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Archive for September, 2013


In The New Republic for September 16th, I started out a bit lost with the poem “Otro Color Mas Negro” by Jesse Garces Kiley. (‘The other color even blacker’ is how I would translate that). It seemed much had to be brought to the poem that I did not have. It begins, “Lola Beltran, you’re not the only one.” No idea who Lola is. Which is why God invented Google: she’s a way famous Ranchera singer. Being a fan of Ranchera, I should have known this. With this context, the poem opens up. “My grandmother…asks for more black tea…She wants / to hear you beg, Lola.” Some nice stuff in here: “binding dry her tea bag / like a tiny heart.” The last line is very poesy though; I vote for the poet to contemplate dropping that line when the poem comes out in a book.

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” is a poem by Christopher Kempf addressing the video game and its relationship to bombing the real Baghdad. Pretty cool stuff here too: “the pealing / guns of which split / the walls of our bedroom for months…” a line to be read in multiple ways, always the most powerful sort of poem for me. He goes into what the game skips about war: “Not the …boxes / of dead…Not / the wedge of flag our neighbor / David came back as.” What a powerful line. Muchos Kudos.

Claire Woodard does a poem, “Summer on the Lake” about the time the Shelleys and Byron spent together and what came out of it (a kid and Frankenstein, among other things). “three men, / two women, one pregnancy / and many rolls / of thunder.” a very fun enjambment there! Much chewy poetry.

Mary Jo Bang’s “An Individual Equinox Suitable for Framing” demands much attention and consideration. “Light under the sky, the window not open…” it begins. I like the complexity of her near-rhymes: ‘times’ with ‘dime-sized’ and so on. But much of it simply puzzled me: “a surrender to / what is in vain to rest from…” “the architecture isn’t only belated…” I mean that’s an interesting line, and worth mulling over, so maybe just taking each individual little part is all we need to do. “Everything said not once but several times.” Surely there is meaning there, if only we work at it long enough. the poem talks of loss, of changes, what was and is no longer, the rolling confusion we all suffer. Maybe the fact that I can say that about this poem is enough, and explains why I like it in spite of itself.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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I don’t want to let that last John Ashbery poem get buried too far in the past before talking about it. Okay, I admit, it’s too far back already. Here it is anyway. 😉

“Gravy For The Prisoners” in the August 26 issue of The New Yorker somehow gave me a new way of trying to approach his work. Not exactly sentence by sentence, but riff by riff. So this one starts “I wouldn’t try to capture it…the inauspicious leavings of a day.” Then the next sentence is a development of that riff, or a contrast to it: “Closer to dream than the hum of streets…” which becomes a riff of its own. Now when he adds a third riff, the middle riff can be seen as a comment either on the one before, or the one after. And tra-la, we can work our way through the poem that way, not in a linear fashion, but as a series of images poking into each other, or overlapping, or whatever.

I found this cool web site on talking John Ashbery. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_highbrow/2005/03/the_instruction_manual.html It gives another couple ways to approach the guy. For me, the big key is the notion that Ashbery is always trying to amuse the reader/keep the reader engaged. I just don’t feel many non-linear poets are trying to do that. They are expressing themselves and the heck with us. I’m still honestly trying to figure out why I like him so much, when so many other non-linear poets bite sour apples.

Anyway, as long as I am out here, let me say how much I enjoyed the Marcus Jackson poem, “First Warm Morning, Amsterdam Avenue,” in the Sept 2 issue. “Women walk in lenient skirts…” Gotta love that adjective, the sense of “yes, exactly right, skirts that are pretty, but comfy”. “A dog’s nose…overcome / by all the smells returned from furlough.” Here’s a poet searching for exactly the right word each time, and hitting it out of the park. Such a nice pastoral set in the city.

Elizabeth Danson in the same issue does “At The Bungalow,” a wicked little rhyme involving a hummingbird and a bit of fantasy. “She watches / the tiny jewelled flame flick / shimmering from sip to sip.” Very erotic, quite fun, great ending. And I like the rhyme scheme. Hey.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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The September issue of Poetry begins with W.S. Di Piero’s “Nocturne.” I’m assuming W.S. ain’t feeling too chipper these days — his theme is growing old and dying. Good poem though. “Where are you now, / my poems, / my sleepwalkers?” It mostly sticks to concrete images, though taking the occasional flight elsewhere: “little astonishments / lighting the way uphill..” I really like that line. And an excellent ending as well.

I also like Katharine Coles’ “From the Middle.” “How much of everything is pure / getting ready.” Marvelous enjambment there, and she has other good ones later: “Ask any animal: nudity isn’t / the same…” Also, I like the sexiness of the poem. ;->

Maureen N. McLane may well have sold her “One Canoe” based on the opening line alone: “Recalcitrant elephants / begin to attack.” Though don’t get me wrong, there are other good lines later: “Apocalypse is easy / Thinking’s hard…”

Lemony Snicket makes an appearance, not with poems he’s written, but poems by others he makes a series of trenchant and fun comments about. Presenting John Ashbery’s “This Room,” he says, “Some people think John Ashbery is one of the greatest poets…Other people don’t understand his work at all. I count myself in both categories.” Boy, I’d agree with him on both counts myself!

My favorite part of the magazine though, is Kay Ryan’s commentary on Frost, Stevie Smith, and others. Worth the cost of admission right there.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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