Guest Post: Spirit of the Hills poets on Covid 19

2020: A Journal in Time of Pandemic and Lockdown

We benefit from participating in writing groups…and this is one of mine: Spirit of the Hills / SOTH. It is a total-arts organization where members range from those developing their passions through to those who have published collections and are very accomplished: writers, painters, sculptures — the full gamut.
You will see from this recent post, that the poetic response from our group is all over the map. This is as it should be from a group of independent, creative thinkers and writers. I hope you enjoy reading these poems and will be inspired to write, of course, and to participate in a local or virtual group. Our local group suddenly became a virtual group, as have so many others.
Enjoy (and one of my pandemic poems is included). Please scroll down . . .
So, what do you think? Like & Share (and write).

Thanks for reading to the bottom, Kate.

Some Poetic Reactions to Covid 19

IMG_4863 Reva's cat

The Literary Cat image by Reva 

At This Time by Reva Nelson

I know that

Some of you have

Cleaned the stove, tidied your closets, painted your bathroom, emptied your cupboards

Washed the floors, cleansed your cushions, vacuumed your cars

Written three novels, painted five pictures

And accomplished countless other achievements.

 

I have

Talked on the phone

Watched Netflix

Read ten novels

And have been in shock.

This author of ‘Bounce Back’, Creating Resilience from Adversity

Has not felt resilient, has not felt new energy, has not felt creative.

 

However

I do rejoice

That Nature said, “Enough”

Too many pollutants, too many emissions

Too much waste

 

And has started to stitch up the ozone layer

Put fish back in the waters

Allowed bees to flourish

And has set us straight

 

In spite of ourselves.

hands-1926414_1280

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

 

LOVE IN A TIME OF DISTANCING by ANTONY DI NARDO

 

Love is but a syllable in a book

two other words are you and me

together we determine how bright

the last light leaves the day

 

you talk in terms of candles

I quote variations on a simple word

for luminous

we agree to flatten the curve with a kiss

 

the cello plays Billie Holiday

the clouds a chorus from Hallelujah  

April snaps and out we flutter like birds

from mountain to mountain

 

a moment’s breath to reach the peak

our breath combines the words we speak

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

FADING STARS by CHRISTOPHER BLACK

While robins woke to fading stars,

That drew fat worms to morning doom,

And tired hands sought coffee jars,

Still half in dream and nightly tomb,

While prostitutes and presidents,

Walked secret streets, or secret rooms,

And madmen claimed it all made sense,

But nightly danced in drunken fear,

While others stared in innocence,

But couldn’t help a sudden tear,

Rising from their aching hearts,

For those they lost they once held dear,

A message came from foreign parts,

Of something strange passed through the air;

As if a fusillade of poisoned darts,

That pierced the old and young, the sad and fair,

In silence, swift, and thus, unseen,

As Satan climbing Heaven’s stair,

His strength renewed and body lean,

To reclaim his old authority,

And sit the chair where God had been,

Sans remorse, regret, sans pity,

First one succumbed and then the many,

From east to west, in town, in city,

The working poor lost every penny,

And sat alone, apart, in wonder,

For them escape there was not any,

As the world around them broke asunder,

For existence cares not what your name,

Or what day they put you under,

And while many played the ancient game,

Of searching entrails for some secret reason,

A bleating scapegoat they could blame,

Others knew we’d had our time, our run, our season,

Had squandered all, destroyed the world,

Against Life itself had plotted treason,

So down the great abyss were hurled.

 

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Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

MAKING SOUP by KATE MACDONALD

What’s in the cupboard?

What’s in the fridge?

 

She peeks here and there.

Veggies? Broth?  Seasonings?

 

Abundance     and scarcity.

 

Peel.     Chop.     Substitute.

Sauté.     Simmer.     Taste.

Adjust.     Purée.

 

Beyond the window

sun shines     beckoning.

Her bike’s in winter storage.

Tulips

Yellow daffodils

Narcissus surely bloom

Robins and worms

Bunnies under spring Hosta leaves

A solitary swan on the river

But an ingredient’s lacking?

Quixotic desires?

Think Midas.

 

Don your cowboy bandana.

Substitute two feet for two wheels.

Make soup.

 

 

dessert-3334057_1280

 

GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW HAIKUS by KIM AUBREY

1.

Reality too harsh?

Retreat under meringue peaks

to bake a Daquoise

2.

What could be more real

than sugar, egg whites, and cream

beaten, then eaten?

3.

To frost sweet pastry

amidst news of plague and grief

pipes rosettes of hope.

IMG_0585 Kim'sCakes

Kim’s cakes, K. Aubrey

 

Thanks to the hard-working volunteers — K. Aubrey and Felicity Sidnell, among them — and poets.

For more about SOTH’s pandemic project: Spirit of the Hills

 

A Breeze You Whisper: Six Poems

If I had to choose one word for [Kathryn MacDonald’s] poetry, I´d say “sensuality.” It overflows the book´s margins shipping fruit and fire that crackles in its pages as I hold my breath caught in the delicacy of her phrases or gaspingly sigh marveled at their attractiveness. Miguel Ángel Olivé Iglesias, Holguin University, Cuba.

Recently, Professor Manuel Olivé of Holguin University, Cuba wrote a review of A Breeze You Whisper that was published as “Whispers & Flames.”

In a Fragile Moment: A Landscape of Canadian Poetry.  Professor Olivé discusses six poems from the collection. For readers of the review who are curious about the poems themselves, please scroll down.

Book-NSKathrynMacDonald-ABreezeYouWhisper

A Breeze You Whisper

A breeze, you whisper.
A bird, you soar and hover
before dropping into the nest
hidden within my tossing limbs.

 

Blueberry Picking

My womb was full of you
the first time
I went berry picking
at Lake of the Woods,
round and placid
like the heavy rocks
from which the prickly
bushes seemed to grow.
I fondled the sweet
berries with my tongue,
staining my lips blue.
You sensed my mood
then and quieted your boxing fists.
Now your seed grows
beneath another woman’s heart.

One Woman

 Your laughter bubbles
rising gurgling geyser
filling me with love.
Exuberant you
living fully in today
deep in life’s river
currents and rapids
moving with enthusiasm
welcoming flotsam
tossed up in turmoil
longing, needing and loving
glowing like sunrise
or polished wet stones
exploding into warm air
a surprise hug
manifesting joy
and rampant passion
all wrapped in one woman.

Avatar

She clasps my hand
her soul tremoring through
fingertips
her tears creating rainbows
of release.

She turns through her nights
courting images
and exaggerations
that revolve     like
the moon     through her
seasons            and
from the pinnacle of her
rotation
she spirals     like
the dream
shattering.

Stooping
she gathers the fragments
carefully placing them
in paint pots
later
to brush across canvas.

Pleasure

Your fingers touch the buttons
pushing them through each hole
creating a V in my white nightgown.

All the while, your eyes seek mine,
hold them, as your hands reach
to caress my breasts,
and I am eager for your touch.

You pleasure me
and more.
Have done so for half my lifetime
and more.

Winter Storm

she marks
distance with care
measuring her path
from fencerows
while he tugs
at her memory
when motion was joy
when their bodies easily
skimmed white powder
now she
inches slowly downward
feeling sleet on her forehead
through whiteout she sees
his blue eyes
his hand reach
feels it cup her small breast

 

Your thoughts are always appreciated. Please leave a comment, and also, please share.

Available through your local bookstore or online: A Breeze You Whisper

Three poems: excerpts from A Breeze You Whisper

I read the whole thing all at once…each poem made me want to read the next one, and then, it was over, leaving me wanting more. [] I was totally entranced. MacDonald’s work is sensual, moving. She plays with words….The poet takes us off the page and into her mind and heart, into our own minds and hearts and beyond. (Amazon review)

Book-NSKathrynMacDonald-ABreezeYouWhisper
ISBN 978-1-897475-66-9; Hidden Brook Press (HBP); 2011

The majority of the poems in the collection are in print for the first time, but some were previously published, including these three. The cover was created by the publisher from one of my photographs of a luna moth; the ink-brush drawings are also my creations. The book is divided into six sections: East; South; West; North; Above & Below.

“Earth,” was originally published in Ascent Aspirations Magazine (2007):

EARTH

Worms wiggle through soil
and at the end of the robin’s beak.

Ants build labyrinthine passageways
and a room fit for a queen’s eggs.

Below the raspberries
a brown field mouse curls in her nest.

Away from the garden path
under the evergreen rabbits burrow.

My fingers reach for weedy roots
find mysteries buried deep.

Gravity hold more than loam
to its stony heart.

East section pg 1

“City Hunter” was originally published in Descant (1981; a prestigious literary journal that published from 1970-2015):

CITY HUNTER

I watched the jazz man
reach through his horn
felt his mellow
breath caress my ears.
His dancing fingers
pushed the air
around the
room
rippling waves
of smoke
broke against
my flesh
the current
pulling toward his
plunging
centre.

He soared and
fell
catching his prey
in the quiet
echo
of his rhythm.

Above & Below section pg 107

The third poem that I’m sharing with you from the collection A Breeze You Whisper is titled “Migration.” It was first published in Northward Journal (under a pen name: Deneau; 1981; Penumbra Press).

MIGRATION

He watched fear
enter her eyes
as she bellied
through the prairie grasses.
He imagined
the pressure
against
her fleshy triangle as
the grasses pushed
between her legs.
Snaking forward, she,
initiation offering,
would clamp him
in her hairy, circular
trap
and devour
his hunger until the
fear leaped into
his eyes.
Slowly he watched the
seeds sown in her belly
swell.
His ear upon her naval
listening
to drums and gurgling
streams
to thundering hoof beats and
rustling grasses.
From the fissure sprung
the red waters
as the migrating herds
returned.

I thought perhaps after reading my reviews, you might be curious what kind of poetry I write. I would love to learn what you think of these poems, and if you’ve read the book, what you think of it.

Available online: A Breeze You Whisper.

(The caption is a quote from the book review on Amazon.)

The Wrecking Light by Robin Robertson: Book Review

I find a kind of hope here, in this / homelessness, in this place / where no one knows me – / where I’ll be gone, like some / over-wintering bird, / before they even notice. (Beginning to Green)

The poet searches: for his shadow-self, for grief and guilt, and for life and meaning. In The Wrecking Light, Robin Robertson moves into the past, sheds light onto the present, and shape-shifts between reality and the surreal.

In the first section, Silvered Water, the first poem, “Album,” sets a tone that echoes throughout the collection. It begins:

I am almost never there, in these
old photographs: a hand
or shoulder, out of focus; a figure
in the background,
stepping from the frame.

(…)

A ghost is there; the ghost gets up to go.

The Wrecking Light is full of memories that include memories of others: the girl / with the hare lip / down by Clachan Bridge (“By Clachan Bridge”). And the collection ends with the personal memory of “Hammersmith Winter” when through the drawn curtain / shines the snowlight I remember as a boy, / sitting up at the window watching it fall. Mixed with memories is a sense of grieving, as in “Fall From Grace:”

My life a mix of dull disgraces
and watery acclaim, my daughters know
I cannot look into their clear faces;
what shines back at me is shame.

The theme continues. In “Tinsel,” in the woods: If you’re very quiet, you might pick up loss: or rather / the thin noise that losing makes – perdition. / If you’re absolutely silent. And with loss comes leaving. The very next poem, “Leaving St. Kilda,” takes us on a sea journey brimming with geographic details and clear images cut clean by departure. In this geographical catalogue: sea rhythm; progression.

But don’t get the wrong idea, these poems are neither nostalgic nor maudlin. In the skillful hands of this visionary, we are taken on a raucous ride with unexpected twists and turns.

In the second section called Broken Water, the first poem’s horror and the brutal honesty of rough island life and penance is laid bare. In “Law of the Island” Robertson paints a vivid description of island punishment and the casualness of its deployment. In this section, he gives us a back-and-forth of short poems with punch and longer, exploratory ones where he writes after Ovid, Neruda, Baudelaire, and myth to understand humanity’s weaknesses. Here, “Grave Goods,” is beyond surreal; it enters magic.

In the third section, Unspoken Water, the woods and forests of childhood again dominate. In “The Wood of Lost Things,” the vision is clearer and in its clarity, more haunting. Robertson writes: I have found the place I wasn’t meant to find (…)

Hung on a silver birch, my school cap
and satchel; next to them, the docken suit,
and next to that, pinned to a branch,
my lost comforter –
a piece of blanket worn to the size of my hand.

 You can see how he leads us. Like Narcissus he sees a face I seem to know. But unlike Narcissus, he isn’t struck by his beauty. Of course not. But he does give us a resolution (of sorts).

In The Wrecking Light, there is much of the sea, of woods, of love and loss, of searching. I return to the final poem, “Hammersmith Winter,” and the poet’s final plea: Look at the snow, / I said, to whoever might be near, I’m cold, / would you hold me. Hold me. Let me go.

Robin Robertson has written an intense, lyrical collection with movement as through dreams bordering on nightmare (I dare not use the word haunting again, although that is the effect his writing creates). This is Robertson’s forth book of poetry; I recommend you enter his world.

70 The Wrecking Light

Available through your local bookstore or online: The Wrecking Light

Past Midnight: poem

“The lines cast off / we glide….”

In August, Amethyst Review published “Past Midnight.”

 

PAST MIDNIGHT
by Kathryn MacDonald

The lines cast off
we glide through still water
insistent weeds
and water lily leaves.

We slip past sailboats
held fast to docks
by tendrils of black or white
blue or red          lines like thoughts
tethered to mourning and borders.

We venture into the other world
beyond safe harbour
and sense some things
have changed forever.

 

I’d love to know what you think of Past Midnight (and please “share” the link — Amethyst Review deserves reading).

 

Ducks in mist-PEC-sm (1 of 1)
Leaving safe harbour in heavy mist. (The photograph “Zen Serenity” was selected for a juried show, 2018.)

 

 

 

 

 

Away by Andrea MacPherson: Book Review and Writing Tip

Before, there might have been children playing in the street, / the rumbling of cars and feet, / but now there is nothing. Taut, stretched stillness. Waiting.

“Walking Shankill Road” (29)

Andrea MacPherson travels in Away — and we travel with her through the magic of her poetry. The journey begins in Ireland, a personal quest where sites and family are sought.

This is the one place you insisted I come,
this place where limestone weeps
and children once played between execution sites
and burial grounds.

So begins “here’s to the wings of a bird” (12) and with it an elusive you, someone who has planted the seed of return, a return instead of, as if MacPherson is visiting the memories of another. Throughout, the time of the “Troubles” persists. In “boundaries” (16), she writes:

We anticipated a stop here,
men with guns and strict faces
(tightropes of unsmiling mouths,
eyes that have seen marchers falling)
a checkpoint at least, with flashlights
turning our faces to ghosts.

Instead there is nothing but seamless conversation;
rapeseed fields.
Trading prayer for something even quieter.

With the poet, we ride through countryside, lulled, until Belfast and RUC men… their guns and tanks.

Somehow we have forgotten about the strife
we had prepared to see, more content
with wavering fields a thousand shades of yellow
and ancient schoolhouses.

These places where people once sat.

The “Troubles” are old; the people we meet are old. It is as if all love and youth have left Ireland. MacPherson captures a poignancy that is haunting. In “the backyard faerie circle” (20), we visit an old man, alone:

A grey cardigan coming apart at the seams,
smelling of sheep and skin and age.
A threadbare chair,
imprinted with the memory of the body
thighs and shoulders and hip bones.
This is what his life has become:
wool and paisley just there.

We learn something of him, his youth and love, but now the small patch of wild roses / left untended, / forgotten in the shade.

The family journey of remembrance crosses the Irish Sea and continues in Scotland where we learn MacPherson’s mother’s mother left with only a rose-gold / wedding band, a few porcelain figurines (“blue salt,” 41). In “Caldrum Street,” MacPherson writes: I take photos to enter a past that is not mine (48); yet the poems lack nostalgia. They are immediate, felt, experienced. History – political and personal – continues to dig deep, becoming, as she says in one poem, fable.

MacPherson’s travels continue to France and Greece. In Paris: A streak of blue paint / thick / across a painter’s cheek (“sketches of Paris, 71). Allusions to artists and their art continue. In “La Goulue & Jane Avril” (77).

You write to me from Toulouse
and I think not of you and the red
city you describe, but of the small
deformed man with miniature legs
(childhood breaks that never quite healed)
who drew cabaret dancers
and whores and faceless men.
Smell the absinthe on his stale breath,
the unwashed quality of his hair.
Dark, dense in the spring sun.

Toulouse is nowhere in those photos,
only the possibility of his compressed figure in the corner,
black coat tails, shriveled leg
fleeting.

In “National Archaeological Museum” (85), Greece, archeology replaces the art trope of France:

[The statues] have all been saved from watery graves,
a shipwreck hundreds of years ago in the Aegean.
They might have been home for minnows,
crustaceous prawns, octopuses;
seaweed might have covered the boy’s eyes,
letting him forget he once had limbs.

As the trip comes to an end, she writes: I dream of the places I will go once home: / thick rainforests, yards of lilac and rose bushes…relearn the taste of green (“the geography of bougainvillea” 89).

Away describes a circle, a going out and a return – to place, to self – and it does so with keen observation and insight. This is Andrea MacPherson’s second book of poetry. It is now one of my favourites to be read and reread.

Hints for Writers 

  1. For writers on personal journeys to places of emigration, Away shows how the quest can embrace the stories of generations, the return (almost) on behalf of parents and grandparents but also open doors to others curious minds. MacPherson travels with purpose, but her list of places and people to see does not blind her. She finds ways to draw readers into her poems; she bridges the personal : universal divide. If this is your journey, read MacPherson with an eye and ear as to how she accomplishes the magic.
  2. The author’s voice is consistent throughout the collection, creating cohesion between poems and sections of the book. MacPherson’s voice is intimate/personal but also knowledgeable. We trust her. We also remain open to the surprises and insights that happen along the journey. Think about how she uses the first person to control what we see and feel and then how she inserts the twist that makes us pause and contemplate the awareness or insight or question revealed.

67 Away.jpg

Available through your local bookstore or online: Away

Journey through love (The Whetting Stone by Taylor Mali)

…all the ways that love can come undone

The Whetting Stone by Taylor Mali is as piercing as the knives whetstones sharpen. The poems in his collection  – each in its own way – are stunning and not in the least sentimental. Together, they take readers on a breath-taking journey through love, grief, suicide, loss, and finally back to love.

“Grief Moves,” the first poem introduces a sensuousness and intimacy that leads readers through the eighteen poems that follow.

…before falling into sleep,
how we came together, loss now
a moving thing between us.

It also introduces the “other” of the collection whose “grief…become a kind of need.”

Perhaps the most powerful poem is “Six Stories.” The first stanza reveals the suicide, followed by six short verses, each enlightening the backstory lurking behind the act. Like others in the collection, this poem has been honed to the fine precision of a chef’s knife. There’s not a word out of place; all excess has been cut. The language is precise and concise.

We travel inward with Mali, glimpsing 10 years of marriage, but the focus of The Whetting Stone delves into those that come after. In “Twelfth Anniversary,” Mali shares a light, almost humorous – but extraordinarily insightful – moment that marks (perhaps) the beginning of forgiveness: “And what is more, that I loved you as best I could while you were alive.”

Mali’s skill is as sharp as the knife that surfaces in many poems. One poem I found particularly moving has the longest title: “Things We Both Know / That I Still Have to Tell You.” It ends with a two-line stanza:

You are none of the things
you think you are. Or even alive.

Pain and healing are equally present in the words and what is written between the lines.

The Whetting Stone offers readers an insightful, honest journey through trauma until Mali has a crucial awareness and a shift occurs. He’s ready to let go and writes:

Lover, at last, please leave me, after all these years.
You have cried enough. Leave me to these tears.

Eventually, he recognizes:

She was
not mine
to save.

Taylor Mali’s The Whetting Stone won the 2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize. I highly recommend this thin, extraordinary chapbook.

37 The Whetting Stone

Available through the publisher: The Whetting Stone

or from the author: The Whetting Stone (where you can learn more about him and his writing).

Review (Poetry): With the Keenness of Time (Bicycle Thieves by Mary di Michele)

…Maybe time is not / an arrow after all but a whirling / storm about to touch down (“The Possibility of Time Travel”)

Mary di Michele’s consistent search through place and time continues in her latest collection, Bicycle Thieves, as do particular images.

Thirty-seven years ago, di Michele’s Bread and Chocolate (1980) was published, and in it a poem called “1952.” The poem lyrically describes the photograph we see on the cover of Bicycle Thieves. The poem and her current book’s cover attest to the desire to know what shaped her parents, her self. “1952” tracks a migration and in it we glimpse a man and a woman and hints of a puzzle. This puzzle is further explored in her latest collection.

In “The Bicycle Thief,” di Michele shares birth-place images and vivid sketches of her father – in youth and old age. She captures a return visit to Lanciano and regrets that she cannot go back in time as well as place, to a time “before / the World War, seen the boy my father was / before his father betrayed / a barefoot son / and sold his bicycle.” A patina of love and loss and change loosely covers section one – The Montreal Book of the Dead – like a sheer veil lifted in a breeze.

The middle section – Life Sentences (An Autobiography in Verse) – is comprised of 100 three-line stanzas. In them, a life passes by, nuanced with detail, yet like an illusion. Whereas in section one, the emigration is physical – place to place – in section two it is the lived past:

The past is that far
country you emigrated from
as a child.

It is the past of the poet under a sharply focused magnifying glass where she peers intently at that small enlarged circle, moving the magnifier across memories and through time. The cautionary voice warns: “Mary, you can’t go / back to yesterday, you were / a different person then” (#90). But Socrates suggests that an unexamined life is not worth living.

Di Michele, like Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want, reviewed July 21 2017), poignantly holds a lens to the past, focusing it on both joys and sorrows in a search for its essence, for meaning. Di Michele’s poems explore the particulars of her life (of an immigrant child, of the mystery of parents, of the curious mind). They create a portal, a bridge that gives voice to universal experiences recognized by her readers.

In the final section – After – we find influences of di Michele’s reading, but even here, she takes us to a specific place and time that is hers. My favourite poem in Bicycle Thieves is “Evening Light” (After Umberto Saba); she tells us:

Moon rise.

                             In the street it’s still
day though dusk’s rapidly descending.
The young don’t notice, they’re busy
texting, faces lit up
by the screens. They have no idea
about death, how in the end, it’s

what helps you live.

And here we have it all: the observation and insight, the sense of time’s movement, the lyrically perfect words and flow.

Since Mary di Michele’s first book (Tree of Life, 1978), she has been honing her poetic skills, the writing becoming sharper, the insights keener. It’s hard to imagine what will come next – after Bicycle Thieves – but already I want it.

11a Bicycle Thieves cover LR-1

Available through your local bookstore or online: Bicycle Thieves