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Archive for June, 2014


The winter 2014 issue of The Midwest Quarterly has over 60 poets, but I can’t cover more than a fraction of those. You’ll just have to take my word many of them are good and worthy. (Or go buy it yourself!)

I often pay special attention to the first poem in an issue, figuring the editor thinks of it as the lead, and therefore what might be the best poem. Here it’s “In The Red Barn” by Kate Robinson. “there is no heat, or blankets…but the man is sleeping” The poem uses repetition to create a trance-like effect, adding weight and import. “two lungs pull in what air they can…” It’s an important moment in this man’s life, and delicately handled.

“Annastrasse” by Deborah Kroman is also a good read: “(Annastrasse) was so narrow, its houses so chock-a-block, / we slept in our neighbors’ arms.” It’s a quirky little poem, discussing the downside of magpies, the beauty of a grey heron, and more. I liked it.

In fact, the editor set up a little run of bird poems (the overall theme was “Rural and Urban”) many of them, like “Indigo Bunting,” by Audrey Henderson, little miniatures with a punchy ending. “sitting in an Adirondack / chair…it tipped him over…after one leg / sank into a divot made by Reggie Clark’s cow.” The sense of understatement adds to the power of the poem, here.

I very much like Andrew Grace’s “Farm Animals.” “They are all gone. / They became worth more dead.” Wow, what a matter-of-fact punch. I love that ‘became.’ The thoughtful use of a word making it powerful. “Black apple hallelujahs” is one of several strong images. A skilled sense of language, here.

Finally, let me mention “Midewin, the Word for Healing,” by Ann Lynn. “once the site of the Joliet Arsenal.” It starts, “The workers had yellow skin and orange fingernails…Now the guardhouse is deserted, / its black tarpaper exposed.” Such power through such plain little words. It’s a short poem, so I don’t want to give away more of it, but it has an especially effective ending.

Overall, I found this a good magazine to chew through, and several poets new to me. I’m glad I found it.

P.S. I just published a new edition of my novel, “Drifter Mage,” a western fantasy ebook on Amazon, if you care for that sort of thing. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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The poem “El Jefe,” by Olga Abella in the spring Main St. Rag kind of reached in and got to me. “Drops of sweat form on my mother’s upper lip / as he screams into her face” it starts. Just a raw presentation of a moment of injustice, beautifully rendered. “She can smell his anger blowing over her head.” And a powerfully ironic ending. Well done.

And I loved “Why She Dresses Up As a Clown At Work,” by Jin Cordaro. “Or maybe it’s because she prefers…that big orange sponge of a nose.” “So she lets them…put a ruffled collar tight / around her neck.” We feel sympathy for the character, but oh no, Cordaro has deeper, more evil plans than that. The turn in this poem is nefarious, bringing out the evil chuckle by the end.

Maybe because it hits so close to home, I also very much enjoyed “Mother At 81” by Alan Harawitz. “You sit in your chair like an old car / waiting for the crusher.” Wow, what a start. It’s a short poem, in couplets, but more effective for that, I think. Great ending, too.

Finally, I enjoyed Sara Totten’s “Comfort,” a love poem. “Just shoot me / or / wrap me in a bubble of / warmth and fleece / of / arms and legs…” It’s a sensual poem, nicely understated: “Hold me tightly in a cocoon of / vanilla…” It heats up as it goes along, and ends very sweetly indeed.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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I’ve always liked Les Murray’s poetry, and I like his poem, “Vertigo,” in the latest Poetry Magazine. Such a common-sense view of the world: “Last time I fell in a shower…the hotel longed to be rid of me….I tripped on a steel rim / and found my head in the wardrobe.” There’s that sly sense of humor underneath that makes him so worth reading. “When, anytime after sixty…you stumble / over two stairs…that’s the time to call the purveyor / of steel pipe and indoor railings…” There’s the quick bait-and-switch. Buy steel pipe, one thinks, for what violence and why? Then you realize he means for installing grab-bars. Gotta like the guy.

Dan Chelotti’s poem, “Compost,” is just the sort of nature poem I can dig into (sorry). “There is magic in decay.” A great start. And he presents a few nature images, then switches it up: “Just today / I was walking along the river / with my daughter in my backpack…” I like the surprise image that suddenly makes sense. “Selma started / Yelling Daddy, Daddy, snake!” Implying that Daddy is a snake, of course. But then we go to deeper images of decay. “the coroner / calling to ask what color / My father’s eyes were….Why can’t you just look? …Decay.” A beautiful poem, worth re-reading.

April Bernard does poems associated with (printed alongside) illustrations/ visual images. Can’t show you the images (buy the mag. ;-> ) but her poem “Anger” is worth reading, for the first grin at least: “I hoisted the shotgun…but did not fire it at the man / who had just taken my virginity like a snack, / with my collusion, but still –” There are other worthy lines (none so funny, but still enjoyable). “Decades go by / when all I can muster is absent-minded invective, / you know, directed at the news…” Well, that hits home. Her sense of timing makes this poem work. And a good ending.

Finally, Solmaz Sharif gives us “Vulnerability Study,” a short little poem of four non-rhyming couplets and a single line stanza. Each stanza lists a moment of vulnerability, from the local and intimate: “Your face turning from mine…” to the more external, “8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl,” then suddenly to images of people vulnerable in war: “baba holding his pants / up at the checkpoint.” With a great and haunting ending.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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