Winter Blue Collar

The Winter issue of Blue Collar Review starts with “Ash Wednesday,” a poem about men locked up in jail, by Eric Fischer Stone. “In the drunk tank, red-eyed men / float gangly through their dreams.” It’s a poem very much rooted in concrete images, to good effect. “he can’t smell the dogwoods blush / pink from shimmering wedding dresses.” We get the frustration, and the timelessness of their ordeal. “…in a primordial dinosaur-forest…” A very good poem.

The narrator in Dolores Guglielmo’s “Valley of Ashes” recalls a childhood in a rough world. “I called the desolation / my playground — / Running through eggshells / And rusted coffee cans”. It’s not a pretty place. “the rodents / Their ravenous teeth Bursting half-eaten orange rinds…” But we can’t turn away, fascinated despite ourselves, familiarity helping us to look at rodents in perhaps a slightly different way: “Those unsung martyrs.” I liked this poem.

Robyn Stone-Kraft also writes a solid poem many will identify with, “I Never Wanted to be a Princess.” “Life was fulfilling, sitting at my / spinning wheel.” But conflict arises, of course. “…father wanted / more, and so he / lied, my life on the / thread if…” A great turn of phrase, there. And a good ending.

Templeton-Greene weaves together a story from many pieces in “A Haunting.” It begins, “The paper cuts on my hands / spell the word ‘IF’.” Wish I’d come up w that. There are a number of fine moments in this poem: “The red sores on her knuckles / are holy crosses reminding God…” Very much worth reading.

And I like the poem, “Failure?” by Al Markowitz, editor of the journal. “The book / a graphically clumsy / embarrassment of riches…” It’s a reflection on what it means to have published a book of poems, even if it doesn’t sell many copies. A humble little screed, well worth the time. “people don’t buy poetry / bored to death by the abstract, introverted fluff / that collects dust on the shelves of big book stores…” Now who can’t agree with that? ;-> Mr. Markowitz shows a real touch for constructing a poem himself, after all those years of editing. A great apprenticeship for the craft, I suspect.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

The April 27 (2015) issue of the New Yorker contains two poems. First is “Storm Beach,” by Sean O’Brien: “It feels like an achievement, emptiness / Reorganized. And then, “In the long pool trapped behind the shingle bank // The sky is blue and bitter.” The poem takes place on the beach, but the narrator seems to feel only a limited ability to act. “Leaving only the sublime / By which to take a sun-blind bearing.” and “we ought to broach // The fundamentals wisely put aside…” As the poem continues, there is no move to the abstract — images of the beach persist: “The gulls will do all that.” But ultimately, the protagonists are passive, and we are left with a sense of loss, of opportunity and otherwise. For me, frustration even: “We’re only here to represent the crowd.” A very respectable poem, with some nice images.

The second poem is “For You” by Maureen N. McLane. “”It’s been a long while since I was up before you / but here I am…” The whole poem is a riff on the phrase “up before you.” Who and what is: the sun, the orange cat, “In Morocco…the muezzin” then the sun again (I don’t know why the repetition. It seems to weaken the poem.) And then finally, “Go back to sleep my love for you / are only dreaming…” Huh. Maybe there was no better way to circle this poem back to the beginning. And Paul Muldoon bought it, so it works for him. Me, I’d have liked to see this poem pushed a little farther; an edgier ending, something to give more of a sense of epiphany, maybe. It leaves me with the sense that there is more going on, some sort of context this poem fits into, that I do not know. If I knew more of McLane’s poetry, maybe I’d get it.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Missou Reviews

Way behind, way behind here, but I liked some of these poems enough I’ll blog them anyway. The Fall 2014 issue of Missouri Review included a fellow, Lawrence Raab, whose poem, “The Scenario” is wicked funny. “‘Harry,’ someone tells me, ‘for that kind of money / bad things happen to people.'” And with that our narrator is off lost in a series of clichéd noir movie settings: “the street after midnight where I’d be / outnumbered and alone under a bridge…” I like the enjambment in that spot, implying the narrator is forever to be in that place. Just such a goofy poem. “But there’s always another scenario, // and in it the plot will be treating me / quite differently.” The ending of this one poem alone makes the whole magazine worthwhile, for me. Not to put down Raab’s other poems in this mag. They’re also good.

Bruce Bond has several sonnets. A sequence? Anyway, I like “Touch.” “What does not kill you breaks you into pieces…the parts you can and cannot quite recall.” Some great lines here. “Just like a wound to darken as it heals / the dark.” Again, the placement of the line ending here gives the line an extra oomph. Also, his poem “The Fabulist.” “What I love to hate about the dead, / you cannot kill them.” “What we lose is everywhere / the way chaos is buried in the structure…” Good work.

Jill Reid’s first poem here, “I remember,” is also powerful. “that first threadbare year, the tearing away / from home, my once long name…” I don’t remember seeing three poets in a row with such a strong sense of where to break the line. This is an elusive poem, but seems to hold the end of the marriage it references in the beginning: “In frost, blooms rehearse / their exit….”

In the Winter issue, Dan O’Brien gives us a few of his War Reporter series on Paul Watson. I don’t know any more about that than you do, but these are sad poems, for me. His first, “The War Reporter Paul Watson On How To Eat Well” has the lines, “Enjoying a meal owes as much to fear / as to famine.” Then, “A man and woman / bathe a breathing skeleton with a bowl / of mud.” These are like telegrams from the front lines. Another poem, “The War Photographer Lynsey Addario Tells The War Reporter Paul Watson” starts: “On the road to Aleppo, while long-range / missiles spark overhead with sarin gas / for children.” “Hoping to feel / a reason again.” Heart rending stuff.

Sarah Giragosian, in “Lullabye For Cat” starts out, “I miss you / when you are cat / and I am human, / when you are dreaming / and I am peeping.” “We lap at the bowl of our visions.” It’s a well-crafted extended metaphor of a poem. Then in “What I Mean When I Say I Knew You Long Before We Met” she starts: “Our storylines were the same. / As girls, we bucked through screen doors…” And then: “Our passion grew from our patience. / We tracked the snail in the loam…” I am always admiring when a poet can nail a moment, an attitude, that I have had myself. The idea that I knew you before we met. And there are good lines in here about the snails. “They genuflected and leaned back / against their helix shells…” and “the slurring tongue of its body.” Well worth digging out.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

New Yorker News

The only poem in the March 30 issue of the New Yorker was “The Orange-And-White High-Heeled Shoes,” by Ellen Bass. Fortunately, it’s a good one. She starts, “Today I’m thinking about those shoes…” then it quickly becomes a meditation on her relationship with her mother. “We used to shop like that — / trying them on side by side.” And the tribulations of the sales clerk. “He would think he made a sale…” It goes on to deeper considerations. “Why is there such keen pleasure in remembering?” And ends with a trio of exquisite similes that very much satisfy. It’s an interesting poem for the New Yorker. For one thing, it doesn’t seem to have the desperate need for a new shock every other line or so, so de rigueur these days, proof that the poet is brilliant, intellectual, Post-Whatever. It’s straight, no-chaser, nowhere to hide. With a bit of fun, some interesting twists of language, depth and worth. Let me encourage, however I can, the continued success of poems like this. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson


Poetry Mag Mar 15

I’ve been going back and forth about which poem is my favorite in the current issue of Poetry, but I think I’m going to settle on Austin Smith’s “Factory Town,” cuz of the cool metaphors. “The factory stands on the train / of your town’s wedding gown” it starts, then reviews the people you meet. “Who knows what bright things / they conceal in their coats” and before the end refers to the river as “that gray, dappled, / broken thing.” Just such a nice use of language.

Jessica Fjeld has a concise and engaging poem, “Political Theory.” “In a famous painting of a founding father / and the back end of a horse.” As you know by now, I do love my judicious humor.

And Aram Saroyan presents a poem, “Film Noir,” which beautifully captures the spirit and language of noir in a series of one line sentences. “He took her into his arms. / She let him in and walked out of the room. / He ran down the escalator….He waited in the rain.” You get the idea. And it ends as it needs to, on a sort of poetic fade-out.

I liked Charlie Bondhus’ “Sunday In The Panopticon,” I think purely for the sound of the words. “The sun reflected off / the glass and my table was an inscrutable / tower of light from which I peered…” Boy, that’s a neat image. And notice how the line bounces where the sun reflects off it, and then again after the word inscrutable, as though the light became suddenly blinding there, making us avert our eyes. Subtle and beautiful.

Finally, I like Jillian Weise’ poem, “Future Biometrics.” “The body that used to / contain your daughter // we found it…” It becomes a meditation on the growing consequences of identification in the information world. A quick poem, but all the more powerful for that.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

The longer I go, the more plain my titles become. Utility over poetry. Why does that seem wrong? ;->

This issue starts off with the amusing “Gibby and Flo,” by Lynn P. Elwell. “They often dressed in matching costumes…” It’s a story poem about the dangers and chuckles to be had when drinking and boating mix. The earthy couple at the center of it all are fun and familiar. The poem won a Plainsongs Award, and I can see why.

I enjoyed R. Steve Benson’s “Monday Talking,” also a stroll on the humorous side. “Car won’t start? … Umbrella broken? … This is Monday / talking baby. / Forget about / lazy breakfasts … and crisp wings / of newspapers / flying you around / the planet.” There’s a very deft use of language, here. The poem builds, getting crazier as it goes, with a most satisfying ending.

My attention was caught by “Regarding The Fantastic,” by George Young, what I’ll call an interleafed poem. There’s probably a technical name for it. Two separate poems riffled together into one, trading lines. “On interstate seventy-six, at seventy-five, / You live with the expectation / heading west into Denver…” The challenge and intrigue of one of these poems is to see how the two poems interact, knock sparks off each other, raise a deeper meaning. I’d like to see more of these attempted, though I suspect they are a classroom exercise many places, and so maybe don’t get enough respect.

I really liked “The Seventh Year of Their Marriage,” by Lucy Adkins. “That bridge out / with no sign, // that dirty trick, / that detour…” The extended metaphor raises tension, has us feeling compassion for the players in this marriage, with their cost of living each day, and the shakiness even after success. Again, a Plainsongs Award winner here.

I love the contrast between the terrifying news received, and the do-something actions of the narrator in “She Tells Me Not To Worry,” by Mark Hiskes. “The day after the bone scan / I go down to the workroom, / grab two planks of cedar…” His actions tell us how much he cares, how hard the news is for him to face. A touching poem.

As always, there are many other good poems in this issue worth exploring as well.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Avocet Winter 2015

I was very pleased with all the good poetry in this season’s issue of Avocet, starting with the first poem in the issue, Peter C. Leverich’s “Guadalupe.” “So many sentinels / silent and spirited / shrouded in mists / and myths of antiquity.” It’s a description of a shrine, and gives a sense of respect and honor. We come away with marvelously serene emotions.

This is a very sense-oriented magazine. “I Miss Winter in New York City,” by Sara McNulty, stays very concrete. “Roasting chestnuts hawked / by scarf-wrapped vendors…” puts us right in the scene, and we shiver along with her characters: “East River gusts creep up / pant legs…” And I like the ending very much.

Many of the pages of this magazine have a short little poem to complement the longer poem at the top. Several of these poems are by Holly Rose Diane Shaw, and they are always short, very image-oriented, and chipper little things. “Lighting up the dark day sky / filigree star flakes” begins a little six-line poem, “Snow.” It gives a nice, upbeat flavor to the whole issue.

Not all winter has to do with snow, of course. Richard Peake gives us a poem about shell-collecting, “Winter Beachcombers,” with nary a snowflake in sight. “Frantic sanderlings skitter back and forth / while willets stand stolidly on the sand.” Nice sound to that.

“Virtual Footprints” is a meditation on the results animals leave in nature, by Mike Rydock. “A footprint is the character / An animal inscribes / In the ground.” Much stuff happily to contemplate.

I liked Jean Moody’s “Trading Winter.” “I’ve traded winter as I knew it, / gloomy skies, dampness of air…” The narrator’s gone south. Maybe that’s what I like so much, the fantasy of being warm this time of year. ;-> “many mountains bristled / with green trees.”

“A Murder Of Crows,” by Art Elser entertained me. “A large, pompadoured crow / struts, stiff-legged, across the street… A slick-haired punk, / showing off for his peers…” Oh boy, can I see that bird. And the poem develops very nicely, from one bird, to two, to thousands, to a larger question.

But my favorite poem to discuss was “A Midwinter’s Dream,” by Janet A. Hopkins. “There was a wedding late last night, / the groom in black, the bride in white. / The union of two Gods of old, / one the Wind and one the Cold.” Such a supple use of rhyme, surprises waiting around each stanza, marvelous images, and a great ending. Worth the magazine all on its own.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson


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