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Archive for September, 2014


This issue starts with a few Ashbery poems, my fav of which is “Bunch Of Stuff.” As far as I can tell, Ashbery’s technique is to take a phrase and invert one or more words into some analogous word that casts light on the original. So this poem starts: “To all events I squirted you / knowing this not to be this came to pass.” Well the first phrase could be “At all events.” But being squirted to events makes a loopy sense. ‘Squirt’ gives this an irreverent feel, as we might feel going anyplace where someone would bring us “at all events”. Of course squirt could have been squired, but wasn’t, here. (And other readings come to mind). Deconstructing “this not be be this” might give us ‘not to be that…’ It’s an unexpected twist that keeps the poem fresh. A little later, “Why wouldn’t you want a fresh piece / of outlook to stand in down the years.” Well, people DO come to stand in an outlook. (Sometimes with their feet hardening in concrete.) ;-> An outlook that might flavor how they feel about going to the above event. And creating a resonance between a fresh piece of outlook and tail, say. Which gives another flash of irreverent amusement. And joining up with a new person generally does change our outlook, of course. He even tells us to “Poke fun at balm…” as he is doing it. A first-water poem, for me, with all those meanings crashing down one after the other.

Henri Cole’s poem, “Dandelions (II)” keeps bringing me back to reconsider it. “He drew / these dandelions…when the only // solace / was derived / from the labor / of getting / the…stems / and… seed heads / just right.” I don’t know who the artist might be, but I guess it doesn’t matter. “‘Nobody there,’ / the new disease / announced…” It’s a sad poem, sketching the death, evidently, of an artist, then turning to a surprising exterior image in the last stanza. As though the grief were too great to face directly, but must be angled toward, hinted at only. Very powerful.

D. Nurske has a fun, not particularly linear poem called “Venus.” Which is about the planet, at least at first: “Death is coming / and you must build a starship / to take you to Venus. // Make it from a catsup bottle…” It rattles on goofily like that for a stanza, then turns more serious, and in the last stanza again goes off on a complete tangent. I’m guessing Don Share likes that finishing technique, as generating something original, though I admit I’d like a final stanza resonating more with the rest of the poem. Maybe the moth image in the last stanza symbolizes the spirit, and so we (maybe) transcend after death. A bit oblique for me, but the editor obviously liked it.

Let me end with Kay Ryan’s “In Case Of Complete Reversal.” “Born into each seed / is a small anti-seed.” She always has such subversive ideas, and works them out in ways I rarely expect, with breathtaking language. “If we could crack the…shell / we’d see the / bundled minuses…” I cannot imagine anticipating that phrase, ‘bundled minuses,’ and yet it feels perfect to me. That’s harder than it seems, I have come to believe from years of trying to do it myself. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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Didn’t know the first poet in the September 1 issue of The New Yorker, Marylen Grigas. But I like her “About Muscle,” a sort of natural history poem. “If there’s no need for movement, then no need for a brain…a fact demonstrated by the sea squirt…it settles on a rock. Then it devours its own brain.” How can one not like such a poem, so fun and weird? “Evolution of the brain is about muscle. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Are you kidding me? A poet who teases Schwarzenegger? Yay. ;-> From there the turn has the narrator speak of herself, “moving and arranging boulders last fall.” Then she draws a powerful conclusion in her surprise ending. Yep. A very satisfying poem.

The other poem, by Michael Dickman, “Mouse Hunt,” is far more challenging a read, though much can still be teased out of it. “Your little eyes / brake lights…scrunched up beneath / the house.” I get that image — the little eyes reflecting light. Though I admit I’ve never seen that with a mouse. “Your pleasure center radio antennae checking the latest / score” Then the poem bounces out of the car metaphor, going into a series of more and more loopy non-sequiturs: “Bumblebee marbles full of shit.” “Your tumors dancing…” Interesting lines, but kind of pointless for me. He does always bring it back to the mouse, though, right to the last line. Still, I left the poem feeling dissatisfied, as though the poem promised depth but never delivered. It’s certainly possible the depth was there and I just missed it, however.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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