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Archive for August, 2018


In his poem, “Bottle Of Wine,” Carl Dennis cannily uses emotion to draw us through the work. “I like to park a few blocks from the house… and walk… the tree-lined streets,” he begins. We understand right away this will be a jaunty, happy little poem, no terrible angst and world-changing despair. And working the emotions is central to the work: “A bottle of wine showing… that I’m grateful / to be included… eager to do my part.” A narrator living within himself. “I’ve set aside the need for transcendence.” The immediate, the quiet, pleasant emotions matter in this poem, and how we each fit within our world. “traditions once honored / are… adhered to… with patience, with pride.” A master work in how to structure a poem on an emotional arc, ending, of course, with hope.

A.E. Stallings uses a difference approach, drawing us in to her “Swallows,” with details of the natural world, viewed with a tone of amused sympathy.  “Each year the swallows… put their homestead in repair… A handsome pair.” The steadily surprising choice of words is one technique that keeps us intrigued: “the two conspire // To murder half the insect race…” And Stallings raises similarities between the swallows and ourselves. “They seem to us so coupled, married, / So flustered with their needful young… harried.” And again, the use of emotion to connect with the reader. But she is going somewhere more archetypal. “Ovid swapped them in the tale… the sister who was forced / Becomes instead the nightingale.” And now we’re in the midst of the seemingly unending battle of women against cruel realities. But Stallings is deft enough not to linger there, and her emotions keep us connected. “These swallows… don’t have the knack / For sorrow… spend no time mourning.” Business, industry, duty even, underpin her subjects, and continuity is the final blessing. Marvelous poem, with an effortless rhythm and rhyme scheme.

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 – July 23, 18

The New Yorker – July 2, 2018

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

 

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Gabrielle Calvocoressi has a real challenger in this issue. “Mayflower Cistern I Feel My Pilgrim Worry” starts out: “All day long I feel my pilgrim / worry. Crude and unforgiving / as the buckle on my boots.” Certainly a opening to get your attention. Her pilgrim does not seem to be a particularly nice, nor lovable person, I must say, starting out his/her town by building a fence, a pillory and a scaffold. There are strange lines in here to keep us guessing: “I hurl / my brittle body at the pines.” Not an image I can quite picture, though. Lot of undirected rage. “…my heart. Which I hate / for its hopeful sounding.” Calvocoressi definitely could hear the voice of her narrator here, clearly and powerfully. But at the end, ya feel like telling the guy, ‘Hey, lighten up. In a couple hundred years around here, it’ll be a lot better.’ A poem I went back to a few times, to chew over the ideas.

The other poem is by Robert Pinsky, “Repetition.” “Writer, blighter fighter — what do you want? / I want to repeat myself.” This is not quite a villanelle, as we revisit thoughts, lines, and sounds (as above). But often, what we revisit has already changed. The Chorus of the Many becomes The Chorus of the Money (I love that). The mixed chorus on every page becomes the mixed chorus on the cover and every page. And the meaning/purpose of all this? The poem does turn off from a list of repetitive desires with this line: “The prophecy says you turn your back on the ocean…” From there, hauling your oar inland to where folks have never seen an oar before. Does this mean the narrator wants only something new? Some peace? It’s a poem that leaves the reader with various such questions.

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 – July 2, 2018

Hummingbird – 28.1

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

 

Read Full Post »