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Archive for January, 2019


The first poet here is John James, who starts us off with a poem called “Le Moribond.” “In the catacombs I am impatient.” The very creepiness of such an image, standing in a catacombs among the dead, is enough to pull me along. “I study the bones before me, / observe fine cracks in the skulls.” The hint of violence? Of neglect? Such a weighty meditation on death. “Halt. Here is death’s empire.” I can’t say I liked a poem like that, but it did move me, and make me think. A fine poem.

David Bergman gives us, “The Man Who Heard Voices As A Child.” This scene is maybe more familiar to us, a child sneaking out from his bedroom to hear what the adults are saying in their party downstairs. “After his mother’s kiss came the click / of the door fitting snugly into place.” But he does sneak out and listen, though he can’t often hear words. “…what he loved was the rise and fall // of speech, the waves of language washing up / on the shore of his ears.” It’s interesting to think why we do the things we do. And how we are attracted to certain aspects of our lives, whether they have simple meanings or not. “the sound of their conversation; it was the music that music aspired to.” A sweet moment indeed.

And the third poet this issue is Gail Griffin, who gives us a series of poems about Queen Elizabeth I. Revealing tidbits I didn’t know about her life. “After Anne’s execution, Elizabeth was bastardized, removed from the line of succession.” The first work is a prose poem, almost more journalism. But with the subsequent poems, we see how this serves as a fitting introduction, and the rhythm of the poems takes over. Here she meets her remote, dangerous father. “Kat Ashley told me he must love me / for my hair that is like his.” We see instantly the trepidation this young girl must have felt, the danger of her situation. Will her father love her? Poignant and powerful, emphasized by that enjambment after ‘he must love me’. Then: “Look at me, girl, he said, and I / raised my eyes… he said. But damn me / if she does not have the black eyes / of the whore her mother.'” Wow. What a moment. Great poems.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Iconoclast – #117

Rattle 62 – Winter 2018

Blue Collar Review – Summer 2018

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My attention was caught by “This Is All,” by Lance Lee, in this issue of Iconoclast. “My heart is my body’s poem / my mind a simile of light / at night.” Maybe just the load of metaphors was enough to interest me. “the hollow drum / of my want,” followed by “invaded by / a child’s tears,” followed by… The poem kind of summarizes itself: “At times I fell all I am is / a metaphor.” I’ve felt that way myself.

I liked “Untitled” by Pamela Thomas. “I hear them / Through the window… We laugh and joke / It is one sided.” An undercurrent of uncertainty, even fear, underlies this poem. “There isn’t much that / keeps me from / Devolving into / The crazed street person.” A sad beauty, here.

Rhoda Staley gives us, “Old Women.” “Where I live / the women are old…” It’s sort of a confrontation between an old style of Catholicism and the challenges of a younger women. Intriguing.

“The Titterings,” by John Kneisly is arguably a fantasy. “”Coming down stairs at night / you hear them whispering — / little nameless things.” There are a number of fun twists of language and thought here. “You couldn’t call them… creatures normally at home in twenty two dimensions / just now on pilgrimage through ours.” I very much enjoyed this poem.

roibeard ui-neill contributed “the 905 E. Elm tenement blues.” Another poem that refuses to stay tamed. “It’s been 9 years & counting / (down to what?) / since my brilliant career move.” Evidently the narrator has taken a position as super of a building. “These apartments are sliding into dilapidation / faster than I can swing a hammer.” It’s not the nicest building in town, either. “What you have here / is the landlord milking a cash cow.” I like the list of tasks, the sketches of the tenants, “Here’s my shoulder, & welcome,” the liveliness of the life depicted. “How quickly they re-cork their wine…” And a very apropos ending.

Finally, Jean Esteve writes a letter to the editor in the form of a poem. “Post War-of-the-Sexes Regrets / or A Counter to Iconoclast, Issue #116.” “I miss men. / Are we ever going to see them around again?” The narrator evidently lives in a world where men have been disposed of, and she is ruminating over the things men brought to her world that she misses now. Very fun, and a bit pointed, about the place of men in the world. “…if I looked indifferent, he could cover with a joke… possibly clean.” A delightful poem.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Rattle 62 – Winter 2018

Blue Collar Review – Summer 2018

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2018

 

Read Full Post »


I think I am starting to figure out Rattle‘s approach. They like plainspoken poetry, easy to understand. They don’t buy things for the flashy language alone, generally each poem has to have a point, though fine language is key as well, of course. This approach makes for some very good poetry reading, of course.

The first poem, “Canis Interruptus,” is by Jose A. Alcantara. “We put him outside; / he claws the paint off the door.” A poem about trying to civilize a puppy. Easy to relate to, if one has ever had a young dog. It’s a fun poem: “he’s on the bed… shoving his nose / in the most noseworthy places.” A fine poem, indeed.

Denise Bell gives us a powerful poem, “I Am The Shit AKA Used To Be / A Bop.” “my man slow down / drinking fast gets you high.” A poem about a man who has lived life on his own terms. “i was never on my knees begging / counting chump change…” But there is a cost to the way he has lived, and the reader has to wonder if he is even aware. “my son is… ungrateful… he had the guts to tell me i was never around… i put him through college…” A magnificent rendering of character, by a proven master of language and observation.

David Berman gives us a slice of life with his poem, “The Cat’s Fancy.” “…he knows — the sink is where I rinse / off dishes… Yet I can’t convince / him… to take postprandial rests away from there.” Ah, life with a cat, who sees what one is doing and wants to redirect the energy. Often to the cat. More a sweet poem than a humorous one, with the cat giving its human insight into life.

Elizabeth J. Coleman turns an unpleasant encounter on its head, in “The Errand.” “…a guy in an old car turned left into / my path.” They exchange shouts, he calls her an epithet, then we get the reversal. “I was glad he spoke, found a way to say hello.” Irony? We are not sure. The narrator then discusses how her child is learning to communicate. A subtle put-down, but also a way to enlarge our thinking about such encounters. It gives the poem an unusual depth, and us a reason to reflect. And let me just mention in passing this is a good example of how putting a reversal in the storyline of a poem can make it more powerful. Fiction techniques can be helpful in poetry as well.

I’m going to mention Susan J. Erickson’s “Antique Road Show,” a longer poem discussing the narrator’s fascination with the TV show. “He hands the appraiser two vases, explains in a voice like chipped crockery that his wife bought (them).” Erickson does a wonderful job of letting the poem unfold at its own pace, bringing us into the stories the participants on the show tell of the pieces they have, the knowledge she has gained from watching (and thereby the love she has for it all). “By now I know someone / will show up with a stone sculpture purchased as a relic / from the Yucatan…” Once she has fully set the hook, she reels us in by turning the tale to her own self and the humble things she owns, that her father collected. And then gives us a sudden twist revelation, and ends the poem. Purely professional work, this poem, open and revealing, and tender and sorrowful. Delivering the emotion a fine work of art can deliver.

Deborah P. Kolodji, a wonderful haiku writer, gives us four haiku. “sandblasted / by your words…” one starts. Powerful images.

Finally, Charlotte Matthews gives us “Kmart’s Closing.” “and everything’s on sale. / Even the bathmats look beleaguered.” Wow. The power of the exact right phrase. Having just seen a Macy’s close in our neighborhood, that word beleaguered is perfect. It’s true, raises that lost emotion, and keeps us reading for more. The tone is exquisite here. “Me and the plum tree are done for.” Folksy, as a discussion of Kmart should be. And then with a beautiful turn at the end, and an expansion to a larger view. Worth the candle.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Blue Collar Review – Summer 2018

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2018

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

 

 

 

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