Archive for November, 2017

I am captivated by the concept that underlies Holly Day’s “My Safety Net,” which opens this issue. “…if I pretend I am a machine, I can stay calm, I am // just a washing machine humming to myself…” So real, so personal. No idea if it’s true, it doesn’t matter. It says so much about human interaction, about the desire to connect, the fear and shyness that can raise, all done in a quick, short poem. Brava!

Reese Conner writes “Bring Flowers to What You Love,” which starts, “I am aggressive tonight. Bring flowers / to the cemetery.” And indeed this is an aggressive, jagged poem, taking sudden corners, hurt and hurting. “Let’s dance on the graves of men… bearing the funniest names.” But this is not a poem of limited palette: “no one will know / how to hug when it matters.” Both of those lines show a sly use of enjambment to surprise us, throw us off track. Very much a smiling through the pain poem; one is left with compassion and sorrow.

Paul Bone’s “Recurrences” uses the trick of repetition to hint at the subject of his poem. “It is the one in which my kids are gone… It is the one in which my ex-wife is / my now-wife and my now-wife never was.” My answer to the riddle is recurring dreams, but of course it’s more complicated than that. There is a progression of characters and place, from stanza to stanza. “…my son is lost / but there is no one to help in all of Tokyo.” The narrator morphs into Everyman, and reading along, we become all of these refugees, these children, these seekers, lost and helpless. A complex, beautiful work.

Catherine Swanson does a great unwinding of a poem, “It Will Be As If We Never,” and indeed, the poem is about erasing things. “First, I’ll take my footsteps / from the dirt.” Stones will skip backwards / to the shore.” We start with external, physical items, but of course the narrator soon turns to memories, and actions. “I’ll reclaim my breathless phone calls… you’ll think / you hear knocking… but no one / will be there.” So it’s about the ending of a relationship, which as we understand that, feels just exactly right. Fiendishly clever ideas, worked out one after the other, with a satisfying final line.

And finally, Brandon Hansen gives us “When We Saw Coyotes,” which starts, “They blitzed the path, pumped / their strung-out legs.” Great image for me, because there is a sense of the junkie about coyotes, though I never identified it before this poem. Another spiky, dangerous-feeling poem. The coyotes find a fawn and attack it. And in so doing, give the location itself an emotional presence. “we hate it there, / that grove where we go / to burn pictures of ex-boyfriends…” Our actions correlate to those of the animals, we even identify with them. “we get it… we are all hungry.” A shivery poem, indeed.

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 New Yorker – Oct 30 17

Convergence Online – Fall 2017

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I very much enjoyed the poem, “Intervention,” by Holly Day, in the Fall issue of Convergence. “I dream / of running away and joining / a cult,” it starts, and this half-yearning, half tongue-in-cheek attitude persists. It’s a delicate balance, but that ambiguity makes the poem human somehow, gives us the shock of recognition: yes, if it were only that easy. “I can lose myself completely in / fake religion…kissing snakes…found on the stoop of kind / missionaries.” There is something almost wistful here (though a bit subversive as well, as you can tell by that last line), and definitely worth revisiting.

Since this is an online journal, I can include a link to the relevant page.

The next poem, “Mama Doesn’t Go To Church Anymore,” by Erren Geraud Kelly, continues that sense of alienation, of things not being as they should be. “Fascism covers the world like an eclipse…” the poet states, and we worry that it’s true. This is a villanelle, and the form, continually bending back upon itself, gives us a trapped feeling, a sense that we cannot get away. “The economy, like a concerto, rises and dips / People are looking for a rainbow at the end of the road…” A deft use of language here, in this crafty poem.

We get a frisson of recognition in “Hotel Room,” by Erica Goss: “The bed is always center, / and it’s never dark enough. / Dry cold whispers / from the air conditioner.” To have spent a night in any hotel room is to connect with this poem. And in beautiful language, the poet explores those resonances, even giving dispensation for our universal failings: “Go ahead / and take… the soap, / the little bottle of lotion. / They are charms against / anonymity.”

In “The Stair-Counting Poem,” by Arthur Russell, he examines a gap in reality, trying to make sense of it. “The number of stairs between the first floor and the landing has changed. It was ten, / now it’s nine.” The narrator searches for confirmation of his memory, finds it in a photograph. “There’s a photo with your / daughter and three girlfriends sitting on the stairs.” But to know a truth, is not necessarily to understand it. “You will go into the living room and count again. Nine. You count the stairs in the photo. / Ten.” It’s just a fact, indigestible. A great trick, to reveal without trying to explain. It gives the poem power.

And finally, “Tarantella,” by Viola Weinberg, is a fun poem, in a creepy kind of way. It probably helps to know that tarantella is a dance, named after the movements of a tarantula. But you knew that. ;-> “A black velveteen river of tarantulas / coming down El Valle Grande…cracking on our tires like eggs…Flying up the vents and smacking / the little metal doors, dear God…” Makes me smile just to go back over this poem. I know I’m glad I wasn’t on that little drive, where the riders get ever-more freaked out by the flood of spiders, destroying them, fleeing them, not understanding, just wanting to survive, to have the horrible dance end. A marvelous poem.

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:

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2017

Rattle Magazine – Fall 17

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