Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 36

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. 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 body
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.

Uma Gowrishankar, Home

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 longer
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
movements shadowing
the heavens, partitioning
these puny hours. What
is the actual length
of wars, of the track
by which both soldiers
and prisoners return?

Luisa A. Igloria, The Oldest Light in the Universe

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?
How many ways might a poet turn accomplice?

Charlotte Hamrick, Scarabs Crawl Over Poetry Discourse

wet morning
the bin lorry is reversing 
in welsh 

Jim Young [no title]

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

I write
so I can
remember

what I wrote,
the old monk
says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (6)

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.

Why music?

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. […]

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.

Wendy Pratt, On Sabbatical: The First Week

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

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 35

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, poets seemed to be taking Rilke’s directive to heart: “You must change your life.” The onset of autumn will do that to you. There’s art and geekiness and trees, books and diaries and new writing projects galore. Enjoy.


A change is coming. It’s in the season – I am readying myself, need to prepare physically, mentally, for some experience or action. 

And so, I’ve started to read again. It’s not that I stopped, but that I’ve been consumed by work, so eaten up by its immediate demands that I could hardly look at poetry, fiction, non-work-non-fiction, for the pain its absence causes. I think this shying away has been a sort of self-preservation too: to read great poetry and great fiction is to encounter the world in truth not found in sociology texts, rarely expressed in academic articles. To read what’s written from the heart of experience is to know without doubt that freedom does not come from working harder, smarter, having what’s been cited to me as a ‘can-do attitude’ (as if unquestioning obedience were some sort of virtue). […]

And I went swimming again this week in the reservoir. I had been waiting all August for the clouds to clear, the temperature to rise. The sun has been elusive, but when I turned to friendship, to LJ (who never shies away from experience or action), I found I could risk the plunge, even in 16 degrees under cloud. I went in not hot but bothered, came out cleansed. We sat afterwards in our usual spot, drinking tea, and the clouds cleared enough for there to be blue and gold. I carried the water’s coolness into my evening, to the warmth of a poetry picnic in the park with friends. I began to remember who I am being, why I am doing.

Liz Lefroy, I Ready For Change

This back to school season feels nothing like the 31 others I’ve lived. The return to school each year has always been a time marked by dread. While each year (except the last) always contained things I looked forward to and was excited about, there was also always sadness and resignation. It meant returning to imbalance and exhaustion and ethical compromise–all of which stemmed from simply never having enough time to do all that needed doing. Important parts of me that opened during the summer months shut down when I returned to school. This year, in spite of all that is unknown and likely to be challenging, I feel only light, happy, and open. I cannot remember a time in my life that I have felt as down-to-the-bone good as I do right now.

I feel that way because I’m returning to work that is a better fit for me. I feel that way because it is my choice to do this work; I didn’t feel trapped by economic need. I feel that way because I will have a manageable work load that gives me enough time to take care of my personal and family needs, as well as time for things I simply want to do. I feel this way because I get to do work that aligns with my values and that I know I can do well.

Think of what a difference it could make to our children if all their teachers felt light, happy, and open as they return to school! Think of what a difference it could make to our world if everybody felt light, happy, and open about their work, able to do the kind that is a good fit for them, in places where they feel safe and accepted and able to be the best version of themselves. These insights I’m gaining about community, belonging, competence, choice, and meaning will definitely inform my practices with students this year as I facilitate their work of learning, as well as choices I continue to make about where and how to work, live, and be.

This post is already too long for a deep-dive into a critique of work in a world driven by capitalism (that others are doing so much better than I could, anyway), but on this Labor Day weekend, I am full of ideas and wishes and longings for how work could be different for all of us, and what that could mean for our planet and societies. I am so grateful for new colleagues who feel like my people and who have welcomed me into their community. I can’t wait to work beside them and to learn from and with them. I wish they were not going to have to carry the kind of weight that I did for so many years, but I know that most of them will. I’m wishing that all of them and all of you and everyone I know could work in the way I now get to, so that we might all bloom where we’re planted–because blooming isn’t just a matter of your attitude or desire or effort. (Just ask my raspberries.) It’s about having the conditions you need to live, grow, and thrive.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming (and not)

In that Book of Life names are written, then sealed. The concept carries serious weight, but this year I’m giving it a different spin. The turning that we do, teshuvah, turning over a new leaf, returning to true and better selves is like turning or stitching of material that poets indulge in. We thread one thing against and into another. Bursts of strong emotion or image might end a line to be met with contradiction on the next. All paradox, all voices welcome! I can understand our contemporary turbulence as voices breaking in on each other. Beauty is stitched with grief, and against the tragic bursts the intimate. Dark absurdity is patched with innocence. And personal failings open onto something bigger, a collective standing together. That stitching, that turning to the whole is the next ritual I’m falling into.

Jill Pearlman, The Closing Rituals of Summer

The summer heat broke at last after the “remnants” of hurricane Ida crashed over us. If those were just remnants, I have deep respect for the people of Louisiana, who felt the initial force. We got 7″ of rain in less than a day, and the flash floods affected many of our friends. My basement office on campus is drying out during the 3-day weekend–our building’s drainage system was not quite up to the task of directing water away from our doors. Now, the brown crickets are noisier than the katydids, the grasshoppers have grown large, the days are shorter. Tomato harvest has slowed, and gardening consists mostly of pulling up weeds and dead plants. It is as though the downpour swept away summer, despite my knowing that the hot days will return. (September can be steamy here in my valley.)

I’m reading A.E. Stallings‘ collection Like and relishing her new takes on traditional poetry forms as well as her facility with establishing a sense of place in the poems. I appreciate her images and thought-provoking ideas, too. Her work does the things that I think poems are supposed to do.

Finally, I have been drafting a few poems, or at least hoping these drafts will turn into poems. I’ve also begun examining some older work for revision and, maybe, collection into another book. But that’s looking perhaps too far ahead. After a challenging couple of years, maybe just living in the moment serves me better.

The taste of fresh pears. The sticky sweetness of fresh local peaches. The smell of basil.

Ann E. Michael, Moment(s)

Rain pelts the roof and the rivers rise. Roots push
out of the ground—outspread, they thicken: not fall.

We’ve lined up for shots but still hide our faces behind
masks; the moon wears a gauze of stars before it falls.

I’ll write to you in every dream, fill notebooks with loops
through which we engineer escape before the fall.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Some writers go to writer’s residencies and retreats frequently. I am not one of those writers. I haven’t been to a writer’s residency in six years. The last time I went, I was working on the manuscript that became Field Guide to the End of the World. I’m coming to this residency to write poems, yes, and send out poems, yes, but also to wrangle three (!) unruly poetry manuscripts that need to get out into the world. This takes more time and concentration than I usually can muster at home. I just finished a first last week – my first ever Virtual Breadloaf (TM) and now I’m taking time to be a writer at a retreat for a whole week!

So what to do? Well, you pack up, get in a car and drive for an hour and a half, then sit in parking lot for the ferry for another hour, then ride the ferry over for an hour, and then, bam! You’re there! Your little cabin in the middle of a university’s marine biology lab center on San Juan Island is ready and waiting to be aired-out and re-cleaned (covid days, of course) and then safely entered into. The skies are blue. The ocean is literally steps away. You can hear crickets. There’s no television. And though many young marine biologists and other scholars crowd the grounds you barely even see any of them except in a distance. You literally interact with no one except a friendly biologist who points you in the direction of the cabin key on arrival.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week Away at a Writing Retreat in the Pacific Northwest – with Foxes!

My plan is to spend the mornings writing, from day-break to lunchtime, Hemingway style, though without all the excessive booze. The afternoons are for reflective practices – beach walks, research, journalling, reading, looking out of the window, absorbing, being. I have never been in a position to do this before. Like most writers I’ve always shoe-horned writing in at five in the morning before work starts, after work, in five minute breaks between work. So I don’t know how well I’ll do with it, it’s a different way of working, a method that puts me and my practice first, as the priority; something that the voice of imposter syndrome is not liking. Oh no, that bitch is Up. In. Arms. I’m not listening to her. I’m doing it anyway. […]

I chose September for my writing month because it is the time of year when I feel most at peace, before the melancholy of winter. As I sit here now, the clouds are low, the light is fading and there is a chill to the evening air, and yet earlier I wore sandals and no cardigan to walk the dog. The scent of straw and hay and harvest is lingering on the breeze, the swallows are leaving, the swifts have left and the geese are starting to fly over the house, heading south along the coast line. What a beautiful, still, time of year, what a perfect time to be creative.

The out of office response is set, all I have to do now is write.

Wendy Pratt, The ‘Out of Office’ Response is On

One of the truly deep pleasures in writing a novel, or any book, is the accumulating of inspiring sources, the delving into a subject, being refreshed by it and pulled to it. There is a real joy in seeing how looking at something in a prolonged way from many angles, through time — and this alone is one of the profound rewards of writing. […]

When you write a book, you allow all those joyful sparks while delving deep. There’s a point though when you realize how vast the material is. Trust me, it’s always vast. You go in thinking, oh I’m sure no one has written much on X, and you come out with a truckload of books already written on the subject. The trick is to let that inspire you rather than to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it. I always knew I wanted to do some kind of riff of the story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, but guess what? Amanda Leduc had already done so, and it’s an amazing book. At first, I was deflated, but in the end, I just did my thing.

Shawna Lemay, On Writing Inspiration

The act of drawing/painting is often a meditation for me — even a kind of prayer, if you will — in which I allow myself to be led by intuition in the choice of objects, the medium, and how I depict them. There are a lot of “no’s” on the way to the eventual “yes.” In the case of the seemingly innocuous still life here, I now realize that there was more going on than a clichéd “bowl of cherries”: the deep red color of the fruit, the memory of their bloodiness on my tongue and hands, the sense of sudden interruption of a meal represented by the torn, partial piece of bread. Looking at it later, I recalled a passage in Nadezdha Mandelstam’s book, Hope Against Hope, where she describes the evening when her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, was taken away by Stalin’s henchmen – he would later die in a concentration camp. But she writes about how he was eating a hard-boiled egg, which he had just dipped into salt — and that image is what stayed with me. Probably what the viewer sees in the still life is simply moment of calmness and beauty — and that’s also as it should be. I just find it interesting to realize that for me, the maker, there was quite a bit going on, and whatever healing or calmness I found in the making also had to do with the choices and subterranean current I followed, but barely recognized at the time. I felt satisfied with the result – it felt right and somehow complete, but I couldn’t have explained why.

Does this subconscious process impart some ineluctable quality to the finished work? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’m not sure it’s my job to know. I feel like my job is to show up in response to the inner prompting, and do the work.

Beth Adams, The Truth in Ordinary Things

stealth bombers
a cluster of magpies
strut their stuff

Jim Young [no title]

Those 33 poems meant that I wrote a little more than one poem per day, but this year I didn’t even try to write one every day; I almost always wrote them in clumps of three or four and then took a few days off between writing sessions. I’ve done this in the past, too; it makes the “poem-a-day” thing less of a chore for me. And as I’ve said in past PoPo recaps, writing several poems in one sitting sometimes makes them more interesting; often I’ll riff on the subject of one poem and expand it into others. This time I had a series of poems about eavesdropping, since I seemed to be overhearing a lot of conversations and was fascinated by the relationship between the loud talker and the unwilling listener, and the incompleteness of the information you overhear—Is that person always like that? Did that person bring this problem on himself? How reliable is the narrator of this story? I also had a few poems about painting (more on that below), and lots of small scenes from around my town of Ashland, Oregon, which was plagued by hazardous wildfire smoke all through August.

Looking back through the poems, I can see a few that seem like keepers, like something I might end up getting published if some editor likes them. A few fizzled. My favorite one is about my bathrobe, which had nothing to do with eavesdropping or smoke and just sort of flew in on its own, as the best poems sometimes do. 

Amy Miller, Poetry Postcard Fest 2021: Both Sides Now

This month at Canary Wharf in London, the Le Sorelle river barge will host the Sea Reconnection exhibition (part of the Totally Thames Festival 2021), featuring my poetry and work by the visual artists Darren Hewitt and Miles Taverner. 

The exhibition has been in the works for a long time – since 2019, in fact, although I joined the project at a slightly later stage in early 2020. Originally it was planned for spring 2020, but sadly due to COVID, all plans were off. We are delighted that it is finally happening and particularly that we have been able to join the Thames Festival.

Darren Hewitt‘s paintings are focused on expansive, light-filled seascapes and human interactions with these perspectives, while Miles Taverner uses materials recovered and recycled from the sea to create tactile, colourful, often large-scale pieces. 

Several of my poems appear alongside these artworks and bring together the themes of the sea and the Thames. In new works such as ‘Great Eastern’ and ‘Pool of London’, I have written about historic connections between London’s river and the ocean. ‘Great Eastern’, below, was inspired by the ship of the same name, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built at Millwall and eventually destined to lay the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. 

GREAT EASTERN

At Millwall, an iron hull
like a fallen star.
Brunel with his fierce eyes
fixed on the future.

Grey Atlantic fought and held
the telegraph light.
Great Eastern, a meteor,
ploughed into the night.

The exhibition is free to all and is open every weekend from Friday to Sunday in September – details below. Please come if you can.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Sea Reconnection: an art and poetry exhibition in London, September 2021

I’ve used this blog before as a place to record workshop ideas, so I’m adding a post about some visual poems I’ve made as they would also work very well in a workshop. Here I’ve substituted flowers for syllables, words and rhymes in a few poetic forms (haiku, couplet, quatrain, end rhyme) but any found material could be used in place of flowers (one teacher I know used objects found in the classroom to construct visual poems) and there are many more poetic forms to engage with! I’ve posted these pieces on Instagram @andothermaterials where you can find more of this kind of playful and experimental work.

Josephine Corcoran, Making visual poems with flowers

I’m not sure how, exactly, this happens, but when I see just the right painting, it feels as if the artist is stirring her paintbrush inside my head. Photographs move me similarly, as do installations—collections of objects, or a looped video, for example, can have the same effect on me. I never know what will do the trick, what will wake up different parts of my brain, stimulating thoughts and pulling up memories. This is, of course, all part of the fun.

We write ekphrastic poems not to describe the art, necessarily, but to glean some truths from it, to see connections, to uncover things in ourselves in the intersection between words and pictures. 

Erica Goss, Words with Pictures: Ekphrasis

The octopus was a popular part of the so-called ‘Marine Style’ of pottery, which originated on Crete in the late Bronze Age and was embraced by potters on the mainland. Monsters, some more cephalopod-like than others, abound in Greek mythology. They are not all creatures of the sea. The Hydra, which appears in a number of myths and sources such as Hesiod, had several heads. Cerberus, or Kerberos, the hound referred to but not actually mentioned by name in the Iliad, had two, three, or even ‘many’ heads. 

The first open lecture I attended as an undergraduate at Newcastle University in 1979 was given by Dr John Pinsent of Liverpool University on this unusual theme. He had authored a paper called The Iconography of Octopuses: a First Typology (BICS 25, 1978) about the development of octopus representations in late Mycenaean vase painting. 

More recently I came under the influence of a large blue graffiti octopus known locally as ‘Digby‘. Digby, designed by John D. Edwards, is part of the Never Ending Mural community arts project in Ipswich and a popular local icon (see here). 

There may well be a nod to the spirit of Digby in my poem. And, as I hinted earlier, the impact of squid and octopus representations on ancient artifacts should not be overlooked. There is something very fluid, fascinating and changeable about these marine animals.

It is worth remembering that while the wine-dark purple colour from the Murex shell (see also here) was prized as a costly dye in Ancient Greece, humans have been writing and drawing with cuttlefish ink, known to us as ‘sepia’, since times of antiquity. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (3)

In 2001, so many poets poo-pooed the web and the doors it was opening up to reach readers.  When I tried to solicit poets for [wicked alice], the response was often that they didn’t want to “waste” their good poems on internet publication.  I found most of my potential authors in discussion boards/ list servs  (later replaced by blogs). People who already spent a lot of time on the computer.  (I also just realized that many of the poets who said no are no longer writing or publishing (though I wouldn’t know it…maybe their work is only in print journals few subscribe to.) I’m sure some have surrendered wholeheartedly to the beast, especially once budget strings closed up so many print publications completely or forced them to the web. I sometimes laugh hysterically when I see someone who once told me I was unwise for publishing on the web totally publishing madly  on the web. It’s the best kind of self-care.  

I’d be the first to say that without the internets, I don’t think I’d be a poet.  Or at least the poet I am.   Sometimes even publishing on a platform of millions feels like dropping a dime in the ocean.  Print culture would intensify that. I love me some of my fave print journals, and have been a part of many over the years, by submitting or solicitation, but I usually go for web publication in most circumstances when sending out new work.  It feels more immediate and far reaching. Like someone is actually reading and responding, which is really all writers want to feel. 

Kristy Bowen, 20 years

Most festivals request subtitles in English, which is not an issue for my video poems, since the text is an integral part the video design itself. However, some of these festivals have asked for subtitles in Spanish. The challenge here has been, first, to come up with a good translation into Spanish, and, second, to fully integrate the Spanish text into the video.

I don’t know Spanish, although I can read French reasonably well and I studied Latin for 6 years at school. I’m also familiar enough with Italian to grasp the general idea of what is being said or written. So Spanish didn’t seem totally out of reach.

However, the translation for The Life We Live is Not Life Itself – La vida que vivimos no es la vida misma was a special challenge, since the original text and the spoken word here is in Greek, which I can more or less read but not understand well. I did have an English translation that I worked on with the author, Tasos Sagris, and this provided the link for a good Spanish translation.

I used two machine translation systems for this: the well-known Google Translate, and a recently released AI system, DeepL Translator. The first trick here is to generate sentence-by-sentence multi-way translations: Greek to Spanish; English to Spanish, along with their back-translations: eg Spanish to English to Greek compared with Spanish to Greek. The results were compared until they converged on a common set of phrases. Luckily this usually occurred, indicating the underlying accuracy of the machine translation systems.

The second trick is to thoroughly investigate other variant translations that are suggested in order to pick up subtle, but important shades of meaning. Again back and forward translations are critical here. But even more important is to use native language dictionaries to check the meaning of words or phrases: what do native speakers think this word or phrase means, at least as recorded in their dictionaries. Of course, this also required several iterations of translation – back-translation.

The final thing is to get the translated text checked by a native speaker if possible. In this case, I was lucky to have someone do this and they found only a couple of things to change, both of which I’d flagged, which was a great relief!

Ian Gibbins, Videos screening in Latin America

During lockdown, our local poetry group didn’t really meet up, so my contact with other poets in my area hasn’t been as frequent as it normally would have been. Plus, I’ve sort of defected to the haiku camp – I don’t write much in other forms at the moment, or read them for that matter. Having said that, I don’t feel it’s narrowed my field of vision, quite the opposite. It’s led me to discover new magazines like the one above, and my other UK favourite, Presence. And then there are all those fantastic American journals, many of which are online or publish a selection from their current issue online. I’ve been lucky enough to have two poems published in these this year. It’s not the reason I write, but acceptance does help keep the momentum.

Julie Mellor, Blithe Spirit

Until I saw the work of Sarah J. Sloat, I hadn’t thought of combining erasure poems and collage.  I loved her book Hotel Almighty, the erasure poems with collage that Sloat created from pages of Stephen King’s Misery, and it made me want to do something similar.  But this past summer hasn’t been a great time to do that, what with getting ready to move, then moving, then having art supplies in various places.

And there’s the issue of intentionally destroying a book.  I don’t have that many books I don’t care about.  I thought I might use John Naisbitt’s Megatrends, once I glanced through it again to see if it had been correct about its predictions.  But when I saw my notes from so many years ago, I just couldn’t damage the book.

So, I made a photocopy of a page that had potential.  I blocked out some words that seemed to go together.  And then I clipped some pictures from a December copy of Oprah magazine. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Information Economies and Collages

I like blogging because I like writing but publication is slow. It’s nice to have an immediate outlet for thoughts I’m not ready to cast as essays or poems. I’m not about to stop in favor of more strategic writing behavior, although one day I might. But I do regret a little having channeled time away from truly private writing. What’s really on my mind is often not mine to share–this week, “worrying about a friend in trouble” doesn’t even remotely cover it–so I end up misrepresenting aspects of my life in my blog, probably most often by projecting coherence I certainly do not feel. I don’t know if any entry is really better than a verbal selfie, in which I “show” my writing, reading self at a deceptively flattering angle. As [Edna St. Vincent] Millay said at one of the many moments she castigates herself for not writing, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory.”

Well, poets are experts at the simulacrum of presence, creating an illusion of voice through dry printed words. Millay certainly was. “What kind of beast would turn its life into words?” Adrienne Rich once wrote. Me, I guess, over and over again, trying to be authentic enough to satisfy myself.

Lesley Wheeler, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory”: Millay’s journals

I have a thing for dead trees resting in the branches of living trees. I’m sure forestry management types consider this a potentially dangerous situation, but I find them beautiful. I cherish the music these tree partners make in the wind, almost like whale songs rising from the woods.

When I shared some pictures on social media, poet friend RC Wilson responded, ”Mark Twain indicated that a tree limb in the river that oscillated up and down in the current, like the arm of a man sawing wood, was called a sawyer. Seems like some of the music you describe is a rubbing sound caused by the wind moving the living tree so that the dead tree rubs against it like the bow of fiddle. So how about fiddlers? Yeah, ‘widow maker’ acknowledges the deadliness of that arrested potential energy, so watch out for widow makers when you set up your tent, but also listen for song of the fiddlers that trees have sung forever.”

Friend and former colleague Shay Seaborne wrote that she sees the living tree as a “tree death midwife.” I think she’s got something with that midwife observation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Sister Trees

Reading through The Book of Mirrors (Winner of the Twenty-Sixth White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2021) by Yun Wang, I find myself marveling again and again at her facility with the poetic image. Across poems ranging in theme from feminism, dreams, literary figures, motherhood, and the universe, Wang’s use of the image is nothing short of illuminating while also being instructive. Note how even in this one line from “Sapphire” creates a whole world:

White swans in flight dissolve into a dark sea punctured by stars.

This inversion of color in the move from “white swans” to “dark sea” is masterful and moves imagery beyond mere description. Across the collection’s four sections, Wang incorporates images to suggest, provoke, interrogate, narrate, and elegize the experiences of living in a world where one only has what they can sense and intuit to guide them forward. A good example can be seen in the short lyric “Regret”:

If I were a tree
I would never have shed
all my leaves
for the caress of sunset

and stepped naked
into that moonless
starless night

A trap embraced me
I had no voice

Here, the logic and mutability implied by the word “If” is pursued through descriptions of tree life, a move that juxtaposes the experiences of tree and being human. Through this proximity, tree and human are seen in stark contrast while also embodying distinct vulnerabilities. The poem implies that while the fixed and voiceless tree would naturally be thought of as the more vulnerable of the two, it is the human decisions made by the speaker that have left her, ultimately, “trapped” with “no voice” despite having one. One feels distinctly the weight of the title and how much of it stems from conscious human awareness and human error.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: The Book of Mirrors by Yun Wang

Yesterday, telling you about Men, Women, and Ghosts, I also told you about my dream of a wild, baby pig. Strange and delightful to encounter [Jon] Tribble’s poem titled “Long Stories About Short Pigs.” In the first story, a beggar boy takes a wild ride on a metal pig. Then my heart broke when the poem shifted to “the last Vietnamese family / pressed into the metal belly of the cargo / chopper” and made the connection, as many have been doing these last few days, of the exit from Vietnam and the exit from Afghanistan, leaving people behind. More heartbreak in “Banner Days in America,” a poem that starts with burning a flag and ends with folding one.

Indeed, for all the delights in this book, heartbreak, injustice, trouble, or irony are right there in the background, perhaps in a restaurant, enjoying Chinese food, while a boy and his grandmother talk about things you’d rather not have to overhear. “A pig is never only a pig,” Tribble reminds me, and, alas, “a fairy tale is only a fairy tale.” Sometimes there are no happy endings. In “Lucky Life,” about the need for riverboat casinos, “[a] few spindly antennas” in small towns are “shaping these lives to All-American mold.

          Huddled about the pixilated fire,
     cartoon promises guarantee That’s all,

     folks! with piggish glee, but is it?

Ah, yes, the pig of my childhood. But this is a grown-up book.

Kathleen Kirk, And There is Many a Good Thing

From Winnipeg-based poet Colin Smith comes Permanent Carnival Time (Winnipeg MB: ARP Books, 2021), furthering his exploration of civil discourse, neoliberal capitalism and chronic pain amid Kootenay School of Writing-infused poetics. Permanent Carnival Time engages with the prairies, including the historic Winnipeg General Strike, writing a wry engagement of language gymnastic and ruckus humour. “Labour is entitled to all it creates.” he writes, as part of the second poem, “Necessities for the Whole Hog.” Sparking asides, leaps and fact-checks, Smith’s lengthy poetic calls out culture and capitalism on their nonsense, deflection and outright lies, composing a lyric out of compost and into a caustic balm against capitalism’s ongoing damage. “Money with more civil rights than you.” he writes, as part of “Folly Suite”: “Luckless bastard.”

rob mclennan, Colin Smith, Permanent Carnival Time

Hades seems to be a state of mind, not just a place, and takes readers on a tour through politics, history, love, boredom and other human conditions in a variety of forms. The opening half is a collection of casual sonnets that don’t strictly follow the rules but allow the underlying structure to give the poems a framework, a reason not to wander too far off into digressions. The first poem, “Barbarian”, starts,

“Fey provincial folk played guitars
and zithers, slowly farmed the days
they read books and sat through plays
lived their lives creatively
(crochet, writing and pottery)
oblivious to the barbarian hordes
surrounding and then they noticed.”

Each turns to prayer only for them to be replied with disaster after disaster as “the home audience stare/ at shiny screens.” Being good is punished by reduction to entertainment to keep the barbarians on the right side of the screen.

Emma Lee, “A Happening in Hades” S K Kelen (Puncher and Wattmann) – book review

Because the enemy sleeps with eyes open and heart closed.

Because our heads and hands don’t always get along.

Because the belly of the beast sometimes resembles the interior of our past apartments.

Because there’s a memory tied around our finger that won’t allow us to forget the broken parts of our past.

Because it’s hard for arms to embrace shadows, because shadows sometimes wear our bodies better than we do.

Because wounds come in all shapes, sizes, and kisses.

Because fire is at the heart of our yeses, and yeses don’t always survive the rain.

Because sometimes the only language we can skywrite in is falling.

Because falls don’t always follow summers.

Because there aren’t enough desert winds to eliminate sorrow’s footsteps,

we continue to be that air in search of a clear blue sky.

Rich Ferguson, Eyes Open, Heart Closed

I used to wake every morning and spring out of bed: I’d be on my feet before I really knew I was awake, eager for the day, intent on my breakfast and my book and my brief ambitions. Now I wake slowly, even if my bladder is full and urgent. I look at my hands in the morning dark, open them wide and clench them curiously into fists, to see if they’ll do it. Still alive: still strong. I’m still here, for some reason. Or for none. I hear the cry of gulls, in my mind’s ear. They don’t really come this far up from the river: it’s some trick of my gimpy auditory processing. I turn on my side, throw off the covers, swing my legs forward into emptiness, freeze my core, and push myself upright with one arm. From there I can stand without any particular stress on my lower back. I sway slightly, reassuring it: see? I can move that much, and no sirens go off. A new day. Thus.

Dale Favier, The Cry of Gulls

once the coast was clear
all the humans gone
the gulls moved in to
scavenge
salvage
savage what remained

night was falling
change was in the air
they had been here before
all might perish yet

Paul Tobin, NIGHT WAS FALLING

Open the gate. Let the cows roam,
Following their own free will.
Open the door. Let the children play
However they wish to play.
If the house and the grounds are both silent,
Shape your cool tongue into a single white flower.
Perhaps a camellia, fat and full, bursting
With life. Lick the silence clean.
Move through your silence
Like you might move through an entire life,
If only you could; and do this without shame.

James Lee Jobe, Lick the silence clean.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

This week brought some unusually thought-provoking posts considering we’re still (barely) in vacation season. I particularly liked what A.F. Moritz told rob mclennan about how he first perceived poetry as a child just learning to read, because this was so like my own experience: “The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…” Yep. And I still feel that way, all these decades later. Anyway, enjoy the digest.


Restoration of all that we lost
was never the point:
it is something entirely
other now.

Our job
was to bring
new. To make larger.

Scarcity was not the assignment.
Neither was grief.

JJS, insomnia dawn, end of summer

David (Gill), my archaeologist husband, was a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome in the mid-1980s. We had recently married and were to spend that year living in the School, where I washed bones and sherds of pottery in my spare time. By then I had taught Classical Civilisation A Level in two different school settings in the UK and had gained a qualification in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (RSA TEFL). I believe this qualification is now known as a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults or CELTA.  

I was fascinated by the Ostiense area around the Piramide Metro station in Rome. My eyes were immediately drawn to the imposing pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius. You can read more about the tomb here

The ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome‘ was nearby. It contains a memorial stone to Keats, who died from TB at the young age of 25. 

It has been documented that the poet wanted the words you see above as his epitaph: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water‘.

There is also a memorial tablet to Shelley, who drowned in a shipwreck off the Italian coast at the age of 29. The tablet bears the famous ‘sea-change’ line from The Tempest.

It is a well-known fact that Shelley’s heart failed to burn when his body was washed ashore and ‘cremated’; Mary Shelley kept his heart, which was found among her possessions after her death. Edward John Trelawny, who also gets a mention in my poem, was an author friend of Shelley’s. Trelawny was able to identify the body of his friend on the beach.

There were often a lot of colourful cats in the area around Piramide Metro Station. It was some time before we realised that there was special provision for stray cats nearby. My reference to ‘bread and circuses’ was perhaps in part due to the free hand-outs the cats were receiving. It was, of course, also a nod to the satirist and poet Juvenal, who evoked Roman life so vividly (Juvenal, Satires, X. 70-81. Penguin translation here).

As a cat-lover, I have often observed how felines have a way of whiskering their way into unexpected places. A couple of the Testaccio ones sneaked into my poem.

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (1)

I’m home from Sewanee followed by a pretty decent week at the beach. It was wet in North Carolina, but we hot-tailed it to the beach whenever the rain stopped for a couple of hours. The surf was wild, the water hospitably warm. Our rental house on the sound had kayaks and bicycles we made the most of, plus an insane parrot and flamingo decoration scheme, which I’m inclined to put down in the “plus” column. If you see some metaphors in my beach report, so do I. This summer was packed with challenges–and sometimes opportunity–for me, my family, and friends. It’s not over, but my tan is fading. My tarot spreads, a pandemic hobby that hasn’t run out of gas, are full of aces and fools, signs of new beginnings, but also upside-down wheels and travelers. They hint that it’s time for change, although I’m resisting it. […]

Speaking of change: my poem “Convertible Moon,” a sapphics-ish elegy for my mother-in-law, appears in the new issue of One. I wrote it maybe five years ago, right after she died, and rewrote it many times, struggling to open a hyper-compressed poem to the air. Meanwhile, an etymological riff of a poem, “In Weird Waters Now,” appears in Smartish Pace 28. That one came fast. I drafted it, polished it, sent it off, and it was taken on the first try. I’d like more magic like that in my life, but in my experience, you earn the breakthroughs only by keeping your writing practice alive, and that’s time an overstuffed workday tries to edge out.

Lesley Wheeler, Convertible and weird

No angels have marked
any doors to announce
if someone has passed.

In the market, life
appears to go on
as it always has.

Mounds of ripe
fruit draw hordes
of bejeweled flies.

The hills go on, also—
keeping conversation
with themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Hill Station [11]

Thanks go once more to the Secret Poets who could see the shape of this poem so much more clearly than I could. You can read the previous draft here. I have though [all by myself] added a title. […]

There was some confusion over exactly what the narrator was doing with the photograph, why they needed to add a story, were they a journalist? I had not seen them as such. I was thinking they had been refining a story, a tale to tell others, as we all do.

The vision of others can help to improve our work beyond our imaginings. I suppose it’s a riff on the old saying “many hands make light work”. Something like many poets make for clarity.

Thank you Secrets.

Paul Tobin, OUT DISTANCE THE RAIN

I am thinking that the key to serenity is to divide the day into segments and focus on one thing at a time. One task, one worry, one hope. But most days it feels like I’m trying to herd angry little shrews. I suppose it is progress to be able to stand apart and watch them scrambling, though. Writing is both difficult and not. Morning journaling is difficult, but my mind is sliding effortlessly back towards poetry. At least towards the desire and the atmosphere. It’s like sitting down with an old love and finding – oh, yes, I remember this ease.

Holding two truths at once: not everything is characterised by ease now. I dream I wake often. It has been happening for over a year now. Most often I have symptoms of Covid 19, but lately I have an allergic reaction to an herb and lie waiting for my tongue to swell. I itch. I wonder where/when the line is: time to call an ambulance, or too late. I’m awake now and get up to check my torso for rashes. My lips for swelling.

Ren Powell, A False Awakening

You tell me you’ve heard the howl of wolves when the lush forest lifts its skirt.

I tell you I have a bottle of highway wine and a guitar that can outplay a death rattle.

You tell me life can sometimes seem as strange as a dandelion on a dog leash.

I tell you I dreamed you into my life with the long end of a wishbone, and with the short end I cleaned my fingernails.

You tell me if you pay close enough attention to the stars in the night sky, you can witness constellations offering instructions on how to escape a burning life.

I say sometimes tears and music sound like the same song to me.

You tell me to grab my guitar, see if we can strum our way to daylight.

Rich Ferguson, A Brief Conversation Along the River Midnight

[Y]esterday I did a painting of a branch of monkshood, Aconitum, from G.’s garden, and found myself struggling to find the patience to do that sort of detailed botanical painting after a long hiatus.

But I’d wanted to capture its fantastic shape – those dark blossoms that are so evocative of the monk’s hoods for which they’re named, and because it feels somewhat connected to G. himself, who lives an intentionally contemplative life. Monkshood has quite a history. The botanical genus name Aconitum (there are 250 species) is most likely from the Greek word for “dart,” because it was used in antiquity and throughout history as a poison on arrow-tips for hunts and in battle. A couple of grisly anecdotes: in 1524, Pope Clement VII decided to test an antidote for this plant — also known as the “Queen of Poisons” — by deliberately giving aconite-tainted marzipan to two prisoners; the one who received the antidote lived but the other died horribly. And in 2020, the president of Kyrgyzstan touted aconite root as a treatment for COVID; four people were hospitalized before his suggestion was debunked.

So in the middle of the summer harvest, it felt rather exotic to learn all of that about a common plant of northern gardens — in fact, there’s quite a bit of it in one of the city’s gardens in a park near my home.

I think the limitations of the pandemic have created greater pleasure in these small things; I find myself paying closer attention, and appreciating the first ear of corn, the succulent strawberries, the succession of bloom and the phases of the moon. I dreamt the other night that I had awakened at my father’s house at the lake, and looked up through the bedroom window to see the sky glittering more brilliantly than I’d ever seen it, with millions of stars.

Beth Adams, Gathering the Summer Fruits

The primary task I’ve been concentrating on this summer has been mundane but time-consuming — I’m slowly repairing and repainting and reorganizing our home after 14 years of five people and 2+ dogs living hard and really taking it out in the worst way on the walls and furnishings. It’s slow going, especially considering my swollen joints and also my special talent for distraction, yet it’s… going.

But when I haven’t been spackling or taping or painting I’ve been working on my manuscript collaboration with M.S. and it’s ALMOST FINISHED. I hope I’m not jinxing us by typing that out, but we have about two-three poems and cyanotype pairings to finalize, and then we’ll have something that’s “complete” if not finished (meaning it may need editing and some revisions on my end, and maybe some re-scanning of artwork on M.S.’s end). But we’ve MADE A THING and it’s very exciting considering that we never thought we’d make ANYTHING when the pandemic began.

In fact, we exhibited the poems and the cyanotypes at the 10th Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island at the end of July. We printed poems and art on laminated canvas (since we needed some protection against possible wind and rain).

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Best Laid Plans are Just the Plans I Make and Then Flagrantly Ignore

why is sunlight inside the sparrow :: older than the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I waited for the AT&T person to finish making my phone line communicate with the outside, I ended my day by reading Patricia Smith’s brilliant and terrifying Blood Dazzler, a good reminder of all the aspects of life that threaten us:  hurricanes and poverty and bad information and poverty and learned helplessness and poverty and forced helplessness.  I loved this cycle of poems that revolve around Hurricane Katrina, and each subsequent reading only increases my appreciation of the work.

I wondered about my own ruminations throughout the day and wondered if I could create some sort of poem cycle that connects Afghanistan and the health of a nation and the personal health choices that lead to ruin.  Or maybe I want a simpler poem, a poem about a woman hearing about the dire circumstances of Afghanistan’s women and children, a woman sobbing in the car as she goes to pick up her books on hold at the public library, a woman who has spent her day at work trying to make the educational path easier for college students.  Let my brain ruminate on that a bit before I attempt to catch it on paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Across Decades, A Woman Weeping for Afghanistan

Towards the end of February 2020, on a chilly evening in Cambridge and in what turned out to be my final attendance at a public event before lockdown forced all such pleasures to become online affairs, I sat at the back of the Latimer Room at Clare College to hear Maria Stepanova in conversation with Irina Sandomirskaia on the subject of ‘Memory’. Of the many interesting things they said that evening, one comment that passed between the two women has stayed with me more than any other – though I may be paraphrasing (my memory, ironically or appositely, not being my strongest faculty): “The present is a battlegound for the past”, Stepanova said, or some phrase very similar. This strikes me as true; but it is not its truth particularly that is the reason it stays me, or necessarily its originality, it was after all used in conversation not poetically and it is a phrase which may well have been used many times before, but it is in relation to Stepanova’s poetry that it takes on extra significance for me. And there is a sense in which the idea behind this phrase, although it may sound rather grandiose to say so, changes everything. Stepanova was speaking specifically about the Russian state manipulating the memorialisation of the siege of Leningrad, but the idea of battling over the past is a truth which we in the UK see played out over the treatment of public memorials to those with links to slavery, and in conflicting perspectives on how our history as an Empire-building nation should be treated. The battleground metaphor contains not only ideas of opposing sides and violence, but also loss, mourning, pain, genocide, devastation, confusion, fear, pity, humiliation, the obliteration of the individual to the group and to the earth, and many other associations which, when applied to memory, either individual or cultural (ultimately both), rightly conflates the past and the present into a single physical zone in which those who are living use whatever power is at their disposal to gain control over the dead. And the weapon used in this battle (although real war stripped of all metaphor is its ultimate expression) is language. Memory is an event in the present, it is an event of the mind that takes place through language, which in turn is a social activity that is subject to negotiation and power play. Our language moreover is a social activity in the vertical as well as the horizontal sense (to pilfer and distort Helen Vendler’s expression), i.e. we use it and morph it in dialogue with those in the present but it is bequeathed us by those in the past. Any language possible in the present (and to the extent that we cannot think in any precision without language, any thought possible in the present) owes its meaning to the past. This is what I mean when I say that Stepanova’s phrase changes everything. And while Stepanova writes specifically about Russia and what she sees as Russians’ “strange relationship with the past and its objects” (‘Intending to Live’, 2016, trans. Maria Vassileva) I think my point above about her work’s applicability to the present cultural moment in the UK holds, as I will try to expand in the final part of this essay. My reading of War of the Beasts and the Animals (Bloodaxe), the recent collection of Stepanova’s work translated by Sasha Dugdale, essentially a selection of poems from as early as 2005, is steeped not only in the idea of the present battling for the past, but also in the idea encapsulated in the quote that began this essay, specifically the notion that “a fictive poetics forms around the hole in reality” and perhaps something can be learned about this hole in the same way that we can learn about black holes by the way light bends around them.

Chris Edgoose, Like something about to be born

The Chinese lunisolar calendar puts us between 立秋 lìqiū, or start of autumn, and 處暑 chùshǔ, or limit of heat. Certainly the heat here lately has felt limiting, but the term more likely refers to the end of the hottest days of the year. My backyard world fills with haiku imagery for waning summer and impending autumn: katydid and annual cicada calls, birds starting to flock, morning glory and goldenrod, ripe pears, apples beginning to redden, hosts of butterflies. I watch as a hummingbird visits sunflowers, cannas, buddleia, corn tassels, and zinnias. Ripe tomatoes and zucchini weigh heavily on their vines.

Yesterday, a doe nibbled pears while her late-born twin fawns wove between her legs and the Queen Anne’s lace beneath the tree. The air hangs so humid, even the monarch butterfly’s wings seem to droop. A sense of waiting.

And I prepare for the fall semester. Cycles continue: that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

~

Therefore, to engage my intellect when my expressive ability with words seems sparse, I’m reading about theory. Specifically, the theory of the lyric in Western poetics, which turns out to be abstract and scholarly (no surprise, really–theory tends to be scholarly). My guide for this outing is Jonathan Culler’s book Theory of the Lyric. This text manages to be relatively readable despite its terminology; and as the terminology for the lyrical poem encompasses a long history of definitions, rhetoric, explanations, subgenres, and antiquated jargon, the going occasionally gets tough. I’m learning a great deal, however, about poetic experimentation over the centuries.

I now recognize that I have subsumed the idea of lyricism as it came down to American writers through Romanticism (see Hegel). It’s just that the concept of subjectivity in the lyric, and inward-turning emotion and the poet as speaker, has been so pervasive in Western poetics and pedagogy that it seemed a basic premise. Yet it was not always thus, and certainly other cultures employ lyricism differently and view it differently. It’s never an easy task to view from outside what is inherent in one’s own culture, but that’s where books like this one enlighten and challenge.

Ann E. Michael, Cycles & theories

the colors of my rain are silver and blue
and the sound of this rain is music
an etude for piano or cello
one note per raindrop
sixty-four years old
and still these poems command my life
a rainy night
a cup of tea
my notebook

James Lee Jobe, one note per raindrop

Recently I saw a call for “voice-driven writing.” What does that mean? Is there such a thing as voice-less writing? Even dry bureaucratese has voices. Even multi-authored works have a combined voice. What on earth could they possibly mean? 

I read hither and thither in this particular journal. I did not get the sense their choices were any “voicier” than any other current lit mag. Are they seeking poems that are speaking out of personae, real or imagined? Must the poems be I-driven somehow? I’ll have to go back and try to categorize what I’m reading there, how many I’s per poem, how many you’s or the absence thereof. 

What were the lit mag editors trying to rule out when they came up with that language for their submission instructions? Voice-driven as opposed to what, image-driven? Do they definitely not want anything resembling haiku? Voice-driven as opposed to sound-driven or rhythem-driven? Do they not want anything that could be rapped? What have they gained by specifying this mysterious category? 

Marilyn McCabe, I can here it; or, On “Voice-driven” Poetry; or, Hunh?

I’m learning that the trick is to let the story move off in some other direction. Don’t follow it down. Because the story wants you to follow it. It wants to sidle up next to you and look into your eyes with its own big, wet stare and say, “I get it, buddy.” It wants to lace its fingers into yours and feel the pulse of your wrist against its wrist. The story wants you to lean against its shoulder so it can take your weight. It wants you to come over and hang out. Don’t do it. Once you enter the story gravity increases until you find yourself couchlocked and groggy. It’s not too late at that point, but the door is so much farther away than it was when you came in. No, better to let the story continue on its way. Let its footsteps fade into the night. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Jason Crane, The Story

Not knowing how to celebrate or mourn
weakens the scalp of thoughts:
assign patterns, draw maps,
break time into chants
as counter-narrative

disregarding
the morning light wash
mossy tree bark, the bird cries
in looping urgency
mistaking radiance for heat

The dimple of yellow enfolds
the false daisy in the backyard
when she asks:
at what point did you stop looking?

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling II

For me, self-publishing, though it took years to come round, was a kind of natural choice. The reasons were many: Less time struggling up the river and past the bottleneck of books that are just as good–many better– as mine. Less frustration as a midcareer author in a publishing world where so much focus is on the next new thing and first books even in the tiny sliver that cares about poetry at all. While I’ve had publishers who usually gave me input on design anyway, it was nice to have total control over timelines from the start. I found myself at the close of 2020, having just released a new book with my regular publisher that spring, with a build up of projects that I wanted to see in the world as full-lengths. I had sent a couple to my BLP for first dibs but they had passed. I did not then want to spend 100s of dollars playing the open reading periods/contest submissions. While I suppose I could have sought out traditional publishers for all three, I am not sure I was keen on waiting years and years for them all to be released. My takeaway from pandemic year is not [just] that any of us are vulnerable to death or disaster at any time–so seize the day–but also to try to live that life free [from] anyone’s permission or approval that these books are somehow less than my other traditionally published ones because I am putting them out there under my own imprint (I call this my FOOF era, ie “fresh out of fucks”). Sometimes you talk about self-publishing and seizing the means of production and people look at you like you just threw up on their shoes. Whatever. Since I had the means and the ability to make books happen after years of publishing chaps, something of a following of readers (small, but enthusiastic..lol..) why not do it?

I don’t know what road I’ll take after these books.  Maybe a little of both is nice.  I love the community aspect of publishing with an existing press and the design stuff is a heavy load, so it’s nice to have someone else in charge of it (formatting the book took many, many days and then still needs work once you’re in galleys.)  Things like review or promo copies are nice to not have to worry about. Sales figures were about 30 percent less with feed overall than sex & violence a year earlier (which was a bestseller at SPD after all) , but the earnings were significantly more since I get a larger portion of profits. I like being able to control the timeline, but it’s not the most important thing going forward since this weird clustering of projects isn’t always my reality. 

Ultimately, launching a collection is hard even with a publisher backing you up, but double that if you’re on your own. I feel like selling books now is hard anyway with a lack of readings and events, so I’ve no idea if one approach is better than another in the long term–so we shall see…I’m just making it up as I go along…

Kristy Bowen, the self-publishing diaries | pros & cons

I was very saddened to learn today that the leading Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski has died, aged 80, of motor neurone disease.

I have blogged about him several times over the years. You can find these posts here, here and here.

As I have said before, he is one of my go-to poets.

My love affair with his work began in the early nineties, when The Harvill Press began putting out his work in beautiful volumes: The Same Sea In Us All (1990), The Wandering Border (1992) and Through the Forest (1996).

Bloodaxe Books published a sumptuous Selected Poems in 2011, as well as a three-book compendium, Evening Brings Everything Back in 2004.

I re-read him most years, and am now doubly motivated to spend time in his wry, wise and riddling company.

Bloodaxe have published a summary of his life and work here, at the end of which is a video of Kaplinski reading his poems in English.

Anthony Wilson, RIP Jaan Kaplinski

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I guess this is a three part answer. I replicate the history of humankind with regard to poetry. I already loved it when I could not read, and so I knew poetry the way people did before the invention of the technology of writing. When it was illiterature, not literature. I didn’t learn to read and write until grade one, but when taught it, I learned it to an adult level within a few weeks. For grades one through three, I came “first”, in print culture, to “fiction”. Story-telling, or the tale, I think you might say. Mainly the tales of Troy and Arthur and related materials. Then toward the end of grade three, I went to library to find more Edgar Allan Poe stories and found a big  volume with Poe’s poems in the end. I came to them first because I’d started reading from the end. And I was immediately astonished and absorbed and from that moment I never wanted to be anything else but a poet. I recognized a new and “modern” form of what I’d heard with such absorption when I was a “primitive”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Gospels, skipping songs, rhymed taunts, nursery rhymes–children’s poetic culture. Truly ancient and at the same time “folk” elements. All that. I recognized a special and specially wonderful form of the “music” I already loved, though not yet of course in a thematic way: folk songs, good popular songs, art songs to a certain extent (I was a music student). But beyond any such consciousness I was simply engulfed by the wonder of the poem. The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.F. Moritz

I didn’t do any reading over the trip, but I’m back on the horse with #The Sealey Challenge: Day 9: Glimt av opphav – Glims o Origin by Christine De Luca, a Shetland poet. Christine’s poems are in the Shetland dialect of Scots and then translated to Norwegian by Odd Goksøyr. Christine gave me this collection when she visited Helsinki a few years back promoting a project because I speak some Norwegian and have studied the Scots language in university. I really enjoyed reading these poems out loud, in Norwegian and Shetlandic, seeing how the languages are so closely connected. Her poems examine the overlapping of the two cultures as in ‘Thule Revisted’/’Tilbake to Thule’ where Norwegian sailors arrive in Shetland to the delight of the locals as well as various characters, places and cultural highlights of the islands. The poems range from their geological beginnings to modern day, even beyond Shetland. 

I love that Christine doesn’t shy away from mixing science and its language with that of history and old myths, bringing Shetland into the modern age with a generous nod to its origins, hence the title. The poems are rich, linguistically, images and sounds evoking the place, the people and their stories. Beautifully crafted.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 9, 10, 12 and 14

The first poem is about Tater Tots, and the second poem is about “buying weapons,” so I definitely encountered the unexpected in Made to Explode, by Sandra Beasley (W.W. Norton, 2021). And then it all came together in “Einstein, Midnight,” one of several prose poems in the book, in the sentence, “Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode.” Many details of history here, including how the poet’s personal history intersects with American history. In “My Whitenesses,” I learned what the epithet cracker means and found these three pithy lines:

     My performative strip
     of self, still
     trashing up the place.

Jam-packed with meaning. And in “Monticello Peaches,” a poem about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and her brothers, I learned the difference between cling and freestone peaches. It’s hard to bear the poem “Black Death Spectacle,” about Emmett Till. “Kiss Me,” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg attending the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, makes me never want to see it, alas, and to wish again she were still alive. Oh, how “Winter Garden Photograph” hit me in the heart, with the words “Carl died. Life is over” written on a calendar that survives grief. And “Lazarus” is a glorious poem in the grand tradition of cat poems that makes me miss my cat, all my cats. Ah, so it is a Blue Monday in the blog, and another Poetry Someday in pursuit of the Sealey Challenge.

Kathleen Kirk, Made To Explode

So, during the first week of Breadloaf, I mostly went to lectures, plus I had my editor/publisher “pitch” sessions, which are fifteen minute Zoom meetings with either lit mag editors or book publishing people. I got Graywolf and Four Way, which were both lovely, but I was so nervous about them! I can’t believe I was so nervous about pitching poetry! This was also my first time at any Breadloaf, because they offered a Virtual option. I wish all the big conferences offered this, because I got to meet writers from both coasts, but also France and Australia, which I think makes the whole conference more interesting. It also seemed that the conference faculty and attendees were more diverse than at least I was expecting. […]

One thing that surprised me about the lectures – the ones with the “superstars” were only okay, and the ones with writers that were new to me were the most thought-and-poem inspiring. I wonder if expectation factored into this – or as another Breadloaf attendee observed, prose writers are just better at prose presentations, or less well-known writers work harder on their talks? Two of the best lectures this week so far at (Virtual) Breadloaf were by Jess Row and Tania James, two writers I didn’t know about before the conference. My loss! Jess talked about writing the political and economic within scenarios of apocalypses and Tania about writing surprise (including example short stories about transforming into a deer or eating children.) Both were brilliant.

I thought I’d be writing way more (I’ve only written one poem this week) but I feel like thinking about ways to write after each lecture was good and the pitches were good, but everything online seems to take way more energy than in person and I ended up napping way more than I expected (this could also be related to the heat.) All this staring at screens did motivate me last week to go get an overdue eye exam which resulted in two new pairs of glasses, including readers – prescriptions plus some magnification for computer reading. Both pairs were pink – one sparkly, one neon. It seems metaphorical – looking at life through literally a new lens. I’m looking forward to next week, when I’ll be really immersed with hours of workshop AND lectures. And then it will almost be September!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Wildfire Smoke and the First Week of Breadloaf: Late Summer Edition, Plus, the Sealey Challenge Continues

Setting off back home in a sudden cold squally downpour that emptied the harbourside and streets in seconds, as Andy drove us up the main street, I saw the Bethel Chapel was for sale. Which was when I learned that my friend Patrick Scott had died. The stunningly converted chapel is /was his house. Last time I saw him there was at Staithes Art Week, a couple of years ago. […]

Patrick was a good friend, at one time the editor of a book I wrote about teaching writing, a fellow member of NATE, one of the generation that revolutionised English teaching in the 70’s. His last post was as Director of Children’s services for York, but earlier he was English Advisor for Cleveland/Teesside, a post that was previously held by another friend and mentor, Gordon Hodgeon . I’ve written at length about Gordon; if you don’t know about his story and his poetry you should. There’s a link at the end of the post. Another friend and inspiration, Andrew Stibbs, (NATE alumnus, former head of English in Cleveland, pioneer of mixed ability teaching, Leeds University lecturer in English in Education, painter, musician, cricketer and gifted poet) had been a member of Brotton Writers with Gordon, and equally a good friend of Patrick. All three have died and I miss them, terribly. All three are bound up with my memories of living and working on Teesside and in working as a teacher-trainer. All three are somehow present whenever I go back, say, to Staithes.

What do I make of it. Here am I, writing a poetry blog. What do I know. I say that poetry lets you say what you can say in no other medium, and that is true, when it’s working. But how does that fit with what I described as a week of writing which set itself to challenge us to explore our self-imposed taboos and preconceptions, to query what we think we mean by the ‘truth’ and to be more daring and take more risks.

I’m approaching what I’ll write next with great caution, because I fear to be misunderstood, and in any case I may be wrong. However. I rejoined my Zoom course the next day, head buzzing, not sure of anything in particular. A bit numb. What to be daring about, what risks to take, and why? Possibly I was feeling oversensitive, but it struck me that what I was being challenged to feel more open about, or to, were issues of gender politics, of sexual identity, of sexual violence. Could I write about a parent’s genitals, for instance. Could I challenge self-imposed taboos? Well, yes, I could, but my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t give myself up to the game. I sense I missed the cultural tide, recently. But it’s set me thinking about something I read a long time ago, that the Victorians (officially) couldn’t write about sex but wrote with amazing freedom about death, whereas, since the late 60s exactly the opposite has been the case.

John Foggin, A game of ghosts. i.m. Patrick Scott

More than a decade ago, not long into single-motherhood, I got to spend a week in residency at Soapstone, a retreat for women writers on the Oregon coast. For a week I got to live by myself in a beautiful cabin in the forest and do nothing but eat, sleep, walk, and write. And do dishes, of course. A significant part of the Soapstone mission was stewardship of the property on which the writers’ cabins were located; I remember a sign encouraging us to use the dishwasher. It said that it was better for the land than handwashing, which felt counter-intuitive. It said it was better to run a half-full load than to use the water required to wash by hand. Sometimes I washed by hand, anyway, when I wanted just one cup or a particular bowl. […]

Washing the dishes recently, I realized I’ve come to like washing the dishes by hand. Something about the soap and warm water, the ritual of it. While the chicken finished baking in the oven, I washed all the things I’d used to prepare it. I’m learning to do this, to wash as I go, in small batches. I like the small, neat stacks on the bamboo dish rack, the cups that fit perfectly on the bottom shelf. I’ve realized we don’t need as many dishes as I once thought. We wash so frequently that we don’t run out of them in the cupboard.

My Soapstone experience was transformative, but not in the way its founders and board hoped it would be. For an entire week, I did nothing but write. I had no children to feed or bathe or stimulate or soothe, no papers to grade, no partner to answer to or tend. I had only to feed myself and write, and by the end of the week I understood in new, deep ways why I was having such a hard time getting anything written. I concluded that writing was something I was going to put on a shelf. I could always come back to it later, I told myself.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Washing the dishes

I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue [of Spelt] at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?

All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.

I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.

While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.

I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.

Wendy Pratt, Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

I want to get back to dreaming, you know? This morning I put on red lipstick and my black sunglasses and we, my daughter and I, went to the Italian Centre and bought pasta for our pantry and then sat in the cafe and drank a coffee on the patio. I’d put on all my jewelry, all my rings, earrings, even. We took no photos but I came home thinking maybe the world isn’t that that terrible. Maybe we’ll make it through. Maybe we can be gorgeous at Italian grocery stores at the end of the world. Maybe we can dream little dreams.

I came home and set up this still life (didn’t actually drink the wine though…yet). And then I went to my poetry shelf, to keep up the happy buzz and took a book outside and sat in the sun and read and jotted down a bunch of phrases that made me excited.

The book? I keep missing C.D. Wright who left us in 2016. Once in a while you’ll google an author you love to see if they have another volume coming out, but this won’t happen. I took her book with the gorgeously long title off the shelf instead: The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All.

And these are the phrases I copied out into a notebook, which almost seem to make a poem themselves, or maybe they’re a call to action, or maybe they’re just words with zest (just!), or maybe they’re a reminder to create sparks whenever you can, and to listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, (which she mentions at one point), and to write and share and enjoy the work of others, and fall in love with it and wax poetic about anyone whose work you happen to love, or anyone really — their gestures, their annoying beautiful tics that you will miss when they’re gone. [Click through to read them.]

Shawna Lemay, Seers and Dreamers

and ~ finally
the falling blossoms are turning
to flakes of ash

Jim Young [no title]