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I like “The Cog in the Machine,” by Burt Raabe, the poem that opens this issue of The Blue Collar Review, among other reasons because it starts in such a blunt, unapologetic way. “I hardface worn Cogs. / It’s a living.” What does ‘hardface’ mean? It could almost be a science fiction poem, but there is no air of the exotic. “A forklift delivers them / in a tub…” We get no background; we are left with the raw facts, some of which we don’t understand, and a sense of the toughness of the life, by how much is left out. Nicely done.

Regina M. Elliott’s “Their Funeral Is Their Retirement Party,” starts with a rhyme scheme: “American workers’ refrain, / sinew and bone some days bound to pain…” But just as the workers in the poem are shown growing older, so that their physical aches start sooner in the day, “his hands and legs start to ache / in the mornings…” so the poem itself seems to get tired, and the rhyme becomes too much to sustain, changing to a near-rhyme in the second verse, then vanishing altogether by the third. A nice trick.

J.C. Alfier has a poem empowered by sound, “Mojave Music.” “…the Union Pacific hammers out of its railyard, / gaining speed toward Barstow.” We feel the heat the narrator endures. “I wake each hour to a sleepless / cadence.” There is a profound alienation here, the the narrator doesn’t know exactly why. “Haven’t picked up the wrong woman at a bar.” It’s very lyrical. “One a.m. / Sounds ripen.” I like that. An eerie poem.

Lanette Sweeney talks about the gulf between classes, in “Code Cracking.” “They’ve got all the / foreign names / you need to know — / artists, opera singers…” The narrator must learn the alien code of a different class: “names you must know / like passwords / to gain entry…” It’s a beautifully rendered description of the dilemma of those trying to rise up. “Like any ex-pat, you don’t fit / in either country…”

Finally, Andrena Zawinski confronts the gun violence in our country, with “Irregular Pulse Beat Sonnet.” “The relentless drone of the daily news, / sends the pulse racing…” It’s a hard-eyed view of our culture. “In days of the dead, the gunman cackled / loading, reloading, riveting bodies…” A powerful, sad indictment of our country’s choices.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2018

Convergence – Summer 2018

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

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Bibhu Padhi has three poems in the current issue of The Apple Valley Review. First is “Evening, Bhubaneswar.” It starts, “Floating above the rice fields, / the jackfruit trees, // evening comes / and gets into our dark houses // where ghosts stay, / poems are made.” There is something ethereal, magical, about this poem, a sort of floating-above-the-ground feel. The narrator anticipates changes, anticipates revelations, without knowing exactly what is to happen. “From a distant village
comes a song that // speaks about lost things. / A wind from the north arrives…” The power of the poem comes, I think, from the grounding in immediate images, as you can see. Exotic and intriguing. The second poem is almost an extension of the first. “Ghosts” starts out: “They enter, milk-white, / the dark house, full of poems // written by thin, wiry hands. / The nights come back // again and again, teasing / my sense of time.” Very powerful work.

Ananda-mayi dasi gives us “Onset” — “We’re in summer: our beds pocked / with dead songbirds: grey understatements.” As you can see, the images surprise us, going in unexpected directions. The poem then takes up the description of a girl hanging from a noose. The narrator herself? Then a reference to her brother, digging in the garden. It’s a short work, but one that makes us think.

I like the metaphor in the first line of “Autumn Has Come,” by Aura Christi: “A night fallen on its muzzle, like a cringing animal.” It  shocks us into paying attention, and the following lines are equally complex and intriguing: ” I no longer know when I lived / and if ever I’ll live again, God, /
what dream, what life, what story I’ll awaken in…” A poem tackling the big questions, ambitious, not afraid to jostle and creak around the edges. Even the turn is this way, unadorned, concentrated, wanting to get on with it: “It’s important to keep waiting.” A strong work.

Finally, Ed Bok Lee gives us “Reading in Bed Is Like Heaven,” which may be the poetry title I am most in agreement with, ever. Despite being short, this poem is elusive, perhaps hinting that what we read enters our dreams, changes us. “And now I see it’s not the meanings I loved most / demolishing each labyrinth flooded with belief, // but the quandaries…” So much to contemplate, and to enjoy, here.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Convergence – Summer 2018

The Sun – Sept, 2018

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

P.S. Here’s the link to the magazine, though you’ll have to hunt down volume 13, # 2 once the current issue gets archived: https://www.applevalleyreview.com/

 


This post is a little late (meaning there’s another issue out) but there were some intriguing poems in this issue and I wanted to talk about them. Let’s start with “Concrete,” by Paul Smith. “In Los Angeles / There’s lots of concrete / Going straight up…” I am inclined to like a poem about mundane materials, maybe because the subject naturally weeds out poets who put on airs, and this poem did make me smile: “Can’t go to Vegas / Or Frisco / Or the cool high country of Tahoe / It’s stuck here.” Note how, by using short lines, the poet uses the visual of the poem to suggest the high rise he writes about.

I liked “Sandcastles,” by James Kramer. “don’t tell me sand is / golden rich minerals // I’ve plunged my toes in / and there are spiders underneath.” I like poems that bring a tilted perspective to the world, like this. “they are lost / they are confused…”

I like Milton P. Erlich’s “The Woman In A Negligee.” “I’m almost 17, making a delivery
during the war for a local drug store.” Sexy and fun. Little narrative tales can be so satisfying. We read them to see what happens, and so often there is a little turn near the end that satisfies. So it turns out here.

Erren Geraud Kelly gives us “New Orleans Slow Dance… After George Winston.” “she sits there, molly ringwald’s doppelganger / but i picture us walking down bourbon street…” An intriguing opening, and the poem goes on its indirect way on a nighttime adventure “as a piano speaks for /
her.” A languorous adventure.

Finally, Katherine Brittain’s “Locomotion: The Via Negativa,” is a bilingual ice cream cone of a poem. “I love to watch you dance the Via Negativa; / Watch you prance around in scenes interior.” It’s not quite a sonnet, not quite a dance, but I did enjoy the Spanish flavor.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The Sun – Sept, 2018

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

Iconoclast – #116

P.S. You can find this issue of Convergence – Online Journal here:

http://www.convergence-journal.com/summer18/

 

The Sun – Sept, 2018


Poems in The Sun tend to be straightforward, easily understood, with a bite to them. Such is the poem “Jewish Enough,” by Emily Sernaker. “The morning after my fourth-grade teacher / taught my class about the Holocaust… I approached my father.” The thesis is stated right up front, the power of the poem taken from our identifying with a young girl discovering some of the horror of the world, and how powerless each of us is before larger forces. Not a metaphor in sight, no sparkle to the language, just the pile-driving truth. Thank God there is still room for such poetry in our world; a reminder of what we can strive for when we communicate… to change the world, just a little bit, to open a touch of understanding. Not that all poetry should be like this, but some of it always should be. A good poem.

The other poem in the issue is much lighter in spirit, delivering a sweet moment in time. “That Summer Abroad” is by Margaret Hasse. It starts, “Joanne, have we ever been so free as then? / We’d change destinations / on a whim.” A portrait of two young adults, free as they never would be again, discovering. And later, the narrator wishing to go back. “I want to call you up right now, / buy a one-way ticket to Athens…” Again a simple poem, though this one ends with a beautiful image that gives a glimpse into the yearning the narrator feels, the sense of standing apart, being part of a little eternity. It reminds me of journeys I’ve enjoyed, and of why they were so precious.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

Iconoclast – #116

The New Yorker – Aug 13, 18

 

 


I just love this magazine. There are semi-goofy story-poems, like Travis Burke’s “Uncle Ivan and the Last Dog Race,” which starts, “‘Well hell.’ / Uncle Ivan always said that after a loss… never hit me like I’d seen some other men there.” Uncle Ivan sounds like a character indeed. “Sometimes we’d go out for a beer… when I was older and Uncle Ivan was dying / one of those long old man deaths.” Wow. Here is a poem that exemplifies why tone matters so much.

And there are poems of indirect emotion, powerfully felt, like Barbara Campbell’s “Tangles.” “…I came home / to find my husband waiting… for his ride an hour / and a half early / and on the wrong day.” The emotion powered by the sudden turn. “Here’s what I love / about ivy. / It’s relentless…” There is a rushing forward feel to this poem, life changing, our being not ready, living in the moment because what else can we do? It is a powerful, touching poem.

Gotta like Kevin Clark’s “Elegy.” “I’ll never forget that punk Cagney jabbing words / like shivs as if he knew everything.” Face it: cool phrases matter in poetry, maybe more than anything else. Made me smile.

There are slice of life poems, like Jackleen Holton’s “Jesus Is My Flu Shot.” “I tried it once, the being saved, /my devout older cousin standing / before me…” The moment when a growing girl gets an insight into the world, the ways of those who claim to be devout.

I’m deeply a fan of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Letter to the Ministry of Loneliness.” “I take round trips on the Tube… I stand up, / for maximum contact… and inhale the steam of coffee and cigarette breaths.” Again the perfect little phrase, yielding insight, emotion, a catch of the breath. It’s a quiet poem, but no less effective for that.

I guess I like these poems so much because they are human poems. They don’t rely on abstractions, or leaps away from whatever engages the writer, they plow forward, exploring the moment, the heart of whatever is happening.

We are carried along as the writers interact with, and come to understand, those in their lives, as Kathryn Petruccelli’s narrator does in her poem, “Lamps.” “My mother used to tell me / there was a time / she kept a closet full of lamps / so whenever one of her kids / broke one…” They are poems about the things that matter. Memories of our family, experiences with them, coming to grips with loss, with the zany humor of life.

One last poem I’ll mention, “Meditation On A Dining Room Table,” by Marvin Artis. “She wanted warm wood. He wanted the sleek and gleam / of glass and steel. They compromised…” The table becomes a way to understand the relationship between this couple, maybe why they break up, maybe how they are still connected in a sort of reflected manner, all these years later.

The latter poem is the first of a section in the magazine dedicated to poets who have never had a poem published before. The way I see it, that takes a certain amount of courage on the part of the editor, hoping the audience will go along with such a concept, to see what appears. I love a magazine that takes such risks.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a hopeful-but-wry look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Iconoclast – #116

The New Yorker – Aug 13, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

 

 

Iconoclast – #116


The two poems that begin this issue have gotten into my head and resonated. Always good. “An Architect’s Life,” by Harry Compton, begins “Life itself is / a continuous remodeling job… trying to keep options open / in case we discover a structural surprise.” Very apt, to my way of thinking, as the surprises contractors discover when they tear out the old walls or pull out the old concrete can be suddenly, horrendously expensive, and “the only certainty seems to be our / inexhaustible personal ignorance.” An enjoyable poem, with a wry, pointed ending.

The next poem is “Coney Island,” by Eugene Carrington. “The mind drifts to Coney Island / the scent of ocean waters / the joyful shrieks… the high-pitched squeals…” A poem of deep place, bringing in the sights and sounds, the people, the temporary nature of it all. A poem to make us turn back to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind,” with its similar sense of loss, time passing…

I like the dialectical nature of “Headlines From The Times,” by E.P. Fisher. “He said: lay-off, pay-off, one-way ticket… / She said: beauty, color, innocence…” A poem chock-full of images, and thoughts to bring you up short. “But after Pentagon budget loopholes for top-secret holocausts…” There’s a lot going on here that’s worth the price of entry.

Matthew J. Spireng presents us with “Black Vultures, New Paltz.” “The view at breakfast / on the second floor / of the Bakery is… roofs where black vultures / perch on each chimney.” What a great image. I can see those heavy, clumsy, patient beasts, waiting like death for the next mistake. And Spireng has a strong image to finish.

“Brother William’s War” is a poignant offering from Amy Sparks. “My brother William / Lives in my garage… His wife kicked him out / After he threw a bowl of potato salad.” A delicate, indirect look at the cost of war on a personal, practical level. “We talked and fished / Before purple scalloped clouds / From the west / Filtered in.” I love that image. A great poem.

Finally, let me mention Rhoda Staley’s “Upon Seeing a Ripe Fig.” “I doubt the apple. // Passionless / a woman can caress / the puritanically austere.” What a great beginning. It shocks you into paying attention. Staley has a deft mastery of the powerful punch, and though the poem is short, it fully satisfies.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Aug 13, 18

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018


In his poem, “Bottle Of Wine,” Carl Dennis cannily uses emotion to draw us through the work. “I like to park a few blocks from the house… and walk… the tree-lined streets,” he begins. We understand right away this will be a jaunty, happy little poem, no terrible angst and world-changing despair. And working the emotions is central to the work: “A bottle of wine showing… that I’m grateful / to be included… eager to do my part.” A narrator living within himself. “I’ve set aside the need for transcendence.” The immediate, the quiet, pleasant emotions matter in this poem, and how we each fit within our world. “traditions once honored / are… adhered to… with patience, with pride.” A master work in how to structure a poem on an emotional arc, ending, of course, with hope.

A.E. Stallings uses a difference approach, drawing us in to her “Swallows,” with details of the natural world, viewed with a tone of amused sympathy.  “Each year the swallows… put their homestead in repair… A handsome pair.” The steadily surprising choice of words is one technique that keeps us intrigued: “the two conspire // To murder half the insect race…” And Stallings raises similarities between the swallows and ourselves. “They seem to us so coupled, married, / So flustered with their needful young… harried.” And again, the use of emotion to connect with the reader. But she is going somewhere more archetypal. “Ovid swapped them in the tale… the sister who was forced / Becomes instead the nightingale.” And now we’re in the midst of the seemingly unending battle of women against cruel realities. But Stallings is deft enough not to linger there, and her emotions keep us connected. “These swallows… don’t have the knack / For sorrow… spend no time mourning.” Business, industry, duty even, underpin her subjects, and continuity is the final blessing. Marvelous poem, with an effortless rhythm and rhyme scheme.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

The New Yorker – July 2, 2018

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018