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Archive for March, 2017


Don’t know that I’ve blogged an F&SF mag before, and this will be a short blog, as there is only one poem in the current issue, “Spacemail Only,” by Ruth Berman, a fun poem, extending the idea of the post office into the future: “The new commemoratives are / For Spacemail only.” It is amusing to think how stamp collecting will be affected by interstellar mail. “The Post Office / Promises delivery within the century…” Ouch. Another little bit I really enjoyed: “They’ve issued / Many attractive sheets of sf writers…” Well, and when they do, I hope Ruth is one of those honored.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P.S. My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available widely, including on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/AgainstTheNight

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I loved Gary Boelhower’s poem, “How The Light,” in the current issue. It’s a paean to his aging parent, set in a series of statements each beginning with, “How…” “How you didn’t want anyone…to see you in the hospital bed.” “How the light streamed in…onto your hunched shoulders.” Maybe it affects me so much since I just went through a similar experience with my own father. “How to say goodbye, how to touch the losses.” Such a delicate poem.

Right after that poem comes a sonnet by George Held, “How Might I Say.” Which again begins with “How,” and so dovetails nicely with the previous poem. “…with Shakespeare’s subtlety / That I have ‘gored’ another one or three.” This poem’s theme is infidelity, however, and the struggle to return to spirituality. “but peccadilloes / Now are in my past.” A skilled and amusing poem.

And the very next poem is “All I Do Is Get High on Melodrama,” by Kiara Letcher,” which begins, amusingly enough: “I am satisfied being a toothache.” The narrator fixated on a lover, evidently. “I thought being sugar / crystallizing / through your blood / would be enough.” A reference to crystal meth, sometimes referred to as sugar? The desperation increases, the images grow wilder, and she ends with a fun couplet. Well done.

I much enjoyed “The Dart,” by Elise Hempel. “Each time I mow I look for it..” Who among us does not have such rag-tag memories from long ago, irrationally tugging at our thoughts? “I know // some day in my back-and-forth I’ll find / it spearing a branch.” A sweet poem, finally, and masterfully rhymed.

Sometimes I just need a full-bodied poem, one not afraid to be poetic in the old sense. Such is “One Tempestuous Spring Day,” by Bonnie J. Manion. “west winds churn towering / glowering rain clouds in…” The language is throwback, the adjectives thick on the ground. But for all that, the poet gives us something richly satisfying: “a high-pitched / throbbing trill, and you notice / buds swelling.” There’s a sensuality here that matches the joy of spring, but it’s not overstated. And the ending seems to me just right.

Finally, I’ll mention one last sonnet, Thomas Zimmerman’s “Pioneer Woods Quartet.” Again the rhyme scheme is subtle, not calling attention to itself. “I’m walking in the woods, with smells of smoke / and sweet decay.” A great start to a poem about remembering parents, “they were sweet / sometimes…” while adding details of the landscape in with a sense of loss and mortality. “crows in the branches eye me, living meat…” There’s also a braid of musical images woven in. A most satisfying poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P.S. My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available widely.

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Haven’t seen a newer issue, so there’s still time to blog this, right? ;->

I like the poem, “Not Impressed,” by Mike Faran, a poem that holds up the paraphernalia of success for a squint-eyed view. “I told my wife…they had given me my own office.” “She asked if I had my name on the door…I told her they couldn’t remember my name…” It’s dryly amusing, as the narrator and his wife go back and forth about how he’s doing in the work world.

Susan Yarborough gives us “Onion Rings,” a sweet poem about working a hamburger joint. “Behind the plate glass…The air is thick with the shout / Of orders and hot oil.” That nice turn of phrase puts us in the scene instantly. Then the central character is introduced: “she stands / Before the shiny metal table, / Long knife in hand…Sweat circles her armpits.” It’s a blunt, blue collar view indeed. Which gives it power. In the second stanza, she leaves her work. “the odors / Stalk her to the bus stop / Like a jealous lover.” Great phrase. So far this is a beautifully drawn rendition of her life. But it’s at the end of the poem, with the sudden expansion of her life, that we truly see the power of the poem, and how moving it is. Very nice.

Winston Derden has a poem that gives us two characters living together, in “Living Wage.” Part of the power of the poem arises because the relationship between the two is not clearly spelled out, so the import of the narrative becomes ambiguous. And the definition of character through understatement is very slick. “I was surprised to find Clyde / on the … couch in the middle of the afternoon….’Got fired again,’ he exhaled.” The explanation of why Clyde got fired seems to put the blame on Clyde’s cantankerousness. “I had to broach the question, / ‘Got a job lined up…?” Such a realistic scenario, delicately handled. Great poem.

It’s difficult, I think, to pull off a longer poem without getting gassy, but in “Lake County,” Joseph S. Pete takes a good shot at it. “Steelmaker for the world, / Or at least North America, / Forgotten appendage of Chicago…” And indeed, the poem reminds us of Sandburg’s “Chicago,” rolling out a similar list of attributes, but updated for a new century. “Flourescent-lit warehouse floors glisten.” It is a more tentative world now, and the poem reflects this, but still there is pride of place. “Lake County, / You built 20th century America…You boned the skeletons of skyscrapers.” And the defiance is still there. “Indiana wants no part of us…” And a most satisfactory ending.

Lastly, let me mention “The Tet Offensive,” by J.R. Connolly. “All that winter, snow owned the valley.” So the poem begins in a conversational, confident tone, a rural tale, leavened by irony and understatement. “We thought we were rich and the Walkers poor. / I worked our farm every day after school.” It shows what I like to call breath control, the ability of the poet to pace the poem beautifully, to a rising effect. And I love this: “My mother…prayed for the country. / She prayed for the ‘Papists and Jews.’…She tended her husband till the tumor took him.” We know this woman, we know these people. It is a sad poem, ultimately. “Donny came home in a flag and the salute of rifles…” So powerful. And the images deepen at the end, and the loss grows deeper. And the last line is heartbreaking. A poem very much worth reading.

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 Cape Rock – 45.2

The New Yorker – Oct 30 17

Convergence Online – Fall 2017

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