Archive for May, 2016

Reading the Winter issue of Blue Collar Review, I was struck once again by how raw the poetry is, how rooted in common troubles. This is not a place to find erudite abstractions, nor the faint irony of a delicate metaphor. It’s a place for blunt truths and shared emotions. The first poem I’ll mention here is “The Three Personalities of Water,” by David Gross. “In our coal town, insulation was / a luxury…water lines froze.” I love the immediacy of the narration. “With propane torches stuffed under our coats…we crawled through drafty…crawlspace.” The shared memory of doing practical things around the house. Wriggling through small areas, a seriousness of purpose. For me it creates a sense of solidarity, that we’re all in this together, with hope out in front: “Listening closely for sounds of melting ice…”

Kyle Heger has a wry take on the world in, “I Haven’t Pleased Enough Machines Today.” Who has not felt at the mercy of the machines in our world? “My fingers couldn’t / make themselves understood on / my cell phone’s touch screen.” As I get older, I am struck by how many machines seem designed by the young, for the young. Arthritis is not taken into account, nor palsy. It leaves millions alienated, and doesn’t improve their view of the young tyros living without consideration of others, I suspect. “God help me: Even though / I had dutifully checked out all my / books…the alarms went off.” The machines watch us, suspicious, resentful, unforgiving. Does anyone else feel this? A great poem.

I like Matthew J. Spireng’s short poem, “Five Minutes.” “It only takes five minutes, my boss / tells me… as he adds another duty.” A quick-in, quick-out poem that quickly wrings emotion out of us, along with recognition. Yes, we all know that feeling.

“Chasing Rainbows in Scranton,” by Mike Faran, is another poem worth checking out. It starts out, “Thunder was kicking in the / corner…” What a great, ambiguous image. We can stop right there and get a sense of the earth of the place, of people at the mercy of greater powers. In this case, it’s a dog. “my girl laughed / and said “wonder what…he’s chasing now.” But there’s a true poignancy to this tale, as we follow it deeper. “she looked down at her coffee cup, / her laughter and smile gone…” But ultimately a story of hope, and love. Very much worth a good rereading.

Ryan Peeters brings back an old memory for me with his poem, “Hard To Work For.” It starts, “Prompt Staffing asked for an immediate drug test.” You know right away this is going to be a poem with the bark on. “At week six and a half, payday, / the big boss handed out checks… ‘you are all being let go.’ // Leonard…took his check and left before the big boss was done talking.” I also have the memory of layoffs, of coworkers who had been through the mill enough to be scarred. Such experiences leave a certain feeling behind, one this poem gets at very well.

All in all, a worthy issue, one that chews over the difference between those sheltered by money, and those fighting not to be at its mercy. I’m glad this viewpoint is still out there.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson


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There are two poems in this issue, each with a similar tone for me, though they are quite different in approach. Both have a first sentence that presents a reality quickly contrasted by an alternate.

The first is by Charles Simic, one of my favorite poets, called “In Wonder.” “I cursed someone or something / Tossing and turning all night — / Or so I was told…” Was the narrator tossing and turning, was someone else doing so who annoys the narrator? We are given two choices right away. Uncertainty might be the theme. The poem presents a dream thesis, but then turns instantly to a concrete image with a simple simile. “The frost…lay pretty / Like tinsel.” This poem moves along quickly. We are given the next image “a limo black as a hearse” …again a simple image and simile, but this one plays out to the ending of the poem, an implication almost cinematic of dastardly villains, missing whatever they sought, speeding away… leaving behind a last, creepy simile. The movie-like drama brings back the sense of a dream, in a subtle way tying the whole poem together.

The other poem is by Carl Dennis, again one of our great poets. In “Two Lives,” he threads together a pair of story lines to powerful effect. We are warned in the very first phrase of the coming complexity of the poem. “In my other life, the B-17 my father is piloting / Is shot down over Normandy…” We switch between two versions of the narrator’s life, as resulting from different versions of his father’s life. One narrator is an intellectual, a professor perhaps, the other a working class guy as the result of his father’s death in that B-17. It sticks closely to detail, as the great poets do. “In a neighborhood that’s seen better days. / I play stickball after school…” A common life, not unusual in New Yorker poems. But the alternate lives intertwine, the working class self taking a job in the factory the other’s father owns. This play of dual lives for both father and son keeps the poem interesting. “In my other life, I have to leave high school / To bolster the family income…” The narrator reveals an inclination for reading fantasy stories, which puts a meta- moment on top of everything else, as of course alternate histories are a subset of fantasy and science fiction. And let’s just add another twist, that this is a story poem of a character who loves stories. That constant twisting to add loops and complexities creates a resonance and depth that impressed me very much. In the end, as we would expect, the author brings the two narrators together, weaving the story together into a satisfying conclusion.

One can learn a lot by studying either of these writers. Oh, and enjoy the ride along the way! ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Missouri Review – Winter 2017

The New Yorker – Jan 22 2018

Rattle 58 – Winter 2017

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