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]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 38

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 digest comes front-loaded with poetry because I feel there’s been a bit of a deficit of actual poems in recent editions. Of course personal essays are always the bread and butter of this series, along with book reviews or appreciations and the occasional literary criticism, but let’s not lose sight of what we’re all about.

Though as the rest of the digest hopefully demonstrates, poets do tend to be pretty damn good at not losing sight of important things—even (or especially) those things that the culture or the state is heavily invested in us not noticing.


There’s a farmhouse at the edge
of a Romanian village, lonely and thick
with shadows as dusk sets in.
People inside are afraid to turn on the lights.
Once in a while, stones fall
from the sky, dent the roof, chip bits
from the eaves. Stones fall, never bigger
than someone’s fist, never hurled
from great distance to burrow
through the roof and kill.

Romana Iorga, The Meadow Is Filled with Stones

At first I think I hear the binder,
wheels beating, turning at the headrow,
but the fields are bare.
Such a beating, a clattering.
More geese searching for a lake
in this land of furrows? Or
the rector in his Wolesely
come to seek me out?

Dick Jones, FLIGHTPATHS – POEMS ABOUT AEROPLANES

I think of my father,
if I’m meeting him

here. This
night-colored wine
wavers between us,
its taste shaped

by so much waiting.

José Angel Araguz, new poems out in the world!

this morning I was finally able to go outside and breathe I stood on the front porch and inhaled the scent of rain soaked forest then I went out to the deck to take that photo of a sugar maple in my yard I opened all the windows in the house put the screens in then drove to the beach there is some stuff going on with my mental health that I am not ready to write about here and so I am stopped from writing anything at all for now last night I dreamed of a giant cabbage and women with weary intelligent eyes and huge dogs I am okay but not okay I will be okay just checking in here to say hello hello

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’m sick of the coronavirus. Sick of wildfires and hurricanes.

Sick of hate-mongers and a derailed America. I’m sick of Twitter tantrums and conspiracy rants.

Sick of days so bleak, it’s like a chapel of black cats is a safer place to pray.

Sick of flossing with barbed wire and counting the newly bloomed flowers along the boulevard of the bereft.

Sick of watching the walls close in, businesses close down, neighbors move out.

Yet despite it all, I still recall those stories written on your skin. All the stories written on my skin.

I still marvel at our shared storylines, all our mysterious twists and turns.

How they held me, how they held me.

Rich Ferguson, Second Thoughts in the First Person

That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.”  It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.

Laura Grace Weldon, Reframing the Story

It was freezing in the winter. I got those Dickens gloves without fingertips. It was sweltering in the summer. I took off all my clothes. It was at that desk that I made [Once he forced a small miracle…] and [Fluid the promise…] and many others. I was in the apartment in July 2018 when Sarabande offered to publish the book.

After a year I moved to an apartment closer to the sea. It too had a desk, but a small and charmless one. I adopted the dining table. I lived alone. I could. In March I left in a hurry for Germany without giving the future much thought. All my things are still scattered across that table with no one to touch them.

I’ve been back with my family in Germany through the spring and summer. It’s greener here. I speak the language.

I took the day off as a gift to myself for writing a book.

Sarah J. Sloat, Hotel Almighty

I’ve brought the angel wing into the house now that the temperatures have dropped below 15C. The perennials are dying. Or going dormant.

The honeysuckle has twined its way far fast the trellis I put up in May. It’s choking the thuja, but blooming with such a fragrance that I can’t bring myself to cut it back.

I do have hope. There’s the winter to read, and to learn. And there is something to be said for learning one’s place in the making of things.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

INTERPRETIVE TRANSLATION OF TALMUDIC TEXTS. Gratefulness.org

There is a personal grief in private failures, in every missed deadline – every lost hour.

Ren Powell, Cultivating My Mind

She walked until                                 she couldn’t
identify a single species of tree

to learn anew
                                         which one yielded edible berries
if Pandanus bore flowers
in the rosette                               of spiked leaves

Uma Gowrishankar, the flower discovers the poet

They are cutting down the pine tree on the corner. It was maybe 80’ tall and almost three feet in diameter, perfectly healthy, an old tree full of years. And now it’s mostly wood chips. Today, for the first time in weeks, the sky is blue, and there is more of it than before. I walk past, grieving.

air quality index
counting the trees
we have left

Dylan Tweney [no title]

In a time of grief and gravity and gratitude for some wonderfully-lived lives, I happen to find myself reading Mark Doty’s book What Is the Grass? Walt Whitman in My Life.

And I find this paragraph; and for now, I need add nothing more.

The dead are not lost, but in circulation; they are involved in the present, in active participation. Bits of them are streaming through your hand and mine, just as language is circulating through us. Lexicon and materiality forever move onward and outward in the continuous wheeling expansion this world is. This is no mere philosophical proposition on Whitman’s part, not an intellectual understanding but a felt actuality. We are alive forever in the endless circulation of matter. Nothing luckier, stranger, or more beautiful could ever happen. There is no better place.

Ann E. Michael, No better place

What is a love poem in the underworld, in the light, in that worst of all place in between? I orca between them, or crawl. Liminal. What if the beauty is only that.

In my kitchen, a love poem to the vixen by Adrienne Rich. For a human animal to call for help on another animal is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth, she says while I drink my coffee all sharp and soft.

When covid was killing me, I ate oranges two, three at a time. How my body demanded them, sure they would save me: how I scraped their peels with my teeth for even pulp. How I wished I could get them all the way inside my lungs, rub the dying walls with their acid light. Convinced. If I could just—

Corona: a halo of light, hallucinatory and orange. Too late now for arrhythmic heart, a thing that actually happened. Too late for sacred marriage, also a thing that actually happened. What the body remembers is joy: that part was real, and while some is better than none, all is what is required—and so it was immolated. A fever dream, teethmarks in pulp and bone on waking: the body remembers that salmon colored haze is where this all began. In fire, and cilia burned away. If I could just—
Just—
Even corona extinguished, only the carving is left

JJS, Covid-19 and Other Deaths: The Descent

Before Tisha b’Av, I gathered a group of liturgists to collaborate on a project that became Megillat Covid, Lamentations for this time of covid-19.

In recent weeks we’ve gathered again — in slightly different configuration — to build something new for this pandemic season: a set of prayer-poems for Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which we’ve titled Ushpizin. That’s the Aramaic word for guests, usually used to refer to the practice of inviting ancestral / supernal guests like Abraham and Sarah into our Sukkah… though this year, what does it mean to invite Biblical guests when many of us don’t feel safe inviting in-person guests? That’s the question that gave rise to the project.

The prayers / poems that we wrote arose out of that question and more. What does it mean to find safety in a sketch of a dwelling in this pandemic year? With what, or whom, are we “sitting” when we sit in our sukkot this year? What about those of us who can’t build this year at all? And what can our Simchat Torah be if we are sheltering-in-place, or if our shul buildings are closed, or if we are not gathering in person with others? 

Rachel Barenblat, Liturgy for Sukkot in times of covid-19

To the best of my knowledge, Ellen Bass does not identify herself as a religious poet, or as having any personal belief in God. What I love about this poem is the way that she has kept that worldview out of the picture as it were and created a universe in which it is possible to imagine a being (Anne Lamott says if you can’t cope with the word ‘God’, try David Byrne, the name of your favourite pet, or the word Phil) who is sentient, suffers, and therefore goes through grief like the rest of us, its ‘heart huge as a gray whale’. As I enter a new stage of grieving, this is the kind of god/God I want to believe in. That Ellen Bass has outstripped her unbelief and created this space in which it is possible to spend time believing, if only briefly, is something I am grateful for this morning.

Anthony Wilson, God’s Grief

cut out the dead herb growing spirals inside your chest
inside the sour plum, find a seed with the initials of god

see how the mouth hungers for the unwritten century
collect, if you can, the honey left by ants on the road

in the morning, run and unfasten the gate to the sea
keep the first feather that brushes against your throat

Luisa A. Igloria, resetas (1)

It has been a labor of love to walk this one into the world. There are poems gathered here that were composed years ago in sweeter times – and others written through days more heartbreaking and challenging.  Initially, I envisioned this collection to be one of grief and bereavement.  What else could it be after the sudden death of a husband?  In fact, when I first organized the manuscript under that tarp, it was titled Clutter & Scree – the things left behind, the rubble that proves difficult in which to establish firm footing.  The poems then were largely too fresh, too close, too raw, and at a time I simply needed the motion and process of writing as one might need a trekking pole on a hike.

The manuscript as such did not initially get picked up.  So, I pulled it apart, blue-taped the poems on the walls of an empty room at home, and spent a winter subtracting, adding, writing, revising, and organizing what would become Curating the House of Nostalgia.  I aimed for better balance between between the two titles.  The collection shifted from straight sorrow to envelop the beauty that ultimately embraces and occasionally overshadows heartache in one way or another, often in small ways.  With each day comes night.  What else could this manuscript be from a northern woman poet who refuses to claim the word widow?  This shift was especially important as my now 14-year-old daughter and I continue to move forward in ways that are hopefully both spirited and healthy.

Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia

I recently ordered a 2021 calendar–I favor a portable Moleskine number–but, with heavy-handed symbolism, the order keeps being delayed. I’m a planner by temperament and I SO wish I could anticipate my future doings again. Not possible. It’s all clouds.

For the near term, all a calendar-minded person can do is brainstorm short-term ways to mark the passage of time, because around here, the cooling air and spots of yellow at the tops of trees strongly imply that the fall equinox is near. I keep daily work rhythms, even on sabbatical. On Saturdays, we take walks somewhere outside of this small town, hiking in the woods if we can. I’m applying for writing-related opportunities that might bear fruit next spring or summer. Other people are desperately trying to layer multiple workdays on top of each other right now–work, homeschooling, other responsibilities–so feeling lost in blurry weeks means I’m getting off easy, but to a surprising degree, it’s still a stressor.

Here’s a small anniversary: my fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, was published on March 17th, 2020, so if it were a baby, it would be a chubby little person rocking forward onto its hands and trying to figure out locomotion. I bought it flowers and arranged a photo shoot to celebrate the occasion. It actually IS a book about time, among other subjects–the history of my region but also the approach and arrival of my 50th birthday, an event that I could watch descending like Wile E. Coyote awaiting the anvil. Processing age and change, I wrote many poems that reference the dreaded number explicitly (as in “Fifty-Fifty”) or use 50 as a formal constraint: poems of 50 syllables, 50 words, 50 lines, and more. I’m sure much of that formal play is invisible. It worked, though. Attacking a number every which way gave me some control over its meaning. I wonder if I could do some version of that by writing poems about 2021? I refuse to give 2020 that honor.

Lesley Wheeler, 6 month birthday for THE STATE SHE’S IN (time does not exist)

I’ve been trying to take things a little slower lately. Maybe it’s the shortening days, maybe it’s a hangover from lockdown when life slowed almost to a standstill and I was actually able to notice the small things for the first time in ages. As I write this, there’s a wasp crawling up the pane of the patio door. It does this busily, zithering about (zithering, if I remember rightly, is a word I picked up from Jacob Polley’s Jackself – he uses it to describe greyhounds I think, but it suits wasps equally well). Of course, the wasp is trying to find an exit, in order to survive. Everything it needs is out there, beyond the glass, easy to see, hard to reach. If the wasp slowed down a bit, it might realise how close it is to freedom. As it is, it continues to buzz frantically, getting nowhere. Eventually it will burn out and drop to the floor exhausted.

Okay, I’m not the wasp. Not exactly. But I know that feeling of trying too hard to get to something that seems close, tangible, achievable, having to work like fury to get there. Poems that come out of that state of mind generally don’t please me, and neither does the process of creating them. I’m not saying that I now intend to sit about and do nothing in the hope that poems arrive unbidden. Most likely they won’t. But I have promised myself I won’t be so anxious about ‘doing’ things and overloading myself. Hence the photograph above. We spent Sunday picking blackberries to make some wine. I had a hundred other things I needed to do but I gave myself over to picking this humble fruit. It was slow work, but the sun was out and the fruit was ripe and I felt like I was doing something important. The blog didn’t get done on Sunday because of this. It didn’t get done yesterday because I had a heavy day at work. I’m writing it today because I feel like it. This is as it should be.

Julie Mellor, Blackberry moon

I’ve recently took a little inventory of new projects and while this year has been a doozy on all other fronts, and while I was paralyzed a bit when it came to writing and creating through the spring, there is still quite a bit of work to show for the summer months–the overlook poems, the tabloid pieces, the bloom project, and now, my series of plague letters.  While visual art feels a little bit harder to settle in with (mostly due to time constraints) I am enjoying the video projects. On the whole, a productive season as we settle into fall.  I have a few more epistolaries and then I’m not sure where to go next, but we’ll see what I’m in the mood for.  I have a notebook full of projects and ideas that are ripe for the picking.

Today, warmer weather, but it’s supposed to get colder by the end of the week. There has also been strange milky white skies from the smoke in the west way high in the atmosphere.  People are dying and the worlds on fire, so it seems hard to exist sometimes. To person sometimes. I’ve been busy, so less for the doomscrolling now that the semester has started and my days are full with reserves and ILL.  I spent the weekend in Rockford, which at least granted some outdoor campfire s’more activity in a summer that has barely been a summer.  As always, I most like coming home. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/15/2020

This week was so stressful, among other things, I broke a tooth in my sleep. My regular dentist couldn’t get me in because three other patients had done the same thing that day. Hoping to get it fixed on Monday, but of course every dental trip brings anxiety because of Covid risk. […]

The enforced enclosure of the terrible smoke did result in one good thing – I got to catch up on my reading. Besides reading Joan Didion with my mom (this month: The Book of Common Prayer), I finally read the wonderful third book from January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding. (Pictured to the left: Sylvia loved my “fall mood” table so much that she came and put her paws directly on January’s book! She really does love to cuddle a poetry book!)

This book addresses the natural process of rewilding – what happens when we leave a field or a stream alone for a while – and the dissolving and building of bonds between family members during a divorce. January’s language is clear and straightforward, but lovely, in this collection that will move you and make you rethink your own search for your rewilding self.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Field Guide Book Giveaway Winner, a Heck of a Week: Broken Teeth, Birds in Smoke, and Saying Goodbye to RBG, Poetry Reading Corner – Rewilding

A rare glimpse of an owl hunting in the park. I imagine a field mouse running for its life. Watching, I feel so hollow. I am a steel tube. Something is missing inside of me. Empty. What? The owl rises back up from the field, flapping hard. She has something in her claw, but I can’t tell what it is. A slow mouse, perhaps. She lands high up in one the tall pines to eat in privacy.

James Lee Jobe, No, you fool, it’s only the moon.

“And there you are – happened a few minutes ago.” In a sense, this is the retrospective acknowledgement that a subjectivity—you—has been constituted by this text, and that someone is now looking back upon and narrating you’re having happened here. And now, this “voice” is proceeding to weave you into its own material, which is sutured to the cosmic and the violently technological. That is, “you” exist here as subject in a process of analysis, subdivision, transduction, routing and relay, etc. As reader, you are partly subjected: an operation is happening here, and it is not immediately clear what it intends.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part III

why do i re-read this?

is that turned corner stuck in my craw?

are the words vesiculating

in your / my / that heart?

so many question marks that

i have to re-read it again and again 

that turned down corner

stuck in this my crowing

Jim Young, why do i re-read this?

Readers who think they can see what a poem’s “about” (who can paraphrase) have a foundation to help appreciate the poem. It probably means that the poem has some cohesion, which also aids conventional understanding. It may only be a prop to be discarded after use, but there’s no harm offering a helping hand to readers, is there?

If a collection has aboutness (e.g. a theme or two), the themes can provide the narrative for a review, which helps both poet and reviewer. It makes commercial sense for the back cover to say what the collection is “about” even if a minority of the poems match the description. If the poet’s autobiography matches the theme, so much the better.

But “aboutness” isn’t univerally popular. I’ve heard poets say of a poem of theirs that “If I knew what it’s about I wouldn’t have written it.” I rather like trying to discover what a poem is “about”, which is perhaps why I’m not so keen on single-theme autobiographical collections. I like trying to work out how a poem achieves its effect, which leads to psychology and market awareness more than soul-baring. Even if a poem doesn’t work for me, I’m interested in how might it work for others.

Tim Love, Aboutness

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Harecan be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Matthew Stewart, The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery’s First Hare

I was also very pleased to discover the work of Jamie Baxter as a result of Matthew Stewart’s (him, again, FFS!!!) success this week with placing a poem in The Spectator.

I urge you to seek out this poem by Jamie. I am going to dig into his poems as soon as I find some more. I understand he’s not got a pamphlet or book out yet, but I hope this is resolved soon.

And to go and get a copy of The Spectator to see Matthew’s poem. I know there are many things wrong with The Speccie (not least that they continue to give Rod Liddle, T*by Y*ung and James Delingpole opportunities to peddle their racist, shortsighted shite*). However, it does feel like this is a shift into a different world for Matthew’s work. I am sure that Hugo Williams has a very different editorial approach.

The idea of being published in poetry journals and websites, etc is, of course, an absolute dream. He’s been published in a great many of the “biggies” and, still, of course, it’s important to try to get into them. I certainly won’t give up, but when you’re being published in places where the opportunities to be seen and read by folks that may not normally read poetry are increased is a massive achievement, and for that I applaud the lad.

*Please note that I know Matthew does not share the views of that particular bunch of shithouses.

Mat Riches, Echo Location

Lately I’ve been feeling some sadness about the cool classes that I used to teach, about all the classes that I will likely never teach again.  Of course, I’m remembering the fun parts, the actual teaching, not the endless grading.

Part of my sadness is triggered by finding some old teaching materials when I cleaned out some boxes, materials from almost 20 years ago now, back when I was first teaching creative writing.  I cut out all sorts of pictures of humans from magazines, mainly from ads.  Each student took a picture from the envelope–some terms I let them look at the pictures, while in others it was done blind.  Then I asked a series of questions to help people think about the picture as a character.  Then I walked them through the character’s deepest desires in a way to help them think about plot.

I kept the pictures because I thought I might want to do the exercise some day–but I’ve never had any trouble creating characters.  Plus, there was always the chance I might teach creative writing again.

I also had a huge interoffice mail envelope full of words that I used for a sestina exercise.  First we read a sestina and tried to ascertain the pattern.  Then I had them choose six words and put them in the end of each line in the correct order.  Then I gave them some writing time to see what happened.  Did we create brilliant sestinas?  Rarely.  But it was great fun.

I realize that even if I had gotten the kind of teaching job where I used these teaching materials all the time, I still might arrive at a time when I needed to decide whether or not to keep them.  Sandra Beasley has a poignant blog post about the closing of an MFA program, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of lots of program closures of all kinds. 

My grief is not that kind of sharp grief, but more the mid-life kind, the kind where I stumble across an artifact and think about where I thought I was headed and where I am right now.  I realize it’s not where I’ve ended up–that could still change, although many of my options look a bit less bright now than they once did.  But finding those artifacts is like getting a letter from my past self, in a way.  What would my future self observe?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letters as Teaching Ideas, Artifacts as Letters

My devotion might have been particularly acute because I had nowhere else where I taught on a regular basis. Tampa will always be where I developed my workshop style: bright, performative, probably reading- and vocabulary-heavy, hopefully with a lot of laughter to ease the rigor. Tampa is where I developed my first dozen go-to hourlong lectures, which I’ll carry with me for the rest of my teaching career. Tampa is where I discovered what I’m most gifted at (line edits) and what I spend way too much time on (line edits). Tampa is where I had the time to form lasting mentorships with students, often seeded by the solidarity of shared identities or reference points. 

Tampa is where, ironically, I learned these mentorships were not limited by geography. I took student work with me to Cyprus, to Kansas, to Ireland. I conferenced with a student on my wedding day, while someone fussed with the back-closure of my dress. I conferenced with a student while I was hunkered down on the floor of my SW DC apartment with my dying cat. 

Students, you have been so, so kind and patient with me, and you trusted me with such valuable material of life and art. I’ll never forget that. 

On the scale of 2020 losses, this is bearable. I’ve already heard from teachers delighted by the UT transfer students landing in their respective low-res MFA programs. I have every faith that they’ll thrive. I’m fortunate to have a final two talented students, both of whom I taught in earlier semesters, with whom I’ll get the satisfaction of shaping thesis manuscript–one last poetry collection, one last nonfiction work.

That said, I wish we’d gotten a proper send-off. When we met in January of this year, though there was open concern, there was also a resolve to rally and recruit. By February, the program had been shut down via an e-mail. In March, all of our AWP gatherings were cancelled. The June residency moved to Zoom because of COVID-19. I suspect the January 2021 capstone events for our last round of graduates will also be online or, even if there is an in-person component, it will feel risky for our scattered (former) faculty to fly in for the festivities. We deserved one more dance party. 

Sandra Beasley, “The End of an MFA”

Much has been written about meetings by Zoom, Google Meet and the lamentable MS Teams. In general terms, I can only add that online work meetings have been more focused and more courteous, with much less interruption and talking over one another. For poetry, it’s been a boon, of course, enabling launches and readings to be attended from anywhere in the world, and Leicester. Not that I’ve been to that many – work’s been so full-on that frequently the last thing I’ve wanted to do of an evening is continue to stare at a screen. There have been some memorable events, though, chief among them Happenstance readings/webinars involving Alan Buckley and Charlotte Gann, in support of their respective brilliant recent collections. It isn’t the same as being there in person, naturally, because you can’t go and talk to the poets after and get them to sign copies of their books, or natter to other poet friends.

Write Out Loud Woking, hosted by the estimable double act of Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, has seamlessly gravitated from the cafe in The Lightbox to Zoom, enabling guest readers from far afield to join in the fun, welcoming and diverse proceedings. I’ve tried out five or six new poems in those Zoom readings, which has been very helpful for hearing where the poems catch and need tweaking. More to the point, it’s been lovely to see all the regulars, like Karen Izod, Heather Moulson, Ray Pool and Greg and Rodney themselves.

The Red Door Poets have also moved to Zoom and at a time of day more conducive to my occasional attendance. I’ve also attended a few Poetry Business virtual residential weekends and one-off workshops, all of which were as inspiring as if they were in-person.

Heading towards the last session of this current, 2019–2021, Poetry Business Writing School programme, I’ve been grouped with Jim Caruth and Philip Rush, two poets whose distinctively personal poetries are right up my street. So far, we’ve had two very enjoyable Zoom sessions, comparing notes on various poets’ poems and workshopping our own, with another session due soon, shortly before the final Zoom session with Ann and Peter Sansom and the other participants. The plan is still, I think, that, Covid restrictions permitting, there will be an end-of-programme celebration next February or so at the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. I know from last time how exciting a prospect that is.

Matthew Paul, The last six months

I’ve been thinking, as I often do, about how both photography and writing are on many levels about waiting, the discipline of waiting. Someone last week on Twitter wrote that hope is a discipline. And I was thinking about how photography, and writing, but maybe more tangibly, photography is about hope. Photography is about waiting and hoping that the light will be interesting or workable or better yet, magical. Photography is about that hope that our seeing and our skills will converge with a lucky or split second, with a sweet moment of light or an essence or quality of the day that is surprising or at the very least lovely.

A book I’ve been dipping in and out of for months is Blind Spot by Teju Cole. I highly recommend it for those interested in photography, writing, noticing, being alive, alert.

The intro to the book is by another writer I admire, Siri Hustvedt. In it she says, “The camera’s eye is not the human eye. The camera takes in everything inside its frame. We do not. Human beings have poor peripheral vision. Details vanish because we cannot focus on everything at once. Sequences blur.” Because I do a lot of my seeing with a camera, I often see things at least twice. Anyone who processes their photos in Lightroom or another program, is looking at what they’ve shot in a way that is not our usual way of looking. And so that in turn affects future seeing, looking, noticing. Am I any better at seeing the world than anyone else? I doubt it. But the discipline of pursuing an image I’m interested in seeing in a digital form has taught me a few things. Well, obviously, the discipline itself is a thing.

I’ve learned that sometimes we see what we’re not seeing. We know, somehow, that those things at the outside edge of our peripheral vision are there. The camera has trained me to trust in what lies beyond the focal point. Anyway, the book is great because it’s an amazing example of how we process what we see, what’s in the frame, what’s just out of it, and then all those other things we bring to an image, things from way beyond it. We process a lot more than we think we do. But it’s good to sit with things, process how we’re processing, to allow ourselves tangents, peripheral thoughts, precision but also blur, quirkiness and the obvious, not to mention the ordinary and the odd, expansiveness and detail.

Shawna Lemay, Waiting is a Discipline

As news of Ginsberg’s death moved swiftly on Friday, I saw a slew of reactions along lines I’ve come to expect in the aftermath of any perceived political threat: “Of course they can’t fill her seat until we have a new President!” (Yes, they can, if enough Republican senators toe the party line, which they have done unfailingly for the past nearly four years.) “Now we really have to get out the vote!” (Sure, of course, but with respect to the question of the Supreme Court in general and Ginsberg’s seat in particular, that ship really left the dock in 2016.) Inspirational memes about coming back to fight another day. (Without any acknowledgement of how unfair the fight is, or how the unwritten but fundamental rules of engagement have changed, or how losing this fight might make future fights almost impossible to win.)

Initially these responses filled me with frustration because they remind me of 2016 me and because I cannot understand how anyone paying real attention now can think any of those responses are grounded in reality. Later, they filled me with sadness because that is just where a lot of people are, and it’s how they hang onto hope, and I have to accept that reality, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that hope is crucial and that we are truly doomed if we all lose it, but it needs to be a critical hope. Our hope needs to be grounded in what is actually true right now today, not in what used to be true or what we wish or believe to be true–which means facing and feeling our sorrow and fear rather than pushing them away with half-truths that make us feel better. We need to accept the contradictory truths that things are terrible and that hope is reasonable so that we will take actions that might actually make a damn difference in our fight to make a better world, one in which we can all live and work without threat of death and raise children who believe they can make good lives for themselves on the soil from which they sprang.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Testing, testing

The universe is
a pair of angel
wings. I have seen them.

The angel itself
is dark matter, of
course, which I have not
seen. See dark matter?

Don’t be silly.

If you could see dark
matter, you couldn’t
hope to see the wings.

Tom Montag, THE UNIVERSE IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 36

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 brought the beginning of meteorological autumn for many of us, as well as a full moon and the usual insanity in the news. Reading the poetry blogs, I’m finding it harder and harder to distinguish mourning from celebration. Perhaps we are all slowly learning what Rita Ott Ramstad calls “radical acceptance of the world we are living in now.”


end of summer…
cobwebs tie the trowel
to the shelf

Bill Waters, End of summer

Some people spent months planning their Sealey Challenge–in fact, that’s how I found out about it, by people posting photos of their stacks of books that were ready for August.  I did worry that I wouldn’t have enough to read, since many of my books are still packed away.  Happily, I can still get books from the public library, although the process is much more laborious.  

I did a short post each day, giving a micro review of each book.  Here’s an example:  “The Sealey Challenge, Day 29: Richard Blanco’s “How to Love a Country.” We are all exiles now, longing for a country that may never love us back. Or will it? Blanco says, “to know a country takes all we know of love” (p. 70), and sometimes we’re rewarded. Moving poems exploring the terrain of exile and immigration and love of all sorts.”

I also posted a photo of each book, a photo which said something about the book.  This process took on a life of its own–I’ll write a separate blog post about that process later on this week.

So what did I learn?  The most important thing:  I have more time than I think that I do.  It’s not a new lesson for me, but it’s important to revisit it periodically.  I realized how much time I usually spend in somewhat mindless scrolling and internet zipping.  Why is it so hard for me to avoid those traps?

I also learned that my poetry stands up against the poetry I’ve been reading.  I’ve got some manuscripts which are publishable.  I didn’t really have doubts, but it’s interesting to read a lot of recently published work and to see how my manuscript would fit in.

I chose to read only female writers and the male writers that I included were people of color. I’ve spent plenty of time reading white male writers.  Most of the authors I chose were familiar to me, in part because I didn’t spend the month of July planning to explore new authors.  But I was happy with my choices.  Even when I read books I had already read, it was a treat to revisit them.

For the most part, I read each book in one fell swoop.  Most of them took me about an hour of concentrated reading.  I often planned to pick up the book when I wasn’t likely to be interrupted.  It wasn’t the kind of deep reading I might ordinarily do, but it was rewarding in itself.

I learned that the perfect page # for a book of poems is 65-80 pages.  I read a few volumes that were over 120 pages–that’s a bit too much for most readers to sustain the focus.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, What I Learned from the Sealey Challenge

This crazy August, when no one could concentrate on anything, turned out to be the very first time I completed The Sealey Challenge, instituted by Nicole Sealey in 2017. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to be so diligent again. I’m on sabbatical right now, and in other years August can feel frantic. My annual poetry binge is typically In December and January, when I slow down and look around for the books that have been gathering buzz.

But I’ve learned some from trying. The most important result was just getting acquainted with some fabulous work. Like a lot of people, I put Sealey’s own Ordinary Beast on my August reading list, and it’s amazing–it’s a crime against poetry that I hadn’t read it before. There are several other terrific poets on the list below whose work I hadn’t read in book form yet, including Tiana Clark, Rosebud Ben-Oni, and first-book author Leila Chatti whose urgent Deluge I still can’t get out of my head. (I chose it, by the way, because it kept popping up in other Challenge posts–another benefit of the project–and the same thing happened with today’s pick from John Murillo, also a knockout.) Mostly I had no fixed idea about which book I’d pick up next, although I began with Kyrie because it’s about the 1918 pandemic. Other reasons for reading: I looked for recent collections by Shenandoah authors like Jessica Guzman and Armen Davoudian, although I’ve by no means snagged them all, and I caught up with authors whose books I always look for, out of fandom and friendship. I did purchase some books some at the beginning of the month, in part because I would have anyway but also to make sure my list would be inclusive in various ways. I wasn’t enough of a planner to be fully stocked in advance for 31 entries, but there was something felicitous about that. I dug into some pretty dusty to-be-read piles; grabbed poetry comics and image-texts from my spouse’s collection (those books by Eve Ewing and Jessy Randall are amazing!); and downloaded a few free digital chapbooks. I liked how this resulted in in unexpected diversities in style and medium. I found books I’ll teach in future and others I’ll give as gifts. Others I’m just really glad to know about and to help celebrate.

It WAS hard to keep up the pace, though. I devoured books at the start of the month, often reading over breakfast or lunch (I take actual lunch breaks on the porch now–it’s the bomb). I wisely began reading at the end of July to give myself a head-start and likewise worked ahead before the middle weekend of August, when I had an intense 48-hour virtual conference. Sometimes, though, when my own writing was going gangbusters, I’d delay the book of the day until late afternoon or evening, and then I just didn’t feel excited to read something challenging–although I never regretted it once I got going. At this point, I’m a little fried, so there’s no way I’ll manage many entries under the #septwomenpoets hashtag. […]

A last word on my cheat book of the month (lyric essays by a poet, so it’s Sealey Challenge adjacent!). I strongly recommend the brand-new World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. The subtitle is “In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” and it’s definitely eco-writing with a deep investment in and fascination with the more-than-human world. I’m most in love, though, with how the essays interweave research with compelling personal stories about moving around as a child and young adult, often feeling out of place as the only brown person in her mostly-white classes, until she found a sense of belonging in Mississippi. This book is often joyous and funny, but predation is a recurrent theme, and that spoke to me. I think it would teach beautifully–I admire its craft–but I also just really appreciated how it urges readers to care. In an unexpected way, it resonated with the Tiana Clark collection I’d read the day before, I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood: both of those authors eloquently argue that environmental justice should be inseparable from social justice, both in literature and in the world.

Lesley Wheeler, Wonders, discoveries, & #thesealeychallenge2020

What a month, what a challenge, and what a joy: to read a book of poems a day in August. Here they are! [Click through for photo.] A big thank you to poet Nicole Sealey, who dreamed up this challenge to make sure people made time to read poetry! I’m glad to have made the time, and it was fascinating to see the connections I felt to the poems and poets, and the connections between the poems in the books. 

Today I met again fire, tornado, television, and elegy in Fimbul-Winter, by Debra Allbery (Four Way Books, 2020). Holy moly, do I know how to pick them or what? I put this one on the pile back in the super-hot days, thinking winter images might give me a little relief from the heat. But the weather changed, and it’s gorgeous. And now I realized I’ve ended with Fimbul-Winter, aka Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology, “the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world and puts an end to all life on Earth.” Just what we need.*

This was a cold book. It wasn’t always winter in the book, but it always felt cold–and mysterious and haunted. “Chronic Town” describes “that icebound city” where:

     In the library, the homeless slept upright
     at long tables, gripping their open books.”

Of course, I watched some short training videos at work today on the homeless in the library. I worry about them this winter, if libraries have to close again, or have severely limited hours due to Covid. A Fimbulvetr, indeed.

Kathleen Kirk, Sealey Challenge, Day 31

A hot night. Silence,
the dogs won’t bark, not even
at a daring cat.

The wind’s tongue softens
the streets, dries kissed lips or tears,
things keep happening

while we try to fall
asleep for the next day’s sake.
But at night we hear

all the world at once.

Magda Kapa, August 2020

Our household of four is gathering its belongings together to make new plans in the Covid19 world. We can’t really say post-covid yet, can we, since the virus is still circulating? I am writing less poetry and more prose, writing and typing, one word at at a time. As I loop ink around printed out drafts, my family circulates around me, less hostile than an infectious virus. […]

In August we’ve visited places near to us in outside settings. A trail around a mostly tourist-free Bath visiting some of Jane Austen’s old haunts. Clifftop strolls in Clevedon on the Severn estuary. Walks around Figsbury Ring including a flight on a tree-swing.

We’ve grown pears, roses, courgettes, potatoes, herbs and an avocado plant.

My hair has grown. A lot!

And I’ve been to Mass, twice. I’ve found a quieter, less busy time – not a Sunday Mass and not a full service – twenty-five minutes which is the longest time, so far, I’ve spent in a mask. Forgive me but I so enjoy not speaking much to anyone and focusing on the readings, the language, my own thoughts and prayers.

Josephine Corcoran, August Postcards

Just to make sure I didn’t go in, they padlocked my workplace but that didn’t stop me working full time, more or less. I’ve been cycling around to avoid cabin fever. I started taking photos of village signs, ending up doing trips just to take photos. Some of the signs have stories behind them, with Saturn V rockets, radio telescopes and DNA featuring among the more common windmills, ponds, Romans and Vikings.

I’ve seen parts of the area I should have visited long ago. […] And at last I’ve visited Aldeburgh. I found the shell sculpture that I’ve seen many photos of. I’ve still not attended the poetry festival. My writing hasn’t suffered though the mood has narrowed. When I’ve had little bursts of creativity I’ve been free to take immediate advantage of them. I’ve radically rewritten some old pieces, merging them when I can. I thought I’d get more acceptances than I’ve actually received. I expected to do more reading. I’m still working through my book list. I’ve belatedly discovered audio books.

Tim Love, What I did during lockdown

there’s a half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
in the cooling of a warm breeze
of a september afternoon in a
garden forgetting the time of year
for how can the cat roll on the warmth
of a day like any other summer day
except for half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
not for the fat spider eggshell colour
spinning the caught day
under the garden table or
the grass cut short and still
some runner beans on the pole or
some tomatoes in their salad sun
and apples falling with the pears
the daisies yellow red and yellow or
the sedum lunching with the bees

Jim Young, stay – don’t go

The grief isn’t just about schools and teaching. It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s all of it, the whole big ball of change and instability.

Friday night I watched a pre-2010 romcom, something I’ve been doing throughout this summer. These movies fill me with nostalgia for a pre-smartphone world. They fill me with nostalgia for a time when I took for granted things I didn’t even know I had, that I now know the contours of through the spaces made by their absence. I see many of those things in the subtext of these movies that are silly and unrealistic and fun and oblivious to so many, many things. (They are a lot like pre-2010 me.)

I watch them to escape. I watch them also to ground myself in what’s real now. I watch the beautiful (almost always white) actors and actresses (can we still use “actress”? probably not) who were born in the same decade I was dance their way through familiar cinematic choreography, and, in the cases when something in the plot hinges on communication that is not face-to-face, send an email or whip out a flip-phone and talk, and I cannot pretend that we are not now living in a fundamentally different time. The things that were so vitally important to them! The sources of their anguish! While watching, I usually Google the cast of the movie so I can see what they look like now. They almost all look old now in the ways I do, their beauty fading or faded. (My god, we were so beautiful! Why can’t we see, when we are young, how beautiful we are?) On my phone I see the physical manifestation of time passed, which grounds me in the truth that the era in which those movies were made and made sense is not the one in which I’m currently living.

I think the romcoms are part of my attempt to embrace radical acceptance. The opposite of radical acceptance is denial, and that’s a road I’ve followed to far more poor life choices than I’d like to admit.

Radical acceptance of the world we’re living in now is painful, but not as painful as it is to fight the world as though we’re still living in the one we once had (or thought we did).

Radical acceptance is bringing me a kind of peace and calm I’ve never experienced before.

Peace and calm does not mean I’m OK. It does not mean I’m happy. It does not mean I am without pain. (It comes with pain, but the right kind.)

It does mean I am no longer beating my head against walls that will not be moved by my brain splatter.

Radical acceptance might look like defeat, but I’m finding it brings a different kind of power that is keeping me in the fight.

On the last day of the first week of my return to school/work, I didn’t cry once. This felt like progress. Educator friends and I posted funnynotfunny comments on FB about using crying as a metric in setting our annual professional goals.

This is how we are going to get through. Community. Empathy. Humor. Truth-telling. It’s how people have always gotten through hard times, though some of us have lived such fortunate lives thus far that we haven’t had to learn that until now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Complex radical something, in simple terms

The movie was long, engrossed me for three hours as she

shed her youth, beauty and became the old woman I knew
in the kitchen, living in the interspace of desire and memory.

She rolled the rosary and recounted stories late into the nights
her body a begging bowl that refused to ask for a day more.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Fine Art of Aging

Or tragic like Williams himself in old age beginning Book Six, typing out fragments and notes even though he was half-paralyzed by stroke — still taking upon himself the task of wrangling with language: “Words are the burden of poems, poems are made of words” (243).  Thinking of the actual effects of his prescribed medication, he writes in Book Six, “Dance, dance! loosen your limbs from that art which holds you faster than the drugs which hold you faster — dandelion on my bedroom wall” (244).  […]

So Williams dies and only then is there an end to Paterson.  But even this statement is provisional in a way.  The unfinished character of the Book Six notes creates the appearance that the poem is moving ever on, as if it is still being worked on in the very moment.  It is stopped, or suspended, in an instant of continuation (like a line enjambed, but with nothing following) — in the midst of the dance and then someone presses pause, and

Michael S. Begnal, On WCW’s Paterson, Book Six

free fall

really, even going parallel to the ground

shrinking, no one there to see the bone loss,
the frothing tears, to throw a towel over it
must be rabies and stomp the misery out

JJS, echolocation

I followed your dither through the maximum amount of Christs and a small helplessness to see how things looked after the dustup my day-glo dress yielded a razor and a couple on a sidewalk near a pub in Chicago 1947 held hands she hummed he frantically searched his pockets there were holes in the wall of his belly I insisted beyond names until the day we woke the rats and elk in the clearing startled up their flanky desire

Rebecca Loudon, All the Montanas live in me

This body is new to me.

Sometimes it is like greeting a former lover who’s been around the world, and come back smelling of strange perfume, touching you with unfamiliar gestures. There’s a slight inflection when she says your name, and you think it might be an affectation. You hope it is an affectation.

“Just knock it off, will you?”

And you wonder if you ever really knew her at all.

This week I’ve been soft with myself. Trying to will the muscles to ease in my neck and upper back. Trying not to berate myself for not having more strength, more resilience – more sense from sensation.

But my hand fell across my stomach last night.
Just as I was falling asleep.
And I thought, “So soft.”

And I exhaled
and I thought, “So beautiful”.
“This thing that moves me through the world.”
“Through this life.”

And there wasn’t a qualification of any kind.

And I wonder if I’ve ever known my own body intimately
before that moment.

Ren Powell, Before the Kiss

I am a history
of small   planes 
revving
          toward the edge
of an airport field

                    then stopping short
before a mountain gorge

Yellow flares
                appear
in the darkness
                signaling return—  

Someone waving flags
curling in the shapes of fortune
teller fish

Luisa A. Igloria, I Wish We Could be Happy for a While

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
[…]

Given the time of coronavirus and covid-19, “a time to refrain from embracing” seems apt, and a little painful to contemplate. For me and my beloveds, a time has come in which to mourn and weep, and to embrace, because everything (and every one among us) must reach a time to die. The sweet-natured, intelligent man who took us to a Pete Seeger concert when we were children and told us where to find the lyrics in Ecclesiastes, among many other things, has moved from physical existence to existence in our consciousness–the strange loop of human “being” that none of us understands.

He would have called it soul.

Ann E. Michael, Turn, turn, turn

I have just read the inspirational book, ‘Some kids I taught and what they taught me’ by Kate Clanchy. It’s eye-opening in many ways, and so good on poetry. One thing which really resonated was the piece about studying English at school and onwards, which includes this:

‘In English, we assess and value only that last part of the learning process: the meta-language and the critical essay.’

At school my English teachers were not inspirational, did not give me a love of reading and writing or encourage creativity. Nor did they even, at A level, succeed in helping most students get good grades. I got a good enough grade to study English Language and Literature at University, and found that, again, I was not inspired, but at least, and it probably is least, I learnt the meta-language and how to write critical essays well enough to get a 2.1. As soon as I left University I swore I would never write like that again or read something in such a way that I could write like that.

However, possibly helped by seeing ‘Educating Rita’, (that should give you some idea how long ago this was) I realised that I now had a choice. I could read and write in a way that got me good exam grades or equivalent in the wider world, or indeed because it does have a value if used well, but I could also read and write what I wanted, and respond how I wanted, for the love of it and for what it brings to me personally and in terms of knowledge and joy. I could be as creative as I wanted. (Kate Clanchy writes so well on this.)

So why did I study Eng Lit to A level and degree? Almost certainly because I did have a good teacher – at home – my Dad – and he kept me going. My love of reading and writing, especially poetry, comes from him. He was a primary school teacher – a brilliant one. I am extraordinarily lucky to have had him as my Dad. Kate Clanchy shows in her book how children can be inspired and given control and power through reading and writing creatively. Her students, I think, were lucky to have known her. So many do not have that luck. Lockdown and the lack of access to learning has highlighted how disadvantaged people, in particular, miss out, as has the exam fiasco, but they miss out in so many ways, and we all will if we don’t value all aspects of a person’s life and potential and creativity.

Sue Ibrahim, Eng Lit, poetry and creativity

When I started to blog around ten years ago, on Posterous, I had no idea what I was doing (I still don’t). I had this vague notion that I should be blogging about the intersection of poetry and education, because that is what I have spent the best part of my professional life researching.

I remember one particularly tired blog post, after a long day of teaching, about the phonics debate in England at the time. From nowhere, two very heavyweight commenters, from opposite sides of the fence, weighed in with their views on what I had written. Very soon, below the surface of each retaliatory point, it began to get a bit ugly and personal. As one slows down to look at at motorway accident, and against my better instincts, I watched in a kind of appalled fascination. I thought, there has to be a better way of running a blog than this.

Then one day I opened up a notebook I had been keeping in which I had copied out hundreds of poems which had meant something to me over my lifetime. I had begun this as I entered remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, in 2006. During my treatment, which included both chemo and radiotherapy, the so-called double whammy, along with my hair I had lost my ability to concentrate on reading.

The notebook was a way of deliberately sending myself back to my shelves to see if the poems I had loved in Life Before Cancer still held their magic for me. Based on the system used by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes when they put together The Schoolbag, I restricted myself to one poem per poet.

It took a good few years to complete the project. But there, in my inky scrawl, was my own personal anthology of poetry that I could take anywhere. I called it Lifesaving Poems, because that is how I saw every single one of them.

After the phonics-blogpost-debacle I opened the book up one evening and found Fishermen by Alasdair Paterson (who I am pleased to say has since become a friend). I wrote a few lines about it, posted it on my Posterous blog, and waited.

Nothing happened.

No one wrote in to say how good it was. No one wrote in to complain.

This was exactly the reaction I needed. I felt as though the universe was giving me permission to carry on. A week later, I posted another ‘lifesaving poem’, this time with a bit more of a story attached about how I had first come across it. Again, the same reaction. No one appeared to be interested. Undettered, I wrote another. And another. And on. And on.

All the time I was learning what a blog post could be and how to say what I wanted to say. I also knew that I had discovered, after a false start, what I really wanted to blog about.

Anthony Wilson, The most popular lifesaving poems

One of my favorite projects, and one of the first times I was breaking out of my comfort zone in writing in the early 2000’s was this little chap. It was initially created for a class I was taking in my MFA program devoted to hybrid writing and genres, and what it became was a series of poems in the form of, well, things that were not poems–indices, footnotes, instruction manuals, dictionaries, outlines.  It started with the tension, particularly throughout history, as to what are considered “women’s forms” and “men’s forms.”  Around the time I was writing it, I was particularly fascinated by men’s scientific writing on women’s psychology and hysteria, so all of these things came together to form the project in the fall of 2004, and early 2005 when I finished the last segments.  

There is so much in there–latin lessons, Dewey’s lady librarian guidelines, gothic novel heroines–as well as a storyline that actually only exists in the chapbook (the elizabeth poems), that part having been weeded out when I retooled the series later for inclusion in in the bird museum, to reflect that manuscript’s concerns more directly, where it opens the book and sets a similar tone, but a different emphasis. The elizabeth poems did not make the cut, nor did some other fragments –a pantomime scene, a poem in three voices about the institutionalization of women.  A couple other smaller pieces that only exist in the chapbook form.  (which you can see in its entirety as an e-version here.)  I released the print version in late 2005, with grey cardstock and vellum endpapers, and considering it was the very first year of dgp, it’s lovely little chap, even though layout in those days was much more difficult. I’ve long forgotten the size of the edition, but it was probably around 50–most of which were traded or given away at readings. Interestingly enough, the original version I turned into Arielle Greenberg that fall was a corset bound cover that I never quite was able to reproduce in a greater number.

Kristy Bowen, constellations and other messier objects

It’s a funny thing to have someone else talk about one’s own work. I’ve had a handful of reviews of my books of poetry over the years. I always end up feeling wildly impressed with whoever it was who wrote that work being reviewed…

and often surprised. Mostly because in the moment of making, I can’t say that I have a big picture of what I’m doing, no comprehensive thesis statement. If I’ve put a collection of poetry together that seems to have a theme, it’s only because my mind in the period of time of writing has circled around the same things. And those themes don’t seem to change very much.

A friend who put together a “new and selected” collection of his poems noted his abiding themes across forty plus years of writing. But I couldn’t at any particular moment even identify the theme of my questions particularly. I just wander around thinking stuff, reading, noticing, and at some point I write stuff down. Sometimes it’s directly related to that wandering, sometimes I think I’m remembering something else.

Marilyn McCabe, Does anybody really know what time it is; or, On Being Reviewed

So I had no chance to write during the week, but I took a lot of time this weekend to focus on editing, submitting and general organising of my poems and collections. I put a joking comment on Twitter about my horror at finding an old poem that used a word three times. It wasn’t an important word or done for any particular reason, I just never noticed that I used ‘clean’ in three different ways. 

I’m sure it seems a minor issue, but my writing group knows it’s one of my pet peeves for my own work. I want my words to have some power in their use and I feel overuse weakens that. Three times shows to me that I haven’t really pushed my linguistic skills and feels redundant. Was ‘clean’ a theme of the poem I hadn’t noticed, was I trying to express something through my word choice or was I just being lazy? I decided the latter. The poems wasn’t affected when I found different ways of saying ‘clean’ in two of the three spots. 

It made me wonder how many other unintentional ‘mistakes’ I’ve missed in my proof-reading over the years. I’m aware I sometimes reuse words or images as themes throughout a set of poems, Do we, as writers, sometimes get stuck on a riff and not notice? 

A mentor I once had wrote a book with an uncommon, but not unused, word in the title. Our group spent over a year working with her, sharing our work and almost all of us somehow managed to put the word in one of our texts, often without realising it. She was hyper-aware of the word, of course, so eventually pointed it out to the class, so I’m sure most of us edited it out. I think her editor eventually changed the title, but it showed how we were sponges at her feet.

Today, I found I used the word ‘mossy’ in two poems that I would probably later consider placing together. Again, it’s no big deal until they are actually sitting in a collection together. They were written about the same time, so I wonder if I had that idea on my mind. One was a mossy carpet and one was mossy light, so different images, but with both were used to suggest overgrown abandoned areas, one from above and one from below. Not sure how or which to replace or if I need to at all, but I love this level of getting down to the nitty gritty of language when editing. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nitty Gritty

If it is not
a good poem,
if it is not

beautiful, why
must it be
abandoned?

Don’t the homely
moments still
mean something,

even when
I don’t know
how to say it?

Should the lost
souls stay lost
because I have

failed? No.
I don’t think so.
Let even

the bad poem
be good enough
for what we love.

Tom Montag, IF IT IS NOT

Who knows why (or check “all of the above”) but this weekend I have spent a bunch of hours reorganizing one of my writing spaces. On Friday afternoon, I decided to move a big file cabinet from a corner of the playroom downstairs to my “zoom room” upstairs. First, I had to empty it. I found records for my 1981 Datsun, a copy of my wedding invitation, and six months of bottle-feeding and diapering records that we kept when our twins were born — from July 12 to mid-December 1993. (Good grief, what were we thinking?)

I also found drafts of novel openings that never went anywhere, short stories I had forgotten I ever wrote, tons of old Creative Writing Program journals, and stacks and stacks (and stacks) of poetry. I had kept every program for the old Castalia reading series, and other people’s poems from four years of Professor Bentley’s workshops–four quarters per year, labeled and dated. 

From all of these, I kept copies of my poems with Nelson’s comments on them. I kept a handful of the Castalia programs and a copy of the news article about his death, at age 72, of cancer. I kept my wedding invitation.

I felt a little like Theodore Roethke in his “Elegy for Jane.” (If you don’t already have it memorized, click on the link to hear Roethke read this 22-line poem for his student.) Or, I don’t mean his experience in the poem, but the story Nelson told us: that when Roethke came across his student Jane’s poems in his office files, he gave the bundle of papers a kiss and threw it into the trash.

I threw most everything into the recycle bin. So many people I will never see again. So many poems that I thought someday I would make the time to reread. Maybe I didn’t feel like Roethke. I felt more like Jane, as though I were a ghost, “waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.”

But I also felt lighter. I felt a little more able to move forward. Or to imagine moving forward.

Before I finished for the day, rain began. The dark swooped in a little earlier this evening, along with that smell that is partly rain, partly chill, and partly the scent of woodsmoke. It reminded me that even in the “Time of Corona” (as another friend calls it), one season is ending and another tiptoeing into the room.

Bethany Reid, The Land of Overwhelm

Remember when everyone (understandably) overused the word “unprecedented?” And now these times are more often called “unusual” or just “our life” or “now.” We’re settling in for the long haul now. We’re in the tunnel and we believe in the light but it’s only a rumour or something we can hallucinate.

One of my Twitter contacts posted this quotation by Jean-Paul Sartre: “What I ask of [the writer] is not to ignore the reality and the fundamental problems that exist. The world’s hunger, the atomic threat, the alienation of man, I am astonished that they do not colour all our literature.”

I think that even defiantly placing a vase of flowers in the room in which you work at this time is not nothing. Everything that we write or make is going to be part of this time, but it’s true, also, that we cannot ignore reality. I say that, but my writing has been going by the wayside for various reasons. I’m not necessarily happy about it, but who does enjoy these disruptions and heartaches and the politics of the day? Still, I’m taking notes, and am able to engage in a few side projects, such as taking photos of people amid and in front of Edmonton landmarks.

Shawna Lemay, Hi

Today I was watering my garden and suddenly a hummingbird, tiny and yet vibrant with color, dropped down from above and hovered in the cool spray of water, just for a couple of seconds, then lifted and flew away, almost instantly invisible to me, and this was a brief flash of beauty and life, and I gave thanks for being alive right now.

Sheltering at home, my wife and I play card games together, chatting and joking, we share every meal together, and we say grace, light a candle, and enjoy a meal that was prepared slowly and deliberately, with love cooked into it somehow, and so we pass our days together, and still in love after many years, and I give thanks for her, and for being alive right now.

James Lee Jobe, In a few minutes the sun will set and this day will start to fade

I hadn’t read the news yet; I wanted a few more minutes of the soft light on the oxalis and spirea, the seeping red of the begonia blooms, the slightly heavy lift of coffee to lips. Better, I thought, to listen to the poet speak of humanity’s endless appetite for conflict, while he manages, genius that he is, to work in Shakespeare and the Greeks, the Russian camps, the endless clamouring for news on the way to Ballymurphy or Kenosha, and have his company this morning as I “hug my little destiny.”

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 38. The times are out of joint: Seamus Heaney, Ballymurphy, and Kenosha

The moon the last few nights has risen orange and spooky, veiled by cloud, still bright enough to make quite an entrance. Full moons can seem to presage some kind of change. I’m hoping these changes will be for the better. I don’t know about you, but like the moon, I’ve felt veiled with a heavy layer of foreboding and depression. The news is full of horrors, including wildfires in Washington and California; I’m worried about the election, too. It’s hard to see the light.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Adventures During a Plague Year: A Full Corn Moon, First Trip to a Store (with Miyazaki), and First Visit with Family (and Unicorn)

On evenings singing low, we call down the moon so we can shine like new half dollars on parole.

So we can break free from the cold-boned prison of dead Mondays.

The moon reflects our truths and keeps our secrets.

The moon tells us if it’s ever placed before oblivion’s firing squad to not put a blindfold over its eyes.

It wants to see the bullets coming.

Then the moon uses a wishbone as a tuning fork to conjure forth the sweetest music.

There’s a moment when everything gets quiet. In the distance, we hear an angel’s needles knit a new pair of wings.

Rich Ferguson, Courage, My Love

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

Last week, I told someone who’d just read the digest that there’d been 35 quotes in all and they expressed disbelief — it seemed so short, they said (or words to that effect). This week, there are 36… and I can tell you that the hours I spent gathering them went by much too quickly. If posting slows now with Poetry Month behind us, I’ll be sad. True, some may need to gather their breath. But writers never remain silent for long.


From confessions and digressions, open books of hope and secret diaries of dilemmas. From dead air and stringed silences, forward-thinking dreams and counterclockwise insomnia. From what we cannot remember, what we refuse to forget. From broken bones and broken Spanish, broken homes and broken English. The chains from which we escape and the kindred spirits with which we’re linked. We the weary, we the wounded, we the wizened, we the wondrous—we rise.

Rich Ferguson, All the Bright and Battered Places

We have relied
on the promises of the labyrinth:
one path in, no dead ends,
no false turns, not a maze.

We have trusted
that the path leads
to a center that can hold
us all in all our complexities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, World Labyrinth Day 2020

dog gods tied goose feathers to their ears to sing with wren tongues in the scribbly forest there is always a chance of betrayal there might be a quest monarch butterflies and bees hum straight up through the cloud layer tomato vine perfume on my elegant hands cat on the windowsill taking note animals as protectors animals as rippling safe spaces animals as letters and songs yesterday I found my childhood copy of Charlotte’s Web moth eaten rat chewed from my time in the known world and dog gods tied seaweed to their ears to sing with trout mouths and tomatoes clapped their green hands this morning I rinsed my hair in apple cider vinegar today I’ll scrub the floors and sing today I’ll thank my animal body for crawling out of the fire alive

Rebecca Loudon, corona 17.

I would prefer
America not be
my name but it
is my name &
is the name of
the poem’s market
place & share
holders even its
eventual dead it is
the name of this
lithium ion
battery this soft
ware pharma
ceutical logo
is the name of
the Tower where
I make my cameos
as a face discovered
in a poem’s country

R.M. Haines, Poem After May Day

Sometimes, the numbers on their own speak to us, as they do at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia; at the Field of Empty Chairs Memorial to those killed in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At such places, the abstract is made conceivable, if still unbearable, through representation in artful form. 

What we don’t get is something more fundamental: the stories of the lives behind the numbers that collectively tell us who we are. 

A paragraph in a “Lives Lost” column, a column-inch obituary, a poem, a recitation of names, a tolling of bells: at most, they remind us, offer glimpses.

What does it mean to grieve if we have only numbers, build memorials based on numbers, but fail to learn and keep alive our stories?

And how do we grieve, knowing there exist throughout the country the counted but the unknown? Who grieves for those buried en masse in the trenches on Hart Island in Long Island Sound? With what certainty do we account for the disappeared and unremembered? For the lost stories of joy and hope?

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

People are suffering. I’m very worried for small business owners and deeply saddened by all of the boarded up businesses in my neighborhood. The financial hardships will have devastating consequences for years to come. Families have not been able to be with their loved ones when they pass away. Some people will have permanent physical damage from this virus. So a part of me feels very judgmental and irritated by what I deem to be petty complaints and overly-dramatic teeth-gnashing about “how hard it is” from people who are getting paid to work in the comfort of their own homes. I find myself thinking, We’ve gotten soft. We’ve allowed luxury and abundance to weaken us. People used to be tougher, more self-sacrificing and community-minded, stronger in mind and body. People need to buck up, face reality and get their shit together. Now is the time to stop wallowing, tighten up and get into fighting shape. If you didn’t lose your job or your business, or you didn’t lose a loved one, you have no right to be complaining right now. I don’t care about your visible roots or the fact that you can’t go to a cocktail party or that there’s no basketball.

And yet those losses are real and legitimate. Those are things that signify normalcy and a functioning society. Shared culture experiences such as March Madness matter. Visits to the salon matter. Parties matter. All of the things that we are not able to engage in right now are important to maintaining the integrity of a culture and our identity within it. It’s natural to be sad about their loss.

When I thought about it honestly, I realized that my judgmentalness is a projection. A part of me is angry at myself for the grief I’m carrying about my own losses, because I’ve deemed them to be petty compared to what other people are suffering. Yet they are still my losses, they are real, and they hurt–a lot.

Kristen McHenry, On Grief, Loss, Guilt and Judgment: A Little Light Reading

Most of my work meetings begin with a grounding activity, in which we are given some stimulus to help us center our ensuing conversation in our students and families, the majority of whom are people of color and/or living in poverty. The general theme when we are sharing our responses to the stimulus, since we’ve been closed, is this:

We are so fortunate, to be living in the privilege we do. We need to keep at the forefront our families who are not.

True and true.

Fortune is a relative thing, though, isn’t it? (Seriously, after you finish reading, come back and click on this link.)

In comparison to those who are sick, out of work, working on the front lines (which increasingly feels more literal than metaphorical), and/or targeted by bigots, we white educators who are working are fortunate. As an educator who is not providing direct service to students, I am more fortunate (at least in some ways) than those who are. (More than one I know has shared this teacher’s post this week.)

And yet, as the title of a book a therapist once put in my hands claims, The Body Keeps the Score.

I’m writing these words having woken up, again, in pain: spikes in the head, sharp ache in the back (it’s still with me, though not accute). The dull, medicated fuzz is settling in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whole enough

It’s been nice to have a cool spring, to enjoy the afternoon hikes I’m taking with my dog each day. And to be honest, this cool, overcast weather matches my mood lately.

This spring has been hard for me. Not only has the pandemic cancelled my book launch and all my readings, I’ve also dealt with some blows in my professional and writing life. I didn’t receive a promotion I was hoping for. My phone died unexpectedly and I had to buy a new one (seriously, why are phones so expensive?!), my car went in for work twice in three weeks, costing nearly $1k each time. And then, the worst – I received a wonderful, amazing rejection.

I know that sounds strange, to call a rejection both wonderful and amazing, but it really was. The press said my poetry was “visceral, vivid, and alive” and if they had the capacity to publish more collections of poetry next year mine would “almost certainly make the cut.” I was both elated and crushed. This was a press I felt was a good fit for my work. And they agreed, but they couldn’t add my book to their roster.

Courtney LeBlanc, Sometimes it Rains

I can’t stop thinking about the trend to make bread and Dali’s obsession with bread. For those of you who have followed Rob’s work over the years, you might remember that as part of a series titled, History of Still Life, he did a riff on Dali’s bread. Essays have been written about Dali’s bread.

We usually think of Dali’s melting clocks and surreal imagery but he said of bread that it “has always been one of the oldest fetishistic and obsessive subjects in my work, the one to which I have remained the most faithful.” Bread is a trope throughout Dali’s work — used to comment on consumerism, mass consumption, capitalism, moral hunger, etc. Bread has the ability to hold so many meanings at once and to resonate through time and take on new connotations and historical moments. Bread is always with us. 

When I think of bread I also think of the words of Gaston Bachelard. On bread in poetry and its place in the memories from childhood he says, “In days of happiness, the world is edible.” And “I am taken by the urge to collect all the warm bread to be found in poetry.” And then, “How they would help me give to memory the great odors of the celebration begun again, or a life which one would take up again, swearing gratitude for the original joys.”  

Perhaps it will be the perfume of baking bread at this time that will permeate children’s memories when they are grown. Perhaps, though lonely, they’ll come away with happier memories than we imagine.

Shawna Lemay, Why Still Life Might Speak to You Now

I’ve been keeping a pandemic journal. In many respects, it reflects what I’m posting on Instagram — baking bread (like everyone else), drinking, exercising in my house, etc.

But what the journal is capturing that social media (mostly) doesn’t is my incredible angst about returning to the office and to normal life after this is all done, whatever “done” means.

I’ve been honest about my struggles with anxiety and the grind, and although pandemic stress (even from my current distance to it) is real, social distancing and lock down have created a kind of comfort and stability that I haven’t had in a while. A fair amount of the pressure — which can come from too few hours in a day — is off. I no longer have to commute back and forth to work. I’m no longer driving 30 minutes each way to the gym. School activities are canceled. My frequent trips to the grocery store have been curtailed. I don’t have to maintain a wardrobe for work or social activities. I no longer eat lunch out several days a week. I am still working, but the hours in my day — even those work hours — feel more like they belong to me.

In thinking about what comes next, I can’t imagine returning to normal. That frenzy was poisonous to me.

And it’s poisonous to all of us. I’ll fully admit I’m a sensitive soul, but going 900 mph all day every day to support a household is terrible for nearly all of us. If we have a choice — and I’m not entirely sure we do — why would we choose it?

And how can we go back, really? If we didn’t know it before, our ability to stock up on and maintain “emergency” supplies is based on our privilege. Our ability to stay safe and social distance is also based in privilege. And whether we’re talking about preventing a contagion or limiting our carbon footprints, what will we do with that privilege after this? Will it remain a selfish force or can we stand up for collective survival?

Carolee Bennett, “ocean’s stomach of inevitability”

Over here in Spain, we’ve been in lockdown, or confinamiento, as we term it, since 15th March. The rules have been that nobody is allowed to leave their house unless it’s to work, shop for essentials or go to the doctor. In other words, no exercise has been permitted outside the home.

These rules have been widely accepted, especially as cases have dropped significantly since their implementation. The good news is that as a consequence today we were able to go out to exercise for the first time. Of course, the rules are still far stricter than in the U.K., as we’re not allowed, for instance, to drive anywhere to have a walk. Moreover, we’re also limited to a certain time slot by age group (ours was 6-10 a.m. or 8-11 p.m.).

We decided to have our first walk in the vineyards that begin about two hundred yards beyond our house. It was exciting to see how much the vines have grown over the past six weeks. As you can see in the first photo below, bunches of grapes are now starting to form. As for the views over the rolling hills, deep blue skies set against clay soil, they’re as gorgeous as ever.

Matthew Stewart, Our first walk

Today, I woke to rampant sunshine and the feeling that maybe, after a couple false start days, but not even enough of those, that spring may finally be going to happen out there with or without us. And at least without me for another month or so. But at least, it’s happening.  On the whole, I’m finding I can feel a little more normal when I avoid the news and social media until later in the day and dive into work–whether that be library or press related immediately when I get up, which sometimes is weirdly very early for me (I’m guessing I finally, after more than a month have caught up on sleep deficit) or sometimes after a nap due to that early rising. I find I can concentrate best if I turn something on that I enjoy, but doesn’t need too much of my attention (I’ve been revisiting The Office this past week.) So there has been more web-curation, and blog posts, and some other things in the hopper.  When I do read the news it’s as troubling, at least nationally, as it was before, even though Illinois seems to continue to be wiser and more cautious than the rest of the country.

Kristy Bowen, may

So, our governor has extended Washington State’s lockdown til May 31. Some things are opening: state parks and elective surgery, some construction. I have a lot of health problems and know I’m at high risk so I’m glad they’re being safe rather than sorry. Some states that opened too soon (Georgia, North Carolina) are already experiencing increased cases. I feel terrible for small business owners, for people who can’t run their businesses during the shutdown. Restaurants in particular will be hard hit. Glenn was working from home since February, and probably will until this fall; even Amazon has announced its tech employees can work from home til October. One in five people in Seattle have filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, things break: cell phones, stand mixers, my laptop. We learn to try to cut our own hair.

I will admit I miss some things – book stores, coffee shops, seeing my little brother on the weekend or taking a trip to one of the beautiful areas around Washington State. Walking around without being terrified of other people; remember that? This month I usually visit Skagit Valley’s tulip festival, hike around the waterfall at Ollalie State Park, or take a trip to Port Townsend or Bainbridge Island. This month, of course, we’re staying close to home. This is one of the only months that we can get outside (too much rain the rest of the year, wildfires during midsummer) so I understand that people are restless.

So, we continue to get by with grocery deliveries and walks around our neighborhood (to avoid people, I mostly walk around abandoned office parks and closed wineries, tbh) and spring continues to bloom. This week, lilacs, azaleas, wisteria. Our lilies were eaten by rabbits (or deer maybe?) but we continue to plant things in the garden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s May and Lockdown Continues, Reading Stack During a Pandemic, Celebrating a Melancholy Birthday

Despite Georgia’s moronic governor opening businesses and restaurants and letting the shelter-in-place order expire, I’m still in lockdown mode. Here in Atlanta and Fulton County, we have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to resume their normal lives by completely ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. I’m guessing we’ll see a significant spike in cases in a few weeks, especially after this weekend’s sunny weather and a much ballyhooed flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds brought thousands out to the parks and walking trails. I digress.

In the month since I last posted, I’ve done absolutely zero of my own writing (save for putting some stray words and lines into my iPhone that might eventually become poems), but I’ve written enough about COVID-19 for the magazine to fill a new trilogy of novels. My days have been spent posting updates and covering how the pandemic has affected Atlanta. After sitting in front of my computer all day and half the night, the last thing I want to do is even more writing.

Since April was National Poetry Month, there were plenty of online poetry readings. Maybe too many. Many of my interviews for the magazine and all of our staff meetings have been on Zoom and, honestly, I’m kinda over it. Zoom fatigue is real, y’all.

Collin Kelley, I’m still here…

It’s hard to say yet whether April was the worst month for the pandemic in the US, but I’m still glad it’s over! I tried to kick the poetry-writing part of my brain into gear, attempting to write a poem a day and share drafts with a small group of friends. What I wrote was neither great nor daily, but it felt like a productive practice and a way to feel connected across distances. I also devoted time and energy to getting word out about The State She’s In, although time and energy both seemed to be in short supply. (It’s a book about gender and ambition, among other subjects, which is another reason why I’m finding Whitman interesting to reread.) Maybe I’ve set myself up better for May. April’s unpredictability was getting me down so I organized my May class better: M/W for online discussion forums, T/Th for Zoom discussions, and Fridays and weekends, I hope, for poetry revisions, submissions, and publicity.

Any of you poets trying to submit work have probably noticed, too, the rush of editor verdicts lately. I’ve had some acceptances and some rejections (without wanting to assassinate anybody). It probably helps me stay philosophical that another April task was to reject some damn fine poems submitted to Shenandoah (650 subs for 12-15 spots). There was much hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing on my part, truly, so I now mostly see people who reject me not as nepotistic demon kings but as other stressed-out people making hard calls.

Lesley Wheeler, Hope, ambition, and other tricky green things

If you view a chapbook or book as the destination, you’ll almost invariably be let down on some matter of production value, interaction with the editors, or lack of media recognition. No process is perfect, especially if it’s coming after years of anticipation. 

I use the metaphor of book as passport; online or in person, where can a collection can take you? What conversations will it spark? That said, your publisher is not your travel agent. People are often surprised to realize that W. W. Norton doesn’t arrange or fund my participation in readings, conferences, or festivals. I do it all on my own. And there’s a lot to consider about the privileges and iniquities embedded in an attitude of “you make your own path”–that’s not a tidy end to any conversation. But it’s where we need to begin, in understanding the value of contests that yield an artifact of bound pages and a judge’s citation. What I’ve experienced over and over is that what matters most is not a physical book, but the community it fuels. 

Sandra Beasley, What Breaks Through: Poetry Book Contests

The downside of using competitions as a focusing method is the cost of entering competitions.  At the same time, I’m usually contributing a small amount of money to a worthwhile enterprise, a charity, that gives out a lot in terms of support for writers, writer development and public events.

I switch off my phone, I switch off the internet sometimes – when I need to.  I recognise when scrolling is a distraction.  The timer on my phone is a brilliant tool for helping me to focus in small chunks of time.  Sometimes a small chunk of time is all I need.

Sometimes losing focus is a means of providing inspiration.  Mindless scrolling on the internet turns out to not be mindless at all when it leads to an interesting article that leads me to a new writer; a wonderful image leads me to discover a new artist; a recommendation of a programme leads me to a worthwhile series.

Not adhering to a timetable can produce a conversation with someone I wouldn’t usually have connected with at that time.  In my head, I imagine I would like to be the kind of person who sets themselves a daily target of writing 5,000 words a day and doesn’t leave their seat until the words are written.  But I am not that kind of person.  Also, I spent at least five minutes fiddling around taking photographs of my glasses to try to capture a suitable image for this post.

Josephine Corcoran, Discover Prompts: Focus

Writers as famous as Tartt can go years without producing a book and still be part of the scene – they’re talked about in their absence. Other writers aren’t so lucky. One might think that the situation’s easier for poets than for story writers – they can place single poems in magazines, ticking over – but there aren’t that many opportunities available in good magazines, and lead times can be many months. Meanwhile, new graduates from Creative Writing courses flood the market. Consequently there’s a temptation to manage one’s image. If you stand still you’ll get left behind.

In The Poet Tasters Ben Etherington wrote about the Australian scene, pointing out that “a lingering sense of hobbyism can afflict the vocation. Just about anyone who has decided that poetry is their thing, and who has enough private means and persistence, can be confident of edging their way into a scene like Australia’s. Even long-established poets can be nagged by the feeling that the aesthetic communities from which they gain recognition only reflect back the effort they put in; miss a few readings, take a break from publishing, leave an editorial post and you and your work might disappear.

I can think of a few poets for whom that nagging feeling was confirmed by what happened after their death.

Tim Love, Visibility in the literary scene

Days pass strangely of late. I move through the rooms of my house in all the normal ways — eat food, watch TV, work, read, or clean — and yet there’s an oddness in every peripheral.

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

Nothing is normal — and it’s hard to know how to feel when nothing is normal.

Today, I get to announce the wonderful news that Twelve, my chapbook of prose poems based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” will be published by Interstellar Flight Press later this year.

I’m delighted — of course I’m delighted. Though some small part of me wonders if, considering everything that’s going on in the world, all the stress and doubt and fear, whether I should be subdued in my excitement, more respectful of those who are struggling right now.

But here’s the thing, I think the world needs good news. It needs victories great and small. It needs celebration in whatever small spades that life can offer.

Andrea Blythe, A Bit of Good News

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new collection of poems. “Being Many Seeds” won the Grayson Books Chapbook Contest and has just been released into the world:graysonbooks.com.

The collection is a hybrid thing in that, in addition to the poems, running across the bottom of each page of poetry is a brief essay of some thoughts about the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest and paleontologist. Plus each poem has three parts: the first poem, then another poem I “found” inside it by erasing some of the words, then a third such erasure, with each iteration either distilling, moving away from, or suggesting something different from the original poem. I’d say the theme of the collection is our connection to each other and to the earth.

It is a “chapbook” of poems, which is a common form in the poetry world meaning that it is about half the length of a full-length collection, and tends to be more thematically focused than a full-length, but also, since it is staple-bound rather than having a spine, it is a format often not sold in bookstores, as it has no shelf presence, nor carried by libraries. Buying a copy from the publisher helps this little press keep up its good work of getting poetry into the world.

I also have a stash of copies and will likely keep a box in my car, should we ever see each other again.

But if you are creative in some other realm and commit to trying to use this collection as a leaping off point for a creative work — turn the pages into origami, bake a poem cake, compose a symphony, dance a quadrille while humming the poems, soak the pages into a pulp and make sculpture, knit a poem scarf, whatever — I’ll send you a book for free right now!

Marilyn McCabe, I write the book; or, On My New Book of Poems

I’ve become quietly addicted to these little poems – click here to view the above.

For me, they’re the perfect antidote (or do I mean complement) to both the restrictions of lockdown and the long haul of editing my novel. I have 6 short films on You Tube now. The quality is variable, but given the restrictions of the equipment I’m using, plus my woeful lack of technical expertise, they are the best I can do for the moment. My focus, inevitably, has been on small things, the here and now: sun and rain, blossom and bees. Having said that, by really honing down the writing, and closing in on what I’m observing, other possibilities and meanings seem to open up.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Cat Stevens’ voice breaks
when he sings the word “listen.”
Hummingbird flies off.

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 April 2020

had my death never happened :: who would listen to the rain

Grant Hackett [no title]

She leans over the microscope,
an incandescent eye, radiant
and restrained. Her dragons are shapechangers,
quiescent one moment, knit with stars
the next. They sidestep each question
like a dancer, a duelist,
incomplete but still close,
an invitation
(what will you do,
what won’t you)
with no
way
to say
yes. Or not.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Immortal

One metre fifty
from each other. In the queue
of lost needless things.

Behind a mask, eyes
that do not try hard language,
they’re soft and get it

that you’re vulnerable
too. Then the distance moves on,
fast to someone else,

before one must speak.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (April – Part 2)

Today’s prompt challenges us to “write a poem about something that returns. For, just as the swallows come back to Capistrano each year, NaPoWriMo and GloPoWriMo will ride again!” ~ NaPoWriMo, Day 30

Once again, NaPoWriMo has been a wild, exuberant, insanely rewarding experience! I’m beyond grateful to Maureen Thorson for her delightful prompts and for the community she brings together every year. And I’m grateful to everyone who has been supportive and kind and endlessly enthusiastic about poetry.

I love this last prompt because it ends on a hopeful note. NaPoWriMo will indeed return next year. I know I’ll miss it this May, when my poetry-writing routine suffers from a lack of discipline (self-imposed deadlines don’t seem quite as urgent). And you know what else will return? Birthdays. Here’s a photo of the gluten-free cake my daughter made for me yesterday. And a photo of the meal my husband and son prepared for me in secret–and included some Romanian dishes. And a photo of the cards my kids wrote for me that brought me to my knees. It’s terrible how we forget sometimes how much we’re loved.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 30

In between working and crashing out on the sofa from too much screen time and sadness (are they the same thing? Discuss) the other day a line of a poem I have not read in twenty (?) or so years came to me: ‘I haven’t had time to stand and fart recently’. I first read it in the late and much missed poetry magazine Smiths Knoll, jointly edited at that time by Roy Blackman  Michael Laskey. I am guessing this must have been sometime in the early 1990s, when I was heroically trying to read everything I could get my hands on (a feat which I am very late in the day coming to realise I failed). Still, there was Smiths Knoll and The North and The Rialto  and Tears in the Fence and this thing I took a punt on one wild day called Scratch.

Links were being made. Tentative, pre-internet-and-email friendships, with things we still call paper and envelopes and stamps. Janet Fisher rang me up once about a poem and it was like a visit from Royalty. (I had to lie down then, too.) It turned out Mark Robinson was editor of said Scratch, so his name jumped off the page at me as I read about farting and love and poverty and anger and struggling. It appeared a few years later in one of my all-time favourite collections of poems, his debut with Stride, The Horse Burning Park.

Not remembering anything about the poem except its first line, I took down Mark’s New and Selected (Horse Burning is in my office at work…) yesterday and spent a very happy hour revisiting some (very old) favourites as well as making some startling new acquaintances. His tone, subject matter and political concerns are amazingly consistent. Reading the poem again now I am struck by how prescient it feels to our current moment: ‘spinning on the spot like a mad dog’; ‘Passing / on the street’; ‘I am hurrying, from one tired place / to another’; feeling ‘happier / on less’; and that remarkable couplet about poverty.

Now, in spite of what they told me at school, I am not stupid. This is a poem written nearly thirty years ago. It isn’t ‘about’ coronavirus or the lockdown any more than my left foot is. But what did happen is that it appeared when I needed it to, just like that, and that felt like a good thing in a week in which struggling has been the main thing. Years and years later, another connection, unasked for as Seamus Heaney might say. Another way of feeling and being alive.

Anthony Wilson, Struggling

How many lives will be
claimed when this
pandemic is finally history?
That, and for how long

this enforced isolation will
continue are a fatal mystery.
But you and I are blessed
that while living through

such stressful times, we are
one another’s shelter in place,
each other’s compassionate grace.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Pandemic Wonder, for Andy

– My wife and I are right at 2 months of sheltering at home. At times it is almost blissful; we love each other, our marriage is a good one, we still make each other laugh.

– Sometimes one of us will break down. Maybe it was the latest update of deaths, or maybe the talk of death takes one of us, or both of us, back to the grief of losing our youngest son at age 25, just 3 years ago. Sometimes it just happens. No reason needed.

– We both miss going to church, the movies, the coffee shops and cafes, getting our hair cut. My wife misses shopping; I detest shopping. But my God! My poetry readings! Holy crap.

James Lee Jobe, 29 April 2020 – The COVID-19 List

HOLD FAST, Holly J. Hughes. Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes, Washington 98221, 2020, 115 pages, $16 paper, www.emptybowl.org.

Rereading Hold Fast made my day. Among other superlatives I can offer about this collection, it’s a perfect book to hole up with during a pandemic. I knew this before Claudia Castro Luna, writing for The Seattle Times, closed her editorial (“Sheltering in Place, Our Inner Poet Soars”) with Hughes’s poem, “Holdfast.” (Click on the link to read Castro Luna’s wise words.)

One paradox of these poems is the way Hughes manages a deft and powerful critique of the world, while celebrating it: “all that can’t be said…./ the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down / to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, / the unseen, the unheard, the fragile….” (“If the River”).

Bethany Reid, Holly J. Hughes

Water is not—
at the same time is more than—
two drops fixed by gold wire
and dangling from the earlobe.
Put it to bed in a box flocked
with velvet.
Carry it cupped
in both hands as you walk
through a field that feels
larger than any sense of yourself
that you know. But still tenderly.

Luisa A Igloria, After many years, the river runs into the river

Apparently we’re now all feasting on The Repair Shop and reruns of The Vicar of Dibley. The skies are bluer and quieter than ever, all the better to hear birdsong. Stars are brighter, if you have access to outdoor space at night time. I realise these are terrible times for so many people and I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m not facing financial ruin, I’m ‘locked down’ in the company of my best friend and I have a garden. I’m able to appreciate Spring and watch things grow. Just the word grow makes me slow down. So what if I haven’t written any stonking new poems lately. I have a few ideas, but they need time to grow. SloPo seems to have come into its own. […]

I enjoyed reading an interview with Julia Cameron in the Sunday Times last week, (apologies if this is behind a paywall) on dealing with social isolation (“As westerners, we have a hard time sitting and doing nothing”). I remember reading The Artist’s Way and struggled to follow its advice. There’s something about ‘free writing’ that feels to me like the opposite: I feel restricted, I regress to cliche, old reminiscences, boring language and prosaic nonsense. An advocate might say ‘yes that’s the idea – not to think, just write’. But sadly it doesn’t free me up. I guess I could adapt the daily free writing to something else: word games around a theme or something that at least begins with a structure.

Robin Houghton, SloPo

Again, the violet bows to the lily.
Again, the rose is tearing off her gown!
   ~ Rumi

I am trying to make more sense of Rumi. He seems to transcend all religions, and speak to all people. We could use more of that. Even in our tragic moments when life is challenged and hinges on the edge of tipping one way or the other, we still have people driven and divided by fear and ignorance. The fear is natural. We all experience it at times. But when fear is fed by ignorance, the results are never good.

Just as I believe Rumi has a lot to offer us to better our life, call me a romantic if you wish, but I still believe poetry matters. I believe we can find our tattered and torn self in poetry. I have been reading Like A Bird of a Thousand Wings, by Melissa Studdard. Her words seem to be taking up residence in my soul.

Self is a place
we keep getting sewn back into.
We fly away.
It sews us back. We tear
the fabric, here comes the needle.
 ~ Melissa Studdard – But Who Will Hear You From So Far Across The Sky?
From Like A Bird of A Thousand Wings.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – How Are You?

After I had my strokes in my early 30s, I did a lot of reading and thinking and praying and spiritual direction, trying to come to terms with the mortality they had shown me. I studied the Baal Shem Tov’s writing on equanimity. I journaled endlessly. Eventually I reached the conclusion that yes, I could die at any time. But until that happens, my job is to live as best I can.

The strokes brought home my participation in our common human mortality. In truth, none of us know when our lives will end. I don’t mean that to be depressing or paralyzing: on the contrary! I mean it as a reminder that the only time we have is now. The time to be the person we want to be is now. Because now is what we have. It’s all anyone has. It’s all anyone has ever had.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” wrote Mary Oliver. This, right now, is our wild and precious life. Even in quarantine or lockdown or shelter-in-place. Even in uncertainty. (Especially in uncertainty.) Life isn’t on pause until a hoped-for return to normalcy comes. This is life, right here, right now. Our job is to live it as best we can.

Even with the possibility that we’re already incubating the virus. Because so what if I am? What can I do about it, other than what I’m already doing: wearing a mask in public, keeping my distance to protect others in case I’m an asymptomatic carrier, and meanwhile doing what I can to care for my child, my congregation, my beloveds, in the ways that are open to me?

Rachel Barenblat, With both eyes open

On the virtual Camino today our guide takes us past ruins, which I suppose have a particular resonance in our imagination these days. I love ruins. It’s easy to romanticize when the darker ages become concepts we can wear like heirlooms. Vicarious courage? Maybe a more generous perspective would be a connection to the hopes and fears of previous generations?

It’s funny. This plague. It does not feel like a “dark” age. It feels plastic and slick-yellow.

Ah, but the sky. Yesterday the blues were soothing. Today the grays are varied, dark as stones – and still soothing. A variable constant.

I grabbed the mail at the beginning our walk around the block. Silly, but a book in the mailbox will override common sense. The cardboard of the package soaked through by the time we got home. Leonard shook a cup-full of rain over the walls in the entrance hall while I opened the package. I don’t care. It’s a book written by a friend from long ago, whom I’m grateful to have reconnected with recently.

I have thought about gratitude before on this virtual Camino. How sometimes it doesn’t come honestly to me, and how I choose to open myself to delight instead – and let gratitude come. This, if I find easier. Small delights. Dog-flops and hugs, and the I-don’t-care-if-my-house-needs-vacuuming-come-in moments.

Ren Powell, Letting Go of The Facade

meeting an old friend‬
‪and the pain‬
‪of backing away‬
‪does not go away‬
‪with our smiles‬
‪stretching thinner‬
‪and thinner‬
‪passing by on the other side‬
‪with our thoughts‬

Jim Young, anti-social distancing

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 9

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 past week found poetry bloggers breathing, grieving, reading, dreaming, revising manuscripts, speaking for others, meeting with others, planning for AWP, planning for a possible pandemic, paying attention, feeling sorry, feeling out of step, shaping lines, and remembering to breathe.


Inhale. Pause. Exhale, slowly and deeply, as if you were sighing. Notice that pause at the end of the out-breath: That emptied-out moment, when you let go of everything just a little bit more, and the body settles into itself just a little bit deeper. That moment: A glimpse of the last breath, of the peace that might be possible when you let go with both hands.

And then: The in-breath, as natural as can be, filling the lungs again.

Dylan Tweney, Grief and gratitude.

Much as at the point when suddenly rain stops,
    or wind abates,
        or cloud obscures the sun,

there is a moment just between
    breathe in and breathe out
        when shock stops the spin and hum of it all

and in the silence and the stillness
    we are changed entirely.

Dick Jones, Fragile

I have taken the last few months off from the world for some internal reflection. The death of four people in my family in 12 months caused me to turn inward, to withdraw socially and surround myself with only my greatest loves: husband, family, books, poetry, home, open spaces, neighborhood walks, and yes, I will admit, binge watching High Fidelity and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Thank you Rob and Midge for making me laugh.

And now it is Spring and out my writing window I see yellow daffodils, orange pansies and purple hellebore. The 70 year-old camellia is laden in the softest of pink blooms and the neighbor’s cherry trees are ready to pop.

And for those of you who have followed my “car wash” photos, last week I took my car to get washed and began taking pictures for the 2020 series.

I submitted five new poems (the first submission in almost a year) and heard yesterday a journal in Galway, Ireland called Dodging the Rain will publish them in May and June.

By allowing myself permission to withdraw from the world for awhile, to grieve and acknowledge the losses, the color bursting before me is calling my name to rejoin the ranks.

Or it could have been the Prozac. Either way, I am doing just fine.

Carey Taylor, It’s Been Awhile

This book gripped me: Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard M. Berlin, a set of essays by various poets on Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process. I checked it out of the library because it’s what came up when I searched for work by Denise Duhamel, who judged the 2019 Patricia Dobler Award. […]

I learned a lot about many things and was delighted to find in this book two of our Escape Into Life poets, Ren Powell and Martha Silano, as well as Chase Twichell, whose book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, co-edited with Robin Behn, sits on a shelf above my computer, ready to grab when I need a creative push. I used it when I was teaching, and I use it now.

I always love to read about a poet’s process, and Poets on Prozac has the added interest of how mental illness, whether temporary or permanent, chronic or intermittent, and the treatment or medication for it affects the writing. Excerpts and whole poems are provided in this context, and the authors include mental health professionals who write poems.

Kathleen Kirk, Poets on Prozac

In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?

*

I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —

like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.

It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.

The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of  it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.

Ren Powell, Aches and Pains

I dreamed I watered my cactus. I dreamed a long scrolled piece of paper upon which my sins and good deeds were being accounted for were being shaded in by a lead pencil. The sins were shaded over and over until they were a black ribbon and the good deeds were erasing the black.

It’s so quiet this morning I hear the train whistle all the way from Mount Vernon. Sometimes sound carries weirdly over the water. There is something comforting about a train whistle. Something old fashioned and ghostly and solid and forsaken. I once rode a train from Spokane to Montana. It took several days. I was a girl. I read and rocked and read and rocked. I lived for a little while on Flathead Lake. I lived for a little while on a reservation in Havre where I chewed resin from the trees until it turned to gum and ate rosehips and sang church songs.

Mahler sings Kindertotenlieder tends the forest keeps an eye on the magnolias which is how I keep going forward. I don’t even touch them (only once forgive me) I just watch and keep track and wonder at all of it. It’s a still day. I listened to birdsong and the train and I am forgiven my sins. My trees lift up their hands.

Rebecca Loudon, On the anniversary of my mother’s birth

I’m working on revising my 3rd manuscript. Since Kit passed away, and even when she was still in the ICU—perhaps even since her diagnosis—I’ve had little passion for the project, but have instead used writing as a way to process grief. There have been good and bad, far more bad I suppose, poems come from this experiment. But I’m at a point now where I feel like it is time to revisit Church Ladies and see if it is still possibly a book.

One theme very clear in the book is suffering and fear of the death of my children; its what leads my family to sometimes say my poems are creepily prophetic. But I don’t think so—I just think losing my children is my very real, utmost fear.

So I’ve thought about including my poems where the Worst Fear actually happens—my poems about Kit—but I can’t bridge them in my own mind. I can see the bridge on paper, how it could work—but Kit is very separate to me. Eventually those poems might need to be included; or maybe they are a different book entirely.

The true problem is that I am not the person or writer that I was when I wrote Church Ladies. I can edit with an indifferent eye, but to add to it feels wrong somehow, just as I’d never add to another writer’s project.

Renee Emerson, Revising the Manuscript

The Big Smoke, [Adrian] Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.

In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.

Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.

It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences.

Christine Swint, Persona Poems at Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

“Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them.

“For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to navigate those spaces.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

We had started online with MacNeice – this largely elicited a negative response – form over content, too difficult… My attempts to argue for MacNeice were unsuccessful. People said they wanted something ‘lighter’ (undefined), and one or two people suggested John Betjeman, so we thought we’d give that a try.

In our comfortable-ish new meeting place, we started our discussion of Betjeman’s poems. It did not go as I expected. Each person had chosen a poem to talk about. What happened was that people talked about really personal and often moving experiences, none of them happy ones. When we talked more, people recognised that their responses were not always really related to the poems themselves, and that their experiences had very much coloured their view of the poems. 

It highlighted incredibly strongly how much we bring ourselves to every poem we read – the things that have happened in our lives, our beliefs, everything. This is not a revelation, of course, but I did find it surprising that this kind of discussion was in response to the poems of Betjeman, as did the others when I mentioned it. Everyone said they were happy with the meeting though, and felt that poetry had got them thinking, so that feels right and we’ll see how it progresses.

Sue Ibrahim, A surprising reaction to the poems of John Betjeman

AWP #20 will occur in San Antonio, starting on Wednesday the 4th. I can confirm that I have already experienced a bit of the typical anxiety associated with the pilgrimage.  Each year there are generally 12,000 or more in attendance. If I recall correctly there were like 14,000 last year in Portland.

I have somewhat introvert tendencies, although at times I may break free of the chains. As long as I am able to retreat and recharge from time to time, I can deal with it. For me the stressors are being away from home, being in the midst of a crushing mob (slight exaggeration),  meeting people I am in awe of and being fearful I appear to be a complete goofball, and meeting complete strangers and feeling my first impression (and lasting one) totally sucked.

WHY EVEN GO?  Good question.  I think it has to be personal for each attendee.  For some it is seeing friends that you may see only once or twice a year.  Or it could be meeting  publishers.  Crisscrossing the book fair (always enormous) in search of bargains, newly published material, author signings, or readings. Both onsite and offsite. It could be learning more about the craft at panel presentations, or ideas, learning about marketing or working with publishers, agents, etc.

This year, I am focusing  on a couple aspects of craft. Seeing some friends, attending some readings and doing a reading myself. I want to springboard from the conference into a greater energy in my writing. I have a manuscript I am trying to finish and this could help push me over the finish line.

Michael Allyn Wells, It’s Coming – AWP #20 blogging

It seems in times of crisis I want to spend more time in nature. This last week we had early cherry and plum trees starting to flower, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of them. Plum blossoms in particular have a strong, beautiful scent, especially in a grove of trees, which along with a little more sunlight, increases your feelings of well-being no matter what the headlines. […]

Yes, I’ll be missing AWP this year. I’m supposed to get an emergency root canal tomorrow instead of flying into Texas. Much less glamorous. But AWP kind of has a pall over it this year, especially as it is happening just as more confirmed cases of COVID-19 are appearing all over the US. Hey, let’s all get together in one big room right as a highly communicable virus is hitting! Yikes. I have a genetic immune deficiency AND MS, so this is probably a more frightening prospect for me than most people. That estimated 2 percent death rate is higher for people with other health conditions, and much higher for the elderly – up to 15 percent.

We had the first US death from Coronavirus here yesterday, at a hospital about a mile from my house, and a small breakout (fifty people, both caregivers and patients) has happened in a long-term care home in Kirkland (and Kirkland and Redmond firefighters are in quarantine after reto an emergency there.) There is a lot of uncertainty right now – the doctors and systems here don’t have enough test kits or the capacity to test everyone, we don’t have enough masks even for medical personnel due to poor government planning, and we’re showing more community-acquired illness (two high school kids at opposite ends of town just this week.) In my local neighborhood stores, there’s been some panic-buying – shelves of masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, even in some places bottled water and toilet paper have all been cleaned out. My husband has been running most of the errands to keep me out of crowds, so I’m getting my reports second-hand. Going back to spending time outside, which can really help you not feel too house-bound when you’re mostly confined in your home, is really important. Hence my red-winged blackbird picture (photographed down the street from my house.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Cherry Tree and Split Rock Review, Early Spring Flowers, Missing AWP and the Coronovirus

It’s good to take notes on the details.

There is the spot in the sky
Where the first lip of night rubs the sunset raw.
Write that down.

Or the sound of the tire sliding across the asphalt
As the stink of the burning rubber fills the air.
Note that, too.

The looks a dog gives when it gets confused.
That’s a good one.

James Lee Jobe, It’s good to take notes on the details.

I’ll be honest here; I have little hope of being placed in this year’s competition. Ultimately, I felt my poems lacked the carefree openness that I value in a good poem; you know, that lack of awareness of it actually being a poem. This might sound like nonsense. After all, when you pick up the pen, you intend to write. Poetry or prose, you’ve no doubt decided, on some level, what it’s going to be, before you start writing. So how can a poem lack awareness that it is a poem? Well, I’ve recently returned to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It’s full of beautifully rich language and imagery, but what I admire most of all is the sense of the writer allowing thoughts and images on the page without telling the reader what to think, allowing the reader to take part in the poem and run with it. So, in terms of a model of what poetry should be, for me, Vuong’s debut is it, because it’s full of poems that aren’t screaming, ‘Read me, I’m a poem. Look what tricks I can do.’

This is quite nebulous, and very subjective, I know. And being brutally honest and self-critical, my poems fall far short. So why the euphoria? Well, it’s that small but vital ‘hit’ of completing the work. The manuscript will sink or swim, but that’s out of my hands now. I’ve done my bit. I’ve turned up and done the work (see Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way – she’s big on this). There’s something satisfying about completing a task, so much so that I rewarded myself with a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, to see Saad Qureshi’s Something About Paradise (photographs above and below). 

Maybe something about this exhibition will feed into my writing. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t raining this afternoon. Whatever the forces at work, underlying it all  was a feeling of satisfaction with life which was self-induced. I’d submitted 20 poems to a publisher whom I respect, and who has been totally supportive of my work so far. That submission depended on no one else. It was down to me. The judging is out of my hands. I can’t control or influence it. And what would be the job of a judge if no one submitted? You know the saying, ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.’ Well, there’s some truth in it.

Julie Mellor, Why it’s important to finish …

I started listening to this this week. It’s Helen Mort discussing her relationship with the word Sorry and apologies. I’ve only listened to the first ep so far, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I was at the end of a long week at work and on a bus ride home after a diverted train journey, so I apologise to Helen for needing to go back to it to fill in some gaps before finishing the series.

It did get me thinking back to a draft of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago called ‘Tiny Sorries’. I was looking at all the small apologies I find myself making. I often apologise, under my breath, if I make someone deviate from their course, even by an inch, when walking along the street, or for not holding a door open far enough, for not being fast enough at the water fountain at work, even when I can do nothing about it…

The idea was that it would start there, build up to taking responsibility for not doing enough to stop something we are all collectively responsible for and then…and then…Well, I didn’t know where to go with it, or if it was even worth trying to find out. I think the answer is that it isn’t worth pursuing. However, it was on my mind before seeing that the show was on air. I think it, the poem, pops back into my head daily because of something that happens when commuting or in the office, etc.

Thankfully, what I do know from listening to Helen’s show is that there are plenty of poems about saying sorry, apologising, contrition, etc, so perhaps I don’t need to worry about adding mine to the pile.

Sorry, you’ve been witness to me working stuff out as I go.

Mat Riches, Apologies for Noogies

Clare Pollard in an article pointed out how an interest in translation can lead to escaping the limitation of local trends. She admits to admiring Somali poems “which can seem clumsy … the politically charged rhetoric … the seeming bagginess, the extreme alliteration, the shifts in address, the digressions” thinking that “they just use techniques which are currently deemed ‘unfashionable’ on Creative Writing courses.

Literature has its fashions. The “From Apocalypse to The Movement” module at Warwick looks at one lurch in style. Of course there are many parallel tracks of development happening at different speeds, but if you’re the wrong type of writer for your era you’ll be fighting against the tide.

Because culture isn’t frozen in time, one option is to wait for it to change. I notice at local writing clubs that my conventions don’t always match those of other members. Sometimes mine are more literary – in particular I puncture the sense of immersion – but often I’m just out of step. My guess is that the literary styles that I employed years ago are now becoming mainstream, and the styles I currently use were popular 20 years ago, and may well be so again.

Tim Love, Ahead of my time? Or behind?

he’s the man who draws the white lines
on the pitches every Friday
ready for the games on Saturday
always straight
always the right length
with the leftover lime tipped
and running down the red brick wall
then he goes away
and comes back the next Friday
all through the winter

Jim Young, life’s a pitch

I’ve written the starts of two new poems this week. I haven’t finished any poems I’ve started this year and only finished 10 from last year. I feel like I’m writing in slow motion. After writing everyday for so much of last year and writing so many poems, it’s harder to get back into the flow. Once I actually clear my desk of work and admin, it’s difficult to turn my head towards writing. The less attention I give it, the more I have to work at making time for it, to remember to take out my notebook rather than my phone, to not give into the tiredness on Friday night after work and go to my writing group where I usually have a bit of time beforehand to write. 

I’m back to where I was a year and a half ago when writing was work. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t come naturally, each line had to be pulled from me and shaped, rather than just me falling into a rhythm of writing.

Difference is, I know what is possible now. I couldn’t believe then that I could write a draft of a poem daily, that it could be easy. Now, I need to make the effort to slot it in on days when I’m not teaching. I should try to adapt to writing in the evening when the kids are in bed, but it’s never been a natural time for me to work. But I’ve proven that this old horse can learn new tricks, so it won’t hurt to try. 

Gerry Stewart, Dipping Back into Poetry

When your heart’s piano tuner becomes tone-deaf;

when your soul’s window washer forgets to clean your eyes;

when the walls of your thoughts are painted beige and left taken for granted;

when a bird in the hand feels more like a nail in the foot;

when every sentence you speak feels more like a life sentence in Sing Sing;

when your lips feel like the zombie apocalypse;

when you wear your face like a pair of unpressed pants;

when your socks feel like Nagasaki;

when your heart’s drummer becomes a total bummer—

for goodness sake, don’t forget to breathe.

Rich Ferguson, When at the Borders of the Absurd

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s digest includes posts about the poetry business as most of us actually live it: going to readings and book fairs, meeting up with writer friends, promoting new work, struggling to juggle writing with other commitments, caring for family members, teaching, dreaming, reading, pondering the big questions, and making books and poems out of whatever comes to hand.


So he helps us follow words

by drawing dance steps through the air, dotted
lines that appear like gestures of language

sculpted with his fervor for this, for what
must be said, for what he has said before,

and again, so many times now, waiting
still to be heard by someone who has not

met these words before. Now and then he takes
a step with tenderness, wrapped in woolen

memories as if a child’s blanket curves
and spins around him; he waltzes to words.

PF Anderson, Seeing Ilya Read

I love walking around London and discovering quirky, lost or almost lost sites. Author Paul Talling’s ‘Derelict London’ walks are a must if you’re into this sort of thing and within striking distance of the city. I’ve been on a few of them – but you have to book months ahead, as they fill up within minutes of his posting them online. Subscribe to his email alerts and you’re given a day’s warning so you can be ready on the dot of 9am to hit ‘buy tickets’. Paul’s site is fascinating and labyrinthine, but you can sign up for his emails here if you’re interested the walks.

You may wonder what this has got to do with poetry, but in fact it segues very neatly into a little pamphlet from Tamar Yoseloff’s Hercules Editions that I picked up yesterday, called Formerly. It was the first pamphlet from the press, and a collaboration with photographer Vici Macdonald. Vici’s photos of London’s derelict buildings, ghost adverts and Victorian boozers were the prompts for Tammy’s sonnets. Doorstep sellers, ‘Sweeney’-style low life, barmaids and the dead are some of the voices in these poems, as the poet imagines the people inhabiting these nearly-gone and semi-lost places.  It’s accompanied by a pull-out guide describing the locations, and Vici’s and Tammy’s accompanying notes. Fascinating. I admit I’m a sucker for attractive packaging and Hercules specialise in gorgeous covers – fab fonts, spot varnish and gold leaf abound! The press’s latest publication is Martyn Crucefix’s Cargo of Limbs, which I also bought and am looking forward to reading.

Robin Houghton, Free Verse at Conway Hall

I’m not going to recount the entire half year in this post — but I’ll end with some of the good things: A second book launch in September on Long Island, on my birthday, with friends and family. A trip to Austin, Texas with our children — the first time we’d attempted any kind of family vacation like this — which coincided with the Texas Book Festival, where I signed some books and met more members of Texas Review Press. And a return to the Pen Parentis Annual Winter Poetry Salon, this time with the full-length Fabulous Beast (the last time was with my chapbook), which was celebratory and gratifying and an excellent introduction to some new (to me) fellow parent-writers.

I’m writing new poems and slowly editing my new manuscript, and also applying when and where I can to post-publication awards. I’m trying to support the book and promote it whenever possible without being obsessive and unbearable. The difficulties in securing reviews is a little depressing, but that’s offset by the fact I’ve received some lovely feedback recently — informally and mostly from strangers, but cherished all the same.

Isn’t that really why one writes, and then publishes? In the hope that someone out there is listening?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, It’s Been A Time: The Six Months Recap No One Asked For

Between volleyball matches, at last weekend’s intercity tournament and this weekend’s invitational tournament, I continued to read Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver, and finished it this morning. I was sensing that one of the characters, Mary Treat, who wrote letters to Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, must be a real person, and she was! A naturalist who has plants and ants named after her! I liked her a lot. In the novel, she lets a Venus flytrap gnaw on her finger.

It was a lovely, busy, birthday week for me. The Poetry is Normal open mic at the library resumed for 2020. Our overall theme this year is life itself, its major events, starting with Birth, and, delightfully, our first date coincided with my actual birthday. People read poems on and mostly-on theme, by themselves or others. I gave away candy and books. Our next theme is Childhood, in April, National Poetry Month.

A lovely child named Dusty is born into grief in Unsheltered and is almost ready to walk right into joy at the end.

Kathleen Kirk, Venus Flytrap

Karen Head and I read 300 submissions for the Mother Mary Comes To Me poetry anthology forthcoming from Madville Publishing this fall. We’re getting ready to start sending out acceptance letters and contracts. We’re excited about the work and poets who will appear in this book. We can’t wait for you to see it.

A number of events are on the horizon, including the launch event for Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (et alia press) edited by Megan Volpert. I’m one of 75 queer writers who contributed an essay and photo about an article of clothing that define and inspire us. Mine? Black t-shirts, of course. The launch is March 29, 4 p.m., at the Decatur Library in conjunction with Georgia Center for the Book. The same day, I’ll be celebrating the release of Julie E. Bloemeke’s long-awaited debut collection, Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press). Julie has cooked up a theatrical evening of sights and sounds along with the help of fellow poets (including yours truly) interpreting her work. Watch for details on her website.

Collin Kelley, On the horizon

It might not have been a night for promenading outdoors, but it was a privilege to take to the stage and perform at the microphone. Judge Katherine Stansfield advised that poets would be called up to read, and would be handed their book bundle prize by the new editor of Poetry Wales magazine, Jonathan Edwards. The last three poets to be called would be the three award winners … hence there was a nervous pause after the end of each poet’s performance, wondering who the next poet called would be. The email from Poetry Wales one month before the awards event was unspecific in its congratulation. Essentially it hoped the shortlisted poets would be able to attend to receive their prizes … of course the word prize could signify one of the three awards or one of the highly commended places.

I don’t know about the other shortlistees but I was counting on my fingers how many names were called and my pulse began to quicken as we passed the halfway point! … Might I be one of the three award winners?

I was the penultimate name to be called! Number 9 of the 10 shortlisted poets. I was guided up to the mic and read my poem, ‘Refugee Piece … Existential Jigsaw’. It was a delight to shake Jonathan’s hand as he revealed that there were no hard-copy books for me … Seren had considered my sight limitations and would send me PDF copies that my computer screen reading software would be able to read aloud for me :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Pick of the Poetry

Sometimes it seems like the hardest part has already been done – I already wrote the poems and edited them multiple times. I arranged and rearranged them. I deleted some poems and added others. I submitted it to lots of presses and publishers and was fortunate that Vegetarian Alcoholic Press snapped it up. I found the cover art and did final edits. All of this was hard work. All of this was time consuming. All of this took time and effort. And yet, that was easy compared to what came next: promotion.

No one likes to talk about this because self-promotion has become a dirty word – it seems and yucky and kind of skeezy. But it’s not. And if you want to be successful, you have to self-promote. (For poets I highly recommend PR for Poets by Jeannine Hall Gailey, it is excellent and has a lot of good advice and guidance for how to better promote your poetry.)

I didn’t write a book of poetry to get rich. I’ll never quit my day job, I’ll never be able to live off the money I make from poetry, I’ll likely never even make a single mortgage payment from poetry. I wrote a book of poetry because I love poetry and I think the world needs it. I process things via poetry and it’s one way I see and experience the world. And I think poetry is necessary in today’s world. So I’m okay with knowing I can’t live off my writing but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my book to do well. I still want people to read my book, I want it in libraries and I want it around the world. And this means self-promotion.

Courtney LeBlanc, Dirty Word

It’s Sunday evening and there are so many things I could have done today that I didn’t.  I didn’t send any notes to anyone for no reason than just to say hi. I did not go outside and take a walk, looking up at the clouds or tree tops.  Other than to get out and drive to yoga, I went no place else.  I read maybe 4 or five poems this morning. I journaled around 2:30 a.m. when my mind raced, chased by anxiety throughout the house. […]

Earlier in the day, I was thinking a lot about the upcoming AWP conference. I always get  anxious as it gets closer.  I will likely have bouts of anxiety daily between now and the time I leave.  Also, on my mind today is Ash Wednesday that is approaching. What will I give up for Lent? Will I give up anything?  Will I substitute some proactive thing to do instead?

Michael Allyn Wells, Looking for the Good

If I know in advance that I’m going to have some time free, I try to plan accordingly. Alas, more often than not my inspirational moods don’t sync with the free time. The same usually goes for residential courses too.

Carrying a notepad around helps, as does being able to assemble fragments. Audio book might make me more efficient too. Just occasionally I can combine work and play. But mostly I cope by cutting corners, and doing nothing as well as I could have. I feel I’ve plateau’d in the things I’ve tried. There are no longer any quick wins – significant progress will require significant time investment. It’s just the way things are. I’ve noticed already that I’m compensating by remembering past successes more than planning future ones – see my Illustrated CV. And unexpectedly I’m gaining pleasure from the successes of people I know.

Tim Love, Finding time

Carved out some time (and energy – been a little under the weather) to attend a poetry potluck celebrating my friend Kelli Russell Agodon’s book contract with Copper Canyon Press, and it was great! I got to catch up with some friends I don’t see very often who I’ve known for fifteen, sixteen years now and meet others I’ve only “seen” on Facebook. Some of my old friends had little kids when I met the who are now in college or grown-up with jobs. We talked about where our lives had taken us. Some talked about not submitting or writing for a while. Some talked about new books and planning readings.  It always helps give me perspective on the writing life and all of our journeys when I hang out with other writers. It also gave me motivation – I came home and submitted a piece of fiction (which I rarely do) and sent out some poems as well. There is just something about being with other writers that inspires me to action. […]

I was reminded that the writing life is a journey. There are ups and downs and detours, time to write and time to rest. We don’t all go at the same pace. Life gets in the way sometimes. A supportive spouse can make a lot of difference (and I feel lucky to have mine – plus everyone raved about his gluten-free mini pumpkin pear cupcakes!) And encouraging each other is part of the job. It can feel awfully lonely when those rejection slips roll in, or when your grant application is denied, or that job doesn’t come through. It’s good to have the company of people who have been there, done that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hanging Out with Poet Friends, Signs that Spring Is On The Way

My poems ‘Hare Moon’ and ‘The Postscript’ have been published in issue 89 of Obsessed with Pipework. Thanks so much to the Charles and Katerina for making such a lovely issue and for taking the time to ship it to my far corner of Europe. My kids were excited to see my name in the issue and hear me read one of the poems out, they don’t usually get to see my writing. Though my son said it didn’t rhyme, so I’ll need to spend some time working on his poetry knowledge.

I’ve had a couple of chances to teach creative writing to kids here in Finland as part of my substituting. I recently had to whip up a quick lesson when a teacher accidentally made a mistake in her lesson plans and asked me to teach the same lesson I had taught her class the week before. I gave them three vague prompts about aliens, sports, holidays and asked them to focus on ‘to be verbs’ which our lesson was covering. Some students wrote their one page dutifully, but showed very little excitement because it was just another assignment, but the wee group of boys who had been keeping me on my toes all week took a while getting into it. I forgot how much I enjoy watching kids enjoy writing.

I could see it, the fire behind their eyes as ideas began to grow, as words filled page after page. They didn’t want to go out to break, they wanted to continue writing after they finished their required work in the next lesson. One asked if I could publish their work. If only. That’s why I used to teach creative writing, to see that excitement. Even my teaching assistant was surprised that these particular kids, who struggled with school, who didn’t read according to her, were able to find the imagination to come up with stories that they wanted to write and share. It can be a challenge to find a way to kick start their interest, but there’s usually a way if you can take the time to work with them. I hope it get to use my skills more during the rest of this year.

Gerry Stewart, Teaching Kids and Creative Writing

How to respond in such a way that I might serve both the girl in front of me and the woman she will become? How to be honest (because she has a sense for dissembling sharper than any I’ve known)? How to answer this question that so many women have struggled to answer? That I have struggled to answer?

Let’s re-frame the premise, I remember thinking.

“You know,” I said, “you don’t have to choose. You can be a mommy and still be an artist.”

Not entirely true, but not entirely false. Good enough?

“But I want my art to come first. And if you’re a mommy, that should come first.”

“Lots of women do both. You can, too.”

I remember her looking directly at me. “But you don’t,” she said.

BAM.

Oh, I thought, as her words walloped me. Why is this so hard? “This” being all of it–parenting, art-making, making a living. Being so goddamned tired all the time.

It was not the first time, and most certainly not the last, that I knew with swift, sharp clarity that every single choice I made was teaching my children something about how to live, and that my actions carried more weight than my words ever would or could.

What was I teaching her about how to be a woman? How to make a meaningful life? About serving others and serving ourselves?

She knew that I had a published book. She and her twin brother and father had traveled with me for poetry readings, where she’d seen me on stage, reading my work. I had thought I was a pretty bang-up role model, being a fully-present mom, a published writer, and, through my work as a teacher, a financially independent wife. Apparently, however, she knew that I wasn’t doing much writing. And, clearly, she was attributing that to my being a mother. Her mother.

Shit.

“No,” I said, knowing I had to tell the truth. “I don’t very much.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, Creating Life

I’m so excited to have another poem published by one of favorites–Voicemail Poems! My poem “Resurrection Party” is included in their Winter 2020 issue, along with some really great recordings by several other poets, including Ariel Francisco, Usman Hameedi, Sarah Matthes, and more.

Resurrection Party” is a poem of recovery. It’s important to me that this personal poem is out in the world. Special thanks to Tinderbox who originally published it in 2017. Many of you know that in 2015 my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone in a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he is still the same amazing, creative person he was before the accident. His personality definitely comes out in this poem.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Resurrection Party” published by Voicemail Poems – always open for submissions

Take me and my poetry – why would someone continue to professionally and financially handicap themselves in order to do something they love, even if society is against it, even if your contemporaries are hardly supportive – why don’t you do something that pays lots of money. The answer is simple: I haven’t the will-power and threshold for bullshit that you do, but I have an inexhaustible desire to do what I want to do, even if I don’t do it well. And the poetry world is based on demonstrable accomplishments, so if you’re like me – 33 years old and no prizes to show for it – then you must be in the wrong game, yes? No, hell no.

Dad began as a careerist. He fell into a really well paid job as a surveyor for the Opencast, then they promoted him to a site manager. The job, he recalls, was pretty laid-back and relaxed but then he got made redundant as coal mining was slowly dissolved in this country. He then trained as a lawyer – he spent three years and graduated top of his class. He came home from his graduation and told my mother that he’d never be a lawyer as long as he lived, it was an awful, morally bankrupt profession. So he went back to university, got a degree in urban planning and got involved in conserving old buildings. It’s something he’s utterly passionate about, but like his job at the Opencast, it’s something in direct opposition to the prevailing winds of taste. Nobody cares about really, truly conserving old buildings now unless they’re castles. Councils are so under-staffed and under-funded that greedy property developers now that they can rips out the old windows of building, put in tawdry plastic ones and even if someone complains, it’ll never get taken to court. Not even a tree protection order works, because tree surgeons can be bought – all it takes is insisting the beautiful tree has some disease and must come down. The architectural fabric of this country is being ripped up just so the venal neo-Thatcherite greed-heads can get ahead and it sickens me, it sickens him.

Richie McCaffery, Dad

The poet Lisel Mueller has died.  Every time I came across a poem of hers, I liked it, but I never bought one of her books–in many ways, she reminds me of Mary Oliver, whom I also liked, but until recently, never bought a book of hers.  Both women were much older than I thought that they were–I don’t say this to be ageist, but to say how they seemed to be part of the poetry landscape, but with a much fresher approach to poetry that made me think of them as just bursting on the scene. 

Perhaps I am being ageist after all. Or maybe I’m unfairly dismissing the years of work that go into making fresh poems.  In this idea, I find inspiration.

When I heard of her death this morning, I read some of her poems that I found online.  I was delighted by her approach to history:

“A close-up of a five-year-old
living on turnips. Her older sister,
my not-yet-mother, already
wearing my daughter’s eyes,
is reading a letter as we cut
to a young man with thick glasses
who lies in a trench and writes
a study of Ibsen. I recognize him,
he is going to be my father,
and this is his way of keeping alive.”
from “Beginning with 1914”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Late Appreciation for Lisel Mueller

Poe claimed that there was no subject more suitable for poetry than the death of a beautiful woman; but he was full of crap about that or, at any rate, too swayed by the culture in which he resided in his awkward and outsider way. Nonetheless, he puts forth the assertion that from death can come something that is itself beautiful: a work of art, a lyric, a poem. I do not disagree with him on that point.

Certainly many poets end up writing about, with, or against death; raging or praising; querying, challenging, wondering, fearing, fighting, sometimes embracing or accepting. Do I hear Emily Dickinson in that chorus? Dylan Thomas? Walt Whitman? Marie Howe? Mark Doty? Ilyse Kusnetz?

In a previous post, I alluded to the death of a beautiful woman (a friend), and asked about the value(s) we humans place on beauty–and the way(s) we define, describe, and name it.

Because death’s one of The Big Mysteries–and writers tend to gnaw around the edges of things that are not easily put into words, and mortal is what we are–poets poke at death, encounter it, question it, and question the religious, biological, and social accretions that surround it. Can we find beauty in death, from it, surrounding it? Recently, I attended a philosophy lecture concerning death and the soul from a Catholic (Thomist) perspective, and the talk briefly moved into inquiry concerning the intersection of death and beauty. I did not ask, what sort of beauty–aesthetics, or awe?

But I am asking now.

Ann E. Michael, Death & beauty

Soshin immortalized
an iris on the page.
She herself gone
at twenty-seven.
You & I seek
the same permanence;
faces turned toward the sun
till a breeze carries us away.

Jason Crane, POEM: Petals

I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands.
Instead, at the end of each arm was a large, evil crow.
Whenever these crows would caw, a person died,
Not where I was, but faraway in a place that is nameless.
I struggled to keep the crows quiet, but I failed.
I woke up from the dream exhausted,
Still shushing the damned crows on my arms.
It was my own dream, and I had death for hands.

James Lee Jobe, I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands

Even beyond the images of teeth and skulls and wildflowers, or weeds, that haunt these poems, the music itself is haunting, staying in the mind and the ear. Consider this passage from “Maar”:

“Buffaloburr veins around siltstone
mounds on the monocline

flow rock smooths over into oar
cutleaf cornflower overgrown

pollen blown out
larkspur and beeplant on the meadow

grasp at the basement fault
taut atop diatreme”

A later line in the same poem says “laccolith ghost shadows over hungry dust,” and the word laccolith has lodged in my brain.

The collection includes several multiple-poem sequences, and in these sequences, [Jake] Skeets allows each poem its own form, its own space on the page.

Skeets attends to space on the page masterfully. In “In the Fields,” a discussion of white space interacts with the white space around it.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers

the book has a QR code
but I don’t have a smart-phone
do you read music though

a parish map from 1886
iridescent turquoise beetles
and a ladybird in the floodwater

I tried to knit with dried grass
wrap it round a rusty can
and boil it for an hour

the next day I went to the hedge
for ink beyond the oak gall
the golden glow of the first rust

Ama Bolton, ABCD: February 2020

titanium, that dream of pages being torn one at a time from the book as you are trying to write it, but writing, writing it anyway;

stainless, that hurling of knives against ice-slick targets, fingers sliced and blood on snow but increasing accuracy and control in spite of numb;

a ring of Damascus steel lost somewhere under all this cold, silver, brass, copper braids no longer spun and flesh-warmed but I guess down there somewhere;

something forged white hot, this small, rounded praxis in my body of praise song, praise song, praise song, praise song.

JJS, February 21, 2020: more metal than hope

The problem is that I’m a sucker for a well-put idea, even if it’s my own. I get dazzled by thought. I forget that what moves me, stirs something deeper than dazzle, is the combination of idea and that other thing that arises from the body, sensorial, flesh on flesh or wind on flesh or hum on ear, tang on tongue.

Get out of your head, I say to myself. In my head.

It’s funny because lately I’ve been living much more outside, so am filled with fresh air and pines and the rumple of hilltops and dit dit dah of tracks in the snow. You’d think my body would have something to more to say to my head.

Where in my body have these concerns risen? Where is the slant of my truth? Where is the half-open door from which these ideas breathe a scent — damp cellar? root vegetables? cumin and cinnamon? Where do the tracks lead?

Marilyn McCabe, Going out of my head day and night; or, On Finding a Hook to Hang an Idea On

This little poem is solar-powered, sucking up the sun’s rays and putting them to good use like a hummingbird’s tiny wings do with air.

This short poem doesn’t use more energy than it generates. Does its best to make your light brighter, offer electricity to your coffee maker and cell-phone charger.

This subtle, solar-powered poem longs to cut carbon pollution, create jobs, and empower communities.

Even after its warranty expires, this bright and fleeting poem will not give up the ghost.

Its every word fluoresces across your lips.

Rich Ferguson, Tiny Champion

my first typewriter was called a
‘Little Brother’ and I was ten
much better than a pen
I thought
that the poems looked real
typecast and not typecast
and putting the words down
clattered as if they mattered
to me they emptied my pockets
to make room for more of the words
that were simmering on the back burner
of the rain on the hobs of childhood
wait – stop
don’t smudge the ink with tears you silly old man

Jim Young, My Little Brother

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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 brings an extra long and meaty digest—with posts about making it big, careerism, “the internet with its weird prying snake eyes” (R. Loudon) and much, much more—because in all likelihood the digest will be MIA next week while I’m off doing this.


The new year has certainly begun with bangs and whimpers.

During the strangely mild weather, as snow geese and buzzards return but before the juncos leave us, I have been watching the flocking behavior of starlings.

For lack of anything more relevant to write at this time, I’m posting here my poem “Liturgy,” circa 2002 or 2003, from Small Things Rise and Go. […]

We will not know peace.
Here, the caterpillar
Tires chew fields into slog;
Here a child’s toy erupts
Into a village of amputees.
Sands shift under an abstraction,
The sea grows warm.

Ann E. Michael, Peace & starlings

Time grows, after New Years, like a cauliflower–
half handsome, half deformed, blooming
at its own isotropic rate. On the 3rd we skate
towards war; a plane of travelers crashes
in Iran; Down Under, animals, mostly sheep, burn.

Did the bubbly not last long? At midnight
we’d stomped and danced, undid ourselves
like Mandelstam shaking caraway seeds from a sack.

Jill Pearlman, A Poem for 19 Days into the New Year

The poems capture truths, experiences and feelings for which ordinary prose/description/definition would fail. See what [Mary] Biddinger does here [in Partial Genius] to depict something like the doldrums or stagnation: “I frequented a desolate pie shop. The drinks were lukewarm and all songs on the jukebox were about dying. I did not do this because I thought it would make me authentic. I was lukewarm about everything, often felt war was imminent. I lived in a neighborhood full of homeowners terrified of being first to roll the trash cans down to the curb.”

Carolee Bennett, “regardless of previous circus employment”

For all that I can sometimes add to a well-turned sentence a word too far, only to have it collapse in on itself like some poorly constructed architectural folly, I have problems with language on the fly.  Listening to cornered politicians turning on the tap and shamelessly letting it flow unchecked has me barracking from the sofa.  Hysterical Oscar winners in verbal free fall, pretentious artists endeavouring to translate piles of house bricks into meaningful messages, pop stars who read a book once and now imagine themselves to be sages – all who sling words around like frisbees – have me grinding my teeth down to stumps.  This is not language in search of light; it’s language whose sole context is sound.

Dick Jones, LINGUA FRANCA.

In a book about therapy I read about the technique of replacing “but” by the non-judgemental “and” – e.g. using “he’s cute and he’s a scientist” rather than “he’s cute but he’s a scientist”. This challenges the underlying thought-pattern – the root of my stylistic problem. The underlying thesis-antithesis rhythm’s ok for representing disappointment and dashed hopes (which is why [Margaret] Drabble uses it, I guess). It needn’t be used at the sentence level so often though, even if the piece as a whole is structured along thesis, antithesis, (then maybe synthesis) lines.

Using “and” instead of “but” reduces structural detail and contrast, but opposition is the most simplistic of structures. Using “and” to make lists lets the reader decide what the contrasts are.

Tim Love, But

Most of my personal journal writing, as well as many of my blog posts, tends to be self-reflective and self-referential, often musing on the nature and challenges of writing. It’s writing about writing, or, often, about being unable to write. Why do we write? Why do many of us feel like we need to write? What do we write about? Does it matter?

After more than two decades of blogging, I still believe I should blog more. I realise it’s perfectionism what often stops me from writing publicly more. I also know that becoming a full time academic also meant being in the crossfire between my ideals for the future of scholarly communications and the conventional expectations around academic “productivity”. When time is poor, it may seem as a waste of time and effort to spend time writing in a format that will not “count” nor satisfy others’ expectations.

However as I find some rare reflective time this Saturday I would like to say I still find it essential to be able to have different channels for expression, sandpits where ideas can be rehearsed and, why not, anxieties exorcised.

Ernesto Priego, Scraps- Quick Drafts

In his book, Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel talks about completing work for the purpose of showing: ‘It may mean rewriting the first chapter three times so that it is really strong’.  He says that work is not ready to be shown if you cannot speak about it clearly, and he also suggests that there is a period of transition between the ‘working stage’ and the ‘showing stage’. It makes me wonder if I’m stuck in the period of transition. I’m avoiding the redraft, perhaps because I’m scared the novel won’t be any good when I return to it. I tell myself that doesn’t matter. What’s important is to complete it, to complete a manuscript that is ready to be shown.

Julie Mellor, Making time …

Back in the summer I decided to read Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a Penguin parallel edition with the original Italian and Robert Kirkpatrick’s translation. Many decades ago I was an eighteen-year-old ingenue in Rome, arriving by train and taking up an au pair job while speaking no Italian. My host family were kind enough to enrol me in the Dante Alighieri School to learn the language. This was my first encounter with Dante, and I’m ashamed to say it took me all this time to decide to actually read his most famous work. It would have happened sooner if I hadn’t changed course at University and ditched Italian literature. So – I galloped through Hell (Inferno), then spent around two months in Purgatory. There was so much to process. When I reached the end, I felt I needed to re-read the introduction. But now I’ve just started Paradiso – although I’m still only on the introduction, which is itself daunting. Interestingly, Nick is conducting a performance of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Brighton in March, which is basically a story about a soul’s journey after death through Purgatory and beyond. So we’re been comparing notes over dinner: is there actually a Lake in Purgatory, or two rivers (as Dante describes)? Is it possible to be regaled by Demons trying to lure you to Hell once you’re in Purgatory (Gerontius) or are you impervious to that? (Dante) I have to remind myself now and then that this is all pretty much theoretical.

Robin Houghton, A chilled start to the year

Anyway, there was a Titian, a Raphael, and several El Greco paintings, but that painting is one I had been obsessed with since I saw a slide of it in in Art Appreciation Class when I was 19 – a painting of Judith Beheading Holfernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting itself is striking, the portrayal of the female body in struggle amazing,  but the story behind it even more so – Artemesia was seventeen and an apprentice to another painter who violently raped her. Her father, also a renowned artist, took the rapist artist to court, but it was a strung out procedure and Artemesia did not find justice. She did, however, find the inspiration to paint her new subject – female saints and Biblical figures, usually unfairly attacked or in the middle of attack.  My art history teacher said that Judith is modeled on Artemesia and Holfernes on her rapist. The dark and light, the shadow, the blood, and the odd muscularity of the action would all make this a fascinating piece even without the history. They recently discovered a self-portrait of the artist and she did, indeed, resemble this Judith very much. I just ordered a book about her history because it deserves more study, don’t you think?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Being Snowed In, Art Date at the SAM, and a Little Poetry Catchup

The tomb of the monastery’s founder, Luke (not the evangelist), was originally in the crypt, but his bones now lie in the tiny glass-topped coffin shown above, in a passage between the two churches on the site. Luke, known as a great healer, levitator, and worker of miracles, died in February 953, and for centuries afterward, pilgrims came to be healed by “incubation,” which meant that they slept in the main church building (katholikon) or in the crypt near his tomb, breathing the scent of the myrrh, being exposed to the oil from the lamp above, and experiencing dreams in which the saint would appear and tell them what they needed to do to be healed. I found this practice particularly fascinating, because earlier in the trip we had also been to the 5th century BC Shrine of Asclepias at Epidaurus, where pilgrims did pretty much the same thing — sleeping in the katholikon, among holy snakes that slithered on the floor, and experiencing dreams whose healing instructions were interpreted by pagan priests.

Beth Adams, A Byzantine angel, and where she came from

Countless poets imagine on a daily or nightly basis (or both!) just what it would be like to make it big in poetry. They’re convinced that they only need one major win or acceptance for their path to be cleared to stardom, for their arrival at some hidden inner sanctum to be declared. […]

[Christopher] James has gone through the process of winning and has come out the other side. He tells his story beautifully, with self-awareness in spades and zero narcissism. Making it big in poetry is a fantasy that blurs our focus on the most important things: the reading and writing process itself, followed by a search for readers. Even if we just find one, we’ve discovered real success.

Matthew Stewart, Making it big in poetry

I like the idea of traditional publishing in that it gives an editorial eye. I appreciate that extra once-over and perhaps a bit more publicity support and wider reach than doing it on your own. Also the camaraderie of fellow press-sibling authors and that feeling of belonging.  Editors work really hard, and obv. as an editor, I appreciate that.  But you could also have a friend edit your book.  You could pay a publicist yourself. (Literary presses in general are strapped–no one is doing this for fame or money.) There were a few models that were collective initially that I really liked the idea of–people chipping in to publish others’ books along with their own. So many ways of getting that work out there.  Which is why it makes me sad when I see writers who have really good books sinking money into contests they lose year after year that seem so much like lotteries.  Or worse, that they will never find their audience and give up.

You might look at instagram poets.  While I don’t necessarily like the work I see there sometimes, I also don’t like what I usually see in the The New Yorker, so there’s that.  Neither one more valid than the other, but I would argue that one is far more successful in its reach than the other.   I would take instagram fame in a heartbeat over a magazine geared toward the Lexus crowd. Someone like Rupi Kaur’s reach is enviable, if not for the work itself, but its audience scope. The academic may scoff and dismiss, but hopefully there is something we can learn there.

I do like books and presses and journals, but only moreso because they get things out there a little farther and engage me more with community.  I love my little zines & objects series, but I have only a handful of regular subscribers. yearly. I sell more online separately throughout the year and give many away and trade them at readings . I post a good amount of work on social media and submit/publish in journals, to generate interest.   But I also like putting pdf versions online to get more eyes on them eventually.  I feel like the most read thing I ever wrote my James Franco e-chap @ Sundress.   That and probably my poets zodiac poems–all of them published on instagram.  Poetry publishing feels like an experiment to find that sweet spot sometimes..and I’m not at all convinced it’s landing in the “right” journal or with the right press, but more catching an audiences eye at the perfect moment in the absolute perfect way.

Kristy Bowen, poetry and careerism revisited

this morning the wind is crawling up again so far it’s at an easy going 20 mph I’m still in bed with two cats rereading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential because I wanted to have his voice in my head I have not forgotten what a great writer he was before his television shows and that’s how I knew him first

“I’ve asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it’s this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one’s hands—using all one’s senses.”

This is very much how I feel about being a musician that I am in a secret society a strange little aquarium of skilled obsessives closed to the outside world that the sound of rehearsals the guts of the music library their stacks ceiling high and valuable the after hour parties the competition and the ache that hours of practice brings the sharp emotional pain of having a student you’ve taught for eleven years go away to school the smell of rosin in a cold church on a Saturday morning are things that the world at large cannot gain admittance to not even the internet with its weird prying snake eyes can take it away I don’t feel that way about being a poet I never have perhaps because you can fake being a poet but you cannot fake playing a Mozart violin concerto but to be honest it’s probably because I’ve never felt like I belonged to poetryworld where having an MFA attached to your name or at least a college education is what allows you access to the top tier journals and conferences no matter the quality of your work no matter that I have published five books no matter that one of those books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize I will never feel part of  but plop me down in any size group of musicians then I feel it always and immediately ahhhhh yes this is it this is home and I am so grateful for that strange eccentric family

Rebecca Loudon, Saturnday

Nevada sunrise
a hot-air balloon floats
above the brothel

Dylan Tweney [untitled]

As I drove, I was intrigued to watch my thoughts.  You would think I’d be having contemplative thoughts as I drove to the first of my onground intensives for my certificate program in spiritual direction.  Perhaps you imagine hour after hour of prayer.

Alas, no.  For much of the trip, I found my thoughts circling back to work.  I thought about creating some sort of poem that linked runaway slaves to how hard it is to get away from modern work, but I’m not sure I can pull that off.  I always have the history of the nation on my mind as I drive through the U.S. South, especially during foggy mornings like yesterday.

I listened to the radio for much of the trip.  When John Cougar Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane” came on, I thought of Sandy Longhorn’s recent pair of poems that imagines both Diane and Beth (of the KISS song) grown up.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Journeys

Late at night I’d sometimes catch
the Jackson frequency, hear
“Born to Run”, feel a bright
cold jetstream run through my veins,
leather under my hands.
It was always about the leaving,
movement, knowing there was something
else out there –
something besides pine trees
and kudzu, besides cruising
Main Street and parking at The Lake.

I never thought of evolution as
a by-product of time passing – or
that the 70’s would become
the 80’s, 90’s, then 2000’s,
that my teenage yearnings
would turn into been there,
done that.
I never thought one day I’d
be homesick for those damn pine trees
and my recycled hometown.

Charlotte Hamrick, Seventies

I remember a coveted ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins in the shape of a train. And a fun fifth grade birthday party with a homemade yellow sheet cake from mom that my friends and I got to decorate ourselves, thanks to food coloring and different frostings.

I like how a celebratory cake shows up in poet Natalia Diaz’ poem No More Cake Here. The narrative turn she takes at the end is especially compelling. She is remembering a cake from a celebration (we can call it that) that possibly never happened.

Diaz holds the memory of her brother in two hands, with both a firm and a loose grasp. There lies love and anger side-by-side, at once asleep and blowing up balloons. Our families will celebrate and mourn, many times together. We hold each other loosely when we have to.

Lorena Parker Matejowsky, lovely lemon birthday cake

I have a hard time sitting in front of a puzzle without trying to solve it. Don’t we all mindlessly reach down to fit the shapes together? At the doctor’s office, I’ve seen 60 year-old men slide the wooden pieces of a children’s puzzle into place.

If I can solve the puzzle, I can pin down a truth. I can have expectations. I can expect other people to behave accordingly. Puzzle-solving as an act of prayer.

There’s nothing new here. I know that.

In school we line up after recess. We sit in assigned seats. We face each other in a pleasing circle, and sometimes we hold hands. We make adjustments. Palms facing forward or backward out of habit, are silently negotiated. We are laser-cut pieces that can flip and turn: even in our rigidness we can fit so neatly into one another’s hands.

But sometimes there is a painful beauty in risking it all, trusting ourselves to improvise: upright and unbalanced, throwing our arms around one another in praise of Chaos.

Ren Powell, Performative Existentialism

The owl
knows
the night.

Wisdom
is a
soft-

feathered
flight
through

darkness
to that
quietest

of moments,
a mouse.

Tom Montag, The Owl

Unrelenting. That’s a good word to describe Karen Neuberg’s chapbook the elephants are asking, a collection that sounds a clear alarm about the environmental catastrophe that some refer to as “looming,” but that is clearly happening all around us.

The title poem lays the responsibility for addressing the issue squarely at the feet of the reader. It states,

the elephants are asking—
and the bees and the bats, the prairie dogs, the lemurs, the dolphins—one in six species—asking!
And the coral reefs, the rivers & oceans, the islands & shorelines—asking!


The poem goes through a longer list before nothing that the baby, with wiggling toes and plump arms, is asking. “Even God is asking,” Neuberg writes. With urgent work to be done, these animals and babies are asking us what we plan to do about the situation, and maybe why it exists.

The poem I liked most in the collection is called “Information,” and it starts with an epigraph by Gertrude Stein: “Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” It’s a powerful indictment, I can say after noting that I have been on phone or internet this entire day as I write this. It’s no wonder the environment has gone to hell; its caretakers are asleep at the wheel.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “the elephants are asking” by Karen Neuberg

When I think of a chapbook, I think of a slim volume. But the poems in Katrina Roberts’s collection Lace are large—generous and wide-ranging. When I think of lace, I think mostly of the spaces, the air inside the shapes. But here, Roberts gives stitching a weight of strength and consequence, threads tightly woven, a density of images like swathes of lace, heavy bolts of it. These poems evoke the threads that hold us together, tether us to each other, tie us to the land. They speak to how life comes together and unravels, the knots that we embroider, the knots we pick apart like scabs.

In the poem “Threads,” she describes the yearning to both be free of wounds and to sustain them: “Index finger nattering a scab’s edge, lifting it to leave the hole gluey like meat,” and later in the same stanza, “As soon as it’s crusted, / it needs to be picked. Scars with scars under ooze.”

In “Ode to Absence,” Roberts evokes another kind of lace in “crackers, nets of meal, oats, and corn / moths have knit to lace, inedible.” There’s a tension between the decay, the waste, and the creation of those webs. Like the ephemeral shrouds of cobwebs, their constant haunting.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Lace

I’ve also received the new Hedgehog Poetry Press Cult bundle, a big pile of pamphlets that come with my subscription. I was especially looking forward to Raine Geoghegan’s new collection they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog, monologues, songs and haibun about her family’s Romany life. I had read her previous collection Apple Water: Povel Panni and was really taken by the mixture of poetry, culture and language woven into her writingIt was actually some of Raine’s poems on Chris Murray’s Poethead website that led me to Hedgehog. I was so taken by her writing and thought the house that published her would be worth looking into and it definitely was.

The new collection doesn’t disappoint. I love the colours, the sound of the Romany words her writing evokes. Each piece makes me feel as if I was by those fires listening to those stories, travelling down the roads with a warm, tight-knit family. Raine Geoghegan’s writing offers a different and welcome insight to the Romany culture than most popular media offers these days. 

Gerry Stewart, Too Tired to Think of a Title

You say tomato and I say there are far too many wine-stained pages in the book of this questionable existence. Still, one shouldn’t consider that tome a tomb. The book of life is still legible and well worth reading. 

Rich Ferguson, You Say Potato and I Say

i went for a swim
in a storm with no name
the waves were huge
there was no one to blame
no one in the sea but me
no one there but me and the sea

Jim Young, Storm swim

But what all this has brought out is this – when the news of the demise of someone culturally significant drops, why is there suddenly this frantic race to be the first to offer some sort of encomium? Alasdair Gray’s death generated a supra-tsunami of tweets and obituaries and tributes. You go on YouTube and like a rash, every video featuring the deceased is peppered with ‘RIP’ bromides. I remember as a child my father getting almost giddily excited when someone majorly famous died and being the first to announce it to us. I’m as guilty as anyone else – I mean, I wrote memorial blogs of a sort after the deaths of Marcus and Tom Leonard. But in most instances I managed to say to the face of the person / poet what their work meant to me (as if it ever mattered what I thought) while they still walked the earth.

Richie McCaffery, The RIP Race

They said that the wind would come today, son. It didn’t, but that’s alright. I have my grief and your ghost to keep me company. Who needs the wind?

James Lee Jobe, They said that the wind would come today, son.

Almost eleven months now I’ve been
writing to you, each line a monument

to memory. These poems,
the pebbles I leave on your stone.

Rachel Barenblat, Pebbles

Each street grows its people.
They ripen and wait to be picked up.

I fear that future in which I live
less than I die. Beyond the window

pregnant buildings
hide what they carry in their wombs.

Romana Iorga, On the Bus

Speaking of the weather, bitter winter has arrived! So has the first poem of the new year, which has a little snow in it. And a boombox. And Cole Porter. And that reminds me that I want to hear Harry Connick, Jr. sing the songs of Cole Porter on his new album, True Love. And to read Sontag, by Benjamin Moser, a new biography that awaits me at the library. So much to read, such a nice soft corner of the couch to read it in!

Kathleen Kirk, Right After the Weather