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Archive for October, 2012

Advocating Avocet


The first poem in the current issue of Avocet, “Lake Bacalar 5:30 AM” by Lillo Way, has a wonderful opening – “Tangerine warning!  Something’s up // or about to be.” It’s an enjoyable poem about the dawn, with other good images, and it draws one into the magazine, as a good opening poem should. One could almost call the poems in this magazine folk poems. They have no whiff of the academy about them. “Should We Meet Again” by Holly Rose Diane Shaw (BBC Poet Laureate) also has a powerful opening: “in our cradle of stars  looking down // there will be no markers carved in stones // on grave sites to be worn by the rain…” a beautiful evocation of feeling. Only in writing this blog did I finally understand what an academic poem is, by the way.  It’s simply a poem that professors find teachable — that is, that has enough complexity to afford a class discussion. Such a poem would inherently value complexity over simplicity, and subtlety over clarity. Not actually a value judgment in itself, but perhaps leading to short shrift for great but clear poems.

Joan Colby has a good poem here, “Orchard,” with a strong ending.  “You grew old. Forgetting // to spray or just not caring. // Apples worm-holed with decay // bled into the grass…” evocative images.

A poem that worked well as a whole for me was Maria Castell Greene’s “On My Neighbor’s Roof.”  “Yesterday the first October rain // fell here like a shipment of stuffing for quilts.” Fun beginning, with a interesting character who takes over the poem: “Prince of Drizzle, awfully waterproof, // a crow with wieldy beak.” I enjoy poems like this, that show a strong point of view.

Marilyn Dorf does an extended metaphor, “The Housewifely Squirrel,” squirrel as housewife, as you would expect from the title.  Clever.

Bill Griffin gives us a poem of regret, “Yes.” He uses earth-based images, very concrete, to illuminate his regret in a deft way.

One of my favorites in the issue is Abu Nakhla Wetland, by Diana Woodcock, maybe just because she weaves in the scientific names for species in a very straightforward manner to describe her walk in wastewater wetlands.  The precision appeals: “Long live the mundane opportunists: Rumex dentatus, Sporobolus arabicus, Juncus rigidus.” I don’t know any of those species, but it’s fun to guess based on the names. Let’s see, dentatus is teeth, so that would be a plant with serrated leaves, I’d say, bolus sounds like bole, so that’s a wide-boled tree that grows in arabic lands, juncus rigidus, well rigid is easy enough and my Latin is failing me, so let’s say it’s rigid junk! ;-> (Then in Wikipedia it explains that’s a spiky kind of rush, whose vegetation does seem to grow up rather rigidly judging by the picture, the rumex is toothed dock, and sporobolus is a low-growing plant that handles salinity well. So much for living on Latin!)

It’s getting late, but let me give a shout out to Peter C. Leverich’s own poem, “Katherine And Me,” “Hundreds of gumballs cover the woodland floor…hobnailed gumballs, hard-clad gumballs…” what  a delight he gives us.

And finally, my favorite poem of the issue, “The Year After,” by David Chorlton, a testament to recovery after fire. “the ridges beyond them // leading the eye away // into the flat, blue valley fire // didn’t reach.” Interesting use of enjambment there, too. A gentle poem with a powerful ending.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

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Golden Poetry


In the December Asimov’s, Bruce Boston takes a shot at Utopia, with his “Golden People” poem. “If the world were Golden People // our eyes would sparkle // and our teeth would shine.” Excuse me if I don’t want to live there, though, for all the “High adventures” and “boffo conversations,” as Boston is too clever a poet to give us a world without a few depths, and some shadows lurking underneath. “and if we turned green // along the way, // as some gold // is wont to do…” A fun poem.

Karin L. Frank does “Flower Power,” a meditation on dinosaurs and their limitations: “Dinosaurs couldn’t stomach flowers…” as though dinosaurs were prudes, and flowers orgiastic: “aroused stamens // cavorting in the breeze…” but then she turns the poem to the thought of her own mortality: “I, too, already starved // will be blasted aside…” which also plays with a beauty metaphor.  A strong effort.

Robert Frazier finishes off the poetry in this issue with “Your Clone Returns Home,” which begins “Back from far star systems…” a tough, even chewy, phrase — try it. He brings in a hint of sorrow before the end: “as she cries to sleep upstairs // she wonders will she break new ground…” which line I admire for its compactness, as well. The emotion gives the poem depth, and a certain weight. Three good poems, always a treat.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

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Seems like many New Yorker poems have a huge leap at the very end — almost a complete break with the earlier part of the poem.  In the October 8 New Yorker, Mary Ruefle at first glance does something like this in her poem, “Open Letter To My Ancestors.”  The first part of the poem is about wearing a green clay mask… “it’s supposed to be for my skin // but I don’t care about that // I wear it in honor of you…”  She adds a few semi-absurdist comments in the middle: “I’ve left everything behind // except this valise…because I believe // in the day I will board a bus // with a bag of potatoes in my right hand…” I don’t think it’s worth analyzing why the right hand, not the left, phrases like that are for effect, not to add depth, as far as I can tell.  The ending is similar: “I’m going to wash you off now // into the luminous depths // where even a recluse bird must fly.”  But when I meditate a little on the ending, I do discover some continuity with the first part of the poem — she has equated her ancestors with her green clay, so she is washing off her ancestors.  I don’t know why the depths are luminous, except it seems more resonant and poetic, I guess.  And the recluse bird would be her.  See, puzzles solved.  Some of them, anyway.  Why a bird?  Why the single word in Spanish in the whole poem?  Chalk it up to having fun.

Thomas Sleigh gives us a long titled poem in the same mag, “A Short History of Communism and the Enigma of Surplus Value.”  After the title, I’m thinking, can’t say you haven’t been warned.  ;->  It’s a sort of a Marxist critique of a poem, discussing the Communist inclination of the narrator’s grandfather, in his decked-out tractor blasting Led Zeppelin as he harvests the fields.  There are fun lines here — “the tractor refuses to sing the song // of its own reification and hiccupped and lurched into the real.”  Kind of an intellectual’s poem about contour-plowing, again with a twist to somewhere else entirely at the end: “there, in a window on Fifth Avenue, the enigma // hides itself in the headless, sexless torso of a mannequin…”  I don’t myself get why the ending sums up the poem, or elevates it, or whatever it is turns are supposed to do to poems.  It does add a couple more cool images, though.

Honestly, I’d love to hear some sort of podcast from Paul Muldoon explaining what it was about these poems he loved above all the other poems submitted in whatever week it was a year or so ago that correlates to the purchasing window for this issue.  They’re good poems, I see that; but neither blew my head off, and neither gave me an understanding of the world I never had before.  It may be simply his sense of humor finds much to like in this stuff, and there is so little humor in poetry, and even that being mostly overly broad, that the little chuckles one garners from these poems become so precious to him he wants to share them with the world.

Peaceable poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

 

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