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Archive for June, 2017


Each time I read “Spring Cleaning,” by Hannah Marshall, in the current issue of Hummingbird, it gets a little deeper. Always a good quality in a poem. “Shaking winter / from rag rugs…I look up to see the day go fuzzy in gray rain.” It’s a poem of very specific images, and that grounding keeps the reader engaged. Cleaning the rug corresponds to rain cleaning the world. “Snow salt… wash(es) down the hill…to unearth bluebells.” Then the poet gives a sudden, strong twist at the end, with an image that gives explanation to why this is all important. Well done.

All the poems in this magazine are short, which tends to make them compact, precise, and often powerful. JoAnn Chang gives us an untitled poem, starting: “The trees outside the nursing home / are tied to metal stakes // for fear …” and what the fear is gives us a twist of whimsy, and a touch of the apocalypse both. Quite a trick in such a short and image-driven poem.

Lenore McComas Coberly gives us “Unreported,” a poem about maintaining perspective. “blooming marigolds…hunker down…while autumn hail…” Again here, in a quick little poem, it is the turn that gives this poem its understated power. The marigolds do not figure in the larger world, true, but the larger world does not figure for the marigolds either. A clever way to show that off.

There are a number of haiku in the magazine, mostly in the 5-7-5 syllable format, too short to comment on for the most part. But one I will mention is by Bill Pauly. “miles of cornfields — they’ve left one tree…” Just that image and a half spreads itself around in my imagination, setting the stage for the all-important last line that of course completes and makes the haiku work.

Karla Huston has a clear-eyed view of nature as we really experience it, in “Winter On Winnebago.” “Just when you think you’ll never be done with it, the ice pulls back…” But what the ice reveals is not necessarily what we expect. Surprise is important in any poem, to keep us engaged. And Huston uses a trick I believe Henri Cole once mentioned: to present a final image, and then not explain it. It works its power here.

Finally, Jeri McCormick’s three linked poems here give a child’s view of the world, and it is a place fraught with childhood troubles, under a pretty facade. “she knocks on our door…such a cute girl,knocks on our such a cute girl, Mother says to me…go play.” Sweet, but then, “we play dolls she slaps kicks throws them against the wall…” Wow. A tremendous tension fills these poems, handled masterfully.

A great issue.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as at other fine e-retailers.

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I’m doing the poems backwards tonight. The second/last poem in the magazine, “The Soul’s Soundtrack,” by Yusef Komunyakaa, sings more than it speaks, for me. The first and overwhelming impression I get is that the narrator is a man with a soundtrack of old musicians permanently running in his head, and I admit a great part of my enjoyment of the poem was simply stopping at each name and letting the music enter my head. Son House, Joe Turner, and Big Momma Thornton are names to conjure with for me. If you don’t know them, download a song or two. Indeed. The poem starts, “When they call him Old School / he…looks straight into their lit eyes, saying, / ‘I was born by the damn river…'” The narrator remembers the days of these songsters (okay, maybe not Son House so much) and how the music wove in and out of his life, our life. I love this line: “He believes to harmonize is / to reach, to ascend…till there’s / only a quiver of blue feathers / at dawn…” Wow. Poem as witness, to “the Church of Coltrane,” and to “his life / a fist of coins…” I read it and re-read it.

Back to the first poem, “Time, In Whales,” by Emily Jungmin Yoon. The three braided threads of this poem, as I see them, are the love between a young couple, a theme of whales, and being of Korean heritage in America. It starts, “Our legs of yellow skin next to one another, / calves spread, I think of beached whales…clean and gleaming.” So she weaves the threads together deftly right from the start. “You study Korean, whispering, ‘Muroruda’…meaning…’Water rises’ but really meaning ‘to improve’ or ‘to rise in sap.'” I like the awkwardness displayed, people working cautiously through their heritage, feeling their way, an understanding that flips open, piece by piece: a sort of, ‘This is who we are.’ In doing so, the narrator talks of her ancestors, and of the ancestry of whales. Of using music, like whales do, to “detect where / one another comes from.” In the turn of the poem the narrator speaks to her man directly of his own history as a child. “Your foster mother ran after you…wailing your name.” And all is woven together at the end, still deft: “perhaps the world will end in / water, taking… all loving things.” A marvelous, complex poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as at other fine e-retailers.

 

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