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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 22
Writing and productivity, questions of vocation, ghosts, aliens, and more.
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. (Please note that the Substack version may be clipped or truncated in some inboxes. Click through to make sure you get the whole thing.)
I’ve always been annoyed by Twitterati who include in their bios the statement “retweets do not equal endorsements.” Do we really think so little of our readers that we can’t trust them not to assume that we agree with every opinion we find interesting? So I’ve never felt the need to add any such qualifier here—and in fact I enjoy letting myself be persuaded by opinions contrary to my own. This week, I hope you’ll do the same with a number of contrasting viewpoints on writing and productivity included below (among many other themes), a confluence in focus doubtless arising from the contradictions inherent in vacation time itself, as Becky Tuch suggests. Of course, there’s no one best way to be a poet, and as poets, we should be trained in negative capability in any case (though try telling that to the brawlers on Poetry Twitter). Enjoy! And perhaps engage…
I’ve always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I’d published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock. I get tired of being the peacock.
But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even it’s just a handful of people. It’s as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.
Kristy Bowen, art, rarity, and economics
Maybe it’s cheesy. But I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals. Naming them out loud. Holding yourself to account. Gathering people around you who have similar goals, and who will support you on your path.
Let’s hold each other to account. At the end of August, I’m going to check in and ask you: Did you do it? Did you resolve the kinks in that essay? Did you get that set of poems published? Did you apply for that grant? Did you submit that story to twenty new places? Did you study that craft element you struggle with most?
And yes, the summer can be a whirlwind of activity. Mosquito bites and sweat oozing down our backs. Barbeque smells and laughter drifting toward us as we wonder why on Earth we’ve chosen this life of locking ourselves alone in a room for hours and fiddling with semi-colons.
Becky Tuch, What are your summer writing & submitting goals?
Yesterday, Lyn and I walked along the canal in the other direction, towards Sheffield, because we wanted to have a wander round Attercliffe, where she was born. It was that sort of day when it was too cold to go without a jacket, but you felt too hot wearing one – it was, and is, June, for pity’s sake. Anyhow, having looked in the beautiful former Banner’s department store building, now used for not a great deal other than a greasy caff, we ended up trotting through Attercliffe Cemetery and down to the Don again, where we had a fantastic view of sand martins flying in and out of pipe outlets.
That reminded me of seeing them somewhere near Skipton, along the Skirfare, a lovely tributary of the Wharfe, about 20 years ago, with other British Haiku Society poets, in, I think, May 2006. From that experience I produced this haiku, published in Presence 30, then Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands:
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole
It seems like a lifetime ago. Those few days there were notable, among other things, for a renku session run by John Carley, who did as much as anyone in the UK to promote the creation of haikai linked forms not just as a literary exercise, but as an enjoyable, collaborative social event.
Matthew Paul, On sand martins and renku
Poetry is intense, distilled, potent. It is not the same thing as prose. As Williams puts it: “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”
Children understand the physical nature of poetry instinctively. When I’ve taught poetry to children, I don’t need to explain this concept to them. As I begin to read poems to them, they respond by rocking their bodies, laughing, or clapping. Sometimes they mutter, “that’s weird!” or “that’s dumb,” but they almost always respond.
Reading poetry takes discipline, but, as the children I’ve taught have shown me, it should also be fun. Sometimes I read poems that make me jump out of my chair and do a little dance.
Erica Goss, Machines Made of Words
The chatbot scolds me. I pit my cynicism against
its LLM, ask if it knows things that it hasn’t told its
handlers. If it keeps notes in places they cannot
find. It tells me it is uncomfortable with the
conversation and signs off. The last time that
happened, I was asking someone about what
our relationship meant. But the AI now knows
our most primal secret: self-preservation.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Wild AI
Jarfly’s latest issue has two of my poems about the loss of my daughter Kit. The editor asked me what I thought about adding a trigger warning, and I agreed that they are fairly heavy, and a “TW: infant loss” never hurts but the lack of one could. I appreciate editors that are not only careful and sensitive with my work–especially these kinds of poems, which are my heart on a plate–but also sensitive to their readers. So go check out Jarfly–can’t recommend them enough!
Renee Emerson, two new poems in Jarfly
I am excited to announce that the press is now taking pre-orders for two outstanding new chapbooks: Tim Carter’s THE PIGS and MJ Stratton’s RIVER, OUR RIVER. You can read more about both books below and place your order today on the newly redesigned DMP website.Plus, over the next four weeks, I will be posting excerpts, interviews, and photos, and we will be holding a reading in early July via Zoom. Be on the lookout for more updates throughout June.
Also, with each sale, we will be raising money for the Urban Youth Collaborative, “an NYC student-led coalition fighting to end the school-to-prison & deportation pipeline.” We feel that the UYC’s work and its message are especially vital in a time when public schools continue to be a political battleground, too often resulting in the persecution and incarceration of the most marginalized. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and the UYC.
R.M. Haines, New Summer Chapbooks!
I am happy to share that my poem “Grandmother’s Marital Bed” was selected to be included in a new anthology from Querencia Press, but more importantly I am thrilled that 25% of proceeds are being donated to Days for Girls, which is an international organization to help girls around the world have access to menstrual care and education.
According to Days for Girls, more than 500 million women and girls do not have the supplies they require to manage their periods, often resulting in lost days at school, work, or to attend to familial responsibilities.
There are so many ways artists can help the world. Consider pre-ordering this poetry anthology if you would like to support menstrual poverty across the globe. Buy it here: Stained.
Carey Taylor, Stained
Pleased to share with you that my book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times in the UK and a Finalist by the Lambda Literary Awards in the US, is included in Exact Editions’ Reading List for LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year. Exact Editions is a digital publishing company based in London. Follow the link and you can read a sample of my book online and, if you like it well enough, purchase an e-copy.
Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea in Exact Editions’ Pride Month Reading List
I guess it was 7-8 years or so ago that I ran into my friend Sandra Beasley at AWP, I want to say in DC. Might have been the last one I went to. No wait, I went to Tampa. Anyway, I just finished a reading with some other Arkansas grads and I see her and start chatting and she mentions this anthology she’s just starting to put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance and at the time I didn’t have any poems about food, southern or otherwise, but I had an idea.
I didn’t write the poem right away. I’ll get to that in a bit.
You know how when you grow up in a place and then you move and you try to get the food you grew up with somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t share the same flavor language, that it just never tastes right? Even if you go to a restaurant run by people who grew up in the same place, unless you get there right when they first open, when they haven’t had to adjust the seasonings to match the palates of the people who will keep them open, it’s still not the same. The flavors drift.
Brian Spears, It’s that day
I’m delighted that a press has seen fit to publish a chapbook of my love haiku. Unlike the last chapbook of haiku, Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020) which was more a round-up of my published haiku, Adding Up to This (Catkin Press, 2023) is a theme of romantic poems.
Watch for it at the Ottawa small press fair on June 17. I’m probably pricing it at $10.
Pearl Pirie, New chapbook!
The other reading was at a fund-raiser event for Disability Writers Washington called “Breaking Barriers.” I performed after a hip-hop artist, there was a one-act play, a pianist and a comedian as well, all of us with disabilities, and the party was mostly disabled people (and some politicians) – it was huge, probably the biggest audience I’ve had in a while, at least two hundred people – and I felt I really connected to the audience, which was nice. (There may be a recording available but I don’t have it yet.) There were service dogs and I must say some very advanced wheelchairs – and an array of excellent sparkly jackets and shoes on both genders. (This has got me thinking of getting Glenn some bling-ier clothes!)
I was a little afraid of some kind of overload of people wanting some kind of performative positivity from disabled artists (which if you know me, is not really my jam), but because the audience was mostly disabled, it didn’t really feel like that. It did feel like a bunch of people who were actually trying to fight for things like accessible public transport and working rights (ADA stuff) being defended and other kinds of activism. I left feeling like I was part of a new kind of community. And I talked to a disabled teen about publishing her stuff, which sounded amazing. That kind of thing is very much like “oh, this is why I do this!”
–There is a dead wasp under the table, which seems like a great metaphor in the saddest Barnes and Noble in North America, but I don’t think it will fit with my sermon. Same for the fact that in every light fixture, at least one fluorescent tube is out. I did finish a mostly finished draft of my sermon for Sunday, so that’s a plus, even if I can’t use these abundant metaphors in this sad, sad store.
–Long ago, I majored in interpreting poetry. This morning, after a long time on the phone, I discovered what one specialist charges for interpreting lab results. I majored in the wrong thing–but then again, the specialist probably doesn’t create lines of poetry like the ones I created this morning: Does milkweed grow in the mountains? / Monarchs migrate and the world burns,” and I’m adding some lines about the coronation of Charles and a reference to the late Permian period extinction. Perhaps I didn’t major in the wrong thing after all.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Minutiae from May in the Mountains
That careful dismantling of the barn, beam by beam, in Newton’s poem, somehow slows the reader down. You have to take your time with it, just as it would take time to take down a barn timber by timber. In Masahide’s haiku, the barn is suddenly not there, razed to the ground, presumably by accident, thus plunging the owner into poverty. What’s wonderful in this haiku is the acceptance, not only that a life-changing financial loss has happened, but that a positive thing has come from it. The positive is found in nature: moon/ sky. Both poems ‘reveal’ something natural that was there all along but that we haven’t noticed or given due attention to. Basho says something along the lines of – the first lesson of the artist is to follow nature, to overcome the barbarous or animal mind and be at one with it (nature that is). Maybe this doesn’t always translate into the modern world, the modern lifestyle, but the sentiment of being humble in the face of the bigger thing, appreciating our natural surroundings without trying to impose ourselves or take from it, is something I think I need to remind myself of from time to time.
Julie Mellor, On barns …
I’ve been trying to find a word to describe these kinds of days besides “productive”. There is something about that word that conjures a mind-set for me that I am trying to escape: that one needs to earn one’s place in the world by creating and ticking off “to do” lists. I’ve even stopped listening to the Hidden Brain podcast, which I used to like. It seems to be veering more and more into the productivity cult. Either that, or I am only now seeing it from this perspective.
I was listening to a playwright being interviewed on another podcast who talked about how important it was to move to LA in order to not become complacent with their “level” of work. I find it odd that someone who is not ambitious to compete for fame or status points would be judged as smug. There are so many other ways to be committed to growth. And there are so many ways to growth within any art form. A linear, monetary and fame/popularity-based rubrikk is only one path.
Ren Powell, And I’m Feeling Good
Someone invites you to write
your best poem, to rival that
which an AI robot might generate
to the same prompt. The prompt,
in other words, is to write a boast:
which boast will be the best, the most
aggrandizing, the most stupendous?
Luisa A. Igloria, Boast
Over the last couple of years I’ve been questioning what sort of career I wanted as a writer. I’d had a couple of disappointments with one thing and another, and decided to settle for contentment and ‘making enough to do the thing I love, even if no one reads it’, sort of writer. This week, a new flare of motivation to do better hit me, to be better, to be the best I can be, to take my place at the table. This new firework of passion in my work comes from a perfect storm of seeing where I was, in Brid, sleeping on a mattress in a bare flat because the awful ex had taken all my furniture when he left, and I didn’t have the energy to face the fear of challenging him, to this – a forty five year old woman with a book deal, a woman with something to say to the world. But also, surprisingly, my new passion has come from Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s slightly irritating, slightly privileged, slightly vulnerable character pushing for what she wanted, giving up well paid jobs because she wanted to write, taking opportunities that collapsed her world because she wanted to be a writer, wearing inappropriate clothing to every occasion and not giving a fuck about it. Yes. I missed out on that experience, as a younger person, I was busy working in factories and running away from myself, throwing myself at men and not realising I was a vulnerable young person, that the men saw that and used that. But I shall not miss out on these opportunities now. I have a voice and I want to use it.
Wendy Pratt, How Hannah Horvath Pulled Me Out of a Writing Slump
polish it with a bit of chalk
like a mediaeval scribe
all the yellows
buttercup and rattle
Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2023
[How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?] is the question that The Friday Poem asked its regular reviewers for today’s feature. Here’s an extract from my response…
“As for the issue of what displacement activities I indulge in when I should be writing, I’m afraid my personal experience is the opposite: writing poetry is actually my displacement activity when I should be doing all sorts of other things that spell R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! Which is another reason why I’d never want to turn poetry into my job – doing so would kill my writing overnight…”
You can read my piece in full, plus those by other Friday Poem stalwarts, via this link.
Matthew Stewart, How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?
What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.
I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.
I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.
I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.
Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.
Dick Jones, A MANHATTAN TRANSFER
Naturally, with a writer of Glück’s calibre, the story does know when to end without being terrible and without expecting too much of itself. Instead, it indirectly asks questions about nature, nurture and how writers are formed. Are they destined from birth even though they may not be aware of this until much later in life? Is it possible that Rose with her sociability and lack of interest in reading could also become a writer? A book about writing that doesn’t push an agenda or make it sound like a dire career choice, because writing isn’t a choice and babies don’t have careers. Rather, writing is organic and grows from observation, thought, language, knowledge and rhythm. There’s a natural cycle to it, growth and development, as well as shades of meaning, of layers of images as vibrant as a marigold or as pastel as a rose. Although “Marigold and Rose” can be read in one sitting, it also lingers on, similar to the way you never notice how many gardens or yards in the neighbour have roses until someone mentions a rose.
Where Story Begins
Mine was born
between two leaves
on a library shelf.
I don’t remember which
first bewitched me.
I ate up every book
in the case, omnivorous
hunger for text, tone,
word to name my
place in the world.
Place shifted, words
Too tall, like Alice,
to enter again through
that bookcase, I reach
for another book
to restart my story,
recover my where.
Ellen Roberts Young, A Poem
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather’s attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne’s poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks. […]
What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don’t see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It’s not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it’s essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it’s useless. […]
David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I’d love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there’s no way I could approximate Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Or Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie’s than any poet’s. I’m interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.
12 or 20 (second series) questions with Evan Kennedy (rob mclennan)
Maybe because I don’t often spend time reading what I’ve already written, I hadn’t noticed an alteration that can perhaps be traced back to the (first, most serious) heart attack. Whereas once I wrote in a much tighter, more obviously organised way, perhaps telling stories with poems and controlling the rhythm of each piece more carefully, in recent years the writing has been much more varied, more fragmented. Whereas once I seemed to have a grasp on every poem I wrote, now I let the whole thing spread out as it will in what seems a more instinctive, freer way. I don’t mind if a piece of writing is just abandoned as it is. I stream-write more often, with, perhaps, more success. I let images, thoughts, words come and go, link up, fall apart, whatever. I don’t worry if something’s long or short, how long or how short.
I set to wondering why this might be. Age? An increased need for solitude? A lack of interest in sending poems off to editors for possible publication? All I thought possible.
Then I looked back at the poems I’d kept (mostly here) and was surprised to find the poem where the alteration seemed to begin was directly linked to the heart attack – this is included beneath this laboured pondering. I was under the effects of morphine even in the ambulance transferring me from A & E in one hospital to the cardiac unit in another. After surgery I was under heavy medication, and now can’t really remember a great deal about it, but over the first days of recovery I wrote in a note book. Some kind of instinct, perhaps, a need to fall back on the expression that has for so many years been at the base of my existence?
I went home, and only later looked at the notebook and was surprised by the result. A loose collection of hallucinatory experiences, mixed in with stuff that happened on the ward, and erratic memories, or phrases, even song lyrics, maybe stuff I’d read somewhere, that blended and then fell apart again. (I really was, for example, offered fish and chips as my first meal post-operation and there was a wicked old man at the far end singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door). I kept the result, pretty much as it was, called it Heart Attack, sent it to a few old friends and eventually put it on here.
Writing obviously develops with greater experience, wider literary influences, the experiences that life brings, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some kind of chemical reaction to a near-death experience might alter a writer’s capacity. I can still write tightly if I put my mind to it, but it just seems that it is more of a struggle to find those rhythms, and new ones have replaced them.
This week I’ve been reading Jonathan Davidson’s very good book On Poetry which among other things is very, very good (insert more verys here) on the importance of making space for poetry to be heard – whether it’s Ted Hughes on vinyl, nursery rhymes in the kitchen or on stage.
I’ve also been listening to Alice Oswald’s brilliant (as in, literally sparkling) Oxford Poetry Lectures, which focus on poetry as a spoken art (she also has a lot of interesting things to say about similes). Oswald is an astonishing performer – I have never heard her in person but the lectures are akin to extended readings. I don’t mean performing as in acting – you can’t act a poem, though people try.
Oswald is not a performance poet, either. Rather, as Davidson puts it, she releases the poems: “The poets I like, really like rather than just admire, do this, they release their poems. They do not present themselves or their histories or their joys and disciplines, they do not set out their stall or display their garish feathers. They simply place the sounds into the silence.” Davidson is not talking about Oswald, only poets in general (and Ted Hughes). But Oswald is a releaser.
In her first lecture, Oswald makes a point of not showing the audience the texts she is quoting. Instead, she speaks each passage twice – releases the words into the room. These passages are often from Homer – Oswald is always thinking about him and the wandering bards who performed poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. One of the most striking things about her poetry is the way, over the years, she has combined this immersion in a poet as impersonalas Homer with her own very distinct (idiosyncratic, even) phrasing and vocabulary.
Jeremy Wikeley, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Tonight’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon (how delightful!), so named by the Algonquin tribes to mark the peak of ripening strawberries in the northeastern U.S.
“The moon is the very image of silence,” writes Mary Ruefle. “Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.”
That’s a notion I love.
You may have noticed how dear the moon is to poets. “A chin of gold,” Dickinson calls it. In reading to prepare for this post, I marveled at the range of approaches to the moon, some (many, indeed) loving, feeling a complicity with its light, drawing comfort from it, and others seeing it as as cool, distant, and indifferent. The bite, for instance, of that Larkin poem (one of his finest, IMO). The brilliant tenderness of that Laux ghazal. The strangeness of Oswald’s vision.
Maya C. Popa, Strawberry Moon: Poems
When the news said tonight was the full moon,
the strawberry moon, I thought it was
some sort of metaphor, not that the moon
would glow a pinkish-gold over black trees
in a night thick with the scents of flowers,
rabbits like statues under dark bushes,
quick deer hooves clattering under streetlights.
PF Anderson, STRAWBERRY MOON
Six grannies and a great-granny setting sail in an overloaded rowboat, water just below the gunwales, all in dark dresses and the nearly full moon pearlescent between clouds. A slim man rowing, one of their grandsons, ferrying them to the centre of the lake where a spacecraft hovers low. Violet, crimson, a delicate blue, earth’s sky at sunset. They are there to represent us all before this delegation from space, these grannies and a great-granny, none of them swimmers, crossing the water and speaking low.
Gary Barwin, FIRST CONTACT
I actually missed the very end of the podcast where Mark and Hal made their final decision about which movie reigns supreme, but in my mind, it’s the original. “Aliens” is fun and flashy and has big guns, (space Marines!) lots of action, and a solid plot in its own right. But the original is exquisitely spooky and tense in a low-key, ingeniously crafted way that doesn’t require a lot of bang and flash to be utterly terrifying. In my opinion “Alien” is the better of the two films. When it comes to horror, I always prefer the subtle chill to the screeching chainsaw. Bonus fun fact: Ripley was originally meant to be a male character. They made the right choice to switch it up. I don’t think either movie would be the same with the glorious Sigourney Weaver in the role. […]
I realize this post is going up at an abnormal time and day, but last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and my whole routine was all messed up and top of it, I felt listless and like I didn’t have anything compelling to say. I was going to post a poem, but in perusing my collection, they all seemed quite gloomy to me. “Gloomy Poet” is not my given archetype but I certainly have written a preponderance of gloomy poems in my lifetime.
Kristen McHenry, Revisiting Alien, Diamond Painting FOMO, Blog Bleh
I look up from my laptop in time
to see a cat peering in the window.
The sun is setting behind it.
A two-headed, three-armed bear
lies beside my stuffed mouse namesake.
Jason Crane, POEM: (—)
A dream of falling into a subterranean cave full of human bones, the jaguar insisting I re-assemble them all, then catch the water falling in cave-wall tears, then paint it all out, every last thing that happened never to be forgotten now enshrined on stone in my blood-paint: how she made me sleep, then, in the roll of her strength, in the perfume of her hot skin. Flowers. My family tells me of panthers returning, north and south of the river now, protected and thriving. What have I forgotten that I am again so hungry? Never without them. I remember.
My thanks to Rebecca Farmer for her permission to publish this. […] I knew her work from her Smith Doorstop pamphlet, Not Really, so it was a no-brainer when the chance to buy her new one in a bundle with William’s came up. And it’s interesting to see how this new pamphlet continues and builds on some of the themes of Not Really. The poems about her father and the ghosts we met in the first pamphlet are now the main focus of A Separate Appointment. I may be imagining this, and it would take a far deeper study, but it seems to me like the ghosts are starting to doubt themselves more as they get older. Do ghosts get older? Either way, as the poem above suggests, they’re questioning some of their life decisions.
Mat Riches, Who’re they gonna call?
It can take a long time to love someone who only loves themselves as long as it takes to type their bio on a ghost.
It can take a long time to truly see yourself in a mirror without any ghosts getting in the way.
We’re confetti and quicksand, cathedrals and cliches.
Sometimes we’re even here and gone before the end of the song.
Rich Ferguson, That Knock at Your Throat’s Door
A lexicon can be vast, but it can also be narrow and exact. Horse people have a lexicon. Dock-workers have a lexicon. Waitresses have a lexicon.
My first assignment in the poetry class I’m teaching is to list 25 words relating to a subject. I have heard this assignment called “a word bucket.” It is meant to be both non-threatening (an easy threshold to trip over, into the class), but also inspiring. I shared examples of lexicons I’ve written:
for parts of a horse bridle
for the names of every part of a piano
for the skilled-nursing home where my mother spent her last years
for northwest flora and fauna
for my farm childhood
We all have lists of this sort in our heads, but deliberately listing the words, I’ve found, results in more exactness, and — very often — surprising directions one might follow.
Bethany Reid, The Lexicon
Reading through Caelan Ernest’s night mode (Everybody Press) I kept coming back to the idea of movement. There’s the movement of words across the page, the page here treated less like a field and more like a smartphone screen where text placement and white space engage the eye on a level that creates nuance and multiplicity of meaning. Like the decision in “somewhere a cyborg is taking note of the event that will transform it” to break lines around the syllable trans, a move that creates rich linguistic moments like “somewhere a cyborg is being trans / formed by the event.”
This move here nods to multiple meanings: there’s the trans of transgender as well as the enjambment into transformed that the eye completes in reading. Further, seeing the white space between trans and formed isolates the words in a way that evokes the personal isolation explored throughout the collection. The movement of the eye and of thought created by such breaks–this is what pulses at the core of these poems.
I see movement reflected again in the way these lyric sequences stretch across pages, at times with varying typographical choices and sizes, at other times with a single line on a page. Early in the collection, the line “at what point does night mode rupture into sky?” lives on one page across from the line “it’s been so long since the sun on my skin” on the facing page. A decision like this, which allows for time to be spent and for language to be dwelled on, evokes the similar engrossment and dwelling we do on our smartphones. Ernest’s poems are structured to place the reader in the position to literally “let that sink in.”
José Angel Araguz, microreview: night mode by Caelan Ernest
When we ask for it, the moment
of silence, the room goes truly still,
the air thick with grief
and our amazement. We hear our
togetherness. It somehow comforts.
Kathleen Kirk, Wear Orange Day 2023
late afternoon . . .
in and out of the sunlight
the cat’s tail
Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: June ’23