Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Yesterday was the solstice, Hanukkah began this evening, and Christmas is on Wednesday, so it’s no surprise that this week’s digest is full of lights in the darkness. Me, I’ve always loved the dark, so it’s probably also no surprise that a blog with a name like Via Negativa was birthed this time of year as well. It turned 16 on the 17th.

Poetry bloggers are continuing to post year-end assessments, and although I’m too disorganized to do this kind of accounting myself, it’s fascinating to see the various metrics people use to measure their writing success.


How invisible
we are. In the winter fog,
last year’s candlelight.

The sun reigns elsewhere.
Warm skins, bare feet, all small sins
that don’t leave shadows.

Magda Kapa, Moons and Stars Apart

It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. We are blindfolded and behind the wheel of a car. The fastest, most deadly car I’ve ever seen. We rush towards time, time rushes towards us. Sometimes I wonder who will be the first to relent in this metaphysical game of chicken. It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. Godspeed is the speed at which a light heart makes its own light as it travels faster than the speed of light.

Rich Ferguson, The Speed of Light

lanterns 
when the candle dies
night lives

Jim Young [no title]

There is a thread of blood
in the water, in the
fire, in the light. It is

time for light to tip
over and spill red
along the edges

of dawn, shivering
as if we are stepping
through a mirage into

water, or into Spring,
or into waking, or
into day. It is time.

P.F. Anderson, Time For Light

Midday the clouds morph from one grey-white
shape to another, shadows strong, drawn from tall
pines onto the unpaved road. What hours lie ahead
we never know. No Terce or Compline ring here,
no call to prayer but antiphon train horn
& the disturbed ducks.

Ann E. Michael, Praise

O manual, laboring handbook,
gladden the work of our hands.
We wait for peace,
but terror comes instead.
What factory fashioned the
slashing shrapnel?

Emanate
manual light, new elevation,
elicit handmade candles,
bread, bowls,
chairs,
decoys.
Carpenter, potter, baker,
emit manual glory.

Anne Higgins, The  “O Antiphons”

Near silence under the valley oaks, in California’s great valley. The only sound is the wind blowing up the delta, along the Sacramento River. It begins in the Gulf of Alaska, this wind, and spins in a vast circle that takes it far out into the northern Pacific Ocean and then back again, so that when it crosses the California coast it is actually traveling northeast. The wind then comes in through the Golden Gate, blows across the San Francisco Bay and up the wide, deep Sacramento River. As the wind reaches the park by my home it is toned down, a nice breeze, and the oak trees, naked for winter, wiggle and dance just a bit with the pine trees that are always green. Looking up, I see branches backed by the steel gray sky. Looking down I see a pine cone by my feet. Weather, from Alaska to me.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Near silence under the valley oaks’

The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.

In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Terrace Concert

Darling, tonight the whole horizon
closed like a lid. The traffic sighs on
rainy tarmac, men flit like flies on

jets of wind, the river fractures,
and a streetlight manufactures
a wealth of frazzled broken textures.

So beautiful: the petrol station’s
amber flatness, the quotations
of lit shopfronts, the impatience

of running clouds. The winter races
into darkness, interlaces
bodies in its breathing spaces.

George Szirtes, Prayer for my Daughter

I sit in the quiet.
I leaf through
your cookbooks.

I remember
how you loved
the beauty shop’s bustle.

When night falls
I sing my way
through the door.

Rachel Barenblat, On the shortest day

I’ve been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with “Silent Night” printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What’s so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways.

Kathleen Kirk, Hope in the Dark

Sometimes I wish I were more of a “holiday person,” someone who takes delight in the rituals and traditions of the season and gets excited about decorations and gifts and parties and seasonal music. I don’t know if something broke in me long ago, or if I am just naturally like this, but holidays have always been fairly meaningless to me. I’ve never cooked or hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve never held a Christmas party, and I don’t bake anything. I don’t send out holiday cards to my volunteers at work, and I could barely muster the will to see that a single, shabby Christmas tree got put up in the lobby of the hospital this year. I hate the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else is doing for the holidays, and then afterwards, the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else did for the holidays. I don’t know why I have so much Christmas dysthymia. Christmas never did anything to me personally. It has just always evoked in me a vague  sense of melancholy and loneliness. This is all being magnified for me this year by the fact that this will be my first Christmas without my dad, and I won’t be able to give him a can of Almond Roca or a gift certificate to Cabela’s. He loved both of those things. […]

My biggest mistake was in thinking that I had more time. You never have more time. Even though I’m not a big fan of Christmas, it is a time of coming together with people who matter in your life. Make it count. Heal what you can, if you can. Appreciate them. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have forever. You don’t.

Kristen McHenry, Christmas Dysthymia

I need to go to the grocery store in town this morning and I am fearing it with deep and abiding stomach clutching dread Christmas shoppers tend to be pushy and aggressive I only need to get broccoli and avocados and fruit and cheese for my Christmas dinner which over the years has become mostly a day of grazing a quiche a pumpkin pie some guacamole and chips I figure one giant meal a year that I am expected to cook is enough for me now that my life is so much smaller and so much larger ( my son asked what’s for Christmas breakfast waffles? and I burned a hole into him with my blazing eyebulbs)

I want to run a hot bath but I hear the breathing of more than one adult child I don’t know who is here I might have to tippy toe into the kitchen to make coffee and get my oatmeal going before we can all be our most beautiful selves one day into winter and I’m already longing for summer I will always be a summer girl

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

On good days I am at my desk before the sun shows up.  I watch the increasing light on my back yard tree and bushes.  Here’s what I see:

Signals on stone, light
through gaps between branches as
sun clears the mountain,
friendly wave of a morning
walker not breaking his stride.

What else do I do to honor the solstice?  I close out my summer/fall writing folder and start one for winter/spring.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Tanka for the Solstice

So I’ve cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I’ve written again. It’s like going home.

I’m looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there’s a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I’ve been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I’m not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I’m happy not to ford just now.

I’m moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Gerry Stewart, Going Home

I also make sandwiches for our church’s soup and sandwich run for homeless people and people in need. This is a soup run organised by all the churches in Trowbridge who work together on a rota to provide hot soup and sandwiches. Even if you’re not religious, it’s worth checking out what churches are doing in your community where you live and offering support and/or donations if you can. We donate food for our local foodbank through our church, for example. St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol is particularly active in the community and does amazing work but is in need of more support.

So the point of this long letter is to say where I am in person and to tell you what’s helping me get through what has been a sad time. But I am a writer (and a poet to boot!) so I am extremely used to disappointments and I am absolutely not going to feel defeated or pessimistic about anything.

Josephine Corcoran, Where I am

As 2019 closes, I managed to submit new poems to two journals. I’ve crafted about 20 new poems this year, mainly while I was in Los Angeles and London. These poems are about my mother’s death, and having distance from Atlanta certainly helped with clarity and perspective. While those poems won’t be part of my LA/San Francisco-inspired collection, they will, hopefully, begin to appear in lit mags soon.

Karen Head and I have been reading submissions for the Mother Mary Comes to Me anthology due out from Madville Publishing late next year. Submissions are open through Jan. 1, so there’s still time to submit your pop culture, Virgin Mary-inspired poems for consideration.

I travelled widely in 2019, both for poetry readings from Midnight in a Perfect World and for pleasure. LA and London were magical — especially since I got to see so many friends in the process. It was a treat to read with Dustin Lance Black at Polari (thank you, Paul Burston!) and to spend nearly two weeks writing every night with my dear friend Agnes Meadows. Sometimes you have to make your own residency.

Collin Kelley, Looking back at 2019 and ahead to 2020

When I printed them all out this afternoon, I found close to 80 pieces written this year, across  5 different series–nothing to scoff at to be sure, and certainly more than I was tallying in my head. This also did not include the last batch of zodiac poems I can never keep track of, so probably approaching 100 more likely. Poems about changelings and body image, about serial killers and mass extinctions. With so much in flux this past year, and the niggling feeling I am doing so much, but only a little bit well, I am happy to see something solid and good to show for it, especially since my visual exploits have been more stagnant outside of cover designs.  I’ve never been much for numbers for the sake of numbers, but I’m aware that the higher number of things you write in a year, the better for the actual quality–like running laps or situps–even the less inspiring ones make you stronger.

Kristy Bowen, art and productivity in 2019

I’m sorry to admit that in 2019 I’ve spent £95 on individual poem competition entries and £84 on pamphlet competitions. This was all possible because of the ‘How to submit to poetry magazines’ booklet that I wrote and published end of last year – I told myself I’d use the profit from that on poetry fees and magazine subscriptions this year. But most of it’s gone now, and with competition winnings at zero pounds I just have to think of those entry fees as donations. […]

I’ve decided that in 2020 I won’t be entering any competitions. None where you pay an entry fee, anyway. I generally spend around £75 a year on magazine subscriptions, and I’ll carry on doing this as they are the lifeblood of the poetry world. You always have something in your hand to show for a subscription, and many magazines are real works of art. I’m going to send more poems to magazines. I also want to give more time to writing generally, without trying to whip up ‘competition poems’. Maybe I can pull together a full collection. Or just write more poems on the themes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m leaving it open and not putting pressure on myself. But no comps for at least a year is my goal.

I know that some poets don’t enter comps at all, often because they find the idea of a ‘poetry competition’ completely at odds with the creativity of writing. I’m not sure that’s me. But I do think comps have an addictive quality (“I’ll just enter one more competition and this could be the Big One!”), and breaking the habit (for me at least) requires a complete break. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

Robin Houghton, My 2019 submissions: successes & fails | poetry blog

You can see this year I wrote in a variety of journals, each one a little different. I filled a journal about every two-and-a-half months, which is a lot of writing. I’m happy about that, satisfied with how much writing I did this year. And I’m excited to see what next year brings.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journaling

My happy news–honored above by a photo of Ursula ecstatic about catnip–is receiving a Katherine Bakeless Nason Scholarship to Breadloaf Environmental Writers Conference this June. This is also the season I gear up for book publicity, and I’m SO glad to have ONE set of dates in stone now, as I query bookstores and reading series and the like. I’m thinking I’ll roadtrip to Vermont and book a few dates at mid-points along the journey, since both the poetry collection and the novel will be out by then. I’m also applying for additional conferences, residencies, etc., which is a ton of work. I’m really grateful that of the dozen or more applications I’ve already put out there, one came through. In the spirit of making visible my shadow c.v.: I’ve also received a cartload of rejections and non-answers (if you can imagine those ghostly silences filling up a cart, anyway). That’s just the way it goes, but it’s good to have one nice shiny “yes” to light up these long dark nights.

Lesley Wheeler, Not with a whimper but a bang!

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It’s worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. […]

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

I’ve recently been watching the Netflix series Magic For Humans. Most of the show revolves around the magician Justin Willman stopping people in the street to perform tricks for them. They’re usually in-close tricks—coins, cards, etc rather than disappearing elephants (yet)—the audience, both in person and over television, is captivated and bewildered. And that’s where the connection to poetry comes in for me.

Willman’s magic, in part, relies on his ability to draw the audience into his world. He makes them feel welcome, safe. In short, though they may be skeptical, they trust him. His demeanor, his forthrightness, his easy smile, break through people’s built-in skeptic barrier. The audience opens up to the experience, whatever will happen. Yes, by default everyone knows it’s a trick, a series of gestures, mechanics and slight of hand to convince the viewer of the veracity of what they’re experiencing. It’s that trust that solidifies the experience, that makes it work for the viewer, even when they’re being manipulated.

For me, that’s a lot of what I look for in poetry, or what makes the poetry I like work for me.

Grant Clauser, Poetry (Magic) for Humans

We only have the days we have, and I want to spend as many of them filled with things that give me joy – poetry, spending time with friends, spending time in nature, and trying to appreciate the little things—a new song or book to love, the way the light reflects off a streetlight, or even a cat hiding in a box of presents—along the way. I laughed tonight watching Eddie Murphy on SNL and enjoyed Lizzo singing with so much joie de vivre. I sat by the fireplace and drank herbal tea and looked through pictures of the last year. We can live in fear of the unexpected tragedies and misfortunes that await us, but we can also expect unexpected beauty, humor, and happiness.  May your days have more light than darkness!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice, Feeling a Little Under the Weather on the Darkest Day of the Year, Imagining 2020, and Manuscript Redux

In everything
we repeat

we repeat
everything.

That is the
poet’s duty,

to keep the wheel
in motion,

the mind moving
wind on water,

making one wave,
another.

Tom Montag, IN EVERYTHING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This past week found poets striking seasonal notes, writing about Thanksgiving, writing about writing (of course), reading, thinking, asking the tough questions.

The past week mostly did not find poets sending me brief blurbs about their favorite poetry books of the past year for a bloggers’ best-of-2019 compendium, as I’d hoped. Possibly in part because of the aforementioned holiday. Or possibly because I’m not on Facebook to spread the message there, as I’d done in the past. But please do consider sending something along by Wednesday the 4th instructions here.


My left hamstring singing like a piano wire. The painful high note of the soprano’s aria. On the edge of a scream. Then falling along the scale.

I take a deep breath and search for balance in the objects of the world. How equilibrium is something discovered. A subjective perspective of the way of things.

Walking this slowly, I notice the reflection in the puddle on the sidewalk. Yellow leaves hover over shadows.

Ren Powell, Settling into the Groove

the leafless hedgerow
studded with red berries
each wintry morning
my walk’s accompanied
by bittersweet

~

how dull gold husks
open to red fruit
how such slender vines
grow to strangle trees
–bittersweet

Ann E. Michael, Bittersweet

With a snap of an icy finger, we have a sprinkling of snow which is enough to lift the mood by brightening the scene. The dark, rainy days of winter are always tough as we come to this end of the year. The sun has set in Northern Finland for the next five weeks or so and even down south we feel the oppressive weight of the days getting shorter and shorter. So as much as I hate snow and, yes, I realise I’m living in the wrong place for that attitude, it does help alleviate the darkness. So far we have enough for the kids to go sledging and it’s melted off the paths and drive, so I don’t have to shovel, so that’s enough for me.

What’s that to do with poetry? It puts me in a more wintry mood than the damp leafless scenes we’ve had the past few weeks. Wendy Pratt is running a one-week winter poetry course, if anyone is looking for a short, but sweet exploration of winter. And it costs only a tenner. I’d do it, but I’m behind with the previous course, so want to focus on that. Her daily prompts whether visual, other poet’s work or just short suggestions and ideas are great jump starts for the poetic brain. 

Gerry Stewart, Short, but Sweet Steps into Winter

Not to think
the universe

into being
but simply

to breathe.

Tom Montag, Writing the Poem

Sometimes if a poem does not seem to work it’s because I have not reached far enough. In this case, it may be that I’ve reached too far — beyond the scope of the poem into another poem all together.

This is the most interesting aspect of the editing process, eyeballing one’s own utterances, meditating on the source of images, the hidden reasons behind unconscious choices of vocabulary, choices of sound. Something has appeared here on the page, blurted out of my various levels of consciousness. It interests me. It fails me.

Marilyn McCabe, Then we take Berlin; or, Editing the Heart of the Matter

A few years back, I met someone whose profession involved maximizing impact across social media platforms. He’d taken a particular interest in poets and so when I introduced myself, he immediately observed, familiar with my handles–oh, yeah, you’re a “burst” person. Apparently that refers to my tendency to post to Twitter seven times in one day, but then go quiet for two weeks; or the way that I post long, substantive posts to this blog of unique content, but I only post them once a month. I suspect that’s one of the patterns where return on investment is lowest, but it’s what feels right (or at least necessary) for now. 

Sandra Beasley, Odd & Ends & Giblets

It was good to be together.  We had 18 people gathered around the tables this year.  We saw relatives whom we hadn’t seen since 2014, along with the relatives who come every year.  It’s startling to realize how the children are racing to pre-teen/teenage years. 

Even without solid internet connectivity, we still had to wrestle the attention away from the screens.  As a child who always wanted to be left alone to read, I am torn in multiple directions.  I know that some of the parents would be fine with children’s noses in books, but screens are different.  I also understand needing to escape the family bedlam. 

For the most part, we avoided arguments, even though the grown ups come from different political persuasions, and the children fought over fair distribution of resources and over the rules.  We had the kind of good conversations that come from lots of trips to get supplies and from long hours without screens.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Quick Look Back at Thanksgiving Week

As this first Thanksgiving
without you draws near,
I’m emailing my sister

and scouring the internet
for a recipe that looks
like the mango mousse

you always made. It’s a relic
of the 1950s when your marriage
was new. I don’t think

I’ve ever bought Jell-O
or canned mango before, and
I don’t own a fluted ring mold

but when my spoon slices
through creamy sun-gold yellow
it will taste for an instant

like you were in my kitchen,
like you’re at my table,
like you’re still here.

Rachel Barenblat, Recipe

Longitudes & latitudes of gratitude for my friends, family & lion-hearted daughter. Thanks for those with green thumbs & purple hearts, gravediggers & garbage collectors. Praise for bringers of incense, orchids & music. All the poets, writers & artists that have inspired me, coaxed me off the ledges of brief madnesses. Graces to the teachers & healers, zen masters & car mechanics. Mother Nature & the Mothers of Invention, animal vets & pets that say the wisest and kindest things with their eyes. Grateful for the ground under my feet & roof over my head. Indebted to the lights that haven’t burned out—in my apartment, my heart & mind. 

Rich Ferguson, Longitudes & Latitudes of Gratitude

I am getting to the age where I think of the holidays with not as much anticipation as nostalgia. Do you remember when you used to make lists for Christmas, when you looked forward to that one toy or a pony or you wished to become a cat? (That last one was me.)

As adults, we wish for different kinds of things. Good health, good friends, world peace. The car and house not breaking down at important moments. It’s all quotidian. One of the good things about being a poet is the idea that we can still have our dreams come true – we might win that one book prize, the MacArthur Genius Grant, whatever. One of my  dream journals sent me an acceptance and it was from one of my dream poetry people. I applied for one of those big things I always felt too insignificant to apply for and I am really trying not to get my hopes up (but if you want to send some good energy my way, you are welcome)! I just found out I had a poem nominated for a Pushcart (again, I try not to be cynical – hey, it could be my year).

I try not to stress out about my health which is so up and down but I want to get these two poetry books out while I can still walk with a cane and think reasonably. MS is so unpredictable. I’m pretty proactive about trying to do the best for my health, but not everything’s under my control (a fact that makes me somewhat anxious as a person who likes to be in control of things). Poetry and Health – both are out of my control, actually. The health of myself or my husband or my loved ones – we don’t really get to control the timing of when bad things happen. We don’t control when good things happen, either. It’s enough to wish, I guess.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What Are You Wishing For? A Quiet Holiday Weekend, and Welcome to December!

Last week, I was unpacking a stack of my own  books I’d brought home from the studio, and they were so strange to me..that I have written this many books, let alone found someone to publish them, is still a little surreal sometimes. In some cases they were written over many years, in some, barely any time at all, but they seem at times massive and unruly, though I’m pretty sure even my longest book taps out considerably before 100 pages.  I couldn’t imagine what one would do with a novel.

So I polish the cheeks and send my little feed manuscript off into the world. It’s an odd little bird, and feels extra vulnerable, given the subject matter (mothers and daughters, food issues and body image).  It begins with the line “Every so often, the snake eats the spider.  The spider eats the fly.” and ends with a bunch of stolen dead birds in a fridge.   In other words, it pretty much encompasses my aesthetic to a tee.

Kristy Bowen, over and under the transom

Whale Dave says you can be yourself
at the 7-Eleven. Or at the Pentagon.
Or in a shed on the Cape. Hmmm. Maybe.
I haven’t tried any of those spots yet,
but I’ve tried 40 or so different towns,

an equal number of jobs, and it’s only
occasionally, just every once in a while,
that I’m myself. Like on a Sunday afternoon
or a Wednesday morning.
Times like that.

My radio plays “I Got You Babe”
one morning, like the guy in the movie.
I reach over to shut it off but I can’t find it.
I open my eyes to see my bed
floating through space.

Jason Crane, POEM: I Got Me Babe

Remember that winter night
in the kitchen, hot
jasmine tea poured
slowly, a dreamlike draught,
my clumsy hands
warming your porcelain skin?

Or was it the other way around?

Were you the one holding
my gaze, the spoon
stirring endlessly and in vain,
our promises rising
like steam
as we began to forget them?

Romana Iorga, Midnight Jasmine

Saturday night brought a wedding and so for me this meant dancing till the final song, singing along with Love Shack – because it is impossible not to sing along to that song, and having a great time celebrating our friends’ nuptials. By the time we were home and walked Piper, it was another post-midnight bedtime.

Sunday I woke at 9am and again, by the time I walked and fed Piper, the 9:30am HIIT class I usually attend was already starting. So I brewed my coffee and curled up on my couch with my book of poetry. Piper joined me and we spent the morning reading (highly recommend These Many Rooms by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, it’s quiet and raw and a beautiful read) and writing poems.

As someone with a strong Type A personality, routines and schedules and to-do lists are something I crave. This weekend it felt good to sit on my couch under a blanket, my dog laying beside me, a good book of poetry in my hands. It reminded me that sometimes an unexpected change in plans can be a good thing, it can lead to a great experience, a new idea, or just a wonderfully quiet morning. And these things are good for my body and soul.

Courtney LeBlanc, Routine

Yesterday, I completed reading notes for the 25th book in my 100-book project.

In addition to helping me re-learn how to sit with my feelings and get back in touch with what it is I love about writing poetry, reading that many books in three months reminded me how good poems are at teaching us about our world. Its beauty. Its violence. Possibility. Disappointment. Affection. Absence. Abundance.

Here are a few highlights of what the poetry I’ve read so far teaches us:

about grief and loss;

about race, class and imbalances of power;

about challenging the status quo;

about the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on one another;

that wherever you go there you are;

that our own stories have value;

that the places we live are characters in those stories;

how capitalism can fail to deliver;

how much tenderness there can be in our day-to-day lives;

how complicated forgiveness is;

how culture may shape us;

how women experience pregnancy and childbirth;

how humor belies our sadness; and

what war does to families and communities.

That’s just a sampling. The list of what my recent reading has taught me is MUCH longer than that, and certainly The Big List of what poetry teaches us is nearly endless.

And I am so excited to see what it will show me next.

I have made note, however, of something lacking: the first 25 books in this reading project were really light on zombies. Isn’t anyone writing zombie poems?

Carolee Bennett, “for meaning beyond this world”

Then last night I was at the newly-opened Boulevard Theatre in London’s Soho, where Live Canon had taken over the bar for the launch of four new pamphlets, one of which is mine. The other poets (Tania Hershman, Miranda Peake and Katie Griffiths) gave brilliant readings and I felt very privileged to be a part of it all.

Helen Eastman, who runs Live Canon, is always astonishing – a one-woman powerhouse who manages several large-scale projects at a time as well as a family. I’ll have what she’s having! Not only that but she gives the most generous introductions you could ever imagine. I don’t know about my fellow pamphleteers but I felt like Poet Royalty for the night.

I’d been a bit sad during the day, I think partly because all the poet friends I had invited either lived too far away or were unwell or already committed to another launch on the same night. So it was wonderful that my good (non-poet) friend Lucy was there, and then I realised there were many friendly poet faces in the audience: Jill Abram, Heather Walker, Fiona Larkin, Cheryl Moskowitz and Susannah Hart to name a few.

Robin Houghton, To London, for poetry &

I was honored to be invited to read my work at a poetry reading at Chin Music Press this weekend in celebration of the new Rose Alley Press anthology, “Footbridge over the Falls.” I haven’t been out and about much in the poetry world over the last few years, and it was nice to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and hear some great poetry. This is where I could ponder some truths about why I have self-isolated from that sphere over the last several years, but instead I am going to complain about the massive overcrowding at the Pike Place Market and the near-panic attack it caused me. I avoid downtown Seattle as much as possible these days, and I had forgotten how profoundly and I would say even dangerously overcrowded the Market has become. On my way to the venue, I was trying to center myself and focus on my reading, but instead I found myself getting wildly disoriented and panicked by literally having to shove myself through the teeming crowds and deal with the cacophonous racket of thousands of people crammed into too small of a space. Aren’t there fire regulations? It just seems really dangerous to me. That whole structure is extremely old and made out of wood, and I didn’t see any sprinklers or fire extinguishers. One errant spark would be very bad news.

By the time I got to the venue, I was a trembling wreck, but I managed to pull myself together and not completely decompensate in front of my fellow poets. That was a rough ride though. I’ve never been much suited to normal existence in a city, and I’m becoming less so as I get older. I totally understand why the late Mary Oliver lived out her days in an isolated cabin deep in a Florida outpost. I am not in any way comparing myself to Mary Oliver, I’m just saying that it’s looking more and more like an isolated cabin is in my future. Ah, yes…I can hear the quiet now.

Kristen McHenry, Chin Music at Chin Music, Crowd Consternation, Pixel Puttering

wait
the words are on their way
book a space 

Jim Young [no title]

It’s a challenge to walk in the Tenderloin and not become numb to the world around you. So much squalor and hopelessness. And yet you can still look up from a street corner and see a flock of birds flying out of the sunrise like messengers of the light. Could you see that light in the faces of the people living on the street too?

doorway ::
she tells off the man
who grabbed her ass

Dylan Tweney [no title]

these holidays are now for my son and me proudly and profoundly and for whomever else might be in need I bought a carful of groceries for the town’s food bank and diapers and toiletries for the homeless shelter there we have no such programs out here on the island though I know the hungry people are out here I recognize at least one red truck that has been camping (living) at the state park for months now a man and a woman I wish I could do something for them but they have built a little fortress for themselves and I understand that too the best I can do for now is look out for them keep my blue eyes on them make sure their truck and camping gear are safe when I walk into the trails I will never take anything for granted and I will never forget

I woke before dawn and threw six apples into the woods for the deer and the foxes and the rabbits then I came in and had kuchen and coffee and thawed out in front of the little propane fire later I will candy some pecans and later I just might decide to stay here in my house in my woods until January

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

– I like a cold, gray sky, wet air, and the need of a woolen scarf.

– I met a very old man today, an interesting fellow. He told me a story of being a clerk of the superior court and what happened one day. It was as if he was reliving it as he spoke.

– I feel honored when people share something of their life with me, something of their own experience as a human being. 

– Spent a little time with Emily Dickinson, after a long while. It was like visiting an old friend. 

– I saw a finch playing in the very light rain. This rain was just more than a mist, and the little finch seemed to enjoy it. 

– We rest in the love we are blessed with, we rest in the love that we help to create. 

James Lee Jobe, 8 Things – 01 Dec 2019 – Journal notes

We stay inside when it is storming
Failure to Thrive
Open Heart Surgery, 6 Months

During Kit’s hospitalizations..and even now..I’ve written more than I expected to (I expected I’d write nothing). But I find that I’ve been writing a few poems a week, and many more journals. What is strange is that I barely remember writing any of it. I remember sitting down to start the act of writing, but these poems, even looking at them published (and hopefully edited) and surely sent out, and I only vaguely remember the act of writing them. So maybe they are a little messier than I would typically allow, but maybe a little more honest too.

Renee Emerson, 3 poems in 236 Magazine

Silence boomed in her blood.  She forgot
to breathe.  She stared into the hole in time
through which he’d slipped .  She saw dark wings
that beat too fast for angels’, saw
the place where bones come from
and where bones go.  All this in a heartbeat –
wiser than scripture, swifter than light:
a destination on the other side of grief.

Dick Jones, Event Horizon

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week I want to depart from my usual pattern here in the intro and draw your attention to a call-out I just posted: Wanted: Your picks for best poetry collections of 2019(ish). This is for something in addition to the blog digest — modeled after blog carnivals, if anyone remembers those — in which I hope we can together create our own, bloggish alternative to all those lists that poetry critics assemble each year. I’m asking for a short post about one favorite book (and an optional few runners up), with a deadline of December 3 so we can have a compendium of recommendations out in time for holiday shopping. Check it out.

And as long as I’m breaking habits, I want to include a quote from one of Via Negativa’s own posts, because I really like what Luisa wrote about hitting the ninth birthday of her poem-a-day practice here and what that practice means to her.


What have I learned, what am I still learning? That fear is probably the biggest obstacle to getting anything written. We all cycle through moments of exhilaration and anxiety, confidence and paralysis; too much of either can turn into writer’s block. Fear goes by other names like impostor syndrome. And perfectionism. That what it is I crave that’s met in part by coming to my daily writing is the promise of untrammelled time and space— which as all creatives know, is the ideal condition for dreaming and making art. For such as it is, it means that I want to create even a small space in my day, every day, to try to meet myself there; whatever might come out of it is already surplus, a gift.

Luisa A. Igloria, Nine Years! and, “Love Poem to Skins”

Every day was still jam-packed with meetings, but I found myself scratching out poems during some of the meetings – maybe it was in the air, maybe it was all the champagne I consumed that week, maybe it was me reminiscing on the first time I was in Paris, maybe it was me reminiscing on another lost love. Or maybe it’s just that Paris is a city that inspires poetry.

After slightly terrifying my colleagues by reading some of my recent poems, every time I started writing in my notebook one of them would ask, “Are you writing a poem?” and more often than not, I would nod my head yes. There was something about being in that city that kept the words coming.

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing Poetry in Paris

I have been awake for hours–but have I been writing?  No, I’ve been grading.  It’s that time of the term.  I am caught up–but I will only be caught up for a day or two.  It’s that time of the term.

But let me also note–I wrote a poem yesterday.  Yesterday I was watering the plants in the butterfly garden at school.  I noticed that 2 of the milkweed plants had aphids on them, so I spent some time killing them by rubbing them off the leaves.  Their dying stained my fingers bright yellow, even after I washed my hands.

This line came to me:  On the last day of the impeachment hearings, I kill the aphids on the milkweed plants.  I played with it off and on throughout the day, and eventually a poem came together.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Killing Aphids, Listening to Impeachment Hearings

Some terrific people at my university just organized our first ever Native American Heritage Month, involving two lectures, two documentaries, and a poetry reading with tastings of traditional foods. I made it to four out of five events, and every one was interesting, moving, and really fun–I’m so grateful to the organizers for their work.

The commemoration also made me return to a teaching/ research question that’s bothered me for a long time. My “modernist” poetry course hasn’t, in fact, carried that label for years, because I find it limited and misleading. Instead, I teach “U.S. Poetry from 1900-1950.” Alongside the modernist canon I was trained in, and the white women poets I added to my mental list of innovators during my PhD years, we read the formalisms of Frost, Millay, Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and others, and the poetic experiments of the New Negro Renaissance (these people and bodies of work overlap, of course). I’m currently teaching the most inclusive version of this course I’ve ever constructed. So where are the Native American poets?

Lesley Wheeler, Modernism in Native American Heritage Month

I got a chance to see Mary Ruefle read some poetry and prose and do a Q&A at SAL this week. Getting downtown was a nightmare, which reminded me why we don’t go downtown very often, and the building didn’t have any handicapped parking and was a million miles from any kind of parking, and getting to the hall the reading was in the required using an elevator that tried to kill me with crazed hard-slamming doors, but I was happy I made it. Mary Ruefle was very funny and I liked her prose work on friendship almost as much as I liked her poetry.

During the Q&A, someone asked her why she was a bad kisser (a reference to one of her poems.) She said “I find it boring. There are just so many better ways to spend your time. I’d much rather be reading and writing.” Well, there you go then.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to the Holidays, Mary Ruefle, Lizzo, and Another Round of Revision and Thinking of Poets and Charisma

It’s fair to say that, 18 months after my book was published, I’d put it to bed, gone downstairs and thought it was fast asleep.  A delightful surprise, then, to discover that the book has been staying up late chatting to Jonathan Edwards who described the poems in What Are You After? as “accessible, witty, moving, memorable, class conscious” and the writing as “warm and memorable, full of personality…”

I haven’t been blogging much recently as I’ve been travelling about going to poetry festivals and readings, as well as working on poems which I hope will form themselves into my second collection of poetry.  I’m still on the poetry competition trail (not sure if I mentioned that I’m finding competitions a useful way to focus on completing poems).  Recently I was shortlisted in the Bridport Prize and longlisted in the Ginkgo Prize.  All this, plus the surprise review, is a lovely nod to keep on keeping on.

Josephine Corcoran, ‘What Are You After?’ reviewed at Poetry Wales

Goodness, I can’t believe I missed the whole month of October here in the blog. Yes, I continue to be busy, with necessary downtime between tasks and events. At an event in November, I read poems from a new book, This Moment…in Sarah’s Garden, for which I had written poems in the voice of Sarah Davis to accompany photographs by Ken Kashian. That’s it above, accordian style, with its box and inserts, which include a packet of poppy seeds and a booklet about the history of David and Sarah Davis, their letters, her garden, and you can learn more about it at Ken’s Artist Book site here. After a busy week of meetings and events, including a story slam last night, I am having a grand Slattern Day today, of rest, reading, grocery shopping, and an at-home movie, borrowed from the library. My Cousin Rachel, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, but not exactly the same story. […]

Perhaps all this movie watching and novel reading is escapism…from politics, despair, impeachment hearings, desperate reality. But Monday I will turn in my ballot petition to run again as a precinct committeeperson, because I have to do something. Of course I will vote. And see the new Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers. “Look for the helpers.”

Kathleen Kirk, This Moment…

I’ve hit my 100 rejection target and I can see the positive results in the numbers. I’ve submitted about twice as many so far this year and have had about a 12% acceptance rate which of course I’m very happy with. The daily writing I’ve done most of the year has helped as I have a good amount of poems to submit, but it has been hard work.

I no longer edit a poem every time I submit it, though I do proof it for errors. I maybe cast a more serious eye of them every few submissions, longer if they’ve had a quick turnaround. I still research the magazines as much as I can, via guidelines, masthead blurbs and looking at old issues if I can, but I am more open to online magazines. I currently have a big backlog of unsubmitted poems, just because I don’t have the time or energy to do tons of submissions. […]

The writing course I’m on has been a nice distraction, its focus is works found in several museums, art and artefacts. So I’ve been losing myself in research black holes about photograms, gum diggers, curiosity cabinets and other unexpected subjects. I try not to spend too much time researching, but sometimes jumping from one subject to another is how I find the sweet spot from which a poem can spring.

Gerry Stewart, Targets and Black Holes

It’s my 5th straight day of yoga tonight,  even as I don’t feel well.  It’s the coughy – runny stuff. I confess that I would like to stay home tomorrow but we will see how I am in the morning. I have started some Clairton – D so maybe that will help. The coughing has brought on chest pain. 

I was telling someone the other day that it did not know if yoga was making me a better writer, but it sure was making me a less stressed writer.  I am hoping that over time that will translate into better writing. I confess that hope is a good thing. 

This past week I have been spotty as far as writing. No, I confess I have not written daily. This is the ugly truth. I say that because I know all too well how important it is to do so. I do have a new draft that I will need to work on more, so this has not been a total loss of a week. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Dark Pillows – Impeachment – Yoga – and Poetry drafts.

I’ve got into a rhythm of reading a Canto of Dante’s Purgatory each night before falling asleep, sometimes I get through the chapter commentary & notes too, sometimes not. If I’m too tired to finish the Canto I have to start it again the next day. Purgatorio is a more complex read than Inferno. There are just as many references to people and politics of the time, requiring explanation, but it seems to me there’s more characterisation and symbolism to get one’s head around, not to mention the philosophical wondering it’s sent me on.

Alongside this I’ve had a number of poetry collections on the go recently. Perhaps I’m getting more reading done this month because I’m not drinking alcohol? I can’t really see the connection, but I’m struggling to notice any other benefits to Dry November except the feeling of smug satisfaction that I can do it, if I put my mind to it. I hope I’m not jinxing it by making that claim when there are twelve days to go. Anyway, I wish I could commune with my internal organs and ask them if they’re feeling detoxified or rejuvenated.

Robin Houghton, Recent reading

This weekend, I find myself banging my head against the wall over these new poems I’m working on. With both of them, I think I’m trying to do too many things in too small of a space, and I’m getting all tangled and twisted up in confusing metaphors involving fire and churning waters and clarity of mind and the Trapezius. (That’s the big triangular muscle in your upper back, in case you didn’t know.) Also, Glut Bridges, although that’s a separate poem and will be a bit more…cheeky. Ha! (If I can’t write a proper poem I can at least crack myself up with a terrible pun.) I know it will all come together, but I’m very frustrated at the moment. It’s all in there, I canfeel it, but it won’t comeoutright. Argh! I need a writers-frustration helmet to keep me from bruising my forehead.

I’m also frustrated about the crocodiles. Of late, I have been playing lots of vintage Tomb Raider while waiting with baited breath for the award-winning Divinity: Original Sin 2 to go on sale…and it finally did! I downloaded it with great excitement, only to find that’s it just as hair-pulling as trying to write poems.

Kristen McHenry, Poem-Induced Head-Banging, Crocodile Wars, Clothes Complaint

Wherever inspiration is traded for expiration, or atoms of grace are centrifuged into one feud after another. Wherever life’s breath root is cut from flowers of affection, or love’s architects are left dumbfounded when their homes have been burned down—that is where you’ll find a hint of humanity blooming through those leaves of grass as Walt Whitman’s beard points faithfully towards peace. 

Rich Ferguson, Walt Whitman’s Beard

Last night, assembling books at 1am before I went to bed, I was struck by how much calmer I am now than a couple months ago.  It’s a realization that strikes me, especially when I am able to finish a batch of books (or several) during a time like overnight when I normally would have had to sandwich all of them into the couple hours I was able to be at the studio.  It does occur to me occasionally that I’d have been better served to have never rented the space, the only thing sustaining me being some more storage space for supplies (and having the whole operation & big shelves at home has proved less taxing. The dining room is a mess right now, but it’s just a few unpacked boxes I’ll get to this weekend.) There was the dream, of course, of events and open studios, but there wasn’t room for anything more than the occasional open studio (which never really happened that frequently.)  And perhaps that is the need that needed to be cast off–that little dream at the back of my head that I would one day have a little public space, a little shop, maybe, somewhere to sell books and art and maybe host readings and workshops. Maybe a bigger space there in the building (which is hilarious since I could barely afford the one had most months.) 

Kristy Bowen, new ways of working and letting go…

My S.O. and I were talking the other day about work ethic and how deeply ingrained it is in us. We were raised to be industrious. Great value was placed on labor. Laziness and leisure were suspect. To work hard, more often than not, meant you were a good person.

But work hard at what?

Because that’s what people do isn’t as satisfying an answer as it used to be.

And then there’s this: exactly what are we working hard for?

* * *

Like many of you, I turn to books and poetry for this kind of thing. Poems nearly always show me the pearl. And when they don’t do that, they describe the irritant so clearly that I understand better what I’m up against. Reading the Fall 2019 issue of Waxwing Magazine recently was like putting on a mood ring: the poems reflected back to me what I was feeling; they showed me what I was up against.

You must lift your own tired self
beyond the threshold of the door

You Must Lift Your Son’s Languid Body by Oliver de la Paz, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019

Here’s how it goes: We commute, we work, we commute. We shop for dinner, we cook dinner, we clean up after dinner. We watch the evening news and search our brains for the right questions (on Jeopardy, of course). We read things and text people. We scroll. We lift heavy things at the gym and run in circles around the neighborhood. We shower, dry, dress, brush.

Literally and figuratively, the days lather, rinse, repeat.

Carolee Bennett, “on the other side is what?”

This year I’ve learned the language of doctors, immersed myself in medical journals, kept daily tabs on her vitals. Everything a nurse or therapist would take the time to teach me, I learned–changing NG tubes, hep-locking a PICC line, what every single monitor meant, and there were so many monitors; what every potential side effect of a drug was, and there were so many drugs.

I returned the medical equipment a few days after Kit died, along with a note of gratitude for her surgeon, nurses, doctors. Hand-written, thanking by name, on high-school notebook paper: my resignation letter. I felt like I had been part of their team in a high stakes game; I’d been all in, and we lost.

I’ve forgotten what it is like to live this life I gave up last January, on the ultrasound table, when I learned I was having a baby–my fifth daughter!–with a potentially fatal heart condition. I took each role as doctors handed them to me–mom to a heart baby, a special needs baby, a potentially blind baby. I acclimated to native culture.

I didn’t realize, when I brought my daughter in to the hospital for that last stay, that it was her last stay. That it was the last time I would have all my children together earthside, the last time I would cradle her in my arms cord-free before I cradled her lifeless body.

Maybe like every missionary, I am desperate to go back. If I could have another day–even in her most critical days, where I spent hours bent over her bed, rubbing her forehead on the only spot with no monitors and wires–I would take it. I would walk those hall again, sit through the scary talks with doctors again, even, yes, hold her as she died again. I want to go back to that Holy Land.

I’ll always be her mom; but my assignment of mothering her, of raising her, is over. So here I am learning a new language, this incomprehensible dialect of grief.

Renee Emerson, Re-Entry

my son lithely dropped to the forest floor to shoot that mothership mushroom that is so huge it seems to be trying to lift my house from its foundation it is hubcap sized and strange and fantastic Thanksgiving will only be the two of us but I’m cooking for all his friends too who don’t have families as I always do for us it is a day to indulge in food I only eat once a year buttery rich dressing hollandaise sauce that took me years to perfect salad with candied pecans and Boursin cheese and raspberries mashed potatoes with real cream and of course pumpkin pie it is a day to relax and for my son who is remarkably normal it is a day in which he visits his friends and their families I used to cook for huge gatherings even in my tiny house friends who had no place to go and for a very long time for my ex husband which my son requested then I eventually lost touch with my friends or felt too uncomfortable around people to function and I realized that having my ex there was terrible because I had cooked for him for ten years without ever receiving a thank you when we were married and I knew when I stood in my kitchen one year making vegetarian mushroom gravy and was considering poisoning him that it was be his last meal at my house ever did I resent him for leaving my year old son and me to fend for ourselves with no child support forever you’re goddamned right I did and I still do

I am glad now that I was pushed out of the messy matrimonial bed where I was never happy to go to work in the factories to be self sufficient enough to put my son in private schools to care for him and build a home for us to watch him become such an outstanding human to teach and play music professionally to write and be published to eventually earn a union won pension to survive and thrive against all odds I am proud of what I have done

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that stops the lying,
stops the hate,
stops the pain
inflicted on the innocent.

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that resists,
pushes back,
says no, no, no.

Tom Montag, LOCK ME UP

I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past. I had not yet learned that this was impossible. So what did I do? I ate several years of the calendar. I then vomited up a new calendar with new days, strange numbers, and different names for the months. And my family? What did they do? The same as always; my father kept drinking good bourbon and my mother told everyone that things were fine, just fine. and my poor sister tore a page from the first calendar, wrapped it around herself like a blanket, lives that way to this very day. “Sis, are you alright?” No answer. Just big eyes and a shiver.

James Lee Jobe, ‘I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past.’

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s BRUTE (Graywolf Press, 2019) is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors of trauma found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. These poems reflect the present moment — ripe with cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairytale world.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: BRUTE by Emily Skaja

A few years ago, in mid-July, I revisited Reedham. I stood at the edge of the first field, the one that bordered the rambling gardens of the Old Hall and across which I used to stride at the beginning of my explorations. Initially it looked much the same, but a cursory inspection swiftly revealed the changes: the windbreak hedgerows had gone; the crop had been harvested already; not a single skylark spiralled high into the clear air.

I learned recently that since 1970 the skylark population has declined by 52%. Major changes in cultivation and harvesting procedures are thought to be responsible for this, notably the switch from spring to autumn-sown cereals, the disappearance of the hedgerows and the vulnerability of birds to the massively increased use of insecticides and weedkillers.

It would seem, then, that the skylark – a bird whose rural associations transcend entirely the phoney bucolic Merrie England clichés – is another casualty of the late-20th century. Apparently not. Although a 52% decline in a little over 30 years is dramatic and alarming, a government-funded study has demonstrated that merely the provision of two small patches left untouched within a hectare of cultivated land can reverse local decline. Experiments done over a two-year period resulted in an increase of nearly 50% in skylark breeding. So to encourage the process, farmers are being offered £30.00 per hectare to join a scheme involving small, undrilled patches across their field systems.

A small resistance to an advancing tide. ‘So shines a bright deed in a naughty world’. If the farmers of East Norfolk are an enlightened crew, maybe I’ll be able to lie on my back in the great fields by The Old Hall, Reedham again in a year or two, watching & hearing the larks ascending.

Dick Jones, LARKS ASCENDING

I stand at the threshold
where one thing
becomes another.

I choose sky.
Water.
Sitka spruce.

Return of
snowy plover.

Carey Taylor, Threshold

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 43

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: “discontent, joy, / resignation, rekindling” to quote Lynne Rees, one of two newcomers to the digest (the other being Robin Houghton). I was happy to find some Halloweenish posts in my feed, but disappointed not to find any about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights which is being celebrated right now in the north London neighborhood where I’m staying with lots of things that go explody-boom. I guess that falls under “rekindling.”


Standing by the river Neva, wanting to compose poetry in St Petersburg, I couldn’t hear beyond the lines of great poets – Akhmatova, Blok, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam. History dominates voice, especially in Russia. The Revolution, Stalin’s terrors, the siege, all produced that great heroic resistance. We’re not in the same history. We’re in a vertiginous whirl, a global mess – oy! We stare, fixated, single-minded, stuck in one voice, while the river rushes in its own voices.

I like a multiplicity of voices, both full of critique and full of observation of humble objects that affirm our reality. So in Russia, who will write about young designers, scattering autumn leaves in its planked floor to show their rough hemp and peasant dresses? A hipster cafe by the canal, millet with pumpkin and pumpkin seeds? Restaurants that serve persimmon and yuzu over tuna.

Jill Pearlman, Petersburg’s Fresh Waters

I’ve stopped listening to the urgent voices of my friends discussing
The news that I brought from Paris
On both sides of the train close by or along the banks of
The distant valley
The forest is there watching me unsettling me enticing me like
a mummy’s mask
I watch back
Never the flicker of an eye.

Some poems by Blaise Cendrars translated by Dick Jones

Deaf Republic swiftly vacillates between death/violence to sex/love and back again. This is jarring both in a good way and a bad way: the love poems save us from the war in the streets; the war poems devastate us more on account of understanding the love that’s being stolen/interrupted. It continues. The brutality accumulates. [Ilya] Kaminsky succeeds in making everything feel precarious. There is horror everywhere. It exists alongside personal tenderness. These poems create a fear in me, not of a world that’s possible but of a world that is. […]

There are several very powerful devices deployed in the collection, including the illustrations of signs (as in sign language), portrayal of the town/setting as a character (“Vasenka watches us watch…”) and the presence of puppets (not a metaphor). It took me a while to “get” the puppets. Having just finished the collection this evening, I am still absorbing all of it, but at the moment, for me, the puppets serve as a foil for the humans. Kaminsky practices great restraint in using this device. It could easily be overdone. Instead, the puppets are there as echoes of humans. Their simple presence (which isn’t overstated at all) sets up an inherent contrast with humans. And yet, humans can also be silent and lack volition. And this can be self-preservation. And we can hate them for it.

Carolee Bennett, “why did you allow all this?”

As we close in on the height of spooky season, it seems appropriate that some of the exquisite damage series is getting a little bit of airplay (see some of it here, here, and here.) It being devoted most singularly to a certain kind of middle class fear and anxiety as glimpsed through horror movies. In some ways, it was a project I was mostly just futzing around with last spring, that is, until we went to the slasher convention at DePaul and something started take shape during the keynote speech–a comment about how, as people became more and more securely middle class, they started to seek out ways to get an adrenaline rush from the sensation of being unsafe.  I imagine, if you were starving, at war, or much less comfortable, further scaring yourself wouldn’t be at the top of the list.   You see it in the golden age of gothic novels–in the audience of predominantly women, predominantly secure in their homes. In the late 70’s, surely that middle class comfort level spawned slasher movies.  You, there, in your house, while outside, any number of killers could be watching you from the bushes outside. Growing up in the 80’s was both a time of immense freedom and immense fear.  Yes, we could disappear for hours from our parents and come back at dusk, but everyone warned us of stranger danger, of the man in the creepy white van. When I was a pre-teen, there was a very high profile case of a teenager who’d gone missing from a park, her face plastered on billboards all over the area. A year or so later, they found her body in a forest preserve.

Kristy Bowen, middle class horror & american anxiety

Are there words
to stitch up the cuts?
If I hold a pebble
against my gum, will it
put down roots, and bud?

PF Anderson, (untitled)

But this taught me that it is ok for me to say I can’t do this right now, and it is ok for me Not to cry. When I am at the hospital, I am there to listen, to learn, to talk to doctors and understand so I can make smart choices for my daughter. It isn’t the place for weeping, not at all moments anyway. If I don’t want to weep that day, they’ve got no place prying at me until they find the right phrase that makes me weep. It is ok for me to preserve whatever walls I need there so that I can best advocate for my daughter.

I also learned to never, ever read poetry to social workers.

Renee Emerson, I can’t

Autumn plays us like this: discontent, joy,
resignation, rekindling. While darkness moves
closer each day we find comfort in the season’s shift:
a palette of bronze leaves, wood-smoke, a coin
found in the pocket of a heavy coat.

Lynne Rees, Rewards

– Here, around Sacramento, California, it’s a time for poets to grieve; we lost three from our ranks, all in a row. James Moose, Jane Blue, and Dennis Schmitz. Fine poets, fine people. They will be missed.

– I live in Davis, 11 miles west of downtown Sacramento. In our local newspaper, The Davis Enterprise, I do a monthly feature, a poem of the month. The mayor wanted me to do this as part of being the poet laureate. This month I am featuring a poem by James Moose on loss.

– As a young man I spent some time as a hermit. An urban hermit, but a hermit nonetheless. I would go to a new city, rent a small room, and keep to myself. It was very monk-like (monkish?), my existence. What did I do? Study poetry, mostly. Oh, I’d have a job, and go out into the world, but I kept to myself as much as I could. I was alone, but I was not lonely. I liked it.

– A number of older family members died while I was an urban hermit. Sometimes it would be months before I found out.

– Through the window above my desk I can see the leaves changing color. Why does autumn feel like Death to me? Is it the leaves?

James Lee Jobe, journal – 21 Oct 2019

At a Halloween fair on Saturday, my daughter and I rapped drumbeats in unison as we strolled amidst the ghosts and skeletons—a downbeat to diamond our uplift, an upbeat to sapphire our sweet and lows. At one point, a stranger remarked at the sturdiness of my daughter’s voice and her sense of rhythm. It heartens me that my baby girl and I can guide one another towards ever more lively and luminous music, even as strange spirits and boneyards surround us. A downbeat to diamond our uplift, an upbeat to sapphire our sweet and lows.

Rich Ferguson, Drumbeats to Banish the Boneyard Blues

The Amazing Pumpkin Carve, which I described in The Amazing Pumpkin Carve 2019, part 1, has come and gone. Omigosh, those huge sculpted pumpkins!  :- D

It was an honor, indeed, to have had a small part in the success of this big annual event. The Hopewell Valley Arts Council, who ran it, generously allowed me to place ten of my micro-poem signs around the fairgrounds for the five-day duration of the fall festival’s run. [Click through for photos of the signs.]

Bill Waters, The Amazing Pumpkin Carve 2019, part 2

autumn
leaves littering
Twitter

Jim Young [untitled haiku]

It’s been said plenty of times before. Social media (and the internet long before social media) is a goldfish bowl of performative behaviour. I think those of us who spend a lot of time on it have a responsibility to remember that. There was a time when out-and-out self-promotion seemed to take over Facebook and Twitter (which was a big reason why I left Facebook some years ago). The rule of ‘Twitizenship’ now seems to be: only promote one’s own successes if at the same time you shout about everyone/anyone else’s.

And failures? Someone once said they hated the way some people filled up Facebook with their bad news, which no-one wants to be dragged down by. And yet, whenever I talk about my many poetry rejections on this blog, it gets the most positive comments. It would certainly be refreshing to see the odd ‘for the tenth year running I came nowhere in the Bridport’ on Twitter. But who wants to be accused of sour grapes?

I just wish we could a) talk more realistically (and more often) about the fact that the vast majority of poems don’t win prizes, as this may help us all to put things in perspective, b) worry a little less about keeping up a saintly/sanitised appearance on social media, and c) put the brakes on the ‘congratulations’ circulars: by all means send a DM, but no-one needs to be congratulated publicly/anonymously on Twitter for being on a shortlist, in my humble opinion. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I just being grumpy?

Robin Houghton, Let’s talk about failures…

I’m also very happy to share the list of “Notable Poems,” the silver medalists in this strange Olympian struggle. My first brush with the BCP [Best Canadian Poetry] series was when a poem of mine was “Noted” in the 2011 edition. I flipped a copy open in a bookstore and was floored. The Other Side of Ourselves had come out earlier that year and in the final edits I’d removed the “Noted” poem from the manuscript! So I felt ridiculous and afloat all at once. I was only beginning to learn the vagaries of literary awards and lists of “Bests”: how little one should let these things get to them (be they excluded or included), and how impossible it is to fully manage that.

The 2011 guest editor was Priscila Uppal, who I met for the first time when she came to Vancouver for a BCP 2011 launch. There were only a handful of Vancouver-based BCP contributors that year (I don’t want to shock you, but seven of the series’ first ten guest editors were Ontario-based!), so I was asked to read as a “Noted” poet. From the stage, I teased Priscila/BCP/the universe about my runner-up status, and though she laughed it off with the good humour she was so known for, I could tell it pained her a bit as well, and I later regretted doing it. In hindsight, I understand her reaction – oh, how you come to love all of these poems and their poets! The arbitrary severing at poem #50 feels unbearably cruel, as does the one at poem #100. So I very much appreciate this chance to recognize the “next 50” poems, which would make just as strong an anthology as the fifty selected. I wish I could have included an “Also Notable Poems” featuring the next 50, too, and another after that, and another after that…

Funnily enough, Priscila herself is on the 2019 “Notable” list. She published a powerful, very funny suite of poems in ottawater not long before she died in September 2018. I agonized over including one of her poems in the anthology, and I wish I could invite her up on stage at one of the BCP 2019 launches to read it. I like to believe she would have teased me mercilessly (as I would have rightly deserved).

To the poets on the “Notable” list (posted below and included in the back of the anthology), I hope you float a bit, as I did in 2011. And I hope you aren’t too hard on me for making what is obviously the wrong decision. Where possible, I’ve provided links to the poems themselves. These poems may not have made the book, but the upside is that you can read them now for free (and, goodness, you should)!

Rob Taylor, Best Canadian Poetry 2019 is here! (Contributors and Notable Poems)

I am trying to write a narrative poem, which is unusual for me. “Narrative” meaning there’s a story in it.

And the poem is a story that is not my story. It’s not even the person’s who told the story — I’m a bystander three times away from the action.
And the emotion of the central character, desperation that spurs an action that risks everything, is not one I know — desperation, I know; action for action’s sake, I know; but risking everything? I’m far too cautious, canny, and grasping for that.

So can I write this poem?

I have a couple of unsuccessful drafts. They are missing the punch. My advice to myself is good: stick with the visceral image, keep close to the body. And I know that, James Wright-like, I can ask the title to do some work. But I’m not finding my way in, not finding my way out.

Should I not be writing a story that is not my own, however fictionalized? Is the situation I’m trying to write about too foreign from my own experiences? Is it possible for my imagination to fall short?

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Knight from some Old Fashioned Book; or, On Writing Outside of Lived Experience

Many years ago, I wrote a poem about baggage, called Baggage. Over the weekend, I started working on a new poem about luggage. I like the word “luggage” because it’s more evocative. That’s what we do with it, lug it around. Pull it and push it and attend to it because it must be attended to at all times. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stopped lugging my luggage around, but I don’t know how. I’ve lugged it with me for so long that I would feel slightly bereft without its burden. We’ll see where this goes poem-wise.

Kristen McHenry, Naked Spa Day, Baggage vs. Luggage, Badge of Strength

I feel like there is an adjustment period during this time of year, going from the more mild long nights of summer into the short, dark, wet evenings of fall, and you have to care for yourself appropriately, You change your diet (soup!), your sleeping patterns (more!) the way you dress (getting out boots, sweaters, even winter coats.) You drink hot cider and hot chocolate and hot coffee, you watch shows you probably would give me a miss if was nice outside, you reorganize drawers and closets so you can get to your boots and cardigans.

As I move into my mid-forties, I also notice I have to adjust to life as a middle aged person. College students don’t always get my references to Kurt Cobain (or even Heath Ledger.) I need to wear moisturizer every day now. It takes me a little longer to bounce back after a night out. Old fillings fall out of my teeth. Teeth give you more trouble and are literally a budget item. (I swear I spend more on teeth than I do on clothes, which stinks!)

There’s also an adjustment period after being diagnosed with something like MS. You have to learn how to care for yourself with a new condition, even if it’s not really new, just newly diagnosed. Once again, you learn that a night out means at least one down day, maybe two or three. It takes longer to recover from illnesses. I need to rest more, and if I don’t, my body makes sure I do it by giving me unpleasant reminders. So I’m working on increasing patience for my body, resilience from hard times, bad moods, and viruses, or even “normal” symptoms of MS that might not seem normal to me. Not yet. Recovering from rejections also takes me a couple of days now. They don’t stop me from writing, though.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Seeing Poets, Learning to Adjust, Seasonal Change

“An extra vertebrae? I’m a mutant!” I exclaimed. “It would be better if I could breathe under water or fly. This is kind of a lame mutation.”

She laughed and then began the hard work – putting my SI joint back into place and getting the muscles in my back to release. I have a weekly appointment through the end of the year and hope to see an improvement.

I don’t write much about my crooked spine anymore, though a few (very old) poems exist. Vertebrae, was published in Connections Literary Magazine in Fall 2007. Yes, this poem is more than twelve years old and it decidedly not my best work. But, we all gotta start somewhere.

Right now I’m focused on corrected some of the things I’ve been doing – like crossing my legs. This pulls my SI joint out and so I’m trying to stop doing it. But it’s a habit and so I still catch myself doing it all the damn time. And once we can get my SI joint to stay where it should be I’ll begin exercises that will strengthen the lazy side of my back. For now, I’m going to write some new poems, maybe an ode to my extra vertebrae, maybe a love poem to the curve of my spine.

Courtney LeBlanc, I’m Not Even a Cool Mutant

As if
the poem

will lead me
to heaven.

I keep
walking.

Tom Montag, AS IF

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 41

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.

Blogging turned 25 years old this week, using tech blogger Dave Winer’s first post as a starting point. And it’s been 20 years since Blogger and LiveJournal opened up blogging to the less-geeky masses in 1999. As John Naughton observes in The Guardian, “The furore over social media and its impact on democracy has obscured the fact that the blogosphere not only continues to exist, but also to fulfill many of the functions of a functioning public sphere.”

Via Negativa is coming up on its 16th birthday next month, and it occurs to me that its evolution has mirrored a big shift in blogging practice generally: away from miscellany toward more specialized content—in this case, poetry. Thanks to social media giving us ample spaces to share our more throw-away observations, as well as the sheer ease of starting new blogs where we can hive off some of our other specialized interests (e.g. my herbal brewing blog), blogging communities united by topic such as the Poetry Blogging Network can flourish.

That said, I do love it when poetry bloggers write more widely about their lives, because that’s where the poetry comes from. For many poets, there’s no such thing as a throw-away observation.

At any rate, Happy Birthday to blogging! In a world that feels increasingly fractious and fractured, let’s resolve to keep building and defending this public sphere.


On Thursday, I met a man with a grammatical error in his tattoo. This was rather sad. It was a quote from a Neil Young song.

On Friday morning, I found myself humming ‘Hi-Lili Hi-Lo’ and on Friday night I was watching a TV show in which the song was the background music.

Most days I was overwhelmed. There was so much minutia to keep track of, many staff concerns, interviews, decisions to make. I was supposed to be writing the last bits of my book before a deadline but I was working long days, no lunch, no exercise. 

On Saturday, I listened to Phoebe Snow’s ‘Poetry Man.’ My son arrived for a week. He admired my robe. I told him his sister talked me into it. He read Oliver Twist on the couch. 

On Sunday, I bought a book that consists of pictures of hands. Some were pointing or gesturing or straightening up, but mostly they were holding instruments.

Sarah J. Sloat, The week that was

There are days when it feels like we can drag a fine-tooth comb through our troubles but still can’t remove all the tangles. When the panic closet in our heart is closed for repairs. Or everybody’s way too tense in the present tense, taking far too many swigs off the haterade. Then there are days when hope is in high resolution, packing a solution for every problem under the sun. Or how, when this living war gets to be too much, we’re guided back down into the foxhole of friendship. Or when kisses taste like home sweet home. When our Lady of Bandages doesn’t seek our bondage, only our healed release.

Rich Ferguson, What My Granny Told Me After Packing a Wad of Chewing Tobacco

Yesterday a student asked if I had an extra notebook; her mom hadn’t had time to do the back to school shopping.  I said that I didn’t have a notebook, but I had paper.  I gave her a legal pad.  When she returned it to me, she had written me a note, thanking me for all I did to make the school a better place.  She specifically mentioned the bread and the butterfly garden.

When I think of things I’ve done to influence retention, I, too, think of the bread and the butterfly garden.  I do not think of increasing the Average Registered Credit (ARC), that idea that if we could just get every student to take one more class, all sorts of problems would be solved; every male administrator to whom I’ve ever reported has been a big believer in increasing ARC.

Let me record a poem thought that just jabbed me.  I’ve been at with a group planning a retreat around the theme of Noah and that ark–let me write something that weaves together that ancient thought of an ark, and the modern idol of the ARC.  Let my subconscious chew on that–maybe on Thursday I’ll have a poem.

I also thought about writing a poem in the voice of the water.  I’ve also thought of the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and her sea foam destiny.  Sea foam and dead sailors and some explanation for why the sea always wants to swamp us.

I feel better knowing that I have poems percolating, even if I don’t have time to do much writing these days.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bread and Butterfly Initiatives, and All of our Arcs

I was out this morning picking up windfall apples. I still need to get the kids into the last tree to pick the hanging ones. I’ll spend this week ignoring my phone as I’m not waiting on work calls, cleaning up the garden, cooking the apples, putting away the trampoline and summer furniture, sleeping and writing as much as I can.

This weekend I’ve tried to catch up on some of the prompts I didn’t finish in my last course. This morning I stared out the window and wrote a poem based on what I saw, one of the prompts I regularly suggest to my students. I’m mulling over a prompt on conkers I’ve had in my head for the past two weeks, lots of images but nothing to tie them together yet. And I’m sure there’s a poem stuck to the burr that came back inside with me today.

I will wallow in autumn, in autumn writing full of spice and warmth, damp and earthy. 

Gerry Stewart, Half-Term Wallow

Somehow we had this gift, probably luck, for finding the right trees for the job. In our style of tree fort, you needed three or four trees. They were the main structural supports. They had to be close enough together that our frame boards could reach, reasonably straight and not too rotten. For our largest and most well-built tree fort we used four trees growing out of a hill so one side was closer to the ground than the other, which made it easier to build a ramp to get to it. I think about those support trees when thinking about poems. Their position determined a lot—the shape and size of the rooms especially—and I’ve asked myself what the equivalent would be in a poem. It varies of course, but having some secure starting place to hang your first board, or your first line, and build on that, can be the difference between a fort that leaks and gets overrun by raccoons and one that you can spend the night in without fearing collapse.

“You use what you have, you learn to work the structure to create what you need.” writes Julia Alvarez about writing sonnets in her essay Housekeeping Cages. This was our approach, my friends and I. We had plenty of woods with tall trees. We had access to limited building materials (from our parents or stolen from construction sites) and we had time on our hands. Our materials gave us a start, even gave us the ideas to work with, but they didn’t limit us. We took risks (like building a hibachi and old tin pipe into a fireplace 40 feet off the ground), and got creative (we sealed cracks with melted candle wax, which of course melted away in the summer.)

We also had a reasonable arsenal of tools for the job. Hammers and saws mostly, buckets of nails, because we were crude builders making up the rules as we went along. “One has to know the tools, so he doesn’t work against himself. Tools make the job easier.” writes Yusef Komunyakaa about a period in the ’80s when he discovered the voice and form for some of his poems. Our forts would probably have gone higher, lasted longer and looked less like trash heaps with better tools.

Grant Clauser, On Tree Forts and Poetry, Structure and Support

and then the chimneys fell,
one by one by the ton of
ancient soot billowing applause
from the lads in the sidings 
wagoned in trammelled bravado.

some by explosive nostalgia,
some by pick and prop and fire 
and hope for the tugged heart strings,
bricked in piles, taking the stacks
down brick by brick, upending the past.

Jim Young, and then the chimneys fell

Back in April, which is ironically National Poetry Month, I did a bit of reorganizing and moved my to-be-read poetry pile to the bookshelf in my office. Now given their own space, I realized I had quite a stack to work through.

After seeing the unread books lined up I vowed to not buy any new books of poetry until I’d read at least half on this shelf. True to my word, I started working my way through the stack and refrained from buying from any additional books. By the end of September, my shelf looked decidedly emptier.

Then in quick succession I bought boy/girl/ghost by torrin a. greathouse, Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman, Diary of a Ghost Girl by Shay Alexi, How to Cook a Ghost by Logan February, and Good Grief by Mikey Swanberg. I did this for two reasons:

1. I love poetry and am always interested in reading new poets that I find and love.
2. I want to support poets and independent presses.

Not only do the above two reasons serve as huge motivators to keep buying poetry, but my new book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, is now available for pre-order from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. It would be hypocritical of me to ask others to order my book if I’m not ordering theirs. So I keep buying and reading poetry and I keep asking others to buy and read mine.

Of course, one thing I didn’t exactly plan for was the twice-annual library book sale. Not only do I attend every year but I volunteer every year as well, spending hours arranging and rearranging and reshelving books. And because I volunteer and am a lifetime Friends of the Arlington Library (FOAL) member, I get to purchase up to 20 books at a 50% discount (10 books for being a FOAL member, 10 books for volunteering). You can see where this is going…

Courtney LeBlanc, Supporting Poetry

I’m very happy to announce that my new chapbook, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake, has just been published by London, Ontario based 845 Press!

The chapbook contains 15 poems, written before, during and after my family’s stay at the Al Purdy A-frame. The poems feature my family (the boy was barely toddling at the time), the A-frame, Al and Eurithe Purdy, disgusting pancakes, bonfires (book and otherwise), carbon monoxide poisoning, black holes, drowned mice, a heron named Ike, lilacs, frozen turtles, Nick Thran, etc. Mostly they are about making space in your life for the things you love.

Here are three sample poems:

County Roads
Last Embers
Lyric

For only the second time in my life (the first being “Oh Not So Great”: Poems from the Depression Project), something I wrote has blurbs! I like blurbs but hate nothing more than asking someone to blurb my books, so I was overjoyed when the wonderful team at 845 Press (Aaron Schneider and Amy Mitchell) went and organized blurbs on my behalf. It even inspired me to ask a couple more people, which led to a very imbalanced poem-to-blurb ratio (15 to 4 – one blurb for every 4 poems!).

Rob Taylor, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake

As the New York Times reports, we’re seeing industry-wide hand-wringing right now about how rarely books are fact-checked, following scandals involving Naomi Wolff and others. I’m proud that Shenandoah editor Beth Staples makes fact-checking a priority: the interns comb through every piece we publish, following up on names, dates, and a host of other check-able details. Not every poem needs fact-checking, of course, but some do. For example, I posted my own poem about the moon landing recently. Most people wouldn’t notice if I got the date wrong, but some would, and spotting the error might impair their faith in me as a writer.

So what level of precision do poets owe their audiences? Spelling proper nouns correctly, and checking dates and quotes, seems important, if a poem references real-world people and events. The trivia doesn’t matter, really–if I tell you right now that my teapot is as blue as loneliness, but it’s actually an unromantic beige, that seems like a reasonable bit of poetic trickery. (Gotcha! It’s orange.) Even in a persona poem like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a piece that’s obviously fictional, you’d want to check the Dante quote before you hit send.

I just handed in copy-edits for my next book, The State She’s In–overcoming the usual Prufrockian abulia to do so, because finalizing a book makes me REALLY ANXIOUS–and the process involved a final round of fact-checking on my end. Several poems involve public history that’s important to get right. While I know I was careful during the period of composition, what if I made a bad mistake in a poem about slavery, say, or Confederate history? The vultures aren’t wheeling around my publications the way they do around high-profile nonfiction, but still, I’m addressing sensitive material.

Lesley Wheeler, Copy-editing and fact-checking poems

– It’s way past time to cut loose from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram. Sure, Elizabeth Warren is right; it’s too big, but there’s something else. It isn’t fun anymore. Facebook feels kind of like rock music did when the corporations got control of it. […]

– I have a conure, a sort of smallish type of parrot. At 11 years old, he understands a lot of English, even though he doesn’t talk. Pico Verde Jobe is his name.

  He’s holding something in his claw, eating it while standing on one leg.

   “What are you eating, Pico?”
   He holds it up and shows me. A nut.

   “Is is it good?”
   Pico vigorously nods yes. 

James Lee Jobe, Journal notes – 12 Oct 2019

We could play
at poetry
the way men

play at war,
except not
blood shed, it

would be stars
lost to us.
Warring poets

would darken
the sky […]

Tom Montag, We Could Play

I like to tell my friends that I never, ever have writer’s block, and yes, I rarely have the full-blown version. I do, however, experience creative slowdowns, periods where I produce less work than I’d like, or my ideas seem stale, or I feel a lack of interest in writing. This is more dangerous than it sounds: lack of energy, interest, and concentration are also symptoms of depression. In order to avoid falling into this pit of despair, I’ve tried to build a practice that anticipates and mitigates writer’s block as much as possible.

History is rife with examples of artists who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol (poets are over-represented in this area) during unproductive periods. Clearly, this is unwise. Writer’s block is always temporary, and there’s plenty a writer can do to address it when it does occur.

Here are a few things I do when I get stuck. 

I take a nap. Sometimes I just need a rest. Often, I wake up from a nap in the middle of a “light bulb” moment. As Shakespeare put it in Julius Caesar: “Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.”

I go for a walk. A couple of days ago, I was working on a review and a short piece for my newsletter. After a 45-minute walk, I had solutions for both. Had I stayed home, I would have stared at my computer for 45 minutes, become more and more frustrated, and probably not had any ideas.

I turn to my collection of craft books. I pull them out of the bookshelf, grab my notebook and pen, and sit on the floor. Eventually, I’ll find something that kick-starts my writing. […]

Erica Goss, How I Banish Writer’s Block

The university takes a long weekend in October; I thought it a propitious time to snare some solitude for writing and revising and thus betook myself and a mountain of my work to a semi-secluded cabin. Designed and largely built by Jack Fisher, the place offers light, comfort, memories, art, nature and spaciousness of environment. While I had no particular plan in mind–in retrospect, possibly a mistake–I imagined these days would act as a mini-writing retreat.

I love the cabin, the memories, the aesthetics of the house and generally I love solitude as long as it does not extend for too many days. The circumstance I discovered once I opened up my pile of poetry drafts, however, led me to one conclusion: I was going to have to organize, read, evaluate, consider, and cull before even getting to the “fun” part of revising. This level of work tends to discomfit me, feels tedious and draining and sometimes fruitless–which is why I have pretty much put it off since…oh…graduate school. Almost two decades.

But I made myself time to be alone and undisturbed, so let my work disturb me as it must. If a writer never allows herself to experience discomfort, she is unlikely to move her work forward in any meaningful or craft-related way.

Ann E. Michael, (Dis)order & (dis)comfort

A friend once told me something a friend told her that had been told to him by a mentor, and it’s basically this about writing: It’s okay to climb the same mountain again and again, but you need to be going up by different routes. I think of this often. In other words, it’s find that I’m obsessed by a subject matter, with trying to get to some new way of understanding it, but my poems need to approach it by different means.

Makes total sense. But at the moment I feel I’m trodding a well-worn path. I think I’m trying different things, but all I’m doing really is skirting a bit the old route only to find my way back there again.

The solution I’m pursuing is my same old solution, which is not necessarily a bad thing — exposing myself to other people’s art. (And reading widely [wildly?].) I like rattling around in the art world looking for something that stops me and twirls me around. Sometimes this dizziment can open a pathway to a new way to approach my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, With Sally in the Alley; or, Finding New Ways Into the Poetry Work

With the oil pastels and the picture cropped this way, I really like the strong cobalt blue with the lavender and dull green of the mountain. The foreground is missing in this crop, but the gouache helps me see better what to do with it. In addition to the beautiful, iconic trees, one of the most striking aspects of this landscape was the circular pattern of rocks and scrubby growth of the mountain behind the cedars. I like how the oil pastels have worked to capture that — it’s subtle, not detailed, but effective. Now I’m thinking about making a larger painting, in oils, based on what I’ve discovered by analyzing these pictures. The main message is simplify.

While I was working on this piece, I found a suite of poems by Seamus Heaney that he had written in Greece. One of them is set in Delphi, and it speaks of Heaney’s desire to drink from the spring where all visitors to Delphi who came to consult the oracle stopped to wash and drink; the same spring was used by the Pythia and the priests for a ritual cleansing before giving an oracular pronouncement or interpreting an oracle.

The Greeks believed that the spring was located at the center of the earth. Zeus, king of the gods, had loosed two eagles from opposite ends of the world, and, flying at the same speed, they crossed paths above Delphi. Zeus let a stone fall from the air where they crossed, and where it fell became the sacred site, marked by a stone called the omphalos, or navel of the world. Under the omphalos was buried the mythological monster called Python, which had guarded the sacred spring, until it was killed by the god Apollo, to whom Delphi and the Oracle became sacred. We saw a Roman copy of this large carved stone in the museum in Delphi. The carved pattern represents a woolen net that was once thought to cover the stone.

If you’ve been to Delphi, you would have thought, as I did, what a long, difficult journey it must have been to get there from any of the major city-states of Greece, and then to have to add the arduous climb up the side of Mt Parnassus. I wish I had known that the spring still exists, and that there’s a modern fountain by the side of the road for modern travelers, but I had no idea! Heaney, visiting in the 1960s, did know this, and of course — as a poet who had been steeped in the Greek classics, translated some, and used so many references and stories in his own poems and plays — he was determined to drink from it himself.

Beth Adams, The Navel of the World

Reading Groundspeed, I took note of how [Emilia] Phillips’ narrator refuses to let her own traumas (in this case her own cancer or the death of a half brother) carry any more weight in the collection than the tragic events and lives around her. Our suffering truly is ordinary, and in treating it as such, Groundspeed mimics for us what life is actually like: one long road trip, hotel overnights and stops at home, all interspersed with encounters we have, dramas large and small, our own and everyone else’s. My tendency in my own work — including when I’ve put manuscripts together — is to visit my obsessions (distance, intimacy, romance, etc.) far too often. I learn from this book that our obsessions/favorite themes carry a little more weight when they don’t tag along in every… single… poem. I’m grateful for this model.

I love how Phillips creates scenery from ordinary observations, as though the poems are movies. As pseudo- short films, the poems in Groundspeed celebrate “the glories of their mundane” (a line from one of the poems) as they include beer cans, chewing gum, pollen in the ditch, etc.

In a contributor spotlight in Memorious, Phillips says, “For years I’ve been seduced again and again by two lines of Fanny Howe: ‘My vagabondage is unlonelied by poems.’ In some ways, this statement has become a kind of mantra for me, especially in difficult times. ‘My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems.’ Not only does it recognize the loneliness of one’s life in that word ‘vagabondage,’ it also speaks to the restlessness I’ve felt my whole life—this draw to move from one place, physical or otherwise, to another.” Howe’s phrase will stick with me, along with Phillips’ mention of it. Unlonelied by poems. Amen.

Carolee Bennett, “the glories of their mundane”

Yesterday, at the end of the reading at the Field Museum, someone in the audience asked if I consider myself a nature poet.  I realized I’d just spent a good  half hour or so talking about how I can’t stop writing about birds.  About how a project that was supposed to be about dinosaurs and extinction would up also being largely bird-laden.  About the Cornell Boxes andmy second book, in the bird museum. About how I’d made a bee-line on my first visit, not to the Evolving Planet exhibit, but to the Hall of Birds, the very same hall where I was giving that very reading.  And yet, I faltered and wasn’t sure what to say.

When I think nature, I often think of Mary Oliver, whose poems, while I find a lot of them sort of facile, usually use nature as a means to teach us something about humanity. The nature is the tool by which we come to understand something more about ourselves.  I know many poets who write similar observances and explorations of the natural world, and in fact, have published a good many (much better than Oliver) with dgp.  But as for me, it’s strange to claim it.  […]

As I worked on extinction event, I’ve been reading idly a few pieces on the eco-gothic, whose gist is largely that nature is not just a background for human activity to occur in, but a force itself.  The menacing forest.  The haunted garden. The terrible sea. That nature (including plants, animals, landscape, weather) is just as much a character in any story as the ones with speaking parts.

I like this sort of nature, the kind that is dangerous and may just kill you.  Much of that is where extinction event comes from. My answer to the question, in the moment, was that I tended to write a lot about horror and the supernatural lately–scary movies, serial killers, stabby adolescents urged on by Slenderman. But that nature is always present in them–weird or twisted as it may be.

Kristy Bowen, nature, writing, & the ecogothic imagination

Please tell us about the genesis of your new chapbook, little ditch. What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

little ditch is a chapbook about survival through sexual abuse, rape culture, & internalized misogyny. This is also a book about being sexualized as a young, non-binary person growing up in rape culture. About being a preteen on the verge of something shattering. About the fur.   

As I was completing my first book, Field Guide to Autobiography, I was visited by these urgent, dark spells or calls to action to write a way towards these poems. These poems felt caked in dirt, but very alive – I felt the need to dig deeper. Using various creative exercises like trance, tarot, & cut-ups, I tried to summon the hidden. There were times where I’d not be able to recall anything, other times I’d feel immersed in sense memory. All these gaps and leaks where trauma holds in the body. I later referred to these as “the ditch poems.”

Many of the poems in your collection explore the intersection between body and the natural and human-made world. What drew you to this imagery? 

Many of the poems in this collection are based on a type of mineral. The more I explored the language of minerals, the more I came to see the connections between that vocabulary and the oppressive vocabularies of patriarchy. Using found language from field guides, these poems tell a story of the nature of patriarchy; how we build upon & reinforce this hegemonic palimpsest. It also begins to explore how the sedimentary foundation of American rape culture is inherent in mineral structures of the Earth’s crust. This book is about trusting yourself enough to claw your way out.

Do you feel that writing and engaging with poetry is one of the ways a person can help find their way out of these structures? 

Yes. I think poetry allows us to reimagine and reshape how we perceive language, and the larger world. I’ve found this to be especially true of experimental poetry, which sometimes feel to me like a great puzzle, or an algebraic equation. Poetry = music + math. Wrestling with diction or meter can lead to creative solutions or enhance our understanding of the world of a poem, and that praxis forges new neural pathways in the brain that expand consciousness as we know it.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Melissa Eleftherion on survival and how language reshapes our perception of the world

And now the thin edge of an eastern wind brings
tears of resin, a scent of green disorder, a cataract
of leaves and berries far ahead. Darkness crowds us
back onto the train. Rocked but sleepless, we sit
and stand by night-curtained windows, watching
the dim images of ourselves watching the flying trees.

Dick Jones, MOTHER RUSSIA.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 39

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 settling into an autumn mindset, with all that implies. Considering how momentous the political news has been in the US and the UK, it’s frankly amazing that anyone took the time to blog at all. But there are still poems to read, and to write, and—for many—to teach. There are manuscripts to revise. There are creative partnerships to nurture. And always there are new surprises to wonder at, a tiny minority of which ever make the news.


Those short,
sharp lines of autumn, and the last
lightning bugs grounded now
by the density of their own end.
The Milky Way, just there, close
enough to touch.

JJS, Pinhole

If we lived in an earlier culture, we would celebrate Michaelmas today.  It’s one of the harvest holidays, one of the quarterly celebrations that kept people rooted to traditions of the seasonal cycles. […]

I am trying to slow down, even as the world encourages us to zoom, zoom, zoom.  I want to savor the way the afternoon light slides into evening from a different angle now.  I want to enjoy the seasonal decorations that we have now.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Hinge Holiday of Michaelmas

It is, for me at least, a new year. Wishing everyone a happy Rosh Hashanah with hopes for a year in which we all move forward in all of the ways that we are able, hold on to one another in health and illness, and hang on to our own and each others’ goodness.

My new year starts with retirement in exactly 8 weeks. The scramble is on to apply for Medicare supplemental insurance and social security benefits. and then, at Thanksgiving, I am leaving my peninsula home for a month of family visits. More about that another time. But I am still looking for someone who would like to retreat at a lovely private home with water and mountain views in exchange for catsitting while I am away, in case you know anyone who might be interested.

And ! There are new chapbook reviews to check out!

I have a review and interview with Carl Phillips up at the Adroit Journal!

And there are new chapbook Reviews at The Poetry Cafe!

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing over What’s Next?

Shortly after I published a post about the connection between writing and self-care, I received an email notice about a new post from Trish Hopkinson’s blog* on reframing your poetry manuscript. The post — which is a guest post by  Natasha Kochicheril Moni — caught my eye because I’d been contemplating publishing an update about the status of my poetry manuscript.

That update is simple: I no longer know who it is.

I can relate to the standstill/stare-down Natasha describes in the opening of her post. When I go visit my manuscript, it doesn’t even welcome me. There’s no room for me in it anywhere. Not even space for me to park my car out front. Like the warning I saw on a recent trip to Brattleboro, VT: “No parking EVER. Violators will be towed.”

I have been telling myself to grab the poems that still mean the most and start over. But for months and months that felt too much like a break-up (a feeling Natasha also identifies), and I wasn’t ready. I’d nurtured the thing for more than six years. And anyway: I don’t have enough new material to make a clean break. At least not yet.

But new things are brewing.

Carolee Bennett, violators will be towed: a manuscript update

Every
day is like
this, a white

bird in the sun.

Tom Montag, Old Man

This has been a super-hard September, beginning with emotional transitions–dropping my son off for his first year at college, establishing my daughter in her first apartment–and proceeding through too many doctor visits and grant applications on top of the usual stuff. And the usual stuff brings its own challenges. It’s hard to kick off classes well; students and advisees need and deserve a lot of attention. One of this month’s biggest difficulties, though, arose from the good luck of having two books scheduled for spring publication. Edits for my poetry collection arrived in late August, but while finalizing any ms makes me super-anxious, those edits weren’t heavy. As soon as I turned them in, though, the novel edits began arriving, and they have been much more demanding, in large part because I’m newer at prose fiction. I had more to learn about economy and precision than I realized. […]

I’m most likely to push myself when the writing obligation involves someone else’s time and effort, as is the case in delivering mss to editors, and if you’re like that, too, you can find ways to create obligations that don’t involve imminent book contracts. One colleague made a lot of writing progress this summer, for instance, by blocking off non-negotiable writing time on her calendar and making public commitments to get a certain amount done. Another has started a writing group for two hours a week: with snacks, in silent camaraderie, we sit together and work on something not related to teaching, then set goals aloud for what we’ll do in the week ahead. I’m usually very solitary about writing–I’ll always choose a shut door and a quiet room over a cafe, for instance–so I’m surprised to be enjoying it, at least in small doses. I’ll probably be happier when I can use that time on new work rather than face up to the endless failings of this endless ms, but it’s good to be reminded that all the writers you know are waging similar battles with themselves.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever just hang up the towel on the stress of publication, but I guess this post is one possible answer: I would keep writing even if no one wanted to listen anymore. I seem to rest from writing by writing in other modes, or at least reading. Lunacy, probably, but here I am.

Lesley Wheeler, Pacing

Clear from the first poem, “Blessing for Beauty,” is the indisputable truth that the speaker has cancer.

Maybe the universe wants to spare me the apocalypse,
maybe it wants me to counsel the dead,
maybe the cancer finds me so delicious
it wants to eat me from the inside out…
Oh trees, flowers, small animals at the bird feeder—

And so the poems unspool, sometimes in high lyric and sometimes in plain truth. Many of the poems are also love poems to Kusnetz’s husband, poet and writer, Brian Turner. One of my (many) favorites comes late in the book and is not technically a love poem at all, “Meditation on “Cottage Window, St. Remy de Provence.”

And so perhaps we cannot furl the lit hours
inside ourselves, relive their sinuous grace

The poems range from the philosophical to science fiction, to nature, to a love of ginormous proportions. In my copy the pages are folded back, marked and reread again. I promise Angel Bones will make a difference in your life. It has in mine.

Susan Rich, A Must Read: ANGEL BONES by Ilyse Kusnetz

I recently read a new and very special pamphlet by Valerie Morton and Karen Dennison where the two co-writers respond to each other — a conversation with poems. Two of the poems from their sequence, and ordering information is here. I asked Valerie a few questions about the project. When answering, she first passed along this quote:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”       Seneca

Elly: How did Still Born come to be?

Valerie: It has been an enormous pleasure and privilege to work with Karen Dennison on this pamphlet which began as an idea after I had been reading about response poems and how they could inspire and rejuvenate poets into discovering places they may not have visited before. Karen and I both had ‘a poem in waiting’ and the pamphlet was born.

As we continued we realised we had created something special and that we could put it together into a collection and publish in the hope that we could raise some money for a charity.

Elly: Please say something about the title. After reading the poems, I was struck by how well it reflects, what seems to me the themes and multiple possible ways to respond  to the pamphlet.

Valerie: I am glad you read it that way. The title plays on the word stillborn because I believe that even though this is such a big loss that person stays very much alive in the mind and memory and so they are still born and with you, if that makes sense?

E.E. Nobbs, Two Poets & Their New Pamphlet “Still Born”

Often I am asked about what it’s like to work–I always think the verb should be dance–with artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins. He has illuminated and beautified my books for a long time now. I often thought of us as metaphysical twins (I can’t remember who first came up with that thought) when we first tumbled into correspondence. The first year of exchanging letters was so inspiring! It’s marvelous when you meet a person who inspires you and whom you inspire in turn. […]

Somehow when I’m in a Clivean-Marlyan mode, congruence seems to increase, and not just a congruence of minds. Surprise happens: things happen that suggest that the world is a more enchanted, spark-lit, symbolic place than we commonly know. It’s as if we are turning around a hidden center, that we live in a place of abundance. And for moments I’m more congruent with the deep shapes and patterns of the world, and I feel heart-struck and tied in spirit to someone on the other side of the sea.

Marly Youmans, Hands across enchanted seas

Soon, he closes his eyes to listen
            to my new poem.          Soon,
                        I stumble.   Again,
again.     These words
            don’t relate to us.   They are torn
from the fragile body of things
                          that can be told simply.

I walked slowly with my father.

Romana Iorga, Genesis

Do you find that the writing of poetry can be a way to process the kind of intense emotions you have gone through?

Poetry is the way I have been expressing myself since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved horror fiction and films so as an adult I found that combining my real life experiences with horror imagery was a way I could deal with my sorrows from a distance. Horror in my work is like a distorted lens I can use.

One of the ways your poems seem to work through the horrors of adulthood and loss is through traditional horror imagery of blood and monstrousness? What is the value of horror as a genre in addressing emotional experience? 

I turn subject matter like cancer, chemo and child abuse into the horrors that they truly are but allow the readers to feel their own pain. The value is that readers can can see their own monsters in the words. They can step into my shoes or draw on their own pain. We all have monsters hiding under the bed. We all have moments, that if we were deranged, we’d kill the ones who caused pain or watched us, with dead eyes, groveling in the dirt of our horrors.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Michelle Scalise on the horrors of grief

A dog barks;
a man calls.
The sounds curl away.

The men sleep
wrapped around
their prey
like lovers.

Dick Jones, Night Poachers

This five week hospital stay I think I’ve only drafted two poems, but they are two very  hard won poems. I used to think of writing as something like exercise…like “oh I haven’t gone for a jog in a few weeks, suppose I should…” except I was always far more diligent with writing than I ever have (ever!) been with any sort of exercise. Instead I think of the habit or hobby or practice, whichever you prefer, of writing as a gift. Not necessarily a “gifting” but a gift. When I come to another mid-week of driving hours in the car to and from the hospital with the children, trying to keep things a little balanced and half normal for them as I work so hard to just get the chance to hold my baby, when I come again to that mid-week, I know that I always have the gift of writing. I can use that to sift all of it through, to categorize it, put words to it. I can put words to it. And that is a gift, it is truly a gift.

Renee Emerson, writing in hospitals

Have you been reading the depressing news about the extinction of trees in Europe (in particular, the Horse Chestnut tree is in trouble) and the disappearance of about half of the bird population in North America since the seventies? Oh, right, you were focused on all the impeachment stuff in the news? Totally understand. But it is a reminder to appreciate and notice the birds and trees around us, especially the ones that are difficult to grow and maintain, the birds and plants susceptible to changes in habitat and climate and invasive species. Also, there have been some really interesting articles about how spending time in nature literally helps your body heal, and I believe that’s probably true. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more interested in planting things, and trying to appreciate the work that goes into maintaining public spaces, parks and gardens. I’ve been trying to plant things around the garden that butterflies and hummingbirds like, and planting sunflowers for finches and other small birds. […]

I hope you have had a good beginning to fall, full of promise and good cheer, celebrating the changing seasons as much as you can. I am hoping to fill the increasingly dark and rainy days with writing and reading (I just got a new stack of library books) and hoping to find good publishers for my two book manuscripts, placing poems and hopefully getting to do some writing-related social things (I have a reading scheduled for the first week of October in Auburn so hopefully I will be better for that!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Glass Pumpkins, Appreciating Fragile Things, and the End of September

Don’t want us to become Hitler-haired hate machines. Don’t want us to become snuffer-outers of incense and childhood dreams. Don’t want us to make our bed to now only lie in it. Don’t want us to become the uncorrected manuscript all about treating one another incorrectly. Don’t want the alphabet to ever lose the letters MLK. Don’t want Mother America to become a scullery maid for the criminally corrupt. Don’t want us to become a movable feast that loses its groove. Don’t want us to become the strange fruit in bitter homes and gardens.

Rich Ferguson, When My Therapist Asked What I Didn’t Want Outta Life

talking to my cat
slowly the sunshine returns
an autumn morning

Jim Young, [untitled haiku]

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Weeks 36-37

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 edition is based on two week’s worth of posts, since last Sunday I was off on holiday. But since I keep to my rule of no more than one post per blogger, it does an even poorer job than usual of representing the richness and variety of posts in my feed. So if you read something you like, remember there’s likely to be quite a bit more where that came from.


September evening —
a moth flies into
her pocket

Bill Waters, September evening

Suddenly the two stately trees
outside my window are shot through

with sprays of gold. My heart rails
against the turning season

like a child resisting bedtime, but
the trees hear the shofar’s call.

Come alive, flare up, be
who you are: let your light shine!

The katydids and crickets sing
the time is now, the time is now.

Rachel Barenblat, Now

It wasn’t until Thursday I actually had a morning to write. It made the writing I accomplished that day a tiny bit sweeter. I had worked hard, earned a small pay check, earned the time to commit to my calling. Amidst the exhaustion, there was a sense of accomplishment, I can work and single parent and write. Maybe not to the extent I would prefer on all sides, but it is possible, messy, tiring, but possible.

Fittingly, there’s been a trend on Twitter at the moment, maybe it circles around regularly, but I’m a newbie remember, of writers posting about procrastination, how they are not writing. Is it guilt that makes these writers post this type of self-depreciating post, to shame themselves into writing? Or is it to gain commiseration or likes because we all get distracted by research rabbit holes or social twitterings sometimes? Both probably.

Gerry Stewart, Juggling it All

There’s a story told about Lucille Clifton–it may or may not be literally true, but it points to a truth for many of us.  Someone asked why she wrote short poems when she was younger and longer poems as she got older.  I suspect the questioner was expecting an answer that had something to do with wisdom and skill.

Instead, Lucille Clifton talked about the lives of her children shaping the short poems in terms of the amount of time she had to get thoughts on paper.

I, too, tend to write poems that are shorter.  Part of it’s habitual, part of it has to do with how much time I have, and part of it has to do with ideas that run out of steam so the poem is over.  Most of my poems are a little longer than an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with regular lines.

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages.  Will it all be one poem?  I don’t know, but it was an amazing experience.

I had been having a good poetry writing morning, after weeks of feeling dry and drained when it comes to writing and life in general.  Yesterday I had already written one poem and some various lines when I decided to freewrite a bit about harvest moons and harvests and elegies and prophets.  The freewriting didn’t really go anywhere, but all of a sudden whole stanzas popped into my head.  I wrote and wrote–4 pages worth.  Wow.

And then I kept my legal pad nearby.  I’d do something else, and then another stanza popped into my head.  It was great.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Long Page Poetry Morning

I was thinking about how it’s the 15th anniversary of the dancing girl press chapbook series, and realized  that also makes it the 15th birthday of my first chap bloody mary.  

In the spring of 2004, a lot was going on.   I’d been editing wicked alice for a couple years at that point and had a dream of a possible print operation companion.  I was finishing out my first year of grad school getting my MFA and had started sending out my first full-length mss..  I had just won a pretty big Chicago based prize and the 1000 bucks attached to it (and thus had a little wiggle money to devote to poetry). 

The previous year, Moon Journal Press had taken my first chap, The Archaeologists Daughter, but it would still be another year before it was published.  I was doing a lot of readings locally and fending off incredibly flattering inquiries about whether I had a book people could buy.  Also engaging in a flourishing online writing community where everyone was always trading work.   I thought to myself, if this press thing was going to be a go, I might want to start with issue-ing something that, if I botched it or found it horrible, only I would be affected. It actually worked out pretty well–since I was clueless, I taught myself how to layout something that could be manually double sided (something almost comical in these days of duplex booklet printing).  I bought some nice resume parchment paper for a the cover, used the library’s pamphlet stapler, and I had a book.

Kristy Bowen, all sugar, all milk

On August 30, Praxis Magazine Online published the first digital chapbook in the 2019/2020 Poetry Chapbook Series, edited by JK Anowe. If you haven’t seen it already, you don’t want to miss BOOK OF THE MISSING by Heidi Grunebaum.

And here, at the beginning of this series, I am reminiscing a little, and want to share a bit of the history. In 2015, Praxis Magazine‘s publisher Tee Jay Dan (Daniel John Tukura) asked me if I’d be open to coming on as an editor…and I was worried about the time commitment, worried about the amount of emotional and mental investment it takes to be on the team of an online literary and arts journal. I was already (and still am) on staff at Right Hand Pointing, where editor Dale Wisely gave me an opportunity to learn how to BE an editor…with integrity, discretion, and compassion. And I’d already learned that it takes a LOT of hard work, and that many of the people who submit to journals don’t realize how much work goes into it, how much of their own time editorial team members at online journals have to dedicate to bring other people’s works to publication. (I know I certainly didn’t have any concept of the time commitment involved while I was still submitting poems to journals, but not volunteering at a journal myself.)

So I’d declined Tee Jay’s invitation initially, not feeling sure I was prepared to dedicate that kind of time.

Laura M Kaminski, BOOK OF THE MISSING by Heidi Grunebaum…Praxis Magazine Online digital poetry chapbook

I’d been working on a poetry feature at Escape Into Life—of poems with birds in them—when the Audubon Society informed me, via Facebook, that we were coming up on National Wildlife Day, so why not celebrate with birds?! Happy National Wildlife Day! And Poetry Someday here in my blog. And Random Coinciday! (It’s fun to be blogging again!) (Where was I?!)(Oh, yeah.*)

Please enjoy Birds of a Feather: Poetry & Art at Escape Into Life! The flamingo painting you see here is by Ilya Zomb.

*I have been oddly busy in a number of different ways. I told you about walking in the Labor Day Parade, twice, and that was only this past Monday. Over the last few years, I have walked in many local parades and attended various meetings, vigils, rallies, and marches because OMG, I have to do something, right?! Writing poetry and submitting it got a little pushed to one side, but that’s started up again, as has my heart, and creativity pushed on me enough to put me back in a play or two. My body, again, had to do something.

Today I began walking the precinct again, collecting signatures (3) to run again as Democratic Precinct Committeeperson—to help get out the vote on March 17, 2020 and November 3, 2020. Hoping to help turn things around.

Kathleen Kirk, Birds of a Feather

Yes, submission season for poets has started in earnest, and I’ve been revising my two book manuscripts, and writing new poems, and gathering poems into groups for different journals. I’m also ready to start reading for real again – I mean, doesn’t September suggest the reading of serious literature, for things that make you think? What are you reading to get you in the mood for fall?

Thinking hard about where to send book manuscripts and which journals to send new poems. It reminds me of the birds showing their plumage and the flowers showing off their brightest color right before they disappear. We are all trying to get noticed, poets, birds, petals – an evolutionary imperative. I think that the last couple of years have given me more perspective, but also given me the desire to aim a little higher, work a little harder on making the poems and manuscripts the best they can be. When my brain is working, and I have energy, I have to remember to work during those times. With multiple sclerosis, you can’t take emotional or mental energy for granted.

There’s a certain amount of luck, chaos, and sheer force of will involved in sending out your work and getting published. Submitting poems during a thunderstorm seems somehow appropriate.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Writing from Inside the Thunderstorm, Fall Color, and Submission Season

Sometimes we will undoubtedly measure ourselves against others and fall short, but other times, as we see in sports and other competitions it will be inspiring, just the nudge we need to make it across the finish line.

Frankly, making a living from poetry is a rare accomplishment. Still there are professors of literature, song lyricists and even those who write for greeting card companies. it is not impossible, but also, I think, not a true measure of success.

Success in poetry may be far more elusive than in other fields. It is likely that more than half of Americans could not name the current poet laureate. So if fame is your criteria for success then perhaps you could consider being a fiction writer instead… But if one of your poems causes your audience to laugh out loud, or conversely, moves someone to tears, then you have succeeded. And if sitting down with your pen, and a blank page before you, words tumbling out, into stanzas, rhyme, free verse, cadence and chorus, if that excites and satisfies you then you are already a successful poet.

What Constitutes Poetic Success? – guest blog post by Kathy Lundy Derengowski (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’m in this place of doubt — not necessarily doubt about my work, but doubt about my ability to understand what in the work is working. And what isn’t. I know I’ve been here before. I know the mood has passed. I don’t know if I had discovered some way out of this fog, or whether it’s just time, and distraction. I’ve forgotten. I know I come back to two things: that time is the best editor; and that there is something at gut-level that knows things about my work. But when time and gut still says it likes a work that has been getting rejected for years? I know I’ve written in this very space about honing one’s own editorial sense. But can I really believe myself? I dunno.

Rational Self rolls her eyes.

The editing process takes inner calm, perspective, and confidence. This is especially true when it comes to “knowing” that something is ready to send out. My own process is too often to send stuff out too soon, get it back rejected, and suddenly see a new editing angle. But hey, it’s a process. But there are some times in which I just can’t muster up the guts to do good editing on my own work, or see it with a sufficiently cold eye. (And I do think there are some of my works that I’ll just never get perspective on. I’m just going to love their flawed selves and that’s it. I’ll tuck them into a manuscript somehow or incorporate them into a visual project maybe. But I won’t abandon them to my C-level folder! I won’t!)

A friend of mine who breeds and raises dogs talks about puppy panic periods: something a puppy did without fear a day before suddenly turns it into a whites-around-the-eyes, stiff-legged-no-way-I-ain’t-doin’-that trembling mess, and pretty soon pretty much everything freaks it out. The periods generally only last a few days, although the puppy might have another such period some time later in its development. I think I have puppy panic periods throughout my whole life. Different things set me off at different times (there are some things, of course, that set me off EVERY time). (Spider!) I think I must be in one now.

Marilyn McCabe, Down to the Crossroads; or, Confidence and the Editing Process

I’m doing final edits on my forthcoming poetry book, The State She’s In, this week. Hard work, but fun, too.
We have a launch date for the poetry book: March 17th, with prelaunch copies available at AWP!
Awesome! Terrifying!
This poetry book, my fifth full-length collection, feels like a big one.
Everything feels momentous right now. Cusp, limen, hinge.
My cat Ursula isn’t interested. She alternately sits on my neck, so I can’t type this post, and bites my toes, so I can’t type this post.
When my daughter was applying for policy jobs in D.C., she felt anxious about it. Understandable, I thought–what a transition!–but I also admit I felt impatient. What would be the next step in her life, and therefore in mine?
When she started applying for teaching jobs instead, her anxiety shifted to excitement. (Oh, I thought: it wasn’t just anxiety before, but inner struggle over a deeper uncertainty.) This Thursday, exactly one week after submitting her first four teaching applications, everything clicked. She was hired by a progressive preschool, a place that seems like a great fit for her–to start five days later. Double yikes.
Follow the excitement is a pretty good life motto. It’s certainly a good way to write. If a project feels bogged down, I try to pivot, play around, think about what would make it fun again.
Paychecks are important; doing useful work in the world is important. But the biggest question on my mind (besides, um, can I really meet all my obligations this school year?) is: how can I make these sad, hard, exhausting, exciting, whirlwind changes also, somehow, fun?

Lesley Wheeler, Work: 25 notions & reveries

When in crisis, I’m especially thankful for poetry. Writing poetry helps me to sit with my emotions and accept them and mull them over in a way I don’t know that I would without poetry. To set that darkness echoing…

One of the hospital psychologists, on her rounds stopping by patient rooms to make sure the parents aren’t suicidal (I think that is the main goal of the screening), I told her a little bit about my feelings of anxiety, especially at night, my heart beating so fast and the breathlessness, and she reassures me how normal it is, and said that having my children must help me. I had not thought of that but they certainly do–when I’m taking care of my girls, it is just next thing to next thing, no time to sift around in the mucky waters on the edges of the nihilistic abyss I tend to skirt when..well when these hospitalized babies tend to happen.

When I do want to wade a little deeper, I feel like poetry is a good way to do it–sort of a rope around the waist you can use to pull yourself back out. Not that I write any of this to cause anyone to worry about me–if I weren’t writing about it, then that might be cause for worry. But writing about it, for me, is sorting through it, categorizing, turning it over in my hands. And when I do that I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Renee Emerson, writing through it

Tony Harrison wrote that in the silence that surrounds all poetry
articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting’  .
I believe articulation is healing, a way to atonement and to being able to forgive yourself. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Articulation can be confessional, too. You can’t change the past; ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ simply make you spiritually ill. We know this, rationally, consciously, but living by it needs help. Two poets have given me that help. Clare Shaw’s credo “I do not believe in silence” and her unwavering frank gaze at her history of self-harm, and psychological disturbance gave me courage. As did Kim Moore’s decision to use poetry to deal with her experience of domestic abuse. And, finally, one moment in a writing class that Kim was running that somehow unlocked suppressed and unarticulated belief, guilt, knowledge. I remember I wept silently all the time I was writing. It only lasted five minutes, that task. But an insight, an acknowledgement takes only a moment no matter how long the process that leads up to it. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine says Prospero at the end. I think I understand the release he must have felt in that split second.

John Foggin, A loss you can’t imagine: young men and suicide

O Death, I have loved you,
but I have not slept with you.
Were you hiding there,
In the shadows on the landing?

Navy blue sky,
tornado slithering toward her
like a shearing train.

Anne Higgins, Hurricane Coming

The morning after you left I drew
the curtains on the seven-acre field.

Two hares were bowling through the stubble,
wind-blown, skidding like broken wheels.

They danced and sprung apart and danced again
and then were gone, beyond the tidemark

of the tree line.

Dick Jones, THE TIES THAT BIND

A few weeks ago I started to write a post about my resolve not to purchase any more fancy journals, because they were becoming a barrier to my writing for various reasons. Then I thought, “Ms. Typist, get real. Nobody wants to hear your inane fancy-journal theories,” and I scrapped the post. I had bought a plain, lined school notebook some time ago that I’ve been scribbling in, and my no-fancy-journal will power has been strong….up until Friday. Friday destroyed my last shred of resolve. I shall explain: Every quarter, I have an all-day, off-site meeting with my colleagues at the other hospitals who do the same job that I do. There’s only four of us throughout the system, so we have to stick together. We take turns hosting these little shindigs, in which we get together and eat lunch and talk about…business things. And sometimes there is shopping for…business purposes. My colleague who set this one up arranged to have us go to a wholesale art and gift outlet in the depths of the industrial district that the owner agreed to open by appointment just for us. I’m not really a big shop-for-pleasure person, and I didn’t need anything, but I thought it would be fun to look at jewelry and art and pretty things. 

What I did not expect were three huge aisles dedicated entirely to—you guessed it–fancy journals. Beautiful, shiny, sleek, artistic journals, some with gold leafing, and all at wholesale prices. At first I thought I was having a near-death experience and had drifted into a custom-designed heaven. Then I was certain it was a trap. This is how they were going to get me. They would lure me into a fancy-journal paradise and then, while I was too entranced by embossed leather to notice my surroundings, they would put the hood over my head and haul me off. I was stunned. As my colleagues roamed the kitchen-supply and handbag areas, I remained in the fancy-journal section, poring over one gorgeously-designed book after another and fighting down the mild panic that arose from having too many choices. As a warning, I texted Mr. Typist and told him that I could not be held responsible for my actions.

Kristen McHenry, Fancy-Journal Heaven, My Pound of Bacon, 80’s Flashback

I folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat the way my mother did when I was a child. If I made two more folds it would have become a boat, but I stop at the hat, and I place it on my head. Once upon a time, I did this to please my mother, so that she would know that I learned from her. Years later, I wore the hat to make children laugh. Now? My mother is gone and so are the children. In the silence of the house I wear the foolish hat, a hat made of folded newspaper. No one sees, no one laughs. Outside, the sound of a blue jay. It is a lonely sound. 

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘I folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat’

We were children in the years of Sunday drives, burning fossil fuels to tour the countryside and leave the city’s skyline, obscured in puce-yellow, lead-bearing smog, for tree-lined back roads and a picnic lunch. Sometimes over bridge, sometimes under the Hudson. Each crossing tested our bravery: fear of heights, of darkness. We had a song for the bridge which we sang while watching cables’ span. We were too small to see out the windows down to sailboats and barge traffic. The tunnel had no song. We hunched in the backseat, held hands, squeezed shut our eyes, expecting to drown. On the curved ascent in New Jersey my sister chose the house she wanted to live in—many-dormered, stone, with a round tower, it jutted over Weehawken. Once we’d learned to read, we realized it was the town library, which suited her imagined lifestyle. She would choose that even today, retire to a library and work part-time in a bookshop. She imagines I will join here there, perhaps I might.

Ann E. Michael, Prose poem, memoir

The other day, clouds began dripping from the sky. So did golden drops of sunshine and birds in mid-flight. It was like that Dali painting, only more than melting clocks. Condos, markets, and palm trees puddled in the streets. Ditto with the Hollywood sign and Angelyne’s pink Corvette. Drip by drip, drop by drop, I collected up all the slippity slops of my city into nearby buckets. My city was deconstructing quicker than I could reconstruct it. I worked faster; tried putting Echo Park back where Echo Park belonged, Venice where Venice belonged. I worked long into the night, determined to get my city back to the way it looked in my mind.

Rich Ferguson, Dali, California

I’m just back from a few days in Spain with my family.  I felt bad about flying, even though I haven’t flown since I went to Portugal in 2015.  I will try not to fly again for at least a year, maybe longer.  I haven’t signed up for the #flightfree2020 pledge but I am thinking about it.  Generally I’m thinking more and more about climate change and trying to take steps to make my own small contributions.   As Greta Thunberg says “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference.

A turning point, for me, was attending the Ginkgo Prize readings last year at Poetry in Aldeburgh, followed by increased news coverage of our planet’s climate crisis, actions by Greta Thunberg, the Magma‘s Climate Change Issue and Carol Ann Duffy’s selection of poems for our vanishing insect world. Yes, all these small actions have impacted on me.

But apart from the guilt about flying, it was lovely to be with my husband, Andrew, and our two children who are now 20 and 18.  We are rarely together any more.  Our daughter is going into her final year at university this autumn and our son is starting in September.  We will be empty nesters.

I took the latest issue of Under the Radar magazine with me and found it an ideal poolside companion.  The magazine has had a makeover and it’s looking splendid.

Josephine Corcoran, Mid-September Notes

I also read three wonderful poetry collections this month. The first was Deborah L. Davitt’s The Gates of Never, a beautifully accessible collection of poetry that explores and blends history, mythology, and magic with science and science fiction. These poems morph between being moving, irreverent, and erotic — a great collection of work. (I interviewed Davitt for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I’ll be able to share soon.)

little ditch by Melissa Eleftherion and The Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning by Michelle Scalise are two stunning poetry chapbooks. little ditch looks at the intersections between the body and the natural world in order to examine issues surrounding sexual abuse, rape culture, and internalized misogyny. Dragonfly is a beautiful exploration of the horrors of mourning and childhood abuse.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: August 2019

Further to last week’s post in which I mentioned about intending to record a poem for the Belfast Poetry Jukebox, I did indeed record one of my poems. I found the quietest time to make the recording was at midnight and the quietest place was in my walk-in wardrobe with its door closed. The street I live on is perpetually busy so around midnight is the point at which there can be 5 minutes of silence without a car or van driving past.

Then my parents visited this weekend and I asked them to set my combi boiler to do heat as well as hot water. In doing so I scuppered any chance of making a recording with as-close-to-silent level of background noise as possible. Downstairs the freezer has a perpetual hum. Upstairs the combi boiler constantly hums. There is nowhere I can record where one of those hums does not appear on the recording. Applying a noise reduction filter works to a degree, but tends to deaden the vibrancy of the sound.

We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky,
and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye.
(from Stories of the Street by Leonard Cohen on AZ Lyrics)

So I’m going to try taking my recording out onto the street at midnight! I’ll be away from the humming and, if I don’t read too loudly, I shouldn’t wake the neighbours! Of course, Sod’s law says it’ll be raining so that’d scupper a silent background noise, but maybe the circumstances will come together :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry of the street

“Some beetle trilling its midnight utterance.” 

Beetle song opens Denise Levertov’s “Continuum,” a poem of late-summer return.  Returns can be precarious transitions…maybe you’re like me, having come back home with a certain euphoria, having recalibrated by quieting the melancholy news junkie part of self.  I’d been lucky enough to overhear in my own voice too much cynicism and slid off that lid.  In doing so, I unleashed a new creative flow.

Levertov continues:
I recall how each year/returning from voyages, flights/over sundown snowpeaks/cities crouched over darkening lakes/hamlets of wood and smoke, I feel…

Even the feeling part is confusing.  Does your whole self come back?  Does part of self get shut down amidst the weight of “reality?”  Is the conversation with self still audible? 

Using a September metaphor, strands of our reality seem to swing like hammacks strung between tall trees. One loose strand is the reality TV show of Donald Trump trying to steer weather according to his whims. Serena Williams as falling hero. There is real suffering in the catastrophe of the Bahamas which demands an open heart.  

How can we hold values of openness and maintain the pole of poetic value?  It’s a tricky challenge that requires ongoing practice and community involvements. I’d also posit querying and challenging the self — but don’t take my example of insomnia, with long sessions of inter-self conversation.

Jill Pearlman, Continuum

See how he keeps
pointing at things,
they say.

See how things
keep pointing back,
he responds.

It is not
enough to see,
he says.

We must also
be seen
to understand.

Tom Montag, SEEING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 34

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 bloggers returning from vacation, looking for ways to resume creative or other work, and reacting to the increasingly dire world news, among other things. And three or four people who haven’t blogged in a while were posting again, which is always a good sign.


I’m off in the Austrian Alps for a couple weeks on vacation. It’s beautiful. Before I left a number of people asked ‘where do you go on vacation when you live in paradise?’ I know Barcelona has a lot going for it but I am much more a mountain than a sea person. And any city eventually leaves you begging for a break. In the Alps, even when the slopes are slurried in cloud it looks like heaven. We rented a house in a quiet area with views in every direction. I wouldn’t call it a village, there are so few homes around. This morning there’s a thick fog that lets only the outline of trees and mountaintop show through, and it’s a mercy.

I’ve been reading Jeff Vandermeer’s “Borne,” but otherwise packed a pile of books I haven’t touched. With departure set for Friday, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Though I’ve left work-work behind, I’m trying to write an introduction for my book in the form of an artist’s statement. Help! And I’m trying to design the cover. It’s wonderful that I get to do it myself. I do hope it turns out alright.

Sarah Sloat, Merciful fog

Okay, I know I should have gone back to typing up my novel as soon as we got home, but coming back off holiday to sit down at the laptop … well, it just didn’t appeal. We’ve had a lovely time camping in Norfolk, avoiding most of the bad weather that has affected other areas, and dealing with it when it affected us! We don’t use a mobile. We don’t take the tablet or the laptop with us. We don’t have an electric hook-up. It’s back to basics and I love it.

So, on our return I was browsing through an old novel, looking for a phrase to kick start something, when I came across It was a strange collection. It seemed to take hold, but not in terms of generating new writing. Instead, it led me to create the mixed media piece above. Somehow, it’s so much easier to take time making beautiful things like this than to tackle the hard work of writing. Also, I know that when writing feels like hard work, it’s not usually very good. So, I’ll content myself with having created this assemblage over the last few days – and it has pretty much taken up every day, I can tell you. All the items I’ve used are found objects, and the tray is one I’ve recycled (and painted and collaged). Oh, the joy of small things! [Click through to view.]

Julie Mellor, It was a strange collection …

You mention that these are primarily hybrid pieces. How do you define hybrid writing? 

I think of hybrid writing as an octopus in a glass jar, it’s a piece of living lyric text temporarily housed in a trojan horse mechanic, borrowed from other modes of writing in order to surprise, or delight, or make the heart of the poem beat visibly. The octopus can unscrew the lid from the inside, so the reader knows the structure is only temporary. It’s a matter of how soon it will happen, how cleverly she maneuvers, how beautiful her escape. It’s a kind of transcendence.

How do you decide which form to use when you approach a new piece of poetry or prose?

Usually it’s a matter of noticing where the piece seems to want to go. It was easy with the Field Guides, because the structure helped highlight the very particular habitat where I grew up — not just the physical place, but the emotional/impossible to really catalog grandparentland. I naturally veer towards cataloging, even though I hated that part of library school. At the time I despaired of finding the right “weight” to give each subject heading, but the great thing about poetry is how much you can/should trust the reader to gather meaning. As with any poetic form, if the structure I’m using doesn’t add to the meaning of the poem, or is too distracting, I revise it back out. Sometimes I’ve put a piece in hybrid form, and realized it was more of a brain teaser than a poem. It’s like a dropped stitch in knitting. The whole thing has to be remade or the work could unravel.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Sarah Ann Winn on reclaimed fairy tales and the octopus in the jar

I’m drawing: small charcoals that would like to become big ones. This work feels like my bastion against what’s going on in the world: this week we’ve heard about an Icelandic funeral for their first glacier to disappear; the forest fires in Brazil, devastating the rain forest, the lungs of our planet; and the insulting suggestion of buying Greenland, which may in fact be exploited in the future by the U.S. or Russia. The heat and the extreme weather in many parts of the world this summer are part of all of this.

But underpinning these catastrophes are the male aggressiveness, bravado, greed, competitiveness, and desire for domination at all costs that have driven our world since the beginning. I feel like I’ve been in mourning all summer. In July I re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in which he despairs about the human carnage and destruction caused by the Napoleonic wars, showing us, through masterful depictions of human lives, how characters of differing personalities deal with being caught up in war. I followed that with Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay on Tolstoy’s theories of history, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” I’ve also been thinking deeply about the Iliad, and Susan Sontag’s essay about it titled “The Poem of Force,” as I draw and paint places where the ancient Greeks once lived. My thoughts are starting to coalesce.

Beth Adams, Nonviolence

Bolsonaro sets fire to us all and Koch is dead: Taiga,
my Taiga is burning bright. Here Trump calls himself
the King of the Jews and how I said it was coming—
so many of us said this was all coming. Memory slips,
and time, too: witches are not well-moored in time
and my mothers grieve their own slide while feeding me
steak I eat with full knowledge, tears pressing the back
of my throat. The Inquisition burns.

JJS, August 2019: burning

Like blood on the hands of a policeman, like the screams of a beaten prisoner; a cat cries out in the night. It is the sound of my life spreading out in the darkness. It is the sound that says, “Now. At last” I cannot swallow midnight with my mouth bound by a gag. I cannot breathe from behind this choke-hold. The cat cries out again and again. The night drags on like a jail sentence.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Like blood on the hands of a policeman’

In the depths of despair, it’s tempting to think of all the writing rejections as the whale that tells us that we’ve taken the wrong direction.  But the life of the prophet reminds us that failure is part of the process–and the life of Jonah reminds us that even when we get with the program, when people accept us, we might still pout.

Jungian psychologists would not be surprised by this process.  One of the ideas that I found most comforting from our recent journaling time is that our culture tells us that as we get older, life should get easier because we’ve got it all figured out–but that’s not the way it is at all.  Failure is part of the process.

To be called to be oneself in one’s historical moment is never easy–even though we look at the life of the great humans and think they always knew exactly where they were going.  But it’s the essential task of every human.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Whale and the Ticket

Drive all night if you need to across these united states of change. Never mind the speed or distance to get to where you’re going. Leave all hates, all seizing fears and sorrows in the rearview mirror. Pedal to the metal until everything is spiraling and miraculous, the whole of nature arranged in a brilliant golden ratio. When you reach sunrise, it’ll be as blazing and beautiful as a congregation of Mojave angels. Don’t let off the gas. Drive faster, abandon darkness, propel deeper into day. Quench your craving for light in the authentic air.

Rich Ferguson, United States of Change

Here is something I read in The Guardian: an article about the work of David Shariatmadari about language. The article said, summarizing some of what Shariatmadari is thinking: Language is “a medium that is formed as it is used…a road that is paved at the same time as we walk it.”

I think of the Antonio Machado quote: “Caminante, no hay camino,/se hace camino al andar” which I’ve seen translated in many wonderful ways, but is roughly, “Walker, there is no way, the way is made by walking.”

I write and in writing, if I’m open enough, I can learn what I’m thinking and why, and then I can write toward writing it. I speak and in speaking stumble over all the ways to miscommunicate, to hurt inadvertently, to confuse, to be thoughtless, or to be thoughtful, to be funny, insightful, or astoundingly dumb, and go on to speak again, ideally having learned something (to hold my tongue, perhaps). […]

I have a literary crush on Robert MacFarlane. His prose unscrolls and rolls in wonderful rhythms and sound. I am now reading The Old Ways, his book of walking ancient paths. Here he is thinking about the word landscape. “Landscape is still often understood as a noun connoting fixity, scenery, and immobile painterly decorum. I prefer to think of the word as a noun containing a hidden verb: landscape scapes, it is dynamic and commotion causing, it sculpts and shapes us not only over the courses of our lives but also instant by instant, incident by incident.”

Marilyn McCabe, Talk Amongst Yourselves; or, Language and Learning, Words and Way

Sudden hawk.
A universe

opens
in its flash.

Another
closes.

You hold
your breath.

Tom Montag, SUDDEN HAWK

I wasn’t expecting this to be the type of summer that got one big end-of-season post, but here we are. Even if one experiences a temporarily happy moment these days, coming to social media–and a shared news cycle–tells us that things are very much awry in the world, and in particular in the United States. How do we use these spaces we’ve created? For affirmation? For protest? For the quotidian? We struggle, in the moment, whether we should use them at all. Sometimes it is all we can do to shut up, and to take in the changing colors of the water around us. 

This was a small-scale summer, which I needed after beginning the year in Ireland. I traveled to Tampa for teaching; my husband and I did an overnight getaway to Charlottesville, stopping off to visit Virginia Center for Creative Arts in tandem; and I just returned from running a few seminars in Delaware, as part of the Lewes Creative Writers’ Conference. Otherwise I stayed very much anchored to home. […]

I’ve been planting things. That is partially a literal observation–I’ve redone all the succulents inside the house, and I’ve flipped many of the patio containers that get challenged by the brightest of suns and the strongest of winds and, on the 9th floor, a lack of natural pollinators. They are hanging in thanks to daily watering. 

The planting has been going on figuratively, too. I am leaving the summer with a nonfiction manuscript of lyric essays in hand, as the wheels turn on the next poetry collection. The fall is teeming with teaching responsibilities.

Sandra Beasley, August, August

I cannot recall ever assisting her with canning; but from the time I was a very small child, I would sit beside her on a wooden bench or chair and “help” her shell peas or snap the ends from green beans. I suppose I prattled to her, because I recall her distracted “Mmmm Hmmm” responses. After awhile, however, I’d get quiet and daydreamy just opening the green pods and slipping the fresh, round peas out with my finger over and over, listening to the plunk as they dropped into the bowl in my lap. It was soothing.
~
I remembered that long-ago activity today as I shelled black beans from their dry, tan husks: two or three pounds of them! My shelling created a crackly noise that intrigued our kitten, who has otherwise been drowsy from the heat. I’ve been freezing green beans, cooking tomato sauce, and harvesting pears and black beans for days in the humid August heat–but not non-stop (I have a day job, and the students have returned to campus!).

So for me, the potential boredom of the repetitive task gets replaced by a rather Zen attitude. Be here now, shelling the beans, stirring the pear butter. Appreciate bounty and what the earth has given us. Remember childhood. Daydream awhile. Think about poems.
~
In this case, repetition means abundance. New poems as autumn arrives.

Ann E. Michael, Repetition

I’m feeling a little guilty for not keeping up with this space, but now that I’m settled I have the time. So I’m planning on posting weekly. My guilt is outweighed by having an astounding spring book tour! I went to places I really wanted to go, and not a dud in the bunch. I had fun everywhere I went. There were a few venues not on the tour originally, such a a visit to Nigeria (!) and the Salem Poetry Seminar/Salem Arts Fest.

Reader, I have to tell you, I am shocked I was able to do so many events this spring. Couldn’t do it without lots of help at home, and two understanding children.

I said yes to almost everything. I made it work. 😉

This past weekend we were at the Mississippi Book Festival, and while my books never showed up, we had a terrific time at the event.

Now I’m at this residency for nine months, and next week teaching MFA students. This glorious, beautiful space. The hope is to have a book or two finished by the end of my time. I’m feeling quite lucky and blessed these little poems continue to take me where I least expect it.

January Gill O’Neil, Proof of Life

Summers are usually my time for letting work lie fallow. Summers are for hanging out with my kids. Summers are for family trips and family reunions. Summers are for swimming in really cold water. Summers are for campfires and marshmallows flaming at the end of pointy sticks.

Then, every year, inevitably, summer begins to draw to an end. Lately a few of my friends have remarked on their sense of fall already in the air, but this morning was the first morning I really noticed it for myself. It wasn’t raining this morning, the sky was blue. But there was a nip in the air. I turned on the heater in my cabin (just for a minute!) before I settled down to write. On my forest walk, I picked up a scarlet leaf.

This year is also, I remarked to my husband, the first late summer of many (since 1998!) that we have not been sending one of our own children off to school. No new paper or pens, no new backbacks, no pleading (from already fully kitted-out daughters) for “new school clothes.”

Maybe you’re the sort of person who greedily jumps straight back into a writing project, without hesitation. But if you, like me, have some difficulty re-entering a project (for me, it’s more like having to carve my own battering ram and then break down the door), here are 17 suggestions: [Click through to read them.]

Bethany Reid, 17 Ways to Break Back into Your Writing Project

Happy to have my new review of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s excellent and timely Tsunami vs the Fukushima 50 up at The Rumpus today. Check it out! Sneak peek:

“In Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50, a book that crackles with imaginative language and mythological retellings that represent real-life disaster, Roripaugh offers the audience a new way to think about nuclear and natural disasters and the remnants and ghosts that remain in their wake. Worth a close reading just for the sonic skills displayed, this book manages to weave a larger message for the reader inside poems that are at once playful, plaintive, and foreboding.”

[…]

The fun of having a kind of crappy immune system is that one day you feel fine – see above re: socializing, and the picture of me enjoying some sunshine and flowers at the edge of Lake Washington – and the next, you’ll have to cancel all your appointments and are forced to take some unexpected downtime and go to the doctor instead of doing something “useful.” That was the case for me this week when I caught one of the stomach bugs going around. Mostly it meant lying around groaning (I’m not good with stomach stuff, though I’m pretty tough at this point about most health things) and extra sleep while playing classic movies in the background (the news was much too terrible to contemplate even on a very empty stomach) and it reminded me again that we have to appreciate the good days when they happen, and be gentle on ourselves on the bad days. I used the downtime to order a new Yoko Ogawa novel and peruse some poetry journals which had been lying next to the bed, and decide to grade Audrey Hepburn movies from best to worst (My favorites remain Sabrina and Paris When It Sizzles because writer satire on the latter and Paris featuring in both, plus I would definitely date William Holden and marry Humphrey Bogart.) Funny Face is a distant third, only because Fred Astaire just didn’t seem to have good chemistry with Audrey, but at least it has some nice scenes in a bookstore.

Our society really pounds in the point that we’re only to be valued if we are of use, and that is a negative lesson. Human beings – including myself – have value even if they’re not being “productive” or “turning a profit” or “making widgets.” One thing poetry does is teach people to slow down and evaluate their world (and worldview.) If the news says the world is burning, it may be, and what does that mean? And what can we do about it? That’s why the kind of poetry book I reviewed (link at the beginning of the post) is important – not just that it examines a huge cultural and environmental catastrophe of our time, but that it really makes us thing hard about why these things happen and how we are involved. And maybe even more valuable than the things you plan to do is the unplanned downtime that gives you time to ponder. Even if that downtime is the kind that leaves you moaning in bed.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My New Review up on The Rumpus, Spending Time with Poet Friends, and Unexpected Downtime

In your last years
you joined the ranks
of little old ladies

who let the beauty shop
wash and style.
Like your mother used to.

I always thought
they needed the bowl dryers
to set their curls.

I never understood
it was because arms
couldn’t reach anymore, or

ports or open wounds
couldn’t safely handle
the sluice of a shower.

I’d give anything
to talk over the hum
of your blowdryer again.

Rachel Barenblat, Hair

leaning on his stick of sorrows
the shadow-man old as Earth
waits for the bus

listening to your ear
I hear rain creating a canopy
for Mendelssohn

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Midsummer Scene /Midsommerscene

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 33

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 saw an unusually small number of new posts in the Poetry Bloggers category of my Feedly, which I attribute to the end of summer vacation season and the already or imminent beginning of the academic year, with all the time commitments and stressors that implies. (Stress was, in fact, one of the themes in the poetry blogs.) That despite the fact that I’ve added two more blogs to my subscriptions—including Rich Ferguson’s, which I’ve quoted below—bringing the total to 126.

That got me thinking about which bloggers post most often, and whether they have anything in common. And I think they do. At least among the bloggers I follow, the ones who blog the most dependably, week after week or even day after day, are those who don’t limit themselves to writing about just poetry and the writing life, but who post about anything and everything… which makes me happy, because Via Negativa started out as just that sort of miscellaneous blog, too, and I think that the push to specialize is sometimes unfortunate. Though these days, I rarely post anything but erasure poems and these weekly round-ups. Which feels like enough. Better to save my brain farts for social media, humbled by the high quality of social commentary and essays from other poets in my feed.


It’s a bad idea to get into gardening if one happens to be someone who requires complete control of things. Nature’s behavior, it turns out, manages seldom to be controllable by human beings. One reason I enjoy gardening is the chance to keep trying a new approach, a new variety, a new method; if I cannot control the environment, I may at least find an adaptation that works for awhile.

Ann E. Michael, Agency

I am sitting on the ground weeding our tomato plants. I gratefully take refuge in useful tasks like gardening and cooking. Busy hands almost always un-busy my mind. But that’s not working for me right now.

Instead I’m thinking about several editing projects nearly due. I also need to plan a class, complete a volunteer training program, deal with a health insurance hassle, and prepare because we have nine people coming over for a meal tomorrow. Mental fuss is erasing me from the garden.

I take a deep breath, choosing to put myself right back where I am. That works. I hear birdsong, hear the plop of a frog in the pond. Soon I’m complimenting our plants on their sturdy stems and reveling in the breeze.

I learned the word eustress while researching my first book.  The term was created by adding the Greek prefix “eu” — meaning “good, healthy” to the word “stress,” It’s defined as a positive stress response, often generated by a demanding but worthwhile effort. Stress is inherent in growth-producing situations. We stress our bodies to reach greater levels of physical ability, breaking down muscle to build it stronger. We tear down old limitations when challenging ourselves to something hard for us like taking on a public speaking role, mastering a new job, or asserting ourselves in a tough situation. Stressors like these, even if we haven’t exactly welcomed them, help to strengthen us.

Laura Grace Weldon, Thank Eustress

Lots of stress on this bucket of bolts lately–family, health, and writing-related–but I’m tickled to report that my first poetry comic has been published by the gorgeously-redesigned Split Lip Magazine. My spouse Chris Gavaler and I created it a couple of years ago; he made the images and I wrote the words, although there was some cross-influence in revision, more or less as we’ve cross-influenced each other in life (“Go for it!”/ “Don’t wear that!”). To me, this comic is about a pretty-long-running partnership from a midlife perspective, very much inflected by the self-reassessment that happens when your kids grow up and move on (my daughter graduated in May and just returned home after a summer gig, and my son starts college in about 10 days). We’ve changed so much since we were undergrads together, and I love the way the images capture our disintegrations and haphazard rebuildings from odd materials at hand, bringing forward the idea of resourcefulness under constraint. Chris built these robots rather laboriously in an outmoded program; my constraints were spatial, meaning seven lines per poem, with the line-length controlled by panel-width and the letters of Chris’ homemade font. It’s so gratifying when you make something weird in a weird way, for fun, and other people like it enough to publish it!

Not much other luck in that department lately. Rejections are flying; I haven’t had a poem accepted in months. As I’ve said here before, though, I actually feel more philosophical about that since beginning to work on Shenandoah. You just have to keep trying, revising and targeting your work as intelligently as you can, but knowing there’s a heap of luck involved. Submission rates are very high, and chances of hitting the right reader in the right way at the right moment are low, so it’s a numbers game. I did some poetry revision/ submission work this week, though, and I’ll keep at it until the semester swallows me whole–I’ve also got essays to tweak and keep in circulation plus a difficult grant application to finish. The meetings and new-tech-training-sessions, all that late summer jazz, starts tomorrow.

Lesley Wheeler, Rusting robot poetics

As I was reading the e-mail, I thought about the familiarity of this language of rejection.  The language is so similar to the rejection letters I used to get back when I did my most aggressive job hunting.  It’s a version of “it’s not you, it’s me” that I first heard about in a Seinfeld episode.

In a way, the news is good.  My manuscript does stand out in a field of 400 manuscripts from poets who have yet to publish a first book.  I haven’t always gotten that feedback from earlier submission years.

Let me not spend too much time thinking about how many earlier submission years there have been.  Let me keep going with my plan:  to make judicious submissions, to contests where I see a judge who resonates with me or to contests where I’m supporting a press I believe in or to contests which give me a book in exchange for my submission.

Let me keep working on other projects too.  I’ve put together a new chapbook this year, and that process has made me feel hopeful too.

Next week, I want to put a plan into place that will lead to me work on my apocalyptic novel on a more regular basis.  I need to create that plan.

The weeks are zooming by.  I am astonished at how long I’ve been at this writing and publishing process.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Rejection Evening

How easy to live
in this reconfigured world:
an exchange of horizons,
alternative sunsets, a hill,
or no hill at all.

But easy too the swift
self-gathering into
one’s own shadow
on street, in hallway,
or on that same staircase
when tears reflux
without warning
and there is only
what was.

Dick Jones, JOY

A man might lose himself inside the blankets of his own life, go to sleep, and wake up one day as a dog, or a giraffe, or a wren. “What was my name, before, when I was a man? Or did I just dream it all?” He might think that as he moves through this new life, and the morning sunlight filters down through the green summer leaves of the trees.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘A man might lose himself…’

My head is, as expected filled with ideas after my Field Museum visit on Thursday, and I got started that very evening drafting bits of something that I think will be promising.   I initially went in with a vague idea of writing about extinction and dinosaurs and the earth over time, but of course got distracted by the birds (it happens) and then the maze of mammals, which had me mulling over taxidermy techniques and the work of diorama artists and the whole points of museums, the houses of the muses, and preservation, particularly when it comes to extinction (even our own).  And then of course, from my last visit, Audubon and his giant book.   And somehow, a kernel of sense-making came into being and I think I might have something. 

Kristy Bowen, extinction event

How freeing to discover the curious way French acquaintances and friends are judging the US.  Fortunately Trump is not sucking out all the oxygen.  While they despise him, they’re perplexed by this passing nightmare and don’t hold it against us.  They’re too sophisticated to think people are defined by government, or a job, or whatever.

The residual image I heard evoked is the North American sky.  Our big sky, our wide horizon that stretches imaginatively from one invisible pole to another.  The immensity of that sky, the cut-freeness makes them sigh. It signifies space apart from set patterns and expectations, from deep tradition.  These same people are staunchly defending their core French values – egalité, civility and decency. The sigh is about regimen, tradition, shuffling to the same beat. Americans might find it charming that everyone rushes to lunch at midi, less charming to sit in six hours of traffic crossing from Spain to France because everyone takes the same vacation schedule. That big open permissable sky is the one they talk of reverently and breathe deeply.

Baudelaire wrote a wonderful poem in which a stranger is asked what he loves: country, God, family.  He denies it all.  The only thing he loves are clouds.  That can’t take that away from him.   The stranger brings valuable vision and truth. As an antidote to the stifling weight of the US now, I’m bringing along the stranger’s vision of big clouds and big sky. 

Jill Pearlman, Cut Me Loose

How can we not value the gumbo of us, the jambalaya we are, chunky and piquant? Our language itself is a mongrel; or no, a palanquin, a vessel, a ship, a hammock. I can barely talk to you without calling down the whole array of immigrants to our shores, plus the people who were here when they got here.

Yes, English is a difficult language to rhyme in, with all its variety of endings, which is why poetry in English has long gone in different directions from the old endy-rhymey road, and American poetry has been perhaps particularly jittery and digressive, if also ahistorical and culture-centric. But also wide-armed and ribald and jazz-bit.

The diverse rabble of us elbow-jab and glare, and sigh together, and laugh, which itself is one language. Maybe laughter and music are the two things that will save this species from itself.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re the Salt in My Stew; or, Viva la difference; or, Diversity

Endless moments filled with meditators & road ragers. Dog walkers & streetwalkers. Depressives & dreamers. Picturesque bungalows & fruit vendors beneath rainbow umbrellas. Post-apocalyptic homeless encampments & Venice Beach mystics with eyes like cracked crystal balls. Days of gloriously rapped rhythms rising from low-riders. Money-grubbing landlords handing out eviction notices like they’re Mardi Gras beads. My city’s rhythm: a drumbeat in the skull. Pounding, pounding. Some driven to dance, while others barely manage to move forward.

Rich Ferguson, L.A.’s Tranquil & Turbulent Days

So the one thing I didn’t stop doing when I thought I was dying was writing. I’d finished the first draft of my sixth manuscript in six months. And I really didn’t stop doing most things – although  it was certainly interrupted by a lot of unpleasant tests – but I signed the mortgage on my house, I brought home my re-homed delinquent kitten Sylvia (who to this day I call my “cancer-curing” kitty.) Here she is posing with all my poetry books to date.

Then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent months learning to talk, walk, and swallow normally(ish) again after the damage the brain stem had sustained. This changed the book – it began to contain this disorientation, that I may have survived my cancer diagnosis, but now I had a different, incurable, debilitating disease. I lost words, often. But I still wrote. The book also contains documentation of the sheer weirdness of the weather and solar events of the past few years. It seemed like my body and the weather were misfiring at the same time.

Then, after Trump’s election, I felt an increased urgency – probably like many poets – to write poetry that was more political. For me, that meant writing about women that were survivors – and also women that had been oppressed, suppressed, raped, and literally burned at the stake – and what our future as women might look like. If women are going to survive the violence of men, we must change.  As I write this, by the way, the news is reporting a Bellingham college student murdered, shot by an ex-boyfriend in her home.  I continue to write poems. Writing under the stress of health issues, of the oppressive political climate, under the stress of  in the hopes that maybe these poems will make things better for others.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Plath Poetry Project Feature Today, Facebook Memories from Three Years Ago, Publishing and Writing Under Stress

I’m honored to have my poem “Other Ways” published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry for their Poets Resist feature. This poem, newly written, is my response to the mass shootings we’ve experienced here in the U.S. It was one of those poems I had to write to process my own disappointment and grief. I’m incredibly thankful to Glass Poets Resist editor Michael Carter for his quick response and acceptance and to friend and fellow poet Anthony Frame, whom I truly admire for his own poetry as well as his gracious support of poetry in general. I’m grateful for all the great work Glass and their staff do for their contributors and for the literary community. If you are not a frequent visitor to their site, I highly recommend you spend some of your screen time in their pages.

Glass’ Poets Resist is a current events poetry series, with guest editors, published by Glass Poetry Press as part of Glass: A Journal of Poetry. They are “looking for poems that reflect the immediacy of the world around us. . . . poems that are targeted, and unafraid. . . . poems that actively resist by condemning horrors and by celebrating collective strength. Engage. Write. Resist.”

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Other Ways” published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry–Poets Resist

Form in poetry is more than just meter, stanza, and line break. It’s also a way of thinking. It’s the direction, pace and energy of the poem, and one of the main ways a writer can direct the reader’s experience. And, at least in my way of understanding, it’s also not something that’s simply visible on the page or scannable across a line. Shape and structure is metaphysical as much as it’s physical.

And this all is a way into my idea that all poems are triangles. Poems are kinds of vessels of energy. You cram a bunch of things in one end (images, concepts, sounds, ideas) and something else emerges from the other. Like a triangle, poems have a wide end and a narrow end. From a content point of view, a poem can start with a small point (a particular image, moment, or idea) and then expand, the way an ant hill expands as it gets to the base. Or the poem can start out large, with a wide idea that that covers everything, then narrows to make a particularly sharp point at the end. Think of that as a large funnel you dump the poem into, and it comes out a small opening at the bottom.

Grant Clauser, Is a Poem a Sandwich if you Cut It Into Triangles?

The most recent poem I’m working on (or let’s be honest, thinking about working on but not actually writing) is about the knee. There are so many problems with everyone’s knees all of the time, sometimes to the point that they need to be replaced. The knees carry the largest burden of the body and they get injured easily and they’re generally poor abused bastards. The knees never get credit for their incredible feats of endurance, but they get a lot of blame for poor biomechanics and imbalances that aren’t their fault. In my ongoing efforts to put off the actual writing of this poem, I typed “the knee” into Duck Duck Go and was beset with numerous images, not of actual knees, but of knee-high boots. Some actual knees, but mostly knee-high boots. Beautiful, sassy boots. It made me really miss boots. I’m looking forward to the fall when I will be able to wear them again and will have an excuse to stock up on some nice suede lace-ups. This paragraph took an odd ADD-ish turn. My apologies.

Kristen McHenry, The Not-Yet Poem, Bullying the Body, Mini Book Review

Green air
beneath
empty sky.

August’s
promise
is not kept.

Shadows
leap at
silence.

Tom Montag, GREEN AIR

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 32

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 seemed to be channeling the general unease of the political moment and the restlessness of the soon-to-change season. There was an elegiac mood to many of the posts I read, but there were still flashes of humor, and as Sarah Stockton observed, creativity is a potent antidote to futility.


First was this from 1984: “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.” In 1984 not only is history rewritten daily but language itself is being narrowed, and as language narrowed, thought itself stultified. Thinking and language is, for us, our wag-tongued species, inextricable. “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”

I have always loved words, even as a little tiny kid would leaf through a book on the family shelf called How to Build a Better Vocabulary. Words were as magic as magic, and as delightful in the mouth as chocolate chip cookies, as cake with candles. And I can almost remember a visceral sense of my mind expanding as I encountered new words that struck me, words that opening up new worlds, new ways of thinking.

I just read Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks, a wonderful book about books and words, specifically words of regional dialect that describe things specific to regional experiences: how the fog creeps across the moor, the way certain rock formations sparkle, how the regular passage of a small animal through a hedge creates a hole. Worlds and worlds, words and worlds.

Marilyn McCabe, You Can Leave Your Hat On; or, Rethinking Writing and Editing

Shelter is always a two-way street, turning on the hinge of hospitality/prison.  In the ancient world, Greek hospitality served the purpose of putting the wandering stranger under control.  So it was in 1939 when the Spanish and Catalan Republicans fled Franco’s conquest and thought they were coming to a friendly country.  But the country wasn’t friendly.  It treated the wretched refugees whose numbers and socialist ideas were threatening, with lack of food, water and medical help.  So it was with Jews who thought they were fleeing from Germany and other countries to a safe zone, “free France.”  They were housed in Rivesaltes barracks “safely” until Vichy cut a deal with Nazis to keep their territory soldier free and delivered 2,251 Jews to Drancy and eventually to Auschwitz.  (Another half were helped to escape.)  Gypsies were brought from the north of France and detained as undesirables.  

The list goes on with successions of needs of a state’s questionable history – Algerians who fought for the French became hot potatoes, wanted nowhere, not thanked for their help, housed here until society repositioned them.

Rivesaltes also rings bells as the site of the Perignan airport – a small, Lego-like structure which is the windiest airport in France.  Riversaltes also the name of a wonderful sweet wine.  Oh, the multivalence of words!  Shelter, internment camps, hospitality centers, and all these hedgings speak of the uncertainties, fissures and failures of society to rest, humanely, with the familiar other. 

Jill Pearlman, Refugees: The Tragedy of Frenemies

“Admit that Mexico is your double, that she exists in the shadow of this country, that we are irrevocably tied to her. Gringo, accept the doppelganger in your psyche. By taking back your collective shadow the intracultural split will heal.” (page 108)

“This land was Mexican once/ was Indian always/ and is./ And will be again.” (page 113)

“So this is what happened to someone living at the border like me: My ancestors have always lived with the land here in Texas. My indigenous ancestors go back twenty to twenty-five thousand years and that is how old I am in this country. My Spanish ancestors have been in this land since the European takeover which pulled migration from Spain to Mexico. Texas was part of a Mexican state called Tamaulipas. And Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and part of California and Colorado, were part of the northern section of Mexico. It was almost half of Mexico that the U.S. cheated Mexico out of when they bought it by the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. By doing so they created the borderlands.” (Interview, page 274)

The above quotes are from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Fourth Edition. The book was first published in 1987; I encountered it a couple of years later, in graduate school, although I can no longer find my first copy. I’ve been meaning to reread it, because I’m advising a senior who wants to make it part of her thesis next year.

This was definitely the week. I’m sickened by U.S. gun violence and epidemic hatred without having a new or insightful word to say about them, but it felt just slightly sanity-restoring to spend time with Anzaldúa. After all, how can there be a “Hispanic invasion,” as the Texas shooter alleged, in a place to which the U.S. government has only the most recent and most dubious of many claims? Aside from the book’s reminders about history, it’s also big-hearted and wise and full of insights about language, culture, queerness, trauma, depression, artistic process, sacredness, and dreams. Plus, I loved remembering my twenty-something astonishment at its hybrid of prose and poetry: holy shit, you can do that?!

Lesley Wheeler, A slightly terrifying amount of reading

If you’re ever stuck for something to do with a damaged book, try cutting up some of the text and interspersing it with a couple of other sources to create a found poem. [Click through to view an example. —Dave]

Julie Mellor, The Observer’s Book of Birds

I’m re-sharing some of my collage poems from the recent past.  These were written for an Instagram competition (#aquietpassionpoetrycompetition) run by The Poetry School and Soda Pictures (‘A Quiet Passion’ was their biopic of Emily Dickinson released two years ago).  The judges stated that they wanted to see “poems which use the concentrated visual qualities of an Instagram post to deliver a punch as strong as an Emily Dickinson line.” [Click through to view the collages.]

Josephine Corcoran, Collage Poems

Years ago, my aunt gave me a stack of cool  victorian cabinet cards she’d been sent from relatives in Nebraska, where she and my mother were born. There were some young pics of my grandmother in the 20’s and 30’s among them, but most of the people were unrecognizeable and unknown..maybe a trace of resemblance at most–a set of brow, a curve of lip that echoed through my great grandmother, but little else.  She gave them to be to do “something artsy”  and they eventually, without their actual heads, became he unusual creatures pieces. At first,  I debated collageing on the photos themselves.  On one hand, it would ruin them. On the other, no one much cared, least of all my aunt..The originals, tucked somewhere in my studio even now, will one day be inconsequential to whoever stumbles across them. I wound up reproducing them on cardstock and then working with them.  But it scarce matters. Ultimately, they’ll ed up in the trash sooner or later.

The strange thing about being childless I suppose is knowing that my legacy, whatever that is, dies with me. Some day, I’ll grow old and die and people, probably strangers, will throw the bulk of my things in the trash –the poems, the artwork, the random bits of my life I’ve collected.  This makes me hurt. it makes me heavy in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. My dad & sister were pretty quick about dealing with my mother’s things after her death–alarmingly so, but it was probably necessary mental health-wise–the closet full of clothes, her jewelry box, a linen closet stuffed with half  burnt candles and semi-filled bottles of lotion.  Her presence is still very real in the house–the art she chose for the walls, the furniture, the photos, her dishes. .  But at the same time, she is also more absent–and in a way that has nothing to do with her physically missing.  But who can hold on to ghosts?  Or maybe ghosts are all we have?

Kristy Bowen, detritus

Not sure what I fear more:
that your house will feel the same
or that it won’t. The wheelchair
and hospital machines will be gone, but

the books in the library will still
be arranged by color, abstract
modern art constructed from their spines’
gradations. The heavy crystal bowls

of roasted nuts for cocktail hour
will still adorn the living room
where you used to hold court with
vodka soda and lime in hand, where

you let us take a family photo
that last Shabbat. I was shocked
you let us bring out the camera:
your hair was wild, unwashed.

You smiled as though nothing hurt.

Rachel Barenblat, Return

I said that her poem ‘unnerves and confronts’; I think I should qualify that. It’s not confrontational, it doesn’t insist. What Ann Gray does is to look unwaveringingly at her own trauma. There are three key verbs. I wanted. I was afraid. I watched. While she stands by the body of the man she loves the morgue attendant watched me through the window. He’s separated from the human story by glass, and by his bureaucratic routine that demands she uses the official, distancing, dehumanising formula
“He said take as long as you want, but he watched me
through a window and everything I wanted seemed
undignified and hopeless”
Meanwhile, what she ‘wants’ is to touch, and to touch passionately, but she’s afraid to hurt this man who can never hurt again. He’s gone, essentially, and separate. It makes me think of the agony of the dead miner’s wife in Lawrence’s ‘Odor of crysanthemums’. It’s this absolute honesty that told me I want to read and hear more and more of Ann Gray. So we will.

John Foggin, Poetry that really matters: Ann Gray (Part Two)

As writers, we are not limited by the boxes we fit into or those we don’t. The pot of opportunities does not have to be finite if we’re willing to push ourselves and try new things. More jobs can be created, more books published, more awards, grants and residencies offered if a greater interest is shown by poets, poetry readers and book buyers. If you don’t exactly fit the brief, be brave and try anyway. Always follow the guidelines and ask if you have any uncertainties, of course, but sometimes you might be the unexpected that gets noticed because you’ve approached things a little differently.

Gerry Stewart, Taking Yourself Out of the Box

Don’t build. Just find intact
(albeit cracked and leaky)
a house that’s there already,

one that’s rooted
firm and knows its skin;
that’s free of pain

and ghosts, with trees
and half-forgotten gardens,
mossy cold-frames, twisted

vines and sudden sundials
in the long, uncultivated
grass. Then let us blow

like puffball parachutes
in a random wind,
the achene fruit

that falls and germinates
when and where
it will.

Dick Jones, How to Build a School

You will study the maps,
make a plan, pack
the right clothes, only to find
yourself in a different country,
the one you didn’t know
you needed to explore.

It is here you find the answers
to the unspoken questions.
Here is the journal written
in a language you can’t understand.
Here the box of letters
written between two souls
you do not know.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer Publications

I took a bunch of pictures of roses at twilight with a flash, and got really interesting results. The best nature picture we got was this great blue heron at the penguin exhibit, and we got a flyby by a bald eagle on the way in to the zoo, too. There’s also a patch of wildflowers inside the raptor exhibit. We also had a close encounter in our own driveway with a great horned owl, which hooted at us with much urgency from a neighbor’s pine tree! Too bad no picture of that guy – it was definitely too dark by then. The garden smelled amazing at night – something beyond the roses must be a night-bloomer. The rose garden, usually almost done by August, was still in full bloom thanks to the little bits of rain we’ve gotten this August, in between the wildfire smoke and blazing hot days we’ve been having. Like the garden, in August, I’m definitely better at nighttime, out of the sun. Glenn always jokes that I’m really a vampire (I am allergic to garlic, the sun, and hate mornings) but there is something – biorhythms? poetness? – I am always at my best after dark.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry News in August, Fiolet & Wing and Poetry Prompts Contributor Copies, and Night Zoos, Birds, and Roses

Night. A waxing half-moon over the Sacramento Valley. 2 AM, nearly moonset. Somewhere close by, a great-horned owl announces its territory. Perhaps it is declaring its life, its joy, as in, “I’m here. I’m alive.” At my desk by the open window, I wait a moment, and the owl calls again. “I’m here, too, my friend.” I say it aloud in the dark room, but the words only fall to the floor and lay there like frightened puppies.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Night. A waxing half-moon over…’

Wagging is an art.
Dogs do it well with their tails.
You don’t have a tail, one would hope,
so a finger must do.
Wagging with any other
body part will get you in trouble.

And last but not least, what’s at stake.
Who gets the prize, takes
home the spoils, writes the poem.
Who’s crowned and whose
head must fall. Hint:
too often it’s one and the same.
In other words, you.

Romana Iorga, Finger-wagging

When I was younger I thought writer’s block was a lack of will, a kind of cowardice even, certainly my fault in some character defect kind of way. Now, after some long years of learning not to judge myself so hard, I experience writer’s block as something else- the body, mind and spirit telling me there is not enough, right now, to give. Just that. No judgement, no blame, just self-compassion, although there is still plenty of sorrow at times, and a kind of existential loneliness.

There’s another kind of writer’s block though: adversary-silencing.  This has its own pain scale, from Enthusiasm to Despair. Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring to silence the voices of compassion and kindness. The voices of vision and hope, of calls for reparation and change.  It’s shaming and discouraging and the most toxic of all, it can contribute to our own internal silencing. On days when I’m ok physically, I can still stop myself from writing a poem, or an essay, because who am I to say anything at all, or  it has all been said, or what I write will be wrong or worse of all, no one will ever care whether I write or not.  This is a mindset brought on by the assaultive effects of bullying, gaslighting, and fear. And the outcome is soul hurt and mental pain.

Yet, because at this point in my life I finally have the time, the means, and the luxury to spend my energy on more than the basics of survival (as so, so many do not), I must evolve beyond the comforts of privilege I might prefer to cling to. Push past the silencing effects of mental, physical, and emotional violence happening on so many levels in our country, in our world. Sometimes that means being justly and painfully held accountable for what I believe and say (thank you especially, wise millennials, for teaching me so much). We (and by we, I mostly mean white people) are rightly  being called to change at this crucial time in our human community. We all suffer when we let complacency or even despair, kill our gift of creativity.

Creativity, when practiced with a good heart, is a potent catalyst for change, no matter who is doing the work, or who the gatekeepers are, or who is sanctifying it. Creativity is a potent antidote to futility. That is something we can bring to the world, that is how we keep going, and that is how we can find a way to persevere and even to laugh sometimes in the face of the reductive absurdity of white privilege and fear; ours, or someone else’s. Creativity, at its best, seeks to alleviate suffering and to free all of us. So at least for today, I will take a minute to locate myself on the pain scale, even if I am so far up the scale that all I can do is think about what I might write if I had the energy to do so. Or perhaps I can’t think at all, but can just be a part of all creation. That’s ok too. I will at least try to remember to bow with respect to my own and the world’s beautiful and powerful resilience, and go on.

Sarah Stockton, The Energy Scale of Creativity

The blessing
of this poem,
he said, is

when it’s done
it stays done.

Tom Montag, THE BLESSING