A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and other losses; spiritual and creative renewal; and more. Enjoy.
And so, the book of the dead and the living are opened, and studied. For reckoning, for reconciliation, for release. The mother swirls watery, a whirlpool in slow motion now. The dead cling to rafts riding whitewater. Me–rafted, too–I wonder. In the oldest sense. At how short it is. How pointlessly brutal, when it is also the unutterable holy name embodied.JJS, Days of Awe
Many hours I have watched this boy at sleep, wondering at him. A few hours old, having gravely observed every bright or moving object in the room, after studying my face with his deep, wet eyes, having suckled his first milk and bellowed at being cleaned up and weighed, he fell asleep in my arms. I had felt him asleep for some time within the womb, but now I could watch the drowsy process. Now he breathes. In and out. I could not count the minutes I’ve spent watching him; minutes and hours seem extravagant, faithless, artificial things. But breath! And the slight twitching behind the eyelids, and the pulsing fontanel! Only during his sleep could I appreciate these things.
For when he was awake, he was constantly active. In an instant, he could crawl. Another instant, and he ran. Then he acquired speech, the product of which he loved. Talking is what he’s been put on earth to do. For many years the only times I did not hear his voice chattering in the background of my daily life were when he was at school and when he was asleep.
The world opened itself to him. Cautious, sensitive, he was always secure in his understanding that the world is eternally novel, interesting, and eager to receive his attentions. In the mornings he would tell me his dreams. Even sleep was entertaining; he had few nightmares. He felt safe in the cosmos.
I knew that someday he’d meet the bully, the unfair teacher, the irredeemable tragedy, and wondered how he would face such a thing. For years, he came to me, discussed the behavior of other children, talked about evil characters in books and movies, showed me what is wonderful in his life. “Look, Mama,” he said a thousand times, “Look at this new kind of acorn. Look at how the corn is blowing. Look at that big truck. Look—I think that little girl is crying. Look at my drawing. Look at me, Mama—I’m balancing. I’m a pirate. I’m Peter Pan!”
Buildings are collapsing, Mama.
Look, don’t look.
He’s nearly thirteen. No incipient beard, no hairiness or sweaty armpits yet, no break in the tenor voice. He rolls his eyes at his peers’ hormonal hijinks, the schoolboy crushes, won’t attend a dance. But the time is coming—he knows it. He’s quieter, gets lost in books, stands out in the meadow with a whippy stick, slashing at goldenrod and sumac. He lies in bed after the lights are out. He’s thinking. It keeps him awake, kept him awake even before last Tuesday.
He just has more to think about now.Ann E. Michael, 20 years ago
He carried a small bodyUma Gowrishankar, Home
and then the next
outside the village,
shoulder ripped by pain, a part of brain telling:
a cage of warm bones
now dead wood,
noisy, defying the lashing flames
like little boys who dart out of a mother’s attention.
Hearing my son howl in grief in his bedroom last night was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. It will haunt me my live long life but we are emotionally messy people. He is bereft and I am holding together to absorb what I can of his pain and grief. My son took this photo of Sam asleep in the backseat of his 57 Chevy.
Tomorrow Page heads to his father’s to the orchard and the lake and then I can let myself fall apart to wail my own hurt. Think of us when you can and when you can.Rebecca Loudon, Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Where is our common altar to pray on a day like this? Who is our common god for healing? Maybe the only thing that can save us now is to look at and examine our bodies: “This is our hand, this is our leg, these are our eyes.” We must start from the nil of our common humanity. Not in a sentimental way, but in the way when you get lost and look for a point of recognition in the landscape, a mountain, a lake or a river where you can start walking from.
And that walking will be long.Magda Kapa, 9/11
A cosmic day is longerLuisa A. Igloria, The Oldest Light in the Universe
than any of our ordinary
days: delirium of time
ticking in expanding circles,
distributing the slow-built
honey of the universe.
Telephone coil, endless
transmitting chain drive,
celestial ladder: the bounded
seas and rivers’ continuous
the heavens, partitioning
these puny hours. What
is the actual length
of wars, of the track
by which both soldiers
and prisoners return?
The Nick of Time is a book of mortalities, writing her book-length suite of prose poem sequences and short bursts, each of which are constructed as collages of strands that form new quilts of meaning. “The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities.” she writes, as part of the final poem in the collection, “AGING,” the final poem of the suite “REHEARSING THE SYMPTOMS,” “But gravity / is always attractive, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner / fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent / movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.” As one could speak of her writing at any point across her lengthy publishing history, Waldrop writes on language, reading and perception, and the ways through which we think of the relationships between and amid meaning. The poems that shape to form The Nick of Time also incorporate and investigate concepts such as America, mortality and aging, crafting each poem as a furthering of her decades-long investigations into language, theory and philosophy.rob mclennan, Rosmarie Waldrop, The Nick of Time
It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?
We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.
We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.
That sets us up to fail.
While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.
We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?
Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?
I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.Ren Powell, The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.
Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock scene that was drifting toward the New Wave/Alternative synthesizer heavy music of Brain Eno, Bowie, U2, and Depeche Mode by the time I left for Spain.
Seuss’s poem [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious] brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.
Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from uni and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to ‘escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.
Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.
The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.
I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.
Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.Christine Swint, Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss
At this time of year, as every September, my thoughts return to the classroom. Questions such as ‘Can I still teach?’ and ‘Do I still have it?’ are perhaps less useful than ‘Let’s see what happens!’ I think this may apply to reading and writing poetry as well. Earlier this year, I completely lost my confidence in my ability to do both (just one of the reasons for taking a break from blogging). But while I did really lose my confidence, I mean, really, really lose it, it wouldn’t be true to say I gave up completely on both. I found myself re-reading some favourite poets, as well as new work by poets I admire. (More on these in future posts.) And gradually, without really planning it, words began to take shape again, as they always do, on scraps of papers and edges of envelopes, things that may or may not become something, who knows. Let’s see what happens!
I want to inhabit this open state of mind (for teaching, for reading, for writing) as long as possible, even though I know the new term is going to be tough and long, as it always is. The past, including the poems I’ve already written and sent off into the world, aren’t really any use to me, least of all what I laughingly call my career or reputation.Anthony Wilson, In search of beginner’s mind
I’ve been trying this summer, at least once a week to have more writerly focused content–at least one post per week devoted to solely that, and I find I still have a lot to say on projects and my own process and history, but today, as I sat down on this final day before plunging into a new semester, I found I had nothing at all to say. The world feels heavy and I feel uninspired, so this may be part of it. My focus was everywhere last week, and nowhere good, so while I usually jot down a few ideas for posts, nothing stuck. But then maybe that subject matter is a post in itself. How heavy the world feels and how that heaviness makes it harder to write.
There was some buzz I was barely following on Twitter (because I still haven’t figured out how anyone follows anything on that platform), but the gist was a that a poet seems to have been talking about how poetry matters to no one but poets. Which then was taken as an offense, by, you know, poets. Poets who have a lot of words, thus much buzzing. I’ve been scheduling tweets in advance, so don’t hang out there as much as I do on that old dinosaur facebook and instagram. But I can’t say that the initial poster is wrong, as book sales and public interest in poetry, particularly academic poetry, attest. But then, she is probably wrong about poetry in general, which seems to be having, as I mentioned a few posts ago, a “moment.” (Not my poetry but someone’s poetry.) Poets like to buzz about things like this every so often, and no one is really wrong or right. No, it seems a hard lot when the thing you are most passionate about is mostly ignored in a world where very few people read at all, even fewer read “literature” and even fewer than that, poems. Someone will usually come along and say that poets need to be more (insert accessible, political…etc.) Or that it’s our fault that we’ve wandered do far down this path–our own navel gazing, inaccessibility, cliquishness, lack of audience.Kristy Bowen, oh, poetry….
How many ways might a scarab threaten death?Charlotte Hamrick, Scarabs Crawl Over Poetry Discourse
How many ways might a poet turn accomplice?
wet morningJim Young [no title]
the bin lorry is reversing
I returned home to find a couple poems published in two different anthologies printed by the Australian press, Pure Slush. While this isn’t the first time I’ve published with Pure Slush, my response to doing so is consistently positive. Editor Matt Potter is a delight to correspond with as he’s not only quick to respond to writers, he’s thorough. This is one of the few publications that I’m required to sign a contract for and even its turnaround is timely and efficient.
So I thank Matt and Pure Slush for publishing “One Hundred Bucks for Public Radio” in the Friendship issue, and “The Goods” in the 25 Miles from Here collection. I’m also happy for my writing friend Larry Wright who also published his poem “Lost Boys” and “On Rattlesnakes” in these same anthologies.
As for summer, it is all too quickly coming to a close. I am trying, really trying, to settle into the groove of another school year and winter ahead. But my dreams taking up greater space. They are bright in color and I’m more restless than ever to chase them.Kersten Christianson, Spinning Into September
It seems I have started to write essays. Why now? I’m feeling an escalating pressure to write down my thoughts, both because the moment feels so urgent, and because I want to remember them. And really, who knows how long I will be able to write? Carpe diem, as they say.
Of course, I’m reading essays too. I’ve been re-reading some of the wonderful essays of Virginia Woolf and I have Zadie Smiths Feel Free: Essays on board. And I’ve just ordered a forthcoming anthology of lyric essays by contemporary essayists, titled A Harp in the Stars.Risa Denenberg, Getting Your Daily Fix of Culture
so I can
what I wrote,Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (6)
the old monk
Just like this beautiful harbor seal represents a creature that lives both below water and above it, we writers have to re-enter regular life after spending a week just devoted to nature and writing, going to sleep when the sun goes down, no internet or television or social media to distract you…and then coming home. Not that I hate coming home – fluffy cats and hummingbirds awaited – but it does take a little while to shake off the glamour of small-town island life. Unpacking, getting ready for Glenn’s surgery on Monday, responding to a ton of e-mails, catching up on what’s been going on in the news – well, it’s not exactly the stuff of sparkles and rainbows. But in a way, being a writer during regular life is a more important practice than doing it under special circumstances, right? Because that’s most of life.Jeannine Hall Gailey, The End of the Residency, Re-Entry, and Prepping for Surgery
We went away for a few days last week to my happy place, Ocean Shores, where I am always drawn to when I am in crisis, in need of a deep rest, or on the precipice of some major change in my life. While I don’t always immediately find the answers I am looking for there, it’s always been a place of peace and healing for me. I need the reminder that there is something larger in the world than my minuscule life, that there is a roaring, shining, glorious ecosystem with a thundering heart that goes on without me and will continue to do so even after I pass. Besides all that metaphorical stuff, I am just a plain old sucker for ticky-tacky beach stuff. I love all of the souvenir shops with their bright, cheap, silly wares. I love salt water taffy, kites, renting scooters, and all of the other touristy entrapments. It all delights me and makes me feel uncharacteristically light and care-free. And my creative block was lifted by the lilt of the sea, and I started a new poem for the first time in ages.Kristen McHenry, Adventuring Practice, The Lilt of the Sea, Commercial Collusion
I’ve had moments of beginning to process this experience of going back to the classroom, but it’s something that feels huge and that I cannot begin to see clearly yet. I don’t think I can really describe what it was, but I will try a little.
It’s a cliche, but it wasn’t unlike riding a bike or skating after a long time of not biking or skating. I felt a little wobbly at first, but then I got my balance back and the wheels flew and it felt so right. Righter than anything has felt for years and years and years. It was hard and fun and exhausting. I have to think so hard when I am teaching–constantly taking in information and processing/assessing it and deciding what my next move needs to be, often in mere seconds. It works my body, too, in a way it hasn’t worked in so long; at one point, I realized sweat was running down my face inside my mask, and I was ravenous by the time I got to lunch. But at the same time, while I was in it, I wasn’t aware that I was thinking hard or that I was sweaty or hungry or thirsty. I was entirely present and engaged and energized and calm.
At the risk of sounding corny or over-wrought, I will say that it felt like my whole being was vibrating, maybe singing. I was very much in the state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow, one in which you become so involved in what you are doing that you can lose all sense of time and of yourself. Being able to experience flow states is, according to Csikszentmihalyi, essential to happiness. While I certainly had moments of flow in my earlier teaching experiences, I don’t remember it ever feeling quite like it did this past week. […]
I don’t know what I will be able to do with the understandings that are only just starting to develop. I’m seeing things about teaching, learning, creativity, struggle, work, and rest that I haven’t really understood before. But I’m grateful to be having them, even as they raise some difficult feelings. As I have experienced so much more joy in the past week at work than I had in all of last year, it’s been hard not to also feel anger and regret. Part of me is furious about how much suffering there is in our schools for both students and staff. In our world. We don’t have to do things the way we do them; our systems are a result of our priorities and our choices. If we truly valued our children the way we like to say we do, schools would look and function in radically different ways than they currently do.Rita Ott Ramstad, Well, that was a fast week
Regular reader of this blog will have been grooving to the music of Pollyanna recently. I met her via Instagram earlier this year and I have been enjoying her music [and her lyrics] since. I can heartily recommend the LP Polly and the Feathers – it’s fantastic. But enough from me, let’s hear from the star herself!
Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?
Obviously, I’d say music, but as my favourite genre is songs, I guess it’s a little bit of poetry and literature too.
Songs are both verbal and non-verbal. This is what I like about music: it addressesanother part of the brain, more emotional (or more mathematical?) even when you can’t put these emotions in words. What I like with songs is that it is also words, but words are not primary in it. First you get the sound, then the melodies/harmonies and then the words. It’s a bit less intellectual, it doesn’t need to be sophisticated, it’s more humble than “hard poetry”, I’d say.
What do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?
I want my songs to get into people’s mind and heart, and see if we can resonate together. I’m looking for some sort of verbal and non-verbal communication. I believe songs can heal, and can make people feel loved. I also have in mind the courses I had about Virginia Woolf in college. We were studying The Waves and streams of consciousness, and how literature and poetry were also an attempt to find some unity in the world that is, otherwise, a collection of sometimes contradictory perceptions. I believe songs can provide that feeling of unity. Especially when you play an instrument: body and soul are then working together, which is probably something I need. Maybe even for my mental health.Paul Tobin, POLLYANNA: THE INTERVIEW
I’ll be swamped with teaching work soon, but with all this in mind, I just spent some time on Goodreads, giving stars and occasionally brief reviews to books I read this summer. This is an especial kindness to small press authors. None of us can afford to buy every book we might like by every author deserving more attention, but here’s a reminder to do what you can–Goodreads and Amazon reviews, social media praise, library requests, putting new books on your syllabi, whatever sounds doable for you. That circulation of dollars and attention rarely puts much money in a small-press author’s pocket, but it does enable indies to stay afloat, therefore publishing good writers who haven’t hit it big (yet) and keeping the literary world more lively, quirky, and full of risk. It’s much easier for a writer to place the next book when the previous one has done decently. And, of course, love gives a writer heart. This pandemic would have hurt worse without the company of books.Lesley Wheeler, Pandemic books, like pandemics, keep coming
My reflective practice begins with me writing my journals. I have two journals at the minute – one in which I record my everyday life and observations, one in which I make notes specifically on the novel and also reflect on my own feelings and thoughts around it. Because I really, really struggle with anxiety and, where writing is concerned, this manifests as imposter syndrome, this journalling around the big project I’m working on helps me to pour out all the angst and address it with my rational brain, before I spiral into a proper pit of anxiety. I then read some buddhist lessons or texts (I’ve just finished re-reading Zen Mind, beginner’s Mind) , then I read at least five poems from whatever poetry collection I’m reading and a chapter of whatever novel I’m reading at that time. I drink my coffee, I eat my marmite on toast. Usually there is some chasing of the cat down the garden at this point, trying to extract some poor dead creature from his mouth. […]Wendy Pratt, On Sabbatical: The First Week
One day this week I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me already and I want to make the most of it. The next day I managed 2000 words, so it all evens out. Writing a novel is not an A to Z process. But I am loving it. I am LOVING it. My anxiety is vastly reduced, I feel content and happy and like I’m ‘working well’. When I get into the writing groove in a project it is a phenomenal feeling. It’s like my brain has been working on this project for a good long time and now it’s ready to bring it out from the bottom of the cupboard to show me. I would not change this for the world. And, weirdly, I find myself more productive on the other work stuff I’m doing. I’m enjoying it more because I am being true to myself, I am prioritising my own creative practice and putting my faith in it.
Sometimes the Light inside of me is so strong and bright that even the stones by my feet have voices. Life opens up like a present, like a gift, and so it is. Listen to the wind, and listen to birds, for they understand the wind. Unwrap the gift. Is this too fast for you? I can go slower.James Lee Jobe, Unwrap the gift.
What a gorgeous holiday weekend! I did my reading outside, and today is the Labor Day Parade. The blue sky is mostly lifting my personal blues, despite the simmering frustration and ongoing communal grief. I surprised myself by submitting some poems yesterday. Others are coming out this fall. But everything still feels suspended and slightly unreal to me. It helps to prick my fingers on coneflower seeds, sprinkling some on the earth for next year while tidying the flowerbeds. I leave some up all year for the birds. Next year, it’s possible the blackberry lilies and coneflowers and wild violets will take over the universe of my back yard, while lilies of the valley march down into the shared valley between houses. In the meantime, I do hope walking and gardening will undo my crankiness.Kathleen Kirk, White Noise
In the meantime, I’m returning to Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise. One section that popped out for me today goes like this:
“Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.”
So I guess I’m a bit of a believer in the church of folding towels. (Of course as the recipient of kind attentions, I’m going to be biased). Folding the towels with sweetness won’t change the world maybe, but as the saying goes, it might change yours.
I don’t know what your bandwidth is these days, so to speak. I know that mine has fluctuated more wildly than it ever has. And then, we all live in various parts of the world, and that changes a lot. Where I am, though, things are really not cool, and getting worse.
But I’ve been thinking about my strategy in my garden. Which is to plant enough flowers so that no one notices the weeds. And in my house, we put up enough art that when someone comes over with some luck they don’t notice the dust. (Easier to do when you’re married to an artist of course). I’m tired and I sure as hell am not sleeping well. But. I think I can plant some bloody flowers.Shawna Lemay, I Need More Grace than I Thought
Endosymbiosis is the evolutionary phenomenon whereby one organism lives within another for the mutual benefit of both. Our mitochondria that provide us with our all energy need via the oxidative metabolism of sugars are derived from endosymbiont bacteria. Chloroplasts that convert sunlight to energy in plants are also derived from bacterial endosymbionts. At some stage in the future we may be engineered to host bacterial symbionts that can metabolise iron or sulphur or nitrogen to supplement our dwindling energy sources.
The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis presents a combination of high-definition 10K video, industrial audio, and live vocal performance developed specifically for the giant LED screens of The Lab, Adelaide, South Australia. Source material includes my videos depicting dystopian cities, damaged habitats, and readapted life forms; massively re-processed audio samples of natural and urban environments linked with new video animations; and text written especially for this provocation.Ian Gibbins, The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis
–At the time, it seemed like a one time apocalyptic event, a day blazed in our memories. As the pandemic has unfolded, I’ve reflected on the difference with a slow motion apocalypse, compared to a September 11 kind of event.
–But as I’ve reflected, Sept. 11 has also triggered its own slow motion apocalypse: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and all the ways it transformed individual countries and the world, on and on I could go. I feel like I had a bigger list at some point, but I can’t pull it up now.
–As we look back, I’m struck by all the opportunities lost along the way, all sorts of opportunities.
–And of course, I wonder what we’re missing now. When the next apocalypse roars, we will look back and see what? Will it be the apocalypse we’re expecting (then, mushroom clouds and nuclear war, now all sorts of climate change triggered awfulness)? History tells us that the answer will be both yes and no.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September 11, Twenty Years Later
As we look upward with our confusion, the sky will be clear, light shimmering as it catches little particles. It has blinked and renewed itself.
Matisse looked up and saw, in his 1944 cut-out, Icarus falling from the sky with a shattered red heart. It was World War II, a pilot was falling from the lumunious blue sky. The sky then renewed itself.
Simone Weil said of the sea: ships are wrecked and sailors are drowned. The sea causes grief. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.Jill Pearlman, That Crystalline 9/11 Sky
I’ll never be too old or too young to understand how a tombstone is like an other-worldly paperweight. It holds a part of the dead to the earth, and in our hearts, as what remains of the spirit flies away.Rich Ferguson, Untitled