A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: rain, heat, rotten swans, a baby elephant, the rose-veiled fairy wrasse, Japanese death poems, and more. Enjoy.
I am borrowing rotten swan to put at the top of my rotation list of favorite images. It’s the British poet Alice Oswald’s concoction: In her book Falling Awake, “Swan” observes her own wondrously devolving construction as she hovers above herself. In a 2016 interview in The Guardian, Oswald said, “just as a tree can be a nymph, a poet can be a rotten swan.”
Imagine 70-some rotten swans gathering and living wing to wing in the Sierra Nevada mountains for a week! Imagine a conference – Community of Writers at Olympic Valley – where poets had 24-hours to write a poem, for six days, and deliver it by 7:30am to be discussed and critiqued by fellow poet-swans!
Misery!? Communal perversity, self-flagellation, dissolution? A few went the way of the poet maudit, despairing, scorned like Baudelaire’s Albatross. Others observed their own emotions and processes hovering outside self, as Oswald’s swan observes her “own black feet lying poised in their slippers” and “china serving-dish of a breast bone” as she flies from her body. Others dealt in the magic of metaphor – this is that – rapt and suspended by the flash in the blank space between clarities. That’s where I like to be if I can, between place and place, spellbound as something is happening. And hopefully convey the discovery as this becomes that. Some laughed – the joke’s on us! – a took a long, deep, beautiful breath.Jill Pearlman, 70 Rotten Swans
I’ve cultivated a taste for logical arguments but I love a good ramble in the rain.
A human being is mostly just water with a sense of purpose.Thomas Wharton in The Book of Rain (Random House, 2023)
the girl gathers what she does not know into noiseSelina Boan in Undoing Hours (Nightwood Editions, 2021)
Singleminded is efficient but the irrelevant is where new growth comes from. I am drawn to what I do not understand. Curiosity feeds life force. Which comes first, safety or curiosity? […]
Poetry makes do and splendidly. It is not elegant as a millipede but then what is? We make abstract metalwork with words. We obliquely aim. We affirm. We assert. We admit. We reassure. We resume the struggle.Pearl Pirie, What do you get out of poetry?
As to this post’s featured photograph of a Scops owl: H.D. broke her hip and was recovering in Küsnacht, Switzerland when she was struck by this image printed in The Listener (May 9, 1957). Her poem “Sagesse” describes him as “a fool, a clown” making faces in the London Zoo, but also addresses His Comic Highness with a sort of prayer:
May those who file before you feel
something of what you are–that God is kept within
the narrow confines of a cage, a pen… (Hermetic Definition, 59)
As I smiled at the photograph, I realized I’d come to the point that archival work feels physically taxing. My own injuries were much easier to cope with than H.D.’s, and it’s a privilege to work in an archive (subsidized by a small grant from my college, no less), yet traveling was hard, and bending over files for hours at a time hurt. It felt healthy, though, to spend time conjuring a writer who did her best work as she aged, writing Trilogy in her fifties as well as novels, memoirs, and other great poems in the decades after. Her owl is a Fool, Tarot-wise, and a figure for beginnings rather than denouements.Lesley Wheeler, H.D. and my owlish, Fool-ish life
As mentioned in a post earlier in June, I spent a few days around that time trying to choose just 3 poems that I might take with me to a speculative desert island. I was asked to do this by The Friday Poem website and they have now posted the results of my labours. [link]
In the end I chose work by Coleridge, Edward Thomas and Rainer Maria Rilke. Of course, the latter has been on my mind a great deal in the last 12 months or so, as I have been working on a new selection and translation of his work (spanning his career from 1899 to his death in 1926). It so happens that I have just signed off the final draft of this book – all 200 pages of it – and it is scheduled for publication by Pushkin Press in the Spring of 2024.Martyn Crucefix, My Three Desert Island Poems
there is nothing quite like meeting a baby elephant in the woods even if from the back he turns out to be
a shattered tree stump – what matters is the moment you first see him when something like magic happens in you
the transformation of ordinary into extraordinary, the sudden lifting of your heart, and the rest of your run
is filled with gifts: poppies, barley, oh, look, the promise of blackberries and paths yet to be takenLynne Rees, Poem ~ from my ongoing run/write series
It’s July, suddenly! Summer moves so quickly, while simultaneously feeling eternal and leisurely. And we’ve been having drought and wildfire smoke, so it’s been looking like August out there for a while, with chicory fully in bloom and Queen Anne’s Lace ready to pop. Now, thunderstorms bring needed rain. The purple cone flower is open, the orange day lily, the sort of lavendar-mauve Prairie Blue Eye, nothing “blue” about it. I’ve been swimming, except for 2 days this week, when weather & circumstances prevented it, and enjoying the ducks at the pool and some neighborhood ducks on my walks to work.
I have a poem in Image, a beautiful journal. The print copies arrived this week, and the online version comes out July 6. I am thrilled and enjoying the issue, full of variety, plus Art, Faith, Mystery.Kathleen Kirk, Who Gnu?
It’s been just over a month since the publication of my pamphlet Love and Stones, my first publication in five years, and it’s been exciting to do readings again. With my fellow Live Canon pamphleteers, Isabella Mead and Matt Bryden, we had a great launch at The Bedford in Balham, on one of the very last days this year when it still felt cold enough to wear tights!
When I say “it’s been exciting” I feel that I should share a small snippet from my diary in April when Live Canon’s Director, Helen Eastman, confirmed the date for our launch. As you will observe by reading my diary extract, as well as worrying about my hair (I did manage a trim before the big night, by the way), I was also feeling extremely nervous. This has always been something I’ve had to deal with before a reading, to the point of wanting to throw up, and all those wobbles returned once the reality of launch night had been set in ink.
In 2019, I did a three day Linklater Method Voice Coaching course, funded and organised by Ledbury Poetry Festival, which was extremely beneficial to a nervous performer like me. When I was preparing for the Live Canon launch, I kept trying to remember everything that Francoise Walot from Linklater had taught me – but 2019 felt like a lifetime ago. However, some of the methodology did return and after much practising, and with some helpful and encouraging coaching from my son and husband, I *did* launch my pamphlet without any major disasters. In fact it was a wonderful evening with a friendly and appreciative audience. Since then, there’s been a reading in Trowbridge for our Stanza group, a reading in Exeter to help launch Anthony Wilson’s great new book The Wind and the Rain, and, last Sunday, I took part in the Poetry Showcase at Penarth Literary Festival and again thoroughly enjoyed reading to another full house.Josephine Corcoran, One month of ‘Love and Stones’
I like giving readings. I like the strategizing: what to read, in what order, what to convey with my choices; the preparation: what to say in between, how to pause, how long, what cadence. I don’t like the scramble to find opportunities to read. I don’t like schlepping to places I don’t know in the hopes of find a receptive audience. I don’t mind reading blindly into a screen, even though that’s so otherworldly and disembodied. Or more un-worldly and un-bodied. I don’t like that awful feeling when I’ve launched a poem into a room and I can hear the soft thud of it on the floor because, for whatever reason, impossible to determine in the moment, it just didn’t “work.”
Early meanings of “read” imply interpretation. As reading a palm or tea leaves. I like this idea: reading you my poems is an interpretation. It’s a translation of sorts, turning my own words into something that lives off the page and flutters around a space, landing in your ears, a whisper, a breeze, a thump, a game of telephone. There’s something risky about a reading. Hold onto your hat, listener, a word wind is coming.Marilyn McCabe, You got to feel it deep down; or, On Reading(s)
How to decide what categorizes memoir-ish poetry collections? On the one hand, maybe everything ever written by any poet, since connecting the personal with the so-called universal has long been considered the job of poetry. Even narrative and heroic epics, when they are lasting and successful in their aims, contain some aspects we might call personal (motives and emotional responses to a situation, for example), though the writer’s life and its events may be obscured by centuries.
But memoir is not autobiography; readers should keep that in mind. Maybe it’s Vivian Gornick who said that autobiography is what happened and memoir is how it felt–I’m sure I am misremembering, so don’t quote me on that. In a past interview in the New York Times, Sharon Olds derided her own poems as narratives–even personal narratives–but sidestepped the term autobiography; she still refers to the first-person in her own work as “the speaker.” […]
Where does that leave us as readers? I don’t know–and I think it’s okay not to know. That said, I have recently read a number of poetry collections that fall decidedly on the memoir side of the continuum and found them interesting, informative, well-written, at times beautiful and also at times hard to read (i.e., profoundly sad). If you, my reader, are intrigued by the challenge of what is or is not memoir in poetic form and are open to experiencing the circumstances and knowledge of other lives and perspectives that such work offers, here are a few books you might investigate. There are many, many more–this list is just from my more recent perusals. Not one of them is anything like the others.
Edward Hirsch, Gabriel, a poem; Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare, Corona; Emily Rose Cole, Thunderhead; Daisy Fried, The Year the City Emptied; Sean Hanrahan, Ghost Signs; Lisa DeVuono, This Time Roots, Next Time Wings.Ann E. Michael, Autobiographical?
Me before writing my seminary research paper: It’s useless; I thought I had good ideas but now I don’t remember what they were.
Me after writing the first paragraph and figuring out my overarching point, my long awaited thesis statement: Maybe I should try to get this published.
Me, watching others achieve poetry publication success: I thought I might have a first book. But I haven’t yet. Clearly my poetry has no worth.
Me, reading this poem that was published in 2009, which I rediscovered yesterday from reading this post as I wrote about watching Missing again: This poem is brilliant! I should compile a new manuscript to submit as my first book and start sending it out again.
Insert a moment of gratitude for literary journals that still exist online, and a moment of sadness for that moment in 2009, when I thought we were creating a brave, new literary community.
Me, parking the car in a place at camp where it won’t be in the way: I’m tired of always moving cars, all summer long, and why is it so damp all the time?
Me, seeing one of the berries in the bramble bushes in the vacant lot along the side of the road, as I walk back from parking the car: It’s a sign from the universe that I belong here.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thoughts in the Bramble Bushes
I wish I was named after the beaver, or the giraffe,
an animal strong enough to shatter a lion’s skull
with a single blow of its hooves.
In Dutch my name means people, folk or evenFokkina McDonnell, Birthday
battle folk. My grandmother died at 55.
I’m beyond that age. I am an animal after all.
I’m a member of a local special school’s governing body, which met yesterday. The school’s headteacher, in presenting her admirably clear and thorough report, raised the concept of ‘the restless school’: one which is never content to rest on its laurels, but instead constantly seeks to improve, for the benefit of the children and young people, the staff and the school community as a whole. On my walk home, as my thoughts shifted elsewhere, I took the concept and applied it to my own ‘improvement journey’ as a poet.
I like to think that I’ve never been complacent about my poetry, that I couldn’t be found guilty of coasting, to use another well-worn school-context term. What’s my evidence for that? Well, my reading, and writing about, other poets for a start, all of which feeds, whether consciously or otherwise, into the choices I make when I write my poems. Most of all, though, is the business of drafting poems, pausing for however long is needed (days, weeks, months . . .), redrafting, and so on, until I feel it’s in a steady state of sorts and ready for sharing.Matthew Paul, The restless poet
1. Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the verge of death -compiled by Yoel Hoffmann gets a 4.4 on 5 for being such a fantastic compilation that tells you everything you need to know about the form and its history.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading List Update – 12
2. The book includes an explanation of haiku and tanka tradition and has poems written by Zen monks, by famous and not-so-famous poets just before their death and by Samurai warriors before committing seppuku/harakiri.
3. The death poems generally use one or more accepted symbols of transience: cuckoos, dewdrops, plum petals, seasons, clouds from the western sky (where the next world is believed to be), fireflies etc. Like this one:
Today, then, is the day
The melting snowman
Is a real man
4. There is irony as much as nature aesthetic – all accomplished in admirable brevity. The book, wherever possible, gives the background of the poet and poem, the backstory and the little bits that otherwise would have been lost in translation.
Had I not known
That I was dead
I would have mourned
My loss of life
– Ota Dokan
5. This one by Tomoda Kimpei, a little-known poet, stands out for its craft and wisdom, echoing the mental state and calm acceptance of death that the poets display.
In life I never was
Among the well-known flowers
And yet, in withering
I am most certainly
– Tomoda Kimpei
6. Poem after poem speaks to the skill and life of the poets and so many resonate across centuries and cultures:
I cast the brush aside—
From here on I’ll speak to the moon
Face to face
Now, the rose-veiled fairy wrasse lives in the ocean’s twilight zone, 131 to 229 feet below the surface. It is not widely admired or interacted with there (the recommended maximum depth for scuba diving is 131 feet), and yet, they are, and are, and are as they are—ecstatically colored translucencies, one of the ocean’s many Tiffany lampshades.
“Nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise.” What could please more permanently; and, yet, I cannot explain how anything beautiful exists, let alone at depths, so apart from our paradigms of admiration. “Otherwise” makes more sense. We know there are blobfish, which look just about as exciting and appealing as they sound (no offense to them; I’m sure they’re amazing company). You might assume that everything beyond a certain distance from the sun looks like something Source began, then left to languish half-completed in the drafts folder…
That’s not at all the case, however. And listen, I get it: the sheer ingenuity of biodiversity, the chastening influence of randomness. Some things just are, and writers can exhaust themselves—or worse—risk a sort of mawkish self-aggrandizement trying to muscle the world into legibility. That is not what I am suggesting; I dearly need the unaccountable. I need Coleridge to be wrong—not in principle—but because “reason” and “otherwise” are limited by their human beholders, and we’d do well to believe in possibilities more sensitive and nuanced than we may even begin to understand. We can feel them.Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday (on Thursday)
If Heaven, river. What greeny something. Shine, Kawartha Highlands. Lake, and early hum. Once, in the shadows. Glowing outwards, temperate. Ontario syntax. Reassuring this, and self. A revelation, you. I see the world. Claw, in architecture. Bipolar lift, a tongue. A peace the mind can breathe. Although the dark remains, small lights in favour. Celebration, soar.rob mclennan, A manifesto on the poetics of Asphodel Twp.
The Books from the Margin book club choice for June was Helen Mort’s brilliant debut novel Black Car Burning. I’m always interested to see how writers who are known as poets come to the fiction genre. Black Car Burning is beautifully written, but it is also a gripping read. The plot is textured, with the landscape itself providing tone and character. Helen Mort doesn’t shy away from difficult themes, including the Hillsborough disaster and immigration. She tackles big subjects elegantly, with a careful eye for the nuances within polarised opinions. The book club met up to chat about the book, and books in general, last week. It was a lively and intelligent discussion group, as usual, in which we found ourselves exploring what it meant to write about trauma that was not directly our own, who owns the story of a town, how we write about immigration and the cultural difficulties, and joys, that a multi cultural societies deal with. Thank you Helen for your thoughtful and fascinating answers to our questions. [click through for an interview]Wendy Pratt, “I see all the things we write and publish as markers in time.” Helen Mort on ‘Black Car Burning’
I must confess to being profoundly moved by this pamphlet. This isn’t a tale of heroism or of a self-congratulatory story of victory over adversity: this is much more subtle: it is humbler and more relatable. This is the story of an ordinary bloke, like you and me, faced with the worst illness imaginable, who survives, but who reacts along the way, like any one of us might. Rebel Blood Cells is honest, authentic, impressively crafted poetry that makes the unimaginable imaginable.Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Rebel Blood Cells’ by Jamie Woods
And did you know July is Disability Pride Month? I did not until CLMP posted a reading list for it, including wonderful books by friends like Ilya Kaminsky, my own new book and a poem of mine. I feel honored to be in good company, and ordered a couple of books off the list immediately. Here’s the list! Feel free to support disabled writers in July! […]
I’ve also been working on my next book in preparation for a weekend writing retreat with my friend Kelli Russell Agodon. We are going to exchange books, talk shop, bring some books to read and maybe take some outings for fancy tacos, ice cream, or a lavender farm or winery. I also attended a wonderful online talk by Orion on fairy tales and climate crisis, which was really interesting (and I re-subscribed to Orion,) and had our book club where we discussed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and our next book up, the poetry book Our Dark Academia by Adrienne Raphel, who I’d never heard of before I picked her book at Open Books, Seattle’s all-poetry bookstore (where I’m heading today as well, along with a stop at the Frye Museum to see this exhibit by Kelly Akashi.)
As you might be able to tell, after six months of doing promotion work for Flare, Corona, readings, radio interviews, social media, etc, I felt my inner writer and creativity needed a little bit of a boost, a refill, if you will.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Almost-4th with Birds on Display! Foreword Reviews Flare, Corona, Writing with Friends and Other Ways to Nurture Your Inner Writer, and Disability Pride Month
I want my poems to sound as if they wereTom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (513)
written in a different alphabet,
the old monk said.
Today, it was a blissful creative work day entirely, which began with coffee and muffins and formatting some postcards and placing a cover order for the press and for those–my five favorites from the sea monsters series. As expected, the smoke has drifted out, but the humidity has replaced it, which means I don’t stray very far from the fans. Then the first couple sections of the book, making the changes in the file as I went, nudging margins and addressing any tenacious typos that have managed to survive this long (there were quite a few in the reformatted tabloid poems where I changed line breaks and sometimes was missing spaces and punctuation. )
Since I finished finalizing the GRANATA poems last week, I thought I would send them out and see if they would land anyone’s eye. But I find that spotting cool new little journals is hard since abandoning Twitter. I finally just started working my way through new-to-me journals in the P&W list, though I know I’m probably still missing out on the rare uncatalogued gems or mags too new to be listed there. I did manage to batch them up in 5s and send them like little ducks out into the world. Though, as a whole, that mss. will need a lot of rearranging when I get to it–the kind where you print it out and spread on the floor to make sense of it, but that is a project for fall perhaps.. I also made up some poetry postcards for instagram next week with the leftover pieces I didn’t submit so those are ready to just post whenever.Kristy Bowen, rare writing and art days
A sprinkler drops water on my thirsty ferns. Heat rolls over them like a big wave over newbie surfers. I huddle inside in the chill wind of the A/C, remembering a sultry summer sun pinking my hands full of blackberries in a time that is no more.Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Heat
Texas broke me. Late on the 4th afternoon of nothing but driving, it was 104 degrees in Fort Worth. When I got out of the car at a gas station, it felt like stepping into a furnace. When I hit that wall of heat, my tenuous hold on OKness melted.
I felt overwhelmed by how foreign such huge swaths of my country feels to me. I felt overwhelmed by how much of the land is empty, or only very sparsely populated. I felt overwhelmed by our history. We passed so many towns that are shells of what they once were. Old buildings with empty or boarded-up store fronts. Dilapidated motels, falling-down gas stations, shuttered restaurants. I felt overwhelmed by the scope of ugly commercial sprawl. We passed so many towns with nothing but chain restaurants and gas stations. I felt overwhelmed by how many Americans are living such hard lives. It’s one thing to know it from images and stories, and another thing to drive through places and see it first-hand.Rita Ott Ramstad, Broken
Every family has its hardshipLuisa A. Igloria, Provision
foods, its illness foods—in ours,
I remember my mother’s
cracker soup: a pack of pulverized
Sky Flakes, water, milk, salt, and
pepper made richer by the heat
of the stove. An extravagance:
onions, celery, a chicken wing.
The uncles were always talking
about the war that still felt
as close as yesterday; what they
found in the ditches and ate—
snails, frogs, mushrooms foraged
in the woods. Fronds, rinds of fruit,
blackened peel; even the humid
rain that salted dusty towns. Look
at the wide and generous platter
made by the dark, night after night.
We shall grow old together,
without words, in faith and grace.
Now will, as it must, become then.
Enough light to walk the cliffs for years yet.
Enough time for our ghosts to go on believing
even when this house is a rectangle of earth.
Enough shape for the guardians of memory
to inherit the fragments of our lives.
We are always more than what happens to us.Bob Mee, OF NUNS, GOLIATH AND WAXWORKS
himawari no me no musû naru yoru no michi
a night road
Yumiko KatayamaToday’s Haiku (June 27, 2023)