Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 17

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 found poets reading, writing, not writing, reviewing, gardening, walking, thinking, playing video games, teaching, dreaming, sheltering in place. “These are the quarantine cuts…”


These are the quarantine cuts
we gave each other,

 scissors to hair to floor.
We’ve grown so close,

 like face to mask
and hand to rubber glove.

 I’m your crazy, 
one legged shadow…

Claudia Serea, After so much time together, we finally got matching haircuts

Sometimes at night my kid is scared, can’t sleep
and loss piles up on loss like banks of snow.
Count to twenty while I scrub each hand.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.

Loss piles up on loss. The banks of snow…?
When I wasn’t looking, spring arrived.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.
Outside, bright daffodils lift up their heads.

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic pantoum

The world is changing, reaching out, but when the entertainment venues are open, the ability to meet up returns, will anyone remember that there are still those of us who can’t take a weekend off to go to a conference or have the money to get public transport into a bigger city for an event, who physically can’t travel to do a 9-5 job?

I hope this new online, distance-friendly, open culture will continues after the dust from the Corona Virus settles. That my kids can still pop into a friend’s birthday in Australia, even if it’s only to watch him blow out the candles. That I will be able to ‘attend’ an AGM or conference via Zoom. That I will be able to read my work at a magazine launch, even if it’s only on their website afterwards. 

I hope that we remember that ways exist to include those isolated in our worlds and that we are allowed to continue to use technology to build an even wider community, as inclusive as possible. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Five: Isolation After Isolation

We are all living in the multiple registers, processing all the different realities, simultaneously. Obviously, I’m on a computer writing this, at home, safe, with my wifi, so that means that I’m in the privileged class, even if I have lost my job and am living with uncertainty. I can also be hopeful, which is a privilege, too, I don’t lose sight of that. By the end of this we will all have suffered loss of one sort or another. And yet, there will also be pockets of happiness, and we will learn to love life in all sorts of new ways, too. We won’t neglect our sorrows and we shouldn’t neglect our duty to happiness, either.

Probably you’ve read by now Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights? I won’t quote at length from it, but remind you of the chapter where he talks about how we might join our sorrows, and in doing so, he asks, “What if that is joy?” What if we were to knit our sorrows together now, our worries, our waiting, our hopes and our fears? What garment would we make?

What if you could extend your quiet outward? Though we hardly move we are close to the door to the temple….

Shawna Lemay, The Quest of an Inner Quiet

The next photo is of Stonehenge, also taken in the hot summer of 2018. We live in West Wiltshire but often travel past Stonehenge, in the north of the county, on the A303 – which is where I took this photo from the passenger seat of our car, on our way to visit family in London.

There is, of course, something magical and special about this ancient site, and it always strikes me as extraordinary, however many times I’ve seen it,  that it suddenly appears by the side of the road, without fanfare.  I remember a time when the whole site was open to the public to visit, no barriers, no financial charge.  I don’t visit it these days (even before lockdown) as I hate queues and crowds of people so I don’t like visiting tourist sites in general.  My son has been to the summer solstice at Stonehenge several times and says it’s wonderful.

I like the sense of travel in this photo, a sense of escape.  I’m looking forward to being able to go places again, on a whim, without planning, just taking off somewhere.  What must those stones make of what’s happening to the world at the moment? Have they seen it all before?

Josephine Corcoran, Three photos from my camera roll

I woke up at 3:00 am thinking about bees (it’s one day before my 60th birthday, and I still can’t sleep through the night). The day before, my son and I were sitting in the garden when a swarm of bees flew over our heads and settled in a tree across the street. The sound of a bee swarm is alarming, but bees are at their least dangerous when swarming. They have no home to defend; they’re following the queen, who, for reasons known only to her, has decided it’s time to leave the hive and move somewhere new.

In Oregon, we’re in Week 7 of the coronavirus stay-at-home order. Like many of us, I’m having trouble sleeping, but I’m used to that. When I can’t sleep, sometimes I recite poetry in my head. After I thought of yesterday’s bee swarm, these lines from W.B. Yeats’s immortal poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” popped into my brain:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

I’ve fallen in love with a lot of poems, memorized them, idolized them, and, once the glamour wore off, seen them for what they really were: a pile of words containing all the flaws of their creators. But “Innisfree” has never lost its appeal, no matter how many times I read it. Deep in the night, I soothed myself with the lines

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

Erica Goss, Bee-loud Brains

With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over. Sheltering at home for the duration of the pandemic gives our roots time to set and grow. We can see that life is more about how we are, much more than where we might grow. Relax and breathe. Dig deep. 

James Lee Jobe, With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over.

Although it has been allowed here – all along – to gather in groups of 5 or less (keeping a responsible physical distance), I have not been around other people for social reasons for 43 days. Yesterday, I showed up for a friend. To be with friends.

I made a decision yesterday to remain diligent and responsible, but to let go of fear.

I know that fear is a useful emotion. But it is not a useful state-of-being. When E. and I hiked across the Hardanger plateau on our honeymoon, we had to ford some powerful rivers, and scramble along some steep screes, with 25 kilos on my back. I took note of the fear, and regarded it as an important signpost to heed, but not as something I needed to slip into my pack and carry with me.  I knew that would put my health at risk.

Yesterday I witnessed a work in progress – a site-specific performance that was beautiful for so many reasons. The performer was wearing a bright orange suit, and at one point danced her way down a long stretch of a pedestrian path. The sky was blue, the birds were calling, and I could hear water gurgling through a drain somewhere in the field.

It was a celebration of life. But watching her shrink in the distance as the path narrowed, it was impossible not to contemplate the fact that our lives encompass deaths.

Ren Powell, Circles of Awareness

Flat and metallic, my tongue  
like disinfected aluminum.  The scent 
conveyed from nose to throat,
a sympathetic gag almost. 
Vapors wave before my eyes.
Clorox, ghost of scents past,
seemingly obsolete, you’ve come back.

You were banned, like death,
things we thought we’d conquered.
The stink of fear, soured dispositions,
army hospitals of World War I.

Jill Pearlman, Olfactory

Here’s what’s more sobering:  now all of my undergraduate English professors are dead.  I realized I wasn’t sure about one of them, but the miracles of the Internet supplied the information.  My Shakespeare professor, Dr. Steen Spove, died in 2008 of pancreatic cancer. 

When my favorite English professor, Dr. Gayle Swanson died in 2014, I blogged about it here and here.  Much of what I wrote about her applies to the whole English department of Newberry College when I attended.

I learned to love literature in a variety of ways through the teaching of all of those faculty members in the English department.  I learned to love a variety of works of literature.  Granted, the reading lists were traditional, but they gave me a solid grounding.

And when I wanted to explore more, to examine the women that had been left out of our beloved Norton anthologies, not one professor discouraged me–no, that would come later in graduate school.  My undergraduate professors were interested to see what I would come up with, and they let me loose on the margins of the canon.

They also nurtured my writing skills and talents–of course, you’d expect English majors to be nurtured this way, but after shepherding students for decades, I’m more in awe of this now than I was then.

When I look back, I am astounded at how open our professors were, how they had us over to their houses (and their second houses).  I’m amazed at how many cultural opportunities they made possible, both by inviting authors to come to us and by taking us on field trips to see authors and other intellectuals.

Part of me will always want that kind of teaching life for myself, the joys of a small, liberal arts college.  Part of me has this sobering realization that many of those types of schools may not survive this time of pandemic, when this old-fashioned kind of teaching, learning, and living in close proximity may not be feasible.  I know that many of the small, liberal arts colleges weren’t doing well before the pandemic, and they may not have the dexterity to survive into what will be the new reality.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last English Professor

I started reading this book [Oculus by Sally Wen Mao] in mid-January and created the bones for these reading notes at that same time. I didn’t get very far. The anxious mood I’d been combating proved to be more formidable than I’d hoped, and so I walked away from my reading/writing goals without even realizing I’d done so. I was fortunate to get back into therapy, which has been a great comfort, but the descent into lock down/quarantine (#socialdistancing to fight the pandemic) happened at roughly the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work from the safety of my home and be paid, but it’s been difficult in its own way. All of that is a story for another post, and I do hope to explore it at some point, but I return to this book in the context of all of that. Deep into all of that. Weeks and weeks deep. Layers and layers deep.

Oculus starts with these three lines: “Forgive me if the wind stole / the howl from my mouth and whipped / it against your windowpanes.” This COVID-19 quarantine seems to be making everything hurt just a little — or even a lot — more. My initial notes about “Ghost Story,” the collection’s opening poem, captured only these lines: “We relied on our plasma television / to pull us back to the world again.” In light of the pandemic, I seem to be reading much more into it now. For example, “the curtains parted, exposing / us to the wolves above.” And “we built new barricades / between ourselves.” And “that was the last time I trusted a body that touched me.” And “a heart broken / joins another chorus. Can you hear / the chorus speak? Can you bear / it?” Has the pandemic changed all the meanings? I don’t want to imply that the poem is now “about” the global crisis. It isn’t. It’s still about the loneliness that exists inside a relationship when it isn’t working. However, what I am wondering is whether or not being gutted by what’s going on in the world has heightened our senses. Are we more attuned to the pain of others? Are we any more likely to feel the suffering of others in our own bodies? As poets, we’ve been like this all along to a degree. It’s our superpower (and our struggle). But I do believe there’s something incredibly powerful emerging from the collective compassion and unrest.

Another way to look at all that is just to say that poetry meets us where we are. It’s as much what we bring to it as it is what the poet painstakingly sculpts. As a poet that’s freeing. It’s exhilarating. It’s also god damned infuriating.

Carolee Bennett, “if this doesn’t comfort you”

Not only is his name essentially a pun—“patient” as both noun and adjective—and not only does the name “Patient” efface a “wrong name” that is never revealed, but we are divided further in our understanding of Patient through consideration of just what it means, medically, to be a patient. A patient’s subjectivity is one which may be experienced more as subjection; moreover, that subjection is itself split between the doctor whose care he is in and the disease itself. Thus, a patient can be seen as a site of radically fractured subjectivity: he is a site of deferral (“patience,” again) between self and other, sickness and cure.

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

Spilt Milk was one of several books, also including Susan Wicks’s Singing Underwater and Thom Gunn’s Collected, which, after a few years’ absence, coaxed me back into writing poetry in the late 1990s. I remember reading it by a pool c.1998 and thinking it was the ideal holiday poetry collection, because it’s suffused with what became Sarah Maguire’s perennial themes: heat, sultriness, sensuality, sex, food, gardens, a tangible sense of place – her native West London, Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East – and Irishness, of her birth-mother and adoptive parents. Each poem seems so well-made and moves around through time and space.

But, like The Pomegranates of Kandahar, Maguire’s last collection published while she was alive, it also has a sharp political sense: of the uncertain times just before, and then after, the fall of the Berlin Wall; of women’s rights; of respect and support for migrants; and much else besides, but without seeming forced or didactic. I think that’s a very difficult balance to achieve. (Maguire went on, of course, to found the deeply important Poetry Translation Centre.)

Matthew Paul, On Sarah Maguire’s Spilt Milk

There’s also an acute sense of the absurd, as when, in the care home, the poet turns his father’s watch back an hour. It’s an act of love for a man who has forgotten where he is: ‘By night, he gets half-dressed for going out: “To interrogate a Russian spy” ‘. Paul retains a sense of humour here that could so easily be lost. When we get to the prose poem ‘D Word’, we learn that, ‘Dad’s been disturbing other patients by yelling out’. Placed in a side room, he barks ‘Come on’. Paul carefully handles the possibilities of what this actually means: perhaps his father is calling to him and his brother, or the cat. But who could have imagined that final interpretation, that he’s calling to ‘death itself’. It’s a brave last line, short and powerful, stopping the reader in their tracks.

In the final poem, ‘Queen Queenie’, the ‘you’ is presumably Paul’s mother after his father’s death. Rather than seeing hope in nature, she hears it in the late blackberries, ‘still singing lustily on their bush’. Those singing blackberries are such an uplifting, life-affirming image and absolutely the right note to end on.

This is a very coherent collection. The blurb indicates that the poems have been written over a span of 30 years. I like that. It indicates a willingness to wait, to be attentive, to let the poems come to you. Perhaps this accounts for the variety of characters and situations Paul is able to relay, and the scope of the book. All in all, it’s a very satisfying read.

Julie Mellor, A Review of Matthew Paul’s ‘The Evening Entertainment’

HUNTER MNEMONICS, Deborah WoodardHemel Press, 2008, illustrated by Heide Hinrichs, $6 paper, http://www.4h-club.org/hemel.html.

It seemed like cheating to include  this slim chapbook of only 5 prose poems in my month-long read-a-thon, so I read it twice. The images are dream-like, or they are like images drawn from a fairy tale you heard as a child and have never since been able to find. It casts a spell. Certain motifs repeat and repeat, poem to poem, like stones you might step on to cross a creek. It immerses you in something, but when you emerge, you’re not quite sure what it was.

I heard Woodard read these, and afterwards I couldn’t get them out of my head, so I contacted her and she gave me a copy. Does it depict a walk in the woods as a child, to a town that no longer exists? Or is it a walk in imagination?

Bethany Reid, Deborah Woodard

Marianne Chan’s brilliant debut collection [All Heathens] engages a wide array of topics with insight, wit, and brio: not only religion but colonization, copulation, space exploration, and family relations (her mother is a funny and wonderful recurring character). I fell hard for Chan’s work in the process of selecting pieces she had submitted to Shenandoah, and All Heathens expands on the pleasures of those pieces in a satisfying way. As I take notes for these micro-reviews I make notes in the back of each book about zingy lines and titles, and there are too many here to list. One of the most hilariously wicked poems is a retort to “When the Man at the Party Told Me He Wanted to Own a Filipino,” and there are so many great metaphors, too (“the sun was hot yellow tea in a saucer”). A few lines near the beginning of All Heathens crystallize something about the book for me: “my mother keeps telling me/ that I should move my hips when I dance, because I am as stiff/ as a Methodist church in the suburbs…” I’ve never met this author and can’t tell you how she would boogie if this virtual salon ended in a dance party, but her poems are full of oscillations and surprising turns that could constitute poetry’s answer to her mother’s instruction. Words can move, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #8 with Marianne Chan

During this crisis I’ve been pulling one book at a time from my poetry shelves and delving into it over a period of days. Searching might be a better word — for kindred spirits, and expressions of emotion and lived experience that feel resonant with my own. There aren’t going to be literal parallels because this particular crisis is unprecedented, and that’s not what I’m looking for. It’s more a search for people who also walked in some sort of darkness but faced it squarely, and found meaning in it, or in spite of it.

That’s different than looking for naive hope, or painting pretty pictures as a distraction. I’m grateful for all the beauty and hopefulness I see or am able to create, don’t get me wrong. As a writer and thinker, I just don’t seem to be able to avoid talking or writing or reading about the ignorance, cruelty, heartlessness, and sheer evil that are going on, especially in America; or the risks and sacrifices of the largely anonymous and often poorly paid people providing critical services; or the immense sadness that comes from this massive worldwide loss of life — life in every sense of the word.

I wish it were different, but I’m not particularly optimistic about the future; we humans don’t learn very well from history or our own mistakes, and most of us are primarily selfish and focused on the short-term. Nevertheless, love is always present, and where there’s love, we can also find light and hope. Naive liberalism will get us nowhere; the forces arrayed against it are too great, and too entrenched in most of our societies and governments. I think it’s actually more hopeful to avoid wishful thinking and instead see things as they actually are — and find ourselves and our way forward centered within that reality. As Thomas Merton wrote, we need to cultivate the capacity to hold the darkness and the light together, simultaneously, because that is the way the world actually is. Certain poetry does that, and music, and some people also do it — usually very quietly — in the way they live their lives.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 19: A Spade

No grief is foreign to us
anymore: the grief of birds
stranded between seasons,
the fruit on the tree
still green as a stone with no
way to hasten its sugar. New
strains invisibly misting
each bench in the park, yellow
Xs of tape marking off space
on one side.

Luisa A. Igloria, Can the ordinary be foreign as the death of a cloud?

Once we are set free

from this quarantine,

I will search beneath your bed to ensure there are no more monsters—

monsters bearing the odor of heartbreak; monsters bearing smiles whose teeth are chipped tombstones; monsters stealing wonder and leaving only wounds.

Rich Ferguson, In Praise of Beastless Beds

Life could be worse, than to pass the night while reclined.
Still, this is a hard place to be. Harsh lights erode
any sense of mystery, while puzzles remain
formulaic and vague, shrinking into shadows
at the edges of the room. Throw beauty a bone
with a framed department store poster, flowering
like bruises under her skin. Her mind wandering,
wired-down arms puddle on the mattress (gravity
dense), while x-rays steam open the chest cavity.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Reclining

on a scale of one to ten describe your wristlet your shrunken paps your crushed toe your shredded pancreas your questionable meds have you ever been in a psychiatric ward do not do not answer yes do not cry or laugh or move your mouth or eyes the pain tractate here is a chart with cartoon faces from pale to fire ant red and growl point to the cartoon pain picture on the scale of one to ten that matches your experience inside the hospital machinery excuse me excuse me eat the contents of this paper cup is it not the communion of the body of Christ point to the cartoon face that matches your face equally is this not the face of Christ describe the contents of your purse point to the cartoon face on the pain scale that matches the contents of your purse pain equally take this cup in remembrance of me take this cup let this cup pass from me today is the last day of lent Spy Wednesday commemorating the day Judas sealed the fate of Jesus with his spittle point to the cartoon face of Jesus on the pain scale that most closely matches Judas’s sorrow and inability to make and keep friends

Rebecca Loudon, corona 16.

we can’t see you yet
it just goes round and round
turn on the audio

only one right answer
make do and mending
using up scraps

thrushes wake me
we are locked in
serves us right

dragons emerge
and there are bitterns
the names are disappearing

Ama Bolton, ABCD: April 2020

Sometime last spring I blogged about a line of Sherwood Anderson that Raymond Carver was fond of and used for the epigram for Harley’s Swans, one of his poems from In a Marine Light.

I’m trying again. A man has to begin over and over – to try to think and feel only in a very limited field, the house on the street, the man at the corner drug store.

Sherwood Anderson, from a letter

I thought about it again this weekend googling the work of my new favourite Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling. It puts me in mind of what I am trying to reach for most often at the moment, a very small locus of attention that will bear the weight of my witness as well as help me endure the weight of the things I am myself carrying. It is a tall order, I know. I used to read Carver in this way (I say used to read: I haven’t read him for a while), and also Jaan Kaplinski. Now, more than ever, it is James Schuyler. A cat. A blade of grass. Shadows. Just sitting at the table of good friends.

The kind of thing I am talking about is summed up nicely by Graham Clarke, from a book called The Carver Chronotype. The kind of writing I am looking for just now (and which I think the above all excel at) is ‘a self-consciously limited area of attention in order to achieve as particular a realization as possible of individual marks and spaces’.

Anthony Wilson, We have to have great meals

lockdown
painting the fence again
woodland green

Jim Young [no title]

Remember when I used to write about poetry? About reading poetry? About *writing* poetry? Yeah, me too. Good times.

Actually, I’ve been reading in small, stolen minutes Aziza Barnes’ I Be But I Ain’t. I began that book years ago when visiting Poet’s House in NYC — I found it on the shelves and began reading it while I waited to attend some reading downtown. I loved it, felt disappointed I had to put it back on the shelves and leave it there — and so, a couple of weeks later, or maybe months, bought a copy — and then didn’t pick it back up again until just now. No idea why. It’s so very good.

I’ve had to do a lot of rereading, too, for the classes I’m teaching, so I’m also reading things that are not poetry. […]

[M]y novel class is reading The Corrections, which I pair with The Sound and the Fury, and is normally a very apt and instructive pairing. BUT GOOD GOD. Assigning a book that actively works to make you loathe the characters, from which you’d very much like to *escape* the characters, just doesn’t sit well with the close quarters of quarantine. I have no idea how the students in that class will take it. What a note on which to end the semester! (Because it’s 500 plus pages, we’re going to be reading it as our last complete work of the course).

I’m writing small, weird pieces in the mornings this week. And then moving on to emails, class prep, my kids’ distance learning, etc. Eventually I’d like to play with these morning sketches and see if they can be turned into actual poems, but that *eventually* seems like a very long way off.

Still, writing *something* makes me feel a little more like my usual self. My Quarantine Self is not exactly a chick I want to be good friends with. The sooner she can move on, the better.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, 2020 Quarantine/Social Isolation Report That Again, No One Asked For

This morning I woke in the former world,
the world before the virus, or so I believed.
The sun had the same kiss of brass to it
as it does in this post Covid 19 morning.
The scent of spring was similarly buoyant
on the morning breeze, daffodils and the early
hyacinths. The same black-mohawked Steller’s Jay
perched on the edge of the roof, staring down
at the morning coastline below our hillside,
sea dark and serene, swells horizonward with
white crests like bobbing gulls.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Another World, a pandemic poem

In response to the prompt, I freewrote a bit about my fascination with apples. In my grandmother’s village, I could pick an apple off the tree, wipe it on my shirt, and bite into it right there, while standing next to the tree that had just given me one of its children to eat. Terrible, I know. Borderline cannibalistic. Those weren’t pretty apples, by the way. Not the garden of Eden type. But they tasted heavenly. Ah, the kind of imaginary conversations one can have with an apple tree, thanking it for its gifts, apologizing for eating its children, asking the tree to adopt me instead, promising to spread apple seeds far and wide. I took out most of this half-remembered and slightly unhinged conversation. Once the poem got going, there didn’t seem to be room for it anymore.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 24

A couple of weeks ago I had the thought of writing to friends, to ask how they are and tell them what’s going on in our little world-bubble. But I confess my handwriting is poor, and after 20 years of RSI it hurts to write longhand. Then I remembered how much I’d enjoyed making ‘Foot Wear’, my little A6 sized pamphlet, and thought I would revive the quaint art of the ‘notelet’ – a sort of cross between a card and a letter. I have a large stock of good quality A5 paper, so I started painting sheets of them, just random background paint, the more sloshed-on the better. When they were dry, I flattened them between the pages of my OED, then set about trimming and pamphlet-binding two sheets together into little A6 booklets. But what to put in them? I decided on a kind of mini-magazine – there was space for one poem (something I liked and/or felt was appropriate, but not one of mine), one ‘topical’ prose extract or flash fiction, a recipe and a knot instructional (I’m big into knots at the moment). It seemed a bit dry, so I got out my copy of the fascinating British Poetry Magazines 1914 – 2000 and photocopied a few of the poetry magazine covers from times past. And added a postcard. The notelets were all slightly different – I tried to choose the elements according to the person I was sending to.

When it came to writing in the notelets and sending them out, I wondered if I’d gone a bit crazy. I could picture some of the recipients opening and thinking ‘oh no, Robin’s lost it’. But in a good way I hoped! In actual fact I’ve had some really lovely responses, including a handwritten card and letter, and no-one seems to have been weirded-out. One friend said, ‘it’s fascinating to see what people get up to during a lockdown!’ I’ll take that!

Robin Houghton, Just a notelet…

Lalalalala, nothing is happening. We are not in the middle of a permanently life-altering pandemic and I know this because in my world, the world of House Flipper, everything is going swimmingly. I recently entered my first gardening contest and I scored full points! This means that I sold my house for fifty percent more than it would normally go for, bringing my total net worth to a cool 2 mil. See? It’s all great. 

In preparing for my big win, I read up on the ins and outs of the garden contest, and I found it very revealing in regards to what Europeans think of Americans. (I believe the game is made in Poland.) There are four garden categories: English, Crop, Modern and American. There are certain elements required for each one, and for the American garden, (which I did because this is ‘Merica), it must include, bizarrely, a pizza oven, a barbecue grill, a picnic table and chairs, and a hammock. “Interesting,” I thought. “Someone thinks Americans are food-obsessed sloths.” But then I read further and saw that it must also include at least three pieces of “outdoor” gym equipment and a swimming pool. So which is it, Europe? Are we lazy slobs or fitness-obsessed narcissists? The other odd thing is their ideas about conifers. To win, your American Garden must be chock full of conifers. Conifers, conifers, conifers. Can’t have enough of them, apparently. I wanted to shout the whole time I was adding more and more conifers, conifers do not grow in every state in the U.S.! But ultimately, I won, so the joke’s on them.

Kristen McHenry, Too Many Conifers, Puffy Ginger vs Ripped Adonis, Hospital Update

I was talking to a friend yesterday about reading during the quarantine. We were talking about how much we hated The Road, and I commented that Cormac was projecting his own inner bleakness onto his apocalypse. I brought up Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John; one imagines a heroine who rescues the world with her creative force, and the other imagines a post-pandemic world welcoming a traveling tour of Shakespeare performers, a world of grief and terror, sure, but with room for art and artists.  These two books, I think, find the hope in the apocalypse. I like to think Field Guide to the End of the World was my attempt to imagine all the apocalypse scenarios, from Twilight Zone to 2012, with an eye towards the hope and humor of those scenarios. It is intensely difficult to keep your sense of humor and hope right now, I know. It’s scary. I’m having nightmares almost every night.

Tell me how you are coping. Do you have more reading suggestions?  (I also recommended Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell, a hopeful version of disaster history in the United States.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthdays During Quarantine, First Pink Dogwood and Goldfinch, Finding Hope In the Apocalypse

It is primarily instinctive, but it has been clearly shown that birds that build intricate nests…learn and become better nest builders over time.

Look at what it is that makes a nest: Layers. Strands of this and snippets of that: hair, grass, needle, leaf. And, too: Tenacity, instinct, skill. How many wingbeats must it take? How many miles does a bird traverse back and forth, back and forth, to make its shelter, to attract and secure its mate?

It’s a delicate business, the weaving in of new material to create the nest cup. 

Think of what it is that makes a cup and what it’s for: Curves, walls, a space in which to keep things–water, keys, buttons, change. What is an egg’s shell but a cup full of change? And a nest but a cup full of shells?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Shelter in place

Like many poets in April, National Poetry Month, I’ve been writing a poem a day. I provided prompts for an online writing workshop I attend and adapted those prompts for the public library, where they are posted weekly on social media, so patrons and poets in the community can write along. I had hoped to offer and to write on a variety of topics, not to be preoccupied with quarantine, lockdown, worry, or disease, but worry often creeps in—to my own poems and those of my fellow poets.

Here’s one, for example, that began as the heart’s response to the sound of the train, just before it was leaving town headed north. I used to ride that train often, back and forth to Chicago, and would tell my husband to listen for the train horn and head for the station to pick me up. Then an ordinance was passed, establishing a Quiet Zone in town, and hearing the train now is rare.

Overground Railroad

Leaving town, the train moans once
on the cold air, unwelcome April snow
coming down like rain on silent lawns,
into silent fields. It might be a new
crew, unaware of the ordinance against
the train sounding its horn in town.
Who’s riding the train now? Is it mostly
empty, one living being for every six ghostly
passengers? By now, the train has passed
the ghost house three stories high, a stop
on the Underground Railroad, or rumored
to be. By now, the train can sound its horn
at crossings if it wants, can moan and groan,
can wail and keen, lament to heart’s content.

Kathleen Kirk, April Poem-a-Day

In my NaPoWriMo World – nothing. It’s apparent I’m not going to be able to participate this year so I’ve given myself permission to be ok with it. My days seem to fly by and, honestly, I seem to have lost interest – for now, anyway – in writing poetry. I find myself more drawn to flash fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I took a week-end intensive flash cnf class with the wonderful Kathy Fish and thoroughly enjoyed it. I produced nine flash pieces that I can build on and received lots of support from Kathy and the other class participants. I’m taking a Hermit Crab class in May from another wonderful flash writer, Cheryl Pappas, and looking forward to it! I haven’t been submitting much at all but I do have a poem coming out in MORIA and a flash fiction coming out in Flash Frontier soon. In other writing news, I’ve joined the new Fractured Lit magazine as a reader so be on the lookout for our first issue. Right now I’m doing more reading than writing and that seems to fit into my life better. I’m sure the writing will return but I’m not going to worry about it. These days of social distancing and sheltering at home present a good opportunity to do some reading. Go for it!

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Happening

Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr points out that we cannot know the deepest meaning of love unless and until we “allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way.” It is through great suffering, he says, that we find great love.

So to whom do we look when we look past ourselves and our own fears, anxiety, and suffering?

Let’s begin with every person who is unlike us: the Guatemalan mother separated from her two-year-old at the U.S.-Mexico border. The teenager sent alone across the desert to make a new life in America but caught and deported after months in a crowded ICE facility. The men and women whose addictions keep them on the streets, whose fragile minds prevent them from accepting shelter. The food-deprived. The drug-addicted. Prisoners in Rikers Island jail. The men digging the trench graves on New York City’s Hart Island. The women forced to share space with their domestic abusers. The children given up for adoption. Single, working mothers with no childcare. Syrian and Iraqi and Afghani refugees and interpreters. Rohingya refugees. Anyone seeking asylum in the United States.

Let us add: funeral home staff. Priests and other clergy. Police and firefighters.

Let us add: our emergency medical technicians, nurses, and doctors working their relentless shifts with too little equipment and no time to save the sick who arrive too late at our hospitals’ doors.

Let us add: The scientists warned not to speak out. The whistleblowers fired because they spoke out. The artists and poets who are censored. The writers who refuse to stop writing.

Let us add: the now-unemployed and all deemed “essential”. The small business owners gone under.

Let us add: the immuno-compromised. Those with disabilities. Those in group homes. Our friends with cancer. Our mothers and fathers in nursing facilities and assisted-living homes. Our seniors who live alone. Every person in the U.S lacking health insurance. 

Let us add: the farmers. The delivery drivers. Our grocery store employees. Our servers.

Let us add: those who give us their false moral equations and false life choices.

Think what it means to say, “We’re all in this together.” “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XV

Send my ashes
to some rocky

sharpness on Mars.
I haven’t done

enough for this
earth to want me.

Tom Montag, BURIAL PLANS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 16

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

In this time of global crisis, who better to parse the strangeness than poets? Defamiliarization is our stock in trade. But poetry bloggers are also still enthusing about poems and collections we love. We’re just a little stunned that non-poets lately seem to be joining us in this. What took y’all so long? Should we be pleased or alarmed that it apparently required an apocalypse to remind some people that poetry exists?

One more note before we get to the digest, a CALL FOR POETS: Jason Crane, whose poems sometimes appear in this digest, is a long-time podcaster (The Jazz Session) and radio guy whose newest podcast is called A Brief Chat. The show has just started Poetry Fridays. Each Friday Jason features a poet reading 8-9 minutes of their own work. If you’re interested in contributing poems for an episode, email him at jason@abriefchat.com.


I went to a place of rewilding this morning thinking I would beat the sun and I was shocked at the desolation I felt the sudden dark sky the sad abandoned doll it mirrored my mood I took two of my books to John the Carpenter and left them on top of his goat house in a blue sparkly Christmas bag I have been fighting depression which makes its own rules outside the day to day survival grab I crave anything from a restaurant that I don’t have to cook last night I dreamed someone cleaved an axe straight into my head dreams and more dreams every night dreaming into the new world webbing of dreams so many of us are dreaming it is Saturday but it feels like Sunday as the days smash one into another

Rebecca Loudon, Day 45

One of my favorite pieces of music is Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings. Today, I listened to it on a loop, which I tend to do with most of the music I love, much to the dismay of my husband, children, and dog. That second movement in Dvořák’s Serenade melts me into a puddle no matter how many times I hear it. I hope that today’s poem conveys a smidgen of the ecstatic experience I have when listening to this piece.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 15

After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

Recorded during the 2020 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood and Belair, South Australia, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations. [Click through to watch the videopoem.]

Ian Gibbins, ISOLATION PROCEDURES

An afternoon walk. Bugle and white bugle in the meadow above Tor Wood, and bluebells, white dead-nettle, primroses and ramsons on the way to King Castle Wood.

King Castle Wood covers the remains of an iron-age fortified hilltop enclosure and is rich in native trees and wild flowers. Today it was all bluebells and birdsong and ferns unfurling. Guelder Rose and Hawthorn were just coming into flower.

In a lovely meadow called The Lyatt, on the far side of the wood, I saw a scattering of Early Purple orchids, once a common plant of chalk or limestone meadows and ancient woodland. […]

I got home in time for tea and cake before a Zoom recording of ten poets responding to “Rise: from one island to another”, a beautiful and disturbing work; you can see it here.

Ama Bolton, Week 5 of distancing

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

I would say I am horribly sad and that some days I cannot even bear it. I would say writing a book of poems about the precarity of our lives in this brutal era only to have the era be too precarious for the poems has been staggering. I would say that beauty and song have a nagging way of sneaking up on me despite my rage and grief. I would say: I am waking up at midnight and keeping a raw insomniac’s journal. I would say I feel unkempt and also deeply alive. I would say “thank you so much for asking.”

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon with Tess Taylor

I’ve been watching a hell of a lot of apocalypse movies.  While the pandemic ones are a little too much right now, I do take some weird sort of comfort from other threats–zombies, aliens, global warming, weather disasters, volcanoes, earthquakes, meteors, giant reptiles.   While I wouldn’t say I’ve been bingeing things as I might on weekends previously, I still have more late-night movie watching time than when I’m working late and usually go to sleep as soon as I hit the blankets. Some of them are bad.  Some of them decent . Some of them not at all what I expected.

Kristy Bowen, disaster dreams

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
If she’s silent, how can I know
when she is there and when she is not?
She blends in so nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

Do not fear
the pain you know.

It already wears you
like an old coat.

Tom Montag, DO NOT FEAR

Habits are powerful things. That’s why it’s so hard to kick the bad ones. But knowing a habit is power, you can cultivate the habit. Starting with twenty minutes. Who can’t sit in front of their screen for that long? Even if you write just one word, you’ve done your job.

Like singing or dancing, you can increase your writing endurance with practice. It, too, is a muscle — just a mental one.

Surviving a pandemic while writing is like surviving my brother’s death through writing. That’s when I began this daily practice. It was my escape from the pain. It’s become my joy through whatever else is going on in life, whether it’s tedium, stress, crazy-busy work times, anxiety, or sheltering in my home. At least I’m lucky enough to have food, a roof, and a laptop. And time and my imagination. The basics for a writer.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Through a Pandemic

Every few
rows there’s a stand with a large bottle
of hand sanitizer, but it’s heartbreaking to see
they still keep lobsters in tanks, their large
crusher claws bound close to their heads
with broad rubber bands, their walking legs
weakly paddling water. Who of us will be spared,
will pare away the extra letters to get to
the spar, which the dictionary describes as
the main longitudinal beam of an airplane wing?
Sticks of celery are green as grasshopper
bodies. Every now and then a person jumps
when someone is about to come too close.
In their baskets, loaves of bread are breathing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Day 39

Our parish priest holds twice weekly gatherings on Zoom for anyone who wants to check-in, say hello, hear another’s voice boom through the quiet of isolation or quarantine. This week a participant remarked on a fleeting but nonetheless present sense that faith wasn’t holding, wasn’t enough sometimes to carry her through the day. I wanted to give her a hug. In this pandemic, the only thing we can control is how we choose to spend the day we wake to, and even waking is a miracle. I think the crisis has been hard on those who are used to filling a day with noise and movement, who haven’t practiced finding respite by being deeply silent. In the many early hours when others are sleeping and I’m not, I’ve focused my attention on the silence, been surprised by the chitter of birds in bushes outside my window, listened to how rain sounds the closer it gets to ground, how wind sweeps through a roof space, how steps on a sidewalk come to a stop. Faith holds when you unshackle yourself from time and doing, allow yourself to be curious, to believe such things go on, though you’d swear you were just dreaming.

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

I have always found it comforting when people of great faith admit to doubt. Then I know they are living in the same world I live in. I was going to write that these people are “honest with themselves”, but that is a judgment.

Perhaps there are people in the world who experience the world as having footholds, certainties. Me assuming otherwise is a projection of my own perspective as the correct perspective. And has a consequence of condescension at best, of accusation at worst.

Best – worst. Yeah, they are both unproductive at any rate. And neither is a form of compassion.

Judgement doesn’t have an antonym in my dictionary. Maybe it is compassion? With compassion, one can explain consequences, but one can never sit in judgement. Maybe we should do away with judges and replace them all with arbitrators.

I’ve been walking these moors for more than twenty years now, and still I can be uncertain of the ground. I can find myself suddenly ankle-deep in water, tossed by a stone tipping on a hidden fulcrum.

But isn’t that exactly why we choose to walk these trails? Isn’t that – the uncertainty – the source of the surprising joy that keeps us from being jaded with the world?

Ren Powell, Walking the Walk

the light is the same, it is‬
‪we who have lost our innocence;‬
‪hit in the solar plexus‬
‪while the sun still shines.‬
‪breathless we contemplate ‬
‪darkness ‬
‪breathless we count‬
‪our blessings‬

Jim Young, covid dawn

So I felt, “These are hard to read.” Because it can be uncomfortable to stay, purposely, in such ambiguous moments. I found the poems [in pray me stay eager by Ellen Doré Watson] puzzling for awhile until I stuck with the reading and settled into the poet’s sound and methods. And then, response, reward: ideas and experiences that struck chords, places evoked, sentences that capture the way human beings think and process their circumstances. Revelations, even.

Maybe I was just in the wrong mood for reading when I started this book…there are times when I want an “easy read,” a comforting novel with a happy ending for example. Such texts, though, seldom teach me or show me anything new, whereas pray me stay eager has made me think about the mechanics of a line of poetry as well as sound, and touched me deeply as the poet writes of her aged father and the deaths of friends and her keen appreciation of the world and the word.

Ann E. Michael, Reading, eagerly

To my mind, this is an undeniably singular and astonishing form of writing. For many like me, the relentless power and originality of this style will be all one needs to be persuaded. For despite, or in addition to, the extreme technicality of some diction (osteocyte, telomere, rhotic-to-sibilant, etc), there is a deeper movement going on here, a process of unfolding, that does not require us to grasp the precise denotative meaning of each element (though there is nothing stopping one from trying). And so instead of asking, “What exactly does this mean?” the more relevant question is, What is this doing? How is it working? What is the operation it is performing and how can I follow its maneuvers? And how might I lose myself in them more knowingly?

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

To say that [Ian] House’s poetry embraces ekphrasis does not do justice to what has clearly been a life’s project for him. His work, I think, transcends the very idea of ekphrastic poetry and finds instead an expression of the symbiosis of life and art. Yes, he describes visual works of art, as traditional ekphrasis would, and he does so beautifully, as in his central sequence of seven poems based on the paintings of Paul Nash ‘It Must Change’: e.g. “blazing yellows and oranges / intenser than all imagining / fierce as a fusion reactor / self-unsparing self-consuming / the sunflower hurtles downhill” from the sixth poem in the sequence (‘It Must Burn’). But many of his poems are not descriptions as much as contemplations and digressions, as in ‘Now You See It’, inspired by Ai Weiwei’s 1995 triptych ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ in which House recreates the heartbreaking descent towards the ground of a priceless work of art before questioning our reaction as viewers (“Couldn’t you admire the man / who had the balls…?”) and then proposing a way of understanding the problems surrounding Weiwei’s paradoxically iconoclastic artwork (“We… / wanted someone to tell us / … / that we share no genes with the millions / who’ve shattered statues, burned books.”).

Chris Edgoose, A Glimpse of What Hovers: Just a Moment by Ian House

In Octavia Cades’ brilliant collection of poetry Mary Shelley Makes a Monster, the famous author of Frankenstein crafts a creature out of ink, mirrors, and the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Abandoned and alone after Shelley’s death, the monster searches for a mother to fill her place. Its journey carries it across continents and time, visiting other female authors throughout the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. Pulling from the biographical accounts of these amazing authors, these poems beautifully examine the nature of art and creation, reading and consumption, and how monsters are really reflections of ourselves.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Mary Shelly Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade

I met Joanna Thomas two years ago at Litfuse. She does this really arty, fun stuff with erasure poems and visuals and — because I generally don’t do those sorts of poem — I almost skipped her workshop.

I am SO GLAD I went. More than the keynotes or anyone else I encountered that year, Thomas’s work burned a hole through my imagination all the way down to my bootsoles. She is a wonder. If you can’t get your hands on any of her limited edition books (exquisite little gems you’ll want to keep and give to friends), then you should invite her to give a workshop for you. (Adults and our delights aside, I think these would inspire some pretty wicked home school lessons.) To read more, visit Thomas’s very visual blog:  https://www.joannathomas.xyz/.

Because the poems [in Rabbit: An Erasure Poem] don’t run down the left hand margin, my blog space will just make a botch of it; hence, the photograph. In short, Thomas has erased  Webster’s Elementary Dictionary: A Dictionary for Boys & Girls (New York: American Book Company, 1941), and she shares the image from the dictionary, then duplicates the poem (and its peculiar layout) on the facing page.

Bethany Reid, Joanna Thomas

I have always loved this poem by the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski. It felt like only a matter of time before I turned to him during the lockdown.  I love his poems’ barehandedness, his apparent lack of artistry, the evenness of his tone when describing joy and trauma alike. And yet, as he says in ‘This morning was cold’, he has ‘no counsel to offer’, merely a presentation of the facts as he sees them. He inhabits a space in my imagination that is somewhere between a university seminar room, a log cabin and picking up a toy car from underneath his kitchen table. Or walking for a day through a forest without encountering another soul. The perfect companion for a stretch of self-isolation, you might think. A couple of winters ago I half-read Unforced Flourishing: Understanding Jaan Kaplinski, which documents his wholly social life, as filled with readings and lectures and conferences as with the ordinary concerns of a dutiful parent and grandparent. That’s what I love most about his work, the sense that while all of these noble and urgent things may be going on in the background, he gives his attention fully to what is in front of him, and thus to his reader, at any one moment.

Anthony Wilson, The wonder is

Like that final weight pallbearers carry to the grave.

Yet say the correct password, and the moon will allow you into its secret room behind the shine.

That’s where good luck wears the scent of new laundry behind its ears. Where our brightest essence illuminates dark waters.

Often, these days seem like one long, weird dream.

The clock tells me when it claps its hands, I can open my eyes. It’s then I’ll be older than I remember and younger than I care to forget.

Should you see me holding something to the light, it’s a letter I meant to send you before all these troubles left their shadows at our door.

Rich Ferguson, Certain Days Feel So Heavy

Even the stubborn hydrangea outside my porch
gate has come into full leaf, buds at the ready.
But my heart will not settle into steady rhythm.
My breath is shallow. Later, I must make my weekly
excursion into town for food—masked, gloved,
hatted, scarfed—looking like a nineteenth century
immigrant just off the boat from Poland,
wearing all of the clothes she owned at once,
frightened of the unknown new territory where
communication and comfort appeared impossible.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Welcome to the New World, a pandemic poem

She swerves into the day,

the new day, with a breath
between her and thunder,

between her and thunder
is a breath that says rest

is coming, the slow rain
is come, and says, just stay,

just wait inside. Just hide.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Lights the Candles with Lightning

I miss people.  As a self-declared introvert, I’m surprised, pleasantly – I miss people badly.  The list of what I miss is endless.  I miss their clean smells, their dirty smells, their mop of hair, their prickly beards. The irony of their eyebrows.  Their slack lids, their twitch.  Their sniffles and complaints about their sniffles.  The bass timbre of their voices. The cloud of their breath, their own personal barometer.  I miss their living quality.  (And that’s just the face.)

I miss things of the senses.  My senses gather confirmation of all kinds regarding external existence.  They are the yes to my no or yes to my yes.  They are charged fields that activate me, as plants churn sun with chlorophyll for energy.  People and their vibe – they are the other to my I.  The talk to my talk back.  

I am a skeptic of the virtual.  The compilation of pixels will never convince me, viscerally, of life. And yet, do I have a choice? 

Jill Pearlman, On Missing People

I’m intrigued with the idea of “virtual,” as most of us are meaning it these days: using technology to bring us together while we stay apart. There’s the older meaning of virtual, which often has a whiff of dismissal–something virtual is not quite as good as.

I’m thinking of the virtual community I discovered when I started blogging. And then, as people stopped long-form blogging, I felt I had lost that community–and once, that community felt almost as close as the communities I was part of in the face-to-face world, and in some cases, more so. And then, poof, it seemed to be gone.

And now, I’m seeing some of those elements returned. This morning, I thought about how tough this quarantine would be without that technology. If we had had this kind of pandemic that drove us all apart from each other in the early 80’s, when long distance phone calls were so expensive and it took much longer to get information out, it would be tougher in some aspects, and perhaps easier in others. Maybe there would have been less wrong information disseminated. But we’d have certainly been more isolated.

I’ve found it very comforting to check in with people virtually to compare notes. I’ve found it all marvelous at how we’ve all managed to move so much to online environments. I do worry about people who don’t have the technology at home.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, How We Live Virtually Now

You’ve made dinner. I tell you
about my divorce, but
don’t mention the pandemic:
why intrude on your afterlife
with something so terrible?

I wake to more headlines
(the world is dust and ashes) but
for a moment I almost felt
that loss isn’t forever, that
the world was created for me.

Rachel Barenblat, For me

I’ve been sending out work tentatively, as it feels hard to believe that poetry can be important in such a time of crisis. On the other hand, I’ve been buying books from local bookstores to keep them in business, subscribing to lit mags even with the post office being threatened by the President and his bullying GOP with shutdown. (Write to your congressperson to protest this lack of funding for the Post office, the lack of which would make us effectively a third-world country, and would prevent voting by mail.) So many things are uncertain: when will we be able to get out of lockdown? When will we have a treatment, much less a vaccine? When will the death tolls start to dwindle? How will this hurt people’s mental health and the economy? Uncertainty is difficult for human beings to sustain for long amounts of time. Poetry and music seem to offer some comfort for me as they resist certainty, and encourage us to dwell in possibility.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Easter During a Pandemic; Life as a Writer During Lockdown, and Pink Supermoon with April Flowers

I started writing poems about the pandemic back in March, before NaPoWriMo began, because the emergency was beginning to hit us locally and hard. And I decided early on to post a lot of them on Instagram (@amymillerpoet). I’ve been dabbling with Instagram poetry the past few months; I like the mixture of text and images, the block of art. The whole thing about how the poem is now published because I went and blabbed it on Instagram is just another interesting thing; I’m not sure what to do with that. But suddenly it felt like a time to let the poems walk out the door, since I literally couldn’t. We are truly all in this together, and I had a strong compulsion to get poems out in the world where all sorts of people could read them, not just the ones who subscribe to literary journals. And, I don’t know, maybe I just needed a gigantic distraction. The discipline and techie geekiness of making those Instagram poems was like a lifeline I was following through some very dark water.

Amy Miller, NaPoWriMo, Plague Year Edition

The only thing that feels sure to me is a future that is different from the past. Not in every way–but also, in every way. If I think of my life as a set of systems–work, home, health, money, relationships–the foundations remain the same (at least for now), but each of them is also so changed that it feels as if there can be no true going back to what they once were. Can’t step into the same river twice and all that.

This is not, at this point, an original thought about the future. But it might be an important one for thinking about how to regard and live through the present.

Late last week, a friend referred to the time we’ve been living in isolation as “lost” and talked about a “return to real life.”

“No,” I said, pushing back. “This is real life. These days are our life, too. We haven’t lost them.”

In the past week I’ve felt myself resisting the idea that this is some time apart, some blip, some brief interruption to our regular programming, in part because the only thing that’s become clear to me in the past week is that our experience with this virus is going to be a long haul, and I don’t want to, in any sense, give away such a big chunk of time by thinking of it as unreal or somehow apart from the whole of my life.

But also, because the life I’m living now is beginning to feel normal.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of real life and new normals

Words and images will speak to each other through time. This doesn’t perhaps mean much other than that you were paying attention. You were feeling things. You were allowing sparks to fly. You were allowing the universe in.

I was going to write a post that more directly addresses the surreal world we’re currently living in. And I’m sure I’ll be doing more of that, though others are doing a good job of digging into the nuances of it and how this is affecting some of us differently than others, and what that’s going to look like afterwards. Whatever we write now, is going to say something about the time. I was thinking about why I was drawn to this particular image right now. And maybe it is just that I’ve been mulling over the before and afters of where we are right now. The unknowns. Which is the same with the Irving Penn photograph. It says so much, and leaves us not knowing anything for certain.

Someone walks into a room, dines, wipes their mouth, leaves.

There’s a whole life around that moment, an entire long story. A mystery.

Shawna Lemay, The Empty Plate

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 14

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, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


The milk is spoiling, or has finished the job. The apple-a-day calendar is stuck at March 13, when I flew off despite misgivings about flying. Luckily I’d emptied the garbage, as I always do before leaving. The refrigerator and its white noise set to perpetual.

The collage clippings are scattered on the table, the needles are sunk in the pincushion at a courteous distance. Books, clothes… if I’d only thought a little further. My bag was lightly packed.

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

Of course we introverts have feelings.  We know that real grief is sometimes too deep for words.  The Covid-19 plague blew in with a whiplash of emotional states, laced with adrenaline and black humor.  I made jokes, rolled my eyes in the vertigo of each shifting reality, rode the waves of social media — until the torrent of words, emotions, anger, f-words, words, words, f-words, knocked me down.

What exhausted me was the snap mastery, the fear-driven rush to judgment.  Then the need, akin to the Biblical Job’s friends, to mouth all-knowing vindications of tragedy.  It didn’t leave much room for the kind of tongue-tied response of silence and awe that made me sit, shaken and numb and full of longing. I pulled in and pulled from my shelf the books of my companion poets.  In the language game, whose words would stand up to reality? Great artists who had taken harrowing journeys and sent word back.  Those guides brought me across the void, helped me mourn and feel sorrow for the immensity of what is being lost.

The weeks since then have been spinning by.  Spring is celebrating itself.  Pink buds wave towards the future while we are stuck on reruns.  The new reality is taking shape.  It is technological.  It is busy while being stilled.  It used to be a metaphor that if you’re not online, you’re invisible.  Now it is a reality.  

Jill Pearlman, The Introvert’s Guide to the New Reality

Being an extrovert means I get energy from being around other people. This is one reason I love, and very much miss, my gym. It’s not just that the OrangeTheory Fitness workouts are hard and great, it’s that I’m working out with a group of people. And because my preferred time to workout was 5am, I was working out with the same group of early risers every morning. We were a community who knew each other by name and chatted happily, if sometimes sleepily, before starting our workout. Now my days start with a solo run, followed by solo yoga and solo TRX and then a solo hike with my dog. I’m still fit and healthy but I miss people. I miss high-fiving friends after a hard set, or cheering on someone as they push hard on the rower or treadmill or pick up heavier weights than usual. I miss the comradery.

Poetry is what I usually turn to in times of emotional turmoil but lately, the words haven’t been flowing as much as I’d like. April is National Poetry Month and in years past I’ve participated in 30/30 – 30 poems in 30 days, writing one poem per day. This year I’m not setting this goal as I don’t honestly think I’d be able to do it and I don’t want to feel bad or guilty or like I’m underachieving if I don’t write a poem each day. Instead I’m reading a lot of poetry and when the words come, I capture them, grateful to have them and have this outlet.

So I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by being gentle with myself, by being kind to myself, and not setting expectations so high that I’m certain to be disappointed. I’m surrounding myself with beautiful words and hopefully, this will inspire me to write some of my own. But this year, it’s okay if it doesn’t. This year is different from any I’ve experienced and so I’m taking it a day at a time, letting my heart lead me where it needs to go.

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

As a comfort during this strange and difficult time, I am re-reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, first read in childhood. I recalled the March family hunkered at home during the war between the states, their father off serving as a chaplain for the army, but little did I know quite how much their situation would resonate now!

When I picked up my book this morning, opening to where my bookmark had fallen in place the night before, the little women and their mother had received news of the illness of Mr. March. Illness in war is common, and our big flu pandemic of 1918 happened in war, and here we are again. So Marmee, as her daughters call her, packs a trunk and heads off to tend him, leaving the little women on their own, in the care of Hannah the cook, and with the protection of the neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, Laurie.

The next morning, they wake to the completely changed circumstances. “’I feel as if there had been an earthquake,’ said Jo…” Indeed!

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

yes i do kiss you
right now in plain sight
right here on this park bench

in front of the ducks
in front of the trees
still bare from winter

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

bandit-style
in front of the person
with the Ronald-

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

kissing, standing,
walking this little dog
crowding our feet, one

of your hands filled
with litter collected from
the river bank the other filled

with mine yes do hold
my hand, hold my hand,
hold tighter

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

Strange to move so poorly in these woods, shortened steps so slow: the last time I moved with such caution in here it was my back that was halved. Freshly screwed and stapled, bones on fire and nerve signals still scrambled: the risk of falling was severance, then.

Now, it’s lungs on fire, covid’s chest-spreader cracking sternum on each breath.

But better, today, eighteen days in: enough that I can slow-walk crackle and snap past the vixen’s den and down, all the way to the stream, past vulpine latrine (territory’ edge) and deer, past bear scat and scratches.

Quartz extrusions, some lifted into walls, some still in situ, are bleached to bone.

Near the water, a snapped pine is a hundred years of falling in a moss-encroached grave. It means something different to me than to others here.

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

The tradition says each of us is to see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought out of Mitzrayim. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we are living in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place; tight constriction; dire straits — feels very real to me this year. If we are feeling constricted, anxious, afraid, uncertain, maybe newly-aware of some of our society’s fundamental inequalities and the harm they cause to the most vulnerable… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

When we left that Narrow Place, we didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have time to fully prepare for our journey of transformation. We didn’t know where we were going or how we would get there. We left the Narrow Place anyway, because it had become clear that staying where we were — staying with the status quo — meant death. If we are feeling unready, unprepared, maybe thrust into a journey we don’t know how to take… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

Rachel Barenblat, We are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy’s poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems — not much larger than a pamphlet — was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it’d not been heavily annotated then it wouldn’t have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren’t studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!

Giles L. Turnbull, The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1

We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 5-6-7-8

My watch conked out yesterday. Suddenly it was half past five and actually it was five to six. So now I live watch-less.

Just as well. I have started reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (thank you Shawna Lemay for the recommendation):

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.’ 

Well, I have been having quite a lot of conviviality and connection right by my front gate, thanks to being in the garden so much. I have had more conversation these last two weeks than I have had for months. Even with strangers.

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

I have washed my hands for twenty seconds
with soap and music. I have gloves to wear.
I have dreamed up a house with invisible walls
That let me see the sun and the moon and the trees,
Oh let me be trapped there for forty days
And forty nights, like Jesus in the desert.

James Lee Jobe, I have washed my hands for twenty seconds

So how barbaric is it to write poetry during a pandemic? How wrong to suppress a pang of guilt at the thought that there are people dying out there, while I’m fiddling with words? And if I need to keep fiddling to stay sane, should I perhaps hide that discordant, painful music under a bushel?

I keep hearing from friends, family, and the ubiquitous newsfeed in my mailbox that things will get worse before they get better. Things already are unimaginably tragic for so many families around the world. I’m afraid that thinking of worse things yet to come might somehow bring them into being. I must shift my focus or succumb to anguish for my children’s future.

Outside, the birds, the insects, the trees, and the flowers are busy making spring happen. I feel joy and gratitude when I watch them. Their tiniest gestures acquire instant symbolism, becoming a sign of hope, of resilience, of triumph over despair. All around me, nature breathes and sends her messengers to knock on my doors, my windows, my forehead. They all know something I don’t–or have chosen not to acknowledge. Not yet. I must keep watch. Any day now, I’ll find out what nature has been hiding from me. What she’s been telling me all along.

So there it is, my reason for fiddling. I’m trying to bring about spring. It’s the only way I know how.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 0

If you had asked me 3 days ago how I was, I’d probably have broken down in tears. Home schooling is breaking me, but I’ve had a few days respite as the kids were away to their dad’s so I’ve been able to catch up with my studies, go to the allotment, hang some photos that have been sitting unloved for years, do some reading and crafting and, most importantly for the blog, join in with Angela Carr’s new 30 day writing challenge which coincides with GloPoWriMo (or NaPoWriMo if you insist on being US-centric) the poetry writing month which encourages people to write a poem a day. And so far because of the isolation I’ve been able to keep up. Four new rough drafts done and as soon as I hit Publish for this I’ll start on the next one. 

In honour of GloPoWriMo, I usually include a poem by a poet I like. This time I’m including The Hill Burns by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd. I have to admit I’ve never read her poems before, but I’ve recently started her book The Living Mountain which is part of a online read-along started by nature writer Rob MacFarlane. I  haven’t been able to keep up with the read-along and discussion, but it’s worth following Rob on Twitter and reading his books, he has a lovely way with words and inspiring people to explore nature and to write about it. I’ve only managed The Wild Places and The Lost Words (written with Jackie Morris and with her beautiful illustrations, a magical book) so far as it’s hard to get his books here, but I’m in a queue of about a million waiting for his latest book Underland once the libraries reopen here in Helsinki. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s 2000 book, Cat’s Eye. After ten years of mostly reading and writing poetry, I’ve regained an appetite for fiction.  I enjoyed the book very much and it felt luxurious to spend long days with the same characters, visiting another section of their lives each time I picked up the book.  It’s hard to replicate that experience when reading poetry. However, at the book’s end, I wasn’t hit by a sensation of something profound, exact and transformative.  I didn’t deeply recognise a human emotion conveyed in the story – or, if I did, the poet in me couldn’t help asking  did we need 421 pages to say that?  Could it have been said in 14 lines?

I’ve had some extremely happy moments this week: discovering that both of my now adult children can cook; watching my 19 year old son teaching himself to do handstands and cartwheels in our back garden; being in awe of my 20 year old student daughter’s ability to focus on her academic work in a houseful of people, one of whom plays his music ridiculously loud.  We’re very lucky to be in lockdown together and not alone.  I’ve felt guilty for feeling happy in the middle of an international crisis.

I’ve been trying to write a poem but I’m scuppered by the old adage of a watched pot never boils.  I need to quickly look away and let the poem do some of its work without me.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

We should have known it well
it thrives. indeed, on being human
our touching each other; hands on face
speak out loud, droplets & breath
hold on to the handrail
move down the carriage,
use all available space
it’s proximity & closeness
shaking hands, kissing once or twice,
(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)
the embrace, the popping in,
the cup of tea, the walk together,
y’alright mate,
saying cheers, give me five,
would you like a top-up,
anytime, here for you.
And they thought we could raise fences

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

Last April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day and posted the drafts on this blog. That turned out to be a useful experience, but I feel no need to repeat it. This year, I want to post about some new(ish) books of poetry. Not critiques or book reviews, just what the poems evoke for this particular reader.

~

First up– Lynn Levin‘s The Minor Virtues, 2020, Ragged Sky Press. The cover’s appropriate to the month: a lovely image of dogwood blossoms. And I have to admit that what drew me into the book is the charming mundanity of the first few poem titles, in which the speaker is tying shoelaces or buying marked-down produce. Most of the poems in the first section begin with a gerund phrase and place the reader in a present-progressive act of doing something. The poems here feel so grounded in reality (quite a few are sonnets), often humorous–grabbing the wrong wineglass at a banquet, trying to think about nothing–that I immediately settled in to the pages.

The topics, or the reflective closures, move toward seriousness at times; her poem “Dilaudid” shook me awake and left me in admiration for a number of reasons (some of them personal resonance–but). Levin’s humor tends to be intellectual–wordplay, allusions, wry asides–and I revel in that sort of thing. Her approach to craft also works for me, because she’s usually subtle going about form or rhyme schemes, so I enjoy the poem for what it says and means and then enjoy it again for how it’s structured and inventive.

I mean, that’s one way I read poems. There are other ways. Some books carry me pell mell through word-urgency or the writer’s rage or passion and some build lyrical intertwining networks of imagery and some make their own rules and some stagger me with their innovation. And I may have to be in the right mood to read a collection.

I was in the right mood to read Levin’s book. It was a good way to begin National Poetry Month in the midst of stay-at-home mandates, taking me gently through a “normal life” and reminding me of all that is surprising there, the riddles and the unexpected, the minor virtues and the actions we take as we practice them. Whether or not we think of them as virtues.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

How many hands move to tell the story when
the voice is lost, the voice is a violin throbbing
with loss, the voice has become a ghost, mute
and moving. The hands beat the body like a drum
and hum, the hands beat the drum as if it tells
the stories, the hands beat and are beaten. That
is the tale that must be told, the surprise ending.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

And now, the wisdom/advice/guidance comes for all of us to wear masks when we’re out in public. Of course, the nation faces a shortage of medical grade masks that might actually block the virus, but there’s some thought that a cloth mask might help.

I do have a lot of cloth that I could use to create masks. If only I had time to sew.

I see various types of posts from people who are holed up in quarantine who have made thousands of masks or written the definitive biography of Julian of Norwich or made their thirty-sixth loaf of homemade bread with sourdough starter that they created with native yeasts that they captured in their back yard. I have spent this past work week in the office.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings.I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface.No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point.This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Kristen McHenry, Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

cornmeal into the blue bowl
flour into the blue bowl
my son stands in the kitchen
to tell me the news
no no not now I say the last
of the baking powder
sifts into the blue bowl people
are dying he says no no
I say salt and sugar
into the blue bowl he tells
me about a ship in New York
I stir with my fingers he
keeps talking I add buttermilk
into the blue bowl he says
there is no room for the bodies
I crack two brown eggs
on the blue bowl’s rim
then I pour in honey
my son describes body bags
lining the harbor worse
than war honey rises to the bowl’s
blue lip I keep pouring honey
oozes out of the blue bowl
onto the counter then the floor
I keep at the honey pouring
pouring the floor thick
with it I can barely move
my feet soon my calves
are covered I pour honey
until it shimmers golden heavy
around my waist fills the kitchen
above my shoulders pressed
to my sides the most intense
perfume I pour in enough honey
to flood the yard now I see the sun
right out that window the sun
stupid and round as any
discarded toy

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

Still: dead labor asserts its claim. The workers and exploited ones. Slaves and caretakers. The nameless, lost, derided. The invisible. All the others. The child in the cobalt mine living inside your battery. They live in each head as well as in the complex of social fact. An entire civilization is dedicated to consuming and concealing them. How long does something like this last? How long can it? Never to confront the discarded traces. To build an infinity from denial. Acceleration as the energy required to sustain the denial forestalling absolute cataclysm. Who speaks to and for those inside of us, which we ourselves are inside of in turn? Who admits those who refuse to be part of the “I”?

Rimbaud learned early: “I is an other.” The fundamental insight. As revolutionary and poetic truth.

R.M. Haines, Identity and Its Discontents: Notes on Rimbaud

[…]They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

I was surprised to see this week that my writing has finally turned. After months and months of writing despairing poems, I can see more light and hope in my work now. I saw a few glimmers of this before the quarantine, but what I can really pin it down to is my daily practice of writing a single description of what is around me–focusing on the here and now has brought about more hopeful poems. I was hoping to get there, to not write the darkest of poems forever (and it felt like forever). The grief is still there, and the loss, and I don’t suspect that it will go away any time soon or ever, but I am so relieved to see the Light there as well.

Renee Emerson, the turn

(lack begins as a tiny rumble), a brand new collection by my pressmate Caroline Cabrera, belies its title: these hybrid poems, almost lyric essays, brim with language that nourishes me. Pain and grief are starting points, but line by line, with amazing persistence, Cabrera digs herself out of those very dark places. Sisterhood helps, but so does a renegotiation of her relationship with her own body. “The womb is a world,” she writes in one poem, clarifying that image with the eye-opening closure, “Our first act is one of emigration.” In many poems, too, Cabrera unfolds what it means to be a blonde-haired Cuban American: “My skin keeps me safe. My blood, it boils in me.” My own concentration is poor these days, but this book riveted me. Bonus: the collection includes great poems about toxic bosses. I really appreciate poems about toxic bosses.

This book, by the way, feels very much in sisterhood with Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, star of my last salon, but really I’m just contacting people with new books and posting these interviews in the order I receive them. I’m really enjoying this project, as well as the new books it’s leading me through. Virginia’s governor just gave a stay-at-home order. I totally agree with it, but it makes connecting through writing more important than ever.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

This is a tough, tough time for all of us. In that context, it’s important to empathise with others such as publishers who’ve seen their distributors close down, festivals/readings cancel (where poetry is most often sold) and new books lose the impetus of launches. Of course, it also goes without saying that the poets in question are suffering too. They might well have been working away on a manuscript for years, only to find that publication turns into a damp squib.

One of those cases is David J. Costello and his first full collection, Heft, which has just been published by Red Squirrel Press. David had a whole host of launches and readings lined up, but he’s seen all of them gradually disappear for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate enough to read a proof of his book prior to going to press, and here’s the endorsement that I provided:

David Costello’s poetry is especially adept at evoking the passing of time. Throughout this collection, he portrays the ambiguities and ambivalences of relationships between the individual and the collective, the human and the natural, the historical and the present, moving his readers in every poem.’

Moreover, you can read three poems from Heft over at Elizabeth Rimmer’s blog, BurnedThumb, where she generously held a virtual launch for the collection. If that then encourages you to get hold of a copy for yourself, you can do so via the Red Squirrel Press website here.

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive,
exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses
our same uncanny drive to reproduce,
replace, and colonize everything
not itself with acres of its progeny.

O, the irony of being done in
by a beast with our selfsame gluttony.

But love, for this moment now,
let us set aside these fears and feast
on eggs and apples, allow me
to nourish you with all the love I can,
every sacred mouthful.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus

There are worse places to shelter. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an enormous sense of gratitude. And yes, it’s time to think about moving back home. We’re ready–almost.

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Blogging keeps me limber. Gives me something to do in between binge-watching episodes of Chicago P.D., and 30 Rock with my daughter. It’s also a good way to open up my brainspace to poems.

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I’m participating in two writing groups for National Poetry Month. Pandemic poetry seems to be a theme in both. Truth is, I have been writing fairly consistently for months. It has certainly ramped up the last three weeks after I broke up with my boyfriend.

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

Despite my frequently dire tone here, I am an idealist and an eternal optimist. (It’s why I’m so often angry and railing.) “This is an opportunity,” I have said to anyone who might listen. “Here is our chance to do things differently, to see our mission differently, to really think about what matters in education.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean, maybe. But not this week, and surely not next.

Instead of releasing much of the utter crap that permeates public education, it feels as if our state has doubled down on it (as have many states). We love to talk about “trauma-informed practice” and “culturally-responsive teaching” until we’re blue in the face, but we are about to embark on delivering “education” in a time of tremendous trauma in ways that are likely to exacerbate it, especially for our most vulnerable students.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirus diary #4: the wrong kind of hard

Nearly every day I share stories with a stranger thanks to Quarantine Chat. Recently I talked to an older gentleman in Canada who is staying at his fishing cabin. When we talked he’d just come in from what he said would be the last ice fishing of the season. He reported that, once again, he didn’t catch anything. I asked how often his ice fishing was successful. “It’s always successful, in that I get outside for a few hours of peace. But it’s 100 percent unsuccessful if you mean catching anything after decades of trying,” he said. His good cheer couldn’t help but cheer me. I’ve talked to people in Spain,  Russia, Israel, and many U.S. states — a graduate student, business owner, graphic artist, stay-at-home dad, insurance broker, teenaged musician, police officer. We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper. It’s like any conversation, except it’s easier to get past the superficial.

Yesterday’s call was with a retired veteran who said he was really struggling with anxiety. I asked if he had a family story, maybe even from generations ago, that made him feel he and his kids would get through this. He told me about his grandmother, who was the first Black woman in their city to become a bus driver. He called her a “little powerhouse of a lady.” He said she was a woman of faith who also took  “no guff” from anybody. Once, he said, she was robbed as she was walking to the side entrance of her apartment building. She never carried a purse, but pulled a worn Bible out of her coat pocket and told the desperate young man holding a knife, “Take this, it has all my treasure inside.” He grabbed it and ran off, assuming she had money stuffed in its pages. She turned and hurried after him. When he threw it down after rifling it through, she picked it up moments later. The police declined her offer to dust it for finger prints. The veteran said he had lots of stories about his grandmother, and realized he hadn’t told them to his daughters. “I see her in my girls,” he said. “They’ve got her fight and her big heart.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

Don’t confuse a museum with a mausoleum, or a Cajun with a contagion.

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

Don’t think life is all one-sided when 6 can be 9.

Don’t confuse your coffee with a coffin, or you may drink yourself to death.

Don’t linger with a bee’s stinger. Don’t hide your wounds when they make you a warrior.

Don’t ask for a half-moon when you want the whole night to shine.

Don’t stop believin’ when self-quarantinin’.

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

What a difference a week makes… I’ve been attempting to stay positive this week, but it was getting tricky towards the end of the week as work got busier. I heard Susanna Reid (Saint Susanna) mention something called F.O.N.D.A or Fear of Not Doing Anything. A distant cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – where have you been?), FONDA is a new one of these horrible bloody feelings we’re all meant to have according to the culture sections of broadsheets. Apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls.

Well fuck that. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope you get the chance to learn a new skill and to make the most of this time. I’ve not seen any evidence of it happening for me yet. I’m too busy, either working or drinking to forget. I can’t concentrate on anything else for long enough.

Add in to this the fact that NaNoWriMo has arrived and that means signs of people being busy/writing loads…It’s almost too much. I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo (despite tweets to the contrary), I just can’t do it.

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

Rats in the pantry chew through boxes
of shredded wheat and start in
on the rice. We can’t keep the outside

out, anymore than we can keep
the inside in. In the freezer, a dozen
corpse cows, 40 chickens missing

their heads. How long does it take
to move through that much flesh?
Gnawing our way to hunger with sharp,

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

Cleaning is what I do when everything else feels out of control. My parents used to ride on me unmercifully for my reluctance to clean my desk, my room, my dresser drawers — I always had something more compelling to do, and it just didn’t feel important; besides, I knew where everything was. Oddly, once I had my own spaces and shared them with a partner, I got neater — though there have always been neglected areas. But when unhappiness or chaos or uncertainty seep into my world, I’ve noticed that I instinctively look for things to do that feel ordered, methodical, and incremental: making a patchwork quilt, knitting stitch after stitch, practicing music or a language, following a complicated recipe, taking the food out of the fridge and scrubbing the shelves. There’s a quiet satisfaction today in opening the door to the spice cabinet and seeing the neatly-labeled jars and tins; maybe today I’ll do another drawer of my desk. It’s all easier than staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can possibly write to make sense of this thing that’s happening to all of us — but, ironically, that time spent doing mundane tasks is when the ideas come, and I’ve learned to trust that, too.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 12. The Spice Cabinet

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 12

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, along with nearly everyone else, wrestled with our strange and disorienting new global reality of pandemic, social isolation, and economic collapse. I have had to be a bit more selective here than usual, as a growing number of normally infrequent bloggers are returning to their blogs, and those who post regularly are going into hyperdrive. Needless to say, it was a quality problem.

Please take care out there. Despite my doomer outlook, I do feel fairly sanguine that the lights and the internet will stay on… but I hope you have a typewriter in storage, as I do, just in case!


How are you doing? we ask each other (through text, messaging, phone calls, zoom calls).

How are we doing? It feels as if many of us had a day of reckoning this week–a day in which we understood, in a deeper way, the ramifications of what is happening. For me, it came on Wednesday. I woke sometime in the night the way I have in the direct wake of other life-altering events, forgetting for a brief moment that life was no longer as I knew it, and then suddenly remembering that my earth had slipped off its axis. The coronavirus, I thought, and then remembered that I wasn’t going to be getting up and going to school, that my daughter wasn’t returning from Sweden, that our markets are crashing, that small businesses are failing, that friends are out of work, that people are dying and going to die, that I could not go visit my parents or go see a movie or eat at my favorite restaurants or get my haircut or see my friends or or or… I felt the kind of need to ground myself in a new reality that I have felt when people died, when a marriage ended, when my children left home. Things are both exactly the same and very much not the same, and I’m off-balance, wobbly on my feet. The coronavirus, I thought, grounding myself in the reality that there is no solid ground to our reality right now. […]

How are you doing? Early in the week I am drifting, floundering. I lose big parts of days doing…what? I’m not sure. I start projects and don’t finish them. I buy food in case I can’t later, including treats I normally wouldn’t, but right now I have little desire to eat. I watch people around me mobilize into action that looks almost manic, but maybe that’s just in comparison to me, who is floating. I lose two days to headache because it’s not that bad (I tell myself) and because I don’t take my meds because I am afraid I might run out and be unable to get more. I finally take them, and as the fog clears I can see that it was bad, worse than I’d allowed myself to acknowledge. I write. I think about what it is that most needs doing, and how it feels impossible that “nothing” might be the right answer to the question, even as it feels like it probably is. I try to pay attention–pay attention!–to the ordinary pleasures that remain, so that I might not be kicking myself in the future the way I am now about not fully noticing and appreciating the night two weekends ago we went out for dinner and a movie, even though I suspected at the time that it might be the last time we did it for awhile. I can’t even remember now where we ate. I long to remember where we ate.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #1

in this version of America
my son and I eat Sunday breakfast
every morning at the kitchen table
where the first day of spring streams
in cold sun and roses open
and cherry trees carry on unperturbed

in this version of America
we are all grieving each day a funeral
each sparkling proud city closes its ears
puts on blindfolds holds its breath
and descends to its maximum depth

Rebecca Loudon, corona 5.

Praise to all those who go to work
every day, side by side with a death
virus at work, invisible as breath. […]

Praise to the postal workers
even if it’s mostly bills, praise to
all the utility employees,
everyone who keeps the power on,
the water flowing cleanly, freely.

Praise to the garbage men,
praise to the cleaners and janitors
perhaps most of all, blessings
and endless praise for making
every surface safe once again.

Praise to the homeless man
who looked at my privileged self
with pity on his weather-beaten face
and said, “You can get through this,
honey. I’ve done it for years.”

Lana Hechtman Ayers, A gratitude poem: Praise in a Viral Time

For now, I am working at home on various things—writing and/or library related—and alternating these tasks with household tasks and reading, all to keep the body moving and the worry away. But Worry is not so good at “social distancing.” It sometimes gets in my face and my brain and my chest, a little pinch there when I try to sleep at night, so I get up and read myself back to sleep. It’s hard to stay focused, I lose track of the time and what day it is, and I feel so cold in the house—which always happens at this time of year, the transition to spring, before it truly warms up.

My local friends and my online friends are stressed, anxious, scared, worried about jobs as well as health, worried about kids and parents. We are all going through this together, and I see so much kindness. Sadly, I see judgmental comments, too, and hear about mean comments. Goodness, we need to be patient with each other as well as the situation! And I also appreciate the humor—dark humor, gentle humor, wacky humor. And the wine. I didn’t hoard it. So it will run out. Maybe before I do!

Kathleen Kirk, Hunker at Home

We’ve been social distancing for a week, me and my 4 kids stuck together, home schooling. It’s been pretty tough. I keep seeing memes from people without kids or who had kids decades ago telling me I should teach them to sew buttons on and make homemade playdough or don’t bother with home schooling, let kids be kids. Finland doesn’t work that way. They expect the kids to log online in various methods for certain classes, to do specific work everyday. They all assign work for their classes. Every teacher is using different apps for notifications and collecting work, I’m exhausted from juggling it all. […]

So my hopes of writing a King Lear type masterpiece as the memes are suggesting is not happening. But I know all this adventure, this stress and upheaval will collect in me, compost into some beautiful poems at a later date. I’m keeping my own journal and making notes. Something good will be created from all this. I’m trying not to stress, worry or pressure myself or my kids. We’ll get through it. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Isolation – Week One

No touching. 

We need these weak ties that bind us to more than our little, nuclear lives.

Handshakes.
Awkward hugs.

Weak ties that keep us from hunkering down with our xenophobic tendencies.

I worry about the quarantine. I worry that the Prime Minister just told kids to pick a best friend to hang out with through this time.

What about the kids who don’t get picked, Ms. Prime Minister?
When the world pairs up neatly into their tiny tribes.

What about our weaker ties?

Ren Powell, Weak Ties and A Soft Touch

Friends who are at high risk are “self-isolating” and hyper-alert, and I worry for them. My best-beloveds are all on various forms of lockdown, but we have worked out communication methods so we can stay in touch. Well– “in touch.” Because touching is discouraged, but communicating matters so much right now. Examples:

My tai chi instructor sends out messages of encouragement, ideas for practice at home, reliable COVID-19 information, and reminders to stay grounded and balanced.

The distance-education IT/software platform department at my college has a staff working overtime and under considerable pressure to assist instructors in the rapid move to online instruction. They send out cheerful and informative emails, encouragement, jokes–and are hosting a 3 pm Friday ‘cocktail hour’ meeting we can log into so we can complain, ask questions, joke around, and visit virtually.

The staff at my parents’ assisted living campus has two employees working (extremely patiently!) with residents who need assistance communicating with loved ones who can no longer visit them. The residents have hearing loss, vision loss, neuropathy in their fingers, arthritis, and often, some cognitive losses. Staff members sit with residents and work out methods of staying in touch. Elderly people are already isolated; they truly need connections with others, need to know that their lives are valued.

A friend whose church group sponsors a free meal for all every Tuesday night in Philadelphia continues to serve the at-risk community by packing up the dinners for takeout instead of serving at communal tables.

We are fortunate. I am trying not to forget how fortunate such inconvenience is. For many other human beings, the inconvenience is compounded by danger.

In Wuhan, China, authorities report that there have been no new cases of the illness in the past week. There’s hope. When we touch again, let us rejoice more mindfully, recognizing how powerful touch can be.

Ann E. Michael, Isolated

I wish I could say that I am in a much better place this week than I was last week but alas, that would be untrue. I am still dealing with all of the same stuff, along with working long hours in an environment in which people grow more and more on edge each day. I’m not sleeping very well despite being tired most of the time, and I’m still fighting off creeping depression. We have locked down our hospital and are screening every single person who comes through the two remaining open entrances. After getting home from work on Saturday, I was on my last nerve and I ranted to Mr. Typist that no one should be coming to the hospitals right now, we need the space and resources for sick people, not the worried well, what the hell are people thinking? “Well what if someone has testicular cancer?” he asked. “It can wait,” I snapped. “Testicular cancer is very slow-growing.” That is what working at a hospital during an outbreak is doing to my mind. I don’t know if I’m going to have a shred of sanity left by the end of this. (By the way, I don’t actually know if testicular cancer is slow-growing or not, so if you think you have it, you should probably go to the doctor. You have my permission.)

Kristen McHenry, About the Same, Old New Escapism, Home Workout Jackpot

Many of us think of Derek Walcott first as a poet of the Caribbean, but he was widely-traveled and wrote some of his most evocative poems about, and in, the different places he found himself. In his elegiac book White Egrets, written late in life, there’s a sequence of twelve poems under the title “In Italy.” In the fourth poem, he speaks about coming to that beautiful country late in life, and how perhaps that was better. I feel the same way. Even though Italian art and music, and Italian food and their zest for life, had always meant a great deal to me, I didn’t visit Italy in person until I was over 60. It was as if an impression I’d built in my mind finally took on its true color and sound, taste and smell, and became so much more vivid — and also more nuanced — than I had been able to imagine: I fell in love with Rome, with Palermo, with Catania, and the ancient Greek cities on the coasts; with the Roman pines and the lichen-covered ancient stones; the pale frescoes and glittery mosaics; the lemon trees and the blue sea; the wizened olive trees and vibrant purple artichokes and glistening fish markets; and most of all the people, without whom Italy would not be Italy. What they are going through now is so terrible, and yet the pictures of the streets that we see, and the people singing from their rooftops, are a moving and beautiful witness to what makes Italy, Italy. Walcott’s poems capture some of that combination of beauty and melancholy.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 8. In Italy, Derek Walcott

I have been preparing to become a shut-in. Karen Head and I have selected all the poems for the Mother Mary Comes To Me anthology and we’re starting to work on sequencing, which we can do online. I have enough food (I think), a stack of books and every streaming channel in Christendom, so I’m ready. Maybe.

Like everyone else, I’m worried about my health, my job, my retirement account and what coronavirus will do to the poetry and writing community. The anxiety and uncertainty is undoing a lot of my friends.

While you’re likely trapped in your home and doing the whole social distancing thing, buy books and have them delivered (as long as delivery is available). Buy them directly from poets and writers who are hurting due to lack of gigs, buy them from the small presses, buy them from your indie bookstores. My publisher, Sibling Rivalry Press, is offering free shipping using the code read, and my favorite local bookstore here in Atlanta, Charis Books, is offering $1 shipping. See if your local bookstores are offering something simple. We’re going to need literature more than ever to get us through this crisis.

Collin Kelley, Social Distancing

cities empty
wilds go viral
the isolator has tripped up
the mountain passes where we
meet a metre apart
to view the temptation
of the wilderness to
explain these times
but it fails
and our trails
only lead back down
again

Jim Young, isolated

Yesterday I think I truly understood what the word melancholy means, waving the children off from school for the last time this term, possibly for this academic year, not knowing what the future holds. Parents were upset, mystified, numb. I’m a teaching assistant, but we’ve all had to pitch in this week due to staff absence. During school closure we’re going to be working on a rota basis to cater for the children of key workers etc. Strange times indeed.

After work, I went for a walk. I don’t mind admitting that I was in tears. Everything seemed so overwhelmingly sad. I walked part of the Penistone Poetry Trail, a project I was involved in a few years ago. When I reached the corner of a fallow field, there was Marion New’s poem (above). It seemed to have taken on a new meaning. Odd how we’re wired to make these connections, to read words from the past and reinterpret them in light of the present. For me, the poem links back to all the writers whose lines were used in the cut-up process, but it also links to the landscape, the fields and boundaries, walls, stiles, ditches and streams I encounter every day when I walk my dog. I’ve posted some pictures below – it all looks fairly bleak at the moment, due to the heavy rain in February which somehow seems to have bleached the colour from the ground, as well as the fact that we’re so high up. Don’t be fooled though. New shoots are poking through. Things are starting to turn green again. The birds are singing. And there’s still poetry of course. It’s good to live in a place where ‘arteries of kindness converge’ and ‘love soaks into the ground’.

Julie Mellor, Nothing can ever be the same as it was

It’s alarming to watch Netflix now: all those strangers in unconcerned proximity, sharing bread, shaking hands! Poor hygiene is not, I suspect, what those directors wanted me to focus on. So when I say that William Woolfitt’s lovely third collection is crowded with isolates, full of hungry survivors, am I distorting the book through a lens of present anxieties? When I notice that many of the landscapes he evokes are like the places I walk through daily–degraded, haunted, but beautiful–am I biased? I think a person always reads from where she is, and that’s okay, although that’s one of the reasons I like in-person, open-ended discussions about books, too. It’s helpful when someone else’s reactions knock your own perspective ajar.

Still, I feel sure that Woolfitt’s book is exceptionally musical, both in its references and in the sonic density of his own alliterative lines (you’ll find listening suggestions in the mini-interview below, to boot). Spring Up Everlasting gives witness to human hardship, vulnerable creatures, and environmental damage with love and compassion: the author sees fully and justly, and the poems he builds from those observances are beautifully weighted, crafty in rhythm and structure. And one last point: Woolfitt really does describe people washing their hands a lot, from Rulina who plunges an arm into “icy creek-water” that “chills her blood, needles her with stars of pain,” to the laborer in “Red Notes” who dreams of release and reunion:

Before they meet, he’ll wash with a bucket,
scrub the pulp off his hands, sing the notes
he’s strung for her, tomato lonesome, tomato blue.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #2 with William Woolfitt

It’s quiet in the village today. My amaryllis is silently, slowly opening. Though we’re near the hospital, there is little traffic going by, and a good many Sunday villagers are or have been or will be snug in a comfy chair, watching the streaming services of their local church… or not, as they choose. 

At top, see a Clive Hicks-Jenkins peacock with its tail furled, one of the chapter division images for Charis in the World of Wonders. Peacocks have been a natural for symbolic bird since ancient times and for many cultures. Those eyes. The splendor of the shaking, unfurling fan. The rich, glitter of color. The piercing cry.

The early Christians adopted a belief of the ancient Greeks that the peacock was connected to immortality. Aristotle believed that the flesh of the peacock did not become corrupt after death. Perhaps ancient Greeks never let peacock leftovers last long enough to find out! But many years later, St. Augustine made experiment of the meat and agreed with Aristotle, finding that the flesh became only a little drier over time.

Marly Youmans, Peacock-thoughts for a Pandemic Sunday

Reading

It’s a bit obvious for a poet that now’s a great opportunity to read all those collections that have been piling up. However, I’d like to throw down the gauntlet. I’ve been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, and am finding Paradiso heavy going. BUT I see there’s Digital Dante – all the text, context, commentary and much more. I’m definitely going to get help here to get me through Paradiso with a greater appreciation. If you’ve not read this work, why not set yourself the goal? Alternatively, my next classic tome to tackle is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Can I even call myself a poet and not have read this work? I did study the Prologue and some other bits of it at school, about 100 years ago. I’m ready to go for it now, in the interests of furthering my knowledge of The Canon. At the Poetry Foundation you can read the whole prologue.

Studying

How about taking an online course? Search for ‘poetry’ at Coursera and there are any number of free courses you can join. ‘Words Spun Out of Images: Visual and Literary Culture in Nineteenth Century Japan’, ‘Modern American Poetry’,  ‘The Ancient Greeks’ – actually that last one isn’t poetry, but I bet it’s interesting. Or if you’re willing to pay, the Poetry School runs a number of online courses, but hurry up as they seem to be selling out.

Growing

The satisfaction to be gained from sowing seeds and watching them grow is hard to overestimate. I’m very, very lucky to have a garden, but even if you only have a window sill you still may be able to grow something. I think the first bit of growing I ever did was to sprout some seeds. Urban Turnip has a post entitled Best urban gardening & container growing blogs – not a recent post, but it includes links to various indie gardening blogs (ie not the big ones where you’re encouraged to buy stuff). Now’s exactly the time of year to be sowing stuff, and if it’s something you can eat, even better. It really makes you feel that life goes on, and it’s a beautiful thing. Happy growing.

Robin Houghton, Making, moving, cleaning, reading, studying, growing … life while social distancing

if things don’t go as planned
it’s not going to kill anybody

we didn’t know this
was going to be the playlist
what happened here
wherever you are

so many things are happening
a very exciting time
nobody has ever seen
anything like this

i’m finished

– all text taken from President Trump at the coronavirus task force press conference 19 March 2020.

james w. moore

it’s time we looked out for each other
it’s time that we did for ourselves
it’s time that we stopped hoarding TP
and food from the grocery shelves

it’s time that we aid one another
do it the mutual way
keep going that way forever
on a move to a sunnier day

the thing that I’ve seen in this crisis
the thing that is giving me hope
is that all of our rules are just fictions
we don’t really need them to cope

we don’t have to keep paying landlords
we don’t have to scrape and to bow
we can come together as comrades
we can make a better world now

Jason Crane, POEM: The Covid-19 Blues

We can number these days of isolation on the walls of our abodes, or on the dark cave walls where our minds get so easily lost.

These days we can become chaos or the cure.

To remedy, not ruin, remember there’s no one, but one.

Resist fracture. Resist getting too perplexed by the higher mathematics of anxiety attacks.

Try believing in We.

Rich Ferguson, When Conjuring the Child Ghost of Michael Jackson

So not afraid for myself, just sad, terribly sad. Bereft, I guess – so sudden a loss. The Tuesday before last I was at Steve and Jo’s for our weekly music session. I had a bassline to put on a song of Gemma’s after which we played through Steve’s and my two latest songs. Then there was to be next week at mine and the following at Steve’s and so on into our mutual indefinite futures. Now Steve and Jo are in voluntary seclusion through the months ahead and the shared music that has for each one of us served our souls in troubled times must await the silent, invisible movement of this toxic global cloud.

That’s my immediate sorrow. In the world at large there’s ‘a drawing down of blinds’ as everything that has animated our quotidian lives for generations ceases, bringing about a huge empty, uncomprehending vacancy. From those hastening up and down the corridors of power to the puzzled soul standing alone in a once busy street, no one knows what must happen next. The Four Estates are dumbfounded. All about us the signal-to-noise ratio loses out to mere babble. A rumpled, baffled PM mangles his silver spoon vowels, turning with ill-concealed relief to one of the two skeletal science supremoes who flank him on either side. I watch the mouths flapping and think of Yeats: The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

I sleep fitfully, wondering in my momentary half-consciousness what it is that’s shifting out there in the darkness. And in the morning I know.

Dick Jones, LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 1.

I find myself shaking my head at times as I think, wow, I’m in the beginning of a dystopian narrative, the early chapters, where we see what might be coming towards us, but it still doesn’t seem real.  I have friends who have gone into total isolation, while I have others who scoff at the closures and the stockpiling.

This morning, in the midst of Internet wandering, I came up with an idea for a poem, and I’ve even written much of it:  how does Cassandra cope in a world where her prophecies are coming true, but her spouse still does not believe her?

Today a friend and I may go to a friend who owns a wine bar in Miami Shores.  We can’t stay there and drink, but we can buy wine and yummies to support her.

Or we may not–by now, there may be restrictions on alcohol sales.

In some ways it’s a normal Saturday:  we’ve got homemade pizza in the oven.  In a way, it’s not normal.  I’m going to watch the movie Contagion, but I’m going to watch it early, in case it makes me too scared to fall asleep.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Coping

Today, somehow, is the very first day of spring.  I keep thinking about the first stanza of The Wasteland and summer coming over the Starngerbersee.  This week, I’m having a hard time coming into or caring about art or poetry or anything at all.  I think this will pass, hopefully, in the next week or so.  I see everyone talking about online readings, book releases, and poetry stuff and I am just ambivalent about it all.  I have moments in life where poetry life seems like a game in which there are no stakes and no one cares.   Maybe this is one of those moments. But part of me think the poetry obviously important more than ever (thus my obsession with the Eliot lines), but maybe the po-biz stuff is what is just seeming to fall flat for me.  I do have a book set to come out in the next month and while I was thinking any release activity would have to wait til summer anyhow, it seems strange to be in a place of limbo in terms of when the world will go back to business as usual, if ever.  It’s a beautiful, rough book, with a press I love, though, so I will regroup and focus on maybe selling some copies. There is also NaPoWriMo, which it seems, with a slowdown in hustle, I have ample time for in April and of course, ample ideas for new projects.  I just need to get focused and motivated.  I do intend to keep blogging here daily on various things, focused and unfocused, specific and random.

As for spring, it’s sort of dreary out there today nevertheless, but the sun, if nothing else, will return. 

Kristy Bowen, springtime according to Eliot

– The coronavirus. It kills some people, others live. I’ve been taking precautions, but I am not especially frightened. I buried a son; think I care about a fucking disease? About death? Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t crave death, but why fear it? It’s going happen to every one of us at some point.

– I love the feel of a light rain on my face, of cold air tightening my cheeks, and the sight of storm clouds moving across the sky. 

– There are people among us for whom death would be a blessing. A gift. Relief.

– I recently discovered that I love the music of Philip Glass. It’s not that I was ever against his music, I just never really sat down and listen to it. I especially like the music he did for the soundtrack of the movie, The Hours. It’s haunting and compelling. 

– Since the disease has us staying indoors, I’ve been watching movies, listening to music, and catching up on my reading. I am something of an urban hermit by nature, so that part is actually kind of nice. Every meal is with my wife.

– When I die, I hope I face it with some grace and some courage. I hope I get one more chance to tell my wife that I love her, that being married to her made me grow. 

– I don’t believe in any form of afterlife. No gods, no heaven, no hell, no ghosts. Just nonexistence. And I’m OK with that. 

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things – (Journal notes)

I wasn’t planning on resuming this blog until at least May, but with the crashing of coronavirus into all of our lives I felt the need to reach out and find an ‘answer’ to the situation in poetry, as Robert Pinsky puts it in Poetry and the World, not to make it go away, but in keeping with the spirit of all poetry, as an act of resistance and re-assertion of the human flame.

I came across this lovely slow lyric by Jill Bialosky in Late January. It was on a page of a book about the notion of ‘sabbath’ that my brother was reading and had left lying around. The book’s central premise, that we regularly need to pull away from the world of work and actively withdraw into the world of contemplation and silence  appealed to me on several levels, not least because I have really benefited from not blogging since the turn of the year. For a variety of reasons I finished last year in a state of great tiredness, fatigue almost. I am not pretending that this has gone away, but I have been able to recharge my batteries via an array of tiny practices largely gleaned from the advice of others.

I have switched my phone to grayscale. I have taken all email off my phone. Game-changers. If I go for a walk I leave the phone at home. I leave the phone in one place, just off the hallway, which means that if I want to check messages I need to go downstairs to check it. I have taken off all notifications of messages, which means I only look at them when I actively visit various messaging apps, which in turn means I only look at them about twice a day. I don’t really feel that I have missed very much.

Instead I have been reading, and writing. (I may talk about these at another time, at greater length.) And listening to music, mostly Max Richter and slightly more than the legal amount of Hammock (see below). I am working on introducing other sabbaths and other replacement activities. (As and when they happen, I will let you know.)

For now, let us breathe in (we should all do this regularly a drama teacher once told me, or we will die) the spirit of this poem of letting go. Of comforting the child (or what represents child) of whatever is vulnerable or hurting in our lives. God knows, there are losses. And there will be more to come. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other. See you in the silence.

Anthony Wilson, Another Loss to Stop For

I don’t know how to end this post. My literary training suggests that this post needs to go somewhere, but I don’t know where anything is going right now. I trust that we will eventually make it to the far side of this pandemic — we who survive. I hope that I am among the survivors; I hope that you are too. 

But I don’t know what after will look like, or whether this will be only the first pandemic of many in this strange new world, or how my parenting (everyone’s parenting) will have to shift in response to pandemic and a possible new Great Depression, or how my Judaism (everyone’s Judaism) will have to shift too.

I did my best to have a Shabbes. I’m doing all the things I know how (in isolation) to connect my heart and spirit with others, with my traditions, with my Source. (I even baked myself a birthday cake.) I know that the new week will ask a lot. In Robert Frost’s words, “there’s no way out but through.”

Rachel Barenblat, The new normal

This desk
again
my hermitage

where silence
speaks of
holy things.

Tom Montag, This Desk

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 11

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, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home for most Americans when almost all sports were cancelled, most schools and universities were closed, and everyone but the immortal youth began to practice “social distancing” in a desperate attempt to flatten the rate-of-infection curve and prevent our absurd, profit-driven healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed. I think we can expect all forms of online activity to blossom in the coming weeks, including literary blogging and all manner of social-media-enabled reading and writing exercises. (Scroll down a bit for an invitation to one promising, free daily workshop that Trish Hopkinson shared.) In the meantime, here’s how the Anglophone poetry blogosphere is adjusting to this new reality.


In the dream I stood facing a window in an empty house, arranging some plates that were not mine in an unfamiliar room. I turned, and saw our late friend Jenny, sitting on a couch or bench, dressed in white, her hair long and wavy as it was many years ago. She smiled her inimitable smile, and we talked, but I can’t remember our words or what they were about — what I remember are her face, the whiteness and emptiness of the room, and its calmness.

After I woke up, I knew this dream had something to do with the virus and our fears of death, but that it also had to do with the endurance of friendship and love. Today I called several friends and wrote to others; my father and another friend called us; I made soup and cornbread for lunch and sent some across the city to a dear friend who’s been sick with seasonal flu. I thought about our cathedral and its motto, “An Oasis in the Heart of Montreal,” and what that could mean not just to our community but to the city at large, if we can manage to be creative and innovative in our outreach even while regular services are suspended. It was a sunny day, a bit warmer than usual, and my husband and I went out for a long walk. This evening, in the new, longer-lasting light, we ventured out onto our nearly snowless terrace with our gin-and-tonics, and toasted each other and the coming spring before scooting back inside.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 2

Before sitting down to post today, I was struggling with how honest to be. I don’t want to add to the alarm and panic, and I don’t want anyone to feel that they should need to worry about me. But my work week last week was one of the hardest I have ever been through. Almost all of our volunteers have been furloughed or have left of their own accord, and my job, which I loved and and was good at, has morphed into something else entirely, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be coming back in any recognizable form any time soon. We are under the Emergency Command structure at the hospital, and all hands are on deck for dealing with the coming influx. There is a barrage of COVID-19 information coming at me all day, every day, and we are in constant reactive mode and working long hours. It’s extremely draining. I am fighting hard not to sink into a depression. I miss the familiar faces I’m used to seeing every day, and I miss the gym with a huge lump in my throat. I had no idea how much of a mental and emotional haven it had become for me, and not having it in my life during this time of extreme stress has made everything that much worse. I’m irritable and short-tempered, I’m drinking too much coffee because I want to sleep all of the time if I don’t, and I don’t have any appetite. I’m crying almost every day, and that’s normally rare for me.

The loss of the familiar is very real, and I am grieving. But I am pushing myself to adjust to this new normal, to keep going and to be strong because I love my community and I love my hospital, and I was put here to serve—and serve I will do. This not the only time in history that communities have gone through huge, reality-bending changes in their daily lives, and I take inspiration in the toughness of those who have gone before. Many have been through far worse throughout history, and when we’re on the other side of this, I will remain standing.

Kristen McHenry, Hard Times and Hard Honesty, Two-Fisted Escape Artist, Sweatin’ to the 80’s

As a poet, I’m used to being a little bit low-profile, but today I had a front-page story on Salon.com, “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus,” a place I’ve wanted to publish in since its inception. The story in my perspective on living with my husband in a stressful quarantine situation, with several chronic illnesses, in the epicenter of the Coronavirus Pandemic. I’ve put some of the details of how it’s been coping with ER visits and empty shelves here right next to the hospital where the majority of the US deaths from Coronavirus have occurred on this blog, but this is in the form of a lyric essay hybridized with journalism. I hope it is helpful and gives you some perspective on how it may be in other US cities in the next weeks to come.

Just for some perspective, in my state, there have been 40 deaths and 642 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, most of them in King County. Most of the deaths have happened in my neighborhood. It’s not an abstraction for us. This week, the zoo, the Japanese garden, and 50 restaurants closed, as well as the winery next to my house, the beautiful Chateau Ste Michelle. All public and private schools were closed, and universities, and churches. Meetings of over 250 are forbidden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Love in the Time of Coronavirus on Salon, Two Poems in EcoTheo, and Getting an MRI with Flowers in the Epicenter

It was during evening drive time I was thinking what a hit culture in the country is taking. I know for example our symphony is canceling events. I assume theaters are as well. So too I would think that local poetry readings are being canceled. I certainly will not be making the rounds and this is sad but the right thing to do.

In an effort to keep poetry before the public during this dark period, I plan to share on social media some of my favorite poets and poems. The same with music.  It is at times like these we most need poems and music to speak to our soul. I hope others will do the same.

In closing I would encourage people to rely on the CDC as well as state and local health departments for information concerning issues related to your own health.  Please keep in mind it is important to consider your own health, but those you come in contact with.  Even if you have a mild case, realize you may be placing others with high risk factors in serious danger.

Michael Allyn Wells, Entering Culturally Dark Days Ahead.

When my students asked me last week–during our final in-person classes, as it turns out–how I thought the virus would develop or whether W&L would switch to online instruction soon, I offered guesses with the caveat, “But I’m not an authority on this. My thoughts about poetry are worth something; otherwise I’m just an average person who reads the news.”

These days I don’t feel like an authority on poetry, either–at least not about how to generate enthusiasm for poems when most-in person gatherings are canceled. My fifth full-length collection, The State She’s In, officially launches this week. I’m proud of this book and have been laboring hard to set up readings this spring, basically performing the job of a part-time publicist as well as full-time professor. They’re dropping away fast. Pre-launch copies have been available from the publisher, Tinderbox Editions, since AWP (I think the discount code AWP2020 still works), but I wasn’t able to sign it there, and I just postponed my local book party, too. These cancellations absolutely need to happen, never mind all that shopping I did for goody bags, stickers, chocolate eggs, and pink ribbon. Chris says don’t worry, it’s just a delay, I can still do those events latter. I hope he’s right, but in the meantime I’m trying to figure out what I CAN do.

I’d love your ideas, but what’s currently on my docket: I have a few guest-blog-type-things in the works as well as possible reviewers, and of course I’ll use social media (although I’m limiting my own time on FB and Twitter lately). I got some new author photos done, below. My copies of The State She’s In arrived a few days ago and this week I’ll be sending them where they need to go.

My latest brainstorm is to use my blog to promote other poetry collections launching into this virus-blasted landscape. Effort on behalf of others tends to boomerang, right? I’ll definitely focus on books from little presses, not the ones already attaining media spotlight. I’m currently thinking I’ll begin each post with my own micro-review, maybe just a few sentences describing what attracts me to the work, then ask three questions of the author. I’m pondering what might be good questions to ask, not too run-of-the-mill. If you have notions about how to do this, or you want to draw my attention to your OWN new book, I’d like to hear from you, so just reply below or on FB or by email (wheelerlm at wlu dot edu). Digital ARCs and review copies would be welcome, and I’ve already ordered and pre-ordered some books I’m interested in. My plan is to start off with The State She’s In then feature as many new books as I can, maybe one a week.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual launches and figuring out how to help

Sunday wears a beaky mask
stuffed with sweet herbs and flowers
meant to hide the smell of sickness
my son has the first apocalypse dream
we drive to the beach at dusk
and talk about ghosts
until I cry but I keep the tears
inside my eyelids
I dream a conga line of men
in my yard dancing their way into the ocean
dropping one by one
I am ripe and my blood is high

Rebecca Loudon, corona 2

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by

This morning I walked outside, and everything seemed so normal.  In South Florida, it’s neither warm nor cool, a lovely 71 degrees at 5:15 a.m. when I headed to spin class.  I heard crickets and not much traffic noise.  All of my neighbors were sleeping in their dark houses.

I thought about how it was like the days before a hurricane when we know something is happening, but we don’t know how big it will be or how much it will affect us.  And yet, everything seems so normal, so quiet.

Is it my animal sense telling me that something bad is coming our way or residue from reading too much news?  I don’t really think I have an internal barometer; I’ve been notably wrong in my premonitions too many times to think that I have much in the way of a sixth sense.

And yet, suddenly my brain shifts into poetry mode, and I find myself grateful because it’s been a few weeks.  I can always reassure myself about why I’m not writing poems (travel, work pace, tiredness), but I’m always glad when I start again.

I wrote a poem before I headed to spin class, and then on the way home, I realized that incantation rhymes with lamentation.  I was thinking about writers during past plague times, like Chaucer and Boccaccio.  My poem contains this line:  “Who will be our Chaucer now?”

As I write these blog posts, I think about historians and scholars hundreds of years from now–will they appreciate the work we all did recording life in these times?  Will they scroll through all of our tweets?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Journal of the Plague Year

My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.

Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.

This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.

As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?

Andrea Blythe, On Writing In Stressful Times

waiting in the rain
for virus number 19
wet graves are cold
[link]

*

coronavirus
the laying on of hands
postponed
[link]

*

coronavirus
underlying wealth problems
take stock
[link]

Jim Young, three posts from 9 March at haiku eye

Yesterday, I was happily puttering in the vegetable garden, prepping soil and setting up raised beds and sowing peas. We had a visitor who is 26 years old and not a gardener, so I teased her by saying, “If the Apocalypse happens, come to us–I’ll have food!”

“This is the Apocalypse,” she responded. Joking, sort of, not really. She’s anxious, and I understand. When I was between 21 and 26 years old (and living on almost no money in New York City), a virus swept through and rapidly killed some of my beautiful, talented, young friends–a virus about which medical science had no firm understanding and few ways to diagnose, screen, or treat. And no vaccine.

It was frightening. There were also the hostage crisis in Iran, gas shortages, and a rise in nationalist and fundamentalist/apocalyptic/anti-feminist rhetoric that led to a polarized presidential election and divisiveness among neighbors (all of which was partly the inspiration for Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale).

Am I less frightened now? Yes. Does that make me less cautious about “social distancing” and public gatherings? No–although I would say I am perhaps less freaked out than most people I know. We went to the local diner last evening; I met a friend at a coffee shop. My workplace has asked staff to go to our offices, so I’ll be there tomorrow even though the students will not. They are finishing the semester online, as are so many other university students.

Looking back at the past couple of years, it seems we live in a time of plague and fire and politically difficult situations; but that’s the way the world has ever been. Many times have felt like end times to those enduring the uncertainties that come with changed routines and dangerous events, natural and human-created. Here we are, raking the garden, hoping there’ll be harvest.

Ann E. Michael, Normality: it’s not a thing

During these days of self-imposed exile, be careful not to fall into fits of depression, don’t spend your time composing mood music for the dead.

Keep your mind clear, stay informed, don’t allow your thoughts to become a graveyard of propaganda.

Share song, wit, art & supplies. Be sure to wash your hands, but don’t whitewash your emotions.

Use this time for mindful self-reflection: connect with the tangibles & intangibles of your life, even if you have to wear a surgical mask in the process.

If you’re able to hug a loved one free of any sanitizers or barriers, do so. It’ll provide you with health & happiness beyond measure.

Offer compassion & understanding to those gripped by fear; these are strange days indeed.

Our bodies may be ill, but the potential for courage, reflection & realignment are alive & well.

Rich Ferguson, Strange Days Indeed

If I were flippant, I’d be suggesting that magazine editors should be bracing themselves for colossal numbers of virus-related poems heading for their inboxes over the next few months. The only advantage of this, of course, is that such an influx might at least make a change from the typical themes that follow a British winter: floods, storms, deluges and everything water-related.

However, if I were serious, I’d be mulling over the cancellation of Prowein, the major wine fair in Düsseldorf, thinking about my customers’ fears for their businesses and their health when I visited them last week, worrying myself about the vulnerability of people who are close to me.

Either way, poetry is a constant, reassuring companion, a counterpoint to rolling newsfeeds and social media, a bridge between our outer and inner worlds, emotional sustenance in these disturbing times…

Matthew Stewart, A bridge between worlds

I am trying to focus on the positives–various times when all I’ve wanted was a stretch of time when I had no plans and no need to leave the apartment (albeit it under ore desirable circumstances.)  The writing and art projects I’d be able to tend to.  Even if I’m spending part of my day working on library stuff, it’s cutting two hours of commuting out of my life that are ripe for more interesting things. We’ve also been trying to cordon off time to work on some A of R writing projects that never seems to happen in the chaos of our department daily. 

Instead of giving in to the panic that switches to B-roll of an apocalypse movie..I am going to think of it as pressing a pause button on real life.  As such, there are things that do not matter in pause time.   Everyone just needs to sit very still.  Sort of like when in elementary school, the teacher would force everyone to quiet the fuck down by putting their heads on their desks.  All of you, heads on your desks.  Stop hoarding more than you need. Help the elderly and compromised and check in to make sure they are okay.  Read a dam book or watch some Netflix.  Chill the fuck out.  The government, which locally is pretty sane, nationally a trash fire, needs to make it easier for people to feel secure and get what they need–food, supplies, medication…

Kristy Bowen, pressing pause

Below is the information from Marj Hahne for her upcoming 30-minute daily workshop, starting tomorrow!
__________

Are you socially distanced? Self-quarantined? Cabin-feverish? A little po-lonely?

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life,” wrote poet Fernando Pessoa (The Book of Disquiet), so let’s ignore life and stay healthy by reading and writing poems alone together.

For FREE. For freedom.

POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot

Join in on any or all days.

30 minutes a day, 7 days a week

Monday, March 16 thru Sunday, April 5th

11:30 AM–12:00 PM (Eastern) / 10:30–11:00 AM (Central) / 9:30–10:00 AM (Mountain) / 8:30–9:00 AM (Pacific)

We’ll read & briefly discuss one poem, then write (verse or prose) from a prompt tailored from that poem.

REGISTER: anytime during the 3-week period:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Ud4enK9_Tz6FZwt9LLsKBg

*Your registration-confirmation email will contain an access URL, which is the same for all sessions.

*You’ll receive an automated reminder email an hour before each session, containing that access URL.

PLEASE feel free to share this with your writing peeps all around this toilet-paper-panicked nation!

Trish Hopkinson, Free workshop – “POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot” with Marj Hahne, Mar. 16 – April 5 @ 11:30 am EST

The Corona Virus is going to require a lot of change, compromise, innovative thinking. A lot of writers will be losing out on work and money because events like readings, workshops and book launches will be cancelled. The writing community on Twitter is trying to support each other, offering to post information on each other’s books and other threads to build camaraderie. Poetry Ireland is posting daily prompts, yeah! Bookshops are offering online sales, the Toledo Poetry Museum is doing an online open mic and I’ve even heard the suggestion of an online festival. Hopefully, by being isolated we can develop more connections.

This week, our writing group has moved online to avoid gathering in a very public venue. It was a fun change, but we all missed being together. I hope this is a short change and that those who are in self-isolation can find ways to get through. We’re in this together. 

Gerry Stewart, Interesting Times

I am filling myself
so full of poetry
in these last years

that when I die
it won’t matter
that I’m dead.

The hungry stars
will still get what
they need from me.

Tom Montag, I AM FILLING MYSELF

Mostly, it was heartening to realize that my feed was full of messages that all said some version of this: We need to do what we’re doing and bear the costs of these actions not to reduce our own risks, but to reduce the risks to others. The ratio of those messages to photos of empty toilet paper aisle shelves was about a million to one, and for the first time in a long time I’ve felt something I’d almost forgotten the feeling of: Hope.

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

We’ll all have to figure out the best ways for us to do that. Right now, I’m focused on staying home as much as possible and supporting those in my personal circle without creating more risk for those outside it. I might write here more often, once I get a little equilibrium back. Mostly, though, you can probably find me (but please, don’t come too close looking) painting a wall or cleaning a garage or stabbing canvas with a needle or sharing something through Facebook–a tidbit of useful information or something funny to make you smile.

Because it has always been true that we also serve, who only stand and wait.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A post about the thing with feathers

Last night, after reading frightening coverage about this country’s abysmal preparation for Covid-19, with potential death tolls estimated to reach 1 to 1.5 million Americans, I dreamed about a family member just outside my window who couldn’t hear or see me calling him. Even in my dream I wondered which one of us wasn’t alive. I also dreamed about rotting food that grew into a malevolent presence. (And I dreamed about pastel-colored baby llamas…)

I woke up to cancel and respond to cancellation notices for all sorts of workshops, events, and get-togethers. Tentatively my classes for April are still a go-status, but I realize that may change. So much is changing.

Like nearly everyone else, I’m taking in more news than I normally do. I’ve heard experts say this pandemic is the event of a century. I’ve heard experts say this will be generation-defining. […]

The next few months will likely test us, maybe test us severely.  Through whatever we suffer, this pandemic may help us see we are interconnected beyond our own fingertips, beyond our own borders.  May we rise to our best selves, creative and caring, no matter what. May we keep up one another’s spirits as the people of  Siena, Italy do — singing from their homes and apartments during the mandated quarantine. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Mutual Aid In The Time Of Covid-19

even a pandemic
can’t make it stop!
the rising sun

Bill Waters, The rising sun

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. Major themes in the blogs I read this week were travel (especially to AWP), COVID-19, and the unruliness of language. If you only have time to click through and read one blog post, I recommend Chris Edgoose’s “White Poets & ‘Usefulness’“.


We were seeing ghost towns and big sky and lots of road.  Baby antelopes feasting on desert agave, on desert willow and scruff.

When the land gives way to settlements again, one wonders about pressures that shape the human.  We came to Roswell, a town where people swear UFOs landed.  Out of town, a scent rises over the plain — stockyards, cattle squeezed into small spaces, then oil rigs and pumps.  Then the relief of groves of pecan trees.  The peaceful desolation on the sage desert gives way to industrial ravage.  Boomtowns like Carlsbad sprout from the business of fracking, and people are slick and giddy with money.  I’ve never seen so many trucks or ads for liability lawyers (“Get burned in an oil rig?  Call the big guy.”)  

The faces, the drawl, the ten-gallon hats, the gang of four cheerful sheriffs coming into a wood-paneled joint for their breakfast of huevos rancheros; even Tony, the Trump enthusiast who wanted to buy me dinner — all make rich the human landscape along the strange road. 

Jill Pearlman, Amurika, the Open Road

Yesterday, I still had some time to explore San Antonio, especially after discovering that the AWP sessions I wanted to attend had been canceled. […]

Off I went, under Interstate 10 and other major highways.  I’ve now been on either side of I 10 (in Florida and in California) and now stood underneath the middle.  I walked by sports fields and people fishing and a funeral procession later on, as I hiked through city streets to get to the mission. […]

In a few hours, I’ll get on the plane and head back to Florida, home of similar missions, much of which have been obliterated by the pace of development.  I’ve enjoyed the time to get to a different part of the country, explore a different history.  I look forward to seeing what poems and other creative stuff might emerge.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Mission to Find the Mission

These days,

you gotta be equipped with the lowdown while traversing the high roads of chaos.

Gotta have cars with prayer wheels.

Gotta be drip-dry and permanent-pressed, ready for success while dwelling in the shadows of possible pandemics.

Gotta sport the kevlar of good karma, be Steve McQueen-cool while battling the reaper whose scythe is made of hate and ignorance.

These days you gotta refuse to be reduced to an illegible back-page obit.

Gotta count the seconds between lightning and thunder to gauge your distance from the divine.

These watermarks on our spine—

dreams still rising.

Rich Ferguson, Things I’ll Say to My Daughter When She’s Older

Later,  the upended flask.  The snake current.
The   tear  climbing   back  into  its  socket.   I
should have been there. Like an eye that  saw
and a hand  that  held.  Like  driftwood.  Like
hope.  Not stuck  in the after.  Not  where the
notes  shattered  air.  Not  with  that  muffled
song,  trapped inside a scream.  The one that
sings me,  still.

Romana Iorga, Silence at Dawn

I’m so sad about AWP. I decided to opt out for several reasons: I have a cold and didn’t want to expose people to it on the plane, nor deal with their alarm at my sniffles, nor pass through security wariness. Further, one of my panels got canceled, I knew attendance levels were crashing, and my press (very understandably) decided to not to come. Advance sales at AWP are a big deal for the success and visibility of a poetry collection, which is my best yet and which I’ve been hoping would make a tiny splash. If you’re interested in it, I hope you’ll consider ordering it at an excellent discount from the Tinderbox Editions website. Just use the discount code AWP2020. In fact, check out all your favorite small presses, many of which canceled and are giving similar #virtualbookfair deals. I’ve been buying a lot of books myself.

Lesley Wheeler, #Virtualbookfair, disappointment, little gifts

Since a lot of us couldn’t go to AWP this year for various reasons, (I personally think it should have been rescheduled for the safety of immuno-supporessed people and, because, you know, you don’t want to increase germ spreading during a pandemic) we’ve been having a Virtual AWP Bookfair and a faux-AWP. I ordered books from local poetry-only bookstore Open Books, because small businesses all around Seattle are hurting (they ship for free with over $25 purchases) and because a lot of small presses were financially harmed because they had to withdraw from AWP. I also signed up for a couple of new literary magazine subscriptions, including EcoTheo and A Public Space. (A Poetry Magazine subscription was a recent gift.) I was trying to spend the money I would have spent at the bookfair had I gone. My book purchases, you might notice, are apocalyptic in theme.

I’ve also been working on pitches for essays and reviews during this extremely down downtime. And I’ve got a suite of coronavirus poems now in case anyone needs them.

I would also encourage you to please purchase a copy of Field Guide to the End of the World directly from Moon City Press, because they could not go to AWP at the last minute, and support them.  Plus, I mean, I could not think of a more timely book to read right now. I mean, look at this cover! It’s all about survival in the face of all kinds of apocalypses.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Living, Loving, (and Going to the ER) in the Time of Coronavirus, Spring Continues in Seattle, Virtual or Faux AWP

Everything we touch
touches us with the

touch of everything
that ever touched it.

It is all too much
for us to know, so

we must ignore it.
We must turn and turn

away. The shock of
it, the wonder, would

put us on our knees.

Tom Montag, EVERYTHING WE TOUCH

I’ve done minor grouting before, but this bathroom’s major. I’ve been carefully scraping grout, this way and that, across the gaps between tiles to fill them. These gaps seem hungry, eager to eat the grout, and today I had to cycle to B and Q to get an extra tub. I appeared, from the lonely state of the bike rack, to be the only person who had arrived in this way.

It strikes me that grouting is more the work of a novelist than a poet. The gaps between the words are pretty much the point and attraction of poetry. So filling in gaps, making sense of the whole, making things watertight, seems, judging by my aching right hand, prosaic.

On the plus side, I reckon this venture into prose-style DIY justifies me eating the last of the ‘For when you’re writing your novel, Mum’ biscuits that my son gave me at Christmas, even though the novel still has plenty of gaps in it. Yum.

Liz Lefroy, I Grout My Tiles

Manuscript #3 is a finalist for the Paraclete book prize! Of course I’ve since done an edit on it that makes me feel the new revised manuscript is so much stronger than the old manuscript and wish I could switch them out. But so it is with editing–you enter something, then figure out the ending that Should Have Been.

I’m excited though to see it getting semi-finalist/finalist anywhere–I only sent my work out to 4 open reading periods (for free) and 3 contests. In the world of submitting-poetry-manuscripts, that is pretty paltry. So this means that the manuscript is at least close, very close.

So it is sometimes hard to explain the desire to get one of my manuscripts published because:

1. I don’t really want people to read it. I only really like other poets to read it because I feel like they are the only ones that speak that kind of language…I don’t know why I feel that way. I guess I feel sort of exposed when someone who isn’t a poet reads it?

2. I will not make any money or any fame from a poetry book. Not ever, ever, ever. If you are trying to publish poetry books to get rich and famous, this will never ever ever happen. EVER.

I guess the main reason I want to see it published is because it is finished. I’m done! And it looks unfinished in its loose-leaf printed out scribbled on draft. I’d like to see it all neatly bound and on the shelf.

Renee Emerson, finalist!

The book [Winter: Effulgences and Devotions, by Sarah Vap] is a curation of pieces written while trying, over years, to write a poem about winter. In this way, the book is a museum. The title of Donald Hall’s book, The Museum of Clear Ideas, comes to mind. Here, though is a museum of chaos and investigation and yes, clear ideas, and yes, those effulgences, those tendernesses, an ongoing devotion.

In the book, Vap sets up systems and smashes them. For example, Most of the poems are titled Winter, except when the pattern breaks by expanding (“Winter, my mind”; “Winter, the beginning”) or just breaks (“Sovereign Good”; “Christmas Eve, Miscarriage”).

In the book, every page is bordered, top and bottom, in tiny type, by the sentence “Drones are probably killing someone right now” with no end stop, so that the killing is as relentless as the reminder of it.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Winter: Effulgences and Devotions

Even feedback online is now diametrically polarised into two distinct bullshit camps – something is either irredeemably awful ‘1 star’ (‘if I could give zero stars I would’) or it’s the best thing since sliced bread (which is not that great). It’s the pubs that have walls all scrawled over with syrupy sentiments like ‘there are no strangers here, only friends you’ve not yet met’ that in actual fact come across like the tavern in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Straw Dogs’. We watch TV shows (maybe not you though) where greedy property developers buy up houses at auction and instead of unashamedly admitting ‘we’re only in this for the money’ we instead get some sort of self-congratulating homily on how they are in fact saints who are helping to ‘remedy the housing shortage in this country’. On the news the other week I was told there are now over eight million ‘economically inactive’ people in the UK and the task of the current government is to ‘upskill’ these people to make them more attractive to employers. What about the economically inactive people who are perfectly skilled as it is, thank you very much?

In the poetry world, all poets are ‘critically acclaimed’ and ‘prizewinning’ and appearing in the ‘best poets of god-knows-what’ anthologies. They’re ‘brand-building’ and ‘networking’ and frittering away their energies on Twitter and Facebook feuds, or else writing blogs like this, hoping against hope that they’re not just talking to themselves in an echo chamber or rubber room.

We’re drowning in this morass of bullshit on a daily basis, and no area of life is safe from it. In fact, even the word itself ‘bullshit’ reeks decidedly of bullshit.

Richie McCaffery, Hear no bullshit, see no bullshit, speak no bullshit

Now, we are taught to ask,
“What happened to you?” That’s not what people
used to ask. Neighbors. Coworkers. We said,
“Why did you do that?” “Why do you do such
terrible/wonderful things?” What were you
thinking?” Or we asked nothing, just blamed. Or
praised. Either way, it was a fiction, and
it was real. As real as the comfort of
your daily rosary, the beads shifting
in your hands, over and over, the prayers
a shield and a gift. I light a candle
you would never have lit, and murmur prayers
you never learned, and remember you as
a puzzle, with pieces missing.

PF Anderson, On My Father’s Fifth Yahrzeit

I often wonder if those unloved poems are my favorites because I’ve taken more risks with them.  That they are somehow more raw and unruly, and therefore less palatable to editors.  But being an editor myself, I am looking for the raw and unruly, but maybe I am more alone in this than I think.  I wondered at first if it was more that my subject matter wasn’t striking a match with publications, so I went looking for mostly female ran pubs, but still no.  Maybe no one cares about poems about little fat girls, but I hope this is not the case.   I also think they are perfect as they are, so none of that “kill your darlings” nonsense rings true. So I’m not really sure what to do with them.

Kristy Bowen, unlovable darlings

Palimpsest: When you discover you are the writer of your story – part journalist/part poet – and your script is pulled, redacted, with a sloppy cut and paste job that leaves plot holes and a jarring lack of continuity. Overly-written, overwrought, suspicious amounts of detail inserted by unrecognizable voices from a shifting point of view.

Yeah. I’m gonna leave that paragraph there. No. Scratch that.

At some point palimpsests become illegible. There is nothing between the lines and everything between the lines, and when the lines are no longer there

everything is nothing.

Ren Powell, An Unreliable Narrator

There’s an American poet in my writing group, the first poet we’ve had besides myself in a while. Last week she read a poem and it was so American. I can’t explain why, the strong rhythm, the long line breaks, the subject, I don’t know.  I clumsily tried to explain to her after her reading that it was like being back in my creative writing classes in Idaho or out in nature there with my fellow Forestry students.

It’s odd, I liked the reading style, but again I didn’t. Like most of America, it doesn’t fit me anymore, but it’s familiar and slightly comforting. Maybe too much so, I knew that poem, that voice as soon as she started, it took me somewhere I’d been. It made me understand why I struggle to get accepted by American magazines, my poems don’t sound like that, don’t have that feeling anymore. I want to explore more, I don’t want to go back on that mountain path I’d walked before.

I also listened to some poems by Angela Carr on her website. She has a little Sound Cloud box at the bottom on the right hand side. Her style of reading also felt familiar, but more what I heard in university in Scotland where I really got into writing. Treading familiar boards of long halls rather than walking in the woods. 

Gerry Stewart, Wandering the Words

A blog is one of the magnets for spam. My blog host site reroutes spam messages almost daily, and periodically I view them, just to see what’s coming in. Amid the Viagra ads and other odd sales pitches are some bizarrely worded messages whose spam purpose I cannot begin to imagine, but which have a sweet funniness to them that makes me fond of them. There’s even some good advice offered, however ungainly the language. Here are some of my favorites over the years:

I admire your supply on time and exquisite flower.

Article writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with afterward you can write otherwise it is complex to write.

Marilyn McCabe, You know, I took what I could get; or, On Spam

I am much more familiar, though not intelligently conversant with, Kant’s writings on art and aesthetics. It does cheer me that he posits poetry as the “greatest” art because it expands the human mind through reflection, stimulates the imagination [not that I am at all biased about poetry, myself].

Much of Kant’s thinking about what is provocative, expressive, and beautiful in art seems logical on the page but does not quite feel true to my experiences of art, however; except that it does feel true that creating art is an act of willing, not wishing, and that art emerges from the will to express.

Is what philosophers call “will” the same as what psychologists call “motivation”?

~

How about this statement, which I hear frequently from students and which I readily admit to having uttered: “I wish I were more motivated.” Is that wishing to have the will, but lacking the will to have the will?

(No wonder learning English is so difficult.)

Perhaps needless to say, these past few days I have been feeling a lack of motivation.

Ann E. Michael, Wish, will, motivation

the poem came home
to the forest be it
pulp fiction or even the bible
returned to mulch the same place
as the forebears of the words
in detritus dying to be free
of the canopy the panoply
of late poets the last train
of thought has pride open the
book of words and the fungi have
their sporangia nodding in slow motion

Jim Young, home came the poem

I’ve spent the last year and more attempting to write poems about race and the legacy of empire in the UK. Some of these have been okay, some pretty good, some terrible; all of them remain unpublished at the time of writing, and I’ve never posted any of them on my blog. Without looking for an “Aww, you poor lamb”, I must say, it’s not easy for a white person to write honestly about race and empire in the UK. I’m sure it’s not easy for anyone, but I’m white and so that is what I’m qualified to talk about. Why isn’t it easy? Well, on one level of course it’s obvious to say that published white poets, or white poets who want to get published, are nervous about saying the wrong thing and ending up actually getting something published which then prompts a career-ending twitterstorm and blaze of publicity. This is true – and I imagine editors have similar nerves around any white-written, race-based submissions they may have received (not all publicity is good publicity, if that myth was not debunked before social media came along, it surely is now) but it’s a bit poor, isn’t it? I mean, the nerves are understandable, there really is a lot of senstivity and anger around this issue, but let’s not be cowardly: white attitudes to race and empire matter, if only because those voices which represent and constitute the hegemon need to change if anything is going to change. There’s another obvious reason, too, this: white liberal/left poets (I’m not sure I need the slashed adjectives here – pretty much all UK poets fall somewhere on that spectrum, don’t they?) are likely to feel that white voices should not be cluttering up the spaces where voices of colour need to be heard more. They (I should say we) are quite right about this, but again I don’t think it will quite do. As Reni Eddo-Lodge pointed out in ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’, white people will never be ready to talk to people of colour about race and ongoing structural racism – and therefore begin addressing social change – until they are able to talk to each other about it openly and honestly. It seems to me that poetry, with its capacity for concise and acute self-reflection is the ideal place to start doing this. A third reason might be that white poets genuinely don’t think we have anything to add on this issue, that we should step back and allow poets of colour to say what needs to be said because racism happens to them, not us. For a third time: this is not good enough. As DiAngelo says, thinking that racism is only an issue for people of colour is a classic internalised strategy for deflecting responsibilty. Beneficiaries of power rarely notice that they are beneficiaries at all, and those who have always stood at the podium cannot always see that they have been artificially elevated above the crowd. Until the present generation of black and Asian and mixed-race voices came of age and began speaking with clarity and strength, voices of colour, although they were there (and strong, clearly, you only need to think of Benjamin Zephaniah), they were relatively easy for the ‘85%’ to ignore, simply because they were not present in any numbers. This, I think, is no longer the case. Demographics are changing. We, white people, have to think through who we are and how we got here – and to talk it through.

Chris Edgoose, White Poets & ‘Usefulness’

At work I had a conversation with a colleague about the idea of decolonizing education, the topic of a workshop she recently attended. We explored what that might look like in practice and planned a research unit for her students with that idea as our foundation. We talked about what people who have endured colonization have done to endure it and, as much as possible, be OK in it. We talked about how, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, so many white women were so freaked out. I shared that I was one of them, but that I have realized since then that the people of color I was talking with in those early days and weeks of the current administration were not freaking out.

My colleague, a woman of color, just smiled. “Yes,” she said.

“I realize now,” I said, “that for them, what was happening was bad, but also business as usual.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling.

“And I think,” I said, “the problem for white people, maybe especially white women of my generation, is that we haven’t ever had to develop such coping mechanisms, not really. We don’t know how to be OK in the presence of truly knowing the ways in which we are powerless against forces that don’t care about us and are using their power against us. Because we haven’t really seen it until now.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling. It was a kind smile. Maybe the kind you give a child, but maybe not. It’s hard for me to know.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I am returning to a craft of my childhood to help me cope with all kinds of things. Honestly, I don’t really care to explore that idea too deeply. It’s not a particularly interesting one and the answer to the question inherent in it doesn’t really matter.

My needlework doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be good (a good thing, because it’s not really) or do good in some way that extends beyond me. It is not going to be the beginning of some life- or world-altering something, and I’m not going to become a craftivist. Because I don’t think cross-stitching “fuck the patriarchy” on pillows and such is going to do much to end it. Although, maybe it’s activism if it helps others endure it. I dunno. I don’t think my embroidery is going to either heal anyone or inspire them to revolt, which is OK because that’s not what it has to do.

All the embroidery has to do is keep me going.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A post in which the F-word appears. Repeatedly.

This is how we line
the nest; feather, horse hair, cotton.
This is how we catch with our mouths
in midair. This is how we return time
after time, voices cracking winter’s
scab, voices humming, pitched
like warmed paraffin. I’m not afraid
to say it. I never wanted this great
distance, all those miles ringing out.
Darling, my desire sings from mudslide,
bees frozen in the comb, magnolia lifting
her stingy pink fingers to heaven.

Rebecca Loudon, Nest

In 2008 we went on holiday to Brittany and I took Angel by Elizabeth Taylor with me.  A book I’d bought in a charity shop and been carrying around with me without ever reading it. On holiday, I read the entire novel, the first novel I’d finished in years. Thinking about this now makes me tearful, remembering the feeling of returning to something I love after years away.  The poem ‘Ironing’ by Vicki Feaver (one of my teachers at Chichester by the way!) seems to express the return to life I experienced when I started writing again.  Not that I had felt dead! But, in a way, that creative side of me was pretty dead, when I think about it now.

I also think that it was the reading that came back first.  The reading and then the writing.  And helping students with the GCSE meant that I was reading poetry, more poetry than I’d ever read, and I began my first attempts at writing my own poems.

I told Andrew that I fancied writing again, giving it a go, focusing on writing and maybe giving up my daytime job.  Look, there’s this competition, the Bridport Prize, I said.  The money for the first prize is virtually what I make as a Teaching Assistant.  I’m going to enter this comp, win first prize, give up my day job.  OK, he said.

It took me 18 months to write my first poem, ‘Honeymoon’,  I sent it off to Bridport.

I didn’t win but I was a runner-up.  I won £50, not £5,000.  But Michael Laskey chose my poem, told me it was good.  It was enough encouragement for me to keep writing and to keep reading.  I did give up the day job but took on another, more part-time, more freelance.  I live simply, I don’t earn much money, I’m lucky to have a fantastically supportive husband and children who help me along the way.

And that was ten years ago!  One pamphlet, one full collection later, here I am, still gathering notebooks, accumulating books, and, for the first time in ten years, writing fiction again.  Who knows where that is going to take me…?  If you’re reading this and experiencing a dry spell, please don’t give up hope, please keep reading, please know that change happens.  Also, try on different genres – if you’re struggling with fiction, try poetry, try scriptwriting, and vice versa.  For me, long form writing became overwhelming once I became deeply preoccupied with children, perhaps if I’d started with poetry I would have never stopped.  But everyone’s experience is unique.  Whatever your situation, keep going.

Josephine Corcoran, Ten Years of Notebooks

I love these poems, even if no one else does; they live in the thick red book of my dreams. And I love my dreams, especially the ones that come just before morning. Those dreams wear rubber boots, and walk carefully through my late father’s garden. My father’s garden was huge, and to me, a city boy, it seemed like a farm. Dad would walk out among the tomatoes with a knife, a pail of water, and some salt. He would rinse a few tomatoes and eat them right there. He loved this so very much, more than he loved me, or so it often seemed. Really, who knows? Poems, dreams, gardens, love, doubt, memories; these things populate my inner world. It is sunrise as I write this, folk music is playing, and I feel rather good about the day.

James Lee Jobe, I love these poems, even if no one else does

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s theme: time. Plus a bit of advice on how to better spend it.


For years I have held February
answerable to many sorrows
as though the month itself
were responsible for its appearance:
the dour days too short, long nights
steeped in frosty bitterness.
Resigned to hibernation,
February made me sleepy.
Dulled my skin, sucked dream
into a cold vacuum
like a vacant acre of outer space,
a stone of ice upon my chest.

Ann E. Michael, Apology

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Laura Grace Weldon, Overwhelmed

I’ve been doing a small project with a novella called Sleepless Night over the past week or two. As with Misery, the recto pages have the title at the top and I’m sticking with those for now. It is a good recurring title for a poem, I must say. The author’s writing is not particularly interesting linguistically and it’s short on good nouns. But I’m making the poems small, like aquariums, or dark little rooms where your thoughts or your grave concerns or all the things you are looking forward to keep you awake.

I’ve also been doing the Februllage collage-a-day challenge on Instagram, as I did last year. I’m not striving to do every day, though. I go back and forth on so many things . . . poetry, collage, myself. Some days we’re all ok and other days I think there is no reason to continue to engage with those three.

Sarah J Sloat, Those Three

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and heart

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

Ellen Roberts Young, February Snow Times 2

We will soon leave the time of epiphany. We will trade the star and the angel messengers for ashes on our foreheads.

We may not have realized that the time of epiphany stretched on beyond January 6. We might not have recognized the wise ones and the gifts they would give us.

We may have already been living in the land of ash. We may feel that our frozen surfaces will never thaw.

We cannot fathom how we will stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our arthritic fingers throb with pain even before we have started.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Returning to Resurrection

There are life’s grinding engines driving us to madness:

fracked lands and hacked computers, illness and unwillingness, death too soon and freedom too late, the homeless and hopeless, crosstown traffic and trafficked humans.

Still, there’s the green grass beneath our feet bright as child laughter. Dependable cars and well-tuned guitars. Feasts and flowers. Warm bellies filled with luck. Pets that know us better than we know ourselves. Fresh curiosities making out in the backseat of our brain. The puzzles of our lives put back together after a hard come-apart.

The rise and fall and the rise again.

Rich Ferguson, What Doesn’t Kill Us Cures Us

While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week.  What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening.  Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.  

My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last).  What poor flawed creatures!  In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.

So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle!  To sizzling onions in a pan over the flame, to share.  Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure? 

Jill Pearlman, Everyday Life: Antidote to Political Poisons

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Late winter still life

You and your friends celebrated everything you could find. Not just birthdays and anniversaries and Jewish holidays, but Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fiesta, Susan B. Anthony’s birthday… Once, before I was born, you and Dad held a campaign party celebrating an imaginary candidate. You made up the most ridiculous name you could think of. You printed elaborately designed invitations, and hung red, white, and blue bunting everywhere. There was always an excuse for a party, and I used to roll my eyes at that. It seemed over-the-top, even frivolous. I’m sorry about that now, Mom. Now that you’re gone, I understand your parties in a new way. No matter what we do, life will hand us sorrow. It’s life-affirming to choose to seek joy and togetherness in the face of that truth.  I don’t own a red Chanel suit, and I’m not attending a ladies’ lunch on February 14. But I’m wearing a string of your garnet beads, and my dress today is burgundy — a cousin to red, if you squint. And on this day of red and pink paper doilies, and flower arrangements, and boxes of chocolate, I am remembering you.

Rachel Barenblat, A reason to celebrate

Light up a cigarette
and watch

the smoke write
your thoughts in the air,

this valentine,
inhale     exhale.

Claudia Serea, V-Day

The time has come to stop keeping up appearances.
Let others mourn; I did my crying as a child.
I felt the sting & dreamed of death
both given & received.
I hid a mountain of dirt beneath my clothes.
Those who knew them less well
can toss handfuls into their darkness.

Jason Crane, POEM: Abstention

— It took me a long time to let all that go. I am in my sixties now, and only just beginning to write about it all, to tell the stories. 
— I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. At first I wrote in secret notebooks, by my late teens I was going to open mic poetry readings, but I didn’t tell my family. It would just caused me new abuse; mockery.
— I went outside just before sunrise today. It was windy, and the moon was setting in the west just as the first light of the dawn was glowing in the east. Very lovely. I went inside and wrote a prose poem about it.

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things. Journal notes. 10 Feb. 2020

in the downing days of heavy time
cadillac was as strange a meme
as winsome as the movie toffees
and the longing for the other side
of any walled hillside
or the veneered panelled walls
behind which the cockroaches slept
until the fire died and we were abed
and then they came over the coal-grit
floor to eat the crumbs of the crumbs
that our meagre dinners had left ledgered
here in this corner of a neglected village
in wales
a people tipped under slag tips and
toil so numbing that the sinews of life
crystallised in grime and death that never died
in relief of times best forgotten now
for when you think of it
we cried enough dryness
to last a lifetime

Jim Young, hearth and tired

I have a cough which entered my body the way a bird or small animal would enter it flew or crawled into my mouth and inside my chest when I was standing at the beach during a windstorm my head is happy maybe the cough is a diorama in the medicine chest of my imagined illness

I’m going to go stand in the garden and yell at my tulip bulbs for a bit

Rebecca Loudon, Waking up in spite of it all which feels like spring

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal I haven’t managed much poetry related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don’t buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don’t want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

Gerry Stewart, Stepping Up

When I wrote PR for Poets,  I was grappling with a terminal cancer diagnosis (my tumors have since been classified as “stable” but I still have to get them scanned every six months). I was about to get a diagnosis of MS. These things have changed how I view book promotion in my own life and also how I might write about it next time.

Since I started promoting poetry books in 2006 (I’ve had five books published since), things have changed – the technology, the realities of travel, and in my case, my health has become a constraining factor. Last year, for instance, I was invited to read at a college for money – but ended up not being able to go for health reasons. I was also invited to be a featured speaker at a lovely-looking conference in Colorado – but given how difficult travel has been with a wheelchair, and the impact on my immune system, I had to turn it down. In both cases, I offered to appear virtually, but that offer was declined. AWP is coming up, and one reason (well, besides the money AND persistent accessibility problems at the conference itself) is that the travel is so hard on my system and the rewards don’t seem like enough to balance that out. The book addresses ways to reach new audiences that don’t involve physical travel – blog book tours, for instance, or virtual appearances at book groups or colleges, as well as social media outreach – but it could have gone further.

If you, as a healthy able-bodied writer in the world – an editor or a professor or someone who runs a conference –  want to support disabled or chronically ill writers, teach their books. Encourage your students to buy books, or request their books from libraries. Give disabled or chronically ill writers chances to do phone interviews, Skype sessions, radio appearances.

The reality is, my health and disability can limit my ability to have a writer’s life – the way traditionally the writers make money from books is being invited out to speak at colleges or at readings at conferences, so if you limit your travel to, for instance, locations you can drive to because the last two times you flew you caught pneumonia or the airlines lost your wheelchair (yup, both happened to me) – you’re also limiting how much you get paid, how many audiences you reach, how many copies of the book you sell.

Or…is that still true? I started thinking harder about this. When I started promoting my first poetry book, the number one way to sell copies was to travel to readings and people would buy books there. For my second book, the best way to sell was to send out paper postcards with buying information on them. By the time my last book came out, yes, I sold books through readings and postcards, but I sold the most copies through my blog and Facebook/Twitter announcements. If the world is really getting more technology oriented – working from home, virtual meetings – then maybe the way you sell poetry books has changed, too. I think about Instagram poets, who have a million followers and sell a million books – all without even making a personal appearance.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentine’s Day (and Day After) and a Discussion of Book Promotion and Maintaining the Writer’s Life with a Disability or Chronic Illness

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house And, of course, Yaffle, and The Red Shed . Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of Indigo Dreams, where the prize is publication of a full collection.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

John Foggin, Poetry competitions and small presses: it’s a win-win situation

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s any better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad? I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?

Mat Riches, The Jewson Lot

I must spend
more time
standing in
wind learning

to fly like
sky, grasses,
leaves, learning
to let go,

to go.

Tom Montag, I MUST SPEND

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

Some of these digests are pure miscellanies, but this week, I found a theme: possibilities, innovation, and reinvention. It might be a phase-of-the-moon thing, or a February thing, or an election-cycle thing; I’m not sure. But something was singing the poetry blogosphere electric.


The dark was not stitched with straight lines, a silvery web of dot-to-dot, but painted with shadow and scent and the whispers of snakes, sculpted with a nuance as rounded as the dunes and sanded smooth with echoes of a far away hunger.

Once she wore a hat of leaves and dreams, taller than a bishop’s mitre. Once she wore a dress of galaxies, having drawn across her body a map to the universe.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah Rents a TARDIS For Her Wedding, and Travels to Somewhere Near Now

I remember that you were supposed to smear them on your arms and face. I’m not sure I ever did that. It was another time, and the glowing death-smear war-paint of fireflies was a portal into a magic world: so very distant and misunderstood in large swathes of want. There was an element of fear in my hesitations.

Sometime the other is the object of a different kind of desire.

But I did watch them rise from the spongy ground. I came out of the trailer to watch them – the blades of grass cutting my bare feet, and the clammy evening pinching the skin on my arms.

Ren Powell, Fireflies and Real World Magic

Hi, I’m Rita, and I’m a librarioholic.

The past few months I’ve been checking out piles of library books that languish on my nightstand past their due dates only to be joined by more books before I’ve returned them, and I’m starting to think that I love something about the idea of books more than I love actually reading them. I fantasize about spending a whole Saturday curled up on the couch with a book, but I never turn that fantasy into reality. Perhaps what I love even more than reading a book is the search for it, the anticipation of it, the possibility within it, the comfort of it. Some thing a book represents, more than the thing it is.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Librarioholics. We’re a thing.

This collection [Quite Apart, by Krystal Languell] feels like a road trip into and a reckoning with the past. […] The book’s final section, “Little Runaway,” employs parentheses to replace initial capitals, commas, and periods. The result is a visual fragmentation, evoking the book’s title by setting each clause more visibly apart. It reminded me of the way Alice Notley uses quotation marks in The Descent of Alette, but the parentheses were harder for me to look past (and the nesting of clauses (nested parentheses) makes them easier to parse but more complicated). Also, the symbolism is devastating in that the information, and by association, the speaker, is now parenthetical.

I enjoyed the range and inventiveness of this book, and I look forward to reading more of Languell’s work.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Quite Apart

I took a bit of time to read another Hedgehog Poetry publication, The Legend of the Kettle Daughter by Amy Alexander. […] I was intrigued by these poems’ slow opening, like moving slowly through a dim lit room. They pulled me to follow the threads they lay through the rooms with words and images to better understand the stories. The fine webs between them caught me, but led me on carefully from one poem to the next. This is a collection I will have to reread several times to feel I’ve really followed everything, one that builds up in my mind as I traverse it again and again, but it’s definitely worth the time.

The various Hedgehog collections I’ve managed to read, and I have a good pile left from the two Cult deliveries I’ve received, have each been their own creature. I couldn’t put my finger on what kind of poem and poet Hedgehog prefers, no house style. Each book has their own appeal and strengths. I’ve found treasures in each pamphlet. As a future Hedgehog writer this is reassuring. Hopefully, I will fit because I have my own voice and my stories are strong enough to stand on their own.

Gerry Stewart, Slow Unwinding in February

I first read this pamphlet in 2017, not long after it came out, and I’ve returned to it several times since, much because it seems to me a model of how a pamphlet can be an intensely pleasurable reading experience without having to be wholly or mainly dominated by one thematic concern. It contains 25 compact poems (only one of which spills, and even then only just, onto a second page), and gives a really good flavour of Julie Mellor’s range and ability. Let’s face it, the average full collection from some big publishers often barely gets past 30 poems these days, so this pamphlet provides true value for money as well as excellent poetic fare. […]

Since the publication of this pamphlet, Mellor has headed in a more experimental direction, through the use of redaction of found textual matter to create powerful, committed poetry which works as much through what it redacts as what it leaves for the reader, as a good look at her tremendous blog shows. Her voice deserves to be heralded as distinctive and fine.

Matthew Paul, On Julie Mellor’s Out of the Weather

As in Skin Can Hold, there is in Odyssey Calling a prose section explaining a group project approaching poetry in an innovative way. This time (perhaps evolving the ‘syntax poem’ reworking of Martin Carter – although I don’t know which came first) the new approach, “Azure Noise and Kinetic Syntax” makes use of a performance space carefully to reduce the pressure of interpretation (especially academic interpretation) on the audience and even discourage any active search for meaning at all – instead creating what Capildeo calls an “active silence”. Layered recordings of contemporary texts contribute, we’re told, to a soundscape that interacts with an audience moving in and out of various zones and multiple performances in a room including “swathes of fabric”, mattresses and sheets and stalls of marbles and other “simple lustrous things”. At the same time Capildeo reads “water poems” (an example of which presumably is what follows the prose section, quoted earlier, the beautiful ‘Spindrift Silences’), they read “softly, so the audience could choose their level of engagement”. All of this reflects the pamphlet’s overall sense of togethering: the individual here (poet, audience) does not exist in isolation either from the poetry or from the rest of the world, poetry is not me and mine, but us and ours.

Chris Edgoose, The sea is like this: Odyssey Calling by Vahni Capildeo

Over the weekend, an excellent new poetry endeavour was launched online. ‘iamb’ is a website of poets reading their own work, and (at least so far) features 20 poets with three poems each – you can both read, and listen to, the poems.

I was delighted to be part of this first wave of poets, with representation not only from the UK but around the world. The website is the brainchild of Mark Antony Owen, an English poet who is also the author of the Subruria poetry website, featuring small, lyrical, incisive poems about the suburbs, family life and more. Mark is also a talented web designer, and both of these websites are beautifully presented.

I happen to know that there are some really exciting plans for ‘iamb’ later this year, so while there’s plenty to listen to and read right now, keep watching this space.

Clarissa Aykroyd, ‘iamb’: Poetry Seen and Heard

In April 2019, just in time for National Poetry Month, I started videotaping myself reading poems aloud while drinking beer in craft-brewery tasting rooms. I launched a YouTube series called MASH: Beer-&-Poem Pairings to—per my catchphrase—“make poetry hospitable for everyone.” Thanks to the boundless creativity of craft brewers, it’s pretty easy—and fun!—to find a poem that, language-wise, pairs with my chosen beer’s flavor components or quirky name. Despite the opportunity for deeper inquiry, my MASH videos do not include wonky descriptions of the poems or the beers. Instead, by design, each video is a low-key hit-and-run: Click the “play” arrow and three minutes later…A poem? Raise your glass! That wasn’t so bad!

A month later, May 2019, I launched a second video series, BARK & BARD: Poetry Readings for Dogs, in which I read to dogs a poem that pairs with their personality or name or breed. I’d been wondering, for quite a while, how to combine these two things I’m passionate about—dogs and poetry—and then I heard, like an oracle, Billy Collins say in a Masterclass ad on YouTube, “Dogs are very good to read poetry to; cats, not so much.”

How Is This Poem Like…a Beer? a Dog? a Spirit? – guest blog post by Marj Hahne (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I was given a directive from on high last week which, deliberately and with rebellion aforethought, I declined to follow. I had a litany of reasons why, but it mainly boiled down to the principle of “enough is enough.” I made a good friend of one of our building engineers when I confessed my insubordination to him on our way to a morning meeting. He was greatly impressed, and he looks at me with a new respect in his eyes now. I can tell he had me pegged as a goody-two-shoes rules-follower and an obedient drone. Which led me to ponder once again the question of whether or not I am actually a rules-follower. Although I generally do follow rules, I don’t think that I am in my heart of hearts a rule-follower. I am a workplace peacenik (the strike was extremely hard on me emotionally for all the rancor and ill-will it caused), so I will follow rules in the service of group harmony, but I’m generally rules-suspicious and am not above finding ways around the ones that I find senseless, or that cause me unreasonable inconvenience. However, although my act of defiance didn’t impact anyone negatively, or at all,I still felt weirdly guilty about it for a good portion of last week. So who knows. Maybe I am a rules-follower after all.

Speaking of rules, I recently received in my inbox the rules for the Annual Spirit First Meditation Poetry Contest, which has spurred me to put aside House Flipper for the time being to work on my new poetry series and get some poems polished and shined for contest entry. I will be writing about meditation in a very different way than I have before. We’ll see how it all pans out, or if it even will. I feel oddly insecure about the viability of this new venture and I’m not sure how any of it will go over. I just keep telling myself that the worst that will happen is that I will have written a bunch of poems that no one likes and everyone will think I’m weird, which is hardly the end of the world. 

Kristen McHenry, Missed Calling, Rebellion Aforethought, Poetry Spit-Shine

You turn away,
thinking the world

does not need
such cross-species

love. Then you turn
back, knowing

we can’t live
without it.

Tom Montag, Bark of the Tree

Some years, we have hellebore and dwarf irises in February–it isn’t entirely drab, grey, chilly, and wet for 29 days. Reminding myself of that helps a little. Why, we had one warm and sunny day earlier in the week! The flies and stinkbugs buzzed about drowsily, and the birds made a little more noise than usual.

But part of me says–oh, wait a bit. There could be plenty of snow in March.

Ann E. Michael, 29 days

In my yard, the first thing to bloom is usually our pink camellias, and they opened spectacularly yesterday, despite a week of hail, snow, flooding, wind, and other February nonsense. It makes me think spring might be around the corner – a cheering thought, after a terribly gloomy winter.

People all around us were flooded out of our homes – river trails and trees disappeared under water, cars were swallowed, people evacuated – we are lucky to live on top of a hill, and the river is a few miles away, but all week I’ve been watching the news every morning, flooding/road closures/power outages and coronavirus the two top stories, and then the politics, oy. So that put me in an apocalyptic mindset. Yesterday we went to the local gardening store to get a few sweet pea starts, which it might be a little early to plant, but we goofed around with the faux flower Valentine’s Day displays too, which was very cheering.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, February First Flowers, Floods, Supermoons, and Superbowls, plus Poetry Grant Writing

I start this day by painting myself sunflower yellow to feel what the world might have looked like to Van Gogh.

Rich Ferguson, Sunflower

“February is not my favorite month,” I told a kind person who is also my hairdresser. He answered, “Good title for a poem.” Maybe I’ll write it when I hatch. […]

What I’d like to do right now? A box of mss just came from Cider Review Press, because I’m serving as this year’s judge. I want to read read read–something I know for sure I’m good at. Pondering them will be good work for February’s closed-in evenings, when wind rattles the tin roof and poems are the only hubbub I feel drawn to.

Lesley Wheeler, Still at the Egg-life–

One advantage to being awake in the pre-sunrise hours is the view of the moon I often get.  Just now, I looked out my west facing kitchen window to see the full moon, mostly cloaked (but not concealed) by shreds of clouds, which makes the clouds interesting shades of purples, eggplants, lavenders, and grays. It’s like a Turner painting, if Turner had included palm trees in the foreground.

Once I wrote that, I had to go remind myself of the details of Turner’s life.  The Wikipedia entry includes this interesting nugget:  “He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828, although he was viewed as profoundly inarticulate.”

He taught for almost 20 years.  Did everyone view him as “profoundly inarticulate”?  Was he only inarticulate in his speech?  Did his students learn in other ways, non-lecture ways?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Painters of Sky, Painters of Walls

first movie!
their child talks
to the screen

Bill Waters, NaHaiWriMo 2020: week 1

I make another in a long series of bargains
as I lift myself out of the darkness:
For a moment I hear a familiar call
in the scripted homily of a TV nun.

Jason Crane, POEM: Faith

I spilled over my regulation Sunday horror spilled over I walked to the kitchen and heard Somewhere Over the Rainbow on a tinny childhood radio Sundays have a black resonance secrets hidden meanings my inner cake fell my heart tried to escape my chest I made a mess of my kitchen butter sugar flour yeast a single orange yolk from Jack the Egg Man cinnamon I sat on a kitchen chair taking my own blood pressure over and over and over every five minutes in fact there are no facts am I dying the doctor says my blood pressure is normal my blood is normal my glucose levels and cholesterol levels are all normal all of it normal and here is my heart bleeding for Seppuku my heart bleeding for Fridays at the Pearl Oyster Bar in New Orleans my heart bleeding for Henry’s dream horses my heart bleeding for coronavirus victims on a cruise ship my heart bleeding for Amerikkka I am coming down with a ragey case of insanity my heart bleeds for Dorothy Gale and Alice Liddell and Elsie Paroubek and Violet Vivian

A woman is born twice
once through blood
once through blood

A second time through the kitchen

Rebecca Loudon, A woman is born twice

Either I need to keep writing through, or I need to stop and take a breath and release the endorphins of thinking. There may be a deeper level I haven’t written to yet. I just happened to grab a poem along the way.

And don’t tell Poem Mind this, as she already can be rather insufferable, but the unsaid — the space and breaths of poetry — have the capacity to suggest so much more than the word-filled prose.

But she gets lazy, Poem Mind, and Prose Mind needs to push on, dig down, “read” the white space of the poem and write into it so Poem Mind can perhaps breathe deeper still. Even if Prose Mind repeats herself along the way. Sometimes even that can be revealing of something still unearthed.

Marilyn McCabe, Under pressure; or, Prose as a Pathway to Poetry

These poems are fairly worthless; a house
Made of twigs, mud, and thistles.

The good comes, perhaps, from building them,
More than from their use; an exercise for the spirit.

James Lee Jobe, What we have

I drive onto the highway and head downtown. The skyline like a prism reflecting the sunlight rising in the east. Glass panels, concrete, metal girders, reflective spires all twinkling ahead. Yes, man’s marvels. But, somewhere there is a strip mine. Somewhere, countless acres of forest have fallen in the name of progress. Paved streets and parking lots.

Gone are the Reunion Ibis, the the Black-Backed Bittern, Reunion Night-Heron and a slew of other bird species. In the past half-century there has been a 29% decline in birds in the U.S. and Candida. Once we lose birds, insects and other animals are impacted. So too is plant life. Some of this is not doubt related to climate change and migration disruption. 

Poets could do a whole anthology of elegies to birds who are no longer with us. 

Patiently, I await the sight of the owl that serenades me morning and night.

Michael Allyn Wells, The Order of Species and Poets

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Weeks 4-5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This time, I am playing catch-up, which of course meant twice as much reading as usual, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday while recovering (I hope) from a mild virus. Poetry bloggers have been in fine form over the past two weeks.

Incidentally, for those craving a poem-a-day exercise this month, it’s not too late to join NaHaiWriMo or Post-It Note Poetry — or both!


I discovered wordpools in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. “I collect…hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers,” she writes. “That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, quarrel, love seat, lily. I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems.”

When I read this, I’d been writing poems a long time, but the idea of collecting words to spark creativity was new to me. That a poem might be lurking in some random words—surge, hit, new, kiss, overallfork, innocence, bumblebee, fingers—was exhilarating.

Around this time, the late 1990s, Magnetic Poetry kits appeared. I received many as gifts. They came in sheets, requiring the recipient to detach the words from each other. I’ve lost count of how many kits I processed this way, only to find the words I’d carefully separated uninspiring. Staring at a refrigerator covered with words that someone else selected did little for my creativity.

Erica Goss, Dive Into the Wordpool

public library
the little girl skips
to the door

Bill Waters, Public library

Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.

Ren Powell, Being Seen and the Value of Journaling

Maggie Smith talked about embracing brokenness and error in poems.  She talked about the kintsugi method of ceramics, where cracks and even broken pieces are filled in with metallic lacquer.  She talked about ways to use this technique in poetry through the things we mistype, the spelling errors, the things we hear wrong, and all the other ways we should embrace our mistakes.  If we’re open to our imperfections, the poems may take us to surprising places that a rigid poet would never discover.

My favorite quote of hers:  “I don’t got to poetry for comfort, as a reader or a writer, but to be changed.”

Her craft lecture was paired with Adrian Matejka, who talked about persona poetry and issues of history, culture and appropriation.  I wasn’t familiar with his work, but he was a dynamic, engaging speaker, and I enjoyed the topic.  How interesting to be talking about these issues during a week when the nation has been talking about these issues in the latest Oprah book pick, American Dirt.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Craft Talks at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Days like these, it’s hard to tell up from down. Days like these, when the flow and deluge of the cosmos rubs up against our flesh, the universe hymning and howling the joys and sorrows for which we struggle to find words.

Days when our hearts strain against the unknown until the pain becomes a part of us.

Days like these, when all we can do is put our shoulder to the wheel. Lean into love.

Rich Ferguson, Days Like These

And, of course, there are always the ‘let’s-all-spread-across-the-sidewalk-and-take-up-as-much-room-as-we-can’ walkers. And dog walkers. And a woman who must have splashed through the ocean’s shallows, standing one-legged at her open trunk wiping sand from her feet. And a man wandering the boardwalk with a phone in his hand, who could be waiting for someone. Or even for himself.

And here’s me, trying to remember to keep right not left but forgetting when I run back to the beach, and spit some water onto the rocks, which way the wind is blowing.

sunrise
all of us
in this
together

Lynne Rees, Deerfield Mile

I forget how much I enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, especially foreign writers here in Finland. We’re a good mix of nations, last night there were British, American, Hungarian, Romanian and Jamaican writers attending. We usually have a Finn or two as well. We went out for a drink afterwards, to talk shop, politics and just generally blether. We may not agree on everything politically and I was grateful the conversation did not turn to Brexit, but I feel we can actually debate and break open subjects that touch on writing, teaching, literature and being immigrants.

Though the other writers and I are on different paths in our writing careers, there are few poets in the group, it’s nice to have a small community to share worries, successes and struggles. If someone asks, how do you decide when a piece is finished, there are lots of different points of view and stories shared, poems that get rehashed to death, stories that never get finished. They understand. I’m so glad I’ve managed to find this in a place where I can’t properly engage with the local literature because my language skills just aren’t up to it. Even if I can’t make it every week, I know it’s there when I have time. 

Gerry Stewart, A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

I often like to think that the paid employment I do on week-days gets in the way of my true vocation. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but how I envy those who can set aside time when they are fresh and alert to do some writing. Like many others, I mostly make do with writing on evenings and weekends when all I really want to do is slouch; and doing so is knackering. Lately, though, I seem to have snatched some decent writing time on bus journeys, from Hampton Court or Kingston to Twickenham, which has been a boon. My wife’s mantra is, “It’s later than you think” – wise words made wiser recently by news of the deaths of three friends and acquaintances of my age. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my time with a mantra of my own: “Get running, get writing, get the fuck on with it.”

Matthew Paul, Writing time

I like to write, but boy, do I have trouble at times settling down.  I love to write, even, but the other pole – the love of motion – makes it rough to sit at that desk.  I’ve got to keep moving.  I’m not the kind of writer to dictate into an IPhone as I’m walking, or as I’m doing spins on the dancefloor; so I do need my desk.  Once I re-discover my desk as a long-lost love, I start to wander in my head.  

I’ve paired up with a compatible subject for a poetry sequence — home/homelessness. It troubles the idea of home and explores the commonality of homelessness. Is it something about me, my tribe? Wandering Jews are well-known entity, starting with God ordering Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and get moving into the unknown.  In the current cyclical readings of Torah, we are in Exodus, wandering in the desert. 

My tribe as human?  Metaphorically we might now feel that we are all wandering in the desert.  The first thing my IPhone showed me this morning was a suggestion on the Home Screen: “It’s true that nothing makes sense.” What the —? 

Jill Pearlman, The New Vertigo

THIS is the best thing about this week: a stunning cover for my forthcoming poetry book, featuring a painting called “Censer” by Ida Floreak and designed by Nikkita Colhoon. Nikkita’s work was one of the draws, for me, in working with Tinderbox Editions–all her covers stop you in your tracks. I feel really lucky. I owe thanks, too, to Clover Archer for bringing Ida’s art to Staniar Gallery on campus, and to Kevin Remington for getting a high-quality photograph of the work. I went to Ida’s talk just as I was puzzling over possible covers, so there was something magical about the convergence.

Like Ida’s other work, “Censer” has a meditative quality I love. She’s arranged a shrine out of natural objects, highlighting their grace–and the cracking egg suggests rebirth (when am I being reborn again? I’m ready!). Ida says she’s influenced both by botanical drawings and religious art, and this book is full of plants, creatures, and spirit-questions. I had wondered what colors Nikkita would choose for the words on the cover; the pink is both surprising and right. The poems reference pink constantly, from pussy hats to magnolia blossoms to rose-tinted medicines. And somehow the pink lettering makes the shadows more striking, which feels appropriate to this collection, too. Yes, I know I’m close-reading my own cover at length, but I’m excited, dammit.

Lesley Wheeler, She’s in a state, all right

I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

can’t find the way into my book
I don’t know where it will take me
it’s quite fugitive

oak-gall ink
copper pomegranate and avocado
I’ve never wanted to do this

the Red Dress is coming next weekend
a kitten is arriving on March 1st
I can’t stop drawing trees

Ama Bolton, ABCD: January 2020

[Colleen Anderson:] What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

[Jeannine Hall Gailey:] I think that definitely the mood of our current age is one of apocalypse–there’s a reason there are so many disaster movies and superhero movies. We look to the mythological and the epic to try to make our own stories make more sense.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have two book manuscripts in circulation to publishers and I have a speculative poem coming up in the latest issue of Ploughshares called “Irradiate” and an upcoming poem in Poetry called “Calamity.”

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror and speculative poetry and fiction?

I am really glad the horror and speculative communities exist and I’ve made friends within the SFPA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association) that are really important to me. Often, we can be treated as “outsiders” in the literary world, but we aren’t really outsiders–I guarantee there are more poetry fans of speculative and horror work than people think.

Colleen Anderson, Women in Horror: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Alice Oswald, who is definitely “the great Alice Oswald” and is also now the first woman Oxford Professor of Poetry (though not the first to be elected – that was Ruth Padel), performed at Kings Place on 17 January with live music by Ansuman Biswas. Oswald does specifically “perform” rather than “recite” or “read” – even her more conventional appearances involve her almost chanting her poems off by heart, unforgettable performances unlike anyone else’s. I have written about seeing her a couple of times before, and this was one of the less conventional appearances. It started with a “sound calendar” or seascape by Chris Watson, and the actual performance was mostly in total darkness, although there was partial lighting for sections of it.

Oswald was performing Nobody, her most recent book, based on stories of water, humans and gods from Greek mythology. I’m only superficially knowledgeable about the Odyssey and related works, so I appreciated Nobody more from a sea-perspective, but the tales that washed in and out sometimes had an odd familiarity. Ansuman Biswas performed on the aquaphone, which reminded me of sea sounds washing into a cave, and also an enormous gong, which was overwhelming to the point of being almost distressing at certain points. The whole performance was mesmerising, thrilling and absolutely haunting.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Alice Oswald’s Nobody at Kings Place, and Anselm Kiefer at White Cube

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but reading Sharon Olds’s Arias has released something in me, and I’ve been writing a lot of new poems! Olds writes about anything–troubled family relationships, her mother who beat her, sex, death, childbirth, the intense love of one’s children, scattering ashes, how California got made tectonically, etc.–so she probably gives me “permission” to write about anything, too! Or sing (in the shower, arias) about anything!! And I have to say I like the coincidence of how the black-and-white book cover matches that of Hope in the Dark!

Kathleen Kirk, Arias

We’re taken  through a series of good and bad days, self-obsession and tortured thoughts. The world through this person’s eyes is full of squirming creatures, human and otherwise, destined for the slaughterhouse, the dustbin, ‘squelching late-night screenings’, or just dead, fossilised, taken, ‘yawning for air in their anxious hell.’ The narrator saves his harshest criticism for himself, who he sees behaving badly in some scenarios, and victimised in others.  Catching the reflection of his face as he tortures a fish out of boredom ‘I hate myself, / loathing whatever thing is watching me.’ (‘Siamese Fighting Fish’). A game of pool is going well, and then: ‘He’s back, that version of me, / the choker who doesn’t deserve it. So I choke again’.

I found myself compelled onward through the sequence and really enjoyed the form – each poem just two stanzas of four lines each – there’s a loose narrative arc driving it and the sheer exuberance and creativity is wonderfully gripping. Not so much a romp as a yomp – there’s no missing the real anguish here, but it’s worked through with such wit and originality. Sin Cycle succeeds in being luscious, gruesome, poignant and hilarious somehow all at once.

Robin Houghton, Sin Cycle, a new poetry sequence from Peter Kenny

In Almost Famous, the fourth chapbook by the consummate literary citizen, Trish Hopkinson, we find powerful and painful coming-of-age stories crafted as poems. The book starts with a vivid depiction of her own birth, written from her perspective, and it carries forward into the childhood and teen years, and every poem packs a potent gut-punch. While there were parts of my own life that diverged widely from the childhood Hopkinson describes, there was enough here that was familiar and shared.

For me, the strongest parts of the book were the first and last poems. The first, “Third Day, Third Month, 1972,” describes Hopkinson’s birth, which included the use of forceps:
 
                 A doctor,
or a man rather, pressed
a tool inside her, like the back

of a soup spoon reaching in
to a bowl of cold grits,
fished around for my tender

skull, and excised me for comfort.


The image here — forceps in a birth canal as a spoon in cold grits — casts the birth scene into an otherworldly sphere, I think mainly because the grits are cold. What kind of birth is this? It’s such a small touch, but a smart poetic decision because of its perfect not-quite-rightness.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “Almost Famous”­­ by Trish Hopkinson

I was captivated by the intersection of motherhood, self, and humanity—including the monsters. Remember when I was connecting not living on earth with death in the first poem? Shortly past the halfway point, the book embarks on a long poem called “Starship.” When I say long, I mean fifty pages—a book within a book. Each page consists of two poems, or scenes, that lead the reader on a journey through relationships, time travel, and the stars. [Sarah] Blake’s style in this collection is narrative—a stance I admire because I think it’s hard to do without drifting into prose. And “Starship” is narrative at its epic best, its story line opening questions of desire, abandonment, choice. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about the last line–but if you read the book, let me know and we’ll talk!

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Let’s Not Live on Earth

Though it is not stated (it doesn’t need to be), the farmer in his wrangle with the earth ultimately produces food.  The poet of course produces poetry, and as a poet himself, Williams suggests poetry is on the level of food.  For Williams, poetry is just as much a necessary product of his artistic labor as edible crops are of a farmer’s sowing.  In this sense, “The Farmer” can be seen to anticipate WCW’s own more famous lines in the much later “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (1955): “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

Mike Begnal, William Carlos Williams’s “The Farmer”

Speaking of memory and observation, how much I wish that I had trained mine more. How I wish I had employed that excellent method of looking at an object, going into another room to draw it, returning to refresh my memory, and so on, until that drawing was completed without it and the object ever having met, as it were. What a training for an artist interested primarily in character, who sees for a minute a face which, if he cannot draw from memory, he will never draw at all!

I believe I am right in saying that, ages before such a thing as photography was even guessed at, this was the method by which Chinese artists were taught … So developed did their powers of observation and memory become by this training that by shutting their eyes, opening them for the fraction of a second, and shutting them again, they could keep in their minds the visual image of what they saw long enough to be able to transfer that visual image to paper. It was in this manner that they were enabled to draw insects and birds in flight, and it is an indubitable fact that, when the camera was invented and ‘instantaneous’ pictures were produced, it was proved by comparison that these artists’ memorisations were perfectly accurate.

Ann E. Michael, Observation, memory, & art

During my first semester of my MFA program, Karen Volkman, who was a visiting writer teaching a craft class I’ve forgotten the name of,  took us specifically to see the Cornell boxes at the Art Institute and I was hooked. I started writing about them, sneaking over to see them occasionally on my writing days (ie the days I had only classes and no library shifts).  It was a time when the museum allowed pay what you can, and since I usually was there in the afternoon, I felt confident paying a couple bucks and wandering through the museum’s wings, but mostly hanging out around the Cornell boxes. Years later, the Institute built a monolithic modern wing and shoved all the boxes in a big glass case all together and basically ruined everything, but at the time, they were strung through a series of small rooms, which allowed you to encounter each one singularly. To sit down in front of the tabled ones. I spent a lot of time there, working over the next few years on what would become at the hotel andromeda.

It was while working on those pieces that I filed away my encounter with Dali’s Invention of the Monsters, which was hung in a room I had to pass through to reach the Cornells and had a bench upon which I often sat to jot down notes.  While Cornell was icy blue and haunted, Dali was all wild and in flames, and just really weird in a way I appreciated.  It took me years to return to that painting as subject matter., and when I did, it turned into a sort of meditation on the ghostly little blue dog in the corner and Dali’s own wife, who occupies the painting with him.

Kristy Bowen, ekphrastic desires

Lately I’ve been exploring my emotional response to rocks.

Does that say something unfortunate about me? Shouldn’t I be exploring my relationship to my long-dead father, or my inner fears, or why I hate my neighbors, or my notions of gods and the spirit?

Or is it all the same thing? Am I on some spiritual trip, a connection with the ineffable, that thing we humans can’t seem to resist, finding something bigger than ourselves? And in my case at the moment, LITERALLY bigger than myself — this glacial erratic my forest trail has led me to.

This giant boulder takes up space, it has a relationship to time, albeit far different than mine. It is a natural history of which I am a moment, one hand on the cool side of the rock, a sinew in the grand continuity of matter and energy, as far as we know. We are briefly together, erratic and I.

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Southbound Train; or, Writing out of the Animated World

seeing the stream
i throw a stone
into the sky

Jim Young [no title]

These letters, kite-string
or umbilicus: do they
tether you? When I
stop writing will you
dissolve, a water droplet
rejoining the flowing stream?

Rachel Barenblat, Tether

I am learning to navigate the dreaded Disneyland of CostCo. First I park a billion miles away so I won’t get hit by a car or one of those huge fucking baskets careening wildly out of control. Once inside I keep to the left of the store so I won’t get lost in the labyrinth of cheese and meat and bread and cleaning products and screaming children and goats and booze and bales of hay and coffins. Then I get what I need which is usually cheese and butter and cleaning supplies and while I’m doing this I smile at everyone. Smiling at people in CostCo freaks them out. Bad. Seriously bad. They look at me like I’m going to steal their purses or rip their lungs out with my enormous teeth. When I get to the 15 mile long checkout line I lean my arms on my basket and continue to smile. Today my checker’s name was Falcon. I told him it was a beautiful name and asked if he knew the Robert Duncan poem My Mother Would Be A Falconress one of my most beloved poems of all time. The first time I read this poem I almost fell down. I worship this poem. I memorized it right after I read it which is an old fashioned thing I still do. The poem makes my head burn like a church on fire. The checker Falcon had not read or heard of the poem so I wrote Robert Duncanthen My Mother Would Be A Falconress on a slip of paper and told him to Google it when he got home. So I held up the line for almost an entire minute. Sometimes you have to do it.

Rebecca Loudon, Outing

I called to God in the night.
I knelt, I rose, I answered, I sang.
Beneath my shirt I hid my vow.
No one can say I didn’t try to keep it.

Jason Crane, POEM: Imbolc

In this cone of silence just
before the dawn, the shadow
world is palpable: gods

and monsters glide and crawl
by my garden gate. Half-dreams,
uncertain memories, dust devils rolling.

Here and now, I sense, is the pagan
junction where all things meet:
skeletons into flesh, ghosts

into plasma, rumours, fears, the whole
arcana hard wired into the dark.

Dick Jones, Insomnia.

I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard used to do. I slept heavily and dreamed of words that were made from solid objects of various shapes and sizes, and of many different materials. Words built from metal, wood, concrete, plastic, and so on. I was using tools to assemble these words into poems; a hammer and nails, a handsaw, a drill, nuts and bolts, a sander, and wrenches. The poems I built were as large as a man and crazy looking, but they read beautifully. The poems I built were better than any I ever wrote, but that isn’t saying much.

James Lee Jobe, I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard

Anyway, yay, I survived, and even though I was a weirdo dental patient  – a little out of the ordinary, the endodontist had to use a special filling, my root was shaped unusually, and all that no Novocain thing – everything was just fine. The funny thing was, they tell you not to sign any contracts or shop while you’re on the sedation drug, called Versed – but I submitted three book manuscripts that night, which I don’t remember, and bought two lipsticks and a shampoo – I guess it could have been worse! And a couple of days later, mostly sleeping I stumbled out into the rain…and found deer in the yard! They had munched on a bit of our camellias, but I guess that’s all right. And I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the sunbreaks and rainbows I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sunbreaks in the Rain, Surviving My First Root Canal, Finding Flowers in Our Darkest Winter Month

Who never tires of me?
This hermitage, my desk.

Tom Montag, Who Never

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