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

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 29

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.

Summer reading, anyone? Ann Michael’s post on Aquinas and quantum physics sets the tone for this week’s selection, where bloggers consider social relationships, time, mortality, and being in the world. Enjoy.


Reality=relationship to others and the world. That’s a contemporary way of interpreting Aquinas. I’ve never before thought of myself as a Thomist, and the very idea makes me giggle. But as a writer, especially as a poet, the relationships and connections in the physical world are the stuff of metaphors that engage the conscious mind of abstract thought and help to put the poem across to other readers’ minds (thank you, Maryanne Wolf). Perhaps not so far from philosophy, or physics, or neurology, after all.

Ann E. Michael, Waves & relationships

i heart kit
In one of the countless late night feedings for Kit, I started daydreaming about a new writing project to spread CHD awareness and Kit’s story–so I started I Heart Kit, an instagram-poetry-blog about Kit’s fight against CHD.

I’ve always resisted sharing my poems online since I always hope to have them published in journals at some point, but lately I’ve felt frustrated with the slowness of that process and have realized that my target audience for these poems about CHD are not other poets or academics but other parents and heart warriors, those who are in the thick of it too. I want to share poems that will be read by the people they are written for; I want the poems to be read, in this desperate sort of way I want them to be related to, so I don’t feel so alone in all this.

Renee Emerson, i heart kit: a new writing project

Sometimes the news just silences me: children suffering in camps, the Justice Department refusing to seek justice after the killing of Eric Garner, racist tweets from the white-nationalist-in-chief. I make donations and sometimes participate in political action, but mostly I’m sitting around like Ursula, all ears and touchy whiskers, no words. I will say, having just heard members of the “Squad” on the radio explaining, with some exasperation, that they do not comprise a conspiracy: for years, if I stopped on campus to talk to a distinguished woman professional or two, or went out to lunch with those women, male professors and administrators passing by would, without fail, pause with looks of alarm or mock-alarm and exclaim, “Uh-oh, you’re plotting!” It’s interesting that strong women in conversation inspire such paranoia. Let’s keep being scary.

Here’s a scary poem, with thanks to the editors at Verse Daily and at the original publisher, Cimarron Review. It’s from a blizzard of sonnets that overcame me during the last presidential election, the best of which will be in my next poetry collection. Otherwise I’ve just had my head down lately, revising Poetry’s Possible Words and ticking down my to-do list: minor jobs under deadline (reviews of various kinds), and house and family chores. Self-care is on the list, too: continuing to negotiate health problems but also talking to friends, reading a ton, searching for fox-themed clothes I can wear when I have a fox-themed novel to read from…

Lesley Wheeler, Big-ears plots her escape

My Ex’s Father by James H. Duncan in Foliate Oak.
This poem is very much a character sketch by the poet of an older man. What I like about it is how James captures the yin and yang of the subject’s personality, how he shakes up people’s assumptions of Republicans or older men. It reminds us that there are no cookie cutter humans.
“he bought weed off my friends
but voted Republican and traveled
with Phish and would ask me
to drive him to the supermarket
sipping a Corona in the passenger seat”

We are Mostly Merciful by Kimberly Grey in Kenyon Review.
I love the hopefulness, the kindness in this poem. Sometimes I despair of hope in contemporary poetry in today’s political and social climate.
“I rehearsed it all night—the absence of mercy,
as a condition to you who said
when I am in the same room as your body I am
        in a different room.
 There’s nothing exquisite
about lashing a thing unless the thing is blazon with want.”

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite #Poetry, Second Quarter

I say attack, but I’m trying to mean feast. I had nurtured ideas that I might be able to harvest my tiny crop of rye and make something of it. I could cook the berries like rice, or grind them into some trace amount of flour to use in muffin. Now, that looks unlikely. By the time it’s ready, it will be gone. But it seems I’m pleasing my uninvited guest.

It’s got me thinking about what we feed and what feeds us. When you’re in your day, how do you nourish your writing? And how does it nourish you? The rye patch reminds me to make better choices, to feed and be fed by what’s important to me.

And to take time to enjoy the few stalks left.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day fourteen, what feed us

With age comes impermanence. It’s always there, of course, but back then it’s a football team’s trajectory of success, the potted plant that you want to make it past autumn, your child’s delight in things that are not of this world. Now it’s everything bound by time.

Dick Jones, CALLING TIME

1969 and I’m serving drinks
at the Country Club,
so glad to be 21 and able to serve drinks.
The golfers at the bar stare with wild white eyeballs
at the tiny moonman in his white spacesuit
moving jerkily on the cratered surface
faceless, the glass in his helmet shining back
the distant earth
and I notice it without much excitement,
immersed as I am in being 21 years old,
thinking this will happen a lot
from now on.
In my dreams.

Anne Higgins, Everyone’s Gone to the Moon

Every day I walked along the shore, watching the fish in the still edges of the water, making a mental note of the plants in bloom. I was both in the present moment, and remembering being in these exact places at different stages of my life, alone or with people who are now gone or far away.  There’s a stone wall that my father built along the shoreline, and one place in particular where I always liked to sit. I thought about fishing there with my mother, and swimming with friends and cousins; I saw myself at seventeen, filled with romantic dreams, waiting for my boyfriend to come driving around the lake to see me late at night. I thought of standing in that spot throwing stones out into the water, as far as I could, the day we buried my grandfather.

Beth Adams, Drawing Our Past and Present

There was a moment last night when I said, “How could I have accomplished so little this week-end?”  It was after I watched the latest remake of A Star is Born, which so many people loved, but I did not, so I was ripe for feelings of regret.

This morning I tallied my word count for Saturday and Sunday:  2, 147 new words written on my apocalyptic thriller.  So why would I feel that I had accomplished nothing?

As I washed my grandmother’s mixing bowl by hand (after making gluten free communion bread–there must be a poem here), it came to me.  What I really mean:  “Another week-end seems to be zipping by, and I still haven’t sorted any of the boxes in the cottage.”

Once, as long as I was getting the artistic work done, I wouldn’t have cared, and I’m still not sure I do care.  It’s interesting, though, how that socialization has taken root in me.  If I’ve had time to watch movies, I should have made time to get some real work done, the less pleasurable kind.

We also watched Blackkklansman, which I thought was profoundly interesting as a work of art.  If we had just stopped with that movie, would I have felt as much like a slacker?

I meant to get more wash done.  I did get some of the remaining stuff out of the cottage refrigerator, some cans of soda and a pitcher of tea that I had moved out there for the camp counselors.  Why doesn’t that work feel important?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Graham Greene Meets Margaret Atwood Meets Octavia Butler

I was so excited to be able to attend a poetry reading at the new Hugo House where Dana Levin (one of my long-time favorite poets) and one of her friends/former students, Natalie Scenters-Zapico (who recently moved to the area.) I’m still not used to the starkness of the new Hugo House – hang some art, people! It would really improve the space – and the absence of places to sit and socialize (the old Hugo House had little tables clustered around the bar, which the new one lacks) and the lighting is still not very flattering. But I loved seeing these two poets read. Natalie read from her new book, Lima :: Limón, and Dana read some apocalyptic poems from Banana Palace as well as some new work. Overall an inspiring night of poetry!

One of the results of all this celebration is I am much more tired than usual and needing to sleep in more than usual. The combo of MS and anemia (yes, I’m taking iron and b12 supplements religiously) can really take the wind out of your sails. But the summer has been mild here – even, some might say, gloomy! It’s raining right now. But I like having a break from soaring temps and high sun. I can walk around my garden (and the surrounding gardens Woodinville has) without worrying about feeling beaten up afterward. I saw a family of deer with two fans and a plethora of rabbits on my street. And did I mention I’ve had two bobcat visits to my back porch (caught by my Ring) this week? So, even though I’ve felt a little discouraged poetry-wise (I even took a week or two off from submitting, I felt so bombarded with rejections) I feel that nature has been extra kind to me this July. Sometimes it’s okay to take a break and just read and write and recharge your batteries – and the rain gives us the perfect excuse to spend a little extra time at the library or bookstore. Wishing you a little time to recharge and some good news in your Inbox (and maybe a bobcat visit!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “How Not to Die” in Eye to the Telescope, a New Review of The Tradition in Barrelhouse, a Poetry Reading and Birds, Butterflies, and Birthdays

This month, I am working on rounding out my artist statement series, which is turning out to be delightfully meta as one would expect.  My fave part so far is  this bit:

“The poem won’t shut up until you take it home. Until you shove it beneath the bathtub’s surface a few times for effect.  Neglect is the poem’s best weapon. All night, it will moan and pretend it’s coming, but by morning will be nothing but a few strands of hair on the pillow you used to smother it.” 

Once that series winds down at the end of this month..I intend to do some more work on my woefully neglected unusual creatures project.

Kristy Bowen, writing & art bits | july edition

The following is a day-by-day log of my progress and thoughts throughout last week, as I completed an “Artist Residency in Motherhood” with my colleague at Stuffolk, and frequent collaborator (in teaching and in art), visual artist Meredith Starr. During the week I worked on revising a poetry manuscript and finishing one of my plays. M.S. has a year-long painting project she’s been working on, and she spent the week catching up/getting back on track with that series. […]

We reserved a small studio apartment in downtown Patchogue via AirBnB, not far from the camp where my three kids (and one of M.S.’s) were enrolled for the week. Each morning we dropped them off at 9 and then drove 5 minutes to the apartment. We’d spend a few minutes catching up and talking about our goals for the day while setting up (painting supplies for M.S.; laptop and notebooks and drafts for me), and then we’d get to work. We worked more or less without speaking, but we did listen to music — something I don’t normally do while writing in a private space, but which isn’t too distracting when I’m writing prose. (I can find it very difficult while writing poetry — if I do it has to be some kind of song on repeat, where the music is soothing but the lyrics kind of dissolve and become nonsensical with the repetition). We’d stop for a half hour or so for lunch around 12:30 or 1 p.m., and then resume until about 3:30, when we had to clean/pack/organize ourselves for the next day and then drive back to pick up the kids at 4.

For us both, it was a transformative and exceptionally productive week. We’re wondering why we never thought to do this sooner. It seems so foolish to have never attempted anything like this. I mean, one applies to formal residencies and writing retreats because one requires the time and space to create, but also because — when you are awarded one — they grant you also a certain amount of prestige. Prestige & acknowledgment is wonderful — I’m not knocking it — but the real point is to write: To work earnestly and productively and with relatively little distraction. So if you find yourself closed out/rejected by those formal residencies — they are so competitive, especially the ones for parents that either grant childcare or are more amenable to parents, requiring one or two weeks away, and not one or two months) — I highly recommend this workaround.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Artist Residency in Motherhood 2019

I admire the impulse behind anthologies, and from far off, admire the many ways writers creatively tackle a subject and form. But just like department stores, fabric stores, bookstores, and library shelves, I get easily overwhelmed. A collection of essays by one person, or a book of poems, has that authorial eye/voice to connect them all. An anthology is a flower collection, one of those massive English gardens, or the gardens at Versailles where we finally flung ourselves to the ground near the little lake and watched, slack-mouthed from overstimulation, the clouds pass by.

Marilyn McCabe, Great Balls of Fire; or, A Spillage of Essays

A hot day in the valley. The sun shines on our noses and our necks. Children in the parks, the sun is also upon their flesh. An old dog sleeps in the sunshine, a young one in the shade.

Our noses tell us someone is barbecuing meat. From behind a nearby house smoke rises in a thin line.

We are walking, with every step our shoes caress the broken sidewalk. An old song comes to mind and when we are sure we are alone we begin to sing aloud.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘A hot day in the valley.’

The old man
dances on gravel,

smoothing it
where flooding

washed out
the driveway.

He doesn’t
know anyone

is watching.
His dancing

settles the world
anyway.

Tom Montag, The Old Man

Latissimus Dorsi

The word latissimus dorsi (plural: latissimi dorsi) comes from Latin and means “broadest muscle of the back”, from “latissimus” (Latin: broadest)’ and “dorsum” (Latin: back).–Wikipedia

Stupendous
wings of the body, rise
and close into the pillar of my spine.
Kin of herons, steadfast
guardian, I grant you
effort and form,
resistance and motion,
breath and blood
in this sacred and scared and burning body, this
body luminous with eloquent hungers, this
body attendant to its million tides, this
body with its enduring arch of bone, this
body of precise and reverent failures.

In love, raise
my long arms in worship and receiving.
In strength, pull
earthward every blessing.

Kristen McHenry, Friends with Lats, Accidental Healing, A New Poem

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 28

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.

After a bit of a lull last week, poetry bloggers are back in force, with posts about place and nature, memoir, parenting, judging poetry contests, working for a publisher, the ins and outs of self-publishing, and much more.


The term topophilia was coined by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan of the University of Wisconsin and is defined as the affective bond with one’s environment—a person’s mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place.

This feeling arose in me recently on a trip to New Mexico. The place in mind and heart is Ghost Ranch, which most people associate with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe–her house and studio are there (and are now a museum). But my association began before I knew of O’Keeffe; I was eleven years old, and the ranch was journey’s end of a long family road trip west.

The summer days I spent there somehow lodged inside me with a sense of place–and space–that felt secure and comforting, despite the strangeness of the high desert environment to a child whose summers generally featured fireflies, long grass, cornfields, and leafy suburban streets. Ghost Ranch embraced me with its mesas curving around the flat, open scrubby meadow where the corral block houses sat. Chimney Rock watched over me. Pedernal loomed mysteriously in the deep, blue-purple distance. I still cannot explain why the place felt, and still feels, like a second home to me. If I believed in the existence of past lives, I would say I had lived there before. Topophilia.

Ann E. Michael, Topophilia

I’m really happy to be in issue 44 of Brittle Star, with a piece of semi-autobiographical prose that is ostensibly about walking, but also examines my relationship, as a poet,  with the place I live.  Like many writers, I find walking beneficial, although I tend not to write whilst walking. At the moment, it wouldn’t help anyway because the novel I’m working on is set elsewhere, a fictional South American country devastated by pollution (which is about as far as possible from the South Yorkshire market town where I live).

Yesterday, I read a couple of poems on the theme of trees as part of the Urban Forest festival in Sheffield. This also involved walking, well, more of a saunter to be honest, interspersed with readings from a group of Sheffield-based poets. It’s been three years since I took part in the original event, and I was worried that the poem I wrote for the Urban Forest anthology might not be any good. Fortunately, when I reread it I was happy with it. What’s really unnerving is the surprise I felt at that.

Julie Mellor (untitled post)

Now some of the rye is falling over, and some of it has aphids. The seamy, seedy (!) side of the patch. But this evening, I spotted one ladybug, a small red gem.

And that is my reward for close attention. I’ve been reading about how close attention can lead to reverie. In my case, I’m hoping for stronger, more startling metaphors. In the meantime, I get practice looking, and the joy, occasionally, of seeing.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Days eleven, twelve, and thirteen

The pavement ends, but the road continues. Keep going. Hot summer sun. Ruts in the dirt, left there by wheels on the rainy days. Holes and low spots. Keep going. No breeze at all, no clouds. The road ends at a trailhead. A path through tall, dead weeds. Keep going.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘The pavement ends, but the road..’

So I took the kids to a family retreat at a Zen monastery. The monks and nuns organized the children by age group, and the kids were quickly all in: The 12 year old was shooing me away right after orientation and by the second day the 18 year old was asking when she could come back. Meanwhile I meditated, and talked with people, and enjoyed some silence and a lot of mindfulness bells. One evening we all walked up a big hill to eat veggie burgers and watch what turned out to be one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve ever seen. And then turning around, we noticed that the sunset was accompanied by a simultaneous double rainbow in the opposite direction. The hills and rocks were painted all over with deep red light. Above us, the indigo sky on the verge of becoming the blackness of space. The universe puts on the most amazing show, and sometimes we are in the right place, at just the right time, to notice it.

rotating planet ::
a million perfect sunsets at every instant

D. F. Tweney (untitled haibun)

I think it’s easy, when you have MS, to not go out in nature as often because it takes some advance planning and some help. But for me it’s worth the effort. Being in the woods brings me more clarity. I like taking time off from technology for a bit and thinking about life and milestones around a roaring river and old trees. It’s a great place for deep thoughts. There’s no way you can’t feel happier around trees and waterfalls. It’s a fact. It’s the kind of place where you start bursting into song like a freaking Disney princess.

So, all in all, an inspiring and romantic escape in between the rain that’s been surprising newcomers to Seattle (in the old days, July was always a little dreary.) I was happy I could still get into the forest and fields of flowers and the various waterfalls and celebrate 25 years of marriage in a fantastic setting. The night we stayed over, the moon glowed a pinkish orange, and it set at about 1 in the morning, and we watched it go down, and the stars were so bright. Pretty magical.  I’m lucky to be married to someone I’m still happy to be around after 25 years, in a place that’s filled with some of the best scenery in the world. So I’ve had some health issues recently, and I’ve felt a little discouraged about PoetryWorld, but I can’t deny feeling a little sunnier and a little more hopeful. I’ll have to rest for a day after all this activity, but it will have been worth it, and I feel I’m leaving the forest with more perspective.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A 25th Anniversary with Waterfalls and Mountains and How MS Can Limit Your Hiking (But Not Your Love of Nature)

How do the
locusts count
to seventeen

in their long
darkness of
waiting? Why

do they sing
all summer
in their time?

What does their
pregnant silence
mean in other

years? What else
am I not
meant to know?

Tom Montag, THE LOCUSTS

I don’t know why, but I never really accepted the fact that poets had stories to tell. 

I think of world travelers with unique experiences having stories to tell. Or, persons who have survived some illness or torture, or with some remarkable life discovery having a story to tell. I think it all boils down to is this a story worthy of being heard? Sometimes I think about memoirs that I have read that had very dysfunctional people in them. I think about what caused me to consider such a story worthy of being told, of being read.  I don’t think we always can know what another will be interested in, but if we write, and write with a creative flair that makes what we say interesting.  Sylvia Plath used to say that everything was writable. 

What I wonder today, is what stories that are waiting to be told at our southern border? What stories need to be told? Who will step up and fill this need? I confess that I think about this and it troubles me.  [long pause for reflection here]

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Poem finds Home Edition

I’ve only got one month in the office before I start grad school, after which I will be a full time student and that will be my only job for the next ten months. I don’t yet know what my school schedule will be so I can’t really plan my day – when I’ll exercise, when I’ll write, when I’ll study. Apparently the first week of August, the first week of classes, I’ll get everything necessary for the semester: books, schedule, etc. For someone with a Type A personality, not knowing it’s driving me insane. Because I have to plan, because I need to know what my schedule will look like, because I’m working on a new writing project that is unlike anything I’ve ever undertaken and it’s exhilarating and terrifying: friends, I’m writing creative nonfiction. And while I’m not quite ready to call it a memoir, it looks something like a memoir.

The idea had been ruminating for a while in my brain and I kept ignoring it and pushing it aside. I’m a poet, I don’t know anything about writing full pages, about writing paragraphs, about full sentences and dialogue and moving a story forward. But it wouldn’t go away and it kept popping into my head, lines writing themselves as I was walking Piper or working out or just sitting in the backyard, drinking wine. And so I gave in and started writing.

Thus far the words have come fast and furious. For someone who writes poems that rarely exceed one page, writing 3,000 words the first night I sat down was a surreal and bizarre feeling. But also an amazing one.

Courtney LeBlanc, Something New

Rob Taylor: Your debut poetry collection, Fresh Pack of Smokes (Nightwood Editions), is described by your publisher as a book exploring your years “living a transient life that included time spent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as a bonafide drug addict” in which you “write plainly about violence, drug use, and sex work.” From that description, and from the raw honesty of the poems themselves, it feels like a memoir-in-verse. Do you think of it in that way: as a memoir as opposed to something more creatively detached from you? Is the distinction important to you?

Cassandra Blanchard: I have written poetry since I was a young teenager and it is a medium that I am very comfortable with. It is also the best way in which I express my feelings and experiences. As for Fresh Pack of Smokes, I would say that it is a creative memoir. I write of my life experiences like a memoir but in a creative form. I would also say that this book has been a cathartic process for me, something that releases all the pent-up emotion. So it is a mix between creativity and memoir, though it is all nonfiction.

Rob: Yes, you can absolutely feel the pent-up energy being released in so many of these poems. You mention that you’ve written poetry since a young age. Is that why you turned to poetry instead of a more traditional prose memoir?

Cassandra: I didn’t start with the intention of doing a traditional memoir. I didn’t even really think that much about how these poems would fit within the definition of a memoir itself. I wanted to make a record of what happened to me and poetry was the easiest way to do that. I also thought it would be more interesting for the reader to read poems than straight-up prose.

I was drawn to poetry as a means of communicating my story because it was the best way for me to express myself. As I went along, I found that it was also the best way to lay out descriptions of events, people, and locations. The poems are basically one long sentence and I find this captures the reader better than the traditional form.

Rob Taylor, Therapy for me and an education for others: “Fresh Packs of Smokes” by Cassandra Blanchard

I was barely aware of David Constantine until about four years ago. It seems to me now like being unaware of, say, Geoffrey Hill or Tony Harrison. How did it happen?…perhaps because despite being a much-acclaimed translator, the co-editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, and author of the stunning Bloodaxe Collected Poems, he attracts no controversy, his work is crafted, elegant, and educated (as well as passionate, humane, and given to wearing its heart on its sleeve). In short, he is not fashionable. For me, he sits alongside Harrison, Fanthorpe, Causley and MacCaig; but apart from Kim Moore in one of her blog posts, no one had ever said to me have you read x or y by David Constantine?  So I’m taking a punt on some of you out there, like me, not knowing, and I’m hoping that after you’ve read this, you, like me, will want to rush out and buy his Collected Poems.

I met him by accident at a reading/party for the 30thbirthday of The Poetry Business at Dean Clough in Halifax. I was reading from my new first collection and David was top of the bill.

It was wonderful. He reads apparently effortlessly, he reads the meaning of the words, so it sounds like unrehearsed speech until you become aware of the patterning of rhythm, of rhyme, the lovely craftedness of it. I bought his Collected Poems (more than embarassed to find it was £12 and my collection was £9.95. Jeepers) and once I’d finished a year of reading Fanthorpe, I spent a year of reading David’s poems, three or four every morning, listening to the work of words, the deft management of unobtrusive rhyme and assonance, relishing the huge range of reference, the lightly-worn scholarship, the management of voices.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: David Constantine

The morning is yielding
its foggy pastels to brighter
                                        tempera.  Soon,
I will slip into familiar skin,
utter the names
                         of these almost forgotten
alleys of veins and arteries,
learn to inhabit again
             the labyrinth of my body.

Romana Iorga, Minotaur

4. I started playing around with writing poems again but I don’t know if my ideas will work out or not. My ideas are about the body, but in a much different way that I’ve written about it in the past, and I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. I want to write about the body from the point of view of strength and power, mastery and discipline, grace and balance, joy and gratitude, ownership and inhabiting, rather than the body as enemy, the body as victim, the body as a burden, the body as wounded. I may be able to do this, but then again I may not.

5. I awoke in the night with a very sad memory that I’m not sure is a real memory or not. I recalled being in fifth grade, very tall and very skinny. I was all alone on a basketball court, practicing shooting baskets. I was wearing a beige sweater, and I felt excruciatingly lonely. I think the strength training is jarring loose some old pain around my life-long sense of physical failure.

6. I quit eating dairy some time ago and over all, I feel much better for it. I didn’t feel like mentioning it because there is nothing more boring than listening to someone go on and on about their personal dietary decisions, and I feel no need to proselytize about it. It was a good decision for me personally, that’s all. The only drawback is that I do really miss fancy cheese. I have to deliberately not look at it in the grocery store or I get sad.

7. The reason I haven’t written about poetry much is because the only poet I want to read lately is Wallace Stevens. I bought an anthology of his in Sitka years ago and I’ve been reading it every day and it’s astounding and I’ve come to realize that he’s a genius and that he has bumped Anne Sexton from the top spot of my favorite poets. However, I have taken breaks to read the new anthology from Rose Alley Press, “Footbridge Over the Falls,” and you should get it and read it too as it is full of excellent-ness: http://www.rosealleypress.com/works/horowitz/footbridge/

Kristen McHenry, A Full List of Things I Haven’t Really Wanted to Talk About

Research is always about a question, sometimes posed in different ways or approached from various routes. And this too is poetry. Some of the poems I’m editing are interesting but lack a central question. This is what can come of writing from the middle of research — one feels briefly as if one knows something! But to reach back into the central question is essential to make art. Art comes out of the not-knowing, the search. Otherwise, you’re just presenting an academic theory.

There’s a local man who makes hundreds of paintings of local landmarks. They’re okay, in that they have some personality to them and a signature style. But there is no mystery, somehow, no way in which the artist is admitting he doesn’t know something about his subject matter. I’m not even sure what I mean by that. I just know there’s a blandness to the presentation such that I’m fine with looking at it once, but it’s not something I’ll bother to look at again. In contrast, I have a landscape hanging on my wall that I look at often. I’ll find a new streak of color I haven’t noticed before, or haven’t admired in a while. I’ll enjoy anew the shadowed trees, a smear of light on the pond edge.

Marilyn McCabe, What’s Love Got To Do With It?; or, Art and the Question

How did my daughters get so old?

Today my twins–Pearl and Annie–those tiny babies that we brought home in 1993–turn 26.

I have been reading old notebooks that I scribbled in when they were much younger (playing soccer, needing rides to friends’ houses and to the swimming pool), and I found this passage from the introduction to Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop:

Poetry, in the end, is a spiritual endeavor. Though there is plenty of room to be playful and silly, there is much less room to be false, self-righteous, or small-minded. To write poetry is to perform an act of homage and celebration–even if one’s poems are full of rage, lamentation and despair. To write poetry of a higher order demands that we excise from our lives as much as we can that is petty and meretricious and that we open our hearts to the suffering of this world, imbuing our art with as luminous and compassionate a spirit as we can.

You could substitute parenting–and though I wish I could deny the moments of rage, lamentation and despair, there they are, inked across the pages of my notebooks. So, with my apologies to Kowit:

Parenting, in the end, is a spiritual endeavor. Though there is plenty of room to be playful and silly, there is much less room to be false, self-righteous, or small minded. To be a mother or a father is to perform an act of homage and celebration–even if one’s family life is sometimes buffeted by rage, lamentation and despair. To parent in this higher way demands that we excise from our lives as much as we can that is petty and meretricious and that we open our hearts to the suffering of this world, imbuing our interactions with our children with as luminous and compassionate a spirit as we can.

Bethany Reid, Luminous and Compassionate: Good Goals

“Watch this, Mom, watch me.”
My son jumps into the pool,
surfacing to ask “was that

a perfect pencil dive?” Or
“look at this, do I look
like a dolphin,” wiggling

through the water, “or more
like a whale?” breaching
and landing with a splash.

If I don’t witness, it’s
as though it didn’t happen.

Rachel Barenblat, Watch me

On the first day of my two-week placement with Seren, I was asked to read Erato, the new poetry collection by Deryn Rees-Jones.

“Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song?” (from the Seren website)

That sounds like a cushy number, doesn’t it! Sit down at your desk, read a book of poetry and then go home and get paid for it! well, there was slightly more to it than that! I was asked to draft some questions for Deryn to answer on the Seren blog once Erato had been published. I was a bit bewildered by this task. Similar blog posts relating to collections by other poets, such as one with Jonathan Edwards on 1 January 2019, which followed the publication of his new collection, Jenn, showed that knowing Jonathan’s previous collection, the Costa Prize-winning My Family and Other Superheroes informed the questions asked in the interview for Jenn. How should I approach interviewing Deryn without having read her previous four collections?

I drew on my previous experience of interviewing musicians and bands for two years on the magazine Splinter, which I co-founded, and another two years doing so for Atlanta Music Guide when I lived in Atlanta. It’s been thirteen years since Splinter and eight since Atlanta Music Guide so I worried I might be a bit rusty! I didn’t get any feedback on my draft questions so figured Seren would salvage whatever they could and probably write most of it themselves. I wasn’t really expecting to hear anything more.

I subscribe to the Seren email newsletter and noticed a link this week to Erato, an Interview with Deryn Rees-Jones and my heart hop, skip and jumped! Should I prepare to sigh or sing?

The interview posted on the Seren blog is my exact interview! There are a couple of minor edits when I’d used I and it had been changed to we, which is a perfect example of my rustiness, and the penultimate question wasn’t one of mine but, other than that, the interview is exactly as I wrote it on Monday 20th May.

I’m really grateful to Mick Felton and the small team at Seren for making me so welcome. Mick acted as sighted guide between my Air BnB place to the Seren office each morning and back again in the evening, and made sure other Seren staff could do that if he was out of the office. It was very important for me to find out how easy I’d find it to work on an office computer using my screen reading software which, at Seren, included listening to the books I was required to read, typing my interview questions and copy editing a creative non-fiction book and the current issue of Poetry Wales. The experience was most definitely positive and, on that basis, I’ve applied for a job in Swansea and hope to be offered an interview during the last two weeks of July … more on that once I know if I am offered an interview :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetically Productive

6) The same poet very often submits one dazzler and one dud.
7) Stunning imagery and phrasing can make me re-read a poem but craft that’s more subtle and quiet will always beat this in a battle, hands down. If the images don’t pull together as a team then the underlying structure’s unsound and the poem satisfies less each time it’s read again.
8) When I encounter a poem that takes outrageous risks and pulls them off it’s an absolute joy.
9) I almost always wish I could award far more than the allotted number of commendations. So many poems have little things about them I love and I want the poet to know they brought me a slice of happiness. Sometimes I try telepathy. Let me know if this has ever worked.
10) Seriously, don’t use those fonts that look like squiggly handwriting. Not even for a shopping list. Not even for a memo to yourself. Someone, somewhere in a parallel universe will take offence.

Guest Blog: Confessions of a Poetry Competition Judge by John McCullough (Josephine Corcoran’s blog)

As a writer, you have probably met, and read, the poetry of a number of authors who chose self-publication. There is a grand tradition in literature of self-publication: Edgar Allen Poe, Margaret Atwood and E.E. Cummings etc. It starts with belief in one’s own work, and the willingness to invest in it. But it also has advantages that should not be discounted: no long waits for an editor’s response; control over everything from cover design to purchase and sales price. The burden will fall on you for marketing, but that will be part of the process. A major publishing house, no matter how well-intentioned is unlikely to put an announcement of your new book in the latest issue of your college alumni magazine, or your church bulletin. They don’t know about the local book fair and are unlikely to do the leg work necessary to get you a reading at your local independent bookstore. That will be up to you… and it would have been up to you even with a major publisher. So why not consider self-publication?

Surprisingly, it may not be as expensive as you expected. A local poetry organization has just printed and anthology of ekphrastic poetry with 96 pages, including color pages with the art works in question. The first run of 100 copies ran $700. Seven dollars per copy. Your local printer may charge even less. Services like CreateSpace offer low prices, but charge for added services which may be worth it to you. And while you may make a very significant investment, I believe that going the traditional route you would also be very likely to buy many copies yourself, to take to readings and for the friends and family who will be your natural buyers. Remember that the traditional publishers would have made the decision to publish your work because they believe that it is salable… and that they can make a profit in doing so. Remember that they are in business, and that although they may have the greatest respect and love for poetry, they are looking for a profit. Why shouldn’t that profit be yours? Basically our local printer, who does a beautiful job, is happy to be “print on demand.” After the initial run of copies they have our manuscript on a disc and will gladly print additional copies at or close to the same price.

Of course we must admit that self-publication is more work in many areas: the research to find a printer and to make the selections of cover art, paper and binding. Do you want an ISBN (that will cost you more). How many pages/poems? Is this a chapbook or a full length manuscript? Most libraries require that the spine of a full length manuscript be wide enough to have the title on it. Would you like to have blurbs on the cover? A traditional publisher may send out copies to established poets hoping that they will be willing to blurb for you, but within your own network of poets there may be many whose work you respect who will do the same.

Considering Self-Publishing – guest blog post by Kathy Lundy Derengowski (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’ve just spent two weeks on holiday in Scotland, out of routine, barely writing. The first week I was away from my family, relaxing. I wrote in my journal about my trip and took notes of images and lines that popped into my head about what I was experiencing, but I didn’t work on any poems. A lot of rejections came in, unsubmitted poems piled up. It felt weird and strangely liberating. I missed my daily routine, but enjoyed soaking up the new experiences which I will hopefully work into poems in the future.

While on the island of Jura, I took a long walk to Barnhill, George Orwell’s house, where he wrote 1984. We got lucky to manage the 12 miles between the rain showers and had a beautiful view to eat our lunch just below Barnhill. Twelve miles was too much for me, I was pretty tired and sore by the end, but earned my shower and wine reward at the hotel. My friend walked all three Paps of Jura the next day, so I feel like a total weakling. 

I’ve ordered a copy of Barnhill by Norman Bissell to read when I get back home. It’s about Orwell’s time on Jura, writing the novel. I had hoped it would arrive before I left for Jura, so I could read it while I was there, but it will be a nice chance to relive the place.

Gerry Stewart, Holiday Break and Barnhill

Lenin burns
brief in the sunset. Then the shadows blur
that too familiar gaze and now confer

upon the flats the anonymity
of dusk. Rocked home in a crosstown tram, we,
the gilded pilgrims from the rotten West,
witnessed the ancient world – a horse at rest,

the stacking of the sheaves through dust, the drift
of a mower’s scythe, the steady lap and lift
of sleep, of awakening. A harvest, it seems:
a gathering in of those early summer dreams.

Dick Jones, A RED SUN SETS IN THE WEST

I remember very few dates without having to look them up to be sure, but I do know that the storming of the Bastille happened in 1789–and by reversing those last 2 numbers, I can remember that Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. I can make the case that both events forever shaped the future.

Today is also the birthday of Woodie Guthrie, an artist who always had compassion for the oppressed.  I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here’s a singer-songwriter who doesn’t know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords–because he didn’t know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth–but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I’ve wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn’t handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn’t let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he’s created a whole body of work, but his most famous song (“This Land Is Your Land”) is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?  The lyrics are much more inclusive than you might remember, and there’s a verse that we didn’t sing as children, a verse that talks about how no one owns the land.

If I could create a body of poems that bring comfort and hope to activists, as well as one or two poems that everyone learns as schoolchildren, well I’d be happy with that artistic life. If I could inspire future generations the way that Guthrie did, how marvelous that would be. I could make the argument that artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the members of U2 would be different artists today, had there been no Woody Guthrie (better artists? worse? that’s a subject for a different post).

So, Alons, enfants de la patria!  There’s work to do and people who need us to do it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bastille Day Bastions

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, the Independence Day holiday seems to have depressed blogging activity a bit from the American contingent, and I think a lot of people are off on holiday as well. But I still found some fine summery posts about butterflies and caterpillars, writing in unusual forms, and being in unusual places such as labyrinths, Acadia, or the present moment.


Morning wakes hours before its city creatures.
I see light through the shutters:
cool insides while their clapboards communicate color — 
hydrangea pink, hydrangea blue —
to the morning.  Slate gray street, 
a herribone brick sidewalk.

Couples inside, 
coffee darker than their peignoirs.  
It’s a holiday.
The 4th of the seventh month, almost mid-summer,
almost tipping over. 

Jill Pearlman, Independence EveryDay

Hey, you guys feeling the Fourth of July this year? Yeah, me neither. Instead of grinding our teeth over 45 spending millions on tanks (and taking it away from our parks) in our capital, let’s take a moment to enjoy the wonders of summer all around us. Swallowtail butterflies! Kittens napping next to roses cut from garden!

And if you want to do something positive on July 4, consider donating to RAICES, which helps unaccompanied children and detained immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. And plant a tree and some milkweed. Feed your hummingbirds. Say hi to a neighbor. Little things that can make our country better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New poems in Summer 2019’s Spoon River Poetry Review, Butterflies, Kittens, July 4 and 25th Anniversaries

And I dream of the grass
of prairies, lost highways that pass,
relentless and unbending, by abandoned outposts,
forts and cowtowns whose brave boothill ghosts

still ride the range; the empty-hearted homesteads
whose screendoors bang on windy nights; dry riverbeds
enclosed by old barbed wire, and oil-well donkeys, one end
gazing at the sand, the other at the stars.

Dick Jones, 50 years since the first moon landing. What of Michael Collins, who stayed on board Apollo 11..?

from the top of my head paper ships set out

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, ku 11.07 2011 (1)

On my Italian parsley plant:
a fat green stripey caterpillar.

It’s a black swallowtail
in fourth instar, readying

for its chrysalis. Unlike
the monarch, predictable

in its cycle of rebirth, these
take an indeterminate time

encased in green or brown
before emerging wet-winged.

Rachel Barenblat, Chrysalis

–On Monday, as I drove to work, I thought about the sonnet I had written on Friday, and this thought flitted through my brain:  I wonder if I could write a crown of sonnets.  I wrote a second sonnet, and then went on to write a third and a fourth.  Yesterday I got a head start on the fifth.

–I’ve realized that I can rhyme Holocaust with Pentecost. My crown of sonnets may be headed in an unusual direction.  I have yet to use that rhyme, but seeds have been planted.

–Speaking of seeds, the butterfly garden continues to enchant.  On Monday, I realized that one of the bushes had caterpillars. And then I realized how much of the milkweed bush they had eaten: [image]

–More than once this week, I’ve thought of the book The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar.  And more than once, I’ve wondered if I’m remembering it correctly.

–Yesterday, I got three more plants that my pastor picked up for me.  He said that it can take 2 or more weeks for the milkweed to spring back from the relentless munching.

–The fact that  the bush can survive and come back seems like a good metaphor if I could avoid the potential pitfall of triteness and cliche.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Sonnet Crowns, Butterfly Gardens, and Discernment

I’m writing in haste as this looks like the day we’re going to tackle our back garden meadow (grass uncut all season) and the sunshine and garden shears are calling me. I’m putting together an informal, low-key workshop for Trowbridge Stanza based on the pantoum, which the Poetry Foundation explains well here and includes sample poems. The Poetry Foundation’s glossary describes the pantoum as

A Malaysian verse form adapted by French poets and occasionally imitated in English. It comprises a series of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The second and fourth lines of the final stanza repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza.

I first found out about the pantoum form by reading a blog from Warwick University by David Morley which unfortunately I can’t find online any more. I know that David Morley has included pantoums in some of his collections and that he is an aficionado of the form.  A. E. Stallings, John Ashbery and Donald Justice are other poets famous for writing pantoums.  You probably know many more – please tell me!

One of my favourite pantoum poems is ‘Incident’ by Natasha Trethewey, a stunning poem about lynching which I return to many times.

The subtle repetition of lines and circular nature of the form suits subjects that we revisit and strive to make sense of over time but that doesn’t mean to say that any poet should feel obliged to obey strict rules (as if!).  There is more to read about the pantoum at the Academy of American Poets here.

Josephine Corcoran, Collecting Pantoums

Jeffery Beam has long been a devotee of beauty, and his Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements is one of the prettiest books to appear in recent years. This poetry collection is another in the realm of the book-length series of poems, and is also an addition to the world of ekphrastic poetry. It is a book of free verse responses to paintings–and since the art is intricately tied together in a series, naturally the poems are as well. And internally they are held together, elaborate parallelism often binding the lines, so there is a kind of macrocosmic and microcosmic structure in the form.

Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements display a different way of thinking about what a book of poetry is, and it strikes me that the book is determined to create its own audience–that is, to create the reader’s understanding and sympathy for the project–through what is included. Short excerpts from Lindsay Clarke and Joseph Campbell serve as a kind of preface, nudging us in a desired direction. The poems and art form the core of the book, but they are followed by three essays about the poetry and the art. So the book itself teaches how to read it, and also how to look at the art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins… Then there’s a whole other dimension to the book in which music and poems join in the CD. It’s an interesting and rare way of looking at the making of a poetry collection, and one that must have taken a lot of love and care.

Marly Youmans, Midsummer reads

I was advising a writer-friend lately to celebrate small wins. Then I thought, hey, I should do that, too. Since my last couple of posts explored self-doubt, and a lot of people in my orbit are having rough summers (for example, catch up with Jeannine Hall Gailey’s inspiring posts), I thought I’d share some shine.

I’m getting ready for more visibility in 2020-2021 by applying for conferences, festivals, etc., and making lists of opportunities to apply for later. For instance, I’ll be attending the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference this November for the first time. I organized a panel, recently accepted, called Uncanny Activisms, about poems that resemble spells, prayers, and curses. My co-panelists include writers I know as well as writers I’ve never met but have been admiring from a distance: Cynthia Hogue, Anna Maria Hong, Hyejung Kook, Ashley M. Jones, and Anna Lena Phillips Bell. I’m very excited to hear what these smart women have to say about a poetic mode I’ve found indispensable these last few years.

On that note: two of my poems just appeared in the new issue of Ecotone. “State Song,” pictured above, is the shorter piece, and I’m SO delighted it’s placed near an essay called “Erasing the Border” by artist Ana Teresa Fernández (the image above is hers). “State Song,” from my forthcoming collection, is in that spiritual-political zone my panel will be addressing, and I hope it speaks against borders and fences, too. (The other poem of mine is “Turning Fifty in the Confederacy”–yikes.) Do read the whole issue if you can, for it’s full of challenging, beautiful writing. I love Ecotone‘s new department, “Various Instructions,” plus I found a new menopause-themed poem there for my growing collection: “Elegy for Estrogen,” by V. Penelope Pelizzon.

More fireworks: Amy Lemmon just published an essay in Diane Lockward’s July Poetry Newsletter about how to mine another poet’s book for writing prompts–and then revise out traces of the other writer’s words to create poems fully your own. The nicest part: the book that inspired her was my last one, Radioland! Lemmon’s piece is inspiring and accessible–check it out.

Lesley Wheeler, Some sparklers on a dark, hot night

Some experiences seem beyond words. That’s how I’m feeling about my week in Chartres. And yes, I know it was a writing workshop, and that I should be perfectly at home, writing about it. But.

So I went to Chartres for a writing workshop with Christine Valters Paintner. I wasn’t expecting a  spiritual workshop focused on Chartres Cathedral and its nearly 1000 year old labyrinth (and its 2000 year history, pre-current cathedral). Even had I known that the labyrinth would be a central aspect of our week, I don’t think I could have fathomed how profoundly meaningful this location was going to become for me.

Bethany Reid, Writing the Labyrinth

[…] I decided I needed to take a chunk of leave this summer. As such, I embarked upon a month-long break. But of course being the Type A woman I am, I made myself a long to-do list of things I needed to accomplish while on leave.

I started with ten days in Maine. The first week was spend at the Poetry Residency at Maine Media, followed by a few days in Acadia National Park. Jay flew up that Friday night and we spend the weekend hiking and exploring the park. Acadia has been on my list for a while so I was glad to finally cross it off. Also, it’s beautiful and has some excellent hiking so it made for a great weekend.

Once home from Acadia I moved on to the next item on my to-do list: adopting a dog.

I said goodbye to Daisy at the end of January. At fifteen years old, she had a long, wonderful life but I was still devastated when she died. I felt like part of me had died too and I vowed to take a long break from being a dog owner. But then…well, then I realized that there was a dog-shaped hole in my heart and there was only one thing that could adequately fill it: another dog.

Courtney LeBlanc, One Month

I had read the news as usual that morning and fell into the now-usual doom gloom. Then the radio reminded me that another of my music pantheon died recently. Dr. John has ascended.

And the station played a tribute to him for a few hours, but I was vacuuming and stuff so heard a bit here and bit there, nodding to the beat when I could hear it, otherwise swept in my own to-and-fro, but they closed with “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere,” and I thought, Right, Mac? Right?

But then I opened up Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights.

The Book of Delights is Ross Gay’s almost-daily, always-exuberant, sometimes-funny, sometimes-poignant record of his days’ delights. Which are often found in not so obvious places.

Although that groovy dude — and here I’m talking about Dr. John, although Ross Gay is indeed also one groovy dude — Dr. John’s oddball let’s-face-it-a-bit-whiny sly if-I-don’t-do-it-somebody-else-will devil on his angelic shoulder (have you HEARD the “Boogie Woogie Twins” with Jools Holland? Shut. Up.) makes it almost impossible for me to not leap up and boogie around the kitchen, there’s often a dark undercurrent in his music, that undeniable blue note, a hint of wrong-place-right-time. Some might call it duende.

And just as you might tire, thinking, all right, enough, you perky sonofabitch — and here I’m talking about Ross Gay — I don’t know that anyone would call Dr. John a perky sonofabitch — Gay will slip in an essayette that reminds us ever so subtly of that yin to yang, the old no-joy-without-sorrow note that sometimes being a black man in this world causes him to stumble over even in the midst of this practice of delight, or even just being a human in the world, and doing the hard work of loving in the face of losing.

Marilyn McCabe, Sweet Confusion Under the Moonlight; or, The kingdom of God is within you; or, Making the Better World

Perhaps we evolved this way so that someone would be there to bury the dogs and the cats, so that someone might be available to shoot the horse that would only suffer. Life and death leave a certain amount of cleaning up that must be done, and so we have minds that reason, we have hands that can grasp a shovel or squeeze a trigger.

Help me now as I gather the wood. The fire I am building needs to be very large, and very hot.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Perhaps we evolved this way so..’

The cedar
in the window

is somehow
changed by

my seeing.
I am

somehow
changed by

its being
there. Neither

of us speaks
of this in

ordinary moments.

Tom Montag, THE CEDAR / IN THE WINDOW

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 52

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

This is my final round-up of quotes + links from the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, supplemented as always by some other poetry blogs from my feed reader. What a varied and interesting year it’s been! This digest has in most cases constituted Via Negativa’s only real contribution to the poetry blogging community—I tend to be too busy drafting new poems (and blogging most of them, it’s true) to also find the time to blog about poetry, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But I don’t plan to stop doing a weekly digest… and fortunately, the proper poetry bloggers don’t show any sign of slowing down either.

Introducing the Poetry Blogging Network

Poetry Blogging Network

Kelli Russell Agodon, one of the co-founders of the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, has just launched what I suspect might become a larger and more permanent version of it, the Poetry Blogging Network. Click through to sign up.

In addition to designing a nifty badge, Kelli has suggested a focus, envisioning “a group of poets who are dedicated to blogging about their poetry lives, the ups and down of being a writer in the world, along with what they are reading and writing.” She doesn’t say how often people ought to blog, but notes that she herself is “committed to blogging at least 2x a month (with my accountability buddy, Susan Rich, to keep me honest.)” Based on my own experience here at Via Negativa, I would add that getting a co-blogger is another good way to keep the blogging energy going.

Kelli has also volunteered to host the links list, with Valentine’s Day as a deadline for new additions, and I really hope that all the Blog Revival Tour regulars will re-up, and that other bloggers whom I’ve sort of unofficially added to the revival tour over the past year will take the opportunity to add their blog links to this list as well. Also, it would be great if the community were a little more diverse this year in terms of geography, ethnicity, sexuality and gender orientation, poetic style, etc., which might require some of us to make an extra effort to reach out to people who aren’t necessarily already within our cozy social media circles. If there’s one thing the poetry world doesn’t need, it’s more cliques, factions, and in-groups. Let’s build the most inclusive network we can! And also, let’s read and link to each other as often as possible. Please don’t let mine be the only regular digest.


Jesus never watched YouTube
or used glitter glue.
He didn’t dance the foxtrot
or even the hora.
He never rode a school bus
or sharpened a No. 2 pencil.

If he were here, he might marvel
at tweets from Lin-Manuel,
at the array of snack foods
in even the most basic 7-11.
But I think he’d be too busy
tenderly cradling the body

of the latest migrant child
to die in government custody,
overturning tables
in the halls of Congress,
searing the earth
with his tears.

Rachel Barenblat, Jesus never ate chocolate

For Noël, the French received a gift of unknowingness. It’s a lucky gift!  Les gilets jaunes have doled out confusion to their compatriots who are singularly sure of themselves, gifted in the pur et dur, the absolute.  Their clipped  “mais oui!” or “mais non!” has, until now, been singularly annoying.
In this new moment, when asked about politics, people pause, hesitate, search for words that are taking days and weeks to form. They glance out the window at the full moon, the crumbling cornices, the slate roofs. Roll over, Descartes! Perhaps there are no answers at all!

Yes, the conceptual ways of thinking are sinking under their own weight.  The good news is that the French have a great correction in their back pocket. Food, or exquisite attention to the everyday.  The marchés are cornucopias of oysters, escargots, fishes, feathered pheasants; they have a milky way of pungent cheese, chocolate and of course the faucets nearly run with wine. Celebrations aren’t just about consumption: they are happenings of community.   I also think of Francis Ponge’s poems about oysters and escargots.  When systems can’t be trusted, when they fail, go to what you can touch, taste, what is close to the heart. Don’t go to nihilism, go to regeneration.  It’s a chance to reimagine what society could be, to clear space for imagination and the beauty of what is.

Jill Pearlman, To France: The Gift of Not Knowing

On the back of #PoetBlogRevival, I started the year with good intentions: to blog weekly about the poetry life.  How hard could it be?  I stuck to my resolution for over six months, blogged sporadically over late summer and haven’t posted at all over the last three months.   So what? you might say.

There are many others with much more to say and whose literary achievements are worthy of note (check out, for instance, Matthew Stewart’s annual round-up of the best UK poetry blogs over on his blog, Rogue Strands).

I attended the Forward Prizes for Poetry in introvert mode.  Since then, I’ve more or less withdrawn from the poetry world ‘out there’.  I’ve begun to feel overwhelmed by e-newsletters, blog posts, web links to further reading and other such means of keeping abreast of poetry what’s news, hip and happenings. Much of it has gone unread.  I’m more behind than ever with my reading of the magazines I subscribe to. I’ve been less active on social media, too (no bad thing, that).

On the positive side, I’ve written twelve new poems on a theme, with others in the pipeline. And successes are up on last year…

Jayne Stanton, 2018: the long and the short of it

2018 has been my biggest year to date for videopoetry. I came to the genre by pure chance in the middle of 2014, after making short experimental and narrative films on and off for about 35 years. Videopoetry completely rejuvinated my film-making, returned my love of it to me at a time I felt it was all close to expiry. In the past four-and-a-half years, I have made over 60 short videos, more than the sum of my film-making over all previous decades. I am so grateful to have been welcomed by the international community of film-makers, poets, curators, editors and audiences that, like me, have come to love this unique genre. Grateful too for the captivating videos and poems by other artists that have inspired and influenced me over recent years.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I completed judging of the first Atticus Review Videopoem Contest, an event that will now be added to the international videopoetry calendar for future years. Atticus is an online poetry journal coming out of the USA with a large and wide readership. It is one of the few poetry publications worldwide to feature videopoetry as an ongoing feature. It was an honour to be invited by the editors (David Olimpio and Matt Mullins), to be part of kicking off this first year of the contest. I found great pleasure in watching, and sometimes re-watching, the 115 videos sent in to us. The quality was high. In fact, as a film-maker myself, the rich creativity of my peers was humbling, in a good way. And so it was a challenge to select only four awarded videos. These have already been publicly announced, and the videos themselves will be published in Atticus on 11 January. But all four videos are available for viewing now to intrepid explorers of the film-maker weblinks to be found on the awards announcement page.

In 2018 I have completed and publicly released 11 videos, along with a few others that, for various reasons, are currently only available for private viewing. Here are the latest three I have not yet discussed here on the blog…

Marie Craven, End of year 2018

Though not much in touch with popular amusements, I am touched by bemusement. I like to think of amusement as,  to be beguiled by the muse. And she is always here somewhere, waiting to distract me from ordinary thoughts in order to move me towards more ineffible states of being. 

Like the sensation I woke to this morning that tugs at me to write a poem with the word frottage in it.  I recall hearing this word from the lips of my first woman lover, perhaps I was dreaming of her? I now recall that it is an art technique, which also involves rubbing. The metaphors abound.

And regarding 2019: I want to start a new blog for reviewing poetry chapbooks. I’m trying to figure out where/how to do this so that it will get some visibility.  I’d also be happy to buy your chapbooks, and review them. Please send me links and any suggestions you might have for this project. And what to call it?

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning A/muse/ment

Part of the magic of this poem, for me, is the way it understands how children imagine, how they are formed by chance encounters and stories whose tellers never imagined the impact they might have, and how our childhood is carried in us, and how we can be startled back into it, and in some ways become as powerless as a child. The framing narrative is kept implicit..you used to say …. these stairs …everyone else…..your room.The detail is kept for the stories of each tread, the fabulous tales told to a child who will never forget them. And then there’s the power of the image of one rooted to the foot of a staircase and its narrowing closed off perspective. I love the way poem pivots on that one line .why did you never tell me?  In its control and contained love and grief it does everything I want in a poem. […]

So there we are. Thank you to all the cobweb guest poets of 2018. I hope you all have a happy and successful 2019.

Why not make a start by submitting your poems about food, or food related poems, or poems with taste and flavour and possibly a recipe for a better world to The Fenland Reed. It’s a handsome journal edited by lovely folk. Go on. You know you should. Here’s your link. https://www.thefenlandreed.co.uk/submissions

John Foggin, Best of 2018. November and December: Tom Weir and Christopher North

There was a time. One time. Sometimes I write depression. Disability? The literature of loss. Situational. There are situations: once, twice, a decade: daily there was beauty. Pain grinding me to bone. I could bear to look at my own hands as he saw them, you know. Also: how small I was when I was dying: how we all loved that. How we all loved me as superhero, triumphant. How once I told all my dreams. This morning the wind rocketed, screaming. A cobalt pre-dawn sky with half-moon and Venus. In sleep I’d walked-out: what that means so clear. But I can’t talk about it—see, time has changed. It’s not safe. Out loud. What you are can and will be used against you. Say: big cat padding through night has become herself an insult, or apology. Treading. Careful, water. Whole silences now. Which means, of course, I no longer know how to be beautiful: how did I do that, again? I can’t think. Up a fire tower, wind-quaked, I left my coat in the car. All drugs on board and hyperopic to farthest horizon. Everything close gone dark and blur, but vanishing point a fierce, bright clarity. How relieved I was, finally. Calm. Waking, there was only deafening wind. Memory of being. Beautiful. Of everything, aloud. How did this happen is the question of literature. How does a person come to this?

JJS, December 29, 2018: the question of literature

Merry 5th day of Christmas and Happy New Year, with some thoughts, hopes, and plans for the coming year…

  • Turn in two final book manuscripts.
  • Continue running the Christ Church Cooperstown women’s group another year–next up, a book discussion about the curious medieval document, The Cloude of Unknowyng. (Last year, there was one book event–Buechner’s Godric.) Figure out some more wild outings and events and workshops, often arts-related.
  • Send out at least one poetry manuscript.
  • Do some work for Fr. James Krueger’s meditation retreat Mons Nubifer Sanctus in Lake Delaware with my friend Laurie, now that we’re both on the board.
  • Read more. 2018 was a bad year for reading because I was stretched a bit too thin. I want to read more classical writers and also some of the early Christian mystical writers. More poetry and stories. And the stack of unread novels.
  • Make like a tree and put forth green leaves. Drink from deep sources.
  • Work on that odd idea for a new novel. Secret, of course.
    Improve my health to avoid losing months to illness…
  • Skip blurbing other people’s books for at least a year (because I couldn’t manage those commitments in 2018.) […]
Marly Youmans, At the threshold of years: a few resolutions

I still remember walking across campus with my friend Stephanie as she explained to me about this new idea in the tech world: Blogging. Why would anyone choose to write journal entries that would be shared with the world? It was like leaving your journal on the bus or better yet, giving a stranger specific access to your thoughts. What a weird idea, I thought; it will never catch on I told her.

And here I am in my ninth year of Blogging at Blog Post Number 1,000. How did that happen?

The truth is, I do remember why I started. I wanted the casual and low stakes world that blogging provides. As a poet, it’s too easy to fuss over each comma and semi-colon. I wanted to see what would happen if I published work that didn’t need to be polished to a high sheen. I also had a very practical reason: The Alchemist’s Kitchen, my third book was about to be published and I had no idea how to publicize it. Friends of mine, Kelli Russell Agodon and January O’Neil had been blogging for years and finding real connection with other poets through the process. I thought I’d give it a try. 

Blogging allowed me to connect with other poets and writers, many of us just becoming familiar with this thing called Publicity. We did virtual poetry tours interviewing each other when our books came out and sharing poems that we loved from dead mentor poets (Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov) as well as from work just appearing in journals. We wrote articles on how to organize a poetry reading for optimum success and shared information on favorite writing retreats. In other words, we were creating a network of poets who were neither academics or poet rockstars — anyone with access to a laptop, with access to a library was invited to the party.

Susan Rich, PBN for Blog Post Number One Thousand – 1,000

I took part in the Great Poet Bloggers Revival, launched by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, which challenged poets to publish one new blog post per week in order to help everyone feel more engaged in the community.

This year, I managed to put together 63 blog posts — not all of these were put out weekly as intended and not all focused on poetry. But I’m feeling happy and confident about the amount of blogging I managed to do in 2018.

Out of all the blogging I’ve done in the past year, I am most proud of the eight poet spotlight interviews I’ve conducted. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of and learn from the poetry community — and since I’ve been lax on participating or attending readings and open mics, being able to still feel connected through these interviews has been wonderful.

Andrea Blythe, Building Poetry Community: My Blogging Year in Review

OMG, is it time for a Poetry Action Plan? Why, yes. Yes it is!

What, you may ask, is a Poetry Action Plan, or PAP? 

It is a road map for how to think about your writing life. I have created a plan for the past 11 years and it has served me well–even in the years when I didn’t think I needed a plan.

There are four steps to creating a PAP.
1.    Define your goals. What is most important to you as a writer?
2.    Be realistic about what can you achieve.
3.    Track your progress.
4.    Prepare for setbacks BUT be open to opportunities wherever they appear.

And if I had to add a fifth step, I’d say don’t be too hard on yourself for not accomplishing a goal.

As I have mentioned, Last year, after dealing with the death of my ex-husband at the end of 2016, I was just trying to stay above water. We were used to our little system of pick ups and drop offs. And while I never thought I had enough time, I really missed (and still miss), the balance of another parent, for everything from child care to having another voice in the room. But I managed, somehow, to get a few things done.

In 2019, I will:

  • Get ready to move to Mississippi! I had this as last on my list, but really, this is Job 1. The kids and I are moving this summer to Ole Miss for nine months. So all of my energy is going to making the transition as smooth as possible. *Gulp*
  • Write a poem a week. I didn’t write very much in 2018. It was painful not writing, but I just never found my groove. This is just a part in the evolution of my process, I tell myself as I wallow in a pool of self pity. But, it’s time to get back to basics.
  • Submit to eight top-tier journals. Believe it or not, I sent poems to three journals. Still waiting to hear back from two. I was asked to submit a few places. Admittedly, I regret not writing or sending out in 2018. Won’t make that mistake again.
  • Help Rewilding find the widest audience possible. See my last post.
  • Laugh more.
January Gill O’Neil, OMG, is it time for a Poetry Action Plan? Why, yes. Yes it is!

I keep saying I’m not going to try to finish my manuscript anytime soon—that I’m going to wait until I’m done having kids. But if you have ever finished a manuscript, maybe you can relate to the pull it has on you—I want it to be READ. I want it to be out in the world. And as much as I tell myself it isn’t the right time, I can’t promote it right now, I can’t spend money on contests or time on editing—here I am, printing off a paper copy to do the work of “ordering the storm”—rearranging the poems into a final arc—then the paper edits, poem cuts, poem additions….this isn’t at all when I intended to work on this manuscript, but I feel like my writing is stalled in a way, built up around this work that needs to be “birthed”—and as much as I hate the analogy of the book being “my baby”—no, not at all—I can relate it to that horrible waiting period, overdue, heavy with new life. It is a little bit like having a child that no one has met. At the same time, I want to do this right. I love my past publishers—they have been great to me—but I think that I need to win a contest to get the book any attention. I can’t manage five kids homeschooling and teaching online, plus book promotion to the scale that a small press would require. The goal is that I’d like my poems to be read by real live human beings. Now I need to just figure out the best way to make that happen.

Renee Emerson, Paper Edit

Sometimes the critique offered is not something I can figure out how to make my own, or how to grapple with it in the given poem. Especially if I’m unclear about the problem the critique suggestions are meant to solve, I can’t comfortably settle into the solution. I can try things but have no ability to gauge the success or failure of the attempt.

Or sometimes I understand and agree with the critique, but just can’t make the given poem hold up. When I turn one screw, the whole thing gees or haws to one side or another. The center cannot hold. (Maybe a revolution should be at hand…)

At any rate, receiving and using critique is very tricky. First, I have to have sufficient distance from the piece to be able to see it NOT through the rose-colored-glasses of first-love and also NOT through the who-wrote-THIS-hopeless-piece-of-crap smeared window. I gotta be cool, man, real cool.

Then I have to be willing to play around, try anything, mess things up, break things open, dismantle and remantle. That can be hard. know what I wanted the poem to do. Sometimes a critique wants to take the poem in a different direction. It can be very hard, sometimes impossible, to allow that process. That doesn’t mean the critique isn’t right on; it just means that I don’t have enough distance yet, or as a writer I’m not yet skilled enough to figure out how to follow through, or I just don’t want to go in that direction, for whatever misguided (or guided) reasons.

Sometimes a critique is off base. Sometimes a critique is not well grounded itself. You have to be open enough to both consider a critique, and to discard it. That takes a level of self-confidence that to some borders on hubris. Own it. You might be wrong in the long run, but at least you can be honest about the fact you considered an idea but then turned it away.

As I’ve noted before in this space, one of the most important editing tools is time. Sometimes I just have to put it all away, poem and critique and notes and versions. Move on, at least for the moment.

Marilyn McCabe, Abandon Hope; or, Grappling with Critique

Neither starshine nor moonlight.
Instead, snow shine wraps me
in diamond dust at midnight’s hour.

Clouds cling to the earth, yet
a thousand celestial luminaria
light this solstice night. In the yard

a host of snow angels pressed
everywhere. No sounds, no footfalls.
No crinkle of crenelated wings.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Solstice: Seraphim in Snow

Everything is red this morning – the soil, the river, and water draining my throat –
bloody like the spout from the hawk’s neck.

Stars wheel though darkness as in creation-time nameless but with the identity
of my dead mother.

Where are the homes of birds, food for the bees, the sun whose rays must penetrate
the graves of my people?

Uma Gowrishankar, A Tale From The Forgotten Land – II

I do hope that this machine lasts longer, but I also know that five years seems to be the life of many a major appliance these days. 

I think of my grandmother who had a washing machine on a porch that had no room and no electric for a dryer.  She took the wet clothes to the clothesline at the back of the yard every week of her life until her heart attack prompted the major life change of moving to an assisted living facility.  Her heart attack happened as she was hanging clothes on the line.  She collapsed and stayed there, under the clothesline, under a hot August sun, until her neighbors checked on her late in the evening after she didn’t answer the phone.

It was not the first time I realized that my family is made of pretty stern stuff.  On days when I feel disheartened or discouraged, I think about my ancestors, and I find the courage to keep going.

I also realize that almost everything I face is nothing compared to what they went through.  A washing machine that goes wonky?  Kitchen cabinets that are delayed?  I can hear the ancestors snorting at the thought that I have troubles.

It’s been a good morning.  I’ve read some poetry; the new collections by Terrance Hayes and Kevin Young are amazing.  I wrote a poem that’s nowhere close to what they’ve done, but writing is the winning of the battle.  I’ve got a load of sheets in the dryer.  I’m happy that yesterday gave us an appointment for the delivery of the cabinets:  Feb. 4–hurrah!

And now off to take care of my physical body–spin class calls!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Sounds of Washing

This Christmas has mostly been about recovering from minor arthroscopic surgery to correct a torn meniscus in my left knee.  My stitches came out on 19 December and I had hoped to do a lot of writing because, coincidentally, my husband and two grown-up children have been visiting a close family friend in Australia for two weeks so I’ve had the house to myself.  The truth is, not a lot of writing has been done and  I’ve missed my noisy, demanding, distracting, annoying but totally fantastic family very very much –  far more than I thought I would – and they’re not back until January 4!

But I have established a kind of routine, including exercising to increase and improve my mobility post-op, and I have completed some boring but necessary jobs that I’ve been putting off for far too long.  These include donating old poetry magazines to charity shops, reshelving poetry books that have been piled on the floor and making room for my own books by putting some of the children’s books into storage.  I know, exciting stuff.

Exercising on a new static bike – a present from husband, Andrew –  has been a wonderful opportunity to listen to the radio.  In fact, rediscovering the vast catalogue of dramas and dramatisations available on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4Extra (via the BBC Radio iPlayer app which I connect to my Bluetooth speaker)  has been one of the key pleasures of my holiday.  Cycling away on my bike, I’ve listened to and enjoyed dramatisations of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot,  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and ghost stories by M R James.  I’m now listening to readings of Sylvia Plath’s Letters.  I can’t help but feel inspired by her energy, her hard work, her ambitions, her hopefulness, even knowing how badly everything turned out in the end for her.

Josephine Corcoran, Christmas Retreat

Glass: A Journal of Poetry has released its annual list of recommended reading in poetry. I keep a list, too, of favorite poems throughout the year so I thought I’d share a few with y’all. These are in no particular order and are not all of the poetry I’ve saved over the past year. But, these are definitely stellar poems in some of my favorite journals. I hope you’ll click through and read them.
Louisiana Requiem by Heather Treseler in Frontier Poetry.
Hurricane, 3rd Day by Melissa Studdard in New Ohio Review.
The Peaches by Jericho Brown in The Adroit Journal.
Eve in the Blood by M. Stone in Avatar Review.
Finishing School by Emma Bolden in Black Warrior Review.
Spectacle by Lindsay Illich in Foundry.
Visitation by Marissa Glover in Barren Magazine.
Upon the Blue Nile by Bola Opaleke in the Pangolin Review.
Voucher by Jack Bedell in Ucity Review.
Europa by Echo Wren in Rattle.
Fish Love by Bryanna Licciardi in The Mantle.
Anniversary Poem by Michael Maul in Dodging the Rain.

Charlotte Hamrick, A Few of My Favorite Poems 2018

It’s almost 2019, and if you’re like me (or January O’Neil, who has a cool “poetry action plan,” you start thinking about your intentions for the year ahead – what you hope for, what you can plan for, what you are envisioning. This year’s Vision Board had a lot of animals in it, and more words about inspiration and creativity. I realized the last two years had been all about survival – first the liver tumors and the cancer diagnosis, then the surprise of neurological symptoms and the MS diagnosis. I’m hoping this coming year to be fewer doctor appointments, more wonder – less about survival, more about creating and befriending and embracing the world.

From the AWP conference in March in Portland to sending out two poetry manuscripts – one about the journey of the last two years and one about the history of women and witchcraft, which I was just shuffling through last night to think about organization and which poems to leave out and which to add. I’m going to get more serious about sending out both – I only sent out book manuscripts four times last year, but I sent out over 150 submissions (!!) total, including fiction and essay attempts, and published about fifty poems, which seems like an okay ratio, but I had no idea I had submitted so much.

Other life goals include cultivating more friendships and socializing a little more, paying more attention to my body and treating it like something to take care of and not push, and spending some time (!!) meditating or doing something restful and creative every day, maybe even just five minutes of art or writing before bed. Also, trying to value my time more. One of the things about getting serious diagnoses is that it makes you re-think what you spend your time and energy on. What are the essential things for living for you? Spending time outside, reading good things, and time consciously building a life – whether that’s balance or motor-skill exercises, or reaching out to a new friend, or time spent noticing the new flowers in your garden to the kind of moon that rises. Or the visitors to your neighborhood – the day after Christmas, this bobcat visited our street!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Two End of the Year Poems in ACM, and Dreams, Goals, and Inspirations for 2019

Happy New Year and big thanks to such an incredible online community of poets, writers, and supporters! I started actively posting and promoting this poetry blog in October 2014, and have seen a constant increase in traffic, likes, and followers. I’ve met some amazing and talented people along the way.

My blog really started out as an experiment, to just share the things I’ve learned in the last year or so as I began actively submitted my poems and other writing to different markets. It does seem there is a need for clear, concise, and quick ways to stay updated on calls for submissions, contests, writing tips, especially those with a focus on poetry. I’d love to hear from my readers if they have suggestions for information I can share or other resources they find helpful in their quest to publish poetry.

Trish Hopkinson, Happy New Year and Thank You! – My submission & blog stats, 250K+ views in 2018!

I love hearing about people’s favorite books, and regularly shop and read from lists published everywhere every December. I’ve even written a short discussion of my favorite genre books in 2018, to appear in Strange Horizons’ annual roundup a few days from now.

But I’m skeptical of these lists, too: “best” for whom, when, and why? For what purpose? I’ve found no single critic out there who shares all of my own tastes and obsessions, even though I’m part of a demographic heavily represented in literary journalism. What makes a book powerful is partly latent in the text, but is also contingent on circumstances. Even for one reader, the stories or voices that feel most necessary can vary from day to day. There’s no value-neutral, objective “best” out there.

I can certainly name the poetry books that most wowed me this fall, that I kept wanting to share: If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins by Terrance Hayes, and, a little belatedly, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang. Does that make them the best? It means they’re really good, for sure.

But I also bought poetry books for friends, marking a few poems for each that I thought would especially appeal. Asghar and Chang were on that list, but so was Ada Limón’s The Carrying, which I also remembered loving–and as I reread it, the book gained even more force. Some books grow over time. Does that make Limón’s book the best, even if a December reviewer barely has enough perspective to see it? Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment by Alessandra Lynch worked like that for me, earlier this year. On first encounter, I felt frustrated by how the poems skirted the central subject–rape–but the successive readings you have to do for a reviewing assignment changed my reaction to profound admiration. And while I just read Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art, I can say it’s almost unbearably powerful, and maybe you should read it wearing oven mitts–where does THAT criterion go in the rankings? Really, I liked or loved almost all of the poetry collections I read in 2019 (listed below, excluding things I didn’t like enough to finish)–but I have no idea which will mean most to me five years from now.

Lesley Wheeler, Best for what?–reading 2018

Just when you think your work
is done, Coyote says
we haven’t even begun.

Tom Montag, from The Wishin’ Jupiter Poems: Just When