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Archive for May, 2014


Let’s pass over the first poem (or whatever you want to call it) in the May issue of Poetry Magazine, which begins with a few pages of meaningless scribbles then devolves from there (2 & 1/2 pages filled with the letter “t”, for instance) and proceed to the next poem, which is Joshua Mehigan’s “The Fair,” a short work of three stanzas. “The fair rode into town…like a plate unbreakable because / it has been dropped and glued so many times.” What a creative simile, one of a series of fun lines. “The fair was no fair.” There are deeper meanings here if you dig for them, but they do not become onerous. I just want to quote line after line because they are so chewy, but I’ll limit myself to one more: The fair slid into town…as a clown / slides into pants.” And the ending is maybe the best part of the poem.

Jessica Greenbaum also delivers an excellent poem, “For A Traveler.” In the first line: “Let me tell you the shortest story.” A good grabber, which matters with poetry as much as fiction, I have come to believe. It’s a straightforward poem: “when I was their son’s girlfriend…” about the narrator first harvesting from a rich garden. “the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini / lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their / minions…” Dig that quick rhyme. “That day the lupines received me.” The sort of poem one can dig into, to learn more about the craft. And again, a powerful ending.

Bob Hicok deconstructs and rearranges words and phrases to most satisfying effect in “The pregnancy of words.” “…times. Which is smite / for you violet types, a flower / that says ‘love it’ if you listen. Me, I…don’t feel it matters that evil thrives / in live.” and “with slips and slides / and elide’s eally ool.” Again, such fun. He goes on for maybe 40 lines of such language play, which seems a central task for poetry, to me anyway. “the tools I use / are the stool I stand on.” Enough! On to the next poem.

Jacob Saenz gives us a powerful one, “Forged.” “My brother wore bags over his boots / to keep the grease…from the steel mill off the carpet & steps // he mounted…” a gritty, blue-collar poem, the likes we don’t see enough of. “to control the two-ton bundles / held by a buckle above the heads // of hard-hatted men that could snap” notice how the ambiguous antecedent there adds meaning to what could snap, and what it means to control. Brilliant.

Vievee Francis gives us a bawdy poem, “Intelligent Design,” which is also great fun, though I can’t quote most of it without blushing. “I would worship at the fount / if I had more faith” is as far as I will go. Read it yourselves!

Lots of other good poetry in this issue, one of the stronger recent issues.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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As usual, the Avocet starts with a featured poet, Christine Swanberg this issue, and a few poems therefrom. “At Cana Cove – Door Country (sic), Wisconsin” starts with a fun line: “Today the May sun surprises / like a long-distance phone call / from a friend gone too long.” Her poems all have the same comfy feel as that line, with enjoyable phrases, “a…ritual of silence sliced / by a gull’s cry” a no-nonsense tone, and a well-crafted ending. Always a bit of humor not far from the surface, as well.

Something about “Occasions Of Spring,” by Margaret Bobalek King, also caught my eye. “the blackbird’s red wing flashing / among tattered bulrushes” starts us through a series of observations of life getting going in spring; it just seems so well-balanced, not too effusive, with a wonderful turn right at the end.

“Good Samaritan” by Patricia L. Goodman gives us first one point of view: “The catbird boils / out of the brush…snatches / a dragonfly / from the air, // sees me, drops his prize….I hold my dog, protect / the creature…” We feel the narrator’s satisfaction and pride at protecting the little creature, then in a turn the poem points out the catbird has a loss here, to balance the dragonfly’s gain. And notice the speed cerated by the short lines and interesting enjambments.

I liked “bluebird” by Ed Galing: “we often talked / about death, / my wife and i.”

Liked “Thursday The Band Plays At Moe’s,” by Maralee Gerke: “The homely holy woman / comes rushing in from the rain.”

And liked “On Not Climbing Ayers Rock,” by Lynn P. Elwell. “The friendly boundary of fallen rocks / vanishes…” There’s just a nice presentation of challenge and emotions and resolution here.

There are a number of other worthy poems, especially some of the short poems and haiku. This is quietly (or not so quietly!) becoming a steady outlet for haiku. A solid issue this time.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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The first poem in the latest Plainsongs is called “Pitchfork,” by Dwaine Spieker, and I get why it won a Plainsongs Award. “It taught me early how much weight / a forkful was” and “strangely bouyant.” By sticking strictly to its object, the poem somehow transcends, gives us a momentary view of a person laboring, and therefore of thousands, millions, laboring in humble, honest labor (in the spirit of full disclosure: I, too, have used a pitchfork in my day ). “My right hand ran the handle…” Of course, it helps that in the simple ending, the narrator lifts his head slightly, sees all he has done.

Ivan Hobson anthropomorphizes machines in “After Work,” to powerful effect: “When the factory lights are off… / they do not miss him… / their gears and spindles don’t care / about what they grab and try to draw in.” Gave me the shivers. A creepy poem about near-misses. Only near the end of the poem do we learn the worker is the narrator’s father, being cared for by his mother. Worth the whole issue.

I like “Stormy,” by Donna Pucciani: “I feel like a kid again…summering with southern cousins / who wore coonskin caps / and shot BB guns…” Reflecting on big storms of the present and past. “It always rained sideways / through the cracks…” Sometimes that seems true of all of our lives.

“At Bone Creek” is another one I want to mention, by Charlene Neely. It makes me want to take the theme and twist it up and write another poem, an answering poem, it has such an original image at its heart. “A lace dress in…a corn field / its straps caught, leaving it to flutter // in whatever breeze…” We can see the dress, abandoned, puzzling the neighbors for miles around. A worthy poem.

There are so many other excellent poems in this issue, a very strong one in my view. Worth picking up.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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