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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 16
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond, reblogged 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: poetry and knowledge, the uses of obscurity, what success feels like, poetry and family, and much more. Enjoy.
I try to imagine what life was like for King Charles The Sixth of France, who believed he was made of glass.
Terrified of shattering, he put iron rods in his clothes, wrapped himself in blankets. Refused to wash.
He was covered in lice and sores when his courtiers finally forced him, screaming, into a steaming bath.
He tried to hide beneath the water. He tried to lie very still. As the courtiers lifted him out and dried him, he saw the condensation on his glass skin and beyond the window of his soul, only rain.
Mostly, I have nothing to do with people. Especially poets. Poets are not born to be of use. They are born to be meticulously casual. Some of them even like to be photographed wearing scarves. Casually. Yes, poets are in long supply. Mostly, I have nothing to do with them.
Poets do things like spend hours finding words within words, then list them in notebooks for future poems.
I don’t think I’m alone in often picking up poetry books that remind me of my own poems—or poems a couple tiers up, aspirational Bethany Reid poems. But today’s book spun me, and made me want to tear everything down and start over.
Maybe by taking better notes in the Astronomy class I took from Bruce Margon in 1985. Maybe by taking my kids to more museums and fewer playlands.
No matter, it was my great pleasure to spend the morning with these poems, and this poet, someone I am pleased to say is, like me, a northwest poet. Or “northwest poet plus the universe.” From the Big Bang to La-Z-boys, it’s a book that drenches you in specific language, leaves your head buzzing with Astro-physics and Da Vinci, madonnas and Neanderthals. (And so much Italian food.) I hardly know where to begin.
Bethany Reid, Martha Silano, Reckless, Lovely
Timaeus. The only piece of Plato’s writing directly known to the early medieval world.
Plato is quite clear that the universe is “a single living thing that contains within itself all living things, mortal or immortal.” A living thing. How lovely that is, and how different from the dead universe of scientific materialism. In Plato, everything is against a living background.
Note that every human being has two souls, a mortal one based in the trunk and an immortal one based in the head, with further subdivisions and hierarchy within the mortal one. And it is part of the lower soul, seated in the liver, that dreams and practices divination. (Which must then be interpreted by the rational upper soul to make it useful knowledge.)
Dale Favier, A Living Thing
Poems may inhere in the emotional or intellectual realm in many ways, but they also can–and often do–inform. They contain facts as well as multitudes. If people did not get so hung up on trying to decode a secret meaning behind everything they encounter that appears to be a poem, they might be surprised at how much they could learn from such (usually) brief texts. Yes, it might help to look up a word or a reference or two. That can get a reader started on a whole trail of interesting and valuable knowledge, widening the worldview, changing the perspective.
It may even lead a person to recognize that facts can change depending on point of view. Contemporary science acknowledges this, but most human beings haven’t accepted it yet. Anyway, this points to one reason poetry has often been considered unconventional, subversive, even dangerous or radical: Poems can challenge the status quo of what is accepted, received, unquestioned in society’s knowledge base. Terrifying the authorities by means of information.
Ann E. Michael, Information from poems
My thanks to Hilary Menos and Andy Brodie for publishing an essay by me, here, which is intended for those who know a bit, but not a lot necessarily, about haiku in English.
Matthew Paul, Essay on The Friday Poem
Not much new to report on the poetry writing front, except for a dozen or so poems in submission (“in submission”? Should it be “under submission”? I won’t say ‘Under consideration” because that suggests the darn things are actually being read by someone, and there’s no knowing if that’s the case. Anyway I think I like “in submission”.)
Now you see this is the kind of nit-picking that the writing of poetry demands, is it not? When it may take an hour to decide on whether in or under is best. This is one reason I’m enjoying writing a first draft of My Novel. I’m just motoring through, sitting back and enjoying the action, as if it were Midsummer Murders. I guess at some point I’ll have to go back and refine it a tad, which might mean pondering those kinds of SHOULD IT BE ‘GOWN’ OR KIRTLE’ HERE? questions that few readers in the end would care about, but I can’t put my wee novel in submission with anyone until I’ve polished it up I suppose. I just hope I don’t hate the whole thing and ditch it when it’s done, which is typically my poetry MO.
Robin Houghton, And in other writing…
More numbers. I’ve been writing them in columns for the last financial year (still no spreadsheets). The average number of books sold per year since the start of CBe is around 2,500, and last year was a little below that. No bookshop could be run on that. For the authors’ sake I should be selling more. On the other hand, I’m still here, having stumbled upon a way of doing this that doesn’t require me to abide by all the prescriptions of the industry experts.
Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma was written in November and December 1838 and published the following April. I once took on a book in December and, when the author told me he was dying, published it the following February, but in 2023 that’s not usually how it’s done: books are not published for at least a year, often longer, after they are taken on because you need a marketing campaign and Advance Reading Copies and puff quotes on the cover, all the stuff I don’t enjoy and am therefore not good at.
I don’t think CBe is a throwback. Nor is it the work of a man who lives off-grid in a shed in a field. I use the internet and typesetting software and digital printing and can learn new tricks when it suits me. I mean: when it suits someone of a certain age and temperament. I am lucky and privileged (not rich) to be able to do this.
Charles Boyle, Blue
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I used to write a lot of personal essays, particularly in college. They were all hyper lyrical and suffered from a lack of cohesion and scattered, imagistic narratives. Eventually I gave up on being able to write something extended that could make ‘sense’ in the way that fiction and non-fiction tend to. So I ended up committing to the thing that made my brain feel safest. Poetry was, is, really good for the way I think: which tends to be deeply affective, wildly associative, etc. It’s the only place where I don’t have to feel ashamed for not having my thoughts altogether—and often, not having my thoughts altogether makes the poems more interesting (though the editing thereafter becomes a nightmare…) I’m suddenly worrying now because I’m remembering the much-quoted Auden phrase, “Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” Maybe let’s all focus on the “might be” part.
12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tawanda Mulalu (rob mclennan’s blog)
Take three hairs of the sleepless one.
Lightly coat them with olive oil,
smooth them together, then braid them
with two thin threads, cotton & wool.
Don’t think of when your grandmother
picked cotton on the farm, instead
simplify. Cotton is just clouds.
Leave the home, wait, and then return.
PF Anderson, A CHARM FOR SLEEPING #NaPoWriMo
Very little can be trusted, only that the sun will rise come morning, and even that promise has been written in a slowly disappearing ink. With all the baptismal rivers drying up, it can be tough to get a warm welcome into the world. If only breath were the new currency, we’d strive for one another to remain alive.
Rich Ferguson, Open Letter to the Dead Awake
I’ve some understanding about the uses of obscurity (see my poetry and obscurity article for example) but over the years I’ve come to distrust authors more often. I’m less willing to battle through obscurity if I see no purpose in it other than trying to mask the author’s inadequacies – if I think the author without aesthetic loss could have reduced the muddle. I’d like more authors to appreciate the disadvantages of using obscurity – e.g. that readers might stop reading, might think the author thoughtless, elitist, or rude.
Amongst the newer examples of obscurity I see nowadays is when in the same book a poet uses various alternatives to line-breaks, and sometimes uses inline spaces instead of commas. If a poet makes readers think that there’s a purpose (meaning) to something, the poet shouldn’t be surprised when readers are frustrated to discover that there is no reason why “/” is used in one poem, “|” in another and line-breaks in another. Poetry layouts can all too easily become obscure – even good old line-breaks are often puzzling enough.
Tim Love, The reader-writer relationship
Well, this news hasn’t sunk in yet, but here goes: You Could Make This Place Beautiful is a New York Times bestseller. An Ohio poet’s (decidedly feminist, undeniably lyrical) memoir is #3 on the hardcover nonfiction list.
No hard feelings, Harry.
I thought maybe I could sleep on it, and it would feel real this morning. I didn’t, and it doesn’t. […]
No matter where I am, maybe the best part of each event is chatting with people as I sign their books. That time is brief but meaningful. Over the last week I laughed a lot, cried a little, and met some friends IRL for the first time. (I’m traveling again this weekend and next, so check out the tour schedule, which I’ll be updating with additions again soon, and do come if I’m in your neck of the woods!)
I think of this memoir as an argument for possibility. This morning, still bewildered by the news and by how far the book is traveling, I believe more than ever that anything is possible. Anything. Thank you for that.
Maggie Smith, On Gratitude & Possibility
Try to write a line that is pure.
That is to say, a quiet
A line that, even if it should start
without fanfare, jumps hurdle
after hurdle, swings
over the high bar
then raises both hands
though there is
no one in the stands
Luisa A. Igloria, Floor Routine
On her birthday I tend to, or try to, give myself over to being in her presence. To ‘be in her presence’ has changed over time. The further away we get from her physical self, the less I can imagine her. It has become about remembering this time, how it shaped me, as much as it is about remembering her. This is time passing. I never realised grief would change. This is grief. Grief starts as a boulder that you have to carry around with you, that takes up an entire room, that is all you can think about, but slowly, slowly it erodes from your touch, until, eventually, it is pocket sized, smoothed from your hand, familiar, something you rub your thumb over and take out to examine occasionally.
After When I Think of My Body as a Horse came out, I decided not to write more poems about her, or the experience. But on her birthday I write a poem as a marker, a moment of her loss, how it continues to ripple through my life. I’ll be back next week with a normal post.
As a child-free person, I both feared and was at the same time curious about alternative lives, the sum of the life of my mother, the sort of things you lose from your own childhood when a parent is gone. This is especially true in my fully orphaned state, where I will think of something and realize that there is no one who knows the answer to a question. No one shares certain early memories and information–barring my sister, but she’s younger and therefore less reliable. I have a couple of aunts left on either side, ample cousins, a friend of my mother. But if they do not remember things, who besides me does? Who will when they are gone? When I am? I supposed the great thing about being a writer is that, well, everyone will. Here in this blog, in our books, in our poems. In the stories we tell. I would have been a terrible mother–impatient and probably resentful of the time suck of raising children– as well as I was at least. I don’t have a nurturing bone in my body. But sometimes I wonder what turn things would have taken under other circumstances and conditions. Definitely not regrets (enough harried stressed mommy instagram reels and I am wondering how and why anyone has children ever. In mean, EVER.)
These poems probably came from these feelings, which are deeper, but also just a hilarious interest board where a woman bougie-ly outfitted an imaginary child in baby Ralph Lauren and beige Montessori toys. They’re some of my favorite poems (though, like children, I say that about all my poems.)
Kristy Bowen, self-elegies and imaginary daughters
I didn’t post this part of the poem on my website after he died. Of course I didn’t. But this is who he was. He was a good man in some ways and unbending in others and that caused me no end of pain at times. I could not be the person I am without him but I also wish I could have been enough for him as I was, as I became.
Brian Spears, Everybody’s got a Jeoffry
The parents will come to our house in a few days, and then we’ll have our Woodinville Birthday Party/Book Launch at J. Bookwalter’s Winery with cupcakes, a little poetry reading, and a LOT of wine and celebrating on April 30. I’m turning 50 and having my book come out the same week, just a few days after a solar eclipse, which seems appropriate given the book’s cover. Kelli [Russell Agodon] will also be a guest reader and family and friends are welcome, so if you want to come celebrate with us, here’s the info in a graphic Glenn made. Wine, poetry, and cupcakes! What could be better than that?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What a Week! Flare, Corona Makes Ms. Magazine’s Best Poetry of the Year List, A New Poem in Sixth Finch, Reports from a Redmond Reading and Speculative Lecture for Writer’s Digest, Upcoming 50th Birthday Party
I have a poem, titled La Vendimia, in the new pamphlet/mini anthology from Candlestick Press, Ten Poems about Wine.
I’m grateful to the editor, Jonathan Davidson, for having selected my work, and it’s especially pleasing to appear alongside such a star-studded cast. You can get hold of your copy via this link, while here’s a photo of the pamphlet in all its glory…
Matthew Stewart, Ten Poems about Wine from Candlestick Press
The week before last I wrote something for Engelsberg Ideas about Philip Larkin’s Oxford Anthology of Twentieth Century English Verse, which was published fifty years ago last month (a hook’s a hook). You can read it here.
Larkin’s anthology is often remembered for its idiosyncrasies, but those led him to some brilliant poems which might otherwise have been passed over – at least by me (poets, too: I have just got a copy of Tony Connor’s collection Lodgers). The assembly process also forced Larkin to reconsider at least some of his own ideas about modern poetry – and raised some provocative questions about what anthologies are really for.
Thinking about Larkin wrestling with contemporary poetry is a reminder, for me, that he wasn’t always the isolated figure he is sometimes made out as. In his 1993 biography, Andrew Motion expressed some surprise his friend had even agreed to the commission. But he also placed the book in the context of the various other ways in which Larkin was supporting poets at the time – serving on committees, judging awards, reviewing books (Larkin chaired the Poetry Book Society during the 1980s).
Though the opportunity to edit the anthology came about by chance (the publisher’s first choice, Louis MacNeice, had died unexpectedly), it could be seen as a culmination of those efforts. In Motion’s account, it was also a turning point: Larkin, he argued, ultimately found the experience of returning to Oxford – where he had taken a sabbatical to finish the reading and where he had once been a student – deeply depressing. Once he was back in Hull, he settled more deeply into his self-imposed isolation.
Jeremy Wikeley, Larkin, Again
After I sat with Yeats for a few minutes, I turned off the computer and the lights and got ready for bed. My bedtime reading has been from a different poet, Maggie Smith’s You Could Make This Place Beautiful. Yesterday I saw her post that the book is #3 on the NYT best seller list. Hurrah! It’s a well deserved spot; I’ve been enjoying the book immensely.
I’m happy for her success; it’s good to see a woman poet succeed this way. I’m happy when I see anything that tells me that people are still buying books, and I’m even happier when people are buying the books of poets, even if it’s not their volumes of poetry. I’m happy when a woman outside of New York City is finding publishing success.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful is the book that I was hoping Keep Moving would be. I liked the inspiration that Keep Moving gave me, those nuggets that first appeared on Twitter. But I found myself wanting more about Smith’s life as a poet, and You Could Make This Place Beautiful gives me that window into her life as a writer. She’s also very honest about the price that came with her success.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Things Fall Apart and Come Together
sea filling the bay
in the oneness of a sigh
we are together
Jim Young [no title]
“Tropic Then” combines climate, natural and humanitarian concerns. The poems explore attitudes towards the natural world and towards each other. DiZazzo’s focus is on interconnectedness whether the interrelationships that allow ecosystems to thrive or how families treat and care for each other. A successful family, like a successful ecosystem, is capable of catering for all needs and enables the vulnerable to be taken care of. How a child is cared for will shape their attitude when elderly parents need care. How does one generation shape the next and does the next generation continue the same mistake patterns or challenge and change their behaviour? DiZazzo thinks we need to reconnect and learn from nature’s teachers and his method is not polemic or rant but through example and persuasion.
Yawning, you say you’re too tired
yet we can’t refuse
brown-eyed pleading at the door.
Away from these walls we more easily silence
sorrow, hardship, loss
by looking, only looking.
Cows in the lower pasture raise their heads as we pass.
A Baltimore oriole alights on a hickory fencepost
twined with yellow flowers. The sun stretches
generous arms of light cloud to cloud.
Laura Grace Weldon, Cocoa Bean
If you love something enough it becomes real. And it lasts for always. There’s a lesson that has stuck. An academic lesson in one sense, but in another the truth of devotion. I have been devoted to an idea or a perspective and it has become real in every sense that matters. These are the monsters in my writing room.
Always question our gurus. External and internal. Be no more devoted to them as you are to the oxpeckers with their good intentions and singular focus.
The artistic director is on board with my project of sampling Shakespeare. I don’t see it as being any less respectful than a total modernizing of the language. I am making no absurd claims of authorship of the original text. I could argue I am picking up Shakespeare’s own practice of “lifting” from other works.
Ren Powell, Letter as Plot Device
So maybe we’re not exactly who we were anymore. That’s fine, too. But let’s have a little ceremony for ourselves then, let’s raise a glass, yes? To the way things happen, that’s all they ever do. As in the video, let’s raise a glass to the ways we’re all pretending a bit but at least we can pretend together. And maybe that too is how we can come back to ourselves.
Shawna Lemay, Coming Back to Yourself
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