Archive for July, 2017

Michael Meinhoff has a powerful poem in this Plainsongs: “The Hardest Question.” End-of-Life issues for our parents have grown to be quite a rite-of-passage for many, and this poem is a small window into the pain. “The hardest question I ever had to answer,” the poem begins, and its issue is pretty straightforward. The poet delivers the question bluntly. “I couldn’t make out / what she had been asking me up until then… ‘Am I going to die?'” How does one face having to answer that question, when only one answer is true? It is a powerful subject, and the answer, and reaction to that answer, add to the gut-wrenching power of the poem.

“Three-Legged Dog,” by Bill Ayres is also a strong work. “If the first tools were weapons, / The first trade prostitution…The first dance was to mock the cripple.” Sometimes it’s the idea that carries the poem, and so it seems to me here: “When to be human meant to run, / the damaged man who made a cane / was something strange…”  The dog of the title is never referenced directly in the poem, which I also like — the indirection adds the power of understatement. And then, the ending comes sudden and so very sweet.

Candice M. Kelsey offers us “Slender and Starry Eyed,” about a photo of Piegan girls of the Northern Plains by Edward Curtis. “Time / captured you…you’ll / now never escape. But you’re accustomed to that…” The poem is grounded in strong images. “Goldenrod muted by this sepia taskmaster…” and “your braids / are like the pearled moonlight.” But there is a darker edge here: “Each scalp-stalk pretends / to hang perpendicular.” A subtle work.

I like the repetition-with-a-twist approach M. Scott Douglass brings to his poem, “Pacing Yourself.” “You’re doing seventy in a fifty-five / in heavy fog…in Tennessee,” is how the first stanza begins. By the third stanza that becomes, “”You’re doing seventy-five in a fifty-five,” then it climbs to eighty, giving a tension and a pace to the poem that becomes hard to resist. The images are at first in climbing a mountain in a rural region, the crush and tension from the other vehicles, the palpable fear. And when “a weigh station sucks the trucks aside…” the end of the poem comes quickly, in a tangle of images. Very effective.

Sharon E. Svendsen wrote “He Looked So Much Like My Dad,” which is a different response to a poetry reading than I recall ever having. “Tall, bald with a side fringe of hair. / His poem was about the Lord. / I wanted to smash and squeeze and mold his face into place.” The more the narrator works on the poet in her imagination, the more he becomes like her father, and the more she wants him to be her father, to “give him a Sunday crossword puzzle…” At last the poem confronts where her father truly is, an effective and powerful ending.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at love in a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as other fine e-retailers.



Read Full Post »

Two poems in this issue, the first by Amit Majmudar. This guy is absolutely one of my favorite poets going. He varies between excellent and breathless. In “The Beard,” he begins, “What was I like, before this beard? … what was I not like.” The language is plain, the idea seemingly simple. He runs through the relationship between self-chosen image and identity, with a hint of the religious. “Among believers and atheist, / among atheists a skeptic… all emphatic on the apophatic.” I love words I never knew. Apophatic is the idea of describing God by what God is not. But that’s just a way-station in this poem, where the narrator next finds a man on the TV at his gym club accused of terrorism, who he thinks looks very much like him. “Judging from…glances of flat-footed accountants running / for their lives / to either side…I was not the only one who thought so.” I love that running for their lives aside, the resonance it brings. Because the narrator is running as well, one of them and yet suddenly separate. Now the beard puts him in danger, by its existence. And separates him, an American, from other Americans. Then he adds one more symbol, the shaver: to use it or not, what that means. A deep and thoughtful poem.

The other poem is by Chana Bloch, “Dying For Dummies.” “I used to study the bigger kids — / they’d show-and-tell me / how to wiggle my hips, / how to razz the boys.” So the poem begins with being young, and learning about life. But at the turn it becomes a poem about what old people are learning, including the narrator now. “…watching my cohort / master the skills… of incapacity.” And yet the narrator still is looking to those older than she, though she is old herself. The final line brings the whole theme home very nicely. A poem by turns wistful and disturbing.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, as well as at other fine e-retailers.

Related Blogs:

The New Yorker – Hollow Tin Jingles

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17




Read Full Post »

This is a double issue of Cape Rock, which means a lot of poetry indeed.  J.F. Connolly begins the issue with “Alzheimer’s,” a list poem of metaphors about the disease: “the bump in the night, / the false start of memory’s dream.” A moving, sad poem.

John Grey gives us “The Lone Shopper.” “It is a sure ploy / in separating a lonely man / out from the others.” The tone and swing of this poem are fun, and sting a little (because of the accuracy of observation?). “He bypasses the fresh meats / and vegetables, / for stuff in cans.” He compares the man against other shoppers, but admits, “I’m only clued in on the man…” As with many deeper poems, he turns the poem at the end… or seems to, then instantly turns it again, a clever device. Worth a smile.

Bruce McRae also gives us an upbeat poem, “Toying With A Dime,” with a catchy beginning. “I’m at the corners of Awe St. and Dread… sitting in a bar, counting God’s change.” Then come a series of original lines, flashing past the screen almost to fast to catch. “Space expands, like a mind… Time stutters and stalls.” And at the end, the narrator picks up the coin he’s been playing with and goes. A captivating poem.

I like Charlene Langfur’s “My Leaping Dog.” A narrative poem about the narrator walking her dog, a poem of connection. “This is how I feel about happiness…The incipience of morning,” it starts, and the dog is right there. “lower to the ground than I am…with the agility of a superhero.” A pleasing, deft tone, that leads to some surprising insights. “The surprise of how / we can be something else in the midst of who / we know we are.” That line bears meditating upon, for me. It’s nice to see such reflection in a poem, an aim of something higher than just clever language.

There are many good story poems in this issue, well worth discovering. But a lyrical poem I very much liked was by Kelli Simpson. “Dandelions.” “If the dandelions don’t lie, it’s going to be a dry summer.” Just the whole sense of a conversation with flowers makes me want to read on, and the poem proves worth the attention. “We all drink the red dirt…” A very nice poem.

Too many good poems to mention them all, but I liked “Winter Map,” by Madison Cyr, “Mirabella Pool,” by Rage Hezekiah, “Today I Decide Not To Read About The Vanishing Snow Leopards,” by Ron McFarland, “Sur La Plage,” a clever sonnet by Stephen Thomas Roberts, and “Torbat,” by Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad (“I dropped the h, / the long sigh in my first name”).

A couple of strong political poems show up, “A Dangerous Business,” by Pesach Rotem, concerning a poet in Saudi Arabia condemned to death for writing poetry: “remember that it’s your head he’s talking about / And that he means it literally.” And “He Plans His Funeral,” by Joan Colby. “The gang slogans that will be inscribed…the hand signals displayed…with an emotion that is partly / Theatrical.” Powerful.

The last poem I will mention is by David Brendan Hopes. “In The August Garden.” It starts, “You arise — you don’t know why — past midnight…the August garden…finalizes and takes stock.” I love the sentience of the garden in this poem, the partnership between garden and gardener. “I have put on white and violet / for the sake of love.” Then come references to the ancient troubadours, Villon and all, “confusing God with their lady loves in that charming way.” There’s just a lot going on in this poem, and very entertaining.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available on Amazon,  as well as at other fine e-retailers.

Related Blogs:

The New Yorker – Oct 30, 17

The Apple Valley Review – Fall 2017

Rattle Magazine – Fall 17



Read Full Post »