Archive for June, 2011

Over The Top

I had a drama teacher who counselled his actors to push our acting, go for more and more, until it was far too much.  “You can always cut it back,” he would say.  I have found that a useful approach with poetry, as well.  Also fun.

The River Styx came in today.  Ripped the mailer off and went right through it.  A theme of hell.  Seems appropriate.  None of these folks have trouble going for the extra gusto in their poetry — let that be a lesson for those still trying to crack the upper markets.  The first few poems seemed solid, and workable, but didn’t send a shiver up my spine.  Richard Cecil’s “My Place in Hell” works a good rhyme scheme, and William Greenway’s “Self-Deliverance” has a few images in it — “as if we had to carry our bodies with us like knapsacks” — that I’d have been proud to write.  We kick up a gear with A.E. Stalling’s “Song: The Rivers of Hell,”

“I know the River Woe, //Its tidal undertow,”

The way it gulps you down– // A dismal place to drown.”

but it’s a little sing-song, almost.  Not quite up to her usual brilliant standards, at least not for me.  Still, a marvelous ending, with a satisfying twist.  (And on rereading it now, I like it more, as I grow more comfortable with the sound of it.  So this is a poem that grows on you.  I like those).  The Albert Goldbarth poem, “Francois Boucher, The Breakfast, 1739” is highly slick in its use of a rhyme scheme I didn’t notice until rereading it.  He hits some home runs with his work, but maybe not with this one. 

The hero of the magazine, for me, is John Whitworth’s “Lost.”  Here we go.  A pompous, righteous narrator still unable after all this time to understand why he is in hell, but without saying a word about the specifics, we know, we know!  …”I was horribly betrayed // by those I held most close, by those I made, // by those I made…”  And a tricky rhyme scheme, throw in the cool image, “I should have seen the beetle in the wood.”  and the most excellent ending, and it’s a master class for us toilers at the word.  Bravo.

Wishing you glad tidings,


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Whoever said “I want to be the man my dog thinks I am,” never had a dog.  Bogart thinks I’m slow, dense and mildly to be pitied.  It’s my own fault, of course.  Everyone knows poets are supposed to own cats.

Anyway, got the latest Asimov’s, and crunched right into the poems.  “Bribing Karma” is by Danny Adams.  Haven’t known his work before this.  The first line is indicative: “Karma can be bribed, and openly…”  A good line.  It’ll keep you reading.  Then, later, “The fine print is written across unlit clouds between the stars.”  I’ll bet that was the line that got Sheila Williams to buy this one.  Way to go, Danny.

The other was a Bruce Boston – “The Music of Nessie.”  Does anyone else besides me think that speculative poetry is closer to the mainstream than speculative fiction?  “Like the times the telephone rings and you hear it ring a moment before it rings.”  Crosses the line between the two — good observation helps me to enjoy a poem, and Bruce delivers often.  He’s got him some Rhysling Awards, you know.

Finally, more from the latest Crazyhorse — I can’t finish these mags in a moment, it takes a little while.  Boy, I gotta tug on your coat about Michael Tieg’s “Poultry Chronicle.”  All these weird, slanted and somewhat surreal observations about a chicken.  “He remains slightly tilted and his keel low set.”  But Tieg doesn’t hang with the boat image, he flips on to “…a parade of broken soldiers, a love letter to a strand of women amid streetcars.”  I’m not generally a fan of a jumble of disassociated images.  But I’m no purist either, and these are fun.  Finally, it’s very important to end well, all.  Well, this one does: “…his mind like a wind instrument.  In it, there is time for everything.”

See?  See?  And we thought poemetry was dead in this country.  Hah.



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Muldoon, Continued

Digging into a couple of poems from the New Yorker from May 16.  I had to read W.S. Merwin’s “Turning” a couple times before I really caught on.

“Going too fast for myself I missed

more than I think I can remember…”

A poem about aging so fast, he’s surprised to discover his dog is still young.  I love the rueful realization that maybe he’s exaggerating this aging stuff just a little.  I’ve always loved Merwin.  He’s one of our best.

Then Paul Muldoon outdid himself this issue by choosing a Sherman Alexie as well — “The Facebook Sonnet.”  Not the deepest poem on the planet, doesn’t need to be.  Says what it has to say and gets out.  And what it has to say nods my head. 

“…Let fame // and shame intertwine.  Let one’s search

for God become public domain.” 

Yeah.  That’s what I’m looking for in poetry.  It makes you laugh, and think a little, flips some words around, and gives you a little shiver at the end. 

Bought Alexie’s latest book of poems, and enjoyed it, btw.  I recommend him.

Peace out.


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In this blog, I am commenting on poems and poetic trends appearing in today’s magazines, with side jaunts to any books I may come across, etc.  I am hoping to point out some poets worth reading, magazines doing interesting things, and maybe upbraid some work I consider a little sloppy.

After some research, I’m thinking no one else out there is doing this for poetry appearing in the magazines, so you’re stuck with me until you start a blog of your own!

Many magazines I receive are a result of my submitting to contests, so these magazines tilt heavily to places I have been published, and poems not too far off my own style.  Also, styles of poetry I don’t care for will be sketchily represented, at best.  Don’t come looking here for Language poetry!  I will not be commenting on my own poetry, it’s tacky and no one cares.

I’ll start with this month’s Poetry Magazine.  My favorite here is actually the commentary by A.E. Stallings, translations from Plutarch.  So slick, so punchy.  And I like the humor.  “A third, asked by someone if she would be a good girl if he bought her, retorted, ‘Yes, and if you don’t.'”  Makes one like those Spartans a little more.  I have loved so much of her  poetry over the years.  She’s one of the reasons I subscribe to this magazine (shout outs to Todd Boss, W.S. Merwin and other poets who appear here, and Daisy Fried, Joshua Mehigan and other book reviewers.  The sniping in the letters section gets a little dreary though, I’m just warning you).  There was also a lot to like about the poem, “A Language,” by Susan Stewart.  “…two prisoners, alone // in the same cell, and one // gives the others lessons in a language.”  It surprised me, despite being in a straightforward style.

Mark Strand had a poem in a recent New Yorker, “Provisional Eternity,” that just did not work for me.  “A man and a woman lay in bed.  Just one more time,’ said the man…”  It’s repetitive, and I don’t understand the point of the repetition.  I want an emotional kick, and an epiphany, and, for the absolute top work, some wisdom.  Also fun language, puns, twisties and surprises.  But this poem was none of the above.  Why is this the best of American poetry?  Why did the editor Paul Muldoon choose this poem?  Wiser heads than I may be able to explain.  It’s a big tent, I guess, room for multitudes.  And I would point out this wouldn’t be the first time someone is doing something maginificent that went over my head.

Finally, I am just starting to dig into the latest issue of Crazyhorse.   I found “The Forest Fire,” by Christopher DeWeese worth re-reading.  “almost forgot my passwords in the birdsong.”  Some very fun lines in this poem, and isn’t relishing the language central to poetry?

More later.

Peace in Poetry.


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 – Spring 18

The New Yorker – Apr 2 2018

Convergence – Winter 2017


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