Didn’t know the first poet in the September 1 issue of The New Yorker, Marylen Grigas. But I like her “About Muscle,” a sort of natural history poem. “If there’s no need for movement, then no need for a brain…a fact demonstrated by the sea squirt…it settles on a rock. Then it devours its own brain.” How can one not like such a poem, so fun and weird? “Evolution of the brain is about muscle. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Are you kidding me? A poet who teases Schwarzenegger? Yay. ;-> From there the turn has the narrator speak of herself, “moving and arranging boulders last fall.” Then she draws a powerful conclusion in her surprise ending. Yep. A very satisfying poem.

The other poem, by Michael Dickman, “Mouse Hunt,” is far more challenging a read, though much can still be teased out of it. “Your little eyes / brake lights…scrunched up beneath / the house.” I get that image — the little eyes reflecting light. Though I admit I’ve never seen that with a mouse. “Your pleasure center radio antennae checking the latest / score” Then the poem bounces out of the car metaphor, going into a series of more and more loopy non-sequiturs: “Bumblebee marbles full of shit.” “Your tumors dancing…” Interesting lines, but kind of pointless for me. He does always bring it back to the mouse, though, right to the last line. Still, I left the poem feeling dissatisfied, as though the poem promised depth but never delivered. It’s certainly possible the depth was there and I just missed it, however.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

TOTU Poetry

Tales Of The Unanticipated came out with a new issue after several years on hiatus. I’m glad these poems got to see the light of day.

Ruth Berman gives us a fun poem, “Witches’ Checkout,” concerning all you may buy “At the Witches’ supermarket.” “enchanter’s nightshade, /poisonous mushrooms canned or dried…” the list goes on, as the poem features Berman’s dry, amusing tone. “Variety meats move fast.” And a fun ending.

October Avalonne contributes “Sleeping Beauty In Red Stilettos.” “In our dimly lit prison / we spin for them.” A reasonably creepy poem: “I weave / with bolts of skin, skeins of tresses…flirt with a golden tanned man…” that goes off in an unanticipated direction, as I suppose it should: “But sometimes / when she spins with me, / her long hair sweeps across my arm…”

F.J. Bergmann gives us a fun, complex poem, “Alpha Centauri,” that isn’t quite an abecedarian: “A peels an instrument panel from the wall…Shrieking, B hurls it to the floor.” The letters of the aphabet get mixed up, drift out and back in, and generally contribute to the fun.

The last poem I’ll discuss is Kristine Ong Muslim’s “Resurrection Of A Rag Doll,” another poem shading from sadness towards horror. “My button eyes itch / in their nonexistent sockets….Girls like me live much longer / when we cannot see.” Powerful.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Summer Avocet 14

In the latest Avocet, Peter C. Leverich, the former editor, gives us a light poem, about a ride in a boat, called “Lift.” “…one sharp tug on the leeward sheet / and the sail breaks loose, / rustling and slappy.” The poems put me back on a sailboat, where I have not been in more than a while. Really, it’s the ending that makes this poem work for me, uplifting, but not sappily so.

Joan Colby’s “Evensong” is an adept poem: “Dark stem floating / Like a long bird into an ambush of cloud. / It is twilight.” Too short for a sonnet but with that sort of movement and sweep, and a strong ending.

David S. Pointer gives us a fun little haiku, starting with “old go cart track” — I like the pairing of this line with the second image very much, and breaking away from the 5-7-5 format seems wise for this poem.

Nick Adams goes deeper with his poem “Birds And Looks” than a simple describing of a natural scene; the narrator is hauled along on a bird watch without necessarily wanting to be there: “She invites me…to watch birds. / I think we should leave them alone.” That amused tone carries well throughout the poem. “We’re after the ones who shun us and / find us troublesome…No matter, it makes her happy.” Worth re-reading.

John L. Wright gives us “The Western Red Cedar,” about the narrator’s relationship to a tree. “I’ve done the talking, / but you…nearly symmetrical, have been the teacher.” Again, there is more going on here, as the narrator evidently has the tree cut down at the end; we are not sure why. And it points out how limited such a relationship really is: “I feel a twinge of emptiness, of angst really…” Not everything in poetry is a huge deal, some losses are small, though real.

Lastly, Joanne Stokkink gives us “July Cinquain,” an almost imagist poem that works very well for me: “with sticks / longer than the / crow locked in its beak / the crow stops…” Again it is the ending that makes this poem, but of course to read it you should send off for the magazine. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

The Odd Nimrod

As usual, the latest Nimrod is jam-packed with notable poems. Let’s start with the first poem in the mag, “Sequel,” by Joan Roberta Ryan, which has an argument for also being the best. “Dear Husband and King…” it starts. “Lately, your mother has been…eyeing / the kids rather strangely, / and knowing her ogreish / lineage…” I suppose this is the time to say the theme for this issue was reimagining faerie tales and such. Anyway, it’s a fun poem, dire warning ending and all. I admire the line breaks in this as well.

Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda has a clever folded poem (by which I mean she’s taken two poems and folded them together) called “Painting In An Enclosed Field At Saint-Paul Hospital.” A Van Gogh poem. “Like the painting of a peasant /Devout/ I long to haul wheat / we rise / in the fertile field.” Interesting things can happen with such poems, if done correctly. I like this one.

“She Gives Me The Watch Off Her Arm” is a sweet portrait by Marge Saiser of the relationship between mother and daughter at the moment the daughter is going off to college. “the closest she has ever been / is this / the dorm // her father had needed her / to dig the potatoes…” We see the daughter aware of how much this means to the mother.

“Burning House” is an insightful look by Diane Cadena Deulen into the midset of little boys, and how they are affected by a nearby house burning down. “Because the place was long abandoned, rumored / haunted…it was cause more for celebration / than alarm.” Great twist at the end as well.

The final poem I’ll mention is “Scheherazade,” by Patricia Hawley. “They were raised / as if feral by nuns, fed at the back door.” What a great beginning. This is about girls, however, not cats, and there is a stream of sadness running underneath. “Gen, / an artist, jumped from a tenement fire — her child stopped breathing / in her arms.” Very powerful.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

New Republic Poems

Only a couple poems in the Jun 30 issue. First is “Father’s Day,” by Jeffrey Harrison. “My first father- / less Father’s Day came / a little too soon.” It’s a short meditation on being a father, on losing a father, and on the narrator’s place in the family, with a gentle sadness suffusing it. There’s a beautifully ironic ending, a poem very much worth hunting down. An excellent example of the generally high quality of The New Republic’s poetry.

The other poem I knew I was going to like as soon as I saw the name: “Baseball.” It’s by Lauren S. Cook, with whose work I have not been familiar. “Summon: a baseball field / and forty thousand bodies…” such a confident beginning. That bold tone continues: “the players hook into pose, / and alike we slant toward // the plate.” A great image, but with a subtlety worth noting: pose, not poses. They are all part of a unity in this moment, a single tableaux vivant. There’s even a reference to William Carlos Williams: “So much hinges / on the placement of a pitch…” So, a little amusing irony underneath there. Then the turn brings us up a level: “This is the day I marry a man…” after which the changes come one after another, like the pop pop of a pistol: “maybe…he says he doesn’t want the baby…” A deft, powerful work, with a trailing-off ending that feel just right. Brava!

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Midwest Q Too

The winter 2014 issue of The Midwest Quarterly has over 60 poets, but I can’t cover more than a fraction of those. You’ll just have to take my word many of them are good and worthy. (Or go buy it yourself!)

I often pay special attention to the first poem in an issue, figuring the editor thinks of it as the lead, and therefore what might be the best poem. Here it’s “In The Red Barn” by Kate Robinson. “there is no heat, or blankets…but the man is sleeping” The poem uses repetition to create a trance-like effect, adding weight and import. “two lungs pull in what air they can…” It’s an important moment in this man’s life, and delicately handled.

“Annastrasse” by Deborah Kroman is also a good read: “(Annastrasse) was so narrow, its houses so chock-a-block, / we slept in our neighbors’ arms.” It’s a quirky little poem, discussing the downside of magpies, the beauty of a grey heron, and more. I liked it.

In fact, the editor set up a little run of bird poems (the overall theme was “Rural and Urban”) many of them, like “Indigo Bunting,” by Audrey Henderson, little miniatures with a punchy ending. “sitting in an Adirondack / chair…it tipped him over…after one leg / sank into a divot made by Reggie Clark’s cow.” The sense of understatement adds to the power of the poem, here.

I very much like Andrew Grace’s “Farm Animals.” “They are all gone. / They became worth more dead.” Wow, what a matter-of-fact punch. I love that ‘became.’ The thoughtful use of a word making it powerful. “Black apple hallelujahs” is one of several strong images. A skilled sense of language, here.

Finally, let me mention “Midewin, the Word for Healing,” by Ann Lynn. “once the site of the Joliet Arsenal.” It starts, “The workers had yellow skin and orange fingernails…Now the guardhouse is deserted, / its black tarpaper exposed.” Such power through such plain little words. It’s a short poem, so I don’t want to give away more of it, but it has an especially effective ending.

Overall, I found this a good magazine to chew through, and several poets new to me. I’m glad I found it.

P.S. I just published a new edition of my novel, “Drifter Mage,” a western fantasy ebook on Amazon, if you care for that sort of thing. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

The poem “El Jefe,” by Olga Abella in the spring Main St. Rag kind of reached in and got to me. “Drops of sweat form on my mother’s upper lip / as he screams into her face” it starts. Just a raw presentation of a moment of injustice, beautifully rendered. “She can smell his anger blowing over her head.” And a powerfully ironic ending. Well done.

And I loved “Why She Dresses Up As a Clown At Work,” by Jin Cordaro. “Or maybe it’s because she prefers…that big orange sponge of a nose.” “So she lets them…put a ruffled collar tight / around her neck.” We feel sympathy for the character, but oh no, Cordaro has deeper, more evil plans than that. The turn in this poem is nefarious, bringing out the evil chuckle by the end.

Maybe because it hits so close to home, I also very much enjoyed “Mother At 81″ by Alan Harawitz. “You sit in your chair like an old car / waiting for the crusher.” Wow, what a start. It’s a short poem, in couplets, but more effective for that, I think. Great ending, too.

Finally, I enjoyed Sara Totten’s “Comfort,” a love poem. “Just shoot me / or / wrap me in a bubble of / warmth and fleece / of / arms and legs…” It’s a sensual poem, nicely understated: “Hold me tightly in a cocoon of / vanilla…” It heats up as it goes along, and ends very sweetly indeed.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson


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