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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 15
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond, re-blogged from Via Negativa.
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: springs early and late, unconventional approaches to publishing, and bibliophilia out the wazoo. Among a ton of other topics, as always.
I’m still seeing how I like Mondays as the new day for this. But while I’m dithering, I’ve gone ahead and created this mirror site, especially for the convenience of poets who are blogging on Substack, but also for anyone who wants an easy way to subscribe just to the digests.
In the greening treetops
near a bird’s nest
a busy squirrel
Mind stuck on a branch
it leaps to another
Jill Pearlman, The Art of Squirrel as Poem
When is spring going to come? It’s a question I’ve heard repeatedly in recent weeks.
Last Monday, as I drove in the dark to pick my daughter up from work, rain pounding my windshield, I had a moment of disorientation. It felt like a December night, and I was suddenly unmoored from calendar time. Was it still winter? No, I reminded myself, putting down an anchor: It’s April. It’s spring.
The next day, as I left the house wearing my heavy coat (still, in April) as protection from the continuing cold, grumbling to myself about spring’s late arrival this year, something in the yard caught my attention. I stood and looked at our garden, really seeing it for the first time in what felt like weeks. I could see that the grass is growing again, the trees are budding, and color has returned to the landscape.
Oh, it’s really not winter anymore, I thought. These cold, wet days so late in the year are spring. This is what spring is.
Rita Ott Ramstad, Zooming in
Last week at this time, Montreal was in the throes of a destructive ice storm that left much of the city without power, and devastated the city’s trees. Yesterday it was 22 degrees C. here, and it felt like everyone was sitting out in the sun, blinking with amazement. I had coffee with my friend K. at a favorite café (Café Parma, on the north-western edge of the Jean-Talon market), and we could hardly believe we were sitting outdoors, wearing only light sweaters — and sunglasses, because the light was so bright. We may have more snow, we all know that’s entirely possible, but we also know it won’t last.
Yesterday was Seamus Heaney’s birthday; he would have been 84. I miss him. Here’s a small section close to the end of his poem “Station Island,” where he talks about meeting a blind stranger who gives him advice in a voice “as definite as a steel nib’s downstroke”– earlier this person has grasped his hand as he disembarks, but the poet cannot be certain “whether to guide or to be guided.”
Beth Adams, Departures and Arrivals
Tired or fatigued? They’re not the same.
Tired, I decide, watching flowers
forced by sudden heat into blooms.
The rhododendron buds new leaves.
Scilla & grape hyacinth bloom
intensely blue through rotting leaves.
PF Anderson, A WEEK OF SILENCE #NaPoWriMo
In his final weeks we spoke often on the phone. Early last month, Jim asked me, as he often did, “How’s the poetry going?” I told him I was taking part in a performance called “The Poetry of Unknown Things” at Teignmouth Festival on the last day of March.
That’s interesting, said Jim, what are the unknown things?
The biggest unknown is death, I said.
This led to a long conversation.
Death is the next big thing, said Jim. I’m all right with that. I don’t mind dying. I’m not afraid. There is no fear.
Then he asked if I would write a poem for him, and I said I would try. I tried and tried, but nothing seemed right. Then something came when I woke in the night a couple of weeks later. Something not at all in my usual style. I didn’t realise at first that this was the poem for Jim. I emailed it, and one of his sons read it to him. I shall read it at a Humanist ceremony next week. And we shall dance an old dance called Nonesuch.
Ama Bolton, Dancing in the Dark with Jim
Why do I remember a time when ideas and objects were freely shared? Is this age inserting lies into my past? Scrabbling around online I’m reminded of Amsterdam’s free bike sharing, communes, the Diggers, free festivals and squatting. But I’m also made aware of the changed emphasis given to the word sharing and its digital meaning. It’s this, like the dawn chorus, that wakes me up.
Perhaps I should linger in the state of mind where utopias are suspended like gardens and lost cities still have their gold. But news of hedge funds making such enormous profits out of food, as a direct result of war, has me wondering why we’re not talking about this more – the people behind them, the ideas driving them, the fundamental assumption that everything we used to think of as communally owned is up for grabs by people who have money to invest.
Jackie Wills, Common ownership and hedge funds again
For me, most of my book publications came from presses with open reading periods (Ghost Road, Black Lawrence), or nudging my way into established relationships with presses who had published smaller pieces of work by querying if they wanted to see more (Dusie, Sundress) Once, miraculously by invitation and the serendipity of being at the end of a project (Noctuary). But those opportunities are less frequent now, more competitive, and they may cost you a lot in submission fees and elbow grease. As I delved into self-publishing the last couple of years, I don’t know, however, if I would have been as successful at it without having had those experiences with other publishers beforehand. To have learned how to market books and myself. To get to understand how things work, but also the perspective to see that they are not the ONLY way.
But I will say again, there are so many ways of being a writer. For existing as a writer in the world. Some of them even make some money Ask any slam poet who moves a good number of books and makes money touring. Or Rupi Kaur and other famous Insta poets. Ask the fiction writers who do very brisk sales on self-published multi-volume novels in just about every genre. The cool thing about doing zine fests is how many really good writers you meet DIY-ing it. The audiences for these, even if the money is not there, is often far greater than even the Iowa and Ivy-pedigreed writers who win book contests.
Perhaps the better question should be more “Who gets to be a certain KIND of writer?” The answer is obviously skewed toward white, upper-middle or wealthy class people with Harvard degrees. Not all obviously. I know a few poets winning contests whose backgrounds are far more modest., but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. I also know Harvard or Iowa-degreed poets who are awesome and would have succeeded even without the degree gilding the path. I also know lots of poets with stunning books still trying to find a publisher I worry never will. Mostly I’ve learned that there are actually infinite ways of being a writer and finding an audience and enjoying the work you do, and thankfully, much more equitable and open ones than you will find behind the book contest system and all its nonsense. So if the system is broken, find a new system.
Kristy Bowen, who gets to be a writer?
As far as the press’s finances, I recouped all production costs and actually earned a profit of $30. This profit is added to the overall surplus prior to this round of sales – along with a few unexpected sales in January (more on this below) — leaving the press with a total surplus of $565. This will be held onto as a cushion to offset future purchases of ink, supplies, and any possible emergencies (e.g. printer breaks down).
All this means that, So far, the press’s model has proven successful. I was able to publish and pay two other writers, as well as allocate money for donation, and still do a bit better than breaking even. Put differently: my approach to allows me to part with 75% of all income and still not go into deficit. This is very encouraging to me and puts me in a good position as I gear up for the next round of books.
R. M. Haines, Dead Mall Summary & Receipts for Spring 2023
The exchange between Don Paterson and Gboyega Odubanjo in the new Poetry Review is a welcome, necessary, and much overdue intervention in the unsettled and unsettling world of UK poetry community dynamics. Having barely stepped into that world, I stepped back out of it again a couple of years ago, finding that, mediated as it is by digital platforms, it was too disorienting a place to feel entirely comfortable. It was a dangerous world in which to take the chances I felt gave poetry life, and all too easy to get blocked, unfollowed, or whatever. And now it has started to feel as though cracks which had already become chasms, have become oceans of open water.
In fact, it might not be particularly useful to talk about a poetry community at all, given that its members claim nothing in common but Poetry itself, and Poetry, as Paterson and Odubanjo touch on, has by no means a single unified definition or means of assessing excellence. Perhaps ‘poetry community’ is itself an oxymoron; or at least, maybe speaking of cracks or divisions in the poetry community is little more than stating the obvious.
Chris Edgoose, Generations, speaking
It’s April and poetry friends near and far are scrambling to post their daily poems. I admire their efforts, I really do, as I have jumped into this marathon before. Fill a month, many months, a year even with poems. The end result has always offered a plethora of writing to revise, edit, move into the publishing world.
In the little galaxy of my high school Creative Writing class, my students last week engaged in several “Poem in Your Pocket” activities listed out by the Academy of American Poets. After a weekend, they returned to class Monday to report out on what they tried. Many called, texted, or even emailed their poems to friends and family members. Some folded their poems into origami cranes to test their seaworthiness. Others filmed their reading efforts from porches and other outdoor spots. A few poems landed on the community bulletin board at Sea Mart, our grocery store with a parking lot that extends into the ocean and where most of town takes their sunset photos to include our local volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe, or L’ux as it’s named in Lingít Aaní. There’s nothing better than taking poetry out of its expected setting (book, classroom). Taking it for a walk and seeing where it might land you.
Kersten Christianson, It’s National Poetry Month, Peeps!
For a couple of weeks I’ve been wrestling with this collection. Is it good, is it very good, or am I attracted to it because each poem has a moment that makes me stop and hold an image or a phrase? This is not so much a review as an elusive, fluid personal reaction.
Some books – poetry, novels, whatever – are like that, aren’t they. You pick something out and keep coming back to it. In the end it doesn’t matter if you like the whole thing or not.
Bob Mee, FLIGHTLESS BIRD by ROSEMARIE CORLETT
The now doesn’t end, and neither, it turns out, does the sealant, which, unlike the masking tape, is not within my control. At the end of the bath, it keeps coming. The white worm grows from the end of the nozzle: now. And now again. And now. And yes, still coming. Now. A concentration of the present, focussed, and unattached. I can’t do anything about it, but wipe the end of the nozzle, then watch as the now re-emerges time and again. Like my Sunday, it flows and curls, dangles and spirals.
Liz Lefroy, I Seal the Now
Intensifying the walled-off, world-askew feeling: I’ve long been looking forward to attending the New Orleans Poetry Festival this weekend. Chris was going to come with me, since it’s at the beginning of our spring break, and I’d booked a sweet one-bedroom cabin near Atchafalaya Wildlife Refuge for a couple of nights after. Obviously I had to cancel it all, but my addled Covid brain kept looking for workarounds: Saturday symptoms, by CDC rules, means your isolation ends Thursday night, followed by 5 more days of masking, right? So if I recovered fast and was testing negative by Thursday, I could fly out on Friday as long as I kept a good mask on? Well, technically, but not ethically (or aesthetically, maybe–I do have a wild-haired hermit thing going on). I came to my senses, all of which I’ve retained so far, and I’m continuing the snow-globe life, although I just took my first short walk. Slow steps for a body that’s mostly better but still tired. After all, the four-week sprint of our triple-time May term is just ahead. With 9 contact hours per week for a 3-credit class, it takes no prisoners.
Revised spring break plans: read some new poetry books. Plan a little outing next weekend to celebrate signing my Tupelo Press contract yesterday for Mycocosmic (all good, although I was interested to see a clause about collaborating with them on book promotion–nothing I don’t do already, I’d just never seen that before). Get my head together for the last big push of the academic year.
Lesley Wheeler, Incantations from the snow globe
The striking cover of Welcome to Britain: An Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction is Gil Mualem-Doron’s New Union Flag which re-imagines the Union Jack. The anthology manifests the hope that through the power of poetry and creative writing, we can cultivate empathy and envision and bring about a more just world.
Congratulations to the other contributors: emerging and established writers from around the world. Huge thanks to Editor Ambrose Musiyiwa of CivicLeicester. Three of my poems were chosen: Going bananas, an Abecedarian poem about Brexit, In Blighty, a Golden Shovel poem, and Britain which appears below.
Fokkina McDonnell, Welcome to Britain
Are there stories we need, but don’t want? Are there stories we need to break off from the source and finish on our own?
Or is watching/reading part of a story that moves you this much like observing a painting with a corner of the canvas hidden? Impolite? Disrespectful to the individual artist?
It is all individual. Stanislavsky said that generality is the enemy of all art. So where is the fine line of specificity? No one watches the actors and knows all the actor’s work.
I wrote that last sentence twice. Changed it again. No one “sees” all of the actor’s work is debatable, I guess.
It is the invisible stitch of poetry that holds everything together. The backside of the tapestry. Robert Bly talked about it, and so did Aristotle.
Sometimes when I have seen something that really, really moves me, I want to share the space of savoring but say absolutely nothing. I know that the invisible stitch is an individual kind of knowledge. And if you tug at it, it might unravel. Shhh.
Ren Powell, Resisting Structure
How can I see it
if I can’t hear it,
the old monk asked.
He was talking
Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (446)
By my tedious manual count, a total of 1461 books have been reviewed on Sphinx, many of them by more than person, the equivalent of over 2,000 pamphlets that were received by Helena Nelson, repackaged and sent back out to her loyal band of reviewers. 2,000 batches of stamps to be paid for. Umpteen treks to the post office. 2,000 reviews that were edited by her (to the huge benefit of the reviewers themselves, whose prose style and critical approach to poetry were often transformed via this process). 2,000 posts that were formatted, uploaded and optimised for search engines.
What’s more, for many poets, the review of their pamphlet on Sphinx was the only critical response they’d ever receive. That’s a hugely generous gift in anyone’s language. Looking back at the archive, there are a fair few poets who have sadly died in the intervening years, though their reviews on Sphinx remain. As a record of pamphlet poetry in the U.K., it’s irreplaceable.
And now, of course, Sphinx is coming to an end. Helena Nelson has given so much to poets over the years via HappenStance Press itself and via Sphinx Reviews, in both cases to the detriment of her own writing, but even this labour of love must inevitably be finite.
Matthew Stewart, A celebration of Sphinx Reviews (2006-2023)
You are starting to understand
how it can happen that someone
wakes one morning, looks around,
decides to start culling things
from shelves: duplicates of dented
pans, an extra half-dozen plates, winter
coats worn the last time, years ago,
when snow fell from the sky.
Luisa A. Igloria, Material Life
I feel like, this week, I grew two inches, like my back just became straighter, knowing that I am entering into this arena as an author. There will be tough times ahead, and no book is guaranteed to sell well or do well or be read, but I feel that each step along this journey has been a small win for me, a woman in my forties from a working class background, a woman who never quite felt she fit in anywhere, except with animals and in nature. And that, really, is what the book is about. I don’t want to say too much right now, I’ll save that for when we get nearer the date of publication, but like with Spelt, one of the things I wanted to explore with this project was what writing about nature and landscape and most importantly, belonging, might look like from a less ‘observed’ and more ‘lived in’ experience. The book is about how landscape informs that sense of belonging, how we look to the landscape as an archive of lives lived, lives lost. It is structured around an extinct Palaeolithic lake in North Yorkshire. I’ve spent so much time outside, walking, reflecting, it’s been a real pleasure to research.
There’s a long way to go until this book is on a shelf in a shop, but right now I am sitting in my little ex council house, in my scruffy little office, feeling like I have found a way to exist in the world as myself, without needing to change anything. And it doesn’t matter what happens in the future, no one can ever take this moment away from me.
Wendy Pratt, The Ghost Lake
Now I’m reading Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, with a hand-made bookmark from a friend who understands my relentless book-acquisition habits. Her clever bookmarks for members of our book club show what would be on our t-shirts! Mine says, “One does not stop buying books because there is no more shelf space.” So true. But at least my book buying is affordable (ongoing library used book sale) and often includes book donating at the end!
My kids were just here, doing another round of getting rid of stuff (recycling, donating, or tossing games, puzzles, clothes, shoes, memorabilia, past school/art work), and they almost sold a loft bed contraption with bookshelves in it that would have disrupted my world! Fortunately, I have a little time…
During their stay, I stopped writing & posting my chalkboard poems. But (by getting up earlier than my kids) I kept writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month. As the poems continue to roll out, the rejections continue to dribble in. Likewise, the weather–a glorious week of warmth and sunshine while they were here, and now a return to chilly, wet weather with dribbling rain. Up so early to take our son to the airport, and now sadness will descend.
Kathleen Kirk, Books & Bookmarks
There are ways that [Russell] Edson’s odd narratives, populated with fragments and layerings of scenes and characters, feel akin to musings, constructed as narrative accumulations across the structure of the prose poem. And yet, there are times I wonder how these are “prose poems” instead of being called, perhaps, “postcard fictions” or “flash fictions.” It would appear that an important element of Edson’s form is the way the narrratives turn between sentences: his sentences accumulate, but don’t necessarily form a straight line. There are elements of the surreal, but Edson is no surrealist; instead, he seems a realist who blurs and layers his statements up against the impossible. I might not be able to hear a particular music through Edson’s lines, but there certainly is a patterning; a layering, of image and idea, of narrative overlay, offering moments of introspection as the poems throughout the collection become larger, more complex. As well, Edson’s poems seem to favour the ellipses, offering multiple openings but offering no straightforward conclusions, easy or otherwise. Not a surrealist, but a poet who offers occasional deflections of narrative. Even a deflection is an acknowledgment of the real, as a shape drawn around an absence.
Because of time, I left my bones outside my body. The future requires no bones. Birds: hollow bones. Me: hollow body. I squeeze through the present and into what hasn’t happened yet. I leave the present behind but bring the past. Tinnitus of the insides, a ringing bell. Hard not to imagine the ears as the plumage of caves. A bird flying from the east, a bird flying from the west, each down the tunnel of an east or west ear, meeting inside. This is the present, more or less as the Venerable Bede wrote about sparrows.
Gary Barwin, SPARROW and birds at Cootes Paradise
Time is tensile here. Yellow and undulating.
The past tells stories that become clouds. Your shadow
falls on solid stone, stretching across dark landings,
becoming water. Thirst remembers its beginning, the
primal heat. So much can die, unslaked, untended:
words and want and worlds that could have been.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (34)
I tried to sit and write last weekend.I tried free-writing. There may have been a kernel of a sliver of an inkling of a sniff of an idea in there, but it’s unlikely.
I’m consoling myself with the not writing by reading this sentence I saw in Jeremy Noel-Tod’s newsletter, Some Flowers Soon.
“I think good real living is more important than spreading yourself on paper”.
That article on the newsletter was about the writer, Lynette Roberts. A new name to me, but one I will follow up on. Once I’m done with the good real living, or at least once I’ve worked out what that is.
Finally, some articles that may help trigger some writing ideas for you.
1. Have we finally worked out how to talk to whales?
2. The man who ate an aeroplane
3. The above came from this list of weird stories found on wikipedia
4. Google Street View, but for the moon
Mat Riches, Cigarettes and linkahol
I have spent large chunks of the last three days reading this book, and researching both Ukraine and Serhiy Zhadan. He is, as Bob Holman writes in the foreword,
a “Rock-Star poet,” “poet laureate of Eastern Ukraine,” Ukraine’s “most famous counterculture writer,” as labeled by the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the London Review of Books.
In addition to being a poet, novelist, essayist, and front man for the punk band Zhadan and the Dogs, Zhadan is also a 2022 recipient of the German Peace Prize:
Zhadan, who’s been doing poetry readings in a Kharkiv bomb shelter has said, quite rightly, that, “A person cannot live only with war. It is very important for them to hear a word, to be able to sing along, to be able to express a certain emotion.” But aside from reckoning with the human cost of Russian aggression (which began in 2014) in his poetry and fiction, Zhadan has also been organizing humanitarian aid in Kharkiv, doing everything he can to see his community through this awful war. (Jonny Diamond, Lithub)
I became aware of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when it broke into American television, a little over a year ago. These poems are from earlier, 2001-2015, and I worried that I should work harder to pick up a more recent book. (On order, by the way). But what I found is that What We Live For, What We Die For has forced me to see that the Russo-Ukrainian conflict is much older than western television coverage suggests. Centuries old. These poems are immediate and raw. “a Canterbury Tales of Ukrainian common people” (Bob Holman).
Bethany Reid, Serhiy Zhadan, What We Live For, What We Die For
“Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim” looks at what it might take to survive in what may seem like a hostile world. It’s not just about nature but also human survival, survival of a minority language (Welsh) in the UK, the measures women take to survive and why watching and waiting is not the answer. Jellyfish have already survived 500 million years and may be inadvertently getting human help to continue because they are making come-backs in areas of overfishing and pollution. Moon jellyfish are carried by currents rather than swimming so literally have to go with the flow.
Erase the Patriarchy: An Anthology of Erasure Poetry edited by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful anthology of poetry that uses the act of erasure to engage and argue with existing texts written by men. I loved seeing the variety of diverse voices and seeing how each one interacts with their selected text, using the medium of their erasure to enhance the message of their poem. I also appreciated reading each accompanying artist statement by the authors, explaining their process.
Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February and March 2023
Show them your secret 7 0’clock face
Letting in sound but
Parsing the needed from the not-so
Holding time in folded fists & fog
Charlotte Hamrick, Delicate Peel
Thanks to Interstellar Flight Press and T.D. Walker for doing this thoughtful interview, “Covid, Science Fiction, and the Poetry of Survival” about my new book, Flare, Corona. It’s always nice to interview with someone who asks such interesting questions. I hope you enjoy it! […]
I have been trying to also write poems and submit this National Poetry Month, but as you can see, it’s been mostly readings and writer’s group visits and planning and promotion and scheduling doctor and dentists in between events. Oh well! It’s my first book in six years, so I need to give it my attention and energy for a little while. In PR for Poets, I talk about the dangers of burning out on doing promotional stuff, but right now it’s all still mostly the fun stuff and a lot of it feels new, because things have changed since the last time I had a book out. New publisher, new social media things, a different climate for books, plus coming out of three plague years makes everything seems more anxiety-provoking (hoping me and my parents stay well for their visit!)
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Interview with Interstellar Flight Press, Taking Advantage of Sunshine and Cherry Trees, a Redmond Reading on Thursday, Parents Flying In, and a Writer’s Digest Conference Presentation on Saturday!
Aside from the album’s blank spaces for photos, there were also blank text boxes for descriptions beneath. After experimenting with different possibilities, I decided to fill them just with single words. With these I aimed to be poetically suggestive more than descriptive. Almost all that now appear in the book evoke abstract human qualities, or understandings of the world that are almost timeless.
Marie Craven, Book of Roses
Wonder is no straightforward feeling, as its etymology suggests: from the Old English wundor, thought to be a cognate with the German wunde or wound. The noun form means a surpassing, opening, or blow, a breach of the mind’s faculties, while the verb formmeansto demonstrate a state of admiration or astonishment, or to search for knowledge, understanding, or meaning. “The verb wonder,” writes Daniel Fusch, “indicates an emotional response to a marvelous incident; the noun wonder indicates both the name for that response and the marvelous incident that provoked it…That is, at the sight of a wonder, we wonder; such are the beautiful complications of the English language.”
From this “beautiful complication” arises wonder’s generative challenge for writers: to capture both the wonder-inducing event and the act of wondering itself without foregoing the feelings of admiration and confusion, that sensation of being “breached,” that wonder invites.
Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday
who walks without shoes
between home and the moon
whose blood is a garden of knives
Grant Hackett [no title]
How do I want to proceed? How do I want to blossom and flourish? Like the exuberance of my geranium’s exclamation of pink? The words that pop into my head this week coach me to be “elegant” and to retain my “enthusiasm.” I feel a bit like the geranium in my kitchen that looked fairly worn out most of the winter but is now emerging, NBD, flowering, NBD. […]
As I was writing this, someone posted this poem by Jennifer Chang which is amazing, and includes the line:
“I flower and don’t apologize.”
And maybe that’s also the energy that is required right now.
Shawna Lemay, On Cultivating an Elegant Enthusiasm
there’s a white cat
where the daffodils flowered
Jim Young [no title]
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