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One of the joys of the Blue Collar Review is the straightforward, emotional nature of the poems. You know where you stand, no fadiddling, as my Dad would have said.

Michael Collonnese starts this issue out with a great poem, “In Concrete,” about an early job. “When the motor on the ancient cement truck quit turning its tub.” it begins. We’re given the problem, then the challenge. “Someone had to crawl inside…and scrape the sides… As I was the youngest…I was the least valuable.” There is something satisfying about poetry that confronts life like this, its conflicts and ironies, not often available in more academic tomes. But this poem is not simply a recitation of a situation, the poet turns this into a larger reflection of life, in a beautiful deepening at the end.

Fran Markover also reflects on work she had in “Jelly Doughnuts.” “I once was in charge of them, thick pillows…” Very apt. Never thought of doughnuts as pillows, but the metaphor feels perfect. We’re brought in the moment with marvelous details. “I’d carry the metal pastry syringe,” and “the cauldrons and spillage of Albert’s Bakery.” Then she compares that work to current work: “when patients reveal…psychic wounds… I wish I could offer / something more satisfying than nods.” A good way to reveal the practical worth of such work.

We also learn of work maybe we’d never thought much about, as in Winston Derden’s “Thieves.” “The light head, sense of spinning / come from heat and dehydration…” I like that, starting with the danger, pulling us into the poem. Only then do we begin to catch a sense of what the work is: “detached stingers add / their heart-rending toxins… robbing bees in July Texas / down a brown loam trail.” We feel ourselves there, we empathize. Then a cold-hearted moment at the end gives us a jolt of irony, a sense of injustice. Nicely done.

Al Markowitz has a tough little poem in here about the current scene, “Gigged.” “Have you been gigged? / You know, the post jobs / gig economy…” It’s tough out there, I know it, this poem says. Listen to us, hear the need for change. “no sick pay or holidays, no / x-mas bonus…” We’re left with sadness after the closing double-meaning line.

Finally, Mary Franke gives us “Can’t Work For Nothing, Can’t Live On It,” which uses humor to make her point. “I do it myself or don’t get it done / it kills cars and me?” Love the kind of painful amusement in that. The mechanic does not seem helpful here. “we don’t even touch / the dipstick we pass a / wand over your junker and it / twinkles if we want to sell / you a Twazzen…” Of course, how often won’t they want to sell you a Twazzen? But the poem reveals a relatively desperate situation, the humor only highlights the trouble. Well done.

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:

Hummingbird 27.2

The Missouri Review – Fall 2017

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17

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Hummingbird 27.2


The poems in Hummingbird Magazine are often captured moments, sudden discoveries and delights. All are very short, no more than a dozen lines or so.

The first poem in the issue, “Fresh Snow,” by Ann Spiers, strikes me this way. “A rush of finches / beaking off cherry blossoms. We move / our picnic… north for this” The contrast of snow and a picnic keeps me coming back, like trying to solve a little puzzle.

Ellen Welcker presents a fine moment in “Leona Carrington’s Self Portrait.” “It’s rare that someone paints herself only to find / she has painted you.” She develops this idea amusingly at first, (“Terrible shirt underneath”) but ends with a surprising moment of strength and challenge.

Kristina Pfleegor starts us in one direction, “twenty years of sun / score her face…” but ends with almost a whipsaw twist, despite being contained in a 17 syllable/three line format.

Teresa Mei Chuc writes a macabre little fantasy about a hummingbird making itself too much at home. “Last night the legs of a hummingbird pushed through…”

Reviewing such an issue obviously has its own challenge, trying to give a taste of the flavor of the poems but not too much away. Let me only say that there are many more little gems here which I would heartily recommend as well, each a joy to dip into.

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 Missouri Review – Fall 2017

The New Yorker – Nov 20, 17

The Cape Rock – 45.2

 


The first poet in this issue, Eleanor Swanson, starts us off with “Blue Bowl.” “What are the colors of the hours?” A straightforward question, a straightforward poem, as she expresses various hours of the day as color. “Summer at five AM is the blue hour.” The images of the poem are not explained, so we are open to our own reactions, emotional or otherwise. “a breeze sweeps / through the willow and the hour / is thoroughly green.” Almost a nod to Wallace Stevens and his nightgowns of many colors. There is a pleasantness to this poem, a satisfying relaxation. We don’t have to figure things out here, just let them wash over us.

Her most satisfying poem for me though is “Vestige.” It starts, “Each winter, the boy fell through ice.” Another kind of loopy poem, where things may not be as they seem, though she grounds it in specific images. “he’d walk home… in his armor of ice, thinking / of the whipping he was going to get.” The repeating theme makes you wonder how dumb the kid is, but then the deeper layers of the poem take over, and strangely, the need to suspend a little disbelief strengthens the spell of words by the finale — “the ice… broke through… and he dropped / to the bottom of the lake.” It is the vision he has there underwater, the inarticulate revelation, that makes this poem so satisfying.

Jeanne Lutz’ first poem here is “Letter to an English Teacher.” It starts: “because today the fields are too wet to work in…” The poem is grounded as well in a moment out in nature, when the narrator sees a heron “standing by a soggy log.” Love the dime rhyme there. And a great image I have to mention: “the heron is a faulkner-looking bird / untidy.” What a great way to indirectly conjure the English teacher. Anyway, seeing it, and feeling melancholy, she turns to contemplating a love affair that has ended. “I’m just another eve / who will never get it right.” The weaving of the love story, the memory of the teacher, and the heron is deft and moving. Oh, and with a great ending.

The final poet is Josh Myers, with “Oklahoma.” I think I like this poem as much as I do because it is imbued in a rural mindset that just doesn’t make it into poetry much, a lived-in experience of the common details of a blue-collar life. The poem is a declaration of independence from this world, but one very much rooted in place. “We found woodchips buried in the scattered bricks… once the big tornado died.” I like that tornado, not passing and going on, but dying after its task is done. “My family was fine by sheer luck.” A nicely ambiguous line: spared from the tornado? Or from other, more general disasters? “we opened envelopes addressed to three towns over.” But this is a big poem, with room to explore the conflicts and contradictions. “It’s an easy thing to love in Oklahoma: / click of the trigger swallowed by the bullet’s bark.” Again, notice the subtext. We see the love/hate relationship develop. For instance, the townsfolk tease the narrator’s mother in a rough way. There are walls here, and many ways not to fit in. “He filled a notebook with poems on / why he had to leave.” I like this poem each time I dip back into it.  But honestly, it makes me wonder what a follow-up poem about these same experiences would be like in, say, thirty years. A lot to think about here.

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 – Nov 20, 17

The Cape Rock – 45.2

Missouri Review – Summer 2017


“Repentance,” by Natasha Tretheway, is the first poem in this issue of The New Yorker. “To make it right Vermeer painted then painted over / this scene.” So, an ekphrastic poem (I know the word cuz of the contest over at Rattle Magazine, actually). The first third of the poem simply describes the painting, then the first turn comes with: “Perhaps to exchange loyalty for betrayal / Vermeer… made of the man / a mirror framed by the open door.” I’ve never thought of the artist consciously making such a change so the viewer can see it, and get some deeper meaning from the work. I’ve always thought those were just mistakes, or at least needed adjustments. So there’s an enlightenment for me. Such a change, the poem explains, is a “Pentimento,” which “means the same as remorse after sin.” I’m getting a lot out of this poem just from this, but of course, by referring to such things, we think about the narrator herself. Why this subject? Is she suffering remorse? The poem goes on to sketch out a lover’s argument. “the dog had crept from the room to hide.” So we are seeing the dog, the man, the mirror/glass (bottle) and the woman alone, both in the painting and in the poem. Then she makes the relationship explicit between life and painting. “In paint / a story can change mistakes be undone.” And the painting is on page one, the story of the narrator on page two, with the two pages fully mirroring each other. A wonderful, multi-layered poem, full of resonance and surprise. Very much worth hunting out.

The second poem is “Rail,” by Jorie Graham. “I set out over the / unknowable earth / once more.” The poem is shaped long and narrow, like a rail, though it seems too upbeat in tone to be the howling sort of railing. The poet traces an image seen on her walk through the process her body goes through apprehending it: “Things flinch / but it is my seeing / makes them / flinch…. they line my optic nerve… Brain / flinch husk / groove.” It’s an interesting idea, and tricky to bring out in a poem. But then she moves further, discussing the nature of reality. “How / will the real / let me drop…?” And then with the turn it becomes a discussion of mortality. “I / know I will / have to leave / the earth.” It doesn’t raise a shiver, there’s no surge of emotion for me reading this, it’s almost an intellectual exercise only; which gives it quite an intriguing aspect — the narrow rail becoming almost no more than a splinter, a narrow little life.

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 – Oct 30, 17

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

More New Yorker Poems

 

The Cape Rock – 45.2


I am captivated by the concept that underlies Holly Day’s “My Safety Net,” which opens this issue. “…if I pretend I am a machine, I can stay calm, I am // just a washing machine humming to myself…” So real, so personal. No idea if it’s true, it doesn’t matter. It says so much about human interaction, about the desire to connect, the fear and shyness that can raise, all done in a quick, short poem. Brava!

Reese Conner writes “Bring Flowers to What You Love,” which starts, “I am aggressive tonight. Bring flowers / to the cemetery.” And indeed this is an aggressive, jagged poem, taking sudden corners, hurt and hurting. “Let’s dance on the graves of men… bearing the funniest names.” But this is not a poem of limited palette: “no one will know / how to hug when it matters.” Both of those lines show a sly use of enjambment to surprise us, throw us off track. Very much a smiling through the pain poem; one is left with compassion and sorrow.

Paul Bone’s “Recurrences” uses the trick of repetition to hint at the subject of his poem. “It is the one in which my kids are gone… It is the one in which my ex-wife is / my now-wife and my now-wife never was.” My answer to the riddle is recurring dreams, but of course it’s more complicated than that. There is a progression of characters and place, from stanza to stanza. “…my son is lost / but there is no one to help in all of Tokyo.” The narrator morphs into Everyman, and reading along, we become all of these refugees, these children, these seekers, lost and helpless. A complex, beautiful work.

Catherine Swanson does a great unwinding of a poem, “It Will Be As If We Never,” and indeed, the poem is about erasing things. “First, I’ll take my footsteps / from the dirt.” Stones will skip backwards / to the shore.” We start with external, physical items, but of course the narrator soon turns to memories, and actions. “I’ll reclaim my breathless phone calls… you’ll think / you hear knocking… but no one / will be there.” So it’s about the ending of a relationship, which as we understand that, feels just exactly right. Fiendishly clever ideas, worked out one after the other, with a satisfying final line.

And finally, Brandon Hansen gives us “When We Saw Coyotes,” which starts, “They blitzed the path, pumped / their strung-out legs.” Great image for me, because there is a sense of the junkie about coyotes, though I never identified it before this poem. Another spiky, dangerous-feeling poem. The coyotes find a fawn and attack it. And in so doing, give the location itself an emotional presence. “we hate it there, / that grove where we go / to burn pictures of ex-boyfriends…” Our actions correlate to those of the animals, we even identify with them. “we get it… we are all hungry.” A shivery poem, indeed.

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 – Oct 30 17

Convergence Online – Fall 2017

Atlanta Review’s Latest


I very much enjoyed the poem, “Intervention,” by Holly Day, in the Fall issue of Convergence. “I dream / of running away and joining / a cult,” it starts, and this half-yearning, half tongue-in-cheek attitude persists. It’s a delicate balance, but that ambiguity makes the poem human somehow, gives us the shock of recognition: yes, if it were only that easy. “I can lose myself completely in / fake religion…kissing snakes…found on the stoop of kind / missionaries.” There is something almost wistful here (though a bit subversive as well, as you can tell by that last line), and definitely worth revisiting.

Since this is an online journal, I can include a link to the relevant page.
http://www.convergence-journal.com/fall17/p2.html

The next poem, “Mama Doesn’t Go To Church Anymore,” by Erren Geraud Kelly, continues that sense of alienation, of things not being as they should be. “Fascism covers the world like an eclipse…” the poet states, and we worry that it’s true. This is a villanelle, and the form, continually bending back upon itself, gives us a trapped feeling, a sense that we cannot get away. “The economy, like a concerto, rises and dips / People are looking for a rainbow at the end of the road…” A deft use of language here, in this crafty poem.

We get a frisson of recognition in “Hotel Room,” by Erica Goss: “The bed is always center, / and it’s never dark enough. / Dry cold whispers / from the air conditioner.” To have spent a night in any hotel room is to connect with this poem. And in beautiful language, the poet explores those resonances, even giving dispensation for our universal failings: “Go ahead / and take… the soap, / the little bottle of lotion. / They are charms against / anonymity.”
http://www.convergence-journal.com/fall17/p3.html

In “The Stair-Counting Poem,” by Arthur Russell, he examines a gap in reality, trying to make sense of it. “The number of stairs between the first floor and the landing has changed. It was ten, / now it’s nine.” The narrator searches for confirmation of his memory, finds it in a photograph. “There’s a photo with your / daughter and three girlfriends sitting on the stairs.” But to know a truth, is not necessarily to understand it. “You will go into the living room and count again. Nine. You count the stairs in the photo. / Ten.” It’s just a fact, indigestible. A great trick, to reveal without trying to explain. It gives the poem power.

And finally, “Tarantella,” by Viola Weinberg, is a fun poem, in a creepy kind of way. It probably helps to know that tarantella is a dance, named after the movements of a tarantula. But you knew that. ;-> “A black velveteen river of tarantulas / coming down El Valle Grande…cracking on our tires like eggs…Flying up the vents and smacking / the little metal doors, dear God…” Makes me smile just to go back over this poem. I know I’m glad I wasn’t on that little drive, where the riders get ever-more freaked out by the flood of spiders, destroying them, fleeing them, not understanding, just wanting to survive, to have the horrible dance end. A marvelous poem.

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:

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2017

Rattle Magazine – Fall 17

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17