We’ve cleaned, played Uno, sledged, listened to music, read lots and spent too much time on screens. But we haven’t killed each other yet. Two years of social distancing has helped to prep us for proper quarantine, though I’m desperate to get back into the world.

But this post is to look back. 2021 was a good year for my writing. I’ve had more work accepted than ever before, some for magazines I’ve been trying to get into for ages or for projects that actually paid or offered wider exposure than previous I’ve been involved in. 

I’m not writing every day, but I have learned to focus the little time I have on writing. Saturday is currently my writing day, though that will happen less as my course starts up. I write, edit and submit to magazines on that day, totally immersing myself in writing. I will miss having that much time for just my writing, so I don’t expect to see such great numbers next year.

Gerry Stewart, 2021 Writing Review

The clean blue field protects me from
accidental eye contact or conversation
with the person across from me.
It enforces, with its institutional cerulean,
the subtle separation between me
and the student working on a paper;
the elderly woman filling out tax forms;
the stubbly man reading a mystery.
I sip from my covered beverage (allowed)
and find an excuse not to look down
at my laptop. Instead I let my gaze linger
a moment longer, lost in the artificial sky.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Clean Blue Field

To live in a world where birdhouses are built atop gravestones, where gardens are planted in the hearts of the lonely, where lightning bug halos are forged for one and all. To live in a world where we burn rage, burn tears, burn what we don’t need, anoint those ashes across sky’s forehead, create better weather for our lives.

Rich Ferguson, better weather / whether better

It turns out my jumbled mind has pulled itself together via the stars. I read two books recently with stars in the titles and on the covers: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue, about the 1918 pandemic as it affects a maternity ward in Ireland, and Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves, poems by David James. Both provided quiet moments of focus on something other than work tasks, home tasks, caregiver tasks, and memorizing lines. My mind moved back into its jumble rather easily any time I slipped in a bookmark.

For example, I actually reviewed the poetry book for Escape Into Life, as David James is one of our EIL poets. I set up the post to publish automatically…on Wednesday…and then forgot about it till Friday.

Caregiver tasks included visiting my folks several times and accompanying my dad to a doctor’s appointment, where I was shocked to see a woman sitting in the waiting room completely unmasked. I reminded him to keep his mask over his nose, and I was double-masking (medical + cloth), but I couldn’t understand why the medical receptionists hadn’t reminded or cautioned the woman. Later, I saw her in her mask, so maybe it was just a memory lapse…something I understand. I had forgotten till I read it again in The Pull of the Stars that “influenza” actually refers to the influence of the stars, once thought to cause that illness.

Kathleen Kirk, All the Stars

Have you calculated
the ultimate question of life, the universe
and everything? Hell no. You’re the milk
you sniff after the sell-by date and decide
it should work fine for coffee; the wad
of paper towels you re-use for wiping
down a couple more counters. And you’re
always attuned to the twinge in the gut
which lets you know you’re not yet
a lesson beyond loss, a grief beyond
mourning. A speck of grit, a smart
in the eye; a mouth for rounding
a string of vowels at the moon.

Luisa A. Igloria, Short Bio, with Lines from a Sci-Fi Cult Classic

When I opened my laptop at the end of December, determined to post to this blog once more before the close of the year–well, that’s how I found out Betty White had died. I thought, Nope, see you in 2022. I closed the laptop’s cover. If you’ve struggled with social media for this past year, I get it. I’ve needed to go silent for long periods. That’s particularly painful when the pandemic hasn’t given us a chance to connect in other ways, because it can feel like damned-if-you-do, erased-if-you-don’t. But I’m grateful because when I look back at the second half of 2021, I spot bright glimmers of living, of pleasures taken, seized in a time that felt dark. 

Sandra Beasley, January Jump

For several weeks before Christmas I had these words from Ian McMillan’s peerless ‘Stone, I Presume’ rattling around my head. During my teaching, walking the dog, reading, even when I was watching the telly.

One day I heard myself saying them out loud: ‘It’s all a bit twist and reek, isn’t it?’ What was I talking about? I mean: what was I talking about? The 10 Downing Street party crisis? Keir Starmer’s suits? Chelsea’s injury list? The current edition of Really Great Poetry? All of these, and none of them. They are all twist and reek.

Twist and reek. Not twist and shout, twist and reek. What does it mean? a) I have no idea, and b) Whatever you want it to. I mutter it under my breath in meetings when the same person makes the same point for the third time without realising they are doing it. (Sometimes this person is me.) Climate change deniers can be twist and reek. The Conservative Party has been twist and reek for years. Poetry readings can be twist and reek. (That’s yours as well as mine.)

The poets who are never twist and reek are definitely Frank O’Hara and absolutely Ian McMillan. Martin Stannard is never twist and reek (unless he chooses to be, in which case it is always deliberate and therefore acceptable). There are others. (Check out Lifesaving Poems to find more!)

Anthony Wilson, Twist and reek

Both these podcasts tackle a poem or 2 per episode, but in different ways.

Frank Skinner is a well-known UK comedian with hidden depths. He does a good solo job with a range of poems old and new, some of them rather challenging. His target audience includes people who don’t usually read modern poetry – he’s aware of which aspects they may disapprove of. He’s enthusiastic, not pretentious, and doesn’t hesitate to reveal aspects of his personal life if it helps illuminate the piece. In his most recent episode he talks about 2 poems from Caroline Bird’s “The Air Year”, making me realise I’d missed some points – e.g in the title poem “the mime scene” alludes to “the crime scene”.

In “Poem Talk” an avant-garde poem is discussed by 3 or 4 American academics who help each other try to understand the piece. A recording by the poet is played. They often come to no firm conclusions. I learn much from their comments, which at times seem very generous. They’re fairly honest about their puzzlement though they never go as far as blaming the poet.

Tim Love, 2 poetry podcasts

These days, with a few exceptions, I prefer pigs to poets.

I bear no ill-will to those who see the poetry scene as one gigantic performance or who feel energised by the social whirl of it. I just prefer to spend time with my pigs. I talk to them. They talk to me. I feed them, clean out the muck, keep the straw dry. They grunt happily sometimes, grumble at others. We get along fine.

This week I saw the propaganda surrounding the T S Eliot Prize, the point of which is a little lost on me. Is it important? What does it do, exactly? If you went to the handing out of the prize or the apparently glitzy reading event, I hope you had a nice time and that the free wine flowed freely. I looked at YouTube and found a poem by the ‘winning’ poet. Seemed like a decent piece of writing to me, read clearly and cleanly. Yes, I liked it.

But was it worth the sycophantic outpouring that the awarding of the prize provoked on social media? Somebody even quoted slavishly the winner’s words in some book or other on, I guess, ‘How To Be A Poet’ or similar, when she said: “To write a poem is an act of resistance. To perform it is a revolution.” It’s a good sound-bite. It’s also white-noise nonsense. But don’t let me stop you becoming a disciple, please, if that’s your thing.

Frankly, though, I had a better time listening for half an hour to a band of Mongolian throat singers doing their ethereal stuff and another half-hour watching Uyghur people dancing and singing songs of love. I normally avoid the tales of ancient Greece but it did fascinate me also earlier today when I ‘discovered’ that Aeschylus, who specialised in writing tragedies, was killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.

Bob Mee, PIGS OR PRIZE-WINNING POETS? THE CHOICE IS MINE

I had thought that the phenomenon of western poets adapting someone’s translation had vanished. I would argue that it did disappear for a few years from English, only to return at the hands of poets, not translators! Translation has become ‘cool’; in some way its popularity speaks of the failure of a liberal intellectual class wrestling with the rise of Western fascisms. It rejuvenates their monolingual diction and imagery, it fits in the tenure dossier, it rescues the Third-World poet who is always imagined as a singular voice against the savage masses; as if the Cold War has never ended, or God forbid, hasn’t been won by the United States. Translation today, as scholar Dima Ayoub argues, is seen not only as a necessity but also necessarily good. What makes translations a must? Where does this blind faith in translation come from? Doesn’t translation act also as unconditional access, as surveillance, as an expanding force of the global capitalist market of literature? 

Mona Kareem, Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations

Looking to pad my coffers a little before I set sail into the wind, I’ve been doubling down on some of the freelance work, and alternating between art and literature projects to keep my brain from getting overwhelmed. Still today, I began the day with the Hudson Valley school and, when something else came back for edits, swiveled to Artemisia Gentileschi. Thus today, I have had one foot in the Baroque and one foot in American Romanticism most of the afternoon.  (With a detour on Caravaggio a couple days ago, and my sights on Millais. ) Yesterday’s work on Gentileschi was followed by Dickinson–a more general piece than the beast on one on Guinevere as literary figure prior, but I couldn’t help but start thinking about her and Artemesia, how both are, in most internet articles, mentioned first for their biographical details, and only second  the ways their work was innovative.  

Artemesia’s rape trial defined her for many, not her painting.  Emily’s life of seclusion and white ensemble similarly leads in when people start talking about her.  Only if you are a a painter or a poet, do you progress beyond those things.  I keep thinking about Sylvia Plath, always, and how her death overshadowed her work. And yet, in my limited previous knowledge of Caravaggio, I did not know that he was not only a convicted murderer and hothead, but a multiple murderer. As in more than one person.  This seems to be, for him, a side note.  A tiny piece of trivia when you dig into biographical details. Kind of like how very few people talk about William Burroughs killing his wife. 

I guess, what gets remembered about us as artists, who knows?  How history defines us, completely beyond our control.  It made my head spin a little bit.  Why do women’s biographical detail lead the story, while men’s are footnotes to their supposed genius? 

Kristy Bowen, painters and poets, oh my!

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

Because I am working in found/collage form, there is a slight urgency to getting something, once it has taken form, glued down. Otherwise, the tiny, precariously placed scraps of paper with each word (or letter) on it become subject to breeze through an open window or my cat jumping on the desk. That being said, it can take weeks before the scraps start to come together into a poem—though once they begin to, it happens rather quickly. The unique thing about the process is that, once the collage is glued and the poem is in it, there is no revision! No way benefits to workshopping a poem beside asking what I can do differently next time. There was one poem that I tried revised, which was actually very very cool. I had left a good deal of space between each line, so ended up adding 2-3 lines between each original piece, making sure each new line picked up where the previous left off and could also segue into the original predecessor. It grew from 8 lines to 15.

4 – 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?

The impetus of The Fever Poems was to make cards I card send to friends. I cut up a couple magazines then found something more interesting—a book that I was tired of holding onto for sentimental reasons that I could turn into something else. It had illustrations too! I made one card with a few words cut out and pasted onto it and then suddenly was writing full lyric poems in that way. Also suddenly, there were more than forty poems. I am working on a new project now that is very much a self-contained book project, replete with an extensive reading list for research and piles and piles of notes on what it aims to explore.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kylie Gellatly

Tell us about your new chapbook, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota. How did the idea of using invasive species to explore the connection between ecology and human nature come to you?

When I started (and finished) writing this book I was living in a very small apartment in downtown Minneapolis with my husband and our two dogs. So it seemed really important to get out and to green spaces in my free time when I could. The Twin Cities area is really great for that, with a state park and a national wildlife refuge right on the train line, and of course all the lakes. And like a lot of writers I was of course writing about what I was seeing.

The first couple I wrote weren’t imagined as part of a bigger project, they were just some fun little story-poems. I liked writing about invasive species because they turned the purpose of a lot of standard field guides on its head — the ones that are about helping you spot desirable species. They don’t take into consideration many of the plants and animals you actually see, since typically the nature spaces we enjoy aren’t truly a wilderness, they’re all some degree of impacted. Choosing only invasives became a way to write about real climate change, real ecological concerns but also tell these very misfit, weird stories.

As you started to realize these little weird poems would be part of a larger project, what was your process for pulling it together into a cohesive whole? How did you decide what needed to stay and what needed to go?

After I had 4-5 finished, I decided I wanted to take this in a much bigger direction. I made a huge list of potential species candidates, trying to evenly include plants and animals. Some of them were really easy choices — ones I had experience with removing as a volunteer, some we covered when I tutored environmental science, like buckthorn, Ones I saw slowly destroying some of the biodiversity of the lake by my grandparents, like trapdoor snails. Earthworms, because I participated in spreading them without realizing the problems they caused. Anything I had a real visceral connection to was an easy one to write about, to include.

Some I dropped because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how beautiful a name “Tree of Heaven” is or how sensory stick bugs are, I just couldn’t find a good hook to attach a poem to. Others I dropped because they weren’t really relevant. Wild boar, for example, would have been really fun to brainstorm about, but sightings are rare and almost completely unconfirmed. They just aren’t actually a driver of habitat loss or a signal of climate change, or anything with a large effect on the land. And I wanted those topics, albeit in exaggerated and fantastical forms, to be the core of the poems.

I also clearly remember sitting on my floor with printed copies of every poem in front me, ready to tackle the incredibly nitpicky and difficult task of trying to figure out what the punchiest order would be. Before I really got into laying them out and sliding them around like terrible tetris blocks I asked myself “What if I just try to do it alphabetically?” and ended up very happy with the start, the ending, the pacing. It was a nice reminder that just because poetry is sometimes really hard, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

One of the things I love about your book is how each poem is paired with a botanical illustration. Was this a concept that you thought about early in your process of writing the book? Or did it come about later as you were working with your publisher?

Both, actually! I had printed a version for myself once because I wanted to practice making artsy little zines and learn different binding stitches, and just for fun I included several old public domain illustrations. I don’t think anyone but me ever saw that version.

But early in the editing process, Holly at IFP asked me if I was open to including illustrations with the poems, to make it more like an actual field guide. Of course I was! It was like she read my mind. And it was an early sign that I was working with someone with similar tastes and interests, especially in books as artifacts.

Andrea Blythe, Amelia Gorman on ecology, invasive species, and weird poetry

With closed eyes the world
disappears inside us,
time shrinks and hides
behind the soft skin of our eyelids.
Eleven years, twenty years ago,
forty, the day we were born;
we’ve learned the trick from the very start.
A membraned border, our fine veil
between seeing and looking,
or a wall out of stone
when pain is involved.
Just before we fall asleep,
just before we cry,
just before we give in to madness.

Magda Kapa, Timeout

The collection returns to the climate change theme towards the end. In “Passerine”,

“Meanwhile in another timeframe
the future, which is now,
we are not ready
toilet paper, sanitiser, neatly stacked
in a cupboard with a big sack of rice
which hopefully won’t be dumped
moth and weevil zigzagging
while fantails move happily
through the understory, a reminder
that nothing lasts.”

Passerines are perching birds, a hint at the precarity of their existence. It could also be a metaphor for the pandemic, where humans were reminded of their own precarity. As well as lack of preparedness – the toilet rolls and large sack of rice won’t keep a virus at bay and it looks as if the rice will go off before it gets used. The wildlife, however, gets freedom of movement. Although the wildlife doesn’t get chance to recover, it just reminds humanity that nothing lasts.

The poems in “The Density of Compact Bone” explore personal issues and the climate emergency. Magdalena Ball’s deftly constructed poems work as multi-layered explorations of her themes, underline how humanity has contributed to its own woes. There is a sense of helplessness as if there is no time to mitigate the damage or take action. They overlook the imbalances of power: one person diligently taking all possible steps to limit their impact will never have the same effect as a large corporation stopping air travel, holding solely online meetings and using recyclable materials. She is very conscious of her place as a daughter, as a mother, supporting and upholding both roles and the inheritances they bring. Her concerns are about what kind of world her child will grow up in, how there needs to be a world for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “The Density of Compact Bone” Magdalena Ball (Ginninderra Press) – book review

I’ve always found titles quite hard to come up with. I’ve been through all kind of exercises to try to break the back of it. I look at other people’s titles to see which ones jump out at me (or not). And I remember Carol-Ann Duffy once reading the title of a poem and exclaiming ‘Now that’s a title that gives me confidence in the poet!’

I know there have been various trends over the years: the Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Title is still popular, (especially when it comes to competition entries) although I wonder if it’s waning. I’ve done a few of those myself but can’t help wondering if the title can end up being more interesting than the poem.

The good old basic single-word title is surely a classic. But the first line had better be AMAZING if the title is ‘Daisies’ or ‘Evening’ or whatever.

How about the first-line-as-title? I confess I quite like this arrangement and have used it a fair bit – in the sense of the title being the actual first line, so that the poem runs on from the title (rather than repeating the first line, although this is also possible of course).  But it doesn’t suit every poem.

And what about collection titles? I know we’re commonly advised to use the title of one of the poems, or use a phrase or a line from one of the poems. Sometimes Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Titles are more memorable. When it’s come to pamphlets, I’ve always gone with the title of one of the poems, with the exception of ‘Why?’ which I wanted to call ‘Was it the Diet Coke?’ but that didn’t work out, for fear of a certain mega-company based in Atlanta coming down on us like a pantechnicon of canned drinks.

Robin Houghton, Thinking about poem and book titles

I recently published reading notes on Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens by Corey Van Landingham. It’s a spectacular poetry collection, and I jumped at the chance to review it ahead of its release. I have great affection for Van Landingham’s work. Going back seven or eight years ago, I spent a December writing only sonnets. One of those sonnets started with a line from Van Landingham’s “The Louse”: “I name every injury like it was a comet.”

I remember vividly the energy that line gave my own writing and am grateful all over again. I’m also inspired to let myself be, well, more inspired in the coming year. I spent the bulk of last year attending workshops, but somehow got mired in the left-brain aspects of them: being a good student, gathering information, reading, offering critique, considering new approaches, etc. I didn’t use them for writing inspiration as much as I wish I had.

To be fair, it felt like a difficult year to loosen up and let things in. 2021 began with the insurrection and ended with amped up prioritization of capitalism and the economy over public health. And in between? Also a total shit show. I had my guard up (aggressively), and it impacted more than my mood. It also locked down my creativity. (To see what I accomplished — and where I missed the mark — click through to last week’s post about revisiting 2021 writing goals.)

2022 is unlikely to be any better as far as the state of the world is concerned, and so my task is to be more selective with what I consume: more comets and sonnets, less circling the news/social media drain. As such, my poetry goals for 2022 limit external impulses (readings and workshops, for example) and focus instead on the ritual of quiet time to generate new work and revise manuscripts.

Carolee Bennett, 2022 writing goals: more comets and sonnets

there’s something over there
this nearer that
something in the dimness
that which is this but further

this nearer that
this indicating the difference
that which is this but further
only twilight knows which

this indicating the difference
this where you find me
only twilight knows which
twilight where I write

this where you find me
that which is this but further
the twilight where I write
this nearer night

Gary Barwin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTOUMS

Black being such a glorious color, it’s unfair to see it maligned in the season of light.  During those holiday weeks of celebrating “light,” all those little pinpricks stung me and made me think, in a Baudelairean way, about its other. I was thinking about how to decouple darkness and its sometime extension “blackness” from the metaphors of sin and ignorance of the age/soul.  I thought about how to decouple part of the daily cosmic cycle and a radically beautiful color from centuries and millennia of role play, poetry and language games.  How might race relations have been different if the color of sin had stayed in the red zones, stains of blood and sex as they were in the Hebrew Bible?  But new color games came along, Christianity codifying and equating Adam and Eve’s “original” sin to death and to the color of death.  In a much, much longer story spanning centuries, black came to mark dark ecstasies of sinners, devils, and sadly, Ethiopians.

I was listening to a magnificent sermon of Martin Luther King at Riverside Church, from 1964.  Was I surprised to hear him use the metaphors “terrible midnight of our age” and “it’s midnight, a darkness so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn”?  When he preached, I believed his midnight, his condemnation of moral relativity, hypocrisy, lack of compassion.  He doesn’t say blackness – he says darkness, and midnight.  Deep dark holes of moral/Christian failure, using the full weight of age-old cultural symbols.

The title of this speech, “A Knock at the Door,” is a midrash of a parable of Luke, which in itself is a midrash of “The Song of Songs.”  When a stranger, lover or needy person, which could be divine or part of ourselves, comes knocking at our door, we are unprepared, we hesitate, or play or hide.  The desire and demand of this other breaks in on our lassitude; it erupts, interrupts our borders.  There are so many “colorations” here, but there is a pattern.  Certain things cannot be explained, but we know to be true. Color breaks in, uninvited, irreducible, not standing for anything except itself.  

Jill Pearlman, The Values of Black

whose eye shall fill my light with sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Chosen,

poured into, lips meet
my rim. I brim,
a hand around me,
through me, and I hold
what I am given.

Offering up my sweet
entirety. Until emptied again,

submerged, taken
to a dish towel’s
efficient caress.

Renee Emerson, “Mug” from Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing)

I prefer to rise before dawn, when the air
is cool and the light is thin, and the muscles
of night finally relax. Often my dreams
are still with me, and I wonder if I should whisper
them to you, but I never do. I put these dreams,
now slender things, into a box, and I place
the box on a shelf. This shelf holds many boxes,
each containing more dreams than the one
beside it, and so the dawn passes. You rise
later than me, and I say nothing except
for a slight greeting, no more than one
would say to a stranger passing in the street.

James Lee Jobe, I wonder if I should whisper

frost
on a station platform
tomorrow is late

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This first full week of the year found some poets still looking back at 2021, some looking ahead with goals and writing strategies for 2022, and many looking within. I have a bit of brain fog as I recover from a mild, breakthrough case of COVID, so the arrangement may be less coherent than usual, but as always there are so many interesting and surprising posts, it almost doesn’t matter what order they’re in. Enjoy.


To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.

To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a new-born child her mother’s face.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 1

I haven’t been doing too much poetry writing lately, but one morning this week I drafted a poem called “Lying to Myself,” that sort of veered off topic as if to demonstrate the title. Furthermore, when I flipped the pages of the poem-drafting notebook, I saw that I had been drafting poems all along, just not doing much further with them. Sometimes I typed them into my computer, revising a bit, et cetera, but some just sat there languishing… 

Then a friend sent me a text with a link to a New York Times article on languishing as a state of unfocused mind during Covid, not depression but also not flourishing. Yes, it clicked. Thanks, Chris! It was an article from April 2021, revisited in December 2021, and I couldn’t read it on my phone, and I hope can see it via this link, but I could read it on my computer, thanks to an electronic subscription given to me by a friend. Thanks, Scott!

It was comforting to learn that I’d intuitively found ways over the past year and a half to both comfort and focus myself, and that I didn’t have to see all my tactics as escape or avoidance but rather as real strategies to fend off too much languishing. I could create temporary “flow”—that state of time both suspended and flashing by during intense focus on a creative project or sports—when drafting even the poems I forgot (or didn’t revise or submit later). I could get steady satisfaction from small daily tasks and goals. I could, as I did, immerse myself in other stories than my own, every time I read a book or watched a movie, and I did a lot of that. 

Kathleen Kirk, Lying to Myself

For a while a white softness
would rub out the dirt of the streets,
the remains of this year’s
half-hearted celebrations.
And then, soon after,
we’d be thirsty for colour again,
our mind would shovel away
the heavy burden
from green bushes and red cars,
we’d long for the blue sea,
the moonlight in a warm night
when the cicadas cannot sleep.
But to make it all worth it,
first the snow must come.

Magda Kapa, No snow here

January 6th is Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the coming of the Three Kings from the East to the cradle in Bethlehem, led by a star blazing in the heavens that “stopped over the place where Jesus lay.” It’s always been my favorite Christmas story, in spite of the fact that I hardly believe a word of it. Like all the Biblical narratives, it probably has seeds of truth. The Greek word magos (of which magoi is the plural, later shortened to magi) gives us “magic” and “magician”: the magi were generally thought to be priest-astronomers who were well-versed in astronomy and astrology, alchemy, and other types of esoteric practices. […]

I thought about the Magi again this past weekend as we watched a documentary about the James Webb telescope, launched on Christmas Day and now well into its journey to deep space, where — if everything goes as hoped and planned — it will send pictures and data of unprecedented clarity and detail back to earth, furthering our knowledge of both the near and far reaches of our universe and its origins. The telescope will be able to “see” infrared light from over 13.5 billion years ago, when the first stars and galaxies were forming, and it will also give much clearer data and measurements of planets in other galaxies which might harbor conditions conducive to life.

In some ways, it’s easier for me to believe in wise men from the East, following a star to Bethlehem to search for the infant King of the Jews, than to wrap my head around stars coming into being from a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago — what does that number even mean? Let alone the concept of some sort of ultra-compacted super-heated Density suddenly expanding into the Somethingness that eventually gave rise to Everything. But I do trust science, and mathematics, and the observations of astrophysics, and I am prepared to be amazed many more times in my life by the explorations and discoveries of space science. I hope I live long enough to see some proof of what I have always believed: that we are not alone in the universe, and that Life probably exists in many other places and forms.

Beth Adams, Stars

what to do but
trace the hollow
of the moon
taste the air that once
held your name
and know how
one by one
inch by inch
shadows lengthen
inside you

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What to do

Stanza length happens to be one of the aspects of a draft I am most likely to change when revising. Stanzas being the little rooms of the poem, it seems the spaces between stanzas play, usually, a more than visual role in the best poems…well, that got me thinking about space in the poem and somehow led to thinking what poems offer. Why we read and write them, even in the 21st century.

Explicitly: The poem is a space for reflection. In the space of the poem, a reader can expand perspective or feel resonance, as in a concert hall; or find a mirroring of the reader’s self (reflection); or, in a critical sense, the reader can reflect upon the poem’s topic, context, argument, content, imagery, craft, language, or beauty. The space of the poem urges response and responsiveness. Poems are not rooms built solely by and for the writer but built of the circumstances and for the reader, too.

What poetry means, in terms of reflection, is that the response can be reflective of the reader’s space, as well as the writer’s. I know that I have had different responses/readings of the same poem depending upon the place I was in while reading it (emotional, physical, contextual “place”). Different kinds of mirrors reflect different visual images. The lighting matters. The time of day. The mood. All of those are spaces, metaphorically or actually. Different stanzaic rooms, different poetic rooms–ready for a reader’s exploration.

Ann E. Michael, Reflective spaces

by what power does the dark pull of the moon :: become our silver light

Grant Hackett [no title]

We adjourned to the courtyard for our evening worship.  There’s a Native American group that we’ll learn more about today who came last night.  They had a smudging ceremony in the courtyard.  We each stepped forward to be smudged with sage that smoked in what looked like a giant shell.  The elders swirled the smoke around us with big feathers.

I wish I could have heard better.  At first I thought the same words were repeated with everyone, but as I watched, I realized that wasn’t true.  I was second to be smudged.  The female elder of the tribe said, “Oh, such strong shoulders” as she touched them with the feather.  She said, “And a good heart.”  I’m not sure of the rest, although at one point, she did say, “We’re getting rid of all negativity.”

Later she told me that there are 4 types of smudging smoke:  tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar.  I wonder if those smudging ceremonies are different.

The one we experienced last night was very powerful.  Many of us cried a bit, and a few of us were deeply shaken, and I’m not sure whether it was in a good way or a bad way.  Once again, I was reminded of how cerebral most of our mainline Protestant worship services are, and how it might be much more powerful/effective to do more embodied practices.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The First Full Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive

The mushrooms kick in and your brain grows feathery wings
And flies right out of the window, into the exploding green sky.
You hear bassoons and oboes. Someone is singing the poems
Of Emily Dickinson quite loudly, and without any particular melody.
The smell of french fries. Aah. And flowers fly beside you
Like small birds. Chirping. Any hard feelings you were harboring
Are now gone. You love your enemies, just like Jesus said.

James Lee Jobe, Jesus and the French Fries.

Almost wisdom,
the master said before

he dismissed it,
the old monk’s poem.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (98)

Is it nerve-wracking meeting with other humans during Omicron’s numbers, overrun hospitals, and daily news? It was! Was it worth it? Well, neither Glenn and I (who tested before and after) got sick, our guests didn’t get sick, and everyone was vaccinated (most triple-vaccinated, except me) and we were running four air purifiers and kept windows open (circulation still important!) so definitely yes. I have missed other humans! It’s just not the same over the phone or over Zoom. And Glenn really enjoys cooking for humans who aren’t quite as jaded to his excellent food as me and the cats have become.

While Rose and Glenn bonded over Seahawks and cooking, Kelli showed me how to share an Instagram story (Instagram is still a new skill set for me) and we talked poetry, PR, the problems of launching books during a pandemic…you know, typical girl stuff! Seriously, family bonding and writer-friend bonding felt really life-affirming. It also felt unfamiliar – seeing people in person. When this pandemic is over (someday soon, hopefully,) I’m going to have to re-learn my socializing skills. What is it going to be like to do a poetry reading in public again?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Late Holiday Celebrations, 10 Questions with Massachusetts Review, After the Snow, Floods, and Next Week, a Speculative Poetry Class

wandering poet
in the catacombs of mind
a thousand coffins

Jim Young [no title]

Today I am grateful for the poetry books of others as well as for the wonder of my own deep revision. 

This afternoon, I’m halfway through Disappearing Queen by Gail Martin, winner of the Wilder Prize by Two Sylvias Press and I don’t want it to end. The different narrative threads include the life of bees, the life of an older American woman, and the accrued losses implicit in both. […]

And somehow, the day is almost gone and my poem “architectural digest, reboot” is nowhere near done; neither is “The Pickle Barrel at Morse’s”. Maybe they never will be. When working on new poems there is simply joy at  attempting something new; a deep feeling of gratitude for the creation.

May your creativity flair in unexpected and exciting ways; may your creativity swerve sideways or even take a small rest. I feel so lucky to be living this life as a writer and a secret painter; to be creating community and also to love the solitude. 

Susan Rich, Happy New Year, One Day Late

the letters on the gravestone
became letter-shaped pools where
letter-shaped moss grew

Gary Barwin, PO(E)TATOES

This year was another big reading year for me – I read 319 books, down from last year’s 332 books! Of those books consumed, here were my favorites:

Poetry

~ No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin: Poems with themes of betrayal, mothering a severely autistic and epileptic child, battling cancer during a divorce, mythology, and eventually, hope.

~ Where the Water Begins by Kimberly Casey: Poems with themes of loss, grief, addiction, hope, health, and figuring out how to keep moving forward.

~ All Sex and No Story by Laura Passin: A chapbook of poems that focus on the body, desire, sex, relationships, and the boundaries in between.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: Poems with themes of loss, teenage angst, hope, love and forgiving yourself for the mistakes you made in the past.

~ Borrowing Your Body by Laura Passin: Poems with themes of death, dying, loss, space, science, the infinite universe and surviving it all.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2021

The band announces itself with a flourish
before fading into the soft white of the piano.
It sounds better because it’s old,
a half-remembered audio phantasm
floating just out of reach.
Sure it would be nice to hear
every nuance, every breath, every
subtle shift in tone or timbre.
But given the choice, I’ll take
the crackles and static,
the muted highs and lows,
the mid-range heard as if
underwater, perhaps from
the bottom of a pool
while the band
plays on the
patio
above.

Jason Crane, POEM: Listening To Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall”

A couple things changed in the last 6 months–even the last two months.  I began to feel a little more smothered and hopeless at the Library as things continued to be too much weight and my enthusiasms that used to buoy me waned.  Remedies for it seemed even further on the horizon if there at all, with pandemic budgets and hiring freezes.  I was trying to hold on to the side of the boat, scared to swim, but I was still drowning somehow.  I started looking for wreckage, a door, a board, anything I could build a raft with.  I didn’t want another ship (ie another library job), though nearby ships were aplenty in this land of the Great Resignations, but I did need something that could keep me out of the water should solid land be further out than I thought or the sea more treacherous than it looked.  

I found a good one in the form of some freelance work, maybe even comfy as a rowboat, in  November and its proved to actually be pretty enjoyable, but is not so heavy that I can’t control its weight.  Enough to make up the lost library income (that’s actually not that much, also part of the problem) and get me somewhere safely.  By leaving, I realized that I could parlay funds from unused vacation hours (months and months b/c  we could never actually take time off) into a nest egg of savings should I need it for emergencies (this was another thing, as single person household I worried about.) . I figured things like health insurance premiums and self-employment taxes and other things that seemed scary. 

All I needed was to let go and start rowing…

Kristy Bowen, onward, across the sea

At the behest of a long-time poetry mentor and friend of mine, I made a commitment recently that I’m both nervous and excited about. I’ve agreed to write and post one new poem per month on this blog. There, I’ve said it publicly and now I’m accountable. For a number of reasons I’m not going to detail here,I’ve been in a hopeless funk for a long time about writing poetry and have struggled to find the calling. So I appreciate this nudge—or more like the light kick in the pants I needed to get going again. Because I am me, of course I decided to re-start this endeavor by writing a sestina about the Burr vs. Hamilton duel, but quickly discovered that this was far too ambitious a plan for my weakened, out-of-shape poetry muscles. It’s like when I go ham at the gym after a long absence and end up debilitatlingly sore the next day. So I’m going to start with something a little simpler and work my way up. I can’t guarantee when the first new poem will show up, but it will be some time in January. I also offer no guarantees as to the quality or literary worth of any new poem. However, if you insult one of my poems, I shall challenge you to a duel!

Kristen McHenry, Affairs of Honor, Poem Promise

The great thing about the first week of this year: I dedicated a substantial chunk to poetry. I discovered that although I’d revised older work, I hadn’t drafted a new poem AT ALL since summer 2021. That’s really rare for me. I tend to throw down drafts during spare hours and come back to them during academic breaks, but honestly, October through December were remarkably short on spare hours. In retrospect, it was right to commit to what felt like countless conferences and conventions to get word out about my 2020 books, and I have no desire to put aside my Shenandoah editorship, even though it can be an overwhelming amount of labor. I received edits on my forthcoming essay collection later than I expected, so mid-fall involved a full-court press on enacting them. I also put scads of creative energy into teaching, and I don’t regret it. But I said yes to too much other service/ committee work. My brain was always revving at top speed, which made sleep difficult, and that created a circular kind of tiredness. Pandemic anxiety and grief for my mother were also operating like background programs, slowing my machine. My PT person told me to walk less to let my tendonitis heal, but that’s bad for body and mind in other ways.

I know what to do with myself to recover from months like that, and as best I can, I’m doing it: more downtime and fun reading, non-homework evenings, plus physical pleasures like sleep, good food, hot baths. I took my respirator mask to a couple of art museums during those few days in Savannah–looking at art restores me, maybe because it’s slow and silent or because it always fills me with a sense of shared effort. The flow experience of writing lifts me, too, but it wasn’t happening. Re-approaching my poetry ms-in-progress felt like hard work I was reluctant to begin.

By dint of ruthless will, though, I made myself shift poems around, add, cut, and revise individual pieces to bring the book into cohesion–the usual arithmetic of solving for the book–and I called in a friend for advice. I can’t say I achieved flow very often last week, and the book still needs more time and thinking, but I do feel better after making real hours for the efforts most important to me. And I wrote two new pieces, one at the crack of dawn this morning!

Lesley Wheeler, The work + worry equations of winter 2022

You’ve seen the plot before. The local police have been told not to apprehend a criminal but keep him under surveillance because Interpol want to catch the whole network. But an ambitious, impetuous young cop who’s unaware of the big picture arrests the criminal because he thinks the criminal’s getting away.

Apprehending a poem can have the same plot. Committing yourself to the first interpretation ensures that you get the bird in the hand, but you might miss out on many more that two other possibilities in the bush.

So follow at a distance. Wait for it to make contact with more significant agents. Try to picture the whole network. The first idea you have may be the easiest to find because it’s the most superficial. Don’t think that the title says it all. Don’t think that the rhymes are what it’s all about. Remember that even low-level operatives are cunning enough to lead you down blind alleys.

Tim Love, Apprehending

I’m currently reading, and very much admiring, the excellent Nine Arches Press book, Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys, in which 25 contemporary UK-based poets address aspects of their poetry practice and motivation. The subtitle, of sorts, of the book is, ‘essays on becoming a poet, keeping going and advice for the writing life’. These words from Rosie Garland chime precisely with attitudes to artists like [Louis] Wain:

‘Outsider’ is an opinion, imposed by those who regard themselves as ‘inside’, and impose their arbitrary norms.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth birthday, as it were, and tomorrow marks six years since the death, of the person who did as much as anyone to give licence to outsiders in the UK and beyond: David Bowie. Later this year, it will be fifty years since his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust changed many people’s lives forever. His first gig as Ziggy took place on 10 February 1972, at the Toby Jug pub at Tolworth roundabout, a mile away from the house in Old Malden that my parents, brothers and I had just moved into. We got our cat, Puzzle, shortly after. I read the other day an excellent piece, here, about Bowie’s northern patrilineage.

The sense of being an outsider, of ‘othering’, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a recurrent theme in the book. Nine Arches, like increasing numbers of others, is a publisher which specialises in bringing to the fore poetry by diverse voices who would undoubtedly have been marginalised, if not entirely unpublished, in previous generations, and the much longer established poetry publishers seem to have started to respond too. I’m very glad, incidentally, that Nine Arches will be publishing Ramona Herdman’s first full collection this year. Of late, I’ve also been (re-)reading Caleb Parkin’s Nine Arches collection, This Fruiting Body, which is full of riches – even his most straightforward poems, such as his magnificent ‘Ode on a Black Plastic Compost Bin’, are so lush that each one needs properly savouring.

There is much to relate to, to be inspired by, and to reflect upon in Why I Write Poetry’s essays. Each is heartfelt and I know I will come back to them again.

Matthew Paul, On Louis Wain and Why I Write Poetry

Comprised of seventy-three large full-colour photographs of visual poems comprised of a combination of object (leaf, bark, branch) and text, is Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi’s full-length debut, leavings (Malmö, Sweden: Timglaset Editions, 2021). leavings is a collection of visual pieces composed through a combination of printed text, visual poems and letraset combined with leaves, twigs, branches and fir to reveal, in close detail, the physical interactions between nature and language, and the impact of absolute brevity. […]

The pieces are structured in four titled sections, with a single large image per page: the twenty works of “a leaf,” the twenty-three pieces of “a leave,” the eleven pieces of “a left,” and the nineteen pieces of “a mend.” By section titles alone, Siklosi’s quartet hints at an echo of bpNichol’s infamous eight-line poem etched into the concrete of the Toronto lane that now shares his name: “A / LAKE / A / LINE / A / LONE [.]” Just as in Nichol’s poem set in concrete, Siklosi’s poems are uniquely physical, and deliberately temporal; the delicate nature of some of these pieces suggest that most, if not all, might no longer exist in the forms shown in the photographs, leaving the photograph as both framing and document of an object that can’t easily, or ever, be archived. Is her purpose, then, through the exploration, the object or the documentation? There is something fascinating in the way the pieces in leavings also suggest an approach in tandem with her found materials. These pieces exist, one might say, in collaboration between Siklosi and her materials (leaves, branches, etcetera), as opposed to her simply dismantling and repurposing whatever materials she may have found as part of her walks (her acknowledgments include a “Thank you to NourbeSe for our ravine walks, on which many of these leaves and thoughts were collected.”). Instead, Siklosi appears to respond, from her collaborative corner, as a way of shaping to and around the materials-at-hand. It is no accident, I would think, that her dedication reads, simply: “for the land, our wisest poet [.]” As she writes to preface the collection:

a life is composed of leavings: the remains of crusts and skins, the remnants of night in a dawn sky, the residue of mourning, loves too deep and too shallow, the hard words left unsaid, the time taken, the dust in our tracks. in our tiny expanse, things pass and things grow. we kill and we cultivate. we hurt and we mend. we pick up the pieces and create. we do better and we fail. we thread ragged beginnings from the trodden decay of our pasts. beginnings still. we collect, windswept and tired, in piles against a fence. in our shared fragility, we quilt a being, warm and enough.

rob mclennan, Kate Siklosi, leavings

Ivory, ecru, massed
petals on three heads
of hydrangea. After three
days, each begins to sport
a light ochre outline. We know
what it means: everything
goes into decline. Yesterday,
a communion. Today, a wedding.
Tomorrow, blooms falling
like snow into the open earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Life Cycle of White

“Reading IS writing”

Well, actually…it isn’t.

Sorry to disappoint you! But only writing is actually writing.

Reading however is an excellent tool for your writing. Along with writing everyday, I try to read at least a couple of poems everyday. I like to think of it as “filling the cup of creativity.”

Reading gets good rhythms and sounds in my mind, topics I want to dialogue with, jumping off points, arguments. Reading / Writing is a conversation between two people who may never meet.

It can be comforting when going through a dry spell of writing to hear that Reading is as good as writing, but don’t let that idea hinder you from bravely meeting the page.

To be clear: you shouldn’t feel any shame about taking a break from writing to just spend time reading. Maybe life has taken a lot out of you, and you really need some filling up! And, in my experience, the more I read, the more likely it is that my reading will spill out into writing sooner than later.

So go read! But don’t ONLY read if you want to hit your writing goals.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Read (but not too much…)

The birds return in one of the final poems, “The Un-flight of Porcelain Birds”,

“Spillikins of feather,
your wings are kept by clay.
Roost in my palm, echo of wild things.
You have never trembled evening from your throat.
You have never known
the blue sail of sky.”

There’s a note of regret: these representations of birds will never be wild but can be kept and domesticated. They aren’t sentient beings so won’t know they’ve never known flight, but there seems to be a transference: the narrator is transferring her feelings of confinement and lack of freedom to the birds. The lack here is not having the same freedoms as neurotypical people, the restrictions of suffering domestic violence and the fear that keeps her checking her reactions and actions appear “normal” to others.

“Be Feared” are poems from a poet taking back control of how she expresses herself, how she centres herself, not to dominate others, but to assert her boundaries and encourage others to accommodate her. They acknowledge her suffering from abuse, from being neuro-diverse and how she moves from surviving to coping and thriving. She draws on folklore and myth to make sense of a world that is strange. Jane Burn has created a series of poems of resilience and remaining true to oneself in a world that demands compliance and capitulation.

Emma Lee, “Be Feared” Jane Burn (Nine Arches Press) – book review

A year ago, I wrote, “Since there’s no guarantee 2021 is going to be any less pandemic-y than 2020, I’ve opted for a no nonsense approach to the year’s poetry goals.” The statement introduced a super simplified poetry action plan* for 2021 I thought I’d pared down enough to help me feel productive without applying too much pressure. However, 2021 required more rest and restoration than I’d anticipated. Every activity (writing-related or not) required a recovery period. While that may always have been true, I became acutely aware of the swing of the pendulum.

In looking back at the year, I also realized that most of the writing activities I did were in social/group settings (virtually, of course). I spent far less time with solo writing efforts, like crafting new poems, revising existing drafts and submitting work. It’s possible that my temperament throughout the year — never before have I needed so much mind-numbing downtime — made that true, but it’s also likely that so much engagement with others required more recovery than anticipated (and in comparison with solitary activities).

When I set goals for 2022 in the coming days, I’m going to take that into account and aim for a quieter, more inward-facing writing year. But I have no regrets about what I did/didn’t accomplish in 2021. I rested more than I wrote (2021 was also full of some huge life changes), but I showed up for workshops and readings that will inform and inspire me for years to come.

Carolee Bennett, revisiting 2021 poetry goals: more rest than writing

How do you want to live, now? That has been the question asked by countless writers and I ask it of myself all the time. The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart once asked:

“Isn’t there some statement you’d like to make? Anything noted while alive? Anything felt, seen, heard, done? You are here. You’re having your turn. Isn’t there something you know and nobody else does? What if nobody listens? Is it all to be wasted? All blasted? What about that pricey pain? What about those people. They sit outside this story, but give it its shape. If it has a shape. What about all the words that were said and all the words that were never said?”

As for me, I do want to make of my life art. I want to be a witness to splendour. I want to get as much down as possible, whether by the light of photography or by the light of my weird noticing. I want my presence to be art. I don’t want to waste anything, not a moment. I want this blog to be art and I want to inspire you to make art of your life. I want my peanut butter sandwiches to be art, and I want the flowers I arrange in a vase to be art. You’ll remember this quotation by Anne Morrow Lindbergh from her lovely small book, Gift from the Sea.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day- like writing a poem or saying a prayer.”

I look around at all the people I know navigating this pandemic life with grace and fortitude and the way they parent and work from home and do all these things that we would have thought to be weird in the beforetimes. So weird and so impossibly difficult! And yet though so many are stretched so thin, processing a ton of unevenly disseminated information on how to stay safe, keeping their loved ones safe, working in non-ideal situations, and etc, they are often doing it with a sense of humour, with elegance, with an amazing make the best of it attitude. Sure, we’re all crumbling from time to time; we’re struggling. In the last two years most of us have felt pretty much every emotion under the sun. But if this isn’t art, the lives we are leading right now, then I don’t know what is. If, as Li-Young Lee says, the self is the final opus, then how do you want your soul to look when all this is said and done?

Shawna Lemay, Your Life and the Work of Art

There is no map to show me
where clouds go.
Exactly where do clouds go?

Wind blows its hail
across the field.
In the darkness of the shed
the pigs bury themselves
in fresh straw.
I shut myself in the cabin,
watch trees bend and water
gather itself in old tracks
I’d forgotten were there.
In the end is the beginning,
in the beginning, the end.

Bob Mee, BEGINNING OF THE YEAR

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: death, loss, religion, work… that sort of thing. Enjoy.


I find myself living more and more in the spaces between things that have words to describe them. It’s not that I don’t want to write, but that I want to find a way to write without naming experiences. Without sorting my life into the labeled bins. This year I am teaching theater history a bit differently, having put the students into small seminar-style groups to discuss the curriculum rather than use a lecture/assignment model. I’m finding it helpful with ideas I struggle to understand myself: like Artaud’s ideas. I’ve been talking about how Artaud didn’t want the audience to experience a catharsis, but rather take the emotional disruption home with them. Invariably, the students describe it as Artaud wanting the audience to “reflect” on the theatrical experience. I guess it is due to an assumption that theater-as-therapy is theater-as-talk-therapy: the intellectualizing of experience as the route to understanding and processing/neutralizing. After all, what other kind of understanding is there?

There is poetry.

But so much of this kind of exploration is the antithesis of formal education. And even in a small group, an attempt to discuss this just frustrates and confuses the students, who want to/have to sort the information into the bins, to tuck the words away neatly into clear sentences that click like a tumbler lock to open the door to university. Which is what they are here for. What I am here for. There’s no room for negative capability when the exams are scored blindly from a central clearinghouse of random examiners. Sometimes I think there is no room for negative capability in the culture at all.

Ren Powell, Tolerating Witches

After today’s burial
my friend the undertaker

asks about the meditation labyrinth
behind the synagogue.

It’s a contemplative practice,
I explain. It’s not a maze

where it’s easy to get lost.
There’s only one path.

Take your time, notice
where your footsteps land.

We don’t know how or when,
but we all know the destination.

Rachel Barenblat, Destination

It is October as we ride the Beltway in the glaring morning sun.
Emily Dickinson, what do you say about the angry red cars,
the roaring black four wheel drives that loom behind me?

What do you say about this walled city of streaming metal
and gas fired speed?
Will the flickering brake lights
make you sink to the floor of the car, sick with vertigo?
Will the hissing of rubber on asphalt, the tumult of a thousand engines
make you want to disappear behind the tan concrete walls?
Will we drive all day in this exhausted maze?
We’ll both be burned.
Will we reach Carmel, and stroll in the lost country of prayer?
Oh, Emily, frail and sherry-eyed, lonely scribbler,
what relief did you have when the carriage stopped for you?

Anne Higgins, On a Superhighway in Maryland

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except for the last two days I’ve been wondering how I can work this anecdote into a poem. It’s easier to imagine a challenge for the fiction writers in my group:

Write a scene in which a character attends a church service and hears a message that makes him or her uncomfortable.

I hadn’t been too sure about this trip, but the church service itself didn’t make me at all uncomfortable. My brother and sister and their spouses were there (my brother said at lunch that he was surprised the church didn’t fall down); also one my of aunts (age 86), and about a dozen of my cousins from all over Southwest Washington. Lots of music. I did a complete flashback to my childhood and wept. Much has changed (the drums and guitars up front), and I knew only two of the people in their small congregation. But there was a time for personal testimony, and an altar call at the end — both could have been scripted from a service when I was seven.

I’ve been rereading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, and this morning I underlined this line:

“our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost” (p. 6).

That’s kind of the space my thoughts are hovering over.

Bethany Reid, Christmas Stories

–It’s been interesting to be writing my final papers for seminary classes while also grading the final papers of my students.  I’ve always been a fairly generous grader, so I don’t think it’s impacted me that way.  I have been the kind of grader that didn’t put much in the way of comments on A papers.  As a woman who writes A papers, I’m realizing that a more developed comment might be appreciated.  Have I written that more developed comment as a teacher?  Not yet.

–I am a poet who delights in making interesting comparisons.  I am aware of that personality trait of mine, and I try not to let that part of my brain run wild while writing papers for seminary.  Still, I think my poet brain sees things that other might not, and my seminary papers are stronger for it.

–I am a woman who has juggled many activities through the decades:  teaching, reading, writing, administrator work, church work, a variety of volunteer jobs, family, friends.  I am used to grabbing every scrap of time.  If I only have 15 minutes, I’ll write a chunk of seminary paper or read the next part of the text.  I am not waiting for huge swaths of time to get things done.  Huge swaths of time are not coming.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Blogging Poet-Seminarian Who Teaches First Year Comp

Our husbands passed death
between them like a soup–
true brothers. Can we pass life
between each other now, Ruth?

Take it to your lips, the good strong
drink—come even with me to my mother’s house,
where we can weave white flowers
into each other’s hair and torture
the hearts of young men,
tender as rabbits snared in wire.

Renee Emerson, poem from Threshing Floor (Jacar Press)

No-one, nothing, prepares us for this loss,
the disappearance of the people who

brought us into the world, who made us.
Gratitude slowly eases the grief. I carry you

like I might carry the most precious, the most
priceless of gifts: knowing I was loved.   

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ for Mam & Dad

Last week, I didn’t write here about the school shooting in Michigan. I wrote about a Christmas tree stand, which was my way of writing about hope.

Last week, a friend sent me a poem, written by a father whose daughter is an art teacher, that was, in part, about his wife spinning wool in the wake of the school shooting, and I felt the deep pull I have been feeling for years to leave schools and take up useful, concrete work I might do with my hands, so that I, too, like the poet’s wife, might “disappear” into “gentle quiet.”

Last week, though, I stayed at school and didn’t take up wool-spinning. I went to school and taught the lessons I’d planned not knowing there would be another school shooting. (Know that, for me, school shootings are not unlike my migraines, in that the question is never if there will be another, but only when there will be another. I try not to let them dictate too much of my life.) I taught my students about the media bias chart because it is a tool I am asking them to use to evaluate sources of information. To be able to comprehend the chart, we had to dive into conceptually-rich vocabulary: liberal, conservative, fact reporting, news analysis, propaganda, fabrication, extremism, reliability. I divided them into groups and asked them to find sources to verify their definitions of the terms, something that proved valuable when we realized that different groups were sharing different, sometimes contradictory ones for the same words.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last week

The paintings in this post were done 17 months apart; the one at the top just a few days ago, the other in July of 2020. The objects on my desktop look pretty much the same — the jars of brushes and pens, the skull – memento mori –  atop the carved wooden box, the bowl of nuts and pine cones, the Chinese fans and Mycenean cup. But when I studied the two paintings I did notice a significant difference: in the more recent one, there are images of people. I had moved both the Persian painting and the postcard of “mourning Athena” (a relief carving I love from the Acroplis Museum in Athens) onto my desk fairly recently, and I think it’s because I wanted to see images of humans. All right, Athena is a goddess, but she is always portrayed as a woman, and the mood and attitude of this carving seem particularly appropriate these days. And the Persian painting of lovers, with its delicious colors of blue and lavender, salmon and pink, its soft pillows and patterned fabrics, reminds me of love and languor and gardens outside the window, in suspended, storybook time.

I wasn’t comparing the two to ask myself if I’ve made “progress” in an artistic or technical sense. Actually I think the bottom one, the earlier painting, is probably “better”. But I don’t keep a sketchbook and do paintings solely to try to move ahead that way, or judge myself. It’s also to keep a visual diary, which often ends up telling me things I hadn’t realized. The newer painting says that I was missing people, and wanted them near me. Thankfully, this fall and early winter we’ve shared some indoor dinners, and it’s been a real happiness to be together that way again. At the same time, there are friends and family members I haven’t seen for two years, and that’s genuinely painful; there are others who have left us who I’ll never see again.

We need, I think, to be less concerned with progress, and more with allowing ourselves space and time to grieve, to accept change, and to start to think about what’s next for us only if, and when, we feel ready to do that. In the meantime, in the present moment, let’s look around ourselves and see what’s there.

Beth Adams, What Means “Progress”?

One charming cliche pops up when you are going on a trip — people ask, can you pack me in your suitcase?  When you’re returning, it’s a moot point.  Or is it?   

I wouldn’t have known it when I was boarding the plane, but now that I’ve unpacked and am reorienting, certain things did ask to come back.  I’d call them mute things.  They are live elements that I encountered, with which I shared space and shared alert, vibrant moments.   They are inanimate but have subtle voice and life.   These things called and intersected my perception.  They cracked open staleness, cracked open language that was carrying pragmatic messages without carrying surprise, and winged across the abyss. Many, many aesthetic happenings that happened inside and out.

The energy of traffic that moves like the ocean’s surf, its waves of energy roaring forward, pulling back, lulled by a lazy club beat.  A dull blue bucket in moonlight as an old woman lowers it on a pulley from her terrace.  Active volcanos that grow like children and move towards the sea. The soft bee sound of motorbikes.  Color that is there beyond us.   A recognition of the brilliant chaos that swarms us, reminding us that we are participants but not masters.  If we listen, we get it.  They travel with us.  Carry on.

Jill Pearlman, What Asked to Come Back from the Trip

In the absence of
a compass, the birds argue about directions.
Lines curve through the countryside,
fading where the horizon is a jagged
edge in the hills. It’s only one
flower, but its redolence convinces you
there are others like it in the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Phenomenology of Endurance

I know I’m late giving accolades to this Pulitzer-prize-winning book, but I finished reading Tyehimba Jess’ Olio recently and: wow! This 2016 collection goes on my must-keep-&-read-again shelf (okay, that’s not a real shelf in my house, but it should be).

How to describe the experience of reading this book? The poems are mostly lyrical, largely persona pieces, yet the scope of the book as a whole is encompassingly narrative. It takes readers from the mid-19th century through the late 20th century through poems that imagine the voices of slaves, ex-slaves, singers, composers, musicians, performers: all of them real people. It’s part history, part fiction, interspersed with dynamic prose that suggests interviews and letters and song lyrics; furthermore, the sureness of Jess’ use of classic and experimental poetic craft astonishes.

Plus, the stories are just so compelling. Inspirational? Sometimes. Sad? Often. Entertaining? That, too. The title comes from the term that means an amalgam, a mish-mash, and which was used to describe the various acts of minstrel shows. Yet Jess’ book does not feel like that sort of random “show.” It holds together like a carefully-sawn jigsaw puzzle or a masterful collage.

In the midst of the “entertainers” who voice the poems in Olio, there is the unavoidable pain of Black lives in the United States. It’s depicted clearly in the words of the speakers of these poems, and sometimes more subtly, as in the litany of Black churches burned, bombed, or shot up that appears under the choir poems.

Most awe-inspiring for this reader is the section about the conjoined twin girls Millie and Christine McKoy. What Jess does here, besides a spectacular imagining of the characters of the twins (born into slavery and exhibited in “freak shows,” they sang duets!), is to create sonnets that are twinned, star-shaped on the page, syncopated in meter, rhymed and off-rhymed, and–here’s the kicker–that can be read across each line or on each side, (columns or linearly). How did he come up with that form? It’s so suitable to the lyrical aspect of the pieces, which are interwoven into a kind of unexpected crown of sonnets.

Ann E. Michael, In awe

Do I dream of you or do you dream of me?
Mist conjures this and that.
The great trees grow through the temple.
I reach down and help you up.
You sit beside me and we watch
the apparition of horses becoming horses,
steaming, unmoving.
Your smile travels with me.
Your smell, your touch.
We didn’t ask for much.

I walk out of the cafe into the wind.
My legs struggle through shadows.
On the high road, heading north,
the only light is the drifting snow.
A thousand years of miracles.
Just one, I’d wish, for a child.
It’s too late, I know, but still…

Bob Mee, A DIFFERENT WAY TO BE

I’m pleased to report I have an article on The Friday Poem this week, titled “Beyond the Bubble – how can poetry reach out to a wider readership?”. I do hope it encourages positive debate. The first paragraph reads as follows:

Over the twenty-five years that I’ve been following the U.K. poetry scene, I’ve witnessed countless hands being wrung at the side-lining of poetry by society. However, this act has then been followed by most stakeholders (poets, publishers, arts organisations, etc) sitting on those same hands and complaining, as if outsiders’ lack of interest in the genre were their own fault. One analogy might be the disbelief that some feel at so many other people voting for Brexit. In politics as in poetry, nothing will change unless we all take the bull by the horns and engage with society on a regular and permanent basis…

If this extract has piqued your curiosity, you can read the article in full by following this link.

Matthew Stewart, Beyond the Bubble on The Friday Poem

finding more light
folding bits of paper
you get trapped in it

our lifespans are not enough
brilliant but difficult
eaten by termites

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2021

It is a poem [of] winter, the season we are now triumphantly (for some) living in. It is a poem of ‘crusty dishes’, a ‘clogged’ ‘kitchen sink’, smelly drains and no sign of a plumber to rescue the situation. As the speaker says, this is the ‘everyday’, that she and her now deceased brother, the book’s protagonist, have spoken of, a line we receive with no extra contextual information, other than that it happened in the past.

I have had similar conversations with the near-to-dying myself. They are simultaneously difficult and utterly ordinary: the ‘everyday’ will keep breaking through the verbiage of the things you want to say and somehow never get round to. I try to see them as a gift.

The poem is also one of sky, ‘a deep, headstrong blue’ and ‘sunlight pour[ing] through / the open living-room windows’, an image of winter at its most benign. The relief is only temporary, however. We soon learn that the heating is on ‘too high […] and I can’t turn it off’. It’s not long before we are back in the world of dropped ‘groceries’ and and spilled coffee. The ‘everyday’ annoyances that make up most of where most of us live.

Anthony Wilson, It’s winter again / I am living

So, yes, I’m very excited about Flare, Corona coming out with BOA Editions in the fall of 2023, by which time I hope we will have better solutions for this covid thing and life will have somewhat returned to normal. Maybe I can even have a book party at a winery or something fun like that!

This book manuscript is very personal to me – it contains poems about getting diagnosed with what they said was terminal cancer back five years ago, and then six months later, getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and as I gradually recovered from the shock of those two things, the pandemic crept into our lives.

But I swear it’s not a depressing book – there are supervillains and fairy tales in the poems, as you might expect in my books – and there’s lots of humor. And I cannot imagine a better press to bring out this book.

And I’m also thankful to Alternating Current Press for bringing out Fireproof in May 2022, so I have something to focus on for the next six months. Fireproof is about witches, Joan of Arc, genetics, fairy tales – it’s a little edgy, a little feminist, and little political. A very different book than Flare, Corona. I’m about to be at the stage where I’m asking for blurbs (eek!) and deciding on cover art. The web site will probably get a little makeover based on the next two books as well.

It’s been five years since Field Guide to the End of the World came out, so to suddenly have two books on the horizon is a little bit of a shock – but a good shock.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Pandemic) Holidays, More About BOA and upcoming books, and Wishing You Health and Safety

Later, the band will play slow and solemn, stepping down
the narrow street that smells of trodden leaves,
the priest in lawn and linen will walk before the band 
and its slow sad music, blessing every doorstep.
The town follows quietly after, believing in miracles.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers.. stuff gone missing in 2021

Wine-tasting has its vocabulary. So does poetry appreciation. Orbis magazine has many pages of reader feedback which provide a useful sample. In the recent issue 198 I noticed that the most popular phrases are about

– how well the poet collected the data/experience: “precisely observed“, “beautifully observed“, “precise observation

– the conversion into words: “captures” was popular (of “a moment“, “the past“, “the essence“, “the intensity“). There’s “compressed energy

– the artifice/craft of the words: “constructed” appears twice (“beautifully constructed“, “well constructed“) and there’s “exquisitely crafted“, “well made” and “clever“. “precision of language” appears too – see my Poetry and Precision article.

– the effect on the reader (getting the original data/experiences back): “evocative” appears more than once. There’s “immersive” and “relatable“. Also “amusing

These phrases suit the idea of poets having experiences that they try to communicate to readers using expertise which ideally can be measured. I think the poems in Orbis have a wider aesthetic range than this, but only certain types of poems attract comment, it seems to me.

Tim Love, The vocabulary of poetry appreciation

Turn off the porch light, the darkness is like ink
And our lives are like paper;
There must still be something left to write.
I can’t tell you how often I have dreamed of the dead,
Dreams that are more like small visits.
Do you find it hard to really trust people?
Aren’t there some secrets that you are willing to carry
All the way to the grave?
When the porch light goes off, do the lives of the moths
Still have meaning, or are they lost and confused?

James Lee Jobe, Don’t close the windows tonight, if someone is coming in, just let them.

So then maybe the goal would be to not necessarily work MORE, but SMARTER. I’ve been seeking out and taking on some freelance copywriting work. I am not taking on as much as I could just yet in the off hours, but it’s paying me, per hour, about twice what I make at the library. That dream life? Obv since I’ve cast my lot with poetry, it will never get me there entirely. But I can work to trim the work that I do to help foot the bills to something I am getting paid more to do–work less hours to free up time for all those other things I feel I should be doing–could be doing–if things were different. But I never get there. So many people post-lockdown are reevaluating where and how they work and I am probably no different. Maybe it’s just this weird place called mid-life and this is my own crisis. I feel like I’ve spent years devaluing my own skills and abilities and perhaps it’s time for a change.

Kristy Bowen, the perfect life

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I try to write into an unknown space for as long as I can before calling it a “project,” lest I cut my imagination off too soon. This is an impulse I’ve had to work towards, to learn, as my MFA (like most, I would think) coached me to write a thesis, a chapbook, a book, as opposed to writing into something you can’t fully yet see or name.

The pandemic has corrupted my writing practice, for sure, but I’m finding my way back by writing in small spurts early in the morning, by hand, a few days a week when possible.

My poems change a whole lot in revision, especially when I’m going from a first draft or a pre-draft into a second or full version. I work from notes, reading, and research heavily, even if I’m not “researching” something deliberately. I also do a lot of opening beloved collections to random pages and writing back to a line or two, especially when I’m stuck. Striking up a conversation, perhaps. […]

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
With The Naomi Letters, I felt preoccupied by the question What does who you love, and how you love, tell you about who you are? In the new space I’m tentatively writing towards, the question has become What does my brain’s suffering mean, and how does it matter? I’m feeling more drawn to examining the stakes of my mental illness, of connecting fear, joy, and grief together along the thread of my particular biochemical inflections. […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The work of other poets I love. A closed computer, a long walk.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rachel Mennies

Sometimes
I have to cross

to the other side
of the street

to avoid what
I’m thinking,

the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (75)

In my mid-twenties, it was I who was groping toward a poetic identity. Like Larkin at that age, I had a model; unlike Larkin, my model was Frost (though in the blindness of youthful pride, I wouldn’t have confessed to having any model whatsoever). So it isn’t surprising that the poems I was writing back then had country subjects—until it occurred to me that I didn’t know the first thing about the country. On recovering from this realization, I started writing poems about New York City, where I’d actually set foot. These poems emerged in a voice that no longer sounded like Frost’s (not that it sounded anything like my own). This was progress—stepping away from something was a stride of a kind—but a new problem arose: as damning and/or inexplicable as this may be, there wasn’t anything I really had to say about New York. This deficit led, for a time, to my not writing any poems at all.

Meanwhile there was at least one thing I did have to say, if only to get it off my chest: that my lack of poetic production didn’t mean I wasn’t working on the problem (and that a solution might not be working itself out in me). At some point it crossed my mind that this could itself be said as a poem. I undertook to execute on the idea—and found that I couldn’t. Every stab at the envisioned opus (and there were a number) seemed off somehow; seemed somehow too…elevated? I still remember the opening of one of these attempts:

What it never was, was indolence;
Not for an epoch all but given over
To idleness[…]

After some weeks of this futility, a kind of exhaustion reduced me one afternoon to just speaking out my burden the way I actually would, poetry to the side—whereupon the lines above had morphed into the first sentence of a little poem I was able to finish:

Notice

Indolent I wouldn’t know because
I never was that, forget how
It ever looked. What I was was getting
Ready, and the getting’s over now.

This was the first poem of mine that sounded like me, or at least like the Lower East Sider in me. Not coincidentally, this was also the first poem of mine that said something I really had, in a couple of senses, to say.

Finding Your Voice – guest blog post Daniel Brown (Trish Hopkinson)

There are always articles floating round that try and define the poetry experience, or what is poetry, etc. I can’t think of any that have ever precisely nailed it. I’m not sure there ever will be, or even needs to be, but I quite enjoyed this quote from Roy Marshall this week.

While it’s not a definition of what poetry is, I think this as close to a definition of writing a poem as I’ve seen for a while. NB other definitions are available and your statutory definition rights remain unaffected. I liked this particular note as it reminded me of two moments from across the years.

The first being the young me shoplifting some ink cartridges from Roys of Wroxham‘s stationery department. I must have been no more than 10, but needed them for the fountain pen I was already using because I thought I was a poet then. Arguably I was more of one then than I am now, but let’s gloss over that. Oh, the giddy rush of stuffing them up my jumper sleeve and meeting my parents in the car park…I’d attempt some sort of reference to Shoplifters of the World Unite, but Morrissey is a twat, so I won’t.

Mat Riches, Cats and Shoplifters

I am not generally prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but this December has felt especially oppressive, dark, wet and cold. I find myself hiding under the covers when the alarm goes off, in profound disbelief that human beings are expected to be awake and functional at that time of the morning, when it’s literally pitch black outside and freezing rain is aggressively beating on the windows. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way, My trainer says that most of her clients are suffering from really bad winter blahs and are having a hard time getting to the gym. I get it. I awake in darkness and I arrive home in darkness after long days, and getting to my regular gym session requires iron will and a fair bit of nagging and prodding from Mr. Typist. My trainer, who I believe suffers a bit herself from the SAD, has given me cart blanche to bail on my sessions any time I want to in the name of winter blues. I think that’s because she doesn’t want to show up for them either, and I don’t blame her. I believe that there should be a total moratorium on human productivity from mid-November to mid-January. No alarms, no work, nothing. It should be a national time of Lolling Around Watching TV and Huddling Under Blankets. I plan to put a bill before Congress.

Kristen McHenry, Unpacking “Unpacking”, Lens Relief, National Days of Lolling

Sing something sweet. Sing so others may eat.

Sing to soothe all scavenged bones.

Sing to crack the code of loneliness.

Sing to break down inner prison walls.

Sing so you may be released.

Sing to help others be free.

Rich Ferguson, Sing

the cat is in and licking the night away
to the soft music of all this
fluttering of the hazel’s last leaves
a drip drops
morning has arrived
dawn is now a dunnock
pecking pecking
away with you
coffee soon

Jim Young, dawn

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s topics include (but are by no means limited to) graveyards, grieving, making art, flowers, gardening, literary community and the po biz, ghosts, podcasts, promoting new books, and ecopoetry. Enjoy.


This morning, I thought about writing a poem about Noah’s wife and cicadas who emerge after 17 years to mate for a month or two (or the whole season of summer).  I’m thinking of Noah’s wife and menopause and sweeping away the dried husks.

And my other inspiration: one of my Create in Me female pastor friends made this Facebook post about visiting a congregation to talk about South Carolina retreat centers:  “How wonderful to eat ice cream in a cemetery on a sunny day surrounded by all the saints.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Violence of Collision: Interstellar Space, Flannery O’Connor and Other Inspirations

I read Lucy Rose Cunningham’s recently published sequence sitting on a bench in a country graveyard this afternoon, with memorial stones in the foreground, and the Shropshire hills in the long view. I had a flask of Earl Grey and a bun to keep me company. My bicycle was propped next to me against the wall of the church. I was glad I’d set the context to become acquainted with this beautifully produced pamphlet from Broken Sleep Books. All credit to the publishers for its austere elegance.

I’ve learnt to look after my body as I’ve aged – in Cunningham’s Acknowledgements words – to know what this body really deserves. It’s an important rite of passage, and one to which Mary, Marie and Maria all have something to contribute. Others have illuminated this aspect of Cunningham’s work, so  I won’t repeat what they’ve written (I refer you, for example, to the Cardiff Review https://www.cardiffreview.com/review/a-rich-stirring-debut-for-mary-marie-maria/)

For my part, I chose this setting for reading because I wanted to listen hard to Cunningham’s voice – not to understand every line (I didn’t) but to loosen up, pay close attention to what I heard and felt. I found much to enjoy, and much to grieve, in doing so.

Liz Lefroy, I Review A Pamphlet – Lucy Rose Cunningham’s ‘For Mary, Marie, Maria’

This week since her death has flit by strangely. I spent time with my kids, both based in Philadelphia, before driving home. I’ve written a little: a poem my hairdresser dictated the title for (he’s both a literary person and wise about grieving, and the title is “First in Line for Takeoff”); some notes of my memories of her last days; her obituary; responses to condolence notes and gifts; this blog post and the last. I’m thinking about other writing-related work: submitting mss for the virtual Breadloaf Environmental conference in June and the live Sewanee workshop in May; the Mother’s Day promotion I was going to do for Unbecoming; a short article on Eliot due at the end of May; whether it would be consoling or ridiculous to try working on my creative mss-in-progress again. The book of essays I will deliver to Tinderbox Editions before too long–Poetry’s Possible Worlds is scheduled for November publication–currently ends with my mother’s recovery from her first bout with lymphoma in 2015. Does my coda need a coda? I can hardly bear to think about it. And, of course, I’m spending a lot of time doing nothing. There’s so much to think about and avoid thinking about. I’m most comfortable perched at an intellectual distance from big feelings, noticing how the people around me process it, for instance, and my own preference for matter-of-fact conversations about her death. That’s part of what makes me a writer–metaphor itself involves displacement as well as insight–but it can also be maladaptive.

Lesley Wheeler, Grief metaphors flying

Well into Spring, 
my jasmine is in bloom and soon 
there will be the first of the peach blossoms. 
A sliver of moon tonight, waning crescent, 
and only a slight breeze. 
1,487 nights since my son left this world.

James Lee Jobe, Are you ready to pass through?

And then he said something that I think is still changing me. He began to speak of a mutual friend, one we had lost some months previously, of how he was missing him: ‘Even with all that going on -and you know what this is like, having gone through it yourself- and with all the crap that is still going on, I still need to remind myself daily that a bad day at work is a day he won’t have.’

And that stopped me in my tracks. I began to find something pricking behind my eyes, the slightest increase of pressure in my temples, as though pushed by the gentlest of vices. My woes did not leave me, but I had the strong impression of seeing them from far away, as through a telescope from the wrong end. Mixed into this sensation was the pleasure, as well as the pain, of knowing that while the woes were in a different place, and that they were not going to vanish, I now had a choice about how to see them differently.

A day he won’t have. Like my friend, I need to say this to myself daily (sometimes hourly) when I sense the world and my feelings about its woes threatening to overwhelm me. Which is often. A day he won’t have.

Anthony Wilson, A day he won’t have

Yesterday an old woman almost died,
it took thirty-seven people
it took two hundred and fourteen messages
to get her to a hospital bed.
But she will be home in a week.
It will start with her.
We know.
We’ve won before.
It always starts with one person.
It always starts with one battle.
It always starts with one victory.
It always starts when the first person says no.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, It is war

Kept indoors over a year,
the Buddha’s hand: its leaves
whiten, unused to direct sun.

Luisa A. Igloria, Three Sketches

And I have been slowly working on another quilt about Park Wood in winter. Trees in cross-section, the space between them criscrossed with mycelial strands. Cotton cloth and silk thread, all dyed in a variety of botanical brews, some modified with iron-water. The circular patches are where I tied found beer-caps in. Some had rusted at the edge, giving a nice dark line. The bigger dark patches are where I tied in lumps of rusty iron from a bicycle half-buried in the wood.

[…]

what I’ve been missing is
stepping out
smelling human beings

everything has to be planned
Kate from two angles
diluted some ink and wrote it small

it will be something else
stitched on velvet
dropped into a window

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2021

April also marked my first experience coordinating an event for the O, Miami Poetry Festival. The challenge in proposing a project for 2021: to what extent would people be interacting? How could we create something fun, but also safe?  I reached out to Neil de la Flor last fall (great poet, lives in Miami, always has interesting ideas), and something came up organically in conversation–that his family had a multi-generational business in floral deliveries. One thing led to another, and we partnered with SWWIM to curate a selection of poems inspired by flowers, which then went out in bouquets delivered by Dolly’s Florist.

My contribution, other than a general habit for task-mastering, was to conceive delivering the poems in origami form–something that could sit decoratively in a bouquet and invite unfolding as a tactile interaction. Since I turned out to be the only origami enthusiast on the team, this also meant the literal hunkered-down time of folding 150 pinwheels. Felt good to do something hands-on, since I couldn’t actually set foot in Miami. 

I’ve loved origami since I was a kid, taking classes on how to make cranes at the McLean Community Center. One thing I thought about as I worked in the (once again, very) early morning hours is how I used to try and rush through the preparatory folds; the moments in process when the paper has to be creased, then uncreased, to ease a later move. Younger Me thought that was a waste of time, that surely I could finesse the move without it. Older Me understands the necessity. Maybe there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. I’d like to think that the challenges of 2020 were, in a sense, preparatory folds for some great move ahead. […]

Perhaps this is a trite thing to say, but I do appreciate you coming by this blog. I don’t update it as often as I could, or should, or want to. But it’s a good, sturdy little tether that binds me to remembering the question of whether I would ever publish a book at all, and therefore how quintessentially lucky this life has been. I’m happy you’re here. 

Sandra Beasley, Poetry in Bloom

Spring has come to Montreal very slowly this year, which I like — it gives us time to adjust from our Canadian deep freeze, and to really enjoy the incremental changes each day brings. While friends further south were posting pictures of cherry blossoms and daffodils, we were still looking at snow…so it was lovely to have a florist call us and say there was a delivery. A friend had sent us flowers in honor of his OWN birthday — what an unexpected and beautiful gesture! This was the second of three bouquets we’ve enjoyed this spring, and it’s the one that I managed to sit down and draw, and then paint.

The drawing started out as pure line, but I felt that the shapes were just too complicated to read that way, so I added some shading while trying to keep it all fairly lively.

How different it feels in color! I like the drawing more, but I think most people would probably prefer the watercolor.

In any case, I appreciated the hours I spent looking at these flowers – a challenge for the artist, and a respite from the sadness of the world as so many people continue to suffer from the virus and the inequalities of access to care, medication, and vaccines. Please give a donation if you can: what would you have gladly paid for your own vaccination?

Beth Adams, Bouquets

I can’t say
what what I say

is worth,
the old monk said.

I just want
a bowl of soup.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (13)

Another Machado poem, “Tal vez la mano, en sueños…”:

in dreams maybe the hand
of the sower of stars
sounds the forgotten music

a note on an immense lyre
and that humble wave comes to our lips
in a few truthful words
___

The climbing yellow roses make their serpentine, parasitic way through the laurel, and dangle from the eaves. They’re not really roses and the laurel is not really a laurel, I’m told; they both have odd polysyllabic names in clumsily grafted classical tongues. But I’ll call them roses and laurel. It’s my damn hedge. The roses are gorgeous this year: apparently this ominously dry April suited them.

Dale Favier, Machado, Roses, Back Pain, and Covid

I dedicate a dandelion to Anna Jarvis who, having founded Mother’s Day, spent an entire lifetime trying to undo it.  Her success in 1914 quickly became overscented, oversweet, oversentimentalized by the profiteers of capitalism, and within years, she was desperate to put the cat back in the bag.  Keep it simple! she railed.  Boycott florists, squash the candy makers and card hawkers!  Stop the commercialism!  She exhausted her fortune to take back a name she  couldn’t quite claim – Mother’s Day?

Jarvis wanted to honor and respect a much more complex motherhood.  Rather than a delicately petalled flower, I see dandelion as Jarvis’ idea of mother.  Its burst of sun-like flower is charming, and the unsung tenacity of its weed with its jagged, tooth-shaped leaf and its deeply sourced taproot where its spiritual power lies.  The grit and vision of la durée, the everyday beauty of continuity, is packed into its whole.  It is “toothy” — dandelion is a corruption of the French “dents du lion.”  The feminine becomes gritty, determined, a fighter, what some might see as masculine energy while the masculine is often fragile.  Such are the truths in paradox. 

Of course, we can spy beauty in our mothers and sidewalk flowers often — like seeing dandelion when the afternoon sun comes glancing over rooftops and catches it in its jewel light.   I see wildness in its simplicity.  I see an outflow, a pouring of generosity. I am never one to scorn excess!  All the flowers I got this year have amazed me. So many beauties!  In the spirit of both/and, I gather the whole thing and offer it in thanks.

Jill Pearlman, The Rise and Fall of Mother’s Day

The other book I’ve been reading that made me think about poetic foremothers and influences is Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, all about the friendship/frenemyship of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. It provides a lot of background and context for their relationship. Besides making me jealous that I haven’t been meeting anyone at the Ritz for martinis, it made me think about the poets we read and pay attention to in our own lives, who we are secretly competing with (even if subconsciously,) who we read and let influence our own thoughts about poetry and poetics. I realize I am very lucky to be friends with so many wonderful poets, but I don’t really have a nemesis, per se. But maybe that’s okay. Do we need someone to compete with to reach our own potential? I think this is a very interesting question, because, especially as women are pressured NOT to be too competitive, at least in my generation.

But it does make me think about how writers need to encourage and push each other out of their comfort zones, and one way to make sure that happens is to make friends with diverse friends, some who are editors and publishers, who are full-time writers, who run their English departments, who have many different ways of writing and publishing, and many different voices. It reaffirms that we can all grow and learn and build our own unique paths. We don’t have to sound alike, or go to the same conferences, residencies, MFA programs, etc. There’s space for all of us.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Mother’s Day, A Week of Birds, and Thinking About Our Poetic Mothers and Influences (and Who Will Parent Our Books?)

Last night I sat upstairs in the studio and tried to read. But the refrigerator E.’s daughter used when she used the upstairs space as an apartment was humming. I’m not sure humming is the right word. At first I thought someone was playing music downstairs. Or outside. I would have sworn I could almost catch the lyrics. Ghost-like and insubstantial, but definitely present. […]

My best friend took me up a 14-pointer in Colorado a few years ago. After about an hour we were quiet. It was meditative. I paid attention to my breathing. To the calm thoughts that passed through my mind. To my physical body, checking for altitude sickness.

Above the tree line, above the snow. Stones and wind, and a little bit of vertigo. It was exhilarating. Coming down I told her I felt like I’d had a glass of wine. Or two. Her teenage son was with us and he was giggling: “Me, too.”

I really would like to climb a mountain now. A really high mountain.

But I think about the refrigerator and its ghost music, and I wonder if what I need is to sit upstairs in the studio and listen. To breathe. To pay attention to my body, check for any sickness caused by a sudden shift in circumstances. To make out the lyrics. To write them down.

Ren Powell, The Songs of Ghosts

bullet train
we are far from home
little fly

Jim Young [no title]

What replenishes you? 

The term “self-care” has come to feel almost meaningless: it’s so ubiquitous, and so often misused. (A quick google search for the term yields returns like “How To Make Shopping A Healthy Self-Care Practice.” Hello, capitalism.) But we all need to replenish our inner reserves. That’s true even when there isn’t a global pandemic. 

Taking Shabbat off from working — and from the to-do lists, the news headlines, workday consciousness — replenishes me. My son and I were watching Adam Ruins Everything recently, and in the episode about work, Adam proposes that we have “labor unions and the Jewish people” to thank for the fact of Saturdays off. Indeed we do.

As the weather warms, signs of spring replenish me. The chives in the window-box on my mirpesset winter over each year, and they are one of the first things to green up when spring arrives. I just added a little sage plant and a little rosemary plant to that box. Their scent grounds and delights me, and they’re delicious, too.

Rachel Barenblat, Refill

I had a post all planned out two, or is it three weeks ago, but tiredness and life got in the way. The gist of the post was me attempting to connect the work I was doing in the garden that weekend to the construction of a poem.

I was building, and staining two planters and some trellis (NB Trellis was bought, but I made the planters) as you’ll see below.

I forget how exactly how I was going to make the connection, but it probably involved the idea of some sort of planning followed by making it up as you go along. (Yes, like these posts…)..or something about taking raw materials and shaping them into a finished product over time…Yeah, it was probably something as pretentious or as tenuous as that.

However, while I was putting the stain on I was listening to 2 of the excellent Alice Oswald lectures (the Interview with Water and Art of Erosion ones), an Episode of The Verb (on punctuation) and the Toast podcast with Fiona Benson being interviewed by the excellent Laura Barton (I recommend her writing and radio stuff, and her novel, Twenty-One Locks).

The Benson interview was fascinating, and among all of it one point really stood out where she mentioned that the idea of calling yourself a poet should be no less of an issue than being a plumber…And I think she’s bang on. I’m not doing her justice here, but that idea that being a poet is somehow a higher calling is one that I totally concur with.

It really hit home today as well as I was attempting to swap some taps over in my kitchen. I’ve got better at saying I write poetry/calling myself a poet, but there is never going to be a time when I can say I know anything about plumbing, let along call myself such a wondrous thing. Dear god, we’ve got it the wrong way round…These people need to be the ones on plinths…

Mat Riches, A plinth and a punch, the first in (almost) a month

The sun is shining and I’m going to be gardening this afternoon. The weather is becoming less glacial and I may even be able to plant out the tomatoes. Hurray! I feel my mood lifting. The diary for May and June promises much, it looks like Nick will be working again after 15 months of enforced layoff, and musical events are on the calendar again. Not before time. I was starting to find it hard to get out of bed and not succumb to dark thoughts. But at least the pool has reopened!

In fact, the last week or two have brought some brilliant moments – not least of which was Wednesday’s launch of Antony Mair‘s new Live Canon collection A Suitcase Filled with Hope. I was proud to be able to say a few words about Antony, in front of his friends and family and many, many fine poets in the audience. He is a very modest person, but with a big talent and a huge heart. I think this is his best book yet. Highly recommended.

Last week I met up with my Planet Poetry co-producer Peter Kenny and poet friend Charlotte Gann for a few beers in Lewes. A bit of rain didn’t put us off! This is the first time Peter and I have been able to meet properly since last November, and although we thought we might do some recording for the show, we ended up just socialising.

We’re really proud of Planet Poetry;  we’ve learned as we’ve gone along, made mistakes and haven’t quite reached BBC standard yet but hey! This week I attended some sessions of a Podfest Masterclass, and although the things I heard about how to take a podcast ‘up a notch’, promote it to a wider audience, make it easier to subscribe to etc wasn’t anything I didn’t know, it was a fantastic kick up the backside. As a result Peter and I now have a domain name, plans for a website and lots of ideas for the future. We’re currently working on Episode 14, due out next week and it’s all about poetry publishing. Looking at the list of previous episodes I’m reminded how much wonderful new poetry we’ve encountered, and how many fascinating poets and editors we’ve spoken with – most recently the eminent American poet LeAnne Howe.

Robin Houghton, Faith, hope and podcasting

Strangers is officially out there in the world and making things happen! […]

I’ve been able to do two interviews for the book, too – one audio and one in print. The spoken one was for Andrew French’s Page Fright podcast. Andrew has been good to me in the past, interviewing me last year (just pre-pandemic) about Best Canadian Poetry 2019 and What the Poets Are Doing. This time we talked about the new book, and all sorts of other stuff: creating community during a pandemic, how I like to read a poetry book, my superhero origin story, etc.

You can listen to/download/subscribe to the podcast here.

My second interview was with Michael Edwards, who runs the Red Alder Review. Michael has also been good to me in the past, publishing a haiku of mine just this January. We talked about both Strangers and haiku a good deal in the interview, among other topics. Most pleasing for me, Michael’s questions reached back over all four of my books, allowing me to take a bit of a long-view on my writing, and how its led me to this current book. 

You can give that interview a read here.

I’ve also been delighted to have Strangers appear in both CBC Books and 49th Shelf‘s Spring poetry roundups, and to see photos of the book appearing here and there on social media, the highest of these honours being Vicki “BookGaga” Ziegler handwriting a poem of mine in her journal (weighed down by the famous tiny pink dumbbell!) – a long held dream for any Canadian poet on Twitter.

Rob Taylor, Strangers in the wild!

This month I have been dazzled and overjoyed with the love and support from so many about my book, though at times, I have felt like that hand in the life ring on the cover of my book–drowning not waving. Or maybe I’m just looking for a high-five. 

I haven’t been this busy since pre-pandemic and in the busyness was neglectful of sharing that I have some wonderful readings coming up! 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Reading Calendar For Dialogues with Rising Tides / Kelli Russell Agodon

Those who follow my blogs, and perhaps particularly this one, will know that (in normal times) I enjoy watching Puffins as they move about on and off our coastal cliffs. I am thrilled to have one of my Puffin photographs on the cover of Neil Leadbeater‘s new poetry collection, published by Mervyn Linford of Littoral Press. David and I met Neil back in 2011 as fellow participants at Swansea’s First International Festival of Poetry, organised by Peter Thabit Jones of The Seventh Quarry Press (Swansea) with Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications (New York).

This fine collection includes poems rooted in a variety of rural (e.g. Tarr Steps), coastal (e.g. Aldeburgh) and urban (e.g. Port of Tyne) landscapes. A compelling sense of musicality pervades much of Neil’s work, aided and abetted by a sprinkling of alliterations and allusions. I have been particularly enjoying the poem sequences … and the Puffin poem, of course!  

Caroline Gill, My Puffin Photograph on the Cover of ‘Reading Between The Lines’ by Neil Leadbeater

Toward the end of last week, I was feeling the not all too unfamiliar feeling (doubt? restlessness? ennui?) about my work (more specifically writing more than visual work). It comes and goes, that feeling that feels like spending your whole life shouting into a canyon that comes back with only your own echo, but I was feeling it by Friday and questioning everything. I don’t think it necessarily has to do with po-biz, and more maybe with a certain writerly loneliness in the world. I don’t need fancy pubs and awards and attention, but I do like to feel that my words are hitting some sort of mark out there in the universe. (Maybe not the mark I intended, but something at least.)

That canyon is so big, and so filled with other writers also shouting.  And also, there is this huge rushing whir that may be the wind, but may also be terrible very-real world things like raging pandemic attention spans and  a world that barely reads at all. I sometimes go back to a blog entry I wrote in 2010 about feeling completely and utterly creatively happy and fulfilled, which is especially funny considering my non-creative personal life was a shit show and my work life tolerable but undynamic. I also was barely writing, and it occurred to me, this may have been why I felt so happy.  I was anxious about it–the NOT writing, sure.  But while others were shouting, I was hiding in the bushes. Being ignored was okay because, really, I had nothing much to offer.  

In those years post MFA, I was devoting much more time to the etsy shop and visual things, and these felt like something people actually wanted, you know.  Not just things I was throwing out into the silence. These things took up time/energies later better spent on my own projects and the chapbook arm of the operations and eventually I scaled the retail end back in favor of these endeavors. These are a harder sell than paper goods, vintage, and jewelry–all things in high demand in those days when etsy was still small enough to forge a following. The output/reward system was more direct and involved less effort. So it could be that–the satisfaction in making things for which there is a demand in the world outside of poetry, which is so small but also large but sometimes highly capricious.  

Kristy Bowen, on writing and not writing

Hans Christian Andersen’s What One Can Invent merits a read. It’s part fable, part satire.

– There was once a young man who studied to become a poet. He wanted to be a poet by next Easter, so that he could marry and earn his living from poetry, which he knew was just a matter of making things up. But he had no imagination. He firmly believed he had been born too late. Every subject had been used up before he had a chance at it, and there was nothing in the world left to write about.

– He visits an old lady, who lived in a tiny gate-house i. She says “Just try on my spectacles, listen through my ear-trumpet, say your prayers, and please, for once in your life, stop thinking about yourself.” That last request was asking almost too much of him. It was more than any woman, however wise and wonderful, should demand of a poet.

– She shows him a potato, a blackthorn, a bee hive, then gets him to watch the people on the road. He has many ideas. But when he returns her ear-trumpet and spectacles, the ideas go. So she suggests “Write about those who write. To criticise their writing is to criticise them, but don’t let that trouble you. The more critically you write, the more you’ll earn, and you and your wife will eat cake every day.”

Tim Love, What One Can Invent

stacks of notebooks
like cordwood
fending
off the cold
paltry fire
barely big enough
to keep my fingers warm
so i can write
and count the pages
as they flutter
into the fire.

Jared A. Conti, Kindled

An amazing thing happened.

Last fall I sent a pile of newer poems to Middle Creek Press, hoping I might salvage something out of what little I wrote during our ongoing pandemic misery. Turns out that collection, titled Portals, won the 2020 Halcyon Poetry Prize. Wild, right?

What an honor to have Middle Creek publisher David Anthony Martin select my manuscript. This collection is packed with poems about sycamore leaves, gut bacteria, quicksand, protests, yeast, talking peonies, insects, inflation, and consequential strangers. […]

People seem to think a writer writes in isolation, pulled only by some invisible drive to assemble words into form. For years I felt that isolation acutely. Heck, I didn’t even admit I was writing and publishing poems until my first collection, Tending, was accepted by a small poetry press. All that time the work of other poets pulled me onward. Their poems nourished me and helped me recognize poetry is in us all.

When the publisher of my first collection told me to solicit blurbs by reaching out to poets I admired, the task seemed unimaginable. Approach a busy stranger, someone I’d deeply respected from a distance, then ask for a favor? A distinctly time-consuming favor? I was appalled. Maybe my book could be published with a blank back cover. Maybe I could pretend the blankness was some kind of artistic choice. Turns out that wasn’t necessary. Every poet I contacted was gracious, even the poets who turned me down. Their kindness introduced me to the kindness of the writing community. (There are unkind pockets too, but I’m too small potatoes to be affected.)

My next collection, Blackbird, continued to teach me just how beautiful the writing community can be. Writers go out of their way to amplify the work of other writers. They mentor, they share, they podcast, they teach.  Many dedicate their time to make literary journals, literary organizations, and literary events possible.

I am the recipient of these kindnesses and more.

Laura Grace Weldon, Portals: My Newest Book!

I’ve noticed a quotation making the rounds again by May Sarton from Journal of a Solitude — a book which in part inspired my own Calm Things back in the day). She says, “Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”

Keep busy with survival, says Sarton, and we try, even though survival really is just imitating trees. How did she know?

And while you are doing this, it’s good to also be seeking out and making beautiful things. On beauty, Peter Schjeldahl said, “Beauty is, or ought to be, no big deal, though the lack of it is. Without regular events of beauty, we live estranged from existence, including our own.”

Beauty, in my opinion, right now, is actually a really big deal. And that’s because we are a little estranged from existence, at least I feel as thought I am.

Still, everything else goes on, and if you don’t follow my posts on Instagram, you might not know all that has been going on for me and my famjam this week. And it’s all great, wonderful, kind of amazing stuff really. Which at this time seems a bit exhausting? Ha. We’re loving it all, but it seems weird to be celebrating in the middle of a pandemic and all that. As we all are doing, and have done, amid everything else. The lows and the highs are intermingling in all new and surprising ways, aren’t they?

And so with all that, I still have my book on the horizon to look forward to, which is actually truly heart-bursting — to think that this can happen amid everything else these past two years. I have my incredible publisher Palimpsest Press to thank for just persisting and being so enthusiastic and kind and also really professional and efficient, which is something I really appreciate. Because it’s easy to forget how hard it is just to operate in normal ways in these intense times and that everyone has a life outside of their work that has become tricky in immeasurable ways. And so if you can keep work things fun and light in all this, well that is a balm and a boon.

Shawna Lemay, If Two People

My video Colony Collapse has been selected for an international on-line exhibition, Agency, hosted by Broto Art-Climate-Science in Boston. It’s associated with their conference on 15-16 May entitled Greetings, Earthing: How does global citizenship affect our climate response? As part of the conference, I’m also taking part in a discussion on Agency: Arts as Civics Teacher.

Curated by Margaret LeJeune, the show asks “What exists at the intersection of empowerment, the climate crisis, and radical empathy?  What does agency look like in a post-human world? And, can it be ascribed to non-human species, rivers and/or ecosystems?”

Ian Gibbins, Colony Collapse at Broto Art-Climate-Science: Agency

Amherst, Massachusetts poet and editor Dennis James Sweeney’s full-length poetry debut is In The Antarctic Circle (Pittsburgh PA: Autumn House Press, 2021), a book of absences and solitudes reminiscent of the geographic lyrics of Ottawa poet Monty Reid’s The Alternate Guide (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1995), with both titles writing out alternate takes on specific geographic locales across a contained stretch. “Scan the snow for objects of love and wonder.” Sweeney writes, to open “74°0’S 108°30’W,” “Boil seal meat, stirring / with both arms.” For Reid, the boundaries of his specific map were the province of Alberta, and for Sweeney, he writes the Antarctic circle, but one as a space of shadows, legends and imprecisions. He writes an open space upon which the emptiness allows him to mark and remark as he wishes, putting on his own particular imprint, writing love, heart, hearth and environmental crisis. How does one love during a crisis? How does one allow a benefit of doubt? Even the shadows, one might say, betray. As “76°20’S 124°38’W” writes: “You will learn: Negative sixty degrees is not absolute zero. // You will learn: In a whiteout you cannot see shadows, but that does / not mean the edges are not there.”

rob mclennan, Dennis James Sweeney, In The Antarctic Circle

I wonder if we ever become allergic to ghosts or just the dirt that surrounds their graves.

When death arrives at our doorstep, I don’t imagine it bearing a beautiful bouquet as the living are generally the ones who lay fresh flowers upon graves.

The number of those who’ve passed away must surely outnumber my remaining brain cells. Eventually, those, too, will become dirt and dust. But not before I remember those who’ve left us.

Sometimes this world can break our hearts like a dog-whimper song.

Other times, our love ruckus is enough to remind the ghosts they need not be allergic to us.

Rich Ferguson, People Who’ve Died

the dog naps with a belly full of chicken
the cat naps with a belly full of mystery

one of the Marley kids is singing
through the Bluetooth speaker

I’m writing a poem, trying to freeze
a moment already lost to swift time

Jason Crane, POEM: movement

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: a hodge-podge of delightful and challenging posts that nonetheless seem to converge on a single point, or cluster of related points, though at the moment I’m too tired to work out quite what that might be. Enjoy.


The big conversation that the world is having. Human voices are only the tiniest part of it. Zipper of crow flight against the white blank sky. Syllables of sea birds that float, read left to right, right to left, moment to disappear. Alder branch hashmarks over a smudge of obscured sunlight. Blue slash of shadow, so sharp it cuts you.

In the preface of The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson writes, “The more you looked, the more you saw, but you could never see it all.” The poet Jane Hirshfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” Two voices that I love speaking to each other over time. I walk along the beach, cobbles shifting beneath my feet. I am watching a group of seabirds continually rearrange themselves in a line. They go beneath the waves and then resurface. Dot dot dash. Dot…… dot. Dot.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The big conversation that the world is having

The point from the start was to figure out how to live. Some people grow out of asking “why? why? why?” — with infuriating persistence — in toddlerhood. Not me. Partly no doubt because my parents strongly encouraged curiosity, so I generally felt I was a good boy when I inquired. And then, I had a rare father who could actually tell me why the sky was blue, and what held the Moon up, or what was really happening in Southeast Asia. But mostly because what you don’t know can cut you off at the knees, and often does. It’s pure self-defense to know as much as you can, about everything you can. You have to look after yourself, in this life.

But you end up studying yourself in the mirror, and seeing a strange, inquisitive face examining you, with great attention, although maybe not with overflowing sympathy. The eyes overlarge, and the belly swollen with — promise? Or what? You tell me.

How to live: which includes what to do with your days: maybe boils down to that. Certainly how to hold your days up to the sun. (Or up to whatever sky God gives you.) 

But first, anyway, you have to slow down and quiet down, until you can hear the drip of the snowmelt and the grooming of the cat and the shift of the heat exchanger. More haste, less speed. 

Dale Favier, Mahamudra

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Ren Powell, What I’ve Learned in the Pandemic

Last week I noticed a poem shared by Blue Diode Press on Twitter. ‘Meditation’, by Eunice De Souza, appeared in the collection A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems (Penguin).

The poem’s first two lines leapt out at me:

The lonely ask too much and then
too little

I love how the form reflects its content: how these two lines mirror what they’re describing.

All those words (relatively) crammed into that first line, in haste and at too great length; only to fall away into the sad stump of the second. 

How differently it would read if the line break fell in the obvious place – after ‘too much’. I really FEEL it this way.

I see a baby who cries and cries, then gives up crying.

I also think about ideas I’ve explored before – people thinking they know what they want (read ‘lack’) but that familiar yearning masking an ambivalence, or terror. 

I explore similar concerns myself – to all of these – in The Girl Who Cried.

Because I can feel I’ve spent my life rushing towards people, then retreating. Asking ‘too much and then / too little’.

So there it is: the magic. 

A whole lifetime’s dilemma distilled – understood, reflected back – in two short lines of poetry.

Charlotte Gann, TWO SHORT LINES OF POETRY

I remember in grad school hearing that one of my teachers would sometimes take sizeable breaks from writing — six month, year long, insane (to me) breaks from writing–but she still managed to be Louise Gluck, so I suppose it did her no harm.

I have one manuscript languishing for a publisher (I finished it at a difficult time in my life so did not send it out for the longest), one manuscript recently completed (all about that difficult time in my life and emotionally challenging to write), so now I feel like I might need a bit of a breather from poetry.

That time between projects–because I tend to be a project-type of writer–has historically been a bit panicky for me. What do I do next?! I think, biting my nails. But this has been more like…Do I write another grief poem? Ugh. Do I write historical persona like I once loved? Double Ugh.

So I think it’s time to let the field lie fallow, so to speak, until it feels like it’s time to dive in again.

Have you ever taken a writing break? What was it like?

Renee Emerson, Shelving It

I haven’t been writing much. This is not unusual for me. I go for long periods without writing much, or writing little bits that I discover later, or writing quite a bit only I haven’t noticed it. Mostly these days the notebook sits closed. But I’ve been willing to paint. Maybe not with alacrity, but I’m more likely to open my little sketchbook than my notebook.

I’ve been painting mostly from photographs, even though I know from my artist friends that that is frowned upon, although I’m unclear why, but one friend is Rather Stern about it. So I do it anyway, but feel guilty about it, which I figure makes it okay.

Marilyn McCabe, Kiss me on a midnight street; or, Creativity and Letting Go of Control

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.

But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either.

Julie Mellor, edge of day

My book turned 5 months old this week and I have a feeling now that it is something quite separate from me. An iceberg broken away and drifting off, handkerchiefs waving from the deck.

I always loved the word handkerchief because of that silent -d-, but also because of the dainty waving of it, the lace or embroidery. Always for crying or goodbye. I bought some old handkerchiefs online recently and god knows why. Would it be affected to use one? It would be an exercise in sustainability. Ok, I’ve sold myself on toting a handkerchief around. I love washing things in the sink. That feeling of care.

Sarah J Sloat, Behold Your Horses

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Meditation on Limbo

rolling blackouts
how the wind howls
& the candles dance

on the radio Lizzo
feeling good as hell

James Brush, 02.16.21

This is the time of year when I would ordinarily be taking my kid back to my birthplace — to see family, to breathe the air of where I come from, to enjoy Mexican breakfast at Panchito’s and big fluffy Texas-sized pancakes at the Pioneer Flour Mill. In this pandemic year, there’s no trip to Texas. The last time I was there was for mom’s unveiling.

Knowing that most of Texas is suffering cold and snow and rolling power outages, making these enchiladas feels like a kind of embodied prayer. When I make challah on Fridays I sing while kneading the dough. Tonight I am praying for Texas as I simmer the chili sauce, as I dip the corn tortillas in oil, as I tuck each rolled enchilada into the baking dish.

I spoke with family there this morning, and texted with them again later in the day. Like most of Texas, they didn’t have power or heat. Southern homes aren’t build to keep out the cold — they’re designed to retain cool. A lot of Texans don’t own warm winter clothes; why would they? Often at this time of year, it’s warm enough to wear short sleeves.

I could talk about why Texas has its own power grid, or the outrage of wholly preventable tragedies, or the importance of a robust safety net and good infrastructure in all neighborhoods, or the climate crisis that inevitably feeds worsening weather patterns. Instead I’m rolling enchiladas and praying that somebody can get the power up and running again.

Rachel Barenblat, A prayer in a casserole dish

L.A. winds whip through alleyways, wail eulogies for the lost, tear ghost sheets from cemetery clotheslines.

L.A. winds steer birds off course; break trees of their branches and will; deflower flowers, scatter all cautions to the wind.

They huff and puff, blow down homeless encampments, give rise to stray plastic bags tracing the wind’s form yet unable to comprehend the wind’s full shape and power.

Then, without warning, L.A. winds die out.

All the plastic bags, flower petals, ragged tents, cardboard shelters, and stray bird feathers fall to the ground, joining the broken branches.

The city grows quiet.

Takes on the many colors of its inner mood ring: violet for loving, amber for unsettled, gray for anxious.

Rich Ferguson, L.A. Winds

Yesterday, I had the TV on for background noise while working on a writing project, and there was a dude on Naked and Afraid claiming he had nothing but good vibes while being absolutely devoured by mosquitos. By contrast, his female companion and co-contestant was quite freaked out and complained lots. He had less tolerance for those complaints — i.e. her honesty about her discomfort — than she had for the mosquitos.

Of course, I found it hilarious that his supposed good vibes were so powerless against the agitation he felt as a result of how his partner met her own needs. His belief that his (selectively) good attitude was the only acceptable response to the mosquitos reminded me of a relatively new concept: “toxic positivity.” It insists that if we just turn that frown upside down, all will be well. Or better, at least.

While I’m not a Debbie Downer, I am a known skeptic of silver lining theories, and it’s refreshing that some positivity is being called out as harmful. Why must we take everything in stride?

Carolee Bennett, where the sun don’t shine

For reasons, I felt gritty and low-down and wicked this weekend, so I set about downloading “Grand Theft Auto 5.” I didn’t realize the process was going to take ten years. This game is a monster. I kept checking on the download throughout the day, but it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that it fully propagated on my system, and by then I was too tired to figure out how to get through the tutorial. I’m going to try again today. So far it’s quite loud and violent, and I’m stuck in the tutorial because I can’t figure out how to “take cover.” But I’m looking forward to playing someone mean and crooked. I want to steal cars and blow things up. I want to be bad and sultry and quick and criminal. I want to zip around L.A. in a flashy stolen vehicle and bask in the blazing California sun. I am tired of living a grim, responsible life in a cold, gray respectable city. I’m bustin’ out, folks. If the Feds kick my door down, it’s been nice knowing you.

Kristen McHenry, Low-Down Gritty Me, Age Shock, Gym Bag Redux

A lovely evening for a swim. The tide was low and the water cool, and as I waded out (quite far before it was deep enough to swim) I noticed that the squishy mud I was wading through was warm, quite a bit warmer than the water actually.

estuary ::
the night gives back
what the day has taken

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

after my bath
i sit and compose haiku
about my swim

Jim Young [no title]

I was delighted to unpack my copies of the new Locked Down anthology from Susan Jane Sims of Poetry Space. The book has just been published and contains a large mix of poems, diary extracts, photographs and art. 

My poem, a metaphorical lockdown one, has as its focus the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as witnessed and recorded by the Younger Pliny. The theme seems particularly pertinent and poignant in the light of yesterday’s eruption of Etna on Sicily. 

Back in the mid-1980s David and I spent a year in Italy, and during that time travelled from Rome to Herculaneum and Pompeii, in the shadow of Vesuvius. We also journeyed further south, crossing to Sicily in the train on board the ferry. Naples had been absolutely bitter (this was February); but once we reached the shadow of Mount Etna, the sun beat down on us as we cast our coats aside and rolled up our shirt sleeves. Kind Italian fruit growers offered us giant oranges as we disembarked.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Locked Down’ anthology from Poetry Space

So here I am in the backseat, struggling to relax and enjoy the scenery. This February is a holding-pattern of a month; it’s also busy. I’m halfway through the master class I’m teaching at Randolph College. I’m virtually attending the Poetry and Pedagogy Conference hosted by West Chester starting tomorrow and looking forward to hearing panels about teaching. The workshop I’m running on Saturday morning, on how and why to teach single-author collections, is nearly ready, and I’m giving a reading with the other workshop leaders on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my department is assembling a list for the registrar of our fall courses, so I’m in planning mode for my own fall offerings. The clock is definitely ticking on my sabbatical, even though the second half of the leave year remains fuzzy in many ways, for obvious reasons. (Deep breaths through the diaphragm. Amygdala, calm down.)

Nope, amygdala thinks my editorial load is fight-or-flight. It’s a privilege to work for a great magazine with a great Editor-in-Chief; accepting poems and promoting their wonderfulness is a thrill. Yet, open for submissions for the first two weeks of February, Shenandoah received 736 batches of poems. 736!!! I’m working hard, but when I get down to the most irresistible poems I’ll still have more than enough for multiple issues, which means more hours of difficult siftings and rejection letters that can be wrenching to write. (I have 19 spots max for Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 combined, with some reserved for a portfolio curated by our BIPOC Editorial Fellow in poetry, Sylvia Jones.) I’m trying to take it more slowly than usual and not feel so overwhelmed, but it’s a lot.

The stressy busy-ness is only partly about work, after all. Part of my brain is always rehearsing the vigilance script: steer clear of that maskless man; what can I cook over the next several days to postpone another trip to the supermarket, because it never feels safe there; my mother and daughter are on that airplane, how do I keep it aloft from down here? Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

Lesley Wheeler, Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

The towel dried
in the open, a flag rigged to mean look

away, she isn’t who you want. Nobody said
double or shadow. Outside in the world:

you stepped out of that jerry-built
altar, careful to rinse the musk-smell

of magnolias from your nape. You
learned to answer but quietly. How long

did it take before the two of you drew
closer to one another, breathed

in unison under blankets, clasped
hands under a billow of netting.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imago

something with a tail to nuzzle into your palm           to pierce
                             the soft                shell of your heart             something
to take home

something that rolls from under your feet      gathers
              no moss           loves              glass houses        something
to hold in your fist

something with roots you want to slip       sleep under
            climb into           hug          borrow its skin

Romana Iorga, some things to watch out for in a poem

We’d uncoil our Sargent jumps, tapping your top
as you became our iceberg, Sherman tank,
or high-rise block. Your walls were stormed,
but stayed unopened by broken bricks or pot-shots
from our BB guns. David lost an eye
in the ricochet, though I can barely
recall how he came to be standing there.
You were hauled away for scrap soon after.
I should find out where he is now.

Mat Riches, Post-Rock Shipping Containers

Sandra Beasley, a friend of mine who has several severe food allergies like my own, wrote this essay about claiming her identity as a disabled writer. It’s worth a read. And it made me think of my own nervousness, two AWP’s ago, when I was on a panel and was part of a reading for disabled writers. Was I disabled enough?  Could I speak to this group with any authority? Anyway, what does it mean to add “disabled” to your bio, or your descriptions of yourself on social media? If you look at my pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily see any disability, unless you looked closely, or looked at how I cropped out a wheelchair or cane. I notice small things (like my left side never fully recovered from the 2018 MS flare, and I still limp a little on that side, and my eye on that side isn’t quite the same as the one on the right side. Another small thing is I have more trouble reading my poems correctly out loud than I used to. A poetry editor recently asked me to record a video for their site, and asked for a re-recording because I had made minor errors in the words. But I knew that in a re-recording, I was likely to make the same, or worse, errors, because MS makes it difficult for me to read, focus on a camera, and stand at the same time. Did the editor know how bad she made me feel for this neurological anomaly? Probably not. It’s the same with Zoom readings and meetings – I have to shut off my camera sometimes when my brain gets overwhelmed trying to sort noise and imagery and trying to respond properly that that information. It could be perceived as a bad attitude – but really it’s my disability that’s controlling things. During quarantine, I have not asked as much of my body – not trying to walk unfamiliar routes, or dealing with people who don’t know I have MS, or driving to downtown readings that require stairs or doctor’s appointments that take hours of physical endurance to go to. But I still get tired doing things the average person wouldn’t. I have a telltale sign when I’ve done too much that my husband notices – my hands and legs start to tremble fairly aggressively, and this usually means worse symptoms will happen. “Time to rest,” he’ll say, and though I might resist his advice, he’s right. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because it’s hard to be vulnerable and admit your physical, neurological, and mental disabilities. Everyone who has them has a hard time claiming them in a positive way. Do we call ourselves a “disabled person” or a “person with disabilities.” This is an actual thing we have to think about.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Snow Woes, Who Gets to Be a Disabled Writer, and Having Trouble Getting It Together? Me too.

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I’ve been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There’s the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, “We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash.”

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we’ve built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn’t leave us clinically depressed?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

I’ve been shielding and self-isolating for a year. It’s my Covid-versary. At the start, you don’t mark the date. I just remember thinking that it would be sorted by the end of April, and I’d go to St Ives to write. And then that became September, except it didn’t. And so on. Can you remember what day it is anymore? 

If someone told you a year ago you’ll be isolated for a year you’d probably say but I can’t do that. Much in the style of folk who post on social media that they can’t wait for X or Y or whatever. meaning that they don’t want to. I can’t do that. I’m reminded of Kim Moore’s glorious Trumpet Teacher’s curse

a curse on the teacher who says I’m rubbish at music
in a loud enough voice for the whole class to hear

I can’t do that. We believe we can’t cope. We lose someone we love. We lose an occupation. How will we survive? It turns out that you can, that you have, that you do. I had another anniversary in January. Eight years ago I joined an inspirational fellowship and gave up alcohol. I thought I couldn’t do it, but it turned out I could. The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I started to write, seriously, and joined another inspirational fellowship of people who write poems. I’ve had a book published every year since. I started to write a poetry blog, and about 750,000 words later, I’m still writing it. It turns out I could do it after all. As can we all, mostly. 

John Foggin, Keeping on: my kind of poetry. Martin Zarrop

One of the things I enjoy most about readings is the live audience – you can see how they’re reacting, you can address people through eye contact. And on Zoom? You’re lucky if you’ve spotted your friends, who could be on page 2 of the mosaic, you could be faced with a patchwork of faces and blank screens with names, some of which are something like ‘K’s laptop’. Everyone’s muted. Ugh!

The last reading I did, I had the poems on my computer screen so I could read off them and not keep looking down. When it’s just your head and shoulders visible, if people are looking at me (and hopefully they’re not all the time!) I want to seem as if I’m addressing them. I know I like this when I’m watching a poet read, and a number of people have told me they like it too. The downside to this strategy is, if you’re on a laptop, you might find your Word document (with the poems on) obscures the Zoom window, and with no ‘feedback loop’ you just have to carry on and trust people are there and haven’t all gone home, or that your connection has died and you haven’t realised, so you’ve been talking to yourself for ten minutes. Another way might be to pin your poems on the wall above your screen, which come to think of it might work better as you’ll be looking at a point just above the camera. OK now I’m overthinking things, and making myself more anxious…

Robin Houghton, On giving a poetry reading via Zoom

Today someone said I
seemed like a pink lady.

In another part of town
I heard a tiny bird-

song that touched me.
A meeting was held and

I got naked on a screen,
with my clothes on.

I kept someone waiting
for over an hour,

was forgiven.

Marie Craven, I Heard a Bird

Have you noticed a change in submissions to Atrium Poetry since lockdown?

I think we received more submissions in 2020 than in previous years, and I’m sure a good chunk of that was lockdown-related. Some people commented in their cover email or bio that they’d been inspired to start writing/return to writing when lockdown began. We have had a lot of poems about Covid (see next question!).

If poets are considering sending work to you should they send poems about Covid or are you saturated by them?

We don’t have any set themes at Atrium, so poets are free to send us work on whatever subjects they wish. Having said that, we have been (understandably) sent a lot of Covid-related poems, and I would make the point that the only ones we’ve gone on to accept for publication have been ones that look at the pandemic in a fresh and original light (though the same applies to any subject, really!). We’ve received many poems that essentially say the same sorts of things as each other (‘it’s hard not seeing family and friends/ I’m worried about older relatives/ I’m washing my hands a lot’!). It’s not eye-catching or ‘different’ enough to simply state the more obvious aspects, relatable though they are.

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I’d just made my ‘Writing Projects for 2021’ list when lockdown was announced, and my initial feeling was ‘just carry on regardless’, despite the restrictions on time.

The reality, though, is that I’ve not been able to keep up with things – daytime is taken up by home school and other work, and I’m too old now to have any energy left to write in the evenings! But my experience of the first lockdown reassures me that writing will pick back up again in time, and I’m trying to be relaxed about it! Needs must, and it’s not forever.

I suppose, with that in mind, my tip for other poets would be don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get much writing done during lockdown – for some it’s a very productive time, but for others (most?) there are too many other things going on to focus properly on writing, whether that be because of other commitments or just because you can’t find the oomph to do it in amongst the general worry! The urge/time/brain-space to write will return – you’ve not written your last poem. Trying to follow my own advice there…

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Claire Walker

I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?

A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.

Matthew Paul, The information

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I’m usually able to exploit what I’ve learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I’ve made a page-long poem more episodic, then I’ve broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I’ve salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones’ story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled “Cove”, which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral – you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces – short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Tim Love, Editing down

In 2017 – 2018 I had a lovely time working in a secondary school in Bath one day work, employed as a Writer in Residence. I used this blog as a notebook to document the workshops, so I thought I’d link to a few of the posts I wrote, for anyone who might find them useful at this time of homeschooling and being stuck indoors. The young writers I worked with were mostly aged 11 – 16 but the workshops can be adapted for other ages – and for yourself if you’re in the mood to do some writing and you need a little inspiration. […]
 
Cutting up text to write poems – This workshop produced an impressive amount of work by the students I worked with, even those who told me they “didn’t like writing”. Cutting up and manipulating text can be satisfying and fun and makes a change from facing up to the blank page. I was strict with my young writers and didn’t allow them to add in extra words “so a sentence made sense” but they were allowed to write anything they wanted in their own notebooks, so many new phrases and ideas popped up, leading to fresh poems and stories.

Josephine Corcoran, DIY Poetry Writing Workshops

Edmonton poet Paul Zits’ third collection is Exhibit (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2019), following Massacre Street(University of Alberta Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Leap-seconds(Insomniac Press, 2017). I’m frustrated in that I don’t even think I saw a copy of that second collection, and only received a copy of this latest collection a few months back; why is Paul Zits so silent on these books he’s been publishing? As the back cover to this new collection offers: “In the winter of 1926, Margaret McPhail went on trial for the murder of Alex, and throughout, maintained her innocence. More than a retelling of her trial, Exhibit chronicles the path to a verdict, misstep by misstep. Unique and rewarding, this is a masterful work of collage poetry that rests in the spaces where reality is constructed and where reality is blurred.” I’m immediately fascinated at Zits’ exploration of the prairie document, retelling the bones of a story of early prairie history through the shape of poetry, putting him in a lineage of multiple prairie writers such as Dennis Cooley, Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Kristjana Gunners, among others. Zits applies the elements of the story into short, sketched lyrics, presenting and capturing moments that accumulate and shape into a larger narrative of what might, or may, have happened. He writes out the spaces amid the spaces; what is known and impossible to know. Unlike Kroetsch or Cooley, Zits’ collage-story attempts the impossibility of truth, even through the knowledge of that impossibility. His lyrics present with the facts as best as possible, allowing the reader the space to get inside.

rob mclennan, Three short reviews: June Gehringer, Tess Brown-Lavoie + Paul Zits

 I’ve always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it’s more serious (the Chicago World’s Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000’s my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I’d written that involved external sources directly, but I’d touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din’t have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems –my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel–all things that I’ve written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that’s expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40’s (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

Kristy Bowen, writing history and myth

I’m talking brain imaging, I say. Our brains mirror other brains; that’s how we understand one another. He’s still got his patient listener face on, so I continue. This explains how clichés impair writing. Because when we hear a cliché like put the cart before the horse our brains don’t evidence any interest. That saying was originally a clever use of language the first 1,000 or 100,000 times it was said but our brains react minimally to clichés. Brain imaging shows we take them in only at the most basic level. Phrases like “scared out of my wits” or “made of money” were original once, but now they deaden our responses.  Besides, many clichés in common usage come to us from generations ago, when everyone knew how foolhardy it was to put the actual cart before the actual horse. Take the cliché “caught red-handed.” This likely came from centuries back, when serfs worked the land of some lord or another. There were strict rules against poaching. Even if one’s family was starving on what little they could grow, it was illegal to hunt on the lord’s land. Caught red-handed meant you had blood on your hands and would be severely punished.         

Mark alleges he still likes clichés and gleefully adds the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”* It’s a game now. We continue to toss out ever more ridiculous clichés until we weary of them and put the audiobook back on.

Listening to it, we finally we reach a cliché-related accord. I agree with him that a book’s character can and perhaps should use clichés if it’s in keeping with that character. In this pop mystery, I can see why a character or two would talk this way. Mark agrees with me that the book we’re listening to also uses clichés in description and plot development outside of character narration, and it’s off-putting. We listen a few more miles and he says. “Now I can’t help but hear all the clichés. Thanks.” We give up on the book.

Yes, we’re still married. And yes, I still give that cliché talk but have learned to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Grace Weldon, Clichés

In “The Oscillations” Kate Fox has a collection that explores neurodivergency and how masking differences comes at a cost and the isolation that can result, although there’s also hope in new connections as a world shifts. The pandemic is a backdrop, something battled and overcome with a journey towards renewal. The poems have a focused, conversational tone which belies their careful structure: the apparent casualness relies on sound echoes and partial rhymes. These poems both skim the surface and explore the depths, which path is taken is up to the reader.

Emma Lee, “The Oscillations” Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I have had the pleasure of knowing [Saddiq] Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue

at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.

You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.

Uma Gowrishankar, how to drink loss

There is nothing more pleasing than to write with a newly filled, well-flowing fountain pen, on the pages of a C.D. Notebook (another obsession). Let me make this case for writers of all kinds to use a fountain pen: the more you write and use your writing instrument, the better it will flow. If you leave off writing, there is the possibility that the ink will dry in the mechanism, and things will start to get hinky. Which is to say blotchy or dry or skippish. The more you write the more you flow. And that, my friends is the secret to fountain pens and the secret to writing. And the secret to refraining from giving in to the cussedness of it all. You know.

Shawna Lemay, The Cussedness of Fountain Pens

that moment when the very first raindrops
tumble down from the broken sky
scattered and fat
perfect
lovely

James Lee Jobe, you are alone in the silence

A xylophone of icycles on a rusted bridge, a bass drum of cloud.
A glimmer of moonlight on the coldest night for twenty years.
I have your last letter in my pocket.

I hear you saying I wish I could see you once more.
Someone saw you in your house by the sea.
A sense of lamps. I should have known you’d understand

The laziness of forgiveness, the hard work of bitterness,
The emptiness in every room. Did anyone see you move in?
One by one your books will abandon you.

Bob Mee, A QUESTION OF SIGHT AND SOUND AND THREE OTHER NEW PIECES THAT MUST SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

I think
of us loving
into the night,

the darkness
not something
we have feared.

We empty
ourselves into it
again and again.

Loss fills us
for another
go at hope.

Tom Montag, AN IMAGE OF

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, we’re a month and a half into 2021 and years into an endless, if somehow also endangered, winter. But today, reading the poetry blogs, I found valentines. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, of course. These were stronger, darker, riskier—like love itself.


On this Valentine’s Day I’m thinking about all the people who’ve lost their lover, their husband or wife, their child or parent — especially those losses that have occurred during the past year. It’s an astronomical number. A mind-boggling number. A river of tears stretching around the world. For many of us, there may not have been an actual death of someone we loved deeply, but days and months when we feared it more than anything we’ve ever feared.

Why do we take the risk? Why do we love, if we know we’re either opening ourselves, or the ones we love, to inevitable, eventual pain?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

Finally the mug, lovely gift from Mike. Last night, I wondered darkly how long I have to go without writing a poem before I stop being a poet. This morning, preparing a Valentine’s breakfast for one, this was the obvious mug to choose. 

I sat in bed this morning in the company of crockery, eating toast, drinking orange juice. Three times, I poured milk from the tiny jug into the mug-of-affirmation, before pouring on the English Breakfast / Earl Grey mix. With each mugful, I felt the warmth of love, in all its richness and many forms, grow stronger.  

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

We do have the privilege of a garden.
It’s all relatively new to us. A blessing just in time
before the world got stopped.
We established our very own animal pub there-
it’s called The Grain & Shell.
Birds & squirrels
feed & drink
& fight &
dance & mate,
but this Winter the water in the shell freezes
first a below-zero ice-skating rink, then a small mountain of hard snow.
Thirsty squeaking little birds cannot break through it;
squirrels lick the frozen surface
then leave in clear disappointment.
Every morning after tea & coffee
we now put another kettle on & melt
the glacial, hazy and rigid mirror
& watch the lot steam up in the cold air.

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.

You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

Here’s me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes – and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

Tim Love, Long shadows

Don’t tell me how to lose someone.
I’ve earned this experience.
Some knitting, a watch, a photograph:
through these things I remember.
The blood rises to my cheeks, already red
from genes I no longer trust.
I’m like the ship of Theseus.
How much can I cast away & still be myself?
I try to identify my face in the bathroom mirror
at the grocery store. Those are my eyes,
there’s my crooked nose, that’s the gap between my teeth.
Every seven years all the cells in my body renew.
I set the boat on the water, push it out to sea.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

This Valentine’s Day, my object of love is the world, and what kind of a clear manageable object is that?  

I could narrow it down, focus, make it a simple object, like an oyster, and use all of my five senses to explore its delicate being, its opalescent color, its sand and pearly shell  

I might complicate things by thinking about the ocean, and how many people die in it every year, and how many sailors and fishermen have perished over centuries, how many in the Middle Passage, and wonder if I can still love the ocean

or that oyster that is its product and essence of the ocean itself

and I might be eating the oyster as I am listening to a roll call, to documentation of a country falling apart

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

For this poetry prompt for Valentine’s Day, start by reading “Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]” by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Edward Snow) and give some thought to what you like/admire.

For me, it’s that Rilke captures the delusions of grandeur being in love can inspire. And instead of poking fun at us (or at himself), he embraces the phenomenon as a shared human experience. How silly (and necessary!) for us to feel as though our current romance is the biggest love that’s ever existed in all of the universe and surely will transcend time itself! And although he acknowledges the absurdity of that in the poem’s final line, he does it gently, via a kind of nostalgia for this collective culpability.

I also appreciate that the poem avoids being overly sentimental. Tricky for a love poem to do! This is accomplished by incorporating words that offer a glimpse into the imperfections of romantic love: words like “hurdles,” “hazards” and “disintegration.” These are not typical love poem words and may seem in opposition to what the poem is saying about love being grand and lasting forever. Instead, they’re subtle reminders that love encompasses risk and a fair amount of disappointment, including paling in comparison to what “forever” actually is in the context of the cosmos. Risk is just part of it — “wedded to the swift hazard of their play” — and unlikely to deter us.

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

I’ve been sending missives from menopause and perimenopause over the last few years, and sometimes they feel like dead letters. Well, almost all poems land softly–but the so-called change of life feels so BIG to me that it feels like there ought to be a much larger body of literature about it. So I was really happy when “Oxidation Story” was accepted by Kenyon Review Online this fall, and even happier to receive lots of positive responses when they published it yesterday. I’d worked on this one for years. Maybe I got the words right, or the subject matter called to people, or the prestige of the venue attracted attention? In any case, it made me feel seen for a shining moment, for the writer in me.

That’s one of the weird side effects of crossing over to this side of 50: you’re catcalled, harassed, and menaced for most of your life, then you become invisible. I prefer invisibility on the whole, but it would be even better to become, say, “distinguished.” Most TV shows and movies provide illustrations of how impossible that seems to be. As my spouse and I burn through all the shows streaming services have to offer, we just tried “The Undoing,” which pairs Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as high-powered professionals in unholy matrimony. Kidman is ultra-fit and facelifted and bewigged into a simulacrum of Pre-Raphaelite maidenhood; Grant is carrying more pounds than in his lean thirties, hair grayed and face a little jowly, but he remains very much the leading man. It’s not that I’d put Grant on a diet; I’d rather see Kidman, or any older woman, allowed to wrinkle and accumulate a spare tire and still play a complicated, vital main character. The disparity gets old. (As does the effort to discern facial expressions in an actor post-botox.)

Even in the underresourced world of literary publishing, most successful women-identified authors are glamorously slim and able-bodied. I sometimes wonder if the best thing I could do for my career would be to go paleo and get my eyebrows done, but I’d rather jump my game-token right to witchy croneland.

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

slid into a place where
long worn grooves of
deep body habit
flourish in the dirt
making mud pies in
a hot back yard the
taste is bitter.

loving the ugliness
of the deep body its
sweat and grease and
pungency its freely
unwashed hair and
legs of fur its
old Lilith.

Marie Craven, Slid

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

José Angel Araguz, viscacha vibes, recent pubs, & upcoming virtual event

I had a rough week of not being able to do or say anything right 1) in Zoom meetings 2) in general. People sometimes disappear in Zoom if someone is screen sharing, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to connect, engage in true communication, and feel like myself. Also, it’s so very cold outside, and I’d rather sit on the couch reading books, wrapped up in a soft blue fleece blanket, than do anything else. 

Today I gave in to the couch, and that produced 4 poem drafts, a healing calm, and restored my sense of who I really am. Sigh… It helped this past week to call up some friends up spontaneously on the phone. Thank you, friends! It’s been almost a year of isolation, and maybe I hadn’t felt it as intensely till now. I know I’ve had it easier than many, as a shy person and an introvert and someone with a safe, masked, part-time job. Feeling for all the rest of you, you can be sure.

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a Leadbelly tune also known as “In the Pines” perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It’s not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory–why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days Off, Days on My Feet

is awakened the word
for a seed that dies, then is sown

when i believe in what wind listens for
why does my nest unravel

can anyone else open a poem
to the fate of its reader

Grant Hackett [no title]

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn’t been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent’s house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don’t even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people’s voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people’s mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

This week, for me, included a recurring cricopharyngeal spasm – or in other words, a cramp in one of the muscles of my pharynx, typified in my case by the feeling of a painful lump in my throat and the sensation that something is stuck that cannot be swallowed down. 

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes these spasms, but of course, anxiety is indicated. Anxiety, oh my faithful companion since childhood. Anxiety, gift-wrapped and presented to me by my mother who suffered mightily under its influence.

And of course, there’s plenty to be anxious about. No need to list here as I’m sure you have your own list which likely shares several items with mine. I wonder though if this week’s cricopharyngeal spasm might be my body manifesting what I feel so acutely – that I cannot get the words on the page – that I am choking on unwritten poems. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

Having just finished “The Secret of the Old Clock” I have learned many astonishing things, among them that cinnamon cake topped with hot apple sauce is a thing that exists. Another is that we were once brave and hardy and healthy and wholesome. We knew how to do basic things like a change a tire, operate a motor boat and alter a garment. (Nancy does all three in the first few chapters alone.) I won’t go too far down the “we were better people then” rabbit hole, but it was a bit of a culture shock. The early Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930’s, and obviously it’s a whole other world now. We have lost a lot of competencies that used to be a given part of adulthood. Speaking of adulthood, it never occurred to me reading the books as a kid that Nancy is eighteen years old and living at home with her father with seemingly no plans for college or getting a job. For someone with nothing to do, she certainly manages to keep busy. And her Dad…can we just talk about her dad for a minute? I guess it must have been lost on me as a kid because I didn’t recall much about him, but Carson Drew is the best dad ever. He’s a kind and indulgent father, but he’s always pushing Nancy to think logically and to be courageous and make bold moves. And he raised Nancy as a single dad when her mother died.

Along those lines, I found it interesting how many of the characters in “Clock” had alternative living arrangements to the nuclear family. There were two cousins who lived together on a farm and made their living selling crops, sisters who were raising an orphaned child together, and Nancy herself, who lives with her father and his housekeeper. In fact, I don’t believe there was a single character in a nuclear family in the entire book. Most of the characters were struggling financially to some degree or another but they were getting by and they embodied stoicism. I can feel another bout of “we were better then” nostalgia coming on so I better wrap this up. The bottom line is, I have a Nancy Drew box set and I highly encourage you to obtain a box set as well…any box set. They are a thing of joy, no matter what your reading preference.

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

One important factor when approaching poetry collections is their attitude to the reader. Some seem intent on talking to themselves in an echo chamber, while others generate an implicit dialogue with anyone who opens them. However, a select few establish their own interior dialogue, before offering the reader a role as observer and even as an additional participant.

If Jonathan Davidson’s new book, A Commonplace (Smith-Doorstep, 2020) achieves the unusual feat of belonging to this final category, it’s primarily because his method when assembling the manuscript also deviated from the norm. Not an anthology, not a single-author collection, Davidson’s book is a unique combination of his own poetry with work by others, all interwoven through snippets of prose that comment on, complement and join up the poems themselves. In itself, his breaking with convention is already a statement of intent.

Matthew Stewart, Challenging our preconceptions, Jonathan Davidson’s A Commonplace

One of the pleasing things about an anthology site like And Other Poems is the variety of themes, styles, and voices available.  Heidi Beck’s ecopoem ‘I Write to You from a Tree Museum’ takes as its starting point, lines from a Joni Mitchell song “‘They took all the trees / And put ’em in a tree museum” – the poem then makes real the grim possibility of earth’s great diversity of trees existing only within the confines of such a ‘museum’.
 
Caleb Parkin also imagines a world of species extinction, and draws attention to the climate emergency with the use of humour in his poem  ‘Please Do Not Touch the Walrus or Sit on the Iceberg’.  The speaker of the poem exuberantly ignores this instruction, an actual sign on an exhibit in London’s Horniman Museum, bringing to the foreground a reality which is all too easy to ignore.

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

All cups of tea are generally amazing, but I’m thinking at the moment one of those cups you have when you have to say aloud “Ooh, that’s a good cup of tea”. The kind that usually only happen either at the start of the day or outside on a cold day, the kind that goes down in three to four boiling hot mouthfuls, but somehow doesn’t cause you third-degree burns of the gullet. You know the type.

This week my pre-bedtime reading has mainly been the latest copy of The North, #65.

The North is usually a great read and remains high on my list of magazines I’d love to be featured in. NB I have poems out for reading at The North at present, but I’m not writing this as an attempt to blow smoke up any arses, I am writing this because I am half-tempted to burn this copy. Not because it’s bad, quite the opposite. This issue is one of those cups of tea. I’ve come away from it with a long list of poets to investigate further—I suspect this means some of the folks who had found themselves close to the top of the TBR pile may find themselves nudged back down again.

I’ve turned over so many pages to come back to, to look up poets, etc that I probably should have just folded the mag in half when I’d finished.

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

I’m absolutely floored to realize I’ve been missing out on a whole series of critical publications on small press endeavors (Derek Beaulieu did bring it up a while back, but I hadn’t gone to explore any of it), the “Among the Neighbors” chapbook series curated by Edric Mesmer, “a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines,” run through The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. The chapbooks that Mesmer was good enough to send along include Derek Beaulieu’s “TISH – Another ‘Sense of Things’” (#3, 2017), Tim Wright’s “Migrating Ears: Kris Hemensley’s The Merri Creek, Or, Neroand H/EAR, with some brief comments on the earlier publications Our Glass, Earth Ship, and The Ear in a Wheatfield” (#7, 2019), Tina Darragh’s“Washington, DC Poetry—Mass Transit and Folio Books Reading Series” (#11, 2020), Catherine Noske’s “Reading Piglets: Westerly Magazine, metadata, and the play of digital access to literary publication” (#12, 2020) and Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James’ “To Breathe Poetry Among the Neighbors: Two Essays on Anerca, a Journal of Experimental Writing (1985-1990)” (#13, 2020). What appeals in these publications is not simply the critical and conversational exploration of small press, but a recording and documentation of journals that might otherwise have simply disappeared into the ether of history—I’m struck, for example, to learn that Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James produced a small journal for half a decade, and I hadn’t heard a peep about it prior to this. It reminds of when I was gifted various bins of the late Ottawa poet Jane Jordan’s extensive librarya few years back, and discovered numerous Ottawa-based literary journals and presses from the 1970s and 80s I had never even heard of [see my post on such here].

rob mclennan, Among the Neighbors: a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines : #3, 7, 11-13

My second manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was alphabetical by title. Because I wanted certain poems to appear earlier in the collection, this constraint of alphabetizing made me have to be more inventive with my titles, which ultimately strengthened my books. (One of these blog posts, I’m going to have to talk about constraints in our work as I feel it’s one of the most powerful tools for artists, poets, and writers for inventiveness, imagination, and getting out of our own ways…) 

But back to this manuscript stuff, my new book (which is currently heading to the printers as I type this!), Dialogues with Rising Tides is in sections, and it’s the most sections I’ve ever had in a book. Seven! 7 freakin’ sections! I would have never thought I’d write a book full of sections, but I realized for this book, for me to weave together the different themes (environmental collapse, suicide, relationships, love/desire, melancholy, anxiety, cruel politics), I needed the reader to have more pauses in the book so they could have space to take it all in. 

Because the ocean plays such a big role in my book, my section titles are named after lightvessels (also called lightships). These are huge ships that act as floating lighthouses to keep people away from hazards. There’s a section called Break Sea (ways the world tries to break us), Black Deep (lots of melancholy themed poems in here), Shambles (poems about America and getting an IUD during 45s inauguration!) My hope was also the poems would be lightvessels for readers–even while they explore some tougher subjects. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

So, as we watch old movies, and watch the snow come down, I’m tentatively thinking about the future. Have you started doing that yet? I’m thinking about my birthday, April 30, and daring to hope I will have the vaccine by then so I can safely go to, for instance, the bookstore or the dentist. Things I’ve been putting off – like going to the gardening store I love, or schedule an appointment to go into Open Books again to browse poetry. I hope to have a celebration, even if it’s just a small one.

And I’m scheduling some medical appointments I’ve been putting off. I’m getting my MRI of my liver  – which I haven’t had for a year – next week, and hoping for good news (or no news) there, and soon I’ll be getting my brain MRI for my MS. Health care does feel a little safer now that health care workers, at least, have been vaccinated, even if I haven’t.

And looking at book publishers and imagining which I would like to have publish one of my book manuscripts. There are great established publishers I love – like Copper Canyon, or BOA, or Graywolf – and some great newer ones, like Acre Books or Yes Yes Books. I’ve even started thinking about book covers…I’m hoping that the acceptance of one of the books isn’t too far off now. Is this unfounded optimism? I don’t know. I’m even working on a third manuscript – which seems like the height of nuttiness, but I think I’ve written another book after the second one, all about the pandemic. I’ve also reached out to a couple of poets that I’ve been online friends with for a long time to talk about publication, and it turns out, it’s a great idea to talk on the phone to people instead of just social media. It reminds me of the eighties, when you’d write letters to your friends and sometimes call them, but it was probably too expensive to do often. I’m realizing I have a poetry friends I’ve known for years all over the US, and talking to them reminds me we are all in this together – whether you’re in upstate New York, rural Virginia, or like me, in a far-out suburb of Seattle. Everyone has struggles and doubts, and talking about them seems to make them lessen, and encouraging friends make everything a little better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Valentine’s Day (during a Pandemic and a Snowstorm!), Tentatively Thinking About the Future, and Adventures in Japanese and Plath

The 40 days of Lent — which comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning lengthen, as in days lengthening into Spring — are just around the corner. They begin February 17 this year, and continue (with Sundays off, as a day of rest) until April 3, the day before Easter. Traditionally, many Christians give something up for Lent: chocolate or plastics or red meat. I encourage whatever giving-up you feel will help you confront yourself this season.

But what if you also gave up “not writing” for Lent this year? […]

I have so many irons in the fire right now, that it’s probably a little crazy to add one more thing. Even so, I’ve been really really procrastinating on getting my next poetry manuscript together — making excuses not to start it — so that’s what I’m going to give up “not working on.”

Bethany Reid, So, What Will You Give Up for Lent?

Feeding the horse there’s extra hay, a carrot
            & my own body offered up for science, they study

my fires. I immolate 5, 6 times a night, you know
            how it is, or you don’t, quantitative now this heart

rate tachycardic still 11 months later. 5 degrees outside,
            1000 in (or plummet, depending). One time a fragment

burned so hot it turned obsidian then cracked heart-shaped:
            millennia later, you found it on a beach & pocketed

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.

Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?

For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.

At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

dreams passed through me like miracles
is it still the same life

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

Given my inclination towards the ruthless, I’d imagine the answer to that question would have been – chuck them straight into the recycling bin. As for reading them, just don’t go there.

And so, why, when I did find a small clutch of loose pages of poems under old papers at the bottom of a drawer unexplored for years a few days ago, did I find myself flicking through them and then settling down to read? A self-indulgent, weak moment, certainly. What did I hope to find or learn? I didn’t know. It was eerie, looking at things typed out more than forty, in some cases almost fifty years ago. Who was this person? Not me, surely. And what, after the reading of them, made me think about, not only keeping them, but putting some of them up here for public consumption? Perhaps because it’s what this blog should be about – a writing life, to include the naive, potentially embarrassing attempts, as well as those you believe might have a little more value.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FIND OLD POEMS YOU THOUGHT WERE LONG THROWN OUT?

the sargasso sea 

the words that are becalmed
the plastic words
the slippery elver words
the journeys ahead for them 
even
the ones that slowly sink longingly

Jim Young, see

I want at last to be honored,
not for me, but for the work

I’ve done, for the moments I have
recorded, for the light I have

praised, the trees I have sung of,
the birds, oh, yes, the birds. That these

least small things shall not be lost,
I want at last to be honored.

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

near her lips and the other as if drawing
a curtain aside. That’s all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse’s hooves;

then there’s no mistaking his cloak of bitumen
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.

Luisa A. Igloria, We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

Still life has been referred to as a world on a table, planet on a table, and that seems to help me sort out my thoughts. There’s so much chaos. At least on the table of things, order can be found or made or at least composed temporarily. […]

So yes, I keep thinking about how everything in our lives is getting arranged and rearranged on the regular. We get laid off from our jobs, we’re called back, only to be laid off again. Or we’re kept on, in my case, but the job is radically different. The numbers are high and we’re told to stay home, then they drop and guidelines are relaxed, then it’s all reversed. You all know how it goes by now. You had one plan, and now you have another. You looked forward to this thing, and now you tend to look forward to other smaller things, closer to home.

In a still life, you move one object, and three more slide off the table. A glass gets broken occasionally, or the unwinding rind of the lemon becomes detached from the fruit and you stick it back on with a toothpick. Scotch tape is hauled out. A dish is propped up from behind by a couple of walnuts. Everything is too much. You start to subtract. You go minimalist, and that’s fine for a bit too.

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

I haven’t been able to write this week.
I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world.
The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass.
Balancing fractured surfaces upright.

I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.

We are suspension bridges.

I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.

Ren Powell, Suspension

When I say I hear your voice across the miles, what I mean is river, moon, sage, sermon, orchard, wish, and wilderness.

In other words, simply knowing there is room in our beings for the ethical and ethereal, the earthbound and unimaginable, is all I need right now.

Put another way, knowing we wander this earth together at this time in history might not be the inoculation I need for a pandemic,

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: shadows of the past, shadows in the present. Parents and children. Grief and joy. And, as always, books and journals.


For the last six years I’ve worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Last week, one of the children in our class tested positive. So, suddenly we’re all at home, working online. It’s been a strange week, one where time has slowed right down, where I’ve felt a deep longing to be outside, cold as it is, with the wind scouring my cheeks and the dog at my side, uncertain about whether he really wants to be out in the harsh weather or inside, curled up in his bed by the radiator.

Today it’s my birthday and I still can’t go out. I’m watching the wind blow tiny flakes of snow across the garden, watching how it whips round on itself, changing direction. Earlier, I put extra food out for the garden birds and then watched as the jackdaws sailed in from nowhere, borne on this bitter East wind, hardly flapping their wings at all, just cruising in to take what they wanted. Not that I begrudge them. In fact, I quite like to see them: stooping, ponderous, unhurried.

My mother likes to remind me that when I was born the snowfall was heavy and treacherous.

Julie Mellor, February

Late yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:   “It is the eve of the feast day of St. Brigid, and just today, I came across the tradition of Brat Bhride: leaving a cloak or a piece of cloth or a ribbon outside the door for Saint Brigid to bless and give healing powers.”  One website said that a red silk ribbon was preferable.

Just before Christmas I was awash in red ribbons, but yesterday afternoon, they all seemed to have disappeared.  Happily, I was able to find one in a stack of paperwork, a little scrap of glittery red ribbon.  So I left it outside overnight, and this morning, before dawn, I retrieved it.  I’m not sure what to do with it now–carry it with me at all times?  Put it back in the stack of paperwork?

It says something about the past year that I went looking for a red ribbon.  Most years, I’d have read about these ancient customs and thought they were charming and given them not another thought again until next year.

This year, with new strains of the corona virus burning their way through the nation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get extra blessings any place I could find them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Brigid in a Time of Raging Virus

We glide effortlessly on the wings of Saturday park laughter.

At one point, my daughter insists we go shopping. She directs me to a tree rising from the earth; a massive congregation of green.

My daughter and I gather stray pinecones; they become fruits, vegetables, and toys. One we call strawberry. Another we joke is a Malibu Barbie sports car.

Again, those wings of laughter lift us far above our concerns of needing to wear face masks and maintain a healthy distance from others.

Right then, my daughter is so overcome by glee she wraps her arms around my knee and hugs me.

Years from now, I’m not sure what she’ll remember of her four-year-old life and these pandemic days.

What I do know, however, is that forever engraved within me will be the blueprint of my daughter‘s embrace.

Rich Ferguson, We run, we play

There is a layering here: the past is a dangerous place to wander, somewhere the unwary, careless traveller might get lost or worse; but it is also a dangerous animal guarding and protecting those who are dead from those who are living. There is certainly a sense, here and elsewhere, that the dead are in need of such protection because of the need the living feel to take possession of the past for their own purposes. [Maria] Stepanova notes at one point “This was all about her (Stepanova) and not about them (her ancestors)”, and at another she confesses to being “horrified and offended” at her father for not allowing her to quote from his letters in her book. Her ruminations on her father’s refusal are a good example, not only of Stepanova’s remarkable self-awareness and clarity of thought, but also of her ‘poet’s sense’ for metaphor which runs through and enhances the book. Considering her evolving relationship with her father’s letters, she says 

Without being aware of it, I had internalized the logic of ownership. Not in the sense of a tyrant, lording it over his hundreds of enslaved peasants, but perhaps like the tyrant’s enlightened neighbour, with a landscaped park and a theatre in which his serfs acted and sang.

And with this understanding of the power the present has over the past, we also come to realise our ancestors’ inherent vulnerability (“The dead have no rights”), because whether the tyrant is enlightened or not is entirely a question for the living.

Chris Edgoose, Everything Rhymes: In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

It’s been more than a year now since the last time I visited San Antonio. In a normal year, I would take my kid there a few times a year to see my dad and my brothers. The last time I went, I went alone for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone.

I promised my dad that I would come back soon with my son. A few weeks later, we started hearing about something called novel coronavirus. Soon we were sheltering-in-place to slow the spread. For a while I thought it would be safe to go back to Texas by summertime. Then it became clear what we were facing…

I don’t want everything I write to become an elegy or a lament. This was supposed to be a light-hearted remembrance of an old record and my old record player! But all paths seem to lead to remembered loss, or to the ache of yearning for something that isn’t yet possible.

To meet my father and brothers for Mexican breakfast at our favorite brunch joint in the old neighborhood. To visit my childhood home where my parents haven’t lived in decades. To hug my mother who’s no longer here. To hug my beloveds who are (thank God) still alive, but we can’t safely touch. 

Rachel Barenblat, The San Antonio Song

Donna Vorreyer in Limp Wrist Magazine – Refusal

My brothers and I
crying in the car so my father wouldn’t see. Watching her go, their

sixty years flashing before him, he bent his head to hold her hand
through every visit. She wanted to come home. 

Comment: One of life’s hardest passages is watching your elderly parents go through sickness and separation. Pull out the tissues before you read Donna’s heartbreaking poem.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poetry That Will Drop Your Mouth Open

I’m taking a bit of a social media hiatus now that the election is over and my plate is full with hunting for a condo and working on the new and selected poetry collection due out in 2023. That means I neglected to mention that I have a brand new poem called “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist’s special Dolly Parton 75th birthday tribute issue. You can read my poem at this link, but be sure to read the brilliant work selected by Dustin Brookshire and Julie E. Bloemeke for the issue.

I’ve been a Dolly fan since I was little kid and I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing her in concert a couple of times. She’s always been a touchstone, so I’m tickled that I now have a poem to honor that. 

The poem almost didn’t happen. I wrote a much longer draft before Christmas and couldn’t figure out how to cut it. I even wrote an entirely different poem about an entirely different person (Mary Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life – hopefully it will have a home soon, too!) to try and clear the cobwebs, since my output in 2020 was practically nil. 

While I was on a socially-distanced getaway after Christmas, I sat in my little motel room in Mountain City, Tennessee and finished the poem an hour before the deadline. Whew! 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist

I phoned Bob this week, after years of thinking about him, sending and receiving Christmas cards. Happily, joyfully, he’s well, in his 90s now. North London’s still audible in his vowels, although he moved away, as I did, years ago.

When we met, I was 5 or 6 years old, and he was around 40. He had been widowed: devastated by the death of his first wife, and turned up at my father’s church, looking for consolation. I was bored, hanging around, at a loose end while something was going on: prayer, singing, meeting, adults chatting – something a 5-year-old couldn’t, or wouldn’t, share. 

There I was, small, awkward for my age, idling, waiting (it turns out) for a hand to hold –  metaphorically, emotionally, psychologically, and literally. 

“I noticed you,” Bob recalled towards the end of our conversation, “and prayed that you would come and hold my hand. And you did.” 

I thought, momentarily, of naming this blog I Answer A Prayer, but my views on prayer are complicated. I realise this is one of the reasons I haven’t phoned Bob for so long. I didn’t want him to be disappointed that I’ve turned out poet, not angel. 

Liz Lefroy, I Phone A Friend

All morning,
wind against

the house. Winter
birds hidden

in their bushes.
The grey fields,

the grey sky.
Grey sorrow.

Hawk in his
tree, speaking

to death, death
speaking back.

Tom Montag, All Morning

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

My mother died recently, and I was grateful for all the emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments, people moved to reach out to me, to touch, electronically. I was moved. And I was amazed that a ton of people sent me cards. It was so lovely to receive these bits of paper and color through the, let’s face it, miracle of the US Postal Service. It was startling and thrilling to see, of all things, people’s handwriting! The loops of one friend, the scratch of another dear soul.

Wow. That all these people took the time to stand in front of a selection of cards at some store, trying not to breathe in someone else’s Covid germs, debating whether this card was too sappy, that one too cute, then took it home and, I would bet, to a person, paused, pen clutched in curled fingers, thinking “what on earth will I say??” And then they commenced, and said in black pen or blue all number of lovely things, including just “thinking of you,” which was true and warming.

And the signatures! Do I sound like a lunatic?

But this evidence of our selves, our scrawly names. In these typefaced days of electronic signatures and stock emojis, of typing someone’s address or phone number into your phone rather than have them scribble it on a scrap of paper, the distinctiveness of handwriting has been hidden. It exists. We all haven’t collectively forgotten how to write. Although I do hear that children are no longer taught to write cursive. We all still, at some point or another, put pen point to paper, and the heft of pen and hand and arm, the wick of inkpoint, the tautness or looseness of loop or line are an intimate part of us.

It was a tender moment for me to see this evidence of my friends on paper, to see in their lines, thick or thin, even or jiggly, their thoughts of me, and of course, as the death of a mother is a big event for everyone, their thoughts from within themselves and their own experience of loss or the anticipation thereof. Stunning.

Marilyn McCabe, Sit right down; or, On Handwriting

looking for the reflection of self

the other half of the ticket for the ferry
to cross over after you
on the other side of me
the doppelgänger of a smile
in the mirror that brings death to life

i nearly said life to death

Jim Young, i nearly said

Just when I thought nothing could be worse than January, along comes the first week of February.

Granted, no insurrection and murder at the capital—but this past week was brutal. For me, personally. And it seems there’s a lot of struggle in the zeitgeist over the past seven days. A lot of folks saying they’re hitting a wall of some sorts. If that’s you, I feel ya.

So, I got nuthin’ much for you this week. Any words I might have mustered on pretty much any topic would have been soaked in bitterness, pessimism, and dank, sour defeat. I muted several folks on Instagram back around Wednesday because their relentless exhortations to adjust my attitude and find joy and manifest and transform and dream felt like an assault.

I fuckin’ know how to look for joy, y’all. I. am. doing. it. all. the. damn. time.

I feel increasingly hostile toward those who do not acknowledge systemic causes of illness, burnout, and general failure to thrive. Although I’m not a working mom any more, I felt every word of this article that’s been making the rounds. Especially these few:

A critical first step is to remind yourself that the reason you feel guilty, apathetic and exhausted during this worldwide crisis is due to choices that were made by people other than yourself.

At the same time, I realize that we all do get to make choices. Sometimes we don’t have very good ones to make, but we almost always have some. This week, I chose not to write.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of walls and hitting them

I read two great poetry books this month. Meg Johnson’s Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press) presents poems and flash creative nonfiction that explore identity, illness, and politics. Broken into two parts, the first section offers poems that explore various personas, while the second presents memoir the author’s experience with a harrowing illness in the form of short, evocative flash pieces.

And the Whale by Sonya Vatomsky (Paper Nautilus) is a gorgeous chapbook, filled with powerful poems that weave mythology and Russian folklore into an exploration of love, sex, grief, and trauma. I was personally in love with the persona of the Widow, who features in several poems that examine the shadows of the past.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2021

Many of the women I know feel like we’ve “been through something” during the Tr*mp administration. The very good reason for that is that we’d already “been through something” (likely many somethings), and recent years scratched those vulnerabilities raw. They made us aware more than ever of the molds we’re meant to fit and the difficulty of navigating them, something we’ve been doing all our lives.

Much of that has to do with sex. The adventures of it. Its hazards and manipulations. Parts that entice us. Parts that repel us. How we see ourselves inside that context. How others see us in it (and if they can see us outside it). For example, “Truckers honked around us, past us. We waved to the cute ones, hiked our skirts higher on our pale thighs.” We age into sexualized versions of ourselves, age a bit inside those years and then just age.

A new chapbook, We by Sarah Freligh (2021, Harbor Editions, Small Harbor Publishing), interrogates those spaces: What say do we have? What do we claim as our own? Here are some poem titles with answers: “Those Girls.” “Good Girls.” “A Kind of Magic.” “Goddesses.” In just 16 poems, We takes us through all of those and more. “We” are those girls. In any combination. Or one at a time. Or none at all. And “we” are made appealing for ourselves instead of any “other,” though we go through some things figuring that out.

We is a balm for that — beginning with its dedication page, which reads, “All the girls, everywhere.”

Carolee Bennett, “kind of lovely in their shadowed dark”

As a global community, a nation, and as individuals, we are navigating grief. For some, it’s the loss of a family member to COVID or their employment; for others it’s the loss of the vacation or dining at a restaurant. I’m not casting aspersions at anyone. Grief is complicated. There truly isn’t a grief olympics.

Grief stitches itself into a person and leaves the ends of the thread hanging out. Sometimes, you feel the twinge of the deeply-seated stitch of the loss of your father six years ago. Sometimes, the dangling thread catches on a current moment and you cast books from your shelves searching for an ephemeral gift from a newly gone friend. Your response to “Did you maybe throw it away?” is a wail of “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

Grief challenges our ideas of how our lives are meant to be – of course our good friends, our spouses, our beloved pets will be with us always, of course our lives will continue forward with total freedom and no mass casualty events like a pandemic. For most of us, we don’t have ready tools to move forward in grief because we have never imagined a scenario where we would truly suffer loss. Grief always catches us by surprise, even if the person we lose is 93 years old, even if we know, though do not acknowledge, that everything is always changing. Sometimes we are mourning the loss of what we thought would be.

I try to write the grief out. Write about my father, about my friend, about a dream (and livelihood) on hold, the ravages of cancer. I try to reason my way through to the other side. But there is no other side.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The persistence of grief

My visiting writer gig at Randolph College started yesterday. As the Pearl S. Buck Writer in Residence (virtually), I’m teaching a 4-session workshop each Thursday night in February, 7-9pm. There are only 4 members, all advanced poetry students, so it’s a pretty nice gig. The topic is “Haunted and Weird,” since the organizer told me these students were also jazzed about speculative fiction–but also because strangeness and surprise make for complicated, interesting, powerful poems. […]

Here are some poems they had to read for class, as well as each other’s drafts. I also asked them to be ready to explain which poem unsettled them most and why.

– Emily Dickinson, “One Need Not Be a Chamber”

– Paul Mariani, “Ghost”

– Margaret Atwood, “Morning in the Burned House”

– Christopher Kennedy, “Ghost in the Land of Skeletons”

– Janice N. Harrington, “Shaking the Grass”

– Mary Oliver, “The Mango”

– Shane McRae, “Whose Story of Us Is We Is Told Is Us”

– Derek Sheffield, “Monsters”

I started us off with “Monsters,” which triggers all my parent-fear. One student named Mariani’s “Ghost” as the most unsettling–that’s another poem full of guilt, and very crafty in how it sets up situations and then dissolves them. For everyone else it was “The Mango,” in which the speaker hears voices–and yet it’s more political than supernatural. One way all of these poems are shifty: what’s “real” is up for grabs, although there’s plenty of realistic detail within them.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted and weird poetry: a lesson plan

As I watched Trumpism wash through America, I thought again and again: “what was my contribution to this? How did I make this happen, or allow this to happen?”

Well, the answer was clear. I had a least one devoted reader who was also a devoted Trump fan, and I recognized at once that I was appealing in exactly the same way Mr Trump was. I used to practice a sort of diaristic magical realism. I talked to stars and mountains and ghosts. Something that appealed emotionally got free rein, and if facts got trampled in the process, who cares? Other people would take care of the facts. I was busy with the realm of the emotions and of the soul. What I was interested in was joy and delight. Nothing else mattered, not really.

And so I was shocked into silence, inward and outward. I didn’t want to be part of spreading this poison. I mistrusted myself deeply. I stopped my supposedly harmless riffing on supernatural themes. No, I’m not meeting Vajrasattva in the parking garage. No, I am not conversing with ghosts. No, I am not dissolving into the wind. I’m someone who washes his hands and wears a mask and is determined to get the vaccine, because viruses don’t give a damn about Vajrasattva and never have. Misty devotion to to deities such as the Great South Wall Protector lead straight to children in cages. The hell with misty devotion. The hell with deities. I’m trying to keep my family alive. 

When I was setting out in life, the Enlightenment looked like a done deal. Everyone acknowledged the primacy of science. I gave myself to old books and old stories, partly because I already loved them, and partly with a sense that the post-Enlightenment world was losing something precious: that a salvage operation was in order. That we were throwing sources of joy and wisdom out, as well as sources of superstition and bigotry, The march of science was inevitable: it had the backing of the liberal West, of Soviet Communism, and of global Capital: how could it falter? It needed no help from me. I could wander among the wreckage of our cultural past, find lost treasures in the rubble, wash the mud off them and hold them up to the sun.

And the treasures are there, sure enough. I was right about that part. But science, reason, rationality, commitment to what can be ascertained and confirmed by rigorous experiment — they turned out to be as fragile as the treasures I was hunting. I had misunderstood. It was all fragile.

The joy blew out like a candle, and I lost my place. I read political news in the morning, instead of poetry. I begin a novel and drop it impatiently: they’re just making stuff up. Anyone can make stuff up. The hard thing is sticking to the truth.

I don’t quite recognize myself, in all this, and that’s probably a good sign.

In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.

Dale Favier, Losing My Place

Like [Dean] Young, I admit to envy of my visual artist friends. Here is my painting of some pears with a lemon. Here is my sculpture of a man in a decaying suit. They have the ‘opportunity to interact with the medium [of their creation] in a primal, physical way.’ This physical, primal method of creation, this disappearing into the bombed cathedral to vandalise what I have created in order to make something new, is what I have long longed for in my practice.

I think of my books of poems and I think of the pain of birthing them, not the individual poems, but the the ripping apart and stitching back together of sequences, for the first four books, with intense help from others as my small-minded control-freakery threatened to refuse to allow them what they wanted to become. Four books. By the time of the fifth, I told myself I had learned how to proceed. (I hadn’t; I almost blew it.) My favourite part of book five was realising I needed to rip it apart and start again. And, just when I thought I had rescued it, to begin yet again.

So, I say pain, but I don’t really mean it. What I mean is fun. Ripping poems apart and interrogating them till they tell me what they need to become. Ditto the books. I spent part of yesterday taking one of Spurrier’s sanders to a poem that I had previously thought of as inviolable. I have plans for others. The bombed cathedral. It’s the only place to be.

Anthony Wilson, The bombed cathedral

Yesterday we ran along the beach. The polished stones each sheltering a patch of snow. The tide pools frozen, ostensibly lifeless. E. pointed to the lighthouse on the island in the distance. The ship nearby. Both appearing to hover over the ocean.

The cold wedges itself into our reality. Pulls the pieces apart.

The cold is a serpent that creeps over the earth, that pulls it from itself. Islands float on air, we float from one another, shivering. Closing our doors. Shuttering the windows.

E. explains how the cold settles in the hollows. How it clings to the ground and creeps. You can dig a hole to trap the cold outside your threshold. Like you might any other animal bound by gravity.

I can hear the cold
its infrasonic growling
filling the basement
rumbling in dark corners, like
the dog who wants to pile-on

There’s no need to
appropriate magic.
Notice, and believe
in the world as much as you
believe in flesh and blood.

Ren Powell, When Islands Hover

When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, I was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I’m sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindergarten knowing the letters, but it’d be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (because yo, it was the late 70’s), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don’t know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I’d never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

Kristy Bowen, roots

Gypsum and karst my consonants;
pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels.
My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold-
veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels
that won’t stop stippling the ceilings.
My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces,
ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call
of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick
shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into
two-lane roads. My aubades from hot
bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song.

Luisa A. Igloria, Lexicography

What I remember most is that I was really feverish for a few days and for some reason the name of the ‘Avant Garde’ composer Cornelius Cardew popped into my head. I looked his details up and found that he died in the early hours of 13 December, 1981, a victim of a hit-and-run on Leyton high road, on the humpback bridge next to Leyton Tube station. Conspiracy theorists claimed that his politics made his death suspicious. One can’t really blame anyone for thinking that, given that it was round about the same time that Hilda Murrell was bumped off (though a local man was subsequently convicted for her murder).

At the time of my illness, I’d just started reading an Amy Clampitt collection What the Light Was like, published by Faber in 1986, and, immediately after looking up Cardew on my phone, I opened the book on her elegiac poem ‘A Curfew’, about the day that her brother Richard, a doctor, died, at the age of 56. The poem is subtitled ‘December 13, 1981’. The billions-to-one coincidence was increased by the fact that ‘fever’ occurs three times in the poem, including as its opening word.

Matthew Paul, On coincidence

So, things have been rough this week. It’s been dreary, rainy, and too cold to go outside much. America hit the 450,000 mark in people that have been lost to covid, as variants with higher contagion rates and seemingly slightly more dangerous consequences are spreading around the world.

Washington State has still got a shortage of vaccines, and they don’t seem to prioritizing the chronically ill or the disabled. I’ve been struggling with anxiety about that and at the same time, trying to get better from a sinus thing and a stomach thing (not covid, just the result of my normally crappy immune system.)

Meanwhile, a literary magazine I’ve respected and longed to get into for twenty years, about ten months after my work appeared in it for the first time, decided to publish a former professor-pedophile who abused students and kept a gigantic collection of child rape films. This triggered a lot of sadness and anger from a lot of abuse survivors, including me (I was raped when I was six years old). The literary magazine then published a non-apology. The whole thing left me feeling sick and disappointed in the poetryworld. Meanwhile, I’m sending my manuscripts out into the world, hoping for a good press to pick them up. Have we decided what a “good press” means to us?  What are we even hoping for?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Envisioning Better Things

This is the first of a mini-series about print poetry magazines. Although I do my quarterly spreadsheet, there’s no room for any description of the mags, so I thought it would be nice to feature some of my favourites as a reader, where I like to submit myself and what I subscribe to. […]

The other day it was time to subscribe to some new titles, and I decided to give PN Review a proper try. I’ve only ever read the odd single issue, and I found it a bit academic. But now I’m getting into the academic mindset, perhaps it’s a good time to try it again? PN Review hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ve also just subbed to Butcher’s Dog, a small mag, but with a big bite, perhaps. I sat next to editor Jo Clement at a Poetry Book Fair once, and came away with a couple of back issues. Here’s what came in the post yesterday. My favourite poem in it is ‘I crossed the Humber Bridge without paying’ by Rachel Bower

Another magazine I want to give a shout out to is Prole. Edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson, Prole has been going for some years now and they have a unique system as regards paying contributors which I admire very much. Basically, instead of offering contributors a free copy of the issue they are in, they give contributors a share in any profit an issue makes. So as a contributor you’re given a PDF of the mag, but if you want a hard copy then you buy it. Your buying it then helps grow the potential pot that ends up being shared amongst contributors. Or you can opt to let Prole keep it for their funds, but that’s entirely up to you. We’re talking a very small amount, but it’s the principle that counts. More power to Prole! I do have a couple of poems in this latest issue, which I’m very pleased about, as they were both a bit ‘out there’, and I had a feeling they might sit well in the magazine. There’s a lot of prose in Prole, if you’re interested in that too.

Another longstanding poetry magazine with great character is The Frogmore Papers. It’s packed full of poetry and is, I think, unique in publishing micro-reviews (which I really appreciate as a reader, but also contribute to occasionally). The magazine features covers by local artists and has a ‘sister’ online publication called Morphrog – can you see what they did there?

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Frogmore Papers

After over 30 years, Patricia Oxley is standing down as Acumen’s editor. Danielle Hope, who’s long been connected with the magazine, will take over. I wish them both luck.

I suspect that Acumen’s loyal readership is on the older side. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time. I’ve had several poems, letters and the odd article in it – worthwhile pieces (in my opinion) that I’d have trouble placing elsewhere, especially nowadays: pieces that non-poets might like.

The extensive reviews section (35 pages in the current issue) is very ably managed by Glyn Pursglove. It doesn’t rush to cover all the latest stunning debuts. It also deals with translations and the work of established (though perhaps not fashionable) poets (Etty, etc). Books by, amongst others, Ni Chuilleanain and Longley are reviewed at length in the current issue.

Having a letters section (with maybe 4 months from submission to publication) may seem quaint in this Twitter age. The letters are often mini-articles though.

Tim Love, Acumen

You have continued to launch and promote your poets’ work. How have you managed to stay motivated?

I’m not good at doing nothing. I like keeping busy and having a sense of purpose. I also have a strong sense of responsibility and generally find it’s easier to promote others’ work than my own. The sheer volume of possible marketing and social media sharing etc can become overwhelming though – it is a potentially 24-7 job. I think prioritising and routine help here. V. Press has been running over 7 years (over 5 years publishing solo-authored pamphlets and collections), so I’ve tried and tested what’s most effective. I mostly stick to that, but then also explore a few new possibilities regularly as and when appropriate. During covid-19, this has included eBook versions of some of our flash fiction titles and an expanded winter sale.

Is it easier to enable others than yourself when it comes to writing?

Yes!

What non-writing ways do you think poets can feed themselves with when the muse has packed up her bags and gone away for a while?

I’m a firm believer in ‘two birds with one stone’ and ‘not having all one’s eggs in one basket’. I think anything anyone loves outside of writing is joyful in itself, a potential source of inspiration, and hopefully replenishes energy, which may then be used for new writing.

For me this includes:

Reading – always a source of inspiration as well as enjoyment. (Reviewing for a journal can help give me an added focus and permission to prioritise reading over more mundane chores or tasks.)

Exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, running) – the feel-good hormones are a mental and physical health boost. Wherever I exercise, in moments of boredom (or concentration on the movement), I often find my subconscious will start playing with editing options or ideas for new work. The exercise pace can be especially useful with rhythms in poetry. If I’m outdoors, there’s the extra bonus that I’ll often notice something in the world around me that makes me stop to take a photograph or provides notes for a new poem.

Painting – because I’m a novice painter, the creativity of painting is less fettered by the critical editing eye that is always there when I’m writing. So, it’s much easier for me to replenish creative energy this way, that then often re-sparks the urge to write.

Photography – as with painting. except the critical part of my brain interferes more. But, in contrast, I’m more likely with photography than painting to then be inspired to combine text with an image and turn it into a haiku-influenced photo-poem.

Meditation/Pauses – I try to start each day with a ten-minute meditation. (I use Sam Harris’s Waking Up course as a framework https://wakingup.com/.) This often brings me a sense of peace, greater perspective and reminds me to be grateful for all the small things that make me smile, laugh or feel good. It’s easy to forget that there’s joy and wonder in simply being alive, breathing. If I get stressed or agitated during the day, I’ll maybe try to do a small pause, tuning in to each of the five senses in turn. Occasionally, inspiration for a poem will also arise from these, as if from nowhere. But, for me, this example isn’t really about writing directly, it’s about re-energising and re-grounding for whatever the day brings, including hopefully some writing!

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah James

Mid-week I attended a reading put on by the folks at Seren, Jonathan Edwards and Gillian Clarke both read wonderfully, as well as a host of open mic folks. I had totally missed the invitation to take part in the open mic, so missed my chance to say I’ve shared a bill with those two. One day perhaps!! I am at least two books behind on Gillian’s work, so I’d best do something about that.

I do miss reading aloud to people. I can’t imagine we’ll be doing a Rogue Strands night for a while yet, sadly, but I have bagged a slot at a Zoom-based evening of poetry that’s been organised by my local beer shop. A perfect combination for me, I reckon…Who knew, but one of the chaps that works there is also a poet.

Friday night, I watched Derek Mahon, The Poetry Nonsense on BBC two. I am ashamed to say I don’t know much about Mahon, other than how well he is/was respected. I have a selected Mahon by my bedside ready to read, so I will get there eventually, but he came across as an interesting if troubled soul in this doc. I think, however, it was leaving a lot more out about the man. I guess that may come out when I get to the poems.

I think the doc will be on the iPlayer for a while yet..get yerself over there and get it watched.

However, before I bugger off to get on with cooking dinner I shall leave you with a quote from a book that is t the top of my reading pile, eg I am reading at the mo…It’s also another Derek, the mighty Derek Walcott. I saw this opening to one of his poems last night and it seems apt for the world as it stands at present.

“The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel
Of a sail.

The horizon threads it infinitely.”

They are the opening lines from ‘The Castaway” and have made me desperate for the smell of salt in my nostrils, they’ve made me desperate to get back to the coast of Norfolk, but I’ll settle for something outside of the streets of Beckenham.

Christ, I want to go to Walcott, Derek.

Mat Riches, The Dels

In Heather Seller’s wonderful craft book Page After Page (or its sequel, Chapter After Chapter), she tells a story about sending her work out once a year. It’s like getting all the little ballerinas ready for a recital, she writes. Lots of polishing and fixing of hems, adjusting of tiaras. Getting those toe-shoes on and telling everyone to smile. Then shooing them out onto the stage

That’s what it feels like to me, too. Before anything goes out, I feel a need to read it out loud and make a few adjustments, changing a line or a word here–sometimes rewriting an entire poem. Knowing that complete strangers are going to take a close look at my darlings makes me take a closer look at them first.

The exciting bit is that sometimes I find a slight-ish feeling poem that has made its way into the submission file, and this process results in an overhaul.

If you ever check my ancient blog (now called One Bad Poem), you’ll find poems I’ve culled from the send-out book over the years. But just as often as I set them aside, I revise them. So, this past week, a slight poem about a woman waking up from a dream into an unreal world became a Covid-19 / mask poem, much bigger in its reach. It doesn’t feel slight any longer, and it immediately went out (“to some lucky editor!” as Professor Bentley used to say).

Bethany Reid, The Resolution

Over here at Rogue Strands Towers, we’re always looking out for a decent excuse to sideline all our commitments and dive into poetry blogs. Of course, this feeling only grows as the pandemic rumbles on, so I was delighted to discover Bob Mee’s terrific poetry blog (see what I mean here) a few weeks ago.

I might be late to the party, as his blog’s been going for a fair while now, but the excellent news is that I’ve thus had loads of top-notch reading matter to get through. Bob Mee’s been involved in poetry for decades, and I’ve realised he even published one of my poems back in 2004 when he was running iota magazine (via Ragged Raven Press) with Janet Murch. His experience, knowledge and astute vision of the genre shine through in every post, whether reviewing, commenting on news, posting original work, etc, etc. All in all, his poetry blog’s a gem and I thoroughly recommend it. 

Matthew Stewart, Bob Mee’s poetry blog

I’ve been blogging on this site since 2008. (I have a limited reserve of consistency, and what I do have I use up on this blog and the gym.) Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea of putting together a book of essays from some of my posts, but there is a huge amount of material to comb through and I don’t know if it would be interesting to anyone. I don’t know if my yammering about nonsense and complaining about the shoddy state of retail is enough to warrant an entire book. Also, it seems a little grandiose, as though I think that what I have to say is so riveting that it all needs to go into book so that the whole world may have easy access to all of my amazing thoughts. (This attitude is probably why I never gained much traction as a writer.) Nonetheless, I’m still considering this book thing. There are certain Big Themes that have emerged over time that I could work with. Or I could just go full fluff and make the entire book about my exploits in Stardew Valley. Stranger things have sold.

Kristen McHenry, Gateway Peanut Can, Book Musings, Gym Bag Envy

The Emperor penguin broods a substitute rock because the rest of the flock need him to stay with them and play his part in keeping them all collectively warm. If those who lost eggs all left to return to the seas, too few would remain to allow all to survive. He uses the rock to mimic his fellow penguins. The life-support machines allow Amma-ji to mimic life while the poem’s narrator has to adjust to life without her.

“The Bone that Sang” is tender, wryly humoured and humane in the treatment of its subjects. Claire Booker writes lyrical poems with compassion, allowing readers to construct the stories they tell.

Emma Lee, “The Bone that Sang” Claire Booker (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, faith rings like a hammer

I have some people who have helped me out these past few weeks, and one went so far as to put on a gorilla suit to cheer me up. You wouldn’t think a gorilla suit would cheer you up to such a degree, but I’m here to tell you it changed my life. Also many other just sweet nice things that friends have said and done. And all the listening! and checking in. Feeling very blessed in that regard.

Early Sunday morning photowalks have continued to save my life. Out there right about sunrise, and no one around really. I need to write an entire essay about that process and what I’m learning from it. So that’s hopeful. Thinking about what I want to write when I have time. […]

Poetry. I own all the previously published of Bronwen Wallace, but a collected with a few new early unpublished poems was too hard to resist. How is it that in a new format, nice cover, all the poetry seems new and fresh still? Maybe because Bronwen Wallace has so much depth. If you’ve not read her, well, please do.

Shawna Lemay, Breathing During a Pandemic

I will not write you an obituary, it has been
but five days. It has been a week. It has been

the whole

of your life. Where are you? Now, they say
you’re found, and now. A tribute

of dazzling, knitted scarves. Today,
the longest day. Richard,

we love you. Please get up.

rob mclennan, Two poems for RM Vaughan

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week: blues, anxiety, uncertainty, cautious celebration, (in)auguries, and embodiment. Plus some insights into small publishing, the joys of book reviewing, the writing process, and as always the books that might or might or not be helping us get through it all.


Blue. To let blue in. Early morning blue and middle of the night blue. The hue of deep rivers and the hue of Steller’s jays. A color that flexes depending on what reflects it, evoking peace, spaciousness, as well as sorrow.

It is January of 2021 which is precisely eleven years after I started this website/ blog/ newsletter amalgam. I haven’t posted anything for the last year because my former server suddenly stopped supporting all of the intricate behind-the-scenes codes necessary for me to update securely. And the hassle and difficulty to move everything seemed so insurmountable in the middle of it all.

Lately, though, I’ve felt that snippets and sound-bytes on social media maybe aren’t enough. The maelstrom of pick-pick-pick on such platforms lends one play it safe so as not to arouse ire, self-righteous indignation, punishment. At the beginning of the year, I admitted on Facebook that I hadn’t posted the number of books that I read in 2020 because I did not want to deal with mean-spirited remarks. (For the record, 154 books, 106 of which were poetry collections).

Indigo. How to navigate loss while remembering how lucky one is? 

Cerulean. Aiming for the sucker-hole when the whole sky is grey but for that one opportunity.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Welcome back

This poem was written when my children were very young and my fear of losing them, all-consuming. Over the years, this fear has morphed into something I can live with. Sometimes it’s a mere worry, a claw of unease scratching between my shoulder blades. Other times, it becomes deep anguish, growing out of proportion like wildfire. Perhaps this is what it means to be a parent–along with the bone-melting joy of perpetuating life, you get to worry about all the things that could harm your children out there, in the carnivorous world.

Romana Iorga, Two Children

I like my doctor. She’s a good, diligent doctor and she is a nice and caring person. I understand that she was just thinking out loud as she worked through her clinical decision-making process. But words have impact, and perhaps saying “biopsy” right out of the gate wasn’t the most sensitive approach. I work around a lot of nurses and medical-type folk, and I am constantly astonished at the casual way they talk about medical maladies and blood-spurting and “impacted colons” and God knows what other disasters that befall the human body with upsetting regularity. (How on earth does one get an impacted colon? Do you eat a brick?) I’ve been working in hospitals for almost ten years now and I’ve never gotten used to it. It’s great for them, the “medical haves” who understand that things can be fixed and who have the clinical knowledge and know-how to heal the sick, but for the rest of us, the“medical have-nots,” that stuff freaks us the eff out. I don’t care if my theoretical, non-existent cancer was treatable or not. Just because my doctor knows it would have been treatable does not mean that this was not a potential catastrophe for me. I cannot get cancer. Cancer is for plucky housewives in Lifetime movies. I am too crabby and too negative to survive something like that. I do not and will not have a positive mindset and I would be punished for my pessimism by a swift death. Everyone understands that principle. It’s the law of karma.

At any rate, my imaging results were totally normal and everything is fine. It was just a weird anomaly, and now I regret even having said anything because I probably shaved a few years off my life with the cortisol spike this caused.

Kristen McHenry,The B-Word, Medical Have-Nots, Death by Pessimism

When I start my weekly Sunday run, at 9.33, it’s just starting to snow. I presume, though, that it will be nothing more than the lightest, icing-sugar dusting. It hasn’t snowed properly in this corner of north-east Surrey / south-west London for about six years, but down it comes. To run through it is a full-on, sensory, exhilarating experience.

          refilled as quickly as I make them footprints in the snow

I watch my footing and slow my pace: I’m sure that pitching up at A & E with a broken ankle would not endear me to the brave, fantastic folk at Kingston Hospital.

          snow settles
          on a small allotment:
          the bean canes aslant

Matthew Paul, Snow Biz

Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:

– That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.

– That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.

– That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.

– That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.

– That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.

– That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.

José Angel Araguz, what I cannot call hope

My poem “Dolly, When I Met You There Was Peace” was included in the Dolly tribute issue of Limp Wrist that was released today (her 75th birthday)! Check out this whole amazing issue. I’m honored to be in such company!

As if this tribute issue weren’t enough, tonight we brought the pieces to life via Zoom at the Wild & Precious Life Reading Series. What a joyful way to celebrate a wonderful human! Thanks to Dustin and Julie for including me.

Katie Manning, Dolly Tribute

Eighteen poems [by Beau Beausoleil] written over the course of half a century document the tumultuous relationship between a timeless elemental and a poet of our time.

The Muse is essentially capricious, erratic in her comings and goings, supremely undependable.

She wears red and black and always makes a dramatic entrance. She is glamorous and shabby, magnificent and pathetic, needy and generous with her random gifts. She has bad habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.

She stays away for months and turns up when least expected. She makes unreasonable demands, and gives unreliable advice. She’s superstitious, manipulative and amoral. She never apologises nor ever explains.

Commitment is not in her vocabulary, though she is fluent in all the languages humans have ever spoken.

She is maiden and crone but she’s nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother. She is Sibyl and Siren. Don’t call her a goddess; she is contemptuous of those who worship her. But she’s happy to sit on a bar-stool or on a river-bank and have a conversation with one who comes close to understanding her and will buy her a whisky or find her a cigarette.

She has come in many different guises, as the Muse of Homer, Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare and countless others. We can’t do the work of poetry without her.

These poems are bruising and uplifting, tender and harsh, down-to-earth and otherworldly; they are full of honesty and subtle wit.

Ama Bolton, Meeting the Muse

There are only four more poets to post at my poetry site, And Other Poems, before I take a break from posting.  The site had gone to bed for 20 months but I opened it up to submissions in November, while waiting for the US election results.  It was a means of distracting myself from feeling dreadfully tense and was also a gesture of support to the poetry community I belong to at the start of another UK lockdown. Now, as the final poems selected from the open submissions window are posted, Joe Biden has been inaugurated into the White House.  So I know that time has moved on, even though time feels the same. I watched snippets of the ceremony on Wednesday and was moved to tears more than once.  Lady Gaga made me cry, actually, with her sincerity and beauty, as did Jennifer Lopez speaking a line from the Woody Guthrie song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in Spanish.  What a time in history we have been through and are still living through, some people more painfully and at greater cost than others. And a global pandemic on top of everything.  As I’ve told various people this year, and last year, it’s good to cry sometimes, even if you’re only crying because of feeling some kind of hesitant relief.

Josephine Corcoran, Falling Hyacinths and It’s Still January

Sometimes when describing Southwest Waterfront, the other person interrupts—Oh, you mean the Wharf?—and I wince, caught between waves of gentrification. The pandemic has complicated my feelings toward this multi-million dollar behemoth. Restaurants where I couldn’t afford to a sit-down meal converted their pantries to bodegas that sold chicken, carrots, onions, and greens. The fancy liquor store distributed locally distilled sanitizer. When I first read The Anthem’s sign, “We’ll Get Thru This,” my immediate thought was: Okay then. We will. I needed to have someone say it. I needed for someone to spell it out in foot-tall letters.

Still, the city’s ghosts pull no punches. This past April, when it didn’t feel safe to go out, I could step out on the balcony and see cherry trees blossoming along East Potomac Park. I took great comfort in that. Now Washington Channel is disappearing, floor by concrete floor. Fifty years after our own building went up, I understand the irony of complaining about new construction or rising rent. I can still glimpse the water, if I stand in the right spot. 

In just a few weeksMade to Explode will be published with W. W. Norton. The collection (my fourth!) has a whole section of prose poems that interrogate the strangeness of our monuments and memorials, our “living history, plus a sestina called “American Rome.”  There are lots of things that I am unsure of, but one thing I do know is that DC is the right place to be as this book enters the world.

Sandra Beasley, Who Gets to Be “From DC”?

The poet feels the jolt of recognition: this was where she grew up. But, having moved away, she uses a search engine for clues. What strikes her is the normality of guns: shops selling them and the image on the boy’s t-shirt, even as he is reunited with his mother after another school shooting. It asks, when guns are revered, how can such events be stopped? Another poem witnesses President Obama at a press conference at another shooting. The final poem is another parking lot, “The Shooting Gallery Central Academy of Excellence, Missouri, 2019”, where

“Mylar balloons rise into a white sky: pink hearts and blue, gold and silver stars. In the place of an artist’s signature in the lower right corner, a caption: Anjanique Wright, 15.”

The skyward rise is significant. The name and age labelling one is a reminder of the loss: not only the life of the child but the loss of the adult that child could have become, the children she might have borne.

Carrie Etter’s spare prose gives readers enough guide to build a sketch of what’s being described but also enough space to read and engage with the resulting poems. Their quiet tone and lack of hectoring enable the reader to ask questions and consider the juxtaposition of youth and violence, the potential of not-yet-adulthood with the abrupt end of that potential.

Emma Lee, “The Shooting Gallery” Carrie Etter (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

On BBC radio 4’s Front Row program on 22nd Jan, Lavinia Greenlaw (chair of the TS Eliot prize judges) had the difficult task of describing each of the 10 shortlisted books in a paragraph or so, justifying each without showing favour. The quote I’ll keep is “when language fails, people turn to poetry”.

She thought that there’s a new stylistic freedom afoot (I can believe that) and that poetry’s caught up with the present in a way that other art-forms haven’t yet (not so sure about that). The poets have “interrogated the constructs”.

I think she was careful to share out the praise without overusing any particular word. She used “extraordinary”, “incredible”, “astonishing”, and “remarkable” twice each; “powerful”, “amazing”, “startling” once.

Tim Love, TS Eliot prize shortlist

I’ve been messing around with a new tarot deck for the sheer calming pleasure of it; producing readings is contemplative and a little like solving a puzzle, trying to understand flows of possible meanings. I don’t claim they have purchase on facts or the future, although I believe that in the hands of an intuitive person they lead, at least, to useful introspection. Lots of poets use them, it turns out. Here‘s an interesting conversation about poetry and Tarot with Airea D. Matthews and Hoa Nguyen led by Trevor Ketner. Matthews calls tarot as “a tool for healing and revealing and critical thinking,” and Nguyen links poetry and tarot through the way they cultivate receptivity and invite otherness into our thinking. I can say personally that since I unboxed these cards, I’m writing poetry again.

I just pulled the three cards below while wondering about the inauguration. Interestingly, in the interview cited above, Nguyen pulled the six of swords just prior to the last inauguration–although below it’s reversed, which changes its significance. My interpretations are only based on brief study, but it suggests a state of transition, perhaps loss; the woman and child being poled away, perhaps against their will, remind me of the trauma of migration. The image also evokes painful baggage carried over from the Trump administration. (I wish the man terrible consequences for his crimes–even as I want the country to move on speedily to address the damage). The first card, the ace of cups, signifies auspicious beginnings and calls for generosity. The Queen of Wands, well, she’s a bold, charismatic, vital woman leader surrounded by symbols of courage and coming back to life. Sounds good to me.

Lesley Wheeler, Augurations

Last night, my son’s cat stretched himself out on my bedroom rug and showed me his oh-so-soft little belly and called to me in his oh-so-sweet little meow. I fell for the ploy. And when he gave me my arm back, I was bloody from elbow to wrist. I know it’s strange to say so, but this is exactly how the poems in All Day I Dream About Sirens by Domenica Martinello (2019, Coach House Books) have been working on me. Quite appropriate to their obsession (the Sirens of Greek mythology), these poems lure me in and smash me on the rocks.

Here’s a little background:

“I used to walk by a Starbucks on my way to work, and one day it just hit me how unsettling the implications of the siren logo are. Using the image of a feminized (and often sexualized) sea monster who lures sailors to their deaths with her enchanting song to sell coffee? The premise sounds like a devilish fable in and of itself, and I’ve always loved mythology so I couldn’t stop thinking about it. … the more I researched the Starbucks siren (herself born from the corporation’s literary allusion to Starbuck, the coffee-loving first mate in Moby Dick), the more all-encompassing the ancient and contemporary mythologies surrounding sirens and mermaids became. They felt both real and familiar to me and while also being these doors into meditations on gender, power, agency, capitalism, feminism, ancestry, sexuality, ubiquity.”
Martinello in an interview in The Adroit Journal

As both a consumer and a marketer (my day job) (gasp!) I feel responsible. We lure and are lured. As a feminist, I feel vindicated. But not entirely. It’s not that easy. I also feel implicated. When I find myself sexy, it’s sometimes in a way I’d like to reject.

Carolee Bennett, “the sun hangs in the sky like a logo”

My new book, Lost in the Greenwood, is out in the world. 

The poems circle around the unicorn tapestries of 500 years ago.  There’s much more than unicorns: the making of the tapestries, the world that made them, magic, nature, belief. 

It’s a book of poems about all of this, but I still think of these poems as “my unicorns.”  And these unicorns are not the modern, friendly kind. They are goatlike, feisty and as dangerous as the world in which those who imagined them lived.

Ellen Roberts Young, My Unicorns Have Escaped

A smart observer once said about our new president: “If you ask me who the luckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.  If you ask me who the unluckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.”  As a lover of paradox, a light went off when I first heard it.  It seems like a joke, a mocking play on reason, a Woody Allen wisecrack that one knows immediately is smart, and later profound. The way an oracle would speak and we wouldn’t understand it, though we’d count intuitively on its deep truth.

Biden’s biography fills the blanks of the paradox – his success as a debut politician was followed by the deaths of wife and daughter.  He would have died of a brain aneurysm, ignoring his health and stumping away on the campaign trail if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of a presidential race on charges of plagiarism.  His son, Beau, died young of a brain tumor.   After eight years as Vice-President, he’s fulfilled his ambition — in the most wrenching stretch — of becoming President.

We live in paradoxical times.  We’re lucky – the election went our way. We’re unlucky – part of our poltiical body tried to burn down the house.  I heard, as the inauguration neared, people were nervously organizing and ironing as women due before they’re about to have babies.  Nothing is guaranteed, and the successes of America the literal, the exceptional and idealist must open to the shadow life of paradox.  The biblical Isaac survived a binding, but his shadow death walks alongside him as a human. Experience of tragedy is just on the other side of exuberance, suffering clings as a double. If we’re lucky, as a country, we just might mature to hold a vision of reality where success is willed to a small extent only, and chance plays its hand. Between the two forces, a reminder to be human. It depends how we play our hand.

Jill Pearlman, What Augurs, Biden?

I remember a poem a woman shared in my poetry workshop, back in the mid-80s, about her newborn; she compared his body to that of a frog, listed all the ways in which his body was not the one she expected, making him not the baby she had dreamed of. The last line was, “your mother is trying to learn to love you.” Most of the poems from that workshop have left me now, but that one stays. After she shared hers, I wrote one about my body, the first time I admitted out loud that I thought of my body as an antagonist to the protagonist that is me.

My body has changed during the pandemic. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s my mid-50s. Maybe it’s living through four years of attempted autocratic takeover. Maybe it’s that my job has become toxic to me. Maybe it’s all of the above. My body feels like a foreign country these days, and I’m an expat who wants to go home. I’m trying to learn to love it.

On the morning of the biopsy, I think that maybe the metaphor I’ve just conjured is all wrong. Maybe my body isn’t a country, but a passport.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A reprieve (of sorts)

The pandemic has me unable to go to the pool. Covid scarred my lungs and damaged my heart, I don’t know if they will fully rehab or not but I’m sure trying – if there’s one thing I know, it’s impossible rehab.

I still want to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. The only question I have is whether I should instead swim the Strait of Messina, because swimming between Scylla (spine surgery) & Charybdis (covid-19) seems – well, obvious.

Hopefully, my endurance breathing will come home to me and I will be making decisions like that.

JJS, Lumbar-safe core strengthening

On the ground, you leave the nether
regions of that body ransacked

and marked with every conquest.
Where it severs from the cage
of your heart, the wound

is brilliant as pomegranate;
its innards go on for miles.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of Demeter as Manananggal

I’ve recently seen several excellent articles and features on poetry in lockdown (and in the pandemic in general), advocating all sorts of useful approaches. These articles often focus on energising creativity, on organising time, on motivation, on finding stimuli that might help to generate a reconnection with art. This post is in no way intended to disparage or knock such features, because there’s no doubt they’re helping to bring people together and support in other in terrific ways.

However, there are other sections of the population who are probably beyond this sort of assistance right now, poets who don’t really have the chance to write in the pandemic and especially in lockdown, people whose route to writing has been blocked, such as stay-at-home parents who’ve lost the hours in the middle of the day when they carved out a bit of time for themselves. And then there’s a group who form the core of today’s post. I’m referring to poets that used to leave the house every day to commute and do a full-time job, but are now working from home.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m not among them: my working life, while tough, is also flexible. Nevertheless, I know of many friends who had an established writing routine that they’d built around the construct of the old working week. It made a clear-cut separation between their working time, family time and poetry time, their working space, family space and poetry space. That’s all now disappeared.

All of a sudden, these poets are finding it hugely tough to defend their writing. Spaces they once used for poetry are now taken up by work, while timetables are fast becoming blurred. Bosses, colleagues and customers, who are also working from home, are now demanding constant connectivity and immediate reactions to requests at times that were previously viewed as unreasonable and/or out of bounds. In other words, work is intruding on periods of the day and week that were sacrosanct prior to the pandemic. And all of the above, of course, is before we mention home-schooling!

Matthew Stewart, The Working Time Directive for Poets

The other book I read–quickly, sometimes skimming–at the “right time” was Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn. This is a new book at the library, I was the first to check it out, and I didn’t want to keep it too long, which is one reason for the skimming, another being self-protection. I didn’t want to dwell too long in pandemic reflections, so if a poem was too long, too prosey-looking, or with too many virus-related words glaring up at me, or if it seemed too easy, bordering on the cliched or sentimental, I skipped it. Instead, I went for the shorter poems, with simple, direct language–“simple” being quite different from “easy” in my meaning here, with simple language so often the container for rich complexity. […]

There is the connection of our pandemic to the 1918 pandemic, and also to whatever contortions of grief and circumstances might be happening now. My heart broke to read the phenomenal “An American Nurse Foresees Her Death,” by Amit Majmudar, where, sadly, the title tells the story. With “Leaving Evanston,” by Deborah Garrison, I sympathized with the theatre students having to leave school before their spring showcase production, before their Commencement, and thus also with all the students who lives and expectations were disrupted this past spring…and likely will be in the spring to come. 

“How I wish feeling terrible felt useful, as it did when I was a teenager,” says Nicole Cooley in the poem “At CVS Wearing a Mask I Buy Plastic Eggs for My Daughter.” That resonated, and also reminded me of the narrator of Milkman, who is seventeen and eighteen when the main events happen; it’s hard to come of age when the adults don’t know how to show you, teach you, bring you along. And in “Poem for My Students,” by Sharon Olds, I encountered “chain-reading” (like chain smoking), something I do, reading one book right after another.

Kathleen Kirk, Reading-While-Walking

The sweat and discipline it takes to listen down deep into our shared potential when all around us is the white noise of proud boys for whom black lives don’t matter.

This continual struggle and change, the change and struggle, when dementia‘ed history keeps forgetting itself, then repeating the same questions, wondering if mercy and forgiveness will ever be a part of our lexicon.

Some gather weapons while others build mighty monuments from the wounds of those who’ve suffered in the name of uplift.

Some sing in the key of flowers while others sing in the key of bombs; it all depends upon how your hearts and voices have been trained.

Rich Ferguson, This Upstream Sojourn Along the River Sticks and Stones

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.

Ren Powell, Knowing the What, Not the Why

regime change
finches versus cardinals
at the feeder

K. Brobeck [no title]

I loved the swearing in–tears again and again.  I loved Biden’s speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land”–a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No–but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I’m always just happy when a poet is invited to be part–it sends a message that is so important to me.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes on an Inauguration Day

There’s a boy
tucks a note into the pocket
of a coat he’s sending a stranger, saying
“Have a good winter. Please write back.”
A branch breaks, a lamp flickers,
the dog digs at a flash of something
paler than snow. A boy uncrinkles a note.
What happens next?

Marilyn McCabe, Some Poems

Every morning when I get up and open the blinds near my desk, I take a moment to peer into my terrarium. It’s changed since I planted it in the fall: some of the mosses have died back while others seem quite happy; the liverworts are thriving; there’s a green film of algae growing on the beige shelf fungus, and the fern has put out three adventurous fronds. A small gnat seems to live inside the glass, even though it could easily escape. I think the moisture level has been too great for the lichens, and not quite enough for the moss. There’s life and growth happening, as well as decay. I’m doing my best to take care of this little world for which I’m entirely responsible, drawing on a certain amount of knowledge and common sense, but the fact is…a lot of the time I’m guessing. Should I slide the top open a little more, or less? Should I mist the terrarium today, or wait? I make decisions based not only on what I see, but on the smell of the interior, the dampness on the pebbles, and the warmth and humidity I sense when I quickly put my forefinger inside, close to the soil.

This little experiment has filled me with renewed awe for the balance of life on our planet, an even greater awareness of its fragility, and the amazing harmony with which these small life forms colonize a tree stump in nature to form a garden far more beautiful and complex and self-sustaining than anything I could ever create.

I’m also learning something about myself: the strong but almost subconscious desire I had to create a little world, care for it properly, and see it thrive during this time when almost nothing in our real world — where I am the gnat, but can’t escape — seems controllable or even predictable.

I suppose we all want that. Nobody really likes chaos, or fear, or one change on top of another to which we have to adapt. We’d like our homes to be comfortable, secure places of refuge during this time, and instead they’ve sometimes felt like traps. We haven’t been able to pick up the glass globe in which we’re living and give ourselves or others what we need; instead we’ve sometimes felt like hapless inhabitants looking out as some large invisible hand shakes our world around, turns it upside down, and surrounds it with toxins or threatens it with violence.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 54. The Illusion of Controllable Worlds

night dew and moonlight
mingle and shine
friends don’t you know
that this world is filled
with blue flowers

James Lee Jobe, memories watch me

We have snow in the forecast in the next day or so, but I wanted to highlight these beautiful tulips in a brief moment of sunlight, and a few of my bird visitors, to cheer you up during this dark and dreary time of year. January can be a tough time, especially as we wait the interminable wait for the vaccine, as we wait for the days to get a little longer and warmer, we wait for things to start to bloom. […]

I also had the chance to Zoom with a few poet friends, which really raised my spirits – we talked about literary magazines and publishing opportunities, but also laughed a lot. Hey, laughter is good for the immune system. While I miss in person visits – and it’ll probably be a few more months, realistically, before we can see each other in person – it was nice to see friends virtually and catch up. There is something incredible bolstering about being with other writers, especially when you yourself are feeling discouraged about writing. You get to share stories about hilarious mishaps and crushing disappointments, as well as celebrate our little victories.  Just like the birds in my garden, we tend to find strength in numbers. I know no one wants more Zoom in their life, but for the right reason – a great lecture, a chance to see friends – it’s worth it.

My father got his first dose of vaccine in Ohio, but my mother still hasn’t, and here in Washington, it looks like it’ll be a while for chronically ill folks – longer than I was hoping, so in the meantime, I’ll try to get well from this stomach bug. Hoping you all stay safe and warm and get your vaccines soon!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More January Birds and Blooms, A Week Under the Weather, and Zooming with Poet Friends

Late January
the snow is melting again
I peel some parsnips

Jim Young [no title]

Reading Lucretius, at long last, having found a translation I like, and I find him easy and comfortable. We’re on the same side of that gulf. We think that our personhoods are chance constellations, shapes made up by dreaming shepherds out of random stars. Some philosophical problems become easier, some become harder, when you think that. But they all become different.

Nothing can emerge from nothing, says Lucretius, and Nature does not render anything to naught.

It can be a terrifying thought. Lear quotes Lucretius. Nothing will come of nothing, he says, Speak again. To Shakespeare, a world without souls is a deadly transactional world of quid pro quos, where all love is conditional and everything is bought with something else. I don’t think he was right about that: but Shakespeare is not a man to dismiss lightly. Not at my time of life.

Dale Favier, The Nature of Things

When someone asks me am I working on something, I never really know what to say. I want to answer truthfully, for that is how I was brought up. Yes, I say, there is something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think there is something, yes. What is it, they say. I can’t tell you, I say. Can’t or won’t? Both.

I’m much happier talking about writing that has happened, in the past, the artefact of it, not the action. This is also the case for talking about that most shadowy of concepts my ‘process’ or ‘practice’. I put those words in quotes partly because I have a long-standing terror of coming across all pretentious and partly because I only recognise these things as having occured, in the past tense. When I am actually writing the last thing I am aware of is what this practice entails. All I am prepared to give away is that it is messy, non-linear and never as easy as I want it to be.

But there is one thing that is common to all of my projects (practice), and that is the moment when you realise what it is you have been doing (or have foolishly embarked on) has the potential to become something other than what you first intended. In other words, it appears to you (to me) as having a form, a being, a living entity, with a life of its own. In Still Writing this is what Dani Shapiro says arrives ‘with the certainty of its own rightness’. Emerson called it ‘a gleam of light which flashes across [your] mind from within’. Joan Didion called it ‘a shimmer around the edges’.

Anthony Wilson, The gleam

What first brought you to publishing?

It was unintentional, and, at first, incidental. In the early 2000s, I worked as an administrator in the financial services industry, and spent much of my spare time photographing bits of southern England. The office was usually deserted after 5pm, and I started to misuse the equipment, making photocopies of the photographs and copies of the copies. The poet Andrew Hirst (aka photographer Karl Hurst) invited me to collaborative with him on a sequence of poems and images, which took shape over a couple of years. As we didn’t know who to approach, or how we might approach them, we decided to set up a small imprint through which we might publish the work. I had no formal experience of design, printing, editing, or publishing, but I’d resolved to try to do everything myself, so it was a gradual (and intermittently disastrous) process of trial and error. It was problematic, but there was some interest from audiences, and creative momentum, so it made sense to work with other poets on further publications. There was no plan. There is still no plan. […]

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

Again, I’ve learned a great deal from the poets I’ve worked with. It’s a rare privilege to be invited to read and comment on sequences and collections in varying stages of development; after a few years of this, I found that I was reading almost everything much more closely, and much more critically. It’s also helped me to understand, and develop, the potential for arranging (or rearranging) work on the page and for performance. The multiple iterations of Matthew Clegg’s Edgelands (2008) were among the earliest outcomes of this methodology; we published a pamphlet edition, comprising 50 poems, which were further subdivided into 10 themed clusters of 5 poems, and a matchbox edition, in which the full cycle of 56 poems was reordered and concertinaed on a single continuous strip. The work was also ‘dispersed’ through single-poem cards and postcards, and continually rearranged by Clegg in readings and performances. The experience (and others like it) undoubtedly informed the development of my own work, including the sequence White Thorns (Gordian Projects, 2017).

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (small press) questions with Brian Lewis on Longbarrow Press

In my thirty years of writing, I had only published four poetry book reviews until last year. So ending the year with sixteen reviews written and published took a major shift in attitude and practice. You could do this too. […]

If you start reviewing books, you will have free books for the rest of your life. Everybody will shove books at you. Editors would be happy to have your review their publications. Journals have a list of titles they want reviewed, and then there are your friends and friends of friends who have a new book out and would love to send you a copy for review. […]

It’s not like I haven’t had stacks of poetry around my house for the last thirty years. But, I didn’t always give myself the best chance to learn from them. Writing a book review makes me read poetry slowly, carefully, with a deep consideration of how each poem was made. Writing a book review makes me a better poet.

My Year of Writing Poetry Book Reviews – guest post by Deborah Bacharach (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world–surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can’t really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.  I’ve started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don’t last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I’d lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it’s true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I’m writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I’m not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It’s not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It’s strange to think I’ve barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

Kristy Bowen, the wolf at the door

At 2:55 they let me in. Inside the church building someone took my temperature and sanitized my hands. I saw volunteers in bright yellow vests, and in bright blue vests, and in EMT uniforms. Everyone seemed happy. I filled out paperwork, I answered questions, I sat down at a freshly-sanitized table and rolled up one sleeve. A friendly EMT said “a little pinprick in three, two, one.” I said a silent shehecheyanu.

I sat for fifteen minutes, dutifully, to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction. I imagine the arm will ache, later, like it did when I got vaccinated for typhoid and yellow fever before my first trip to Ghana. I’m startled to realize that that was more than 20 years ago. I remember that we needed to find a doctor who specialized in travel medicine. I wonder what became of the fold-out yellow card I carried in my passport then.

So now I’m halfway vaccinated against covid-19. This isn’t going to change my behavior. We don’t know yet whether or not the vaccines protect against asymptomatic spread. And besides, I won’t begin developing immunity until two weeks after the second shot.  But it feels to me like one more reason to hope. Every person who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer. Someday we’ll embrace again.

Rachel Barenblat, First shot

“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?

I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.

I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.

I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.

I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.

Does the written word feed into your paintings?

It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go. […]

What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?

I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!

Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Claire Trevien

Having a lot of enforced time off over the past surreal, nasty, stressful and boring year has been a mixed experience. The one really good thing about it, for me, has been the opportunity to immerse myself in the Russian language. I had been interested in doing this for a few years already, but when I was first furloughed in the spring I thought that I needed to start using my time. This has meant lessons, apps and discernible progress, though I think my teacher may be about to notice that I have been spending more time listening to Russian rock music and watching Russian films and TV than assiduously studying my grammar and vocabulary. I may say that it’s also been nice to discover that I am still capable of learning a new language in adulthood. I learned to speak French as a small child and Spanish as a young teenager, and I haven’t tried learning another language until now. 

One of the films I have recently enjoyed is Kharms (2017, directed by Ivan Bolotnikov). You can watch it on the Kino Klasska Foundation website here, and the link also includes some very nice programme notes: https://www.kinoklassikafoundation.org/project/kharms/

You can watch this for free for just a few days, until Tuesday 26 January at 12 noon GMT. I think it may only be available in the UK due to rights issues, but you can always check to see if it’s available in your territory.

Kharms is a film about the life of the surrealist Soviet-era poet Daniil Kharms. I was only vaguely aware of this poet, partly because he loved Sherlock Holmes and used to smoke a calabash pipe. ‘Kharms’ was a pen name and may be a reference to the Russian pronunciation of ‘Holmes’. This was noted in the film by the poet’s sartorial choices and one subtle joke. 

The film isn’t a strict biography; it celebrates the poet’s work, his life in the beautiful city of St Petersburg/Leningrad, his friendships and romances. Colour and black-and-white film, static and moving shots combine to create a wistful and quirky view of different eras and events. The tragedy of Kharms’ death by starvation during the siege of Leningrad is also part of the film. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Kharms: a film about the Russian poet Daniil Kharms

Orange is the new
orange, a long, slow
sundown. Evening

is when everything
evens, when love
equals loss and

it seems worthwhile
to hope again
for another

morning, for
sunrise, orange
as a new orange.

Tom Montag, ORANGE IS THE NEW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poetry bloggers continued to reflect on the past year, as people do this time of year. Especially on a year which nearly everyone wants to be done with already! I’m thinking I ought to have some deep thoughts—or any thoughts, really—about this past year of poetry digests, but as usual, after six hours of reading blogs it’s all I can do to string words together in a coherent order. But thanks to all the bloggers who have written so many moving, entertaining, and surprising posts this year, and tolerated my generous excerpts. It’s been a joy and a privilege, etc.


Last week I spoke of being panicked. This week’s P-word: pummeled. It’s how I’m feeling at least, typing this out this Friday morning. The word describes the world as well, no? With government officials seriously delaying aid for people while corporations get tax breaks, billionaires billion on, and so many people suffer from the pandemic, whether from the virus itself or from the peril and strain the pandemic has placed us under in our respective lives. Here are some bright spots despite it all:

Early this week I participated in a Drink + Draw virtual session hosted by Flux Factory. Ani and I logged in and did some figure drawing. Models took 30 minutes each working through poses in their respective spaces. Flux Factory is a great art community space based in Queens. Here’s info on the next session which will take place in January.

The generous Gillian Parish has just published a new edition of her spacecraftproject. Check out poetry by Vince Guerra & David Maduli here — & do click around the site for some healthy, illuminating spacing out :)

Lastly, this week I participated in a final publication-focused virtual session with my ENG 375 Poetry Workshop students. Part of the final assignment for this course was revising two poems to be included in a digital class anthology. The anthology, entitled tending to the roots, also includes their art contributions. It was an honor to design this anthology as well as build with them and hold space for each other’s poetic selves this semester.

Check out tending to the roots: an ENG 375 class anthology below:

eng-375-class-anthologyDownload

José Angel Araguz, art, space, poetry

from then to now
is never the same distance as
from now to then

From my new chapbook: “The night is my mirror”.

Through the lockdown and the near-isolation, words were hard to find, but this came together in the last few weeks and I am delighted to close the year with relief, gratitude and hope.

I think the poems are real and personal and have been churned out by the silence, unease and reluctant acceptance that was 2020. If you’d like to read the chapbook, do give me a shout and your email information.  and I will send you a copy.  (leave it in the comments section or write to suspension.point@yahoo.com)

Happy holidays and a very happy new year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, New chapbook: The night is my mirror

2020 was a wild, terrible, heartbreaking, exhausting, trying year. I finished a degree I wasn’t excited about, at a school I didn’t care for (it was a master’s for work and thankfully they paid for it). My first full length collection of poetry, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, was published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press the week the pandemic rocked the world so any and all readings, appearances, and book tours were cancelled. I was able to do a lot of virtual readings but I missed the energy and vibe of reading in person. My dad died. Friends and family suffered and struggled and we all tried to just make it through the year, through the month, through every exhausting week. And through it all, I wrote.

I was lucky and eternally grateful to have found a few virtual writing workshops early in the pandemic. One workshop that has sustained me from the start is run by Community Building Art Works – most are free and all are fantastic. I highly recommend checking them out and joining if you can. The community and creativity I find there has held me throughout the pandemic. I’ve also taken two of Jon Sand’s Emotional Historian workshops and these too have been wonderful and amazing. These workshops kept me writing through a very trying year.

I’m always excited at the end of the year to see how many notebooks I’ve filled. This year did not disappoint, I’m on my 7th journal this year. You can see when I started gravitating toward the more basic Moleskin journal.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2020

I curl my fingers
into the thatch
inside the hollow.

Out come seeds
little teardrops
slippery and pale.

As they fall
the china bowl
rings like a bell.

*

These shortest days of the year are always a struggle for me. Like my mother before me, I count the days until the light will begin to increase. I practice finding sustenance in small things: in zesting an orange for cranberry bread, in cooking a new recipe, in turning squash seeds into a roasted snack instead of throwing them away as I would once have done. This pandemic winter, those coping mechanisms feel even more critical. There’s so much I can’t repair in this terrible and beautiful world. Sometimes it feels almost inappropriate to seek pleasure when there is so much suffering. In those moments I remind myself that I would honor no one by ignoring the little blessings I can find even in these times. May balm come to all who suffer, and may life’s tiny sweetnesses help us through.

Rachel Barenblat, Seeds

I am very pleased I am now off work until the new year; I feel like the cumulative effects of the stresses and strains of this tear and then my time in court have utterly wrung me out, and that a long break is what’s needed. The Xmas shopping has been done, 99.9% of it wrapped and ready. Just one thing to arrive and wrap and it’s all done. […]

An acceptance last week means I have now equalled my acceptances for 2019, which had been a record year, so I think that counts as a good. I’d like to think in some way this post is also tempting the gods and that the remaining subs (30 poems across 7 locations) will come in with acceptances now just to mess up my charts Prays.

What’s interesting (to me) is that it’s the same number of acceptances with a significantly lower number of poems sent out and to fewer places (36 vs 47, uncharted), but the success rate has increased from 9% to 12%…

I’d like to say this has something to do with me boxing clever about my subs and the quality of my poems increasing, and I hope that’s true, but I can’t say that as it’s not for me to say. I think I’ve certainly aimed at some places I didn’t think I’d get in, and on most occasions I was correct, but there were a few where it was a hit and hope and I “connected”. More of that in 2021 please, but I suspect it will only get harder.

Mat Riches, Off The Charts

When I get cold or melancholy, a kind of laziness overtakes me. At bedtime, I don’t want to take off the layers of t-shirts under my clothes to put on my jammies. (Fortunately, I am good at taking off a bra under my clothes and out through a sleeve like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.) On sad days now, when I look at the Christmas tree and know my kids aren’t coming home, I don’t want to get up from the couch, where I am bundled in a soft, blue blankie, reading a book, even though I know I should get up and move every hour—to keep warm, to keep the body moving, not sitting, because it’s wiser, healthier, not as sad.

And then I do it, because I am in the habits of diligence. I hear the washing machine stop, so I go put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load. I hear the mail carrier come, so I get the mail, then put on a coat, and re-deliver a mis-delivered piece of mail to my neighbor next door. I diligently write down who sent a Christmas card, and when, on my little list, and commit to writing a card back, if I haven’t sent one already, during this especially good year to maintain connection with people…. 

I wondered if the more precise word was lassitude, but I don’t think so. Lassitude is a weariness, a lack of energy, and so is lethargy. Laziness is a disinclination to work. At these sad, cold, lazy moments, I am disinclined to get up and do the necessary bit of work, but, once I do get up, I have the necessary energy. I do a lot of small, steady tasks, all the time. I have patience and perseverance. I keep to-do lists. 

Yes, my laziness is temporary, cold-induced, connected to melancholy. I’m aware of this…and of the way sadness can clutch at me sometimes. I can feel the pull down. I have various ways of saying no to the pull, even as the tears fill my eyes and start their spill, even if it’s just getting up from the book I’d rather read than do anything else, to do anything else. 

And then, back to the book. And on to the next book. So far this year—and there are two weeks to go—I’ve read 155 books. These include plays, poetry books, chapbooks, and graphic novels, as well as novels, memoirs, books of essays, books of short stories. My coffee table is stacked with books ready for a second lockdown, books not yet begun, finished books not yet shelved elsewhere, books in progress with bookmarks sticking out, library books that will automatically renew. Clearly, these books, these stacks, represent my combined laziness vs. diligence, conflict resolved. And a Slattern Day in the blog.

Kathleen Kirk, Laziness vs. Diligence

It was a great pleasure to be interviewed by Alex Graffeo, Managing Editor for OyeDrum. OyeDrum is “an online magazine and intersectional feminist collective. We are a community dedicated to women’s creative and intellectual work.” You can read more about the name OyeDrum here. They feature a quarterly themed issue from a selection of curated work, and a weekly section open to all genres.  I love the aesthetic of their site, so I interviewed Head Witch/Founder Amarantha da Cruz to find out more. See my interview with da Cruz and a link to their submission guidelines here. They also run a podcast entitled “In Conversation.” Make sure to check out all three episodes!

Trish Hopkinson, “The (Not So) Selfish Poet: Talking Feminism and Community with Trish Hopkinson” via OyeDrum by Alex Graffeo

The virus year has left me questioning the relevance of my poetry practice to the world of literature, such as it is. I have not been sending work to journals. I have not spent much time on revisions nor on going through my work in order to assemble another manuscript (or two).

My father suffered awhile, then died–what can I say? It has been hard to write, especially given the mental challenges of learning a host of new technological platforms and completely redoing my syllabus to adapt to the changed methods of college classroom instruction and tutoring. How does the saying go? “I ain’t as young as I usta be.”

Given that the year has been even more of a media frenzy and social norms chaos than the years preceding it, the word unprecedented has been overtaxed into meaningless syllables; and the word relevance has taken on a sort of socially-annointed value that leaves me certain I have nothing to contribute except more noise. Why bother to write poems? It may be that there are more useful ways I can spend my “senior years.” Reinvent myself as an advocate or mentor in some other field: gardening/environmentalism, education, literacy, hospice care…

Maybe I could just go back to hobbies. Photography, embroidery, sketching and painting, flower arranging, hiking. Or take up some new craft or endeavor. Maybe birding. And am I then somehow engaging in more or less relevant processes?

Garth Greenwell has an essay in a recent Harper‘s, “Making Meaning,” in which he poses questions about the concept of relevance as it relates to art and concludes that he disagrees with “relevance” as a critique criterion, one “that feels entirely foreign…to the real motivations of art.” […]

The essay is worth reading in its entirety, as some of its assertions deserve discussion. Especially noteworthy is Greenwell’s anecdote about reading and loving Augustine’s Confessions, a text I re-read and still love for many reasons, not one of which is due to religious beliefs. Greenwell says Confessions is still relevant today because of Augustine’s creative and relentless questioning and the ways he expresses his own confusion, “making bewilderment itself a tool for inquiry.” Yes! Among, of course, many other things.

Ann E. Michael, Relevance

Introducing Seeds of Hope, the second anthology of poems, prayers, reflections and provocations from the human rights organisation Amos Trust.

It includes contributions from Zena Kazeme, Arundhati Roy, Ben Okri, Cornel West, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Robert Cohen, Maya Angelou, Lemn Sissay, Langston Hughes and Abdelfattah Abusrour. I am honoured to be included among them.

You will find nothing comfortable here, but you will find solace and hope in this dark time. Arranged around themes with titles like Home, Hope, Her, Planet, Solidarity and Protest, the book is premised on the view that

‘to be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic – it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.’

There are also some brilliant Spotify playlists scattered all the way through the collection, one of which I’ve posted below.

It would make a brilliant Christmas present for the activist loved-ones in your life.

Anthony Wilson, Seeds of hope

In later years, when I wonder why my blogging fell off a bit, let me remember that these have been days of getting to campus early so that Vet Tech faculty could get set up for final lab practicals.  Let me remember the grading in the wee, small hours of the morning, wee, small hours that seeped into the regular morning hours.

I wish I could say that I was blogging less because I was writing more poetry, but that was only true one day.  I had a goal of writing a poem a day during Advent, and I was faithful for about a week, but I’ve completely dropped off.

However, I have some ideas for poems, which I might have never had, if I hadn’t been looking for daily observations.  Now to get those poems written before I forget them.  One is menopausal Jesus who feels the rage that comes with wondering when it will finally be his turn.  And of course, I can’t remember the idea I had for the other poem, but it may come back to me at some later point–and then I’ll amend this post.

For me, this process is similar to knowing I had an interesting dream, but I can’t remember it.  And if I stop trying, some times, it comes back to me in a flash, and I wonder at the fact that I ever forgot it.  Poem ideas are similar.  I feel lucky to have them and lucky that they don’t abandon me when I can’t write them down quickly enough.

Update:  On Monday evening, I saw a woman with a shopping cart, but I wasn’t sure what was sticking out of it–a beach umbrella?  a sleeping mat?  a lounge chair?  Was she just hauling lots of stuff back from the beach or was she hauling all her stuff around?

On Tuesday morning, I saw the cart first during my pre-dawn walk, and then I saw the woman stretched out beside it.  It was at a house that was for sale, on a driveway covered with a canopy.  

All day I thought about the woman and the Nativity story about there being no room in the inn.  It’s too obvious a connection.  But I do wonder if there’s a different poem lingering in the background.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Inspiration and Gingerbread

This mahonia has been in my garden three years now. This summer I was tempted to dig it up as it never seemed to flower. We used to have one outside the kitchen window, and it was always full of bright yellow flowers. It attracted lots of blue tits and it was lovely to watch them flitting about between the spikey leaves. When we had to uproot it to make way for our kitchen extension, I thought it would be a simple job to replace it. However, as I’ve said, the successor has kept us waiting! I realise that there’s a lesson to be learnt here. It’s about being patient, being prepared to wait; it’s about hanging on when things don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. I’m not trying to draw any direct comparisons to the pandemic, or, on a more personal level, the ups and downs of being creative. I’m simply trying to focus my attention on what’s important, the here and now, the wonder of these sprigs of yellow in an other wise dull garden in December. Nature has a way of rewarding us, if we allow it to. Under different circumstances, we would probably have been away on holiday this week. The current restrictions have put paid to that. But if we’d gone, we would have missed this first flowering. Let me say that for this, and so much else, I’m extremely grateful.

Julie Mellor, winter light

A suitably seasonal haiku of mine is featured over on the blog of Fokkina McDonnell’s Acacia Publications site. It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote it and if ever there was a year in which time has played tricks on me, then it’s 2020. No wonder time-travel is such a key component of my poems.

It’s certainly hard to have a glass half-full at the moment, especially now that we inhabitants of London and the South-East of England are effectively homebound for the Christmas period – and probably for a good while into 2021 – for all but essential activities.

I’ve moaned myself out about our shambles of a government and their back-of-a fag-packet policy-making, and about QPR’s seemingly endless run without a win. I’ve been reading Buddenbrooks, which has sat on my shelf for many years without me starting it, but now I’m halfway through I’ve found I haven’t, currently at least, got the patience to finish it, which makes me sad.

Perhaps I should stick to poetry. Yesterday I read half the latest issue of one of my very favourite poetry magazines, Butcher’s Dog, the opening poem of which, ‘Japanese Wind Telephone’ by Sarah Stewart, is as beautiful as anything I’ve read all year. Unlike Buddenbrooks, I will definitely read the second half shortly.

Matthew Paul, Adventing

Too serious for photographs, though my god she was beautiful, and so close I wished I could pick her up in my arms and take her home on my own good legs. Coyote, sleek and strong, but three-legged traveling, her left front paw or wrist held carefully, painfully, out of contact with this world, wounded somehow. I hate to see this, but also know she has a decent shot at healing whatever it was that hurt her, and does not need to be shot. She will not be found by a wildlife person’s tranq darts hours from now. She will be gone in the way of wild beings. Deep snow makes travel so hard on three legs, so she’s using the road, pain tightening the skin around her eyes. I blocked the road with my car, hazards on, and gave her time: the farmer in his tractor stopped at the edge of his field and gave her time, too. She gazed at me for a long time, then at him. She considered the banks, the depths: when pain is very great and the requirement is stamina or death, there is actually no fear, I know from experience, and so she weighed her routes, us making no threat, and chose the road itself again, headed toward Norwottuck and, I hope, a safe den where she can heal. How I wish I could drive her home, give her some painkillers and a freezer full of chickens. Sure, she’s interpretable as a direct metaphor for my own life right now, but she’s not a metaphor and not about me, or you, even as she is so easy for many of us to empathize with to the depth of marrow: she’s a real being, really suffering, really using the three legs she does have to get to whole again somehow, and it is hardest when the only way through to safety and eventual healing is the most dangerous, and involves not only impossible stamina and great risk, but sustenance when hunting isn’t possible. May she find her resources. May she survive and thrive.

JJS, canis latrans

Outside, evening arrives
faster than it can fall. Trees
drop the last of their leaflets,
knowing this time of year is past

announcement. You couldn’t stop
walking into it even if you tried:
even if you held still, you’d feel
the landscape bristle with either

hurt or love, a kind of static
electricity. At last, you might say,
or Oh; as one by one, lights flood
the insides of their bowls.

Luisa A. Igloria, On the First Law of Thermodynamics

RT: Haiku in Canada has an unusual structure (as the subtitle suggests): part memoir, part history, part poetry anthology, part roll call of Canadian haiku writers. The practice of gathering the biographies of contributing poets into an essay is shared by other haiku anthologies, such as Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years(eds. Kacian, Rowland and Burns, Norton, 2013) and The Haiku Anthology (van den Heuvel, Norton, 1999), but in your case the poems themselves and personal reminiscences are also rolled into the mix. You never know what will come next: a personal anecdote, a poet’s or writing group’s bio, a clutch of poems, an excerpt from an essay on the nature of haiku, etc.

In your foreword, you note that Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which itself roams mightily, helped inspire the book’s form. Could you talk a little about how you settled on the book’s final shape? Did you draw on other influences, beyond Shōnagon, in approaching the task?

TAC: This book began as a talk that I was invited to give at a Haiku North America conference in Seattle, Washington, in 2011. It was perhaps nine pages in length and it was received very well. A second delivery came when I was a keynote speaker at a Haiku Canada conference. For this talk I had prepared some extra notes around the Toronto scene since I was speaking at Glendon College at the University of Toronto. The paper kept growing. I was living in Ottawa at the time; I facilitated a haiku group called KaDo Ottawa and we met at the Japanese Embassy for our annual spring meetings. My friendship with Mr. Toshi Yonehara increased my interest in the history of haiku, and when I moved to the west coast in 2012, I realized that I was in a great place to do more research. I was new to Victoria and wanted to meet like-minded folks, so I taught Japanese literary forms at Royal Roads University, in their adult extension program. I met many poets who wanted to learn more about haiku; soon the classes turned into social gatherings and Haiku Arbutus was born (I still facilitate this group). 

It was through Haiku Arbutus that I met Dr. Susumu Tabata, a 93 year old survivor of the internment camps of the Slocan Valley in the interior of B.C. during World War II. It was such an honour and a privilege to meet him, and soon “Sus” was a regular at our meetings. Spritely, with a great sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, he was beloved by all of us. My essay began to take on a new direction as I researched the haiku written in these camps during this dark chapter of Canadian history. Members of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society were also wonderful to help out. Many gave me resources that I would have probably never found on my own. I would take out the essay from time to time and add sections about groups (like mine) that were “starting up.” Now I had over a hundred pages and I began to think about a book.

The challenge now, was my writing “styles.” When I was referencing the historical facts, I needed historical accuracy, which created a certain tone. When I was writing about groups of poets, some who were close personal friends, the tone changed again. I was very uncertain about how to continue. I actually became quite despondent around the whole project and dropped it for about two years. I simply didn’t know how to mesh everything together. The title at this time was “A History of Haiku in Canada” and it sat deep within my computer.

And then one day, I was reading Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which is her observations of Heian court life, including essays, anecdotes, poems, opinions, interesting events at court, and her famous lists, 164 of them. Her writing was called “zuihitsu” or “assorted writing,” and I knew I had found a model. I picked up the project and began working again, and by Christmas 2019 I had the manuscript completed and submitted to Richard Olafsen at Ekstasis Editions.

Rob Taylor, The Shadow Element: An Interview with Terry Ann Carter

Rochford Street Review is a fabulous on-line journal highlighting Australian and International Literature, Art and Culture – with an emphasis on small press and grassroots cultural activities, run by the indefatigable Mark Roberts. So I’m super pleased that he has featured one of my more complex video poems accidentals (recalculated) in Issue 30 of the Review. This will be the first of five videos that will appear here.

The video was a finalist in the Carbon Culture Review 2016 Poetry Film Contest (USA); was exhibited at 17 Days (Day 9, Vol. 10) at The Bret Llewellyn Art Gallery, Alfred State College, NY (USA; August 28 – September 19, 2017) and Atrium Gallery, Western Michigan University (USA; November 6, 2017 – April 29, 2018); and screened at the 7th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, 2018.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) in Rochford Street Review

– More of the magazines that I’ve subscribed to have disappeared, and I’ve not renewed subscriptions to some others (e.g Rialto, Stand) because I understand far too few of their poems – I think they’ve changed more than I have.
– My successes have been limited in number though I’m glad I got in The High Window and Fenland Journal
– I’ve written 6 poems this year. I wish their scarcity meant they were good.
– I didn’t enter any poetry competitions except for the Magma pamphlet competition.
– I’ve given up thinking I can ever get in Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London, etc.
– I’ve read quite a few poetry books. As usual I didn’t choose just the books I thought I’d like. I understood very little of “Wade in the water” (Tracey K Smith) and “The Prince of Wails” (Stephen Knight). I thought “Fleche” (Mary Jean Chan) was far longer than it needed to be – it would have been better as a single-topic pamphlet. I liked Happenstance pamphlets by Edwards and Buckley.
– From my (very limited) viewpoint, I feel that the poetry community is expanding in terms of styles and ethnic origins, even if the statistics don’t yet show it. There’s more fusion and vitality.
– I didn’t replace my attempts at physical networking by virtual networking. I miss the small-press book fairs.

Tim Love, Poetry in 2020

My son, a college sophomore, is a fiend for math and loves teaching it, too. Since he’s finishing the term at our dining room table, I get to eavesdrop on the tutoring he does by Zoom as well as his study groups’ conversations. Sometimes he and I break for a midday walk in the middle of it, and yesterday he reflected that when he comes to an impasse in his work, he’s more willing than his friends to just sit with the problem and wait for inspiration. He told me something like, “When I hit a wall, I’ll just sit and look at it and say, “Wall, whatcha got for me?’”

This is mostly just temperament–he and I are both stupidly resistant to asking for help, and we both enjoy puzzles. But he also said that he prefers hard math problems to easy ones because the answers to easy problems are just “coincidence,” whereas you know you’ve solved a “proofier” question because the solution comes with a deep click, a sense of rightness. I’m not sure I fully understand that, but I’ve been thinking about it as I bash my head against poem revisions, unable to decide when each ornery little piece is finished.

This hasn’t been a good workweek. My simple goal for Monday was to gather some poems to submit to the annual Poetry Society of America contests. I rarely throw in, but I thought that hey, this year I have time, right? But mostly these awards are for unpublished poems so I thought I’d finish up recent ones, pieces I haven’t sent elsewhere yet, and it’s NOT going well. I know none of us should be beating ourselves up for poor concentration right now; the soaring virus rates are horrifying and the political circus depressing. I had the added suspense this week of a couple of family members waiting for test results (everyone is negative and feeling fine). I never handle suspense well! Still, my fuzzy-headedness feels frustrating.

My son is right, though, that facing hard problems can lead to more interesting math or art–and that the way forward involves just showing up, again and again. None of these poems is easy: my tabs are open right now to pieces about giant tube worms, domestic violence, viral replication, divination…So I try to solve for x, take breaks, and circle back, hoping for flashes of intuition. History suggests that tough writing patches eventually end. I didn’t like it when my phone autocorrected “I was told” to “I am old” recently (!), but aging does bring a kind of equilibrium in knowing that time, careers, etc. aren’t just linear. They’re cyclical, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Wall, whatcha got?

Here I am, said the old man
still young, trapped between
ship and shore. I understand
that we’re always on the gangplank,
having just arrived or just heading
for departure. There’s always
someone to talk to, someone pausing
to put that suitcase down and then
rub chafed hands.

Dick Jones, Ship to Shore

It occurred to me earlier this week that I have not,  outside of a slew of dgp manuscripts this fall, been able to read a book in about a year (give or take a month ) Submissions are easier, since chapbooks are short and poetry uses a different kind of brain for me, but even that experience was more like looking for the kind of work I like to publish normally and less about immersing myself fully in the book, as one does with fiction, which is what I’ve been lacking the past 10 months or so. What I’ve been missing is that immersion in fiction I usually crave, but it takes a certain kind of headspace that the pandemic seems to have stolen (the ultimate irony is that with extra home time and everything closed you’d think it’d be the perfect time for tucking in with a book, but most nights I am much more interested in doomscrolling on my phone until I fall asleep.)  Besides,  am far too anxious and alert on public trans, where most of my novel reading gets done to read at all.  it’s a strange absence for me, and one it might have taken a couple months to notice. I thought it would come back in late summer when I went back to commuting, but it apparently did not. 

Visual art is similar, though it’s less about immersion and maybe more about creative impulses.  I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my writing brain differs from my visual brain and the key may be a certain creative flow that crisis mind doesn’t allow to happen.  Outside of a few watercolors and some things for my Patreon, and maybe the video poems, I’ve been much less inclined to pull out the markers or collage goods or even work digitally, which applies to cover designs and graphics for the library in addition to my own pursuits. This weekend, I did some postcard sized landscape paintings for my subscribers and it felt good, but it was like pulling teeth to actually get me in the right headspace. I do have a couple ideas for projects that have sprung up in the past couple of weeks, so maybe this is changing.  Maybe I need to just put the pedal to the metal and make it happen.

Back in the spring, writing, too, felt this way, but 2020 actually wound up being reasonably productive in that arena. My writing process always feel more like creating pieces of a puzzle in small bursts that add up to a whole, and it’s easy, once I have the overall vision, to create those pieces. Launching a new series is always hard, which is why it helps to have several things going at one time.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m set to mostly finish up the unusual creatures revisions by the New Year, so will be moving onto something entirely new (there are a couple options, but I’ll see which one is speaking to me more in January.)  Writing sometimes feels like running laps, so digging into the routine is what gets things done, and each new lap is easier. (I say this as a person who hates to run, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.)

Kristy Bowen, creativity and pandemic brain

“All you need to do is find and follow your whimsy.”

My uncle wrote these words to me in July–continuation of a conversation about work and retirement and possibility that we’d begun the previous Thanksgiving–and they have been rattling around in my head ever since.

The notion astonished me, really, coming from him. His field was computer science. He’s a retired Naval officer, who was a private contractor for the government for years. “Whimsical” is not a word I would ever ascribe to him, nor is whimsy something I would have thought he much valued.

What does that even mean, I have wondered, to follow your whimsy?

According to Webster, a whim is “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind.” To be whimsical is to be “lightly fanciful,” and “whimsy” is “a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.”

Defining by example is a great way to build conceptual understanding, and in the months since he wrote, I’ve been on the lookout for others who, perhaps, have followed or are following their whimsy. It’s amazing what you notice when you start to look for something.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s your whimsy?

The latest from Ottawa poet Michael Dennis and Cobourg, Ontario poet, editor, publisher, writer and bon vivant Stuart Ross is the full-length collaboration 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems (Cobourg ON: Proper Tales Press, 2020). The back cover offers: “Two pals. / Two very different poets. / One kitchen table. / Several bottles of wine. / 6 writing marathons over 3 years. / 122 collaborative poems. / 70 kippers. / A book of poetry. / An act of love.” Both Dennis and Ross have been writing and publishing since the late 1970s—only a few years longer than they’ve known each other—as two poets existing entirely outside of the academic system, quietly going about their work, from their respective corners of Ontario. Throughout seventy numbered poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, their shared explorations of narrative overlap and blend, and one can see elements of Dennis’ darker working-class mixed with Ross’ surrealism. For anyone aware of their individual works, it is a curious mixture, such as in the thirty-eighth poem, that reads: “In another country no one would complain / about the conditions under which dogs / dreamed like cats, saved like squirrels, / barked like llamas, under the billowing / animal cracker cloud sky. / Things couldn’t be better / or worse, he complained.” What is immediately clear is how this project is very much a conversation between friends, and the pull and push between their aesthetics, composed as a snapshot of what has been an ongoing conversation going back years. As they write in their “Authors’ Note” at the back of the collection:

These poems were written at Michael Dennis’ kitchen table on Dagmar Avenue in Vanier over six marathon writing sessions, the first on August 3, 2014, and the last on October 2, 2017. At each marathon we wrote 20 poems (well, 22 at the last session) simultaneously and collaboratively. We each began with 10 sheets of lined paper and wrote a first line on each. We shuffled the sheets and passed them across the table, where the other of us wrote a second line, shuffled the sheets, and passed them back for a third line. This process continued, and as we unilaterally declared a poem completed, either by adding a final line or seeming our collaborator’s line the ending, we placed that poem on the floor under the table. We did not discuss the poems as we wrote, though we often laughed and cursed each other. Each writing session began around eight in the evening and lasted three hours and 15 minutes. Wine was consumed, always red. Once the last poem met the heap under the table, we retrieved the batch, straightened out the stack, and read them all aloud. In late 2018 and early 2019, we whittled the selection down to 70 kippers—I mean, keepers—and did some editing, which occasionally skewed the alternating-line sequence when a line or several lines were excised. Sixteen of those poems, in slightly different versions, appeared as the chapbook The Dagmar Poems, from Burnt Wine Press. we only had one fight in the process. It’s long behind us.

Dennis’ most recent full-length collection is Low Centre of Gravity (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2020) [see my review of such here], a collection of first person lyric narratives following on the heels of his Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems (Anvil Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], both of which were edited by Ross. Ross’ latest full-length title is the poetry collection Motel of the Opposable Thumbs (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2019) [see my review of such here], his eleventh full-length poetry title to date. One should note that the poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems aren’t the first collaborations by either poet, as Ross has been working collaboratively for years, back to The Pig Sleeps (Contra Mundo Books, 1991), written with Vancouver poet Mark Laba, and his collaborative novel with Gary Barwin, The Mud Game (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 1995). Ross even published a collection of short poem collaborations he wrote with twenty-nine different collaborators in In Our Days in Vaudeville(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. The collection included five poems that Ross composed with Michael Dennis. Composed roughly a decade prior to the earliest poems in 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, the poems in In Our Days in Vaudeville are different in tone, and more separate, as though each were still feeling out the other’s voice and cadence, feeling their ways into and through each poem.

rob mclennan, Michael Dennis and Stuart Ross, 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems

My poetry books of the year will lodge in my head. Every now and then, I’ll experience something that reminds me of one of their lines or poems, and I’ll reach for them, and then I’ll linger, and the book in question will lead a second life beyond the shelves in my study, being tasted every few days for a couple of months before returning to those shelves. And then the cycle will begin again.

What’s more, I won’t yet have read several of my poetry books of the year, as they’ll be slow-burners that a trusted friend will recommend or I’ll encounter on the shelves of a second hand bookshop, flick through a few pages and reach for my wallet.

And then there are my other poetry books of the year, the ones I thought weren’t much cop when I read them in 2020, but which will reach out and hit me/hug me/renew me if I’m lucky enough to be around in 2030.

These are my poetry books of the year. Sorry if yours isn’t on the list.

Matthew Stewart, My poetry books of the year

The poem is
more than the words

can mean. Is there
anyone who

can do this math?

Tom Montag, THE POEM IS

I know we are all saying “get out and good riddance” to 2020, I try to remember the good things that came from this year, too. I spent a lot of this year sick (not with covid, just other weird stuff) so I became acquainted with weighted blankets, the Queen’s Gambit and the Mandalorian, I started a novel (still not very far,) applied for jobs in poetry publishing, and applied for grants I normally would avoid. (I even got two small grants this year, which seems miraculous.) I did a lot of bird watching. I got published in a few “dream” journals, including Poetry and Ploughshares. I tried to find as many inspiring things close to home as possible, since we couldn’t travel or do our usual about-town entertainments.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Merry Solstice/Christmas Week to All, and to All…A Good Riddance to 2020, plus Setting Intentions for 2021

It’s official! I am On Vacation, my chickadees, and not a minute too soon after the hellacious work year I’ve had. Due to my prevaricating, it almost didn’t happen. I had vague plans to “take some time off around Christmas”, but with everything going on and being the sole person overseeing our screening checkpoints, planning for my departure felt completely overwhelming so I kept putting it off. My boss casually said to me last week, “You’re out here after Friday, right?” to which I responded with a panicked, deer-in-the-headlights stare and stammered that I hadn’t done any planning for taking time away and that I “couldn’t just leave.” She wasn’t having any of my baloney. She found some people to take over the checkpoint duties and I spent the afternoon in a whirlwind of Out of Office messages, door signage, e-mail wrapping-up and preemptive plant-watering. Then I locked my office door and left the building, triumphant and exhausted. I’m not going back until January. It’s been almost two years since I’ve taken any significant time off, and I had no idea how tired I’ve become. I would love to say that I learned and grew from my experiences and blah, blah, blah but I think mostly what I did was just survive and develop a stress-related disorder as a fun bonus. I need this time. I can feel my whole body needing it, not to mention my brain and my soul.

Kristen Mchenry, Vacation All I Ever Wanted, I’m Worried about Katie and Peter

Every year I hold this thought that I will really relish Christmas. I will make things with my hands, invest in the act of creating and giving as a token of interpersonal gratitude. Instead, I rush things between grading exams and making dinner, and I curse and resent the entire season. I resent the fact that last year’s handmade candies are still in a jar on the shelf in my colleague’s office, unopened – and likely brewing something far less helpful than penicillin.

I think about all the almond flour and lemon that wedged painfully under my fingernails while I rolled the candies into small coconut-flour-dusted shapes. (What a frightening thought now, in these Covid times).

Yeah.

This year I’m making candles. I expect hot soy wax will bring with it a share of painful moments. But I’m hoping the scent of cloves and orange will help me focus on a brighter mood.

Essence of orange tends to stick around. There’s nothing smooth about it. Like a burr or a bit of Velcro, it snags and insists on attention. Like a toddler tugging at a shirttail, demanding to be lifted up onto a hipbone and carried through the day, pointing and clapping at everything that sparks a little bit of joy. Clove? That’s the old woman doing the carrying, paying attention, smiling warmly: saying put down the red pen and the grading, and come here and just sit a while.

Ren Powell, Essence of Clementine

As this strange year draws to an end (although, the end still feels like a long way off to me), I’m pleased to tell you that I have a few pieces of new writing in circulation. I’ve been writing poems for about ten years now, after a period of not writing at all while my children were growing up, and, before that, writing prose and play scripts. When my full collection of poetry was published in 2018, there were poems flying free that I couldn’t quite tie down in time to include in my book, and others that were no more than a tiny speck of an idea. Gradually, in the past two years, some of these poems have landed firmly and taken shape across pages of my notebook.

One big change in my life in the past three years has been my two children leaving home to go to university, and, this year, one of them leaving home to start their working life. This has coincided with my increased awareness of the precariousness of our planet. A new poem, ‘Then, said I, Lord how long?’, merges my feelings of loss incurred by the climate emergency with my experience of the “empty nest”, and is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Poetry Wales. Another poem about children growing up, ‘Parenting Book’, will be online at Ink, Sweat and Tears on December 29 – part of their yearly Twelve Days of Christmas series.

Another new poem of mine, ‘Poem for a 1960s Welfare State Childhood’, is online at the Morning Star. This is a poem about my own childhood, rather than about my children, and was prompted by my thoughts about the dismantling of the benefits systems by successive Tory administrations since 2010, and how insecure housing, and insecure household income, impacts on children. I know my own childhood would have been very different if my family hadn’t been protected by the welfare state.

Josephine Corcoran, A few new pieces of writing

I have this notion that the sky sees us as its own sky.

Sometimes it views us as storm-sullen with our riots and hate-mongering.

Other times, we appear sunshiny with our lovehoney buzz and thousand-watt optimism.

Sometimes the sky sees us as different cloud patterns: artists, stratocumulus; nihilists, nimbostratus; children, cumulus; the elderly, cirrostratus.

The sky views our city traffic as shifting cloud patterns containing different images—castle, dragon, dandelion;

it all depends upon the hour of day and which way the wind blows.

I hear that on certain occasions, you can marvel at the bright blue above and witness it admiring you.

Imagine that, seeing each other as one another’s beautiful dreaming sky.

Rich Ferguson, Mirror Me, Mirror You

newness alone must not be called poetry;
if anyone at all calls!
it might be orphaned at birth and misplaced.
their minds might be event horizons,
might deny the parallel word of verse,
might insist that the mirror reflects what isn’t there.
that a poem’s virgin birth upon the detonation of the old
will be an alien civilisation with a sixth sense called nonsense.
the bricked windows will be doubly dumb.
the voice in the wilderness will be just that;
a wildness beyond understanding.

Jim Young, poor try

it took me a long time to understand 
my true purpose 
I’m here to grieve 
and goddamn I am so very good at it

James Lee Jobe, blessing the word with smallness

Solstice, winter, covid: we are close to the dark.   Those winter days that swing between flat gray and blindingly bright gray work a subtle palette. 

During insomniac nights — at 3am, at 4am — I am close to the darkness too.  As I lay awake, I go deep into it. I riff:
Darkness, my compatriot, my friend, my pain,
my swan dive, tail in the air, everything inverted.
My color palette, everything contained. 
Darkness, all swirling imagination, all nourishment, all foundation.
All restart, light, recognition of what is outside me, 
of darkness inside me that leads to the beyond.

Everyone is talking loosely, wildly, glibly of light, something we lack and thus want desperately to lure.   The electrified trees, the candles that never drip though they burn in every window every night, the bright rafters — all speak to a desire to light up in “unprecedented” fashion.  These are rituals of continuity, myths of faith that lay the way to see in darkness — considered “old-fashioned,” they are back with a bang.  As if we thought they could be replaced with bulbs!

Jill Pearlman, Solstice, burning bright

each day slips away 

fish in deep water

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 16 December 2020

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

Some weeks, these digests reach a kind of critical mass where I hate to stop compiling, like a long walk or run when the endorphins urge you on. This was one of those. I found posts on family and politics, including the politics of academia and publishing, posts about self-care and overwhelm, some fascinating new-to-me poets, and plenty of humor along with the expected angst (sometimes in the same post). I was also pleased to see evidence that poetry bloggers are reading and responding to each other more than ever. After a week in which Facebook and Twitter demonstrated a stark new willingness to stifle wrongthink, it’s comforting to know that we might still have at least the foundations for an alternative, non-corporate, online community in the blogosphere. Anyway, enjoy!


Why is a graveyard called a burning forest?
When I married into the family I learned
to discern the depth of sorrow in the way
dust swirled into a hurricane under chairs.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Pity

I was a refugee from Hungary in 1956 and have been a UK citizen since 1964. Becoming a British citizen however did not mean becoming English. I have long recognised the fact that it was easier to be officially British than to be unofficially English.  Having worked as an English language writer and translator from Hungarian for about forty years I now think it is even possible to become part of English literature without ever being quite English. Could I become Hungarian and start again after 64 years? I really don’t think so. That’s two close communities dispensed with. […]

One of the reasons I voted against Brexit was because I felt Europe was stronger and less vulnerable as a single body rather than as a set of disparate nations. Now, even more,I fear the various schisms that are developing. I suspect the UK itself is falling apart partly, at least, because of terrible nostalgias about its imperial and military past. There are people here who are so much in love with a vanished past that they will do anything to preserve its attitudes at the cost of present unities. They depend on making enemies out of friends.

I am not entirely out of sympathy with them. There are many values bound up in language and nationhood and I fully understand that it is very painful to lose them. But modern Britain increasingly depends on those who are not intrinsically part of it. People like you and I in fact. More you than I at my age. I am a minor cultural figure with various prizes for writing and translation but I am of negligible economic or social use. You are not.  You – and all those moving round Europe – are literally the moving parts of the engine.

George Szirtes, SETTLED STATUS: WINDRUSH ON STEROIDS

7 – My Dad abandoned us when I was seven. He left my sister, my mother, and me in a bus station in a strange city to shack with a barroom pick-up. A relative took us in, thank goodness, but it was hard, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. That is, I knew he was gone, and where he went, but I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t see him at all for two years. Not a card, not a call. I used to pray at night, in bed, to die. I would pray for Jesus to come and get me, take me to heaven. Yeah. I lost a lot of faith in Jesus at seven. What? Heaven didn’t have room for one small kid? Maybe the depression started then. My memory for that era isn’t that clear. I do remember that bus station, though. I can see it clear as day.

8 – I am the Poet Laureate for the city where I live, and I have no idea what to do with that. It’s a pandemic; what can I do? Zoom readings? Ugh. I am writing and editing more than ever. I must have over thirty coronavirus poems, and maybe eight thousand poems in total. The idea of counting them is rather depressing, and I am depressed enough already.

9 – With Dad gone, Mom got violent. She had always spanked the hell out of us, afterward crying and saying that we made her do it, but with Dad gone, it was belts and hairbrushes and spatulas, not her hand. It was hard slaps across the face for great offences like eating with an elbow on the table. In my forties, with Dad long dead, I confronted her about it. She denied it totally. She said I got away with murder. Both parents are dead now. I do love them, but I do not miss them. Not ever. My wife and I never struck our kids.

James Lee Jobe, TEN THINGS – the list

My spouse’s picture is now up on the FB site of a local self-styled “militia,” the GOP is in voter-suppression overdrive, and people are hunkered in their homes, if they have them, fearing increasing right-wing violence and, oh yeah, contagion. Even if a miracle Biden landslide happens, Trump concedes without a fight, and domestic terrorist groups keep their anger to a low grumble (all of which strike me as big ifs), poets and everyone else in the US are going to continue to have a LOT to protest about, including police violence against Black Americans, deep economic injustice, catastrophic environmental damage, and a Supreme Court banking hard to the right.

I’ve felt cheered by the upswell of political poetry these last few years, and wretched as 2020 has been, it seemed right for my book to come out in March (I just wish I’d been able to read from it more). As the next collection brews, though, I’m wondering what kind of poetry I and others will need three to four years from now, which is how long the process takes, if you’re lucky. I’m now sending poems to magazines, trying to catch fall submission windows that are often quite brief, and some of them will surely go in the next ms., although I’m getting more rejections than acceptances at the moment. I tend to draft, forget, revise, forget, revise again, then send, so I didn’t know what I’d find when I reopened my 2019-2020 folders. I had been consciously working on poems with spell-like qualities meant to transform anger, and I discovered some of those, but I unearthed many more poems than I expected about mental health struggles (2019 was rough–better now). I’ve been using poetry to explore some of the hardest episodes from my past and have no idea why now. I’ve also been writing more ecologically than ever, looking for hope in natural processes.

Lesley Wheeler, Imagining poetry after the election

October’s precision.  Everything under the sun is sharp, preening with the ethic of freshly waxed cars, buffed and shined.  It is as nails made brilliant, as hard bright vernis.  Brushed wire.  It is shadow or it is not.  It is bursting pods.  It is golden rust, rods, pods.  A leaf falls into a pile of stiff percussion.  Rustling.  Crouching leaf, crouching skeleton.  Wine veined, ochre colored.  Same conversation with variation.  The earth is calling in echoes to other years.  I hear those long corridors of open Os, speaking the language of color. 

No more summer sonata, no more crickets.  Other beings supply the current of high-wire urgency.  Anxiety in the air, human panic.  Mud flats of nation and politics.  There is no joy in mudsville.  No joy in being Cassandra, having watched the hard-muscled tide of the courts over 20 years.  It’s all happening – decay.  

Americans are tuned to our tale of woe, and I’m one of them.  It’s hard to turn away, to oscillate, to equate that with care.  The next two weeks – oh, the indignity, and oh, the dignity required to be a bystander on this earth. 

Jill Pearlman, October Blues (and other shades)

This morning
I steal away
a moment.
I hold it tight

in my palm,
as it stretches
its limbs

into my flesh —
a sleepy rabbit.

Romana Iorga, Thief

A pause for thought, or not even thought, this week. Not even reflection. Not even crying -though that would be good. A pause for space. For doodling on it, staring into it. As a friend once said to me, a space, a moment, of ‘ungiving’. Which, apart from other things, will mean an absence from screens.

Anthony Wilson, You’ve got to write it all down

Did you hear about the tractor
trailer driver who quit his job,
maxxed out all his credit cards
and took his family on a long
cross-country trip a week before
the world was predicted to end?
He said The rapture would have been
a relief: meaning, when the magic
moment came, all believers
would just be spirited away
in a flash of blinding
light to the afterlife. Credit
collectors would only hear
a strange, electric absence
at the other end of the line.

Luisa A. Igloria, Absolute Debt

Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.

It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.

José Angel Araguz, exhausted seltzer

Patricia Beer’s poem grew in my esteem, from initial bewilderment and annoyance at its bold stanza-to-stanza leaps to total admiration. It is an Imagist-ish depiction of autumn; almost the most autumn-y of autumn poems. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the web, but I thought I’d share another of her poems which is: ‘The Conjuror’. From that ‘last sparks of other people’s grief’ onwards, you know you’re reading a poet of genius. That the top hat is ‘made of blossoms’ is itself a trompe l’oeil, and the sentence beginning ‘We sensed’, with those two words teetering beautifully at the end of the second stanza, is perfect. The change then to the second-person address to the departed conjuror is beautifully achieved. It’s a poem which could easily have been over-egged, but manages in its four quirky yet wholly believable quatrains to conjure (yes!) a life out of death; and it’s worth listening to Patricia Beer herself introducing and reading the poem, in her Devonian tones.

Matthew Paul, Beer o’clock

When I first encountered Louise Glück’s poetry, I was trying very hard to make a garden out of an overgrown and neglected patch of forest behind my house. Redwoods shaded the area for most of the year, and when the sun finally rose high enough to shine over the trees in summer, its heat dried the soil to a fine powder. It took me years to understand how this piece of forest functioned, and that my efforts were not only futile, but harmful.

During this time in my life, I found Glück’s poem “Daisies” in Writing Poems, a poetry-writing textbook by Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau. When I read the first lines, “Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden / is not the real world. Machines / are the real world,” I felt as if I’d received advice from a wise, acerbic and difficult friend, one whose presence I could tolerate only once or twice a year—not because we didn’t get along but because spending time with her affected me so profoundly that I needed a long time to recover. 

Erica Goss, The Paradox of “Daisies” by Louise Glück

I listened to the wind howling and the rain spattering against the windows yesterday morning, and I realized that the internet connection wasn’t likely to just pop back on.  So I settled in with Carolyn Forche’s What You Have Heard Is True:  A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.  I had been reading it a few pages at a time just before I fell asleep, but I could see that it was heading into dark territory, so I was glad that I had a chance to finish it all in one fell swoop.  What an amazing story.  I knew bits and pieces of it, but it was great to get more details and new information.  I hope someone makes it into a movie.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilt Camp Update

The latest from Beirut-born Parisian (having relocated to France after decades living in California) poet and painter Etel Adnan is Shifting the Silence (Brooklyn NY: Nightboat Books, 2020). Shifting the Silence is an extended lyric meditation composed, the press release offers, as “Adnan grapples with the breadth of her life at ninety-five, the process of aging, and the knowledge of her own approaching death.” It is interesting how Adnan’s approach isn’t to write against silence, but, perhaps, instead, through those same silences, attempting to articulate what those silences provide, and everything she has accumulated along the way, as she rises to meet it. She writes of her own silences, and the silences of history, and of war. She writes of trauma and tragedies overlooked, and some forgotten, some deliberately so. Early on in the book, she writes: “And having more memories than yearnings, searching in unnameable spaces, Sicily’s orchards or Lebanon’s thinning waters, I reach a land between borders, unclaimed, and stand there, as if I were alone, but the rhythm is missing.” She writes of silences that cause damage, and others meant to heal. She writes of the silences that death might bring, which is itself, a method of forgetting.

Composed in English, Shifting the Silence is her first book since the publication of Time (Nightboat, 2019), a volume of her poems translated from French into English by Sarah Riggs, a book that won the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize [see my review of such here]. Admittedly only the second title by Adnan I’ve read, the sense I have from these two works is her engagement with the lyric sentence, composing meditations and commentary on writing, war, geopolitical and social histories and the ongoing the beauty of physical landscapes. She writes of contemporary and ongoing wars in the Middle East, climate change, ancient histories and the view from her window. Shifting the Silence, structured as a sequence of prose lyrics, is composed as both meditation and, as she writes, an “incantation,” on living and a life lived; a series of lives lived. She offers: “We have to reconnect what words separated.”

rob mclennan, Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence

In September 2017, Helen Calcutt’s brother, Matthew, took his own life. He was 40 years old.

‘… the phone rang / and when I answered it / you’d killed / yourself, and that was the start / of you being dead.’

In October 2018 I responded to a call for poems for Eighty Four: Poems on Male Suicide, Vulnerability, Grief and Hope from Verve Poetry Press – an anthology that Helen curated. It is described by Verve as “ both an uncensored exposure of truths, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of those willing to write and talk about their experiences, using the power of language to openly address and tackle an issue that directly affects a million people every year” and one of its aims is to get people talking about suicide.

Somehow, Helen’s latest pamphlet continues this conversation, exposing the affects a suicide has on others, approaching it head on. At times devastating, at other times she sews a seed of hope and always written with clarity and beauty.

Abegail Morely, Somehow by Helen Calcutt

In 2013, I set out to write a poetry book that raged against the poetry MFA machine within the corporate-modeled university system. At that time, it was clear that, over the decade previous, universities, which employed most of the poets and writers whom I knew, were looking to level any sense of artistic freedom and turn colleges—places of education—into lucrative assembly lines—created to “churn out” ready-made writer-bots modeled after their “mentors”—and most importantly, to rob them of a fair living wage and and benefits.

I created a series of poems that were each dedicated to a profession—from working class to white collar jobs. The poems were also for those whom I knew at the time who were struggling to balance work “by day” and write/create art “by night”. At the time, I worked as a writer and editor for a major university in their advancement division, so I saw first-hand the emphasis the school placed upon making millions of dollars from donors to puff endowments and funnel $ to high-ranking administrators’ salaries—versus ensuring that part-time and adjunct faculty received fair, living wages and health benefits.

The entire collection, called “Professional Poetry” was meant to pay homage to a wide variety of different professions and/also to mock the commodification/capitalist push within arts organizations and universities to homogenize poetry and relegate anything “experimental” or “controversial” to unseen corners. The flattening of creativity—dictated by rich, white, old men, specifically bankers and/or “executives” who were beholden to pharma mega-corporations—forcefully swept into funding decisions for the arts. If a poet didn’t fit their dictated/defined “category”, or if a poet didn’t subserviently oblige and change their work to suit their framework, then it was deemed unclassifiable and therefore “not fundable”, “not publishable” or “un-useful” to the professional world of poetry that they dominated. [Click through to watch the cinepoem.]

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Poets • (New Cinepoem, 2020)

This week, I did the final proofing and design finishing for FEED, which I will be releasing as both an e-book and print book via Amazon at the end of this year.  It’s a decision I’ve been mulling over–was mulling over, even pre-pandemic, and covid sealed the deal.  Part of me says maybe it’s just a feeling that the world is going to fuck and if I get sick and die (or mauled by rabid nazi hoards of incels)  at least the book will be out in the world. To seize whatever opportunities come along because you could be gone tomorrow.   It’s not all so dire as those thoughts, but one thing living in this world in these times has told me is that a lot of the arbitrary shit that used to matter seems to matter less and less., And you can apply this across everything, not just the literary world. (Might I remind you of Sabrina Orah Mark’s essay in The Paris Review.)

I came into the poetry world as we know it in a strange way–a novice, which is not unusual, but I always felt like I slipped in some back door and didn’t really belong in some po-biz spaces. And maybe I do, or maybe I don’t.  I came to the academic poetry world kind of late, already nearing thirty, with a lot of publications under my belt and a familiarity with the open mic scene in Chicago (or I should say A open mic scene, as there are many?)  When I listened to the folks there–classmates, teachers, visiting artists talking about the insularity of certain journals, presses, awards, and tenure tracks, how certain things mattered more than others,  I called bullshit more than once, but I also bought into to a degree. That couple years when I was trying to place my first book, more often than once, I though about self-publishing it. The contest circuit seemed insurmountable, and it still is, a formidable bottleneck that has broken some of the best poets I know.  I wanted a book in the world.  I wanted a shiny spine on the shelf in the Barnes & Noble.   I wanted readers. I wanted to belong, to have a feeling that yes, I was legitimate poet, whatever that meant.  This need for legitimacy pushed me through an MFA program I only sometimes liked.  It had me sending that book out and paying up to $30 a pop. 

And I was lucky enough that a small press that no longer exists , but that I owe a great debt to, loved my manuscript and decided to publish it in the very old fashioned way of me having queried and then sent the manuscript at precisely the right time. And having a book of course was amazing, what I dreamed of, and while it felt really good, it didn’t change much for me as a writer because outside of having a pretty bound volume of my work. I was still hustling–to do readings, to get people interested, to sell copies.  A book is a lot of labor, no matter how it comes into the world  And of course, more books followed, some via pure serendipity, others via open reading periods.  One press folded, then another.  Others continued to flourish and I still occasionally publish with them today. I am absolutely luckier than I probably should be, to have found such presses & editors who believed in my work, when it’s very hard to publish that first book, and sometimes, even harder to publish the second or the third.   

I think over the years, I’ve refocused my mind not on presses and journals as a goal, but more on communities they reinforce.  Which of course, is bolstered by presses and journals and awards circuits, but also just by sharing work, being with other writers (in real-life or virtually) .  So much of my experience is rooted not only in my early poetry-related experiences, but also zine culture and visual arts, which seem a little less beholden to structures that don’t really serve them well.  As such the stigma of releasing your own work has lost its power over the years, as I’ve released as many projects into the wild as small limited editions or e-chaps as I have via journals and traditional presses. I once had a lively (I say discussion, some may say argument) during a panel over the merits of self-publishing. I’ve watched a lot of writers, really good writers, give up because the path to publishing books of poetry via the sanctioned paths, gets narrower and narrower, more closed off as presses struggle economically, operations fold, and there are just a lot of poets vying for room. Every other minute, the attention shifts, and the person who may be the talk of the town, in a year or two, is completely forgotten. 

Kristy Bowen, thoughts on manuscripts, the bottleneck, and self-publishing

I help run the poetry workshop group of Cambridge Writers. Anybody can attend provided they’re a Cambridge Writers member. People can try us free for one session. […] Below are the sort of things I sometimes say when new people attend.

Suppose we weren’t a poetry group. Suppose we were a music group instead. We might get Jungle House DJs, players of authentic instruments, people from oil-drum groups, buskers, opera singers and brass band fans. They might not have much in common. They might not even consider each other’s work music.

Poetry has as much variety, and poets may have as little in common. What makes poetry more confusing is that it’s easy for poets to mix and sample styles. You might not even notice when they’re doing the verbal equivalent of combining synths, ukuleles and oboes. So don’t worry if you can make no sense of someone else’s work. When I’m in that situation I often find that by the end of the discussion I know a lot more than I did at the start. So hang on in there!

It works both ways – you may need to develop a thick skin when people comment on your work. Don’t be surprised if when you pour your heart into a poem, people comment mostly about the spelling and line-breaks. Just try to extract whatever you find useful from the comments and ignore the rest. If you’re writing for a particular audience (kids say) it might be worth telling the group first, but we don’t want a poet to preface their poem with an explanation of what the poem’s REALLY about. The poem itself should do that, and our format is designed accordingly.

The group discussion may come as a culture shock. A lot of what goes on in the poetry world never reaches the mass media. The members of the group might not be able to claim many Eng-Lit degrees, and they have many blind-spots, but several of them have lurked for years in the hidden underworld of magazines, networks, and small presses where poetry changes fast. We may mention magazines and poets you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry – hardly anyone else has heard of them either.

So whether you’re a head-banger or a serialist you should come away with something of use.

Tim Love, Introduction for poetry group members

I do love a collaboration!
About the time of the Summer Solstice, Linda France invited poets to contribute a few lines to a collaborative work called Murmuration. There were 500 responses. Linda skilfully edited them into a long poem in two parts, which formed the basis of a beautiful film that was premiered last night at the Durham Book Festival. You can watch it, read about the making of it, and read the complete text here. I have a line in part one and a line in part two.

My life seems to be all about birds just now. Partly because I’m taking an online poetry course, The Avian Eye, with Anne-Marie Fyfe, and partly because I have a Significant Hen. Anne-Marie is a great workshop leader, generous with ideas and well-chosen course materials.

I missed last night’s premiere because it clashed with a Zoom workshop with six other members of Bath Writers and Artists, facilitated by Graeme Ryan. Birds featured in all seven pieces of writing: in some they played fly-on bit-parts, and in others they held centre stage. Even an otherwise bird-free mixed-genre memoir included a poem called “Ducks in Space”!

Ama Bolton, Murmuration

I’m trying to write a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail and although I now have a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail it seems to be just a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail instead of what I really want to talk about which is that something about the experience feels more like the trail is skiing me or I am the terrain being skied on.

I am both the dip in the land where a small stream moves through and the bend in my knees that takes me down and up. I’m the curve around the glacial erratic and how I curve around the erratic and yes some part of me is the erratic, this one, furred with moss and lichen, dripping some days like I’m my own little microclimate, my own world, rock and sediment and weepy. How is that? What is that? Do you know this feeling too? But the poem does not capture that.

So I take things out, leave half-sentences and space the wind blows through, leave some parallel tracks of where I’ve been, how I go, but still I’ve said nothing of this ownership, terrain of me, me of terrain, meandering through the great hummocks of rockmass, stringing marsh to marsh. I fail to mention how I stand in the bowl of one marsh, often in snowfall as if a globe’s been shaken, and I’m the small plastic form inside, or I’m the bowl, or the shaker.

I want to say something about finitude. I want to say something about endurance. Rock and water. The deceptions of snow. Something about my body in motion, the land at rest; the land in motion, body at rest. The poem utters, mutters, but in the end fails.

Marilyn McCabe, Into the mystic; or, On the Limitations of Words as an Artistic Medium

I am always pleased with the woman I write into being.

It is easier for me to make changes in my life when there are large shifts in circumstances. Two weeks ago I committed to a new and specific practice. Practice is something that reinforces itself. The psychological power of cycles: a day, a week, a season. A foot pushing the bicycle pedal down on the way up a hill. Momentum isn’t enough, but it still matters.

As a teacher, one of the first things I do – looking over my student’s shoulder at their screen – is scan their document and hit return again and again, separating the thoughts into paragraphs so I can take in their ideas in at a pace that allows me to find meaning. There are days when I wonder if my doing so – my providing white space – is actually imposing my meaning on their lives.

I guess this is what makes me a writer. This need to use writing as a tool for understanding the world. It has nothing to do with producing texts, or thinking deeply about everyday matters. It’s not about a gift at all, it’s simple a matter of which vehicle I require to navigate the world.

When one meditates, one experiences the consciousness that watches and interprets the “I” who is in a mood, whose knee aches, whose mind wanders. The “I outside the I” narrating an ego into existence.

New paragraph. Here is a transition. Here, something changes.

Ren Powell, Practice

A rabbinic friend of mine just had a baby, so I am sending her a copy of Waiting to Unfold, the volume of poems I wrote during my son’s first year of life, published in 2013 by Phoenicia Publishing. I had a few quiet minutes before an appointment, so after I inscribed the book to my friend, I started reading it, and I read the whole thing. 

Reading it felt like opening a time capsule: inhabiting a reality that is no longer mine, a strange world I had almost forgotten. Pregnancy and nursing and colic and postpartum depression and emerging into hope again… I’m not sure how clearly I would remember any of those things, if I hadn’t written these poems while they were happening. 

It’s not just that the poems open a window to then. They temporarily cloak me in then, like a shimmering holographic overlay. Rereading them, I feel grief and joy and most of all compassion and tenderness. For myself, back then. For everyone who’s experiencing those realities now. For all of us, fragile and breakable and strong.

It makes me wonder what it will be like in ten years to reread Crossing the Sea, forthcoming from Phoenicia. Those poems were written as I walked the mourner’s path between my mother’s death and her unveiling. It wasn’t written as systematically as Waiting to Unfold, but both volumes chronicle a kind of metamorphosis.

Rachel Barenblat, And everything in between

It’s been raining on and off for weeks. My back garden is a bog, studded with windfall apples that I need to pick up before the birds, hares and insects hollow them out. I bought a fruit dryer to keep up with them. The kids eat each batch immediately, so there’s no keeping up. With anything, the unmown grass, the fallen leaves, the red pile of apples beneath the tree, the kids and their hunger. 

Last week the scary, big question was ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’. Again. I feel like I did 23 years ago when I finished my last degree. It doesn’t help that my course has set an assignment of basically ‘what’s next?’ in terms of professional development and I don’t have an answer. So I’ve had a fretful couple of weeks of worry and stress and questioning what my priorities are. 

I am unfortunately a Jill of all literary trades, but master of none.

Gerry Stewart, Little Steps Through the Mire

I’m trying to fight a sense of overwhelm at the moment even though it’s all good things that are overwhelming me. Keeping my weekly work commitments going and doing all the reading and cogitating required for my course, which this term is a whistle-stop tour of the English Lit canon (week 3: Virgil & Ovid, Week 4: Chaucer and Dante, etc), plus thinking up a topic for my first essay. Finishing up the updated version of my 2018 ‘Guide’ – see below – I KNOW, why do that now? But there you are, it’s done. And of course the Planet Poetry podcast (see below) about to launch on the apparently auspicious date of October 21. Help!

Robin Houghton, New podcast, plus new updated ‘Guide to getting published in UK poetry mags’

In a normal world with the company of friends (and strangers, and acquaintances), in the normal world of to- and -fro conversations, and chats, and arguments, at some point someone’s bound to say ‘So, what you’re saying is…..’ and you’ll say, ‘no, that’s not it at all; what I’m saying is….’ and so it goes.

In my current world, where we’re now in our eighth month of 99% lockdown, where I’ve been shielding, and then (officially) not shielding, and puzzled to know whether I am, or I should be; when face-to-face conversation is a brief chat over the garden wall to our lovely neighbour who nips up to Lidl for us every few days, or a visit to the surgery or the hospital, gloved and masked, for an injection, or a CT scan or to see a consultant -when the conversation is not-exactly to-and-fro; when this morning I was suddenly impelled to get in the car and just drive for 30 minutes, just to see something slightly different…..

What am I saying? No-one’s said, what are you on about, or jeez…..just get to the point. No-one’s around to keep me on track or up to scratch, and the only feedback I’ll get is that of one of the several versions of me that live in my head, like disgruntled squatters who are clamouring for better conditions, or room service.

The other thing is that the various changes to my programme of meds have come with the advice that side-effects may include low-level anxiety, mild depression, loss of concentration and joint pain. What that actually means in practice is tetchiness, irritability, intolerance and a tendency to swear even more. On Facebook, this manifests itself as a kind of keyboard Tourettes. So bear that in mind as this post progresses.

John Foggin, What am I saying?

As previously mentioned, I recently started a new ‘toon in Stardew Valley in order to redeem myself and actually do the daunting work of rebuilding the town Community Center instead of immediately selling out to the Big Corporation. Well that’s done, and it was all very satisfying and morally uplifting and then I was bored again. So now I am going to make a huge mistake and court Elliot for marriage, because things are too dull and I need some trouble. Elliot is the town “novelist” who lives in a cabin on the beach and has hair that looks exactly like Fabio’s. His hair is pretty much his defining feature. There’s nothing else going on with Elliot. He stands on the shore a lot and stares into space, his thick mane blowing in the wind. And he’s very withholding. I bought him four really nice gifts before I even scored one heart, and when I complained to Mr. Typist about it, he just shrugged and said, “Now you know how guys feel.” Then when I tried to make small talk with Elliot in the town pub, he had the nerve to humble-brag about his hair: “It’s so long and thick that it’s always getting in my eyes. I should just cut it all off.” On top of that, apparently in order to get a proposal, I have to attend one of his book readings. He is poor marriage material and I am on the highway to hell, folks. I’ll keep you posted on how this impending fiasco plays out.

Kristen McHenry, Hair Humble Brag, Bro Nod, Finding My Fall

I’m tired of only being able to embrace my pillow or safely kiss my shadow.

Tired of having to socially distance myself from everyone but my inner-self.

Tired of writing love letters to left-turn-only signs, foolishly believing they’ll turn right around and write me back.

I’m tired of getting late-night drunk dials from a bleak future, and not enough return text messages from optimism.

Tired of reading the online dating profiles of hate speech and a diminishing democracy.

I’m considering dating a lamp post.

Something sleek, sturdy, and can cast some light on our situation when the rest of the world grows dark.

Rich Ferguson, Adventures in Offline Dating

the rings of life are squared 
and weathered here where
the fields posts are sledged edges
barbed wire and the do not enter signs
but of course we do
putting up our own one finger sign
always the squeezing what could have been
into what has been
is 

Jim Young, fence posts

I wake too chilly
at my usual hour
forsake my habit of rising

listen to the nuthatch
and house sparrow
mourning dove croon

give me another minute
beside you in bed
shivering yet shimmering

Ann E. Michael, First frost

Our interactions are small, now. You can hardly see them. And sometimes we disappear. It feels like a lot of the work we’re doing behind our masks isn’t noted. But also, perhaps, it’s there and will be felt long after. It’s moving into the ether the way poetry does.

When it comes to writing a thing, or making a still life, I’m often thinking of the line by the artist Jasper Johns: “Take something. Change it. Change it again.” We’re looking for the poetic possibility, in art and in life. We’re trying some things out, then turning them a few degrees, shifting this here, and then that. We’re adding this and taking out that.

The simplest interactions now are layered with complex meanings, the sediment and swirl of recent and long past encounters. And at the same time our fears are dancing with our hopes, our exhaustion is mingling with our exhilaration, our hardships and our disappointments are anyone’s guess, and it’s all a smoky haze that no one is capturing on celluloid. We want to appear and to disappear, simultaneously. The poetry of the ordinary is muddier and deeper in places. We’re in the shallows at the same time as we are deep in the historical moment. It ain’t easy, being a leaf. It ain’t easy being poetry in a non-fiction town. It ain’t easy being an actor in a movie with no script.

The first step babies, is to show yourself some love.

Shawna Lemay, On Being Seen

standing falling naked without speaking without hearing the whisper

Grant Hackett [no title]