Archive for April, 2016

Lot of good poems in this issue. The first I’ll mention is “Adorn,” by Gabriella M. Belfiglio, a Plainsongs Award winner. “Daughter, / we bought you a dress…covered in little / violets.” A sweet, sad song, eulogy for a child who passed in childbirth. If you haven’t read Plainsongs it is notable for the commentary the editors make on their Plainsongs Award poems (one editor for each Award). Especially insightful on this one.

“Total Immersion,” by Mark Hiskes, itself immerses us into the scene, a boy who loves to read, his teacher awed by his intensity. “Brandon, too, walked the old tracks.” Such a resonant opening. (Paraphrased from Bradbury. Always riff off the masters!) He walks railroad tracks while reading. The hint of danger and foolishness in this act gives the poem an extra interest that carries us through to the delightful ending. To put such tension in a poem, and hold it unresolved throughout, is an advanced trick, stolen from storytelling I think, and makes any work better.

“Nadine” may be the most fun poem of the bunch (it’s by Mike Faran). “Nadine Funderhouse is our new Poet Laureate / up here in Ax, Alaska.” Kind of a shaggy dog poem, with such a powerful voice.  “Not too many know it but poetry is a / pretty big deal up here…” The line enjambments support the conversational tone, the comfort we feel in the hands of an expert. The interplay between Nadine and her woodsmen admirers forms the power of the poem, and the ending is extremely satisfying. Bravo!

“The Ghost of Tammy Thompson,” by Robert L. Penick gives a grim tale of aging. “…dragging / her pitted, bent aluminum walker.” Great images here. “With a reptile’s precision.” Never thought of how precise a reptile must be, but it’s one of those lines that always should have been, that Penick found and gave us as a gift.

I like “Packing,” by Lin Lifshin. She’s written a lot of good poems, and here’s another one. “tho my birthday is under / the sign of the crab, who / takes his whole house / with him when he goes…” So let’s review just this much (as Arlo Guthrie once said). She implies, humorously, in these few lines that she can be crabby when she has to move, and she is out of her element when moving, and she may be a bit of a packrat, making it worse. All that in the same few lines. Now that’s packing a lot into a very few words. ;-> And the very next words do it again: “…I swear…” Wherein we see her cussing as she works, and vowing to do better. Wow.

And while I am run out of time here, still I must mention Phillip Howerton’s “A Shelf Of Old Hammers,” which is one of those poems that after you’ve read it, you would swear has been around forever. It has that deja vu quality of a great poem. “They had their heads knocked / hard for too many years…now they have scarred, blunted faces.” Subtle use of rhyme, and a perfect ending.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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