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Archive for September, 2016


Much good poetry in the Spoon River Poetry Review’s Summer issue. The very first poem is “To Go To Freeport,” by Austin Smith, a kind of melancholy pastoral. “To go to Freeport, you must leave / The road of concrete and take / The road of wheat.” If you know “Directive,” by Frost, it’s kind of the reverse of that. “They will / point you in the wrong direction.” A poem about being trapped in a circular life, if you are not careful. “The map you carry / Is obsolete.” But of course, you do go to Freeport, you do find yourself stuck there, and then one day someone asks…. It’s a skilled poem. I enjoyed it.

Ewa Chrusciel’s poem, “Mourning the Loss,” has a similar sense of the struggle to avoid feeling worthless. “I called the grief support group the other day.” The narrator is given short shrift, as the loss in question is of the narrator’s own clear thinking. A coming dementia? “I called friends’ eyebrows / eyebushes.” A disquieting poem indeed.

Continuing the downbeat theme is Brandi Nicole Martin’s “Dear Happiness,” which does have a certain sly irony to it, directly addressing happiness. “Never mind our tantalizing walks along the Gulf, / the two poodles pursuing…” She delivers a series of very nice images, one after the other. “the blood moon’s vacant, patronizing stare…” and “sea breeze and sugar, opiates and bone.” I’m not sure the narrator is altogether happy with happiness, though: “Dear Happiness, I hate you.” But it is a poem with much to chew on.

Ann Hudson does a triptych of poems, “Work, 1922.” “…every gentleman // with a watch of ours can see the numbers.” “We sweep the hands with paint that glows.” Then in Work 1936,” “The girls were getting sick…Radium Dial closed down. / Six weeks later…we reported back to work.” Then the last poem, “Afterglow.” “The…Factory stood empty, / fenced off.” A great resonance builds up from one poem to the next, leaving us, especially on encountering the last line of the last poem, with a chill up our spine.

Sara Schultz’ “Forbidden Syllables” amused me. “Ivory, a word you’re not allowed to use in poetry.” It’s a poem about shalts and shan’ts, short but fun.

Finally, let me mention Alicia Mountain’s “The Smallest Thaw.” It reminds me of myself, especially in the opening sentence. “During the bleak week that straddled / February and March I became reliant / on potting soil.” Boy, do I know that feeling. “I left a bottle of red wine in the trunk / overnight, not thinking.” With foreseeable results, especially in northern climes. Such a personable, familiar poem. “the smell of dirt said / you are not going to the university, / you are going to your grandfather’s field.” This poem just felt like home, somehow.

Peace in poetry,
P M F Johnson

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The first of the two poems in the Aug 29 New Yorker is “Blue Heron, Walking,” by Julie Bruck. This poem follows the somewhat standard practice of taking a tiny aspect of some part of life and detailing it…I don’t want to say to death, so let’s say…thoroughly. In this case, it’s a ballet dancer’s feet. “Not one of Mr. Balanchine’s soloists had feet this articulate.” There are many Latinate words, “explicitly,” “retracted,” “secondary function,” giving the poem a sense of detail and complexity. Then it adds in images based on flying. “Leonardo’s plans for his flying machines” and “pterodactyl wings.” The metaphors get muddled until the feet themselves seem to be birds, “snatchers of mouse and vole.” Kind of going a bit too far for me, I admit, though the phrase is fun. ;-> The ending is a quote from Balanchine. It’s a short, but dense poem, the great success for me being the almost indirect metaphor of dancers as birds.

The second poem is “Scout,” by Bridget Sprouls. It starts, “His sentences all ended with the word Austin.” Boy, we get an instant sense of this guy’s character with the one sentence. “so I packed a duffelbag, / overwatered the garden, and set out on foot…” There is always a twist, or little surprise, in top drawer poems, I think. Look at what that word “overwater” does to our sense of the narrator. Two personality descriptions in such an economy of words. Sprouls also plays with a sense of mystery, or drama. “The flutter of engines enchanted me.” What are the implications of that, we wonder. Where is the narrator, that she is hearing fluttering engines? The poem grows less linear as it goes, deepening the mystery. “Thank you, bad-shot farmers, for all the pecans.” Kind of out of nowhere, though there must be pecan farmers near Austin, right? The sense of hearing is referenced in several later images. “Who better to memorize the acoustics of local venues…” for instance. And even the last line, with its reference to air conditioners, still seems to conjure the ghost of Austin. Ultimately, we are left with a sort of odyssey’s history with few details sketched in: “I tumbled after the weeds…” And little clues that the narrator may have lost her way. “So what if I drooled into rock receivers?” So let’s hit the buzzer to chance solving the puzzle: the narrator went to the South by Southwest concert in Austin, got messed up on weed, ate a few pecans and scouted out the bands playing there. You agree with my analysis? ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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