The current Missouri Review has some fine poetry. They like to feature several poems from three poets, their format here. I am wary of the little bios, but they do give context to the Katie Bickham poems, winner of the Smith Editors’ Prize, a cycle of poems about rooms in a southern plantation house, and the history that maybe played out in each one. First, in “Dining Room, 1811″, Bickham tackles the slave history head on. A beautiful poem: “The gunpowder stench from the sleeves / of his fine militia jacket still hung heavily…” He is boasting of the runaways he has killed, while another slave is serving dinner, perhaps the mother of the men he killed: “Gem brought in dishes…careful / not to let her fingers touch the food.” A great ending to this poem, as well. I hope it gets a Pushcart, frankly.
We enjoy a string of strong poems from her, including “Front Porch, 1900″, and “Widow’s Walk, 1917″ — “seven hundred thousand…at Verdun, / an earth-quaking number for those unacquainted / with the greedy appetites of death.” Note the plural on appetites there. It is those little details she gets so powerfully right. The images are used to power these poems, not as little fillips pasted on. Great job.
The second poet is Aaron Belz. “Charmed, For Frost,” reads nothing like Frost, but I liked it. “I hate gravity…not only falling / but having to lumber…” this is a light poem, but the joy is bubbly, and the language well-handled.
Our last poet is Darren Morris. He talks about fears in his bio, and brings that into his poems. “Fear of Justifications,” is a fantasy giving Cheney what-for: “The irony of heaven holds that Dick Cheney / will be waterboarded by angels…but angels know…torture ultimately…produces only what angels want to hear / and not confession at all.” Kind of an interesting flip of that whole time back in the day. His next poem, “The First Circle,” tackles the whole unborn babies don’t get into heaven thing in the Dante poem: “my unbaptized baby brother…another spark from God’s hammer / falls into darkness.” A great, great line. “My parents are not here to tend to him because they…begged forgiveness.” Powerful irony, showing the pain of mercy, the cruelty of dogma. Then his next poem gives us “Fear Of The Either/Or” in which the narrator and his wife go to celebrate the neighbor’s baby, when they want a baby of their own. “We’ve tried and failed for years.” A touching poem. “That it might fill / that dark seam in the sky that ripped opened.” I don’t know why ripped opened instead of ripped open, but the poem works for me, and has the best ending line of the magazine.
Peace in poetry,
P M F Johnson