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Archive for February, 2018


Nicholas Friedman, the first poet in this issue of The Missouri Review, starts us off with “The Portrait Artist.” “They show up smelling like their Food Court lunch…’It’s for a Christmas card,’ Mom says.” This is a fun little romp through the difficulties of getting children to sit still for the camera. “…the diapered one, face pinched, needing a change.” It’s a poem that recognizes the familiar, our mundane efforts to get along, and the humor of such situations. It ends cleverly, as well. A worthy effort.

The mundane world is a vein he mines again in “The Nature of Advice,” “It’s rare in that the giving is simple. / With age, one’s store of it / only grows larger.” We smile in shared recognition. We all love giving advice, and can ruefully admit, it generally does little good. This poem centers around a father trying to help his son get, if not a base hit in his Little League game, at least an honorable foul ball before he strikes out. Such modest goals we often have, the poem points out, and that helps bind us together.

Daniel Anderson also mines a familiar trope in his poem, “Big Lie. Little Lie.” “All summer long, /outside Duke’s Pony Keg…I listened, half in envy… I heard about farm girls and college girls.” A young man-boy, hearing the lies his friends tell about their sexual experiences, tells one of his own and is accepted. And maybe at that point realizes the others are lying as well. The poem goes on to tell us about the narrator’s actual first experience, many years later, and how mundane and almost disappointing it was. Near the end, the turn of the poem comes when he contemplates the girl, and what might be happening for her on her side of the encounter. This turn gives the poem depth, and gives us reason to go back and reread it, seeing more each time.

The poems of Danielle DeTiberus are rooted in the area around Charleston, South Carolina, and take a broad scope. In “Relic,” she starts, “Charleston’s a charnel for all / the binyas and comyas.” Binya and comya, I assume are Gullah words for people who have been here, and people who have come here. The poem tackles the racial divide. “The way a bone will bleach / when stripped of enough flesh. / This is a land harbored by the idea // of whiteness.” The poet wants to do something about it. “I long to be a bivalve: / a filter for what poisons this place.” There are many beautiful lines that give the poem power. “My eyes… a hundred blue / mirrors designed to catch everything.” There is a sense of great sadness here, and frustration, with just a bit of hope.

The poem “Hush Harbor” starts: “Lowcountry estuaries once rich / in Carolina Gold, indigo and // cotton harbor traces of the Atlantic / salt that covered this land.” The poem reflects on these beautiful lowlands that have risen over eons out of the sea, rich and fertile. Again, the original lines lure us in: “glaciers rose above the water’s lip / like some teething monster — the world / swallowing itself in one slow gulp.” I stopped and savored, and pictured and wondered at that thought. Echoes of the snake wrapped around Midgard, an expanding vision… always a good reaction to a line of poetry. Then in the ending, she goes back to the small the particular, the holy. A marvelous way to bring it home.

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 – Jan 22 2018

Rattle 58 – Winter 2017

The New Yorker – Nov 20 2017

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I think we can call J.D. McClatchy a wily old veteran at this point, and he certainly shows it with the opening to his poem, “My Plot,” in this issue of The New Yorker. “It seemed as good a time as any to buy / a cemetery plot.” Yep. You’re going to read on after that opening, a jar, a fascinating and maybe terrifying subject, a fine use of enjambment between those first two lines. And the humorous tone is set somehow by the mundane phrases chosen: “The price is bound / To spike.” The poem contemplates his chosen resting place, then the narrator learns who is to be planted next to him: “a woman I’ve known, / Good God, for decades…by chance assigned… second harp at the stand right next / To mine.”

One should always look for value-added with the grand master poets, and sure enough, McClatchy delivers, by writing the 16-stanza poem in a complex rhyme scheme, ABCxCBA, mostly perfect rhymes, a challenge to maintain as interesting and focused. Of course he sprinkles in plenty of excellent lines, and aren’t those what we really read poetry for? “it was life itself — fizzy and full / Of contrivances to keep itself afloat.” And, “I watch us wamble down Water Street between / The moment and the mortuary.” No, I didn’t know the word wamble, yes it is perfect once I look it up, and different in meaning than what I thought.

The other poem in the issue is “Medium,” by Jennifer Grotz. “In the nineteenth century, / I’d have found a medium… a crystal ball, // but to conjure him in 2016 / I go online and Google.” This sounds pleasant and amusing, oh the differences and all that, but another key component of most top-notch poetry is the skill with which the writer twists and jars the reader. By the third stanza we begin to understand there’s something wrong. Someone important is missing in the narrator’s life. “but still there’s his handle on Skype…” and for all our technological savvy, we still have no better answer now for when someone is gone, only the question, why? And the remorse, reliving little moments where we didn’t know. “…that e-mail… at 3 AM… words of such / love… out of the blue / that I… didn’t query.” Then the twists and the plunge to the very last word of the poem, ironic, powerful, and ineffably sad. A powerful work.

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:

Rattle 58 – Winter 2017

The New Yorker – Nov 20 2017

The New Yorker – Oct 30 2017

 

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