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Archive for January, 2018


If you want to plumb the depths of American poetry, a great place to search is in the latest Rattle magazine. There’s so much good stuff in every issue.

Ariana Brown gives us “In Defense of Santana’s ‘Maria Maria’…” which starts, “when i heard the lyric, ‘growing up in spanish harlem,’ / i had no idea it was a real place.” An identity poem, the narrator working out her place in the world, finding the culture that speaks to her, the joy of discovering an artist to whom she matters. “the blackest track on supernatural.” I love poetry that exults, that celebrates, and there is such joy here. “whole islands and coasts of people with my hair & tongue.” and “this is as much about music as it is permission.” A moving poem.

Claudia Gary meditates on math, computers and love in her poem, “In Binary.” “001 / What brought them together were gifts without number, / but binary digits enticed them to stay.” You would think a binary poem might be set in iambic, but here it’s all anapests, a brilliant choice. It keeps the poem rollicking along, fun and sweet. “Of course people have only so many digits. / Removing their shoes would be gauche…”

Gotta love the poem by Richard Prins, “Bless Me Editor,” which starts, “For I have sinned. It has been six months since my last submission.” You can see where this is going, and Prins does not disappoint. Again, this is about fun. “Editor, I do not recall taking your name in vain…”

Natalie Solmer has a pantoum, always one of the trickiest forms. “What Did My Baby Daddy And I Do To Each Other In Past Lives?” begins, “a week after conception   I felt the sphere of cells / gnaw a notch   into the dead center of me.” A poem about being pregnant, awaiting a baby, with some interesting lines. “I could pretend   to condense him to a raindrop.”

Finally, let me talk about the Rattle Poetry Prize-winning poem, “Heard,” by Rayon Lennon. “I move out / Of my doc’s Cave-like office… I learned / I am dying.” He goes to share his news, share his life, with people in his life. “The sunny / Jamaican / Cashier who / Looks me /Dead in / The eye / And tells / Me love / Is not dead… I say / I learned / I am dying / And she laughs / And says good / One.” Such misunderstands and missed communications are at the heart of this poem. With his father, his stepbrother, even his mother. With his new perspective he sees how they, too, have gaps where they should have connections. An insightful, sad poem, very much worth the honor it has received.

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:

Blue Collar Review – Summer 17

Hummingbird 27.2

Rattle Magazine – Fall 2017

 

 

 

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One of the joys of the Blue Collar Review is the straightforward, emotional nature of the poems. You know where you stand, no fadiddling, as my Dad would have said.

Michael Collonnese starts this issue out with a great poem, “In Concrete,” about an early job. “When the motor on the ancient cement truck quit turning its tub.” it begins. We’re given the problem, then the challenge. “Someone had to crawl inside…and scrape the sides… As I was the youngest…I was the least valuable.” There is something satisfying about poetry that confronts life like this, its conflicts and ironies, not often available in more academic tomes. But this poem is not simply a recitation of a situation, the poet turns this into a larger reflection of life, in a beautiful deepening at the end.

Fran Markover also reflects on work she had in “Jelly Doughnuts.” “I once was in charge of them, thick pillows…” Very apt. Never thought of doughnuts as pillows, but the metaphor feels perfect. We’re brought in the moment with marvelous details. “I’d carry the metal pastry syringe,” and “the cauldrons and spillage of Albert’s Bakery.” Then she compares that work to current work: “when patients reveal…psychic wounds… I wish I could offer / something more satisfying than nods.” A good way to reveal the practical worth of such work.

We also learn of work maybe we’d never thought much about, as in Winston Derden’s “Thieves.” “The light head, sense of spinning / come from heat and dehydration…” I like that, starting with the danger, pulling us into the poem. Only then do we begin to catch a sense of what the work is: “detached stingers add / their heart-rending toxins… robbing bees in July Texas / down a brown loam trail.” We feel ourselves there, we empathize. Then a cold-hearted moment at the end gives us a jolt of irony, a sense of injustice. Nicely done.

Al Markowitz has a tough little poem in here about the current scene, “Gigged.” “Have you been gigged? / You know, the post jobs / gig economy…” It’s tough out there, I know it, this poem says. Listen to us, hear the need for change. “no sick pay or holidays, no / x-mas bonus…” We’re left with sadness after the closing double-meaning line.

Finally, Mary Franke gives us “Can’t Work For Nothing, Can’t Live On It,” which uses humor to make her point. “I do it myself or don’t get it done / it kills cars and me?” Love the kind of painful amusement in that. The mechanic does not seem helpful here. “we don’t even touch / the dipstick we pass a / wand over your junker and it / twinkles if we want to sell / you a Twazzen…” Of course, how often won’t they want to sell you a Twazzen? But the poem reveals a relatively desperate situation, the humor only highlights the trouble. Well done.

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:

Hummingbird 27.2

The Missouri Review – Fall 2017

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17

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The poems in Hummingbird Magazine are often captured moments, sudden discoveries and delights. All are very short, no more than a dozen lines or so.

The first poem in the issue, “Fresh Snow,” by Ann Spiers, strikes me this way. “A rush of finches / beaking off cherry blossoms. We move / our picnic… north for this” The contrast of snow and a picnic keeps me coming back, like trying to solve a little puzzle.

Ellen Welcker presents a fine moment in “Leona Carrington’s Self Portrait.” “It’s rare that someone paints herself only to find / she has painted you.” She develops this idea amusingly at first, (“Terrible shirt underneath”) but ends with a surprising moment of strength and challenge.

Kristina Pfleegor starts us in one direction, “twenty years of sun / score her face…” but ends with almost a whipsaw twist, despite being contained in a 17 syllable/three line format.

Teresa Mei Chuc writes a macabre little fantasy about a hummingbird making itself too much at home. “Last night the legs of a hummingbird pushed through…”

Reviewing such an issue obviously has its own challenge, trying to give a taste of the flavor of the poems but not too much away. Let me only say that there are many more little gems here which I would heartily recommend as well, each a joy to dip into.

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 Missouri Review – Fall 2017

The New Yorker – Nov 20, 17

The Cape Rock – 45.2

 

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