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Archive for January, 2015


There are plenteous narrative poems in this Atlanta Review, w a folk-tale sensibility. Well-done, this is just about my favorite type ‘a poem. (And evidently of Dan Veach, the editor).

Mark Belair gives us a fun one with “one thanksgiving.” “…in the mid-1950s / my grandfather won a turkey raffle” and we’re off on a yarn, where the daughters grin as grandma and grandpa have their relationship revealed for all to see. Fun and touching and human, one after the other.

“Georgia Gothic” is another, written by Leon Stokesbury, with the classic opening: “Not that long ago, in a country / not that far away, there lived / a crematorium owner…” And oh gosh, the eel of dread is wriggling in our stomach already. Not so much laughing in horror, as digging into the frailty of the human mind and behavior. “he would wander down / to the brambled woods…” A poem very much worth looking up.

The other thing that struck me about this issue is how many sonnets there are. “Snakes in Paradise” by Richard Cecil starts out, “It’s hard to loaf when it hits five below…” but this soon turns out to be a lyric poem commenting on Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona. How rare it is to see any published poem taking a political stance in American poetry. Blue Collar Review does them, of course, but I can’t remember the last poem in another high-tone mainstream mag w a political slant one way or the other. Well, cheer or hiss, here it is. Since I write my share of such poems, I’m very glad to see it. And it’s a well-rendered sonnet to boot, w a strong voice.

I loved the complexity arising from the repetition in James B. Nicola’s “A boy should not.” It starts, “A boy should not have to teach himself to shave,” and goes all ominous from there.

Nick Norwood’s “Shetland” brought out the cranky and therefore dangerous personality of the Shetland pony the nine-year-old narrator decides to pet. “He was a beast, all right, but so was I.”

“Running With The Bullshitters,” by James Valvis made me laugh. Then I read it to my wife, and we laughed again.

I’m running out of time and energy, but let me mention another sonnet among the several other splendid efforts, “After All,” by Daniel Langston, which is funny and clever, and even though we’re half-watching for it, hard to spot as a sonnet, since the rhymes are so smooth and the language so natural. Also, we’re distracted: “As you know, watching a bra being dropped / is religious in its intensity…”

Joan Colby has four poems very much worth reading here as well.

And I liked Dolores Stewart’s sonnet “Reading Shakespeare At The Senior Center.”

But the one poem I think I read the most in the issue was the one that won the Grand Prize in the contest, “Musical soup” by Joyce Meyers. “Spring just a week away, but this raw / rainy day cries out for a pot / of African peanut chicken soup.” Oh boy, I want a cup myself, just reading those words. It’s an elegy to the narrator’s mother, and a reflection about the future and what of worth she has accomplished, and “What of me will my children / remember?” A very sweet, thoughtful poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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I’ve probably started half a dozen sentences here, trying to get my head around the “Sci Fi Violence” poem by Josh Bell. “Would a true prophet use an electric / salamander as a tongue? / That’s what I thought.” it begins. Well, it’s not going to be a linear poem, obviously. Then I started to play around with the idea that there is an intelligible story underneath all these words somewhere… our job, find it. Maybe. Since we open with a prophet tongue, then the next section is maybe the audience. “the enemy collecting like aberrant cells across the river.” But the enemy isn’t simply listening, they are speaking back, in their weird way. “One enemy…attempted / to tongue-kiss my eyeholes.” Well, that’s a bit disgusting, but there you are. There is a speaker in this poem, and he’s living in a sci-fi world with countries and enemies and a dead body at the end to make an elegy over. It’s certainly an interesting poem, though I can’t say as I felt successful in getting to the bottom of it. Still, I re-read it a bunch, so that was fun.

The other poem in the issue is “About The Author” by Elizabeth Willis. “About her: the air, warm as fact. // An imaginary boat heading off to hell…” Each stanza consists of a single line (with one exception, for no particularly obvious reason), and they initially seem to relate to each other like the stanzas of a ghazal. That is, tangentially. But many of the stanzas have a reference to water: “This was not a river. It was Thursday…” With the whiff of the poet crossing the river Styx and going into the underworld, as above. So, going back to the title, it’s a recursive poem about the poet seeing herself as the artistic progeny of Aeneas in the current day, but by the end telling us she only wants to do a season in hell (wasn’t that Rimbaud?). Plenty of subtle references, a basic story of the poet’s journey for those of us who like our poems to follow a structure, and a nice rhyme to end it with. Enough to satisfy me. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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