July’s Jottings

Maybe because of the heat and humidity, or because we’re entering the thick of summer when the bugs have finally arrived and the days are slowly getting shorter, or because this pandemic is getting worse instead of better, or because I’m focusing on reading and memorizing other people’s words, I haven’t been writing my own poems this month. Instead, I’ve read more and jotted down a lot of notes in my plague notebook. So, instead of a poem, here’s a summary of some interesting ideas from July:

1 July

Palindromes and one-word poems

do geese see god?
was it a car or cat I saw?

a semordnilap: stressed (desserts)

Understanding words by how they feel, not by how they look. A deeper awareness than they eye could perceive beyond the retina (about Emily Dickinson from These Fevered Days).

One thing I’m noticing about memorizing poems is that I don’t memorize line breaks or punctuation. Are some poems not meant be memorized? Others not intended to be seen, only heard?

2 July


The ancient prayer of
my arms shining in
counterpoint to my feet
(The World Has Need of You/ Ellen Bass)

another IT word: Invisible Tug

4 July

The meadows — Mine —
The mountains — Mine —

Too much! Too much to see for my failing vision. Too bright, too much visual noise! I don’t want it all, just one little spot, or a few spots, to study and admire.

we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble (Emily Dickinson, correspondence with Otis Phillips Lord).

5 July

What are Poems?

  • spells
  • chants
  • prayers
  • balms
  • charms
  • doosr/windows/gates
  • ways in/out
  • trails
  • alleluias/expressions of gratitude
  • wonders
  • bewilderments
  • breaths
  • tracks across the snow, the sand, the field
  • revery

7 July

How can any reader resist a field full of goldfinches
and the invitation to attend their rather ridiculous performance?

8 July 8

The act of remembering a word or a line: a flash–suddenly it’s there…it always was, but unseen…words waiting to change my life.

Think about (and describe) the process of memorizing and why it’s valuable.

9 July

Remembering a line continued…

A light suddenly turning on? An image pops into place? The words appear suddenly like the Great Gazoo (from The Flintstones), popping into the frame, appearing out of nowhere? A fog lifted, slowly it arrives, first a stranger then a forgotten friend. Tripping over syllables like stones hidden on the trail?

Sudden or gradual? Slowly coming into focus?

Unformed vapor, haze, fog then solid, sturdy.

Reciting from memory as physical as dancing.

Knowing poetry by heart can serve every day’s most quiet need. The homage of our attention on some aspect of the world, suddenly aligning across time with homage of someone else’s attention (My 100).

My process for memorizing: Sit outside. Read the lines. Repeat. Again. Again. Read more lines until finished. Recite into phone. Listen for mistakes. Go out for a run. Repeat lines in my head. Recite into my phone. Keep repeating while running until I know it by heart.

Memorizing poems teaches us about the logic that holds a poem together (My 100).

10 July

Last night, sitting on the deck under a tree, several black capped chickadees foraged for berries right above my head, not caring that I was there. Magical.

4 Different Endings for a Poem

  1. Circular: bring back word/image/idea introduced earlier.
    example: Dusting/Rita Dove
  2. Dialectic: reach for something larger that has come before. epiphany? wisdom?
    example: The Conditional/Ada Limón
  3. Linear: if a story, tell what happened
    example: One Afternoon/Joanie Mackowski
  4. Imaginastic: end on an imaged, and don’t explain it
    example: You Have Harnessed Yourself/Lucie Brock-Broido

12 July

Thinking about how change and how and when it happens, and thinking about how wonderful it is to be able to sit still and take delight in a bird perched above me on a tree–and to know that this moment is enough. A lot of work has been done by me to get to this point.

There wasn’t a day — one day — when I decided to notice the birds. It was an accumulation of days of noticing them until I couldn’t stop and when that happened I was transformed.

13 July

Thinking about Marie Howe’s line from “The Meadow”:

My love, this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget what you are

Forget what we are because what we are are creatures attempting to find the right words to feel better: less alone, less suffering, less closer to death.

15 July

Art holds the knowledge that we’re both living and dying at the same time (Marie Howe, interview On Being)

17 July

Ross Gay and The Book of Delights:

The intolerable makes like worthwhile (45).

Terror and delight sitting next to each other, their feet dangling off the side of a bridge very high up (45).

Joy = joining our sorrows

What are the different ways we can join our sorrows (our wildernesses) together? Stories, conversations, glue, sutures, rubber bands, tape, links, bridge

19 July

Reading Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. Life is both full of wonder and a nightmare. We both enjoy and endure it. Engage and survive.

Hope is not about imagining new worlds but giving space for the worlds that already exist but are ignored, denied, erased.

Giving space, finding doors, gates, windows, passing through thresholds, clearing fields, meadows, boulevards.

not so much social distancing as making room and giving space, allowing each person to breathe, to be.

20 July

Cause and effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stern, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension.


All news has a bias in favor of suddenness, violence, and disaster that overlooks groundswells, sea changes, and alternatives the forms in which popular power most often manifests itself.

The Semi-Colon!

You might say a poem is a semicolon. A living semicolon, that connects the first line to the last, the act of keeping together that whose nature is to fly apart (Mary Ruefle).

July 21

Poetry as a door unlocking, an invitation to living (Nothing/Krysten Hill):

One student says when he writes, it feels like nothing
can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He
invites me
into his living.

22 July

Medusa: those who look into her eyes, turn to stone.
Me: when I look at people, I see nothing but an empty, immovable face–no gestures or life within their eyes. They seem like stone.

23 July

St. Lucia is the patron saint of people with eye troubles.

I just looked up her story. Wow. Her eyes were gouged out because she wouldn’t renounce her Christian faith. I don’t remember hearing about that at the yearly St. Lucia festival at my Swedish College, Gustavus Adolphus College! She was often depicted, in medieval paintings, carrying a tray of eyes.

to turn a blind eye, a new definition:

To offer a different perspective on the subject, to provide observations devoid of the distractions and manipulations of images and to foreground other sensory perception as well as knowledge outside the sensory realm (Georgia Kleege).

25 July

See “Nystagmic Poetics in Lorine Niedecker’s Post War Poetry”

27 July

(On day 9 of a sinus infection, the 2nd or 3rd or 4th? since March): Boo to congestion! Boo to slightly difficult breathing? Boo to sinuses!

31 July

An arrogant eye believes that things exist because it sees them; it makes worlds with its sight. To see is to know is to possess.

A loving eye is not driven by knowing or owning but wondering and admiring. To see is not to make worlds or to fully know them but to witness and be curious about them.

The World, Italicized (a cento)

The Meadows — Mine?
The Mountains — Mine?
All Forests — Stintless Stars?
As much of noon as I can take
Between My Finite Eyes?
To hold down the train
that falls into the abyss?
To relight the stars
blown out by the hurricane?
To turn the sea
into sky?

I tell you that my Heart would split for size of me!
The news would strike me dead!

I don’t mind opening a book
to a pewter Rorschach test
or waking up each morning
inside a fish tank of dream.
I like, whenever I wish,
to make the trees of the wood
dance, to detect
fuzzy spirits exiting buildings
with just my soul upon the window pane

You should see the full moon
lost in a fog, see what beauty
shows up between a dream
and a catastrophe:
a haystack, a Cadillac, a wreath of moths,
the world, italicized.