Archive for June, 2015

The latest issue of Nimrod has a theme of Circulation, and it starts with a poem by Linda Neal Reising called “Navigation.” “…there are many poems / in circulation today, // and I picture them / in their little paper boats…” She muddles together the images of paper boats and blood circulating in the body. “sailing through sixty thousand miles / of blood vessels.” It’s an interesting statistic. One I will not look up. I care more about the verisimilitude of facts in a poem, the ‘truthiness’ of them, rather than the exact accuracy. Maybe that’s just me. ;-> Anyway, the boats become types of poems, and the nautical theme is brought back to close out the poem, a tight, well-crafted work.

A couple poems later, the editor brings us back to the blood theme with Florence Weinberger’s “The Prescription.” “he says / when your blood / turns sluggish / and sleepy / eat something salty.” Again the verisimilitude, which is nice for lending the poem authority, and a reason to read on. ‘Does that really work?’ I ask myself. Weinberger continues: “I’d forgotten salt. / No Chinese food.” We descend farther and farther into salt references, then return to the blood reference at the very end. There are some nice lines here, that make the poem worth reading. “It bites me like a loving old / toothless dog.” And I like to see how the editor is arranging poems, leading us from theme to theme via similar images.

August Donovan gives us “The Tiger of Newton, Kansas,” wherein the poor narrator has an encounter with said tiger, and gets off a few good lines before he is devoured (or not. I won’t tell you the ending). “if something happens once, it will again. // Sneaking out at lunch to get a Scotch. / Sex with my ex who’s like the news: all bad.” Roll those lines around on your tongue a bit. They have flavor.

Then again, Marge Saiser gives us “Beauty With Cat.” A love poem, or love lost. “He gave this gold cap…promised pearls which never came, / painted them falsely here around my neck…He could have placed / roses under my hand… But here instead is Vladimer, his cat. / You know how cats are: …never giving the whole of the heart.” The poems ends with the narrator’s emotions, which I very much liked as a technique, and, happily, a little more cat.

Tina Schumann’s “Overture (anticipation) hits close to home for me. “When my father dies, it will happen / as it always happens; a midnight drive across the desert, tumbleweeds / over headlights…” Such a powerful beginning. And the rest of the poem follows, logically. “it will have nothing / and everything to do with me.” Such a sad, true poem.

Joan Colby has a disturbing take on “The Bones.” “Old bones. My mother shrinking / into half a parenthesis…Or Ron, his spine / rebuilt with cadaver bone, / a half-corpse until he shot himself.” Images that stick with us long after the poem is over.

But maybe my favorite poem in the issue is by Stephen Gibson, “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory.” And no, not just because it’s such a fun title. “You will go down through memories that…will disguise themselves to protect you” An elaborate, complex sonnet. “you’ll be looking for that one tool….(it will be missing). It becomes a poem about loss, rooted in concrete imagery, beautifully rhymed, with a breathtaking ending, the last word unexpected and obvious once it’s given.” Bravo.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »

The Spring/Summer issue of The Atlanta Review is largely given over to translations of Russian poets, many of whom I did not know. Before I go into their works, let me mention the poem in the U.S. section, “The Castle Of Otranto,” by Maura Stanton, an engaging poem about being young, and getting over it. “mysterious doors, / Faceless monks, statues that moved or spoke: / I thrilled to all that wasn’t ordinary.” The narrator is on pilgrimage to a castle that fulfills all the romantic notions of Gothic novels she read years ago. The reflection on how she’s changed is affecting, how she sees the world now, at last getting to see such an exotic spot. “If the bus / Had only let me off in Otranto back then / Instead of Minneapolis — well, what?”

Another poem that tackles youthful vision versus elder reality is “Old Guy: Super Hero,” by William Trowbridge. “The arms and legs sag, and the waist’s / too tight. Where there should be a large S…there’s Fruit / of the Loom, and on his trunks, Depends.” I’m a sucker for a slant and amused view of reality, maybe. “Like certain sheep, / he doesn’t fly so much as plummet.” I read that line to my wife, it amused me so much. And now I’m reading it to you. A delightful poem.

The Russia section of the magazine was edited by Alex Cigale, who contributed some of the translations as well. One section of a poem he translated by Regina Derieva starts, “Life cannot be parted from the sea — / hurrying headlong in tears into tears…” I just want to quote on and on. Some great images here. “The pearls’ sunrise, rippling, enslaved…all for the sake of dreams.”

Vladimer Gandelsman contributes a moving 9/11 poem, “Historian.” “I bear witness: a clear gaze is granted / not to man, alas, but only to the sky.” The translation is by Yasha Klots and Ross Ufberg. “Let the flames of prophecy envelop the banal.” Great line. And the ending of this poem is worth the entry fee.

Some few of these poets I have read some, and admired. Ilya Kaminsky gives us “Mother Throws Milk Bottles At Soldiers.” A fun and kind of evil little thing. “Momma Galya… is having more sex than you and I… whiskey keeps her conscience clean.” “she flies over the country like / a tardy milkman, / a rim of ice on her bottle caps.” I get the feeling there’s stuff going on here I don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter. There’s plenty of marrow to enjoy anyway.

Other poems seem to translate quite clearly. Vadim Mesyats’ “The biggest compliment…” for instance, also translated by Alex Cigale. “The biggest compliment / I ever got…was from a long-deceased friend….everything comes to you easily…whether in jail or in Afghanistan: / you’ll show up and…buddy, buddy… / charm the pants off everyone.”

I am grateful for the editor Dan Veach’s efforts to expand our experience of poetry beyond the narrower horizons of U.S. poets alone. There’s a lot going on out in the wide world. These issues (he’s been doing them for years now) I find very worth following.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »