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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 17
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.
Welcome to a special May Day edition, with earthy celebration and worker solidarity in equal measure. But I must inject a sombre note as well: this week we learned via a post at her blog that M.J. Iuppa has died. I’ve been sharing her work since I first started doing this six years ago, and I’m sad to lose her luminous posts (see for example October 30, 2021), but cheered that they’re starting a poetry prize in her honor:
We are organizing a fund through SUNY Brockport in M.J.’s memory, the “M.J. Iuppa Poetry Prize”. It will reward young writers with a cash prize for their poetry to help continue MJ’s teaching legacy.
Click through to make a donation.
The April dusk bursts with metaphors. Night had sowed magical rain, the day comes forth in pea green, yellow green, everything green. Pavement of scattered chartreuse pollen with tire marks. The daffodils mesmerize me: tiny geese with pointed head and tucked wings fly arrowlike across the smooth sea. Spellbinding. They are both rapid and still, hovering in the folds of time. They oscillate, back and forth, in and out. Not long ago their flowers were plush, wet and sticky. Now its daytime hosiery has been washed out and is hanging on the line.
The nonexistent in the existent steps forward so delicately. The familiar and worldly array of things holds worlds in its grip. A just-dead flower as fleet bird, then cast-off sheath. Luxuriant, terrible, ridiculous, eternal.
Jill Pearlman, Exactly As Spring Is, Only More So
The resonance of bone –
my knuckle rapping
on the brain pan.
Loose earth blows free
as if blood was
at some point of decay
Dick Jones, sheep skull hollow
How can I write about spring coming to the Berkshires when so much is so profoundly broken? It feels like fiddling while Rome burns, or admiring pretty wildflowers while ignoring forest fires.
Then again, how can I not write about spring? To live in this beautiful world without noticing it, without being grateful, is a dereliction of my responsibility to see with open eyes and to offer praise.
I do not help my friends and beloveds suffering oppression in red states by cutting myself off from the beauty around me. I think of these lines from Bertolt Brecht, from Svendborg Poems, 1939:
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
There is still beauty, in dark times. There is springtime. There is singing. There are parents who love our children fiercely and want to support them in growing into whoever they most deeply are.
Rachel Barenblat, How can I
A rich man telling those of us who aren’t rich “accept we’re poorer than we were” may generate a few searches about his pay on Google but meanwhile the French are burning whatever’s to hand in the streets, and conversations I’m having here, in non-Europe, is why we are taking it?
Far too late, me and my women friends realise we rolled over when we were robbed of £50,000 or more, our pension age forced up to 66. The Bank of England chief economist’s official salary is beside the point, it’s his work history that tells us what we need to know, as it does about anyone.
Looking at work history’s a bit like getting under the bed with the hoover. It’s there you find the artist with decades of highly paid corporate branding work to subsidise his art, novel, or album. It’s there you find an economist with years in investment banking that has assured he never has a shred of self-doubt.
Financial security, wealth, money call it what you want, it’s an airbag – no counting coins in your hand, you swipe a contactless card, you don’t pull your own teeth out, you pay someone and then you get implants.
What’s the plan then? Do we keep on taking it? I’m for asking difficult questions about entitlement and the rich forever the most numerous at the table with their mutual understanding. We could start with the arts or we could start with the banks. It almost doesn’t matter. The point is to ask awkward questions, to learn to protest.
Jackie Wills, When the rich man tells the beggar
–Today is a good day to think about workers, workers of all sorts. We’re having more of a national conversation these days about work, about gender, about who takes care of children and elders while people work, about the locations of work. I look forward to seeing how it all turns out–I’m holding onto hope for positive change, even as I’m afraid we can never make the improvements that need to be made.
–If we’re one of the lucky types of workers, the ones who aren’t under threat by bosses or by globalization or by robots, we can support those who aren’t as lucky. Send some money to organizations that work for worker’s rights. I’m impressed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which works to protect the migrant workers in the fields of Florida, but you certainly have plenty to choose from.
–Can’t afford to make a donation? Write letters on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, everyone who needs a better job or better working conditions. Write to your representatives to advocate for them. What are you advocating? A higher minimum wage? Safer worksites? Job security? Work-life balance?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Solidarity Forever! Happy May Day
we could lift into the air & become
part of the indistinguishable wave of laughing gulls above
a lover’s hand composes the body it touches –
Love, like water!
How it gives and gives
Charlotte Hamrick, Wrapped in Salty Air from The Gulf: A Cento
Away from my personal life, April was a chance to attend the online and in-person launch of The Big Calls by Glyn Maxwell. I’ve never bought a book so fast after hearing readings from it. In his latest collection, Maxwell takes well-known poems from the English canon and ‘shadows’ them, maintaining each poem’s structure and poetic metre, to write about recent significant historic events. So issues such as the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic, the Grenfell Tower fire, the handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan, the tabloid hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police, deaths of migrants at sea, and more, are transposed into poems shadowing writing by Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins and other famous poets. If you’re at all interested in the craft of poetry writing, or poetry in general, and you want to read succinct and insightful political commentary, I urge you to seek out this book. It’s available direct from small press Live Canon and the Poetry Book Society, and all usual venues. Also, check out Live Canon’s YouTube channel where you can see films of Glyn Maxwell reading poems from his book.
Josephine Corcoran, April News
I’m blue like old potato sky. I was afraid of penny-farthings and of men with tall cylinder hats. My own hands are on a photo, making a gift of a miniature penny-farthing to my parents, an anniversary party.
Fokkina McDonnell, Before 11am I am not human
I’ve read lots of poetry, but the book which has haunted me most of late is one which I’ve been wanting to read for years: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s collaboration A Fortunate Man. It contains so many insightful passages about the human condition that it would be invidious to single any out here. Suffice it to say that it’s up there with the Into Their labours trilogy and Bento’s Sketchbook as my favourite of Berger’s many beautiful books. What an extraordinary writer he was. Incidentally, he was an early champion of Fullard.
In my most recent poems I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’, like I am in haiku, rather than dwelling on, and in, the past – albeit, of course, that every second of time contains the past and the future as well as the here and now.
Matthew Paul, May Day mayday
Subtle associations, the nature aesthetic, the sublime
moment of awareness: I was grappling with Haiku.
There was no starting point. Not here, in the morass of
the city. To even acknowledge the want of the rain is
to know smog-blackened dreams, the wretched lust
of the mundane inside an unrequited morning, human
refuse, refused humans, stained sky, bubbling sores, lies
leading to lies, streets leading to streets leading fucking
nowhere. There was little to exalt. Little that could exalt.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 44
Writing is a necessary madness but is participating in publishing and paid memberships? Some people opt out or self-publish, which misses the benefits of mentorship and editing sometimes.
You may as well own the means of production and enjoy the process instead of feeding yourselves to the cogs of commerce. You don’t get your money back commensurate for time in writing a poem or a book anyway, rates for publication having been stagnant since about 1930.
Doesn’t it add insult to pay to be considered? Write a poem for a month, get paid $50 if lucky, but probably paid in copies. Write a book for a few years, and get $500 advance against copies. You may never work off your advance with sales. I’m nearly earned out with one book after over a decade. I soon might be given $50.
Being a part time continuing ed. teacher without contract for decades, that seems like a lot of income. I haven’t worked regular hours in the cash economy since 2001. I do contracts here and there, editing or data entry. I have the luxury of a partner who has marketable skills.
Income from writing compared to say, $160 an hour, even if listening in on a conference call, in high tech, it’s sad.
Pearl Pirie, Economics
In the open green part of the park
a solo garlic mustard stood tall.
I considered it, its cheerful leaves,
imagining a crop-worthy crowd
of them, enough for pesto pasta.
I considered my neighbor’s passion
for eradicating invasive
species of all kinds, sighed, & turned back.
Plucked up by the roots, I was surprised
how clean they were — white, thick, sturdy, strong,
not a crumb of dirt that stuck or fell.
PF Anderson, WEEDS #NaPoWriMo
Friday was one of my favorite days of the year: Power-washing day. Every spring there is a day when we bring the power-washer out to clean the backyard patio and sidewalk, and this year it was Friday, the third day in a row of morning gardening.
For some reason, this year, before I began, I told myself that maybe the patio didn’t even need washing. It didn’t look very dirty. Maybe just in a few spots. Then I began, and I could see how wrong I’d been.
This is the thing I love about white space: How it helps us see. It’s only when I create white space on the patio that I can fully appreciate the story winter has written on our home. As I twirled the water nozzle over the concrete canvas, making designs, I thought about all the things for which white space is essential: poems, graphic design, architecture. A garden, a marriage, a life. I thought about how, sometimes, I love white space for what it reveals, for what it shines a light on, and other times I love it for itself. There are times when the clear blank space–not the dark matter it weaves itself through–is the thing of beauty, is the art, is the point of it all.
Rita Ott Ramstad, Spring gleanings
I think it’s like sex: you can’t really tell if the other person’s heart is in it or if it’s just an athletic activity for them. I am not sure we will be able to tell the difference with AI generated works, either. But I think – maybe in theater, especially, it being such a collaborative art that it craves a personal physical presence for the full experience – some of us purists will be looking for fingerprints. We will want to know that we are working with other living, breathing humans. Maybe we’ll better appreciate the wabi sabi aspect of art?
I think that the angry discussions are actually about money.
There was a time when dishes were made by artisans. Then at some point, factories could spit them out cheaper and faster and satisfy everyone with their ubiquitous, utilitarian presence. I think the same thing will happen with stories. We will find ways to pass the time, if that is what we want. There is money to be made!
Our lines of who is an artisan, who is an artist, who is a hobbyist will come into question yet again. And at some point, maybe we will learn not to give a shit and focus on the doing of art?
Who gets to make a living at it has always been arbitrary. Are you in good with a Duke, or a Pope?
Ren Powell, Progress
If my poet colleagues think of themselves as artists, I respect that and will not argue. Perspectives, right? Not the same as pretensions, although I will admit that in my opinion, there are some people who write poems, and other things, a bit pretentiously. I have been guilty of the same, especially when I was young and getting the practice underway. Pretentiousness may even be a kind of motivation. We learn humility as we practice our missteps.
Contemporary Western society casts a great deal of gravitas and status on the word “artist.” So to answer my spouse, I replied that well…I do consider myself a writer and a poet, but I seldom think of myself as an artist. However, if you think poets are artists, I am an artist. Because I do indeed think of myself as a poet. I cannot get away from that urgent need to observe, imagine, interpret, restate, turn into metaphor, reflect, create into form, and otherwise do the making (Poiesis) of word play.
Ann E. Michael, Artistry, art
boy, it’s hot, says the man to his wife,
rubs his face with the sleeve of his shirt
and we know it may not be sweat on
but the days
pouring out of all of us
as we come back time after time
to sit like this
and wait for the gods to begin again
with the same old stories
the same old moves
Bob Mee, THREE OLDER POEMS
Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012) started a relationship with Michelle Cliff, Jamaican-born novelist and editor, in 1976. The following year Rich published a pamphlet, “Twenty-One Love Poems” and her later poems and socio-political essays, notably “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, explored her sexuality. Like the poems in Rich’s pamphlet, [Julie] Weiss’s poems are numbered rather than titled and kept short (Rich’s were around 12 to 16 lines, Weiss keeps hers in 10 line couplets). […]
Weiss left America for Spain and the second poem asks questions of language, “Who needs translation when our bodies/ speak a thousand different languages,// all of them born of the same tongue?”.
I meant to write about another poet today, and their 2023 book of poems, but for some reason this morning I took down Eva-Mary and opened it to the first poem, “The Apple Tree,” dedicated to the poet’s mother. “Oh, yes,” I thought. “I remember this book.”
I was misremembering it.
Yes to blossoms, yes to family kitchens, yes to horses, yes to Irish ballads. But also yes to women raped with rifle barrels, to incest, to judges ordering women home to abusive husbands, priests ordering bruised daughters, “Mind your father.” The time-line stretches into adulthood, into divorce and custody battles. Even so, Eva-Mary is beautifully wrought, the winner of the Terrence Des Pres Prize for Poetry, a finalist for the National Book Award, in its 3rd printing by the time it came to me. I read every page (as if I’d opened a dystopian novella, I couldn’t pry my eyes away), and even so I can’t seem to offer this review without a trigger warning.
One reads this book, from the second poem (“To Judge Faolain, Dead Long Enough: A Summons”) onward knowing exactly what the subject matter is, so I’m not giving away the content. And, on the chance that one of my readers needs permission to write her or his own devastating truth, I am happy to recommend this book. McCarriston does it brilliantly. (You could take nothing away but the metaphors and be redeemed.)
Bethany Reid, Linda McCarriston, Eva-Mary
The trainer at the gym hands you a 25-lb. weight
for what’s called the one-hand suitcase carry—
weight of a sack of rice, weight of a squirming
toddler, weight of three gallons of water
like the ones you somehow carried from
the busted main in the park, days after
the earthquake in your city. How did you do it,
how does anyone manage a new hardship
that arrives without warning, without
instructions or any period of training,
that simply drops at your feet so you
have no choice but to learn by carrying?
Luisa A. Igloria, One-Hand Suitcase Carry
This intimacy with the small things of the world [in Tre Paesi & Other Poems by Peter Makin] leads almost inevitably to ecological concerns. In ‘Cumbria’ we see the interaction of the human and the natural via the 19th century mining and railway building industries, now being reabsorbed by nature:
out of the cutting
see from the moon
is now a rabbit-home:
galleried and interconnected
wormed and tunneled like old cowshit,
under a crust likewise thin
Rabbits come to represent this human/nature interaction throughout the sequence, with another flip in the balance of control occurring in ‘Lincolnshire’:
shrunken skull and fat eyes
you are your own universe, all hell,
and nothing to wait for.
In the concluding, conclusion, section, the rabbits regain their rabbithood […]
Billy Mills, Recent Reading April 2023: A Review
The fourth full-length collection by Buffalo, New York “poet, critic and junk bookmaker” Joe Hall, following Pigafetta Is My Wife (Boston MA/Chicago IL: Black Ocean, 2010), The Devotional Poems (Black Ocean, 2013) and Someone’s Utopia (Black Ocean, 2018) is Fugue and Strike: Poems by Joe Hall (Black Ocean, 2023). Fugue and Strike is constructed out of six poem-sections—“From People Finder Buffalo,” “From Fugue & Strike,” “Garbage Strike,” “I Hate That You Died,” “The Wound” and “Polymer Meteor”—ranging from suites of shorter poems to section-length single, extended lyrics. Hall’s poems are playful, savage and critical, composed as a book of lyric and archival fragments, cutting observations, testaments and testimonials. “[…] to become a poet / is to kill a poet,” he writes, as part of the poem “FUGUE 6 | JACKED DADS OF CORNELL,” “cling to a poet / in the last hour, before slipping into the drift / atoms of talk bounce in cylinders down Green St, predictive tongue / in the aleatory frame stream of vaticides […].”
Throughout the first section, Hall offers fifty pages of lyric lullabies and mantras towards a clarity, writing of sleep and machines, fugues and their possibilities. “each poem / an easter egg,” he writes, as part of “FUGUE 40 | DEBT AFTER DEBT,” “w/ absence inside and inside absence / you are hunger, breathing this time and value / particularized into mist, you are there, at the end / of another shift […].” The second section, “Garbage Strike,” subtitled “BUFFALO & ITHICA, NY, USA / JAN-MAY 2019,” responds to, obviously, a worker’s strike that the author witnessed, and one examined through a collage of lyric and archival materials from the time. Echoing numerous poets over the years that have responded to issues of labour—including Philadelphia poet ryan eckes, Winnipeg poet Colin Brown, Vancouver poet Rob Manery and the early KSW work poets including Tom Wayman and Kate Braid—Hall’s explorations sit somewhere between the straight line and the experimental lyric, attempting to articulate a kind of overview via the collage of lyric, prose and archival materials. There is something of the public thinker to Hall’s work, one that attempts to better understand the point at which capitalism meets social movements and action, all of which attempts to get to the root of how it is we should live responsibly in the world. There’s some hefty contemplation that sits at the foundation of Hall’s writing.
rob mclennan, Joe Hall, Fugue and Strike
Every year I desperately wait to be out of the Finnish winter and into spring. Every year Finnish Mother Nature slaps me in the face with my birch allergy. If you’ve ever been to Finland, you’ll know this is a totally unfair allergy. The snow is finally gone, the sun is shining and I can’t work on my allotment, my garden, go for a walk or enjoy a Vappu (May Day) picnic without suffering. I was working our annual Finnish Scottish Society ceilidh yesterday and even though I didn’t drink I’m suffering because we left a lot of windows open to keep the place cool during all the cooking and dancing. So today is a good day for couch writing with cats and a quick review of my April Poetry Month GLOPOWRIMO – Global Poetry Writing Month.
As expected I didn’t write or post every day, but I think I only missed a few days. Some days were token writing exercises as I just couldn’t find a prompt to inspire me, other days I wrote a whole poem. There are bits that might be expanded into a poem, some that just aren’t worth it. It was nice to have a kickstart into writing regularly again. I especially enjoyed @toddedillard‘s prompts as they were unexpected, sometimes surreal but always very original and fun. He has several years’ worth of prompts linked there, so I think I will continue to dip into them for inspiration.
I also used the https://www.napowrimo.net/ site and was introduced to the Finnish poet Olli Heikkonen. He’s the first Finnish poet I really could connect with and I could almost understand all the Finnish. It was great to hear him read it on the Poetry International website. It was really inspiring and I’ve written two poems from that prompt. It also led to some interesting discussions in my writing group about the difference between moose and elk and whether I can use them interchangeably as the Finnish word is the same.
Gerry Stewart, A Rough Spring Start and GLOPOWRIMO
Replace pancreas with Prince, liver with Franz Liszt. Substitute Maryland for one lung, a postage stamp for the other. Kidneys: rivers, spine: Rod Stewart. What about the Fortran programming language, mollusks and a square-headed screwdriver? Adrenal gland, urethra, heart. Stomach as an amateur choir. Black rhino as bladder. Someone left a surgical cloth. It’s Beethoven. Extract gallbladder, insert Andromeda Galaxy. Lymph nodes: an AK-15. Bill when done, empty-headed sky, dovecote, wingbeat, penchant for Bronx cheers during coitus, tiny movements of fingers during burial of the young.
Gary Barwin, CHANGE THINGS
Years later, I discovered the local poetry scene. Many were poets who wrote about things that were familiar to me – steel works, pits and Thatcher – and they inspired me to write more and share my poems. I had a few poems published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. […]
My poetry is about celebrating the ordinary things in our lives. The settings are familiar and recognisable – supermarkets, laundrettes, cafes and people’s kitchens. I picture my reader as someone who hasn’t got a great deal of time to read poetry and so I give them enough to think about while they are stood at the bus stop. My poems aren’t going to make anyone scratch their head, elbow or arse.
Drop-in by Roger Waldron (Nigel Kent)
In the living room that is
also the kitchen, a man hunches
over the keyboard.
Two robins play tag
on the front lawn; a single
bluebird alights on its box.
Soon there will be washing-up
to do, and then the long hours
(After 20 minutes on hold,
the music cuts out and
the call is disconnected.)
Jason Crane, POEM: Please Wait
Releasing a new book means having lots of conversations. I feel like “podcast guest” has been a part-time job for me since the end of last year. I love chatting with other writers and artists about creativity and the creative process, maybe more than I like talking about anything else on earth, but this particular conversation with Andy Pizza on the Creative Pep Talk podcast was maybe the best I’ve ever had on the subject.
Andy and I talked a lot about “showing your thinking,” finding your “secret sauce” and bringing that to your work, living as a poet or artist vs. making a living that way, trying to make poetry more accessible and less intimidating, and so much more. It was such a good talk—fun and wide-ranging and nourishing. We got deep, but we also laughed. A lot.I came away feeling so energized and ready to hit the ground running creatively, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen, because I think you’ll come away energized, too.
Maggie Smith, Pep Talk
One of the downsides to last week’s hangover was that I didn’t get to say thank you to Robin Houghton (of Robin Houghton and/or Planet Poetry fame) for her call back to my last post about writing workshops. I was very happy to see Robin refer to this as “a writer’s blog”. I get very uncomfortable about saying I’m a writer, but just as I’m learning to stand up straight and tall to help with my knee injury, I’m learning to stand up straight and call myself a writer/poet. Robin’s words came at the right time and were/are still a welcome boost.
I think the standing tall and accepting of what I/we do as writing has been on my mind forever, but it was catalysed while listening to the audiobook of You Could Make This Place Beautiful by the American poet, Maggie Smith. The book has loosely been called a ‘Divorce Memoir’, and it is, but to me it’s also a meditation about roles, ownership and permissions. As you will no doubt be aware, Smith gained some prominence in early 2020 with her poem, Good Bones. How many poets get their work read out in dramas (this was read in an episode of Madam President?) And whatever you may think of the poem (I like it), it’s another landmark achievement for poetry.
However, the blessings also became a curse. As Smith was growing in popularity, and in demand, it had a severe impact on her marriage. Her husband began resenting her travels and for not being around to perform the unpaid labour of parenting. He is unnamed in the book, and doesn’t come across well at all (and Smith doesn’t spare herself either), but the book raises questions and revived guilts I find myself feeling when I take time away from my family to write.
I’m certainly not comparing my situation to that of Smith, but should I be more involved, do more…there are always chores to be done, etc…Sometimes the dishes can just fucking wait!!! Sometimes the dishes are a way to out off the hard work of writing, and it is hard work. I will, however, urge you to read YCMTPB. And to sign up to her newsletter? I’m working my way though Goldenrod at present and finding lots to love.
Mat Riches, Oh Captain, my Captain Barnacles…
Maybe love makes us stupid. Careless. Casting our nets wide in the sky. Maybe love makes us terrible people. Keeping secrets and telling lies we think are true. Love, the only weapon to yield sometimes. The brick through the window. The knife through the cake. We’d fake it if we could. Wrap our limbs around it and call it ours. But love makes us scavengers. Searching the yard for mint or poison. Putting it in our tea.
Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #30
The Home Child feels like an attempt to right the wrongs of historical forced immigration, or at the least to acknowledge those historical wrongs. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like any sort of political statement on the rights and wrongs of child immigration, it feels like a very personal story. What were your intentions when you set out to write the book, did you find this aspect challenging?
That’s such an interesting question! When I first began writing the poems that became The Home Child, I don’t think I had any clear or definite intention, only a feeling that I wanted to honour Eliza’s life in some way and not allow it to disappear into the darkness of the past unmarked. I knew her story was a sad one so I made myself look for moments of light and tenderness, so we can feel Eliza’s humanity. Twelve-year-old girls are full of curiosity and wonder, defiance and spark, and I wanted the reader to feel that.
Through the book’s factual introduction and my use of archive-based material, I hope I give readers the information they need to make up their own minds about the Child Migration schemes. One of the most interesting parts of my journey with The Home Child has been chatting to others about it and hearing their opinions. It’s surprising and often troubling how relevant the issues in the book feel. […]
How does the writing of The Home Child compare to your other works of poetry?
I like to imagine there’s a thread that runs through all my books and allows my reader to travel along with me from poem to poem, project to project, even though the subjects might be very different. One of those threads is Black Country dialect but there are others too.
However, this book did feel different to write. I began by working poem to poem, as I always do, but as the collection grew and began to form a narrative I had to consciously think about how to structure it, what to tell and what to leave out, pace, character, moments of light and shade etc. My editor at Chatto is also a fiction editor and so was helpful but at points I felt very challenged and out of my depth! To help myself move forwards, I did two things. Firstly, I asked the poets of Twitter for their advice about writing a long poetic narrative. People were wonderfully generous with their responses and gave me book recommendations, tips, essays to read… Completely invaluable! Secondly, I asked a few poets I know and admire for their advice. I approached people who were very different from each other but who all had the skill of telling stories through their poems. I think you should never be afraid to ask for help or to be a learner again as there’s so much to be gained.
Wendy Pratt, Liz Berry Answers Questions on The Home Child
I’m okay, financially and otherwise. I have a few keepsakes from my mother and, in her stories, riches. I know poetry always comes back. But I’m sad as well as tired, even as I wonder whether April will always bring some version of these feelings now.
The poems I’ve published recently about my mother are about her dying, but here’s a much earlier one, “Dressing Down, 1962” as it first appeared in Poetry (the poem was later collected in Heterotopia). It’s written in her voice and based on what she told me about the first big adventure of her life: how, as a provincial twenty-two-year-old from Liverpool, England, she boarded one of the first transatlantic jets and was gobsmacked by the cultural differences she encountered.
My mother called her first U.S. jobs “home nursing,” but her high school education ended at 16, followed only by something like a nursing internship. As far as I can tell, she was more of an au pair–an underpaid immigrant living with rich families in New York and taking care either of their children or elderly dependents or both. It was a giant leap from a Liverpool tenement to the Anthonys’ estate on Fishers Island, where even their summer house had eight sets of china… both liberating and, in other ways, shocking, because she had never expected her English accent becoming someone else’s status symbol. I tried to write a poem about my mother’s early work life once but it didn’t quite fly. Maybe I should try again? Her voice has never quite left my ear. In my latest dream about my mother, she told me, “Your brother is a turkey,” pronouncing “turkey” in that British way that always made us laugh.
Lesley Wheeler, Working unpoetically
shunshô no haha nimo tsuma nimo aranu toki
the time when I am not
a wife or a mother
from Haiku Shiki (Haiku Four Seasons), February 2023 Issue, Tokyo Shiki Shuppan, Tokyo
Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (April 24, 2023)
Yesterday was my 50th birthday, and wow, I was so excited to be celebrating with friends of 20 years from all over (including across the water!) and my family (including my parents who flew out from Ohio to be here. We had the celebration at J. Bookwalter’s Winery in Woodinville, there were wines and cupcakes and a poetry reading (I mean, should all birthday parties have poetry?) and Glenn did a toast and Kelli read an old poem I wrote that made me cry and I read poems from Flare, Corona. People brought beautiful flowers, my whole book club was there, and we stayed way past closing time celebrating. Having MS means today I’ll pretty much just rest but it was so worth it – we threw open the doors and windows at the winery and it (almost) felt like the last three pandemic years of isolation were over. Someone (John Campos, who is also J. Bookwalter’s Woodinville manager) gave me a beautiful painting rendition of my book cover (I love to be friends with artists!) and I just felt so much love and support. I didn’t get a ton of pics (even Glenn was too busy to take pics) but here are a few including my family pre-party, the editors of Two Sylvias Press, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, and my friend poet Ronda who just had her own book come out, Chaos Theory for Beginners.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, 50th Birthday Celebrations with Wine, Cupcakes, Books and Paintings, Poems in American Poetry Review, Feature at DMQ Review’s Virtual Salon, A Visit to the Tulip Festival, a Parental Visit – It’s Been a Week!
In 2019, poet Howard Debs contacted me and asked if I would like to contribute to an anthology he was putting together. The title would be New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust.
Rather than have writers submit whatever they wanted, each writer was assigned a specific time period and subject within that time period. From the book description:
The editors selected 58 images from noted collections consisting of vintage photography, propaganda posters, newsreel stills, etc. matching each to a poet, short story writer, plus features by essayists…The book includes four parts: Part I covers the rise of Nazism and heightening antisemitism…Part II revolves around forced labor, ghettos, and extermination, dealing with such topics as death squads, the “final solution,” and collaborators. Part III is all about escape, rescue, and resistance…Part IV deals with the aftermath, the liberation of concentration camp prisoners, the refugee crisis, and the Nuremberg trials.
I was assigned to write something for Part III: Escape, Rescue and Resistance.
In particular, I was assigned to write about The Sobibor Uprising of 1943, and to tell the story of Chaim and Selma Engel.
Are you familiar with The Sobibor Uprising? It is a fascinating part of history. I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of it. My paternal grandparents were Jews who fled Germany (and went to Shanghai, China). I’ve heard many stories about their lives. I had never heard of The Sobibor Uprising.
The assignment led me to various articles, books and movies on the subject, all of which I would highly recommend. My work of flash fiction, featured here, is written from the point of view of Selma Engel. She and Chaim were two of the few who organized the revolt, escaped and survived. They went on to marry, have children and live into old age.
This is a long introduction to this month’s Lit Mag Brag, I know. But I find this history to be fascinating and the people whose stories are featured here so inspiring. Plus, after four years, this anthology is finally out in the world!
Becky Tuch, April lit mag brag!
The thing about writing and being influenced and living in this world and trying to get some of its weirdness down, is that we’re going to be coming at it from both similar and dissimilar angles from those attempting same. We all get to do it in our own way. And if you’re trying to get it down in your own way, please know that there is room for all of it. Just pour it down out of your paint can and drip it onto the canvas like Jackson Pollock. Or you know, just throw the paint at the canvas or also try just small brushes and many details. But do keep pouring it out of yourself. That’s the best advice I have for right now. Don’t worry if anyone will read it or publish it. Just create your weirdness and keep creating more.
Shawna Lemay, What Makes You Do It Then?
When they saw each other, arms reached out,
and I was forgotten in their greeting. They didn’t hug,
but held the other’s face gentle in their hands,
tears in their eyes. There would be time for memories,
photos of children and grandchildren, husbands now dead.
But for now, they stood close, reading lifetimes in lines
and furrows—refuge, intimacy, secrets and confessions,
first kisses and heartbreak. I searched my mind for a friend
like that, someone so close we’d need no words if we
should meet again. Then I headed toward baggage claim.
Sarah Russell, Friends
weathered snow fence
sagging in a field
Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: April ’23