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Archive for September, 2012

Nimrod’s Odds


The fall issue of Nimrod contains the award winning poems for the Neruda Awards, and as usual they were a good batch this year.  Chelsea Wagenaar won first place for her poems, “Penance IV,” “Penance V,” and “Sonata Pathetique.”  My favorite of these was the first: “There are times when the heart demands a poverty // of anyone who would look on…”  My wife and I saw a woman with her two children begging on the street today, so this poem resonated with me especially.  Then she explains with an image: “a hand-sized bruise gripping her upper arm.”  Most abuse/abuser poems I find bring out the sledge hammer, but this one created power through misdirection, images of nature and the ordinary.

Judy Rowe Michaels was a finalist, and again this seemed a good choice.  In her “This Morning I Wanted To Tell You”  she starts: “that when Chekhov died…he was packed in // ice in a refrigerated car…You would have wanted to know this…” an elegy, with an especially powerful ending.  Limpid and straightfoward.  And her “August, 1967,” “new prickle of brown grass piercing // my skin…” with its dual ways to read the last line.  Just creating that possibility in a work of writing renders great power, but it is not easy to do, and not often done.

Bradley Harrison has a short, semi-non-linear work that works for me very well, “Medicine Man Addresses The Weather.”  “morning whereon I’m stretched amazing…”  If the lines are interesting enough, they can carry the poem, but in this case, the stringing together of the images also created frisson and intrigue.

Another favorite poem for me was Brandi George’s “Blackfoot Belly Dancer.”  “Because my mother lost a child more than once a year, // I played alone most days…” …For each //miscarriage, I named a doll and soaked it // in a puddle.”  What a haunting poem.

Rafaella Del Bourgo was another finalist, and I very much enjoyed the poem, “Dear Father.”  “Look at the cat lifting her head, // love-eyes half-closed.  // She’s lying on our couch, // painted in sun.”  It is so easy to see this image, to get a deep satisfaction from it, a pleasure or contentment.

Melissa Reider was also a finalist, and has marvelous poems in here – I can’t choose between “A Clean Thing,” and “Pain Has A Memory,” as my favorite of her work.

Honestly, there are poems in the magazine that don’t work as well as the ones I have mentioned here, but I found the vast majority worth digging into, even if there were flaws here and there.  Anyway, they stuff so many poems into each issue it’s hard to name them all, or to describe all the delights.  Maybe you’ll just have to go see for yourself. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

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Public Republic


Two poems in the Oct 4 issue of The New Republic.  The first is “Custody,” by Michael Tyrell, a sort of relationship triangle between the narrator, his mother, and Death.  “My mother’s old now…Soon she’ll have to go to school.  // Death will have to take her.  // He has her during the week, // I get her on weekends.”  Pretty cool idea, and he works it out in an amusing fashion: “I’d kill for a restraining order, // but that would require his assistance.”  And “he wasn’t a bad provider, // and everyone says // reconciliation is inevitable.”  It’s always such a gift to get an inspiration like that, but working it out in a surprising and original way is still most of the battle, and Tyrell pulls it off, with interesting lines all through, and a strong ending.  This is a poet who will definitely be worth watching as his career unfolds — he’s racked up an impressive set of chops already.

The other poem , “Renewal,” by Jeffrey Harrison, is about that familiar moment to us all, waiting at the DMV.  Since I just did that a week ago, maybe I am more impressed than I would be otherwise, but he sure found some of the (admittedly thin) fun in that situation.  “…two hours on one of those wooden benches // like pews in the Church of Latter Day // Meaninglessness…”  “one by one the members of our sorry // congregation shuffle meekly up…”  Such a nice tone of wry amusement, there.  He then relates a moment of incandescence, gives us a few quick sketches of characters, and ends with one character brimming with a secret excitement.  Over what?  Why, read the poem.  ;->   Definitely good poetry in this issue.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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Remote New York


Couple of poems in this week’s New Yorker, starting with “The Hotel,” by Austin Smith.  “The radiator holds // its boiling water // like an accordion // holding its breath // in a ditch.”  Well, that simile doesn’t work for me.  Smith throws out metaphor after metaphor in this poem, as if desperate to make one stick, and honestly, some do.  The first twelve lines describe the hotel room, then he introduces a protagonist, who closes the blinds “the way someone // takes out a contact// that’s been bothering her…” The first simile that actually works for me is “a boy playing // piano in the lobby // like someone falling // down stairs.”  Something about knocking those two images together resonates, and gets a bit of amusement.  Could it be that a metaphor that works is one that raises an emotion?  Or does the emotion simply indicate the metaphor worked, that there is depth to be explored here?  Smith repeats the word “clearly” a few times.  I look for a good reason why, and really don’t have one.  So again, that is another little imperfection in the poem for me, but the last couple of metaphors work so well, and the whole poem sticks to its theme so tightly, that I do consider it a success overall.  We end up with a woman who seems to have a lot on her mind, though she is thinking of nothing in particular, who suffers a lot of interference that keeps her from focusing on her thoughts, all implied obliquely (is there any other way to imply something?)  To get that into a poem seems to me a great success, and casts the details of what does and does not work down as mere quibbles. 

Amit Majmudar gives us “To the Hyphenated Poets,” a poem built of four-line stanzas with roughly an xaxa xbxb rhyme scheme, though there are many shifting internal rhymes and sometimes more end rhymes than that.  Shifting rhymes from spot to spot, and putting them in unexpected places, is very much a current trick to keep poems fresh and interesting — I use it myself all the time, and consider the best living disciple of the practice to be Kay Ryan — all bow.  ;->   Majmudar gives us a poem not so easy to get into.  It starts, “Richer than mother’s milk // is half-and-half.”  Well, I’ve never measured the two, but he’s the physician, so I’ll take his word for that.  He brings in bees, which works, I guess, but doesn’t really seem to advance his thesis here — his themes often involves life as an outcast, or a person in two worlds and not quite belonging to either, and I think we are seeing that here once more: “Being two beings requires // a rage for rigor…” (I like that line) and “English herself is a crossbred // mother mutt…”  It turns into an exhortative poem, and incantatory: “become a thing // of your own creation, // a many-minded mongrel…” and ends very nicely.  The poet has hit some big home runs in the past, and his skill shows again here.  I don’t know if I’d put this poem in at the top of the list, but it sure has some fun stuff contained herein.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

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Poetry’s Poetry


Jane Hirschfield has a series of poems in Poetry Magazine this month, examining the quiddity of things.  Hah, a chance to finally use that word somewhere.  ;->  Now, on the not inconsiderable chance that I am misusing it, what I mean is exploring their whatness — what makes things what they are.  From Fado: “Which amazes more, // you may wonder:  // the quarter’s serrated murmur // against the thumb // or the dove’s knuckled silence?”  Or, from “My Weather.”  “A cup holds // sugar, flour, three large rabbit breaths…”  It even reaches her titles: “Things Keep Sorting Themselves”  which contains the line, “Does the butterfat know it is butterfat…?”  It’s an interesting series of poems.

Joan Hutton Landis has a marvelous poem, “The Plan,” filled with tightly-packed rhymes: “Remembering Ann // whose beauty began…”  It seems as though it’s going to be fun, but then it goes somewhere else. 

Frederick Siedel, whom we just saw in this week’s New Yorker, also has a fun-then-a-twist poem, “Snow,” which I won’t quote cuz it’s too short.  They do like short, rhymed poems in this mag; and generally, because there is nowhere to hide in such poems, these are among the best poems the magazine offers each month.  I also like his “Mount Street Gardens,” rhyming staggers and Jagger’s, among other interesting things.

The final poem I’ll mention is Deborah Paradez’ “Wife’s Disaster Manual,” a powerful villanelle worth rereading a few times.  More can be squeezed out with each reading.  “When the forsaken city starts to burn…”

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

 

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