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Archive for April, 2019


Star*Line is sort of a phantasmagoria of a magazine. So many poems are packed into this issue, of so many types, the reader is bound to find something to like.

We begin with Mary Soon Lee’s “New Year’s Resolutions.” “1. For novices // Huddle in the Antarctic Dark / with Emperor penguins / for sixty-four days.” A poem of crazy, fun ideas. “2. For journeymen… Circumnavigate the Moon by hot-air balloon.” It’s the little shocks of recognition for literary and cultural references that makes this truly work.

There are many haiku and haiku-style poems, tucked in here and there, several by Christina Sng. These generally rely on twists, or thought-puzzles. “pets / on the International Space Station…” starts one. The third line of the poem provides the ‘ah, of course,’ ending.

Any speculative market is going to rely heavily on making the reader think. “On a Dead Spaceship,” by Robin Helweg-Larsen certainly furthers this aim. “…drifting round a star / The trapped inhabitants are born and die.” An allegory of earth? That this is not clear makes the poem more interesting, and shines a deeper light on our own lives, aspirations, and boundaries, with references to artists, the rich, and plebs.

There are poems from the point-of-view of monsters, or their lovers. “Not Tonight,” is an amusing example by Kathleen A. Lawrence. “Oh, darling, you tease / in wispy tears of gauze.” Quick and delightful.

Finally, let me mention “Giants in the Earth,” an irreverent, earthy poem by Deborah L. Davitt. “Pish, there’ve always been giants around! / It’s just that we tune them out, / pretend that we can’t see them.” In the logic of this poem, there are good reasons we all pretend not to notice. Fun, and even a bit shocking.

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 Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

 

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The first poem in this issue is by Catherine Pierce, a poet I was not familiar with. Her “The Horse Girls,” starts: “The horse girls were writing novels. / The horse girls were dreading flag football.” A poem about growing up, at that awkward age where boys are interesting but embarrassing. The author anthropomorphizes to make this point. “Their hair embarrassed. Their shirts ruffled / with anger.” Other girls are the beautiful ones, clique-insiders who canter around them. Reading this, I realized how often young adults growing up is a theme of poems in The Missouri Review. Enough to consider it part of their world view. Many of these poems are very slickly written, and Ms. Pierce certainly delivers as well. At the end of this particular poem, the girls become horses themselves, or at least yearn to win in life the way horses do. This sort of synthesizing of two realities is a very satisfying way to end a poem, making the two views one, if you will.

I’d also like to mention her poem “Vespers,” because of the powerful way she uses language here. “Mississippi at the end of March / is a chaos of wisteria.” (Okay, maybe part of why I wanted to talk about this is really my own yearning to see wisteria after a long winter. Well, there you go.) “birds / insistent and fierce. It’s easy / to forget we’re only pretending / their language into song.” I have to ask, Wait, don’t you mean pretending their song into… no… Oh, how I admire that line, how it makes us stop and think, twist and re-twist it into differently braided thoughts. Or, “generously dividing the lushness / into manageable segments.” What a fun poem.

Miho Nonaka gives us “Through the Willows,” which starts, “Bless the cherry that must still bloom in April / its trunk scarred with initials, hasty students’ hands.” How that ‘must still’ brings us up short, wondering why must it still bloom, then realizing after the second line that it blooms in spite of the damage humans have done to it, and with that we have the sorrow that our species can be so thoughtless, inconsiderate not only of other species, but even of other humans who might lose their own chance at beauty because of us. For we all have been careless in some way or another. Sorrow is endemic to life. And the mix in this poem of a touch of the ancient reverence expressed by attending the cherry blossom festival, alongside the modern notions of the young. “on our way home at dusk– / everyone’s secret stop the local 7-Eleven.” And even how that mundane irreverence actually forms part of the ritual, and we can dimly sense how in one way or another it always has. When a poem can bring all that up, it’s a home run for me.

Finally, Brian Swann, in “The Return of Coyote,” gives us his own take on irreverence and the wild: “Yeah, that’s me, spiky hair blowin’ in the wind, tight black / fishnet stockings…” From the point of view of Coyote, coming back to Central Park. And the reference to Bob Dylan’s song, written within a stone’s throw of the place, long ago. Then, further on, “a world made of installations like a hedge fund…” almost stream-of-consciousness, looping along crazily, dangerous language here. “until a cab flattens me, wipeout, / but I pop back up, a bit wobbly…” Mixing the news headlines of coyotes coming back into the city with Coyote of the roadrunner cartoons, and the Native trickster Coyote in a happy mash-up. Effective, fun, and worth re-reading.

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 – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

 

 

 

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“Ambition,” by Tess Gallagher in the Mar 25 issue of The New Yorker, is the best poem of hers I’ve read to date. “We had our heads down / baiting hooks — three wild salmon / already turned back…” A slick and subtle opening: Absolutely immediate, but from those first words we anticipate something about to happen. And boy, are we rewarded. “under our small boat the sea / gave a roll… lifting us so high I thought / an ocean liner…” A moment of confusion, perfectly described, then the rapture: “a pair of gray whales not two hundred / yards away.” The shift from this in-the-moment to the greater view gives us shivers. “It was all beauty and / mystery…” She displays great skill here in connecting that short moment to the profound, then just as quickly lets it pass, returning to the common world. That’s how epiphanies happen, how the sacred touches our world. A brilliant poem, to capture that truth.

The other poem here, “Pickpocket, Naples,” by Angela Leighton, slides rapidly through many more images to make her point. “Lost for a subject… among flaking billboards, unemptied bins, / pickings for a light touch… an angel’s wing flexed at my back.” We get a sense of how quickly such a moment goes by, a sense of the desperation of the world that might incite such a theft, as the poem’s form highlights its intent. What’s fun, though, is that in the next stanza she then goes right back and… well, not re-imagines the moment, but revisits it, or maybe has the moment repeat: “Or think another: I walk in a dream / past double-parked lots, boarded-up shops… chase the ghost of a child… and so miss the touch.” Just so we might ourselves repeatedly revisit such a moment in our memories, reviewing what happened from different angles, trying to understand what may be unknowable. Brava.

In the April 1 issue, Carol Muske-Dukes presents us with “Daphne, After.” “So Spring blossomed in spite of itself. / Uniform skirts up-rolled high by wild girls,” she starts. Note how the slight tilt of the language keeps us intrigued, the words come in a slightly different cadence than we are used to, emphasizing the wildness. But in fact, these are school girls, centered in their usual world. “two of us, heads // together, translating. Our selves as Stoic / teens.” We sense the yearning of these two to find adventure, to experience change, something important. And then, without warning: “He demanded her name first. Just / steps from the bus stop.” So the poet interleafs the current world with the classic myth. How beautifully it is done: “She told me only. The great wings of / aloneness closed in on us.” Wow. Boy, that’s why we read poetry, for moments like that.

Finally, Christian Wiman has “I Don’t Want To Be A Spice Store.” A much lighter, but no less notable work. “I don’t want to carry handcrafted Marseille soap, / or tsampa and yak butter.” The exotic nature of the goods giving us the sense of how the narrator rejects the exotic, the arch, for a more common usefulness: “I want to be the one store that’s open all night.” It’s a sweet way to characterize, and our imaginations flow right along with him. “I want to wait / brightly lit… for my father to find me open on Christmas morning in his last-ditch… drive for gifts.” And just like that, we have a greater depth, a poignancy, a loneliness. And the last line is especially brilliant (so go look up the poem and see what it is!)  A whole pile of great poems in these two issues.

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

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

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