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Archive for May, 2019


I very much enjoyed the poem “The Perfume I Never Gave To My Mother,” by Gail Peck in the Spring issue of Apple Valley Review. It begins, “I bought in France… Her lungs had worsened, / and… I knew / she’d never wear the perfume…” We experience the power of what is left unsaid. Peck creates this effect, I think, by having the poem remain very image-specific, very in the moment. “Think flowers — rose, violet, jasmine… think desire — someone holding you.”
And the little quirky details keep us entranced. A sweet poem.

Doug Ramspeck gives us “Overuse.” “My mother used to say she lived for… wonder. She meant birds… And always it seemed she clotted wounds with words.” There is a smile underneath these phrases, early in the poem, that draws our sympathy. Then comes a revelation of the more difficult side of life. “The dead / know the names… not the soft names / but the hard ones.” Such original, concrete images. And the relationship between the narrator and his mother remains in the foreground all through the work. A powerful poem.

Somehow many of these poems deal in silence. Take “The Platter,” by Idris Anderson. “Time to seek old objects in thrift shops… prowl the spew / from garages.” (Always there appears a surprising turn of phrase like that. An unusual word, but the right one). How does she bring silence into this poem? I think through phrases like this: “everything else / was closed. Sleet and gray air. It was cold…” Situations and moments where no one is speaking, no one would be speaking. There is a power in such silence to make us reflect on our own world, on how our lives intersect with the author’s own. “The grating withdrawal of memory.”

“Agoraphobia, The Fear Of The Gathering Place,” by Christopher Todd Anderson, also begins with a sharp smack: “I hate the sky: that crisp blue sheet / never wrinkles, hides nothing.” The poem proceeds clearly, and simply, from stanza to stanza. “Earth is no better: soil churns up artifacts.” The chaos of life, the uncertainty, the finality are all here. “dirt / washes from the eyes of the dead.” A poem to raise the hackles on your neck. “The ocean harbors too many arms / and eyes.” Masterful work.

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 – Apr 29 2019

Plainsongs – Winter 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

 

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I always get a little glad feeling in my heart when I am reading a poem and realize it’s going to be fun. In the April 29th New Yorker, Lee Upton’s poem, “Privacy,” starts: “I like a private life… sometimes… so private if I say anything that’s even a little bit / arguably private / I feel disdain for myself.” As with many New Yorker poems, the moment such a thesis, or in this case tone, is presented, the author backtracks, goes another direction, keeps us guessing. “I remember how cruel people were to my mother…” This poem examines privacy in different aspects, from doctors keeping important news from their patients, to friends bragging on themselves, to how even this poem reflecting on privacy gives up a bit of privacy… and we’re back to the lighter tone. “Today I’m wearing a big CONFIDENTIAL / sign around my neck.” I like this mix of approaches, and the depth it creates.

The other poem in this issue, “April,” by Sandra Simonds, also has a light-hearted sensibility. “The red bird falls from the tree, lands on / its head, rolls / right back up.” We worry about the bird, but no, it’s fine, saying, “Hello, Spring. / Hello, sanity.” It’s good to have a little danger, a little worry, to hook the reader. A poem of joy, of embracing the unexpected, and going with the flow. We should all have such light-hearted moments, and spring is the best time to have them.

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:

Plainsongs – Winter 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

 

Read Full Post »


Dwight Marsh, one of the long-time editors of Plainsongs, is departing. In honor, the magazine published his poem, “You Can’t Just Look,” which tackles the theme of reading the slush pile to find good work. “you gotta read your way / through forests of pulp… that darken the sunlight.” It’s a loving view of his job, and gives worthy insight to those who do not know the point-of-view of an editor. Clear, concise, even fun: “an inner monkey swinging / from phrase to phrase.”

I was touched by the opening line of Beth Paulson’s “The Red Barn: Watercolor on Paper.” “The barn, before it fell to its knees, / stood tall and strong…” I have seen my share of decaying barns, and there is something magical and mournful about them. I could see how they would make great subjects for painting. “…it leaned, / one wall mostly gone, smelled of dust, rusted tools.” There is a continuity about a barn that lives in few other structures. Nicely captured here.

I loved Shuly Xochitl Cawood’s “If.” “If I were an avocado I could stop rot with the simple pit / of my heart.” It’s a deeply thought-through metaphor that unfolds through the poem, creating a resonance far beyond the words themselves. “I could rise from where my mother once took root.” Wow. “I would cost more / than you would want to pay.” The multiple meanings in each line are worth studying, worth savoring. A brilliant poem, actually.

Holly Day is always solid, and once more so here, with “Whispered To A Mason Jar.” “I’m in love with the little midges / that dance in the sunlight.” It is always a nice change of pace to read a poem not about suffering, death, loss (themes, let me hasten to admit, I delve into myself). This is a beautiful reflection on the world, with layers of meaning and joy. No wonder the editors chose it. “I want to become a creature like that / cavorting in sunbeams.” A wonderful poem.

Then again, Phillip Howerton’s “The Pasture Cemetery” is definitely about dead people, but he keeps us entertained with their attitude about the living, shall we say. “These dead chose their place of rest.” The dead in his poem display some attitude, though not to the extent of any zombies. “No great-grandfather rises from soil / with rotted overalls and collapsed face… perhaps these dead are practical folks.” But it is the last lines of the poem (though I try not to give away endings as a rule) that will raise the hair on the back of your head, even without the rattle of one chain.

And lastly, let me mention Joan Colby’s “Loner.” “I cantered down the bridle path / Along the lake shore.” Again, a poem about a moment, skillfully rendered. “The waves rollicking against the breakwater.” And an epiphany deepens the poem, makes it memorable. “I knew then that being alone did not mean loneliness.” Such strong work.

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:

Star*Line 42.1 – Winter 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

 

Read Full Post »