Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Each time I read “Spring Cleaning,” by Hannah Marshall, in the current issue of Hummingbird, it gets a little deeper. Always a good quality in a poem. “Shaking winter / from rag rugs…I look up to see the day go fuzzy in gray rain.” It’s a poem of very specific images, and that grounding keeps the reader engaged. Cleaning the rug corresponds to rain cleaning the world. “Snow salt… wash(es) down the hill…to unearth bluebells.” Then the poet gives a sudden, strong twist at the end, with an image that gives explanation to why this is all important. Well done.

All the poems in this magazine are short, which tends to make them compact, precise, and often powerful. JoAnn Chang gives us an untitled poem, starting: “The trees outside the nursing home / are tied to metal stakes // for fear …” and what the fear is gives us a twist of whimsy, and a touch of the apocalypse both. Quite a trick in such a short and image-driven poem.

Lenore McComas Coberly gives us “Unreported,” a poem about maintaining perspective. “blooming marigolds…hunker down…while autumn hail…” Again here, in a quick little poem, it is the turn that gives this poem its understated power. The marigolds do not figure in the larger world, true, but the larger world does not figure for the marigolds either. A clever way to show that off.

There are a number of haiku in the magazine, mostly in the 5-7-5 syllable format, too short to comment on for the most part. But one I will mention is by Bill Pauly. “miles of cornfields — they’ve left one tree…” Just that image and a half spreads itself around in my imagination, setting the stage for the all-important last line that of course completes and makes the haiku work.

Karla Huston has a clear-eyed view of nature as we really experience it, in “Winter On Winnebago.” “Just when you think you’ll never be done with it, the ice pulls back…” But what the ice reveals is not necessarily what we expect. Surprise is important in any poem, to keep us engaged. And Huston uses a trick I believe Henri Cole once mentioned: to present a final image, and then not explain it. It works its power here.

Finally, Jeri McCormick’s three linked poems here give a child’s view of the world, and it is a place fraught with childhood troubles, under a pretty facade. “she knocks on our door…such a cute girl,knocks on our such a cute girl, Mother says to me…go play.” Sweet, but then, “we play dolls she slaps kicks throws them against the wall…” Wow. A tremendous tension fills these poems, handled masterfully.

A great issue.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as at other fine e-retailers.


I’m doing the poems backwards tonight. The second/last poem in the magazine, “The Soul’s Soundtrack,” by Yusef Komunyakaa, sings more than it speaks, for me. The first and overwhelming impression I get is that the narrator is a man with a soundtrack of old musicians permanently running in his head, and I admit a great part of my enjoyment of the poem was simply stopping at each name and letting the music enter my head. Son House, Joe Turner, and Big Momma Thornton are names to conjure with for me. If you don’t know them, download a song or two. Indeed. The poem starts, “When they call him Old School / he…looks straight into their lit eyes, saying, / ‘I was born by the damn river…'” The narrator remembers the days of these songsters (okay, maybe not Son House so much) and how the music wove in and out of his life, our life. I love this line: “He believes to harmonize is / to reach, to ascend…till there’s / only a quiver of blue feathers / at dawn…” Wow. Poem as witness, to “the Church of Coltrane,” and to “his life / a fist of coins…” I read it and re-read it.

Back to the first poem, “Time, In Whales,” by Emily Jungmin Yoon. The three braided threads of this poem, as I see them, are the love between a young couple, a theme of whales, and being of Korean heritage in America. It starts, “Our legs of yellow skin next to one another, / calves spread, I think of beached whales…clean and gleaming.” So she weaves the threads together deftly right from the start. “You study Korean, whispering, ‘Muroruda’…meaning…’Water rises’ but really meaning ‘to improve’ or ‘to rise in sap.'” I like the awkwardness displayed, people working cautiously through their heritage, feeling their way, an understanding that flips open, piece by piece: a sort of, ‘This is who we are.’ In doing so, the narrator talks of her ancestors, and of the ancestry of whales. Of using music, like whales do, to “detect where / one another comes from.” In the turn of the poem the narrator speaks to her man directly of his own history as a child. “Your foster mother ran after you…wailing your name.” And all is woven together at the end, still deft: “perhaps the world will end in / water, taking… all loving things.” A marvelous, complex poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as at other fine e-retailers.

 

Iconoclast 114


I got a good chuckle out of Rhoda Staley’s “A Golfball,” in the latest Iconoclast. “A golfball / a dimpled homunculus…” it begins. This is a concrete poem, shaped in the form of a golf ball, as you might guess. The narrator takes an amused, even sexy view of men and their golfing addiction. “time to bed savvy guys while / the boys are chasing them- / selves.”

I liked both John O’Dell’s “Learning Archery,” with its “Cormorant hunger stabs a silver flash / in silted waters,” and Daniel J. Langton’s “Notice it’s Getting Dark Earlier,” which starts, “Remember when we were immortal.” Two poems about mortality, the first comparing the flight of birds to the flight of arrows. “Your arrow flies to its target like a lover.” Then, “Neither you nor sated bird can say why.” And the latter, also mentioning lovers, more a narrative with a lover about the ephemeral nature of life. “What will never stop will stop.” Both are in sonnet format, though neither actually use formal rhymes. The two poems are on opposing pages, making it enjoyable to compare and contrast them.

“Ribbet,” by Thomas Donovan Murphy, which is in a formal rhyme scheme, contemplates the similarities and differences between the narrator and a frog. “How strange we two from water rose.” Nor does the narrator consider himself the better of the two. “today / a frog back from my mirror peered…Perhaps we’re not the pinnacle.” A delightful, lighthearted romp.

I liked also “Untamed Places,” by Dennis Ross. “Cities, small towns…do not ring the small silver bell inside me.” The narrator yearns for wilder lands. “mesas holding up an arid sky…” and “a glacier…spirits luring the unwary into crevasses.” He argues, “It cannot be all pavements and iPods.” And I do agree. A satisfying poem.

Finally, let me mention “closet,” by Debbie McIntyre. “last of my ‘vintage clothing’ on the chopping block / vicious tears on dusty devotions…” A poem that starts from clothing and goes on to contemplate various changes in life. The poem lurches as life does. “it’s a new day or some shit / a new sheriff…” I guess I just really like the quirky images in this poem. “…your goofy hat…”

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as at other fine e-retailers.


In the Winter 2016/17 Blue Collar Review, Kyle Heger gives us a tough little poem, “Look Me in the Name Tag” “…when you say that, Brother. / Don’t bother with my eyes.” The narrator feels like a cog in the machine of his company. “The / name tag is the only game in town.” The play on the idea that men should look women in the eyes when they speak, for me adds to the irony and weight of the poem, that the eyes “…might as well be blasted sockets.”

I very much enjoyed the poem, “I Was That Man You Saw,” by Flo Oy Wong. “moving around on the palleted floor of the…restaurant…my glasses greasy, slipping down my nose.” Two people here see each other at a distance. “That was you I saw on Wednesdays…with your Baba and Mama…after going to see the Lone Ranger.” It’s a prose poem, and very effective. The sadness is understated, the loneliness palpable, but the poem flips some reader expectations on their heads: “In my room I did not mind the thick musty air.” Such foreshadowing makes the reverse at the end much more effective.

“Floor Scrubber” by Victor Pearn raises a smile, but a rueful one, not amused. “mopping floors for a / home improvement store // is like…trying to row across the ocean // dirt rises in swells.” A short poem with a very punchy ending.

“Merging,” by Alice E. Rogoff,” also struck me. “In Bolerium Books, / I find old union documents…The Women’s Bindery Union.” The poem records differences between those times and ours. “In 1917 the women didn’t have the Federal vote.” But some things do not much change. “Men per week $51 Women per week $25.” A very effective commentary on a struggle far older than the 100 years this poem reaches back to reference.

Finally, I liked the poem, “The Teeth of Jesus,” by Fred Voss — maybe worth it for the name alone? ;-> “we file back into the factory where the little plastic Christmas / tree…sits unplugged.” Such common images, plainly stated, give this poem great effectiveness. “Rex says, ‘You’ve heard of sleepwalking? Well. I’m sleepworking.'” There is much poignancy, and a sense of what has been lost. “Once / we had unions, once we got raises, once…our children could afford to move out.” But life marches on. “We grit our teeth and grab our wrenches.” A powerful poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ and with other fine retailers.


The April 17, 17 issue of The New Yorker includes “Waders,” a long, complex poem by (Sir) Andrew Motion. It’s laid out in ten sections of blank verse, one or two stanzas each. “After the accident, when summer brings / slow afternoons…I take what used to be your garden chair…” it starts. Each section loosely coalesces about an object, or a moment. The setting is generally the garden of the narrator’s family home. We might take the poem as an elegy to his parents, or as an attempt to understand them in context. He goes from item to item, as though searching: “the notebook I have found among your bedside things…Blank pages.” “my mother’s voice advising me / the mother bird herself will never mind…” “the stream has long since burst inside my head, / the bank collapsed.” Stanzas two, three and four put the narrator in the garden, walking the hedgerow, visiting the banks of the Blackwater. Then stanza five jump-shifts into shared history: “My father with no explanation stays / at home; my mother drives away.” A family separation? The young narrator does not understand. He goes with his mother, to a place that feels like exile. Then section six abruptly returns us, not to the garden, but to his boyhood room, where they stored apples. “I know…because the floorboards show / wherever they had missed one…left a round stain on the wood.” Is the narrator symbolically an apple gone bad? The poet does not dwell on this. In the next stanza he speaks of his brother slipping into “that lead tank, that…store of syrupy black water…” maybe to “make our father like him more…” So he is trying to make sense of his place in the family, of his childhood. By stanza eight he is getting closer: “The low-tent tunnel of the laurel walk….Here out of sight I meet myself / with no idea of what myself might be.” Now we are getting great line after great line. “I shake the sullen shadows from my head.” And in section nine he interacts with his father directly. After the accident, maybe? “I try my father’s waders on…with him encouraging.” Every section remains grounded in precise images, any symbolism is at most indirect, and no conclusions are rendered. But the final section does give us a sense of completeness, by returning to the present moment, when the garden is rank. “The ruined square…where once a summerhouse…” And, “I like walking with the ghosts…” The ending is great enough to support such a massive undertaking as this poem, the ties between each stanza subtle, but important. A tremendously satisfying poem.

In the same issue, Rebecca Morgan Frank gives us a much shorter poem, “At Sea.” “Every three seconds, to recall captivity, / the mind slipping in…’I cannot recall.'” The poet draws a connection between the mind and a sea creature: “wavering tentacles flexible / to new currents.” But the mind is growing less flexible, and the sea creature is captured, to confront “a nose / pressed up against the aquarium glass…” This poem is a beautiful rendering of someone captured by memory loss. The occasional detail may reappear, but no happy release is in sight. Great poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ and with other fine retailers.


I enjoyed the “shock of discovery” aspect to Gail Eisenhart’s poem, “Flapper,” in the Main St. Rag. “She said… ‘Sit down, I’ll tell you a story. / After the First World War claimed too many / …young men.'” It’s a girl listening to her grandmother describing her youth. “I flaunted / my rolled rayon stockings…exposing my knees — accidentally.” Quite a fun poem, with an arch, amusing ending.

Bill Glose gives us another of his powerful war poems, “War Trophies.” “…we sought war trophies amid the wreckage / of another country….feelings clenched in fists.” I love that description. “Nothing new, // this desire to appropriate images / of our intended demise.”
Glose compares the trophies of earlier wars with his own, but interestingly, he ends up with more mundane treasure. “familiar logos // of Coke and Pepsi transformed / by Arabic lettering.” I love his irony, showing how the world has shrunk since those days, how those who buy our products nevertheless become our adversaries. It is a strange world indeed.

I love Joan Wiese Johannes’ “Lullabye,” a form where each line in the first stanza is repeated in reverse in the second (forgive me forgetting the name of this form). A delicate poem, and subtle. “Aunt Ruby sings her witching song, / enfolds us in a purple light…my infant sister sleeps.” I love going back over the same lines, which are slightly strange in appearing from another direction, with a sense of deeper meanings.

Peter Grandbois gives us “All We Remember Is Wind,” about how we are trapped in our lives. “There’s no clean getaway,   no Icarus, / feathers in a frenzy, making it…” There are beautiful images in this poem. “As if we could keep / despair nested   in the branches…” and “we flock back / to the broken.” And a tremendous ending to this one. A very satisfying poem.

Finally, let me mention “Ford Pinto,” by Bern Mulvey. I like how The Main St. Rag chooses some poems based on their presentation of interesting characters. This is a good example. “Six months I’d saved up, fry master, / McDonald’s cap…stomach / noisy rumbles…” There’s generally nothing tricky about such a poem, the enjoyment comes from the quirks of character presented, in this case a young kid trying to buy a car to impress girls and generate a little independence. “…off to the car lot, / though no one would help me, seventeen, acned, / knees knobby.” We ache over his vulnerabilities, and how the world treats him coldly. And the narrator recognizes this, so the poem ends as a nostalgic look back. I like that kind of a poem, more than the sophisticated, ironic stuff that doesn’t dare to show any flaws.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/

 


In the current issue of Poetry Magazine, Swanie Morris meditates on “Clothespins on the Line.” They “look like birds…Some look west… Stiff in the cold & / remote. They haven’t been loved.” So, a fun poem. But I do believe what editors at the top magazines yearn for most is something new and unusual, and this poem does not disappoint. Soon we are off on a meditation on birds. “Each day / your thumbs grow paler, nails coarser, evolving / toward the ptero- / dactyl.” Ptero being derived from the Greek word for wing/feather, dactyl from the word for finger. (And of course it is a measure of poetic meter.) So the playfulness goes on. The poem grows goofier and goofier, rambling through dreams, therapists and Druids before ending with a sudden, delightful conclusion. Long, but satisfying.

S.J. Fowler also gives us a poem quite unlike the usual work, in “Violence on the Internet.” It’s drier than most poems, or maybe I should say technical. “A circle. / What was needed was a circuit, / and a good operating system.” And then a sentence that brought me up, made me go back and study its meaning: “What’s within is without being seen / to be so.” Huh. It does apply to the Internet of course, as does the next line: “Optical anomaly as unexceptional.” It’s intriguing to apply each line back to the title, seeing how each applies. “Similarity wars upon their lines, / planes…” comes further along, maybe nudging us towards the violence. I don’t know that there is a lot of linear logic overall, but the poem certainly does get one to fiddling with the ideas behind the phrases.

George Bowering’s poem, “Taking Off from an Old WCW Poem,” is very much shorter than the previous poems, but powerfully gripping for all that. I love the beginning. “Imagine that — my last words / might have been spoken to the dog.” It’s the sort of beginning that will get you to read the whole poem. And this one does not disappoint. The narrator considers what that last phrase might have been. Implying, thereby, he does not remember. Then there is an ambulance, and a doubling of images in a skilled and effective way. I really admire this work.

Finally, Maria Hummel gives us an amazing poem, “Recess,” describing the life of a lone child. “This is the sound of the bell,” it begins, a deceptively simple beginning. And in the same way, the first stanza follows a straightforward AABBA form. But the second stanza subverts that, like a jazz master playing against the melody, then the final stanza riffs even further on the form before bringing us abruptly back to the start. But I have little power in such a limited space to describe the amazing places we visit in between. “Time should hold no meaning / for him yet. You don’t learn / how to play; you forget.” The pain of childhood is all implied here, and it’s the more powerful for the indirection. There are so many lines to cherish, to sit with and be amazed. Gosh, I like this poem!

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/