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Archive for December, 2016


Very much enjoyed “Hoop Duet,” by Dennis Trudell, in the Fall issue of Plainsongs. “Story about a young Indian / shooting baskets by himself…when a coyote…” The understated language adds to the power as a young man has a magical moment. We are not given any explanation, but I don’t know that any verbal one is needed. Kind of ironic in a poem. “The boy moved / there and howled.” It was a Plainsongs Award poem, and I can see why.

I enjoyed “cuckoo clock” by Henry Kruslewicz. “my Oma is echt Deutsch / just one look at her dumpling / legs…” The mix of English and German (I don’t read German) gives it such a mysterious flavor, and a depth that adds to the fun. And really, you don’t need to know the language to get much of what is being said: “A finger thick as wurst.” Satisfying.

I am enthralled with “Asymmetric,” by John Peetzke, a sort of chopped-up villanelle. “Such an intriguing feel. / The lake spawns perfect symmetry.” This poem plays with reality and illusion in a most clever way. “A reflection, it isn’t real.” A reflection off the lake? By the narrator? There’s the fun. Then at the end, he reverses, then reverses again, using the form masterfully.

“Wedding Reception,” by Dion Kempthorne, had such a sense of loss, of bad choices made resonating into the far future. “The gilt frame of the cake / photo of her and her ex…” The past and the present mix, and the narrator seems so sad. Powerful.

Linda Taylor’s “My Mother Steps Off the Train in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, 1942” is worth reading and re-reading. “Two steps, and she is down, in dirt / soft with chickweed.” Hopes, fears, the specter of poverty, of nameless fears, all are implied, but the poem itself is grounded powerfully in plain images. “floods of mayflies… with netted, burnished wings… Her shoes crunch on them.” Wow.

But finally, my fav poem (and my wife’s, for that matter) in the magazine is Anne Knowles’ “Ironing.” “Mother sprinkled clothes, dampness / and fold and roll…” Just a description of a common task, but the language brings it so alive. Listen to the sounds: “garments / snapped out…the iron / thump thump thumping…wire hanger hooks / clicking” The knowledge of the task revealed: “boldness and the delicacy / of necessary restraint.” Yes. The moment is real. Brava!

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My ebook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon, at
http://tinyurl.com/AgainstTheNight
See what you think!

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I haven’t blogged a Hummingbird Mag before, I don’t believe. The magazine publishes short poetry, much of it quite elegant. The first poem in the issue is “The Lion,” by Megan Snyder-Camp. On first glance, this looks like a fun little poem. But with more consideration, darkness moves beneath it. “Since kindergarten / my son’s class has practiced // for when a lion / enters the building.” Wow.

Ellen Welcker has a series of poems scattered through the magazine, all named “The Sheep.” “O euphemistic failure… a sphincter relaxing.” Each poem presents another piece of the whole. E.g. “A gaze may seek to rest…” and “All her layers of construction.” So the series keeps pulling the reader back in: Oh, there’s more here. Oh, there’s even more. How do these poems relate to each other? How is this sheep getting described, bit by bit? An interesting way of challenging us.

Furthermore, John Burgess does a similar thing, with each of his poems describing a guest bedroom he slept in. But he ups the ante by including drawings of each room he is describing. “Dead birch rotted,” is one image described. Then “It’s quiet (No one else / in the basement…” With that, we realize he’s giving impressions he’s had in each room. His varying experiences. So despite such similar constructions, we are left with very different takeaways from the efforts of the two poets.

I very much enjoyed Jeri McCormick’s untitled poem. “heading home from a winter visit in the mountains…” This poem contains maybe the most words of any in the magazine, though it is still short; a startling moment in life, maybe not life-changing, but maybe that’s the point, that life was not changed, and that can be a very good thing indeed.

I also liked Joanna White’s “She Paints,” entered sideways over two pages. Though not a particularly wide poem, nor particularly long, arranging it this way makes us think of the painter being described. “very nice, /     the grown ups say…” Subtlety in the understatement, here.

And while there are true haiku in this magazine, one poem that struck me with its pair of juxtaposed pure images was “Some Heat” by Joan Halpin. Probably the poem that most jumps off the page in the whole collection.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P.S. My new ebook of love poems, “Against The Night,” is up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere, if you like that sort of thing. ;->

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The first poem in this issue of The New Yorker, “Esposito & Son,” by Anna Scotti, is a kind of an homage to a piece of furniture being hauled off. “When the men arrived…to haul the big table away, / I ran my hand down the battered length of it.” Each of the three stanzas is heavy with words, an almost pedestrian language. But the narrator is ambivalent about losing the piece: “a sudden rush of absurd remorse. I’d never loved it…” and deep within the stanzas hide a few, a very few internal rhymes, reflecting the almost lost grace of the table, or maybe the feeling she has towards something owned a long time. I love the line “the tabletop itself was…scarred: ruthless curator of memory.” She discusses the chairs that go with the piece, and only in the third stanza do we pull back to consider the men hauling it away — father and son, we are given to understand by the title, “eager to be done with it.” The rest of the world does not share our absurd hesitations, or romance about battered things best left behind. An elegant poem, finally.

“Old West Days,” by Brian Russell, weaves several motifs together in a non-linear way. “It was just after the war of course…” it begins. The Civil War, does he mean? But then he references buses, so we are left rootless, contemplating how many wars it could be talking about. Sad thought. A great deal of the strength of this poem has to do with lost little lines like that, creating a scattered landscape. The next thread comes in a one sentence third stanza: “…it was a great year to be a queen.” A series of rather absurdist comments are thrown in, e.g. “when they still made the sun out East,” until it becomes a pastiche of the present and the past, of History, of the narrator’s own family, and the contrasts along each of these threads. “as if seeing for the first time a photograph of your / grandmother / when she was your age.” I guess what I enjoyed most was the striking images, rendered in neat turns of phrase. “While the parade waded by…” An oddly satisfying poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P.S. My book of love poems, “Against The Night,” tells of loving a woman ensorcelled, fevered, her raiment camouflage, a woman marooned, scrawling for help with a sharpened spoon. A tale of two fireflies in flight through the urban overglow, who seek their patch of intimate night.

I think you’ll like it.

“Against The Night,” by P M F Johnson is available as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine retailers.

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