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Archive for July, 2018


The two poems in this issue of The New Yorker couldn’t be more different. First is Safiya Sinclair’s “Gospel of the Misunderstood,” a breathless fever-dream of a poem. “I want to be the blade striking / knotted brown, to kiss the nape of any hunger…” Words twist under our eyes, morph into something else. Meaning detaches and reattaches in strange ways. There is huge desire underneath the words: “warm branch / of man pinning me here…” and, “Nameless, I haunt for god and love / in extinct places.” One must keep going back to the words, revisiting lines, to keep from vanishing into the poem. Desire mingles with religious fervor, and in the latter half of the poem the narrator’s brother and father appear, seemingly unable to fathom her. And in the end, a frustrating angel appears. Very worth reading.

The second poem is by Barry Gifford, a far more grounded offering called “American Pastime.” “When I was a little kid… Jimmy Yancey, the great blues… piano player, / worked as a groundskeeper / at Comiskey Park.” The poem states the irony of such a talent in such a mundane job, and doubles it in declaring that even the narrator, who honors Yancey by trying to learn his piano style, does not know Yancey’s parallel history and greatness as a ballplayer in the Negro Leagues. “…throwing down / his best curves… on both / the black and white keys.” That sentence becomes a keystone of the whole poem, resonating between the worlds he occupied, black and white, sport and music, showing how they integrate each into the other, forming a whole man comfortable in many worlds. (Love that ‘throwing down,’ btw). A declaration of the power of the human spirit. And a poem that we can hope gets more people to search out his music.

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 – 28.1

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

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There are so many good poems in this issue. The “Anxiety Monster” series of poems by Emilie Lindemann made me think. In “Anxiety Monster 8,” we get “there is nothing but body. / seaweed-sponge surface / the kicky legs.” Many images that make you stop and think. Why does this make the narrator anxious? Just watching her children swim, maybe? Or, in 12, “But even wheelbarrows of thistles / can’t cover her up (not for keeps…)” So engaging. In 14: “…you trail a kick-line of women…” I very much enjoyed revisiting these little poems.

The danger of reviewing such short poems (Hummingbird is “The Magazine of the Short Poem,” after all) is that many wonderful poems cannot be quoted to show their beauty, as that would pretty much reveal the whole work. But let me mention “Circle Ceremony at the Highground,” by Jane-Marie Bahr. It shows us an awkward moment, a touching act of kindness and respect despite a tongue-tied instant. All in 5 lines.

Jane Vincent Taylor’s “The Woman Who Makes More of Everything.” “I say I’m tired of this shade of red. / She says that color used to sing / at night.” This poem reveals a beautiful, touching moment. Spare and elegant.

Chet Corey gives us “Field Note,” an observation about birds any one of us could have made, but he is the one who did. And we can only say ‘yes, that’s true, you are right. Thank you for pointing that out.’ How fun.

Hummingbird wants to challenge and stretch the form of poetry, and the poem of Kim Kayne Shaver, “Thirty Minute Backyard Rensaku” does so as presented. Rensaku are a series of haiku that contemplate a single subject from different angles. The fun thing about these three haiku is they may be four haiku instead. The middle poem is divided down the middle by the page break; so the reader does not know whether to read the words as two haiku, one on the left page and one on the right, or as one haiku stretching across the pages. Joining two spaces. I choose to believe it must be read both ways at once, a Shrodinger’s cat of a haiku. One is left not knowing if the poet intended this, the editor intended this, or they collaborated. One is left with a happy uncertainty, and a sense of incompleteness, that fits with the aesthetic of haiku nicely.

The juxtaposition of Frederick Wilbur’s “Autumn Leaf,” and Joan Halpin’s “First Week of Spring,” seems so exact and correct. From his “At the verge of the darkened forest,” to her “beneath the heavy sky / I teeter around pools of / slush.” Just wonderful to read them one after the other, back and forth.

And there are many other good poems (Bruce Ross’ two haiku) in here. Definitely worth picking up and enjoying.

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 60 – Summer 2018

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

The Nation – Apr 9 2018

 

 

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