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Archive for March, 2019


Blue Collar Review has some very nice poems this issue. I like “Church of the W2” by Zara Raab. “My first job following the divorce, I helped a semi-invalid.” It’s an interesting meditation on what counts as spiritual work, and what the intersection is with working for money. “I was there / to keep her company, though she wasn’t / terrifically old…” The narrator characterizes the woman she works for, then works on her own approach to life. “I say my mantras, / ‘Don’t rush… check your work.” Some good insights here.

“Trust the Machine,” by Mary Franke, starts out “The machine / is our enemy / it’s things / it grinds out // Never mind…” The narrator seemingly has trouble even coming to grips with how profoundly machines alter our world, rule us, change us, impoverish us, even. “Not everyone has / things   enough / things.” And what, ultimately, are we to do? “I try to trust the / body.”

Antler gives us “Housepainter Lunchbreak Story,” a tough look at what working class people have to do, sometimes, to earn a buck. “As we sat on the steps… on our lunchbreak, / One of the crew told how on one job…” It’s a very sad story, purely told, with a moving ending.

“Thanksgiving,” by Carol V. James, starts with a starling premise. “If I’m not mistaken about teh smell… my neighbor made meth for Thanksgiving.” Boy, that’s almost our whole world caught up in that beginning. Knowing what the smell of cooking meth is, living in a tough neighborhood. The narrator has had a fighters’ life. “We were equally poor and equally angry… but she was bolder, wilder, not my friend.” I appreciate such clarity, the compression into few words. “she invited me to fight.” The poem handles emotions and situations deftly, has us rooting for the narrator straight through, while shaking our heads at the realness of it all.

“Surviving Background Checks,” by Matthew Feeney, confronts the difficulties and insanity of our criminal justice system. “I applied for a job in the prison library… but… What the heck am I gonna do for / a living on the outs?” “Felons can’t be teachers. / I have a teaching degree. // Felons can’t drive cabs… I drove a cab.” It’s a tale of all the things we prevent felons from doing, what little that leaves, how difficult going straight is, even for those who hope to.

Finally, “Inauguration Odet” by Jean Tucker made me smile, painfully. “You’re the snake’s pyjamas… and the Hyde in seek…. You’re what can never happen.” Clever lines, powerful ending.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

 

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There are always so many tasty, resonant poems in Rattle Magazine. One poem I read over and over was C. Wade Bentley’s “Recalculating.” What a wonderful title, taking a word come into our consciousness these days and using it to explore larger ideas. “So Google Maps has me somewhere west of Evanston,” it starts. Quickly, it turns out, a journey to help his daughter, who is in some trouble. Not just with her car. “an excuse to get caught up / on her life and the status of her sobriety.” Easing into the big issues casually. The poem becomes a meditation on his relationship with his daughter overall, his status as father, as friend, letting go, not trying to interfere, all those parent things. I like that ‘get caught up,’ the use of colloquial language, the ear for how people actually speak. It is not quite stream of consciousness, but many ancillary images pour in the sides of the poem: “a brace / of pronghorns racing me along the fence line,” to remind us he is searching for his daughter in a real world, not just in thoughts and dreams. She needs his help. A stirring poem.

I like the working class flavor of Jesse Bertron’s “Arc,” also a poem about a father. “My dad worked the trades for fifteen years. / He learned… that nails measure in pennies by their length.” We get a great sense of who he was, and how the family interacted. “we all asked him to be better than he was. // It doesn’t work like that.” Such wisdom in a plain package. And a nice easing-out ending.

I haven’t often brought up my old habit of mentioning my favorite poem in an issue, but here it just might be “The Book of Fly,” by John Philip Johnson. “1:1 / Feeding on the living is good, / but feeding on the dead is better” Oh, we immediately get the gleeful sense, this poem is going to be fun in a evil way! And yes, yes it is. Each stanza is numbered in the above way, and the ending fits as perfectly as Barry Bonds’ batting glove.

Loved Linnea Nelson’s “Counting to Twelve at Willamette Park.” “first what i notice / is predictable / the water…” and we are at the park, looking around, listing what catches our eye, what matters. Oh, but as the list goes on we discover we are not at the park, we are actually meditating, and the park is only the image we (the narrator, that is) are centering on. “i am still / clueless about how / to meditate well.” The universal experience of meditating, I think. By the end, we may be back in the park, we certainly went unexpected places. A great poem-in-the-moment experience.

Okay wait, wait maybe Katherine Barrett Swett’s poem, “City of Refuge” should win the best poem of the issue argument (I am remembering why I don’t list that anymore). It’s a brilliant sonnet. “I dream we’re exiled to a distant land.” There is a reason by the end of this poem why being in a dream is a cushion, gives a certain distance, becomes essential. “for in the waking world we hesitate.” A touching poem.

Finally, Stephen Harvey also brings a sonnet, the amusing “Petrarch Looks for Laura at Holiday World.” “High noon and ninety-nine in Santa Claus / Indiana.” Well, there is a Santa Claus in Santa Claus, and the narrator has to tease him. “Ho-ho-ho-ly sh*t it’s hot!… he’s not / amused.”

Great issue.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

Convergence Online Journal – Winter 2018

 

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There is so much poetry in Nimrod every issue, it’s like bathing in words. This is the Awards issue, and I love the first poem by the winner: “Dry Season,” by Emma DePanise. “In the swamp, bald cypress roots globe / like curved fingers learning to play / piano” Having seen cypress in a swamp, I know exactly what she means, and the metaphor makes me eager to learn which way she will jump. “We scour the green… hoping to see our first / gator.” So, tourists? But instantly there is a recasting of this idea: “How, after a diagnosis, / there is a searching, a cataloging / of bruises.” There are so many resonances already early in this poem. A hurting narrator, a quiet spot in nature, but danger lurks under the water. A moving juxtaposition of images. “How after, Dad tells her / to put Ovaltine in her milk…” We want comfort, but things must change, now. Things have already changed and we must adjust. A wonderful poem, deep and thoughtful and sorrowful.

Another wonderful poem, deeper in the issue, is “If I Say My Body Is Grieving,” by Susan Nguyen. “Is it American or Vietnamese? … My father said: In our language, the same word means green and blue, xanh” A sort of dialogue between two traditions. “My mother said: Don’t translate me / My grandmother said: Don’t speak lest your tongue rush like a river” We feel the narrator trying to absorb it all, make sense of who she is in this world, find her own place. Very powerful, and much to think about.

Caroline Berblinger gives us, “Interviewing My Grandfather / Lincoln County Kansas (1938).” “I was seven or eight… when the rural electrification admin / came to our town.” The narrator lays out the anticipation of the family. “They wired our house in a day. My father sent / us out into the night.” We await alongside the family for the moment the lights turn on in their house, watching from the cornfield. “My father stood at the door, all the lights on / illuminating his body.” Almost a religious experience. Very moving.

Josephine Yu has a poem, “Dog With Cataracts,” that exposes the ambivalence, the lack we can all feel inside that may lead us to tiny cruelties, needing our own redemption. “Tonight I leave the kitchen light on… so she can see her water bowl — small apology for when I crossed the park today to wait in shade.” What the narrator does, such a small thing, we can imagine anyone doing, as much out of hesitance as cruelty. It’s a simple poem in words, but raises all sorts of deep resonances and regrets; a rueful recognition.

Finally, Kelly Michels presents us with “What I Mean When I Say He Went Peacefully,” which starts, “When I say there was no pain, what I really mean is:” The narrator tries to unpack and decode so many feelings and impulses at the dying of a grandfather. It’s not a gentle poem. “the day I saw him cry, the day a drug dealer left / a death threat on his answering machine.” And oh, suddenly this poem isn’t really about the grandfather directly, or entirely, but instead confronts the ambivalence and troubles when one has a drug addict in the family, the dealing with thefts, and dependence, lies, the pain, the cost to everyone. Such a beautiful, sad poem.

So many of these poets actually have multiple poems in this issue, which gives the reader a chance to see various sides of the authors. Very nice.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

Convergence Online Journal – Winter 2018

Missouri Review – Fall, 2018

 

 

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