Archive for June, 2016

The current issue of the Evansville Review has a bunch of interesting poems. It begins with Tarfia Faizullah’s “In the Month of Your Birth.” “At an all-girl’s school, I watch young Bangladeshi teenage girls pull / their headscarves tighter.” Is this to be a ghazal? No, for the first stanza bleeds into the second. “In the coffee shop, // a man wearing a military coat tells me I am so pretty.” So is this to be a courtship poem, or maybe a poem of war? The continual need to guess, and the twists away from the expected, make this poem effective. We worry for the physical health of the narrator, for danger is hinted at, a repression revealed only in the details. “What / do I know of bullets.” Halfway through the poem, a line almost in passing electrifies us. We think ah ha, we are confronting a poem of infidelity, when suddenly where we are actually going appears: “I will never stop wondering what her name was, the woman who bathed and swaddled your corpse.” Oh, the loss expressed in that sideways line. A power in understatement. It is a long poem, this eulogy, a complex poem, a poem of surprises, deep sadness, and ultimate survival.

Marcus Wicker gives us “Gut Check.” “Think yourself lucky enough to own a window…” Not so much ambition in the narrator… or maybe a great deal, perhaps. Crazy images that nevertheless remain grounded lead to a shocking conclusion.

I liked Kerry James Evans’ “Three Cedars.” “I cut a limb here and there…” One’s imagination goes to all sorts of gruesome silliness, despite knowing the title directs us elsewhere. “I plant thirty branches… Only three survive…” This is a pastoral poem, with unexpected complexities. “They stand like knobby corpses / with disobedient beards.” A poem of diminution, endurance, and finally, enlightenment.

Laura McCullough explores the confusion of contemporary life. “Easier to speak of things, how they connect / or don’t…” We realize this is talking of us, and our own lives, how we treat ourselves as things, minimize ourselves, get lost in minutiae. “…a new economy because our children are indebted / worse than us…” Ultimately, a poem about standing against dehumanization. “…didn’t someone say making / a thousand paper boats was a ritual? … Or was that cranes?” This poem demands multiple readings.

Finally, I like the emotion raised by Lauren S. Cook’s “Christmas.” “mother curling / my hair, the iron here and there / burning my neck.” A domestic scene that deepens quickly. “I’m getting ready to go to my father’s house. He’ll gift / me an excess.” The view of a complex relationship between parents from the eyes of a child, the loss and dissonance of deprivation on the one hand, plenitude on the other. A beautiful work.

An issue deep with poetry, very much worth picking up.

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:

The Nation – Apr 9, 2018

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

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