A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
This week, poets who were not on vacation (and some who were) were blogging about going on vacation, and there was plenty of news to be shared about publications and on-going projects, as well as the usual generous scattering of off-the-wall topics and first drafts of poems. Enjoy.
I slit the stem and slide my finger in the milkweed
the ooze smells of snake bites. The skin shrivels
with the buds dropping premature, petals seal
clutch a secret like a fetus she carries
and will not relinquish – there is death everywhere
if you care to see, detected in the marigold
filaments of black seeds tossed in the breeze.
Uma Gowrishankar, Still Life
I’ve been rendered house-bound for a while (except for doctor’s visits) with severe MS symptoms during the hot streak and a sprained ankle, so in the meantime I’ve been dreaming of escape, taking pictures of hot air balloons, our beautiful eerie moons, and birds. I’ve also been working on revising my sixth book manuscript. I only have it out to a few places, but received a rejection yesterday. Part of the job, I know, but still, discouraging. I’ve been searching for a good new primary doc, too, without success (the last one wasn’t afraid of my complexity, but said I’d do better with a doctor who was connected to the major medical databases and a major hospital. I guess she’s right.) Rejection all around! And meanwhile, the muggy, airless heat wave continues.
During the evenings when it’s a little cooler I’ve been watching the hot air balloons that rise and fall right around our house. I’ve also had plenty of time to watch my flowers struggle with the sun, the birds fighting over seeds and hummingbird feeders, and discover a new flowering tree in the back yard I’d never noticed before. The day we had a nearby fire, this flicker perched on top of one of our birch trees and just sat, beak in the air, for over an hour. So strange. Time moves slowly when you’re not feeling well – I’ve been trying to fill the time with reading encouraging writing books, watching stand-up on Netflix (I recommend “Elder Millennial,” if for nothing else than the ten minute bit that I swear was inspired by the Melusine myth, which I wrote about in my first book, Becoming the Villainess, in the poem “The Monster Speaks: It’s Not So Bad”) and, well, lots of sleep and fluids. Not the most glamorous summertime activities.
I am wishing us all less fire, fewer heat waves and rejections, and enough time to enjoy the good things about summertime.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Hot Streaks, Hot Air Balloons, and Blood Moons
I am delighted to have “Not This” featured this week in The Ellis Review. This poem was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run and and began as an erasure of a piece by Margaret Rhee before shifting into something different. The poem wouldn’t exist without her and her “precarity of the line” and the support of various writing communities, and I’m very thankful for you all.
“Not This” uses a fragmented mode I’ve often employed in the past, but the attempt to address current events is something new for me. Even as I’ve come to recognize “that all writing is political—it emanates from a specific body that has a relation to the polis” (from my Poems2go interview), I’ve only just begun to try articulating more explicitly the relationship between a speaker’s body and the body politic to which it belongs/can be excluded from.
Hyejung Kook, Writing | New York | The Ellis Review | 07.26.2018
I’m excited to have three poems and three photographs in the new issue of Mojave Heart Review. The photos are of street art by Swoon (Caledonia Curry) that she installed here in New Orleans several years ago. I was inspired recently to write the poetry and put together the project after reading this interview. I’ve followed and admired Swoon’s art since seeing this street art and her Thalassa exhibit at New Orleans Museum of Art in 2011.
Mojave Heart has done a beautiful presentation of the project with each poem and accompanying photo on its own page. I hope you’ll click over and check out the issue which is full of beautiful work by 24 talented writers and artists.
Big thanks to Jeffrey Reno, staff, and volunteers for giving this project a home!
There are a thousand ways that people can bring their art in contact with the world. Mine are putting a wheatpaste up on the street, building a raft and crashing the Venice Biennale, building a home post-earthquake, working with people in Kensington in the middle of a crisis. In some way these things are actually all the same. People could be doing macramé classes at nursing homes, or they could be making floats for the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. My friend used to make books and discreetly stick them into the shelves at libraries and bookstores. Literally anything. Then that thing informs the next thing, and you listen back, always asking: Who’s it reaching? What does it mean to people? You take the molten, hot center of creative energy, and you weave it into some aspect of the world that is calling to you. —- Swoon, “Sending Out the Signal”
Charlotte Hamrick, 3 Poems/Photos in Mojave Heart Review
Q~You are also a classical singer. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?
A~The great thing about being a writer is that there is no real schedule to follow, so I can engage in any other activities I like. Every day, around one in the afternoon, I stop whatever I’m doing so that I can practice whatever arias or songs I’m working on. Music, I think, has also given me a sense of rhythm that transfers to my writing, as well. The way the words sound together is important to me.
Q~On your website, you said you first began writing poetry to combat severe depression and have continued on to push your own personal boundaries of comfort and truth. How has poetry helped you?
A~I always think of writing, and writing poetry especially, as a kind of medieval bleeding. Slit a vein and let it all pour out. It’s a daily ritual that I maintain. Anything that has bothered me, hurt me, affected me in any way, I let it drip onto the page.
Q~ What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~The only dislike I have is rhyming. I’m just not a fan. It’s strange, I know, when I just mentioned wanting musicality in writing, but I always feel as if rhymes take away from the meaning of the poem. Makes it less impactful, since it leads me to think that the words written were not necessarily the best ones, but just the ones that could rhyme.
Bekah Steimel, Time Travel II / an interview with poet Valentina Cano
Last year at the 2017 Mercury Awards, Stormzy’s album Gang Signs and Prayer won the award. It also won a Bafta or two. There had been many criticisms that music awards in the UK had become too white, and so many grime acts were up for awards this year after judging panels became more diverse.
Stormzy’s album is another look at working class London from his perspective as a Black man. There’s quite a bit of swearing and gangster- like conduct on the album. Then, just as Prince sandwiches sexual songs between religious songs on his many albums, Stormzy interperses the crime with the divine, complete with prayers from elders as well as his renowned Gospel song Blinded By Your Grace. The inclusion of elders praying and talking gives a community feel, much like Arrested Development’s 3 Years 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life Of, yet with a distinctive London working class flavour.
Kate Tempest, the renowned English poet and spoken word artist lost out to Stormzy at The Mercury Awards. Yes, an album of poetry – with music as a background filler – was up for a music award.
Let Them Eat Chaos starts with the planets orbiting our sun and then we beam down to London, white working class London. Tempest tells us stories about seven people who all are awake at Silly O’clock for seven different reasons, and she brings them all together in the track Grubby towards the end of the album where she uses the phrase, “Existence is futile” – a nice twist on the Borg saying, “Resistence is futile”, delivering meaning.
There are some other good turns of phrase such as, “His thoughts are like a pack of starving dogs fighting over the last bone” and “Street-smart, jabbering gnome”. Unfortunately, Tempest fails to deliver more such like gorgeous, clever turns of phrase. She seems to have concentrated on telling stories, which is great, but when I hear a poet, I would like to hear more of the poetic.
The pity about Stormzy’s album and Kate Tempest’s album is that they are both quite depressing and angry. Unlike The Streets’ first album – which had some great music and singing backing up their humorous words, I do not really want to listen to Stormzy’s album nor Tempest’s album again. And that is a darn shame because there are some real nuggets on both albums.
Catherine Hume, Kate Tempest, Stormzy and Gorillaz
This week I’m thinking ahead to October. There’s a new date added to my events page and I will be doing a set 50 percent longer than the longest set I’ve ever done … and there is a Q&A session immediately after the poems … and if nobody wants to ask questions then I have been told I can read a few more poems! Blimey! […]
This is the first event I’ve been the only performer at, which will be a fantastic experience … but I’m not going to be on stage alone. The event is titled Giles with Hazel, as most of you lovely readers know, Hazel is the voice on my computer that I sometimes use for performing poetry; on some occasions she even gets her own round of applause. I don’t sleep well at night because I have nightmares about a sentient computer system lawyer coming to demand I pay Hazel appearance fees for the events I use her at!
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry on the Coast
I will travel next week to the Jersey shore, as I do every year, to spend delicious, relaxing time with family. As a new citizen of the Pacific NW, I have learned to feel at home with a different coast and ocean than the one I grew up with. But a year without gazing at the Atlantic from a familiar spot on the Eastern seaboard would be devastating for me.
And during the stay-cation portion, I look forward to several poetry-related tasks: a book review for The Rumpus; reading a manuscript for my press; feedback on poems from a friend.
And hopefully, some revision work on my current manuscript. Right now I have about 60 poems I am working with, and I have some tickling ideas about how to strengthen these poems. Something I haven’t done much before is using space on the page differently than same-old left-margin stanzas. I’m having no luck placing these poems, perhaps they are not “quite there” as one journal put it. But more and more, I think they just need to be read as a collection, in conversation with one another. They are also the most personal poems I have written.
The burden of submission-and-rejection is too much for me right now. So I may publish more of them here in my blog.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Worry List
It’s fun to run into Poetry when I least expect to, such as on vacation in Maine this summer. Apparently Henry Wadsworth Longfellow liked to watch the ocean from a perch at the Portland Head lighthouse, as well. His house is downtown and open for tours for a small fee. We didn’t have time for the tour but strolled through his lovely gardens beside the house- a peaceful place of respite in a bustling city. Alas, the poetry bug did not bite on this trip, but the mosquitoes sure did. Everything is not bigger in Texas.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, poetry on vacation
I would just like to take a moment and praise the magnificent phenomenon that is Summer Camp. Thanks to the kids having their fun from 9-4 each day this week, I’ve managed to write almost twenty new pages and two completely new scenes of a play as well as five more poems. I’m ridiculously, over-the-top happy with Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018. I have to move into preparing-for-fall-semester-classes mode now, and, you know, hang out with my own kids (hahahaha) but I’ve dedicated real, concentrated time to my writing this summer, and used it wisely. I am ecstatic. I might just do a cartwheel across this Starbucks.
I mean, there’s also the possibility that I’ll read the drafts next week and feel complete dismay when I realize they’re no good . . . but for now I’m riding this wave of I-just-wrote-a-crapload euphoria.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018
A few people have asked me about how I was funded and whether it’s usual for a school to employ a Writer in Residence. For the latter question, in my experience, it isn’t common, and certainly not in a state school. Increasingly, in the UK state school system, creative subjects, Art, Music, Drama, Design, are shrinking from the curriculum, and with cash-strapped budgets, even occasional author visits are becoming more scarce in some schools. All the more reason to applaud St Gregory’s for their imagination and resourcefulness in setting up my residency.
In his article Creativity can be taught to anyone. So why are we leaving it to private schools? Creative Director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, writes that since 2010 there has been a 28% reduction in young people studying creative subjects at GCSE in state schools. This, in large part, can be explained by the introduction of the English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, a school performance measure (introduced by Michael Gove when he was Education Minister) focusing on a core set of academic subjects studied for GCSE which does not include a single creative discipline.
Writers who visit many schools have noticed that increasingly, invitations come from the private sector and not from publicly funded schools. Poet and children’s writer Michael Rosen recently tweeted:
Why is there time for the arts in the top private schools but less and less time for it in the state schools?
— Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) May 30, 2018
Although I don’t have permission to divulge the financial arrangements of St Gregory’s, or to explain exactly how my residency was funded, I will say that I worked with young people of all ages and abilities (although mostly in the Year 7 to Year 9 age-groups – 11 – 14 year olds): Pupil Premium students; EAL students; Gifted and Talented students; top set, middle set and bottom set students; students not belonging to any group that attracts additional funding and students belonging to several.
I will also say that the fee I was paid by the school amounted to considerably less than the daily rate I usually charge (which is negotiable but about £350 per day). However, I was happy with my fee and it suited me well to have a fixed post for one academic year (especially as I was completing my poetry manuscript for my Nine Arches Press book at the same time) which meant that I saved time and money by not needing to apply for other types of funding or jobs.
Josephine Corcoran, End of the school year, end of a residency #writerinschool
One piece of recent productive procrastination went live this week, a sort of feminist theory bingo card which may or may not also be a poem. There are some Mina Loy-ish squares in response to the very cool web site that put out this call for digital postcards. Others describe my choices, good and bad, and things I aspire to do. All of them feel connected to being a good bad woman, a feminist, someone trying but often failing to claim a fair portion of the cake and wine while sharing the rest with wolves, mothers, woodcutters, and whoever else is a little hungry and doing their best. Aagh, clearly the diet is killing me.
Lesley Wheeler, Bad girl, with rainbows
But what about that clock, and that winged chariot? I’m cautious about how I explain this. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Maybe I should say, before I crack on, that I am fit and well and happy…no qualifications. Hold on to that thought. I’ve noticed for the last couple of years I’ve been writing what might seem bleak-sounding poems, a bit dark, a bit valedictory but not particularly backward looking or nostalgic. More concerned with the fact of death being a lot closer than it was not so long ago. I believe your poems are like dreams..you have less control over what they say to you than you’d like. Or at least, the good ones, the important ones, do. Behind them all is the acknowledgement that at 75, your days are numbered, and you begin to accept that you’re not immortal. It’s not distressing (well, not to me, anyway) but it means that sometimes you’re looking at life through a diminishing lens you need to understand and get used to. And it also means, for me, that everything becomes more interesting, and I don’t want to waste a minute. I’m in a hurry to do stuff. I can’t hang around fine tuning poems and pamphlets. I want to write and write and get it out there.
At my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Curiously, I’m untroubled by the concept of deserts of vast eternity, and I don’t think Marvell was, either. To his coy mistress is a young man’s vision in a young man’s poem. Because, I believe, he hears nothing of the sort. He’s in a hurry, but not because he thinks he’s going to die any minute soon. The one who speaks to me these days is Norman McCaig. A couple of years ago I set myself the job of reading his collected works, a few poems every day for a year.
By the time I reached his poems written in the 1980’s I started to notice images of approaching death. The horse that comes along the shore, the black sail in the bay, the scythe in the field, the immanence of journeys ending. I wondered why, because I didn’t know much about his biography. I noticed poems that mourned the death of old friends. The penny dropped a bit later. In the mid-1980’s he was the age I am now, an age when some of your oldest friends, all about your own age, have died. The thing is, he had nearly 15 years left to live, but he wasn’t to know that. And most of his poems go on being vibrant with life and the love of life. He went on walking in the Sutherland hills, fishing the remote Green Corrie. He became frail in the 1990s, but he wasn’t frail when he started noting the finite nature of things. I see what he meant. Time has changed its meaning. It is too precious to not do things in. It makes life more urgent, more vivid. I can’t get enough of it.
John Foggin, Winged chariots and an undiscovered gem : Jack Faricy
If the “I” is needed, there needs to be enough transparency in the “I” that it can easily become you-the-reader.
This makes me think of a larger philosophical question about the self. This is the wonderful writer Olivia Laing from her book To the River: “…is it not necessary to dissolve the self if one hopes to see the world unguarded?”
It occurs to me that to make good art, there does need to be a dissolution of the “I;” but then possibly its re-creation as a vehicle for the art, an eye for the seeing.
Which makes me think about a rhetorical question posed in an introduction to a poet at a reading I went to recently, a question I thought was supremely dumb. The introducer asked: Are all poems self-portraits? Of course they are/are not and what’s your point? Of course they are a product of wild imagination shaped by the individual experiences of the writer, and a fake wig and glasses, or stripped down to nude and dancing a watusi. I mean, really. Then there are issues of form, function, experimentation, imitation. There’s wordplay, nonsense, dreamblather. And the possibility of this reconstructed “self,” this constructed “I.”
Lorrie Moore in an article on LitHub said this: “Fiction writers are constantly asked, Is this autobiographical? Book reviewers aren’t asked this, and neither are concert violinists, though, in my opinion, there is nothing more autobiographical than a book review or a violin solo. But because literature has always functioned as a means by which to figure out what is happening to us, as well as what we think about it, fiction writers do get asked: ‘What is the relationship of this story/novel/play to the events of your own life (whatever they may be)?’ I do think that the proper relationship of a writer to his or her own life is similar to a cook with a cupboard. What that cook makes from what’s in the cupboard is not the same thing as what’s in the cupboard–and, of course, everyone understands that….[O]ne’s life is there constantly collecting and providing, and it will creep into one’s work regardless–in emotional ways.”
Which loops me back to the “I” and who the “I” is or who it can be.
Bertrand Russell wrote: “An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”
I think that merging occurs, in a poem, through the use of visceral verbs and vivid images, not through words that represent emotions. No “I felt…” but the depiction of a body feeling, a body in the world. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s you. But I know we’re all in this together.
Marilyn McCabe, Very Well Then I Contradict Myself; on the First Person Perspective in Poems
But what do I mean when I say the concept of embodied consciousness, and consciousness as a series of intricate, synthesized processes, coincides with being a writer? Or in my case specifically, a poet?
It has something to do with taking in the world–through the senses, which is all my body’s really got–and synthesizing all those years of experiences, memories, books I’ve read, poems and plays I’ve loved, people I’ve known, relationships with the environment and with human beings and with other creatures, the whole of my personal cosmos. Referents and reentrants. Relationships actual and imagined. “The remembrance of unassuageable pain.” The process of loafing through the world.
Writing, where much of my so-called consciousness dwells. Not in the outcome, the resulting poems or essays, but in the doing.
Ann E. Michael, Process
Driving on the left side
of the road. Burning
the roof of my mouth
from hot fish. How I
learned to drink flat
whites. The warm
bitterness in a paper
cup. Getting to know
the freckle on your chin.
How we first met.
Your house was hardly
a home. How I learned to live
in the red zone.
Crystal Ignatowski, Memories of a Place I Once Knew